The Hand on The Table

Date: May 21, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Hand on The Table is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 1:15-20. We are joined by special guest, Yve Evans, Jazz and Gospel Singer. The offertory is entitled, “It’s in His Hands.” Music during communion includes, “Let Us Break Bread Together” and “Amazing Grace.” It is the 6th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ as we come to the Lord’s Table.

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The Hand on the Table, Sermon, May 21, 2017

Luke 22:21; Acts 1:15-20

On that Passover night Jesus and his 12 disciples gathered in the Upper Room to eat the Passover meal together. This was the meal in which the people of Israel remembered their story of deliverance from Egyptian slavery. They remembered not just a historical event out of the past. No, they remembered the historical deliverance so powerfully that by means of their imagination they became one with the story. It was God’s story; it was their story of merciful redemption, of miraculous freedom given as a free gift of God in faithfulness to the promises that God had made to their fathers and mothers.

Jesus and the 12, who had followed him from Galilee for over three years, shared Israel’s meal, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to these whom he had called to be with him and to share in his ministry. He said, “This is my body, which is poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In like manner he took the cup of wine and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Clearly, he was giving new meaning to this historical remembrance. A New Covenant was being celebrated. The Table had been set before the 12 disciples. The elements of this act of worship and holy remembrance were upon the Table.  Jesus and the disciples were one with God’s mighty acts, with God’s gift of identity and new destiny. This was a meal they would never forget. This was a meal that would become the heart of the church’s worship.

But then, their Master shocked them. He said to them, “See, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed! Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.” Luke 22:19-23

I have never thought about the hands that touched the Passover Table, the Table of the New Covenant. There were the hands of each of the 12. Their hands had dipped into the same bowl to eat the meal. It was a Middle Eastern meal. The olive oil, the tomatoes, the lamb, the humus would have been before them on the table. All they had to do was tear pieces of bread from the larger loaf and dip it in the food, place it in their mouths, and eat of the abundance provided on a festive occasion.

So their hands were covered with the elements of the table. After all this was a communal meal of fellowship, of bonding, of enjoyment, of laughter, as they celebrated their unity.  Envisioning the dinner table I thought of Psalm 133: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”

Their 12 hands had helped prepare the meal. Each of their hands had been in the food provided by the community. There were the hands of Simon Peter who would later deny that he had ever known Jesus. There were the hands of John who wanted to be known as the Beloved Disciple. There were the hands of Doubting Thomas that would later refuse to place his hands into the print of the nails of Jesus’ hands or to touch the wounds on Jesus’ side. There were the hands of the two disciples who had asked to be promoted over the other disciple’s hands to sit to the left and the right of Jesus in his kingdom.

But more poignantly, there were the hands of the one who would betray Jesus into the hands of his enemies. There were Judas’ hands. The 12 disciples were stunned. They began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

This morning I want you to think about the hands on the table before you. In a very real sense we believe that the fingerprints of Jesus’ hands are all over this table and the elements upon it. But not just Jesus’ fingerprints, but also the prints of those who prepared the meal are all over the Table. To this Table we each bring our hands. My finger prints; Steve’s finger prints; Kathy’s finger prints are at this Table and upon these elements. We will take the bread and handle the cup. We will serve you. You will take a piece of bread and hold it in your fingers, then dip it into the cup, perhaps even touching the grape juice. And then you will place the elements into your mouth and they will become one with you body. Through bread and wine by faith we receive the body and blood of Christ.

Some of you may be wondering if you washed your hands this morning before you came to church. We are a germ conscious culture and well we should be.  A nurse caught me in the hallway of Mission Hospital a number of years ago.  She gave me a lecture and pointed to the new signs saying that most diseases are passed on by means of unclean hands.  She exhorted me to always wash my hands. Now the dispensers of hand sanitizers are posted in every hallway. Intelligence and emotional maturity has led our local Rotary Club to complete its ritual of shaking hands after singing together and to turn to the liquid dispensers on each table.  We pump the bottle and wash our hands. During high flu seasons during our Sunday morning welcoming we often touch elbows rather than shake hands. The truth is that our hands on the tables we have shared connect us in many invisible ways.

Jesus said after breaking the bread and pouring the cup, “See, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.” The 12 began to ask which one of their hands belonged to the traitor. Jesus could see by their conversation around the table debating which one of them was the greatest that any one of their hands could be the one.  In a moment of honesty they each knew this was true.  Self -justification began to work in each of their hearts.

Let me share my own awareness of my hands last week in Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the ancient church that marks the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Our group walked into the church’s entrance where we were immediately made aware that a portion of the church was built over Mt. Calvary or Golgotha.  Millions of pilgrims have come to this place to worship the Lord at ground zero for the church.

Mt. Golgotha requires the pilgrim to walk up some very narrow and slippery steps to a second story space where there are two or three altars marking the place where the cross of Jesus was placed into the marble rock and where he was crucified.

There is a hole in the marble under a table. If Ed Sauls and Warren Cannon had not stabilized me on the stairs leading to the upper space, my arthritic knees  might have buckled. It was a humbling experience for me to be helped up to the foot of the cross.  James Martin, in his book Jesus, a Pilgrimage, shared that when he arrived at the altar and was invited to place his arm and hand into the depth of the hole in the rock, that he was afraid and shocked.

When my time came I foolishly placed my hat on the table above the hole in the rock. A priest challenged me and told me to remove my hat from the table.  With weak knees and an awareness that I had already blown it in the presence of the Lord, Ed and Warren helped me get down and then up.  I was more than a little embarrassed.

But then I placed my arm and hand into the deep hole in the stone where the cross had been lifted. I did not know what I might experience.  The hole was deeper that I imagined, but finally, my fingers and hand touched bottom.  Instantly, my imagination was moved to remember the picture of a monk in robes standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross with arms lifted up to Jesus and Jesus’ arms reaching down to him in a moment of compassion.

My heart and mind melted. I began to heave tearful sighs and to cry, “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” I was coming unglued. I felt totally broken and unworthy to be on my knees touching with my hands the Holy Place where the Son of God bore my sins; where his body was broken and his blood poured out, and where the love of God was manifest in his suffering.

In that mystical experience, which was a total surprise and gift to me, I knew that the gospel message was and is true and that this holy place was the historical foundation of all that has been and ever will be reality for my life, for the church’s identity, and for God’s mission through the church.

My hand had touched the helm of his garment and his saving grace was being poured into my heartfelt cry for mercy.

Jesus said, “See, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.” “Whose hands are on the table?

My hands; your hands; the hands of all who have been disloyal to their highest values and cherished commitments are on the Table. Yes, the hands of all the traitors who have ever lived from Wall Street to Main Street; from Washington D.C. to Moscow; from the White House to the Krelim House, not a one of us has been left out. Our names may not be Judas, or Peter, or Paul, or Thomas, or James and John, but our fingerprints are all over the place of the cross and the table of our Lord. The touch and stink of betrayal are upon our lives.

Were we there when they crucified our Lord? O, Yes, we were there.  At the foot of his cross lifted up on a mountain of suffering where Satan was convinced he had destroyed the Son of God and permanently enslaved all humanity; at that place, our hands, fingerprints, and all, were nailed to his cross of mercy.  There my hands began to be transformed and healed; There, I died to sin; there you died; there all who have longed for life have found new life and forgiveness.  What a gift!

Soon my friends helped me up. Perhaps my weak knees were but a parable of my spiritual condition, dependent upon the mercy of Christ through my friends.

In a few minutes we were all standing in the line waiting to go 3 or 4 at a time into the small opening into the tomb of Jesus that had been recently restored. As we waited, I became aware of a large circular window in the upper wall of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  As the earth turned the Sun of this Solar System cast a huge sunbeam upon the front of the Empty Tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed and from which he had been raised on Easter Sunday.  It was a moment of holy mystery with colors of darkness and light, with the smell of incense and candles, with the light of heaven pouring into the darkness of the empty tomb of Jesus.  We were no longer seeking the living among the dead; we were in the presence of the New Creation.

Again, in that mysterious moment I realized that this was the place where the light had triumphed over the darkness of evil and the light had brought illumination to a lost world, enslaved by the powers of sin and death. The Apostle John wrote about this mystery he had received

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley





The Waiting

Date: May 14, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

The Waiting is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Acts 1:1-15. It is the 5th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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More Than We Can Imagine

Date: May 7, 2017 Author: Beth Pinney

More Than We Can Imagine is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Beth Pinney, M. Div. is preaching from Acts 1:1-12. It is the 4th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Dawn Orr-Grizel is our guest Worship Leader. The Praise Team this morning is Thor Fay (drums), Jesse Hughes (bass), Rev. Jeff McCrory (guitar), Andrea Galante, Jeff Nagel and Abby Garcia (vocals). Introit by Chancel Bells is entitled, “Holy Manna” by S. Geschke. The Anthem by the Chancel Choir is entitled, “Lift Up the Name of the Lord” by J. Helgen.

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Lord God, you have declared that your kingdom is among us. By your Spirit at work among us: Open our eyes to see it, our ears to hear it, our hearts to hold it, our hands to serve it. This we pray in the name of the One Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our reading this morning is from Acts, chapter 1, beginning at vs. 1 through 12.
On page 118 of the NT portion of your pew bible.

While you are finding that passage…we are beginning this morning in a new series in the Book of Acts of the Apostles. In his sermon last week, Jerry asked the question: What’s Next…and this in part the answer to that question. One commentator notes, as we read Acts, its as if we have been dropped into the middle of the story. If you read Luke and then Acts together, it’s clear that the incarnation of Christ continues through his body, the church, on earth.

Hear this portion of God’s Story as it is written in the book that we love.

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. He said, “This, is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.


by Beth Pinney
May 7, 2017

How would you like to have been Theophilus and to have received a letter like this from Luke? And this not your first letter from Luke, it’s your second letter. And in these two letters, Luke is sharing the most detailed story about Jesus that he can write. A story that is far bigger than Theophilus could ever hope or imagine. I wonder what Theophilus—which means: One who Loves God—I wonder what he thought and I also wonder what became of his life?

I have a feeling that Theophilus may have felt that this story about Jesus of Nazareth, as Luke was telling it to him, was more than he could have imagined.

Can you recall a time when what happened, or was happening in your life was far more than you could have imagine?  (Pause)

Perhaps it was by accident, or maybe it was a path that you had planned out…but suddenly you were enfolded into a larger story, one that grew deeper, wider, richer than you could have ever imagined. Where you saw God was able to do far more than you could have ever asked or imagined. Maybe it was a time of struggle over your job, or a decision about your future education, or maybe it was a time of personal struggle, or illness, or perhaps even a time of great loss.

I’m talking about events that changed you or reshaped your life because God was at work in ways you had not imagined possible…like that song, Beautiful Things…God causing a Garden to flourish in ground you thought was fallow?

Some of you know that I love weather. I had been posting on FB the past couple years this coming El Niño Event. I don’t know about you, but I was over the heat and the drought and the “look” of the drought. I was starting to get depressed. So, when the El Nino was forecasted, I started posting maps of incoming storms, and I even posted sandbag warnings early…Soon Ray Martin, our facilities manager started texting me for detailed information on rain intensity and timelines…I was into it. Then, about a month ago…we watched as the landscape exploded with greens, yellows, orange, pink, and purple…in fact the colors were so explosive and the green so vast that NASA posted a photo of what California looked like from space, calling it a “Super-Bloom” a once in a life-time event caused by the biggest drought in 450 years! CHP in Temecula were giving tickets and warnings to people who were pulling off the freeway because they wanted to take their family photos amongst all the wild flowers! Maybe you saw some of these photos on FB?

Now, if you would have asked me, can a garden come up from this drought stricken ground at all? My imagination would have fallen far short of a “super-bloom!”

Presbyterian pastor, Charles Williamson in his study on Acts, has 4 questions that he finds helpful for examining and entering into a passage of Scripture. If you are leading a bible study, or preparing to teach or preach, you might find them helpful.

Here they are:

  1. If this passage where omitted from the Bible, what would we be missing?
  2. What did this passage mean for Theophilus and those 1st century Christians?
  3. What does it mean for us?
  4. And, how does it address the needs and concerns of the Church today?

I want us to look at this passage this morning with these questions as guides to entering into God’s Word:

If Acts 1:1-12 were omitted, what would we be missing?
Well, just a cursory look at verses 1-12 tells us that Luke is painting the big picture for Theophilus. Luke reminds him of what he had already written, “In the first book…” known to us now as the Gospel According to Luke.

Acts 1:1-12 might be seen as the “Author’s Forward.” Luke ends his Gospel in almost the exact same way that he begins this letter! He does add an interesting note in Acts about the fact that Jesus was with the disciple for 40 days.

Was he afraid that Theophilus may have thought the story ended? Luke wants him to know the story continues. “In that first book, Theophilus, I wrote to you about everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven; giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts. 1:1-2)

The disciples are given a new orientation for their lives…to be witnesses (in the Greek the word is “martus”, martyr—or eyewitness). Luke ends his Gospel telling Theophilus that Jesus Christ, the same one who suffered and died, rose from the grave was with the disciples in bodily form, walking around with the disciples, serving meals, able to move through time and space, and was teaching them about the Kingdom of God. Jesus opened their minds to understand that everything written about the Messiah in all the Old Testament was fulfilled in him. They are to go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin — in Jesus’ name to all nations. Jesus promises them that the same Spirit that is in Him, will soon be in them…and for that, he must first ascend to the Father, and they must wait in hope with expectation. (See Luke 24:44-49)

For everything Luke tells Theophilus in this part of his letter called the Acts of the Apostles, is foundational for everything that happens after; it explains how this rag-tag group of 11 (soon to be 12) disciples proclaimed a message about Jesus in such a way that it that turned the world upside-down! Jesus leaves them, yes, but the Holy Spirit will come and baptize them.

The moment Jesus finishes telling them to wait, to receive the Spirit and to witness, Jesus is lifted up, in a cloud, gone from their sight. Jesus ascends bodily into heaven. Two men in white robes (aka “angels”) tell us that Jesus is coming again…we are not told when, it’s not for us to know the times/periods that the “Father has set by his own authority.”

The ascension of Jesus…is not something we talk about very much…but we do sing about it…and we sang about it a lot this morning? Where is Jesus? What is Jesus doing right now?

Paul in Ephesians tells us that Christ who is raised from the dead is now seated at the right hand of the Father. (See Eph. 1:20)

So that we, chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love, are now God’s adopted children through Christ, living to the praise of his glorious grace, lavished on us in Christ. And we having heard and received the Gospel of our Salvation through belief in Christ are now sealed with the Promised Holy Spirit — God’s pledge to us of an inheritance yet to come–to the praise of God’s glory. (See Ephesians 1:4-14)

God’s pledge to us of an inheritance that is yet to come! If this passage were omitted, needless to say we would be missing an important theological truth about the Ascension of our Lord.

Let’s look at the second question: “What may this have meant for Theophilus and for those 1st Century Christians?

We don’t really know how Theophilus responded, here we would have to use our imaginations. One Pastor tried to do just that and he writes for us a fictional Letter from Theophilus back to Luke:

My dear Luke,
Thank you for your first book about Jesus… As you can guess… I was most intrigued to hear you were writing a second volume… and have been looking forward to it with expectation… I did wonder how this wonderful story could continue after resurrection… and so on receiving your second volume… I was keen to start reading straight away…

In your first book you kept me gripped with a story full of wonder and grace… of healing and miraculous events… but more than anything… it was Jesus who fascinated me… a miracle
worker yet whose miracles were incidental to the purpose of his life… which was to offer and show us how to live life fully given over to the love of God…

I was fascinated therefore with the details you gave of the resurrection and the sightings of him after those mysterious events at the empty tomb… And to imagine all you say is true… makes it even more of a tale of wonder and grace…

Imagine then… what it was like to open your second volume and read straight away the story of Jesus departure from among us… My heart skipped a beat as I imagined in my mind his ascension… such a difficult thing to imagine… I can’t tell if you are offering a symbolic story here… or outlining the facts… either way…I imagine you are saying that it is what is left in his place that is important… and the implication of the two men who turn up as the disciples stare into space… as if longing for Jesus to be with them… is beautifully and subtly made… Though I have to confess… I can imagine how they felt… those poor disciples… having been through so much…

So far… I have read but the first page… and am looking forward to hearing how the tale will grow… but I imagine that they will discover they have been left with more than they imagine… a confidence? I am sure… a hope? I am certain… but if everything I have read so far is true… and I do not doubt you one bit, Luke my friend… then there will be love… a love that has seen all things… even death being defeated… and in that Spirit and truth… I dare not even imagine what might yet happen to this new movement…

Jesus is gone… but it seems he is more alive now… than ever before…Thank you for encouraging my faith… with your own… I am beginning to trust this adventure called The Way…

Your friend, Theophilus

written by Roddy Hamilton, and posted on Listening to the Stones.

I like that, Jesus is gone, but it seems he is more alive now…than ever before…

What might Acts 1:1-12 have meant for those 1st century Christians?
Here we don’t have to use our imaginations too much because Luke is going to tell that story in Acts. He tells how they were charged with proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and not by their own strength, or by how they thought it should look, but rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I like how one commentator understands this, writing:

The connection of the mission of God’s people with Jesus’s mission is explicit in the very first lines of Acts. In Acts, Luke is going to write about all that Jesus continues to do and teach by the Spirit and through his chosen community.

Mission is a work of God: Jesus working by the Spirit. His people are taken up into that mission; they prolong the mission that Jesus began. Continuing the mission of Jesus is not just one more task given to his disciple community. Rather, it defines its very identity and function in God’s ongoing [Salvation] story. (Goheen, M. W. (2011). Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group. Retrieved from Created from fuller on 2017-04-26 15:12:04.)

Which, brings us to look at the 3rd and 4th questions together: What does it mean for us? And, how does it address the needs and concerns of the church today?

Again Paul in his letter to the Ephesians helps us understand what the “church” is. He writes: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Eph. 2:19-21)

The mission the Apostles were given, is the same mission we too are given.

We are called to witness to this is new reality, because of our new identity in Christ. And this assignment is not “one more assignment added to an otherwise full agenda for the people of God. Witness is not one more task among others: Witness defines the role of this community in this era of God’s story and thus defines its very identity.”

This is more than just my individual identity, though it is that as well, but it is OUR identity––as the Church, chosen by Christ (not by anything we had done so that not one of us may boast by the way), and called in Christ, and through Christ to bear and follow Christ into the world!

There has always been one mission Old Testament and New Testament and that is to: witness to the saving acts of God…to proclaim the marvelous works of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light!

The mission of the Church is God’s mission, we are called into partnership with God. His agenda is to be our agenda. We are to be heralds of the Good News of the Kingdom…Living Letters, as Paul says.

This mission of sharing God’s love in Christ Jesus is HOW God is at work in the world. Yes, through the Church…in all our failings, divisions, etc…over the centuries, the Church remains the Body of Christ.

So, in what ways is God at work in the Church today? In what ways is God at work your life today?

You who are sealed by the Holy Spirit through baptism?

You who are equipped for mission by the very Spirit of God at work in you. The Spirit at work to build-up Christ’s body–the Church, the new creation…the now and not yet of the Kingdom of God.  Yep…every single one of us is called and given gifts…no one is left out. God desires to work through you in ways that you could never imagined. His ability to through you by His Spirit is not determined by or limited by socio-economic status, race, age or your gender! Wow!

In this season of Easter…these great 50 days…let the Church be filled with songs of praise, songs of joy, words of assurance and hope. The one who promised IS faithful. Let the Church be about the work of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God…let us share the good news of the Amazing Grace of God in Christ; let us bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim release to those in the bonds of sin, comfort those who mourn…for we are now clothed with garments of salvation, and God is making all things new, he is our God and we are called friends of God, those who love the Lord. Let us do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our Lord.
May it be so here amongst us.

Let us pray.

Father God, Like the Apostles, we too will never fully understand all Ascension means.
We accept, but we do not fully understand. We believe, yet we have many questions.
Help us, despite our uncertainty, to hold firm to the great truth that the wonder of Christ Jesus  goes far beyond anything we can ever imagine, and in that faith may be your Church proclaiming the Good news of the Kingdom here in Laguna Beach, in all of Orange County and California and to the ends of the earth, and may we live each day to his glory and honor. Amen.

What Is Next?

Date: April 30, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

What Is Next? is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 21. It is the 3rd Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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What Is Next?  John 21:1-23

Easter Sunday had come and gone. The group of fishermen who had been called by Jesus from their fishing three years before to become fishers of people had followed him up and down the land. They had seen many things. They had listened to Jesus; they had seen him bring healing and hope into many lives; they had seen persons delivered from bondage to unclean spirits; they had seen the lame walk again; they had seen the blind see; they had seen the burden of sin forgiven and persons set free to live new lives; they had seen the dead raised. They had been sent out to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation.  They had become the agents of God’s healing love.  The Jesus movement was sweeping the country.

But in John 21 they were back at the Lake of Galilee where the journey with Jesus had begun.The mission that they thought was unstoppable had ground to a halt at the end of the Passover Festival in Jerusalem.  Jesus, their leader, had been put to death, but raised on the third day.  They had seen, heard, touched and fellowshipped with the risen Lord.  But days and weeks had passed.  They had gone home and back to fishing the lake.

It was likely that with a few more passing days and weeks that their memories of Jesus would diminish. Perhaps what they feared was that in the not too distant future that they would share their thoughts about the good old days of hope in which the powers of goodness seemed as if they might prevail.  It had seemed that the kingdom of God had come.  The Golden Age had broken into history; evil had been overcome; enlightenment, rationality, walls being broken down and the final triumph of peace ready to be celebrated.

But they had returned to Galilee. They must have been haunted by the question: “What’s Next?” What’s next for the eleven?  What’s next for Simon Peter?  What’s next for the Beloved Disciple, John?  They were waiting and in their own way seeking to discern the will of God for themselves and the Jesus Movement.  Was history coming to an end with a bang or a whimper?

Peter had heard Jesus say that upon his character and confession of faith he would build a church. The gates of hell could not prevail against it. Peter said to his friends as they had returned to Galilee: “I’m going fishing.” They were quick to respond, “We will go with you.”

During the night of fishing they had caught nothing. I can read their minds and spirits.   Returning to the past would not solve the riddle of their lives.  The fishing trip was a parable of the past three years.  All they had invested in hard work and dangerous encounters had come to nothing.  They were exhausted, disappointed, guilt laden, without purpose or meaning.  Maybe the whole adventure was a pipe dream and a false hope that the world had sucked out of them.  That early morning despair was creping into their souls.

The central question was: “What’s Next?”

As the sun was beginning to rise over the Golan Heights and to shimmer upon the lake, a stranger appeared on the lakeshore. He asked a question that seemed to rub their despair deeper and to even anger them.

“Children, you have no fish, have you?” “They answered, “No.”  “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Simon Peter, who was naked, put his clothes on and jumped into the lake.”

That morning the group of men who had followed Jesus and Peter found themselves in the presence of the resurrected Lord, their nets filled by 153 large fish. No one dared to ask the stranger, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.  And the Lord had prepared breakfast for them.  There was a fire, a grill with fish cooking, and warm bread.  The Lord had provided for them.  He invited them, “Come and have breakfast.”

After breakfast the conversation began with a series of questions for Peter. Three times Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me? “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  “Then feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.” 

Peter was heartbroken by the repeated questions. Soon he remembered that he had denied Jesus three times on that last evening as Jesus was arrested and put on trial.  Jesus had looked at him from a distance as a reminder that he had said Peter would deny him three times before the morning roosters of Jerusalem could crow.

The guilt of this betrayal had quietly been eating away in Peter’s heart. His relationship with Jesus had been broken.  And now he was being pressed to deal with his lapse of faith in the presence of the community of disciples.  Peter was their leader and the others were beginning to see that they had no future unless Peter faced up to what he had done and received forgiveness and the lifting up of his burden.

Beyond Peter’s failures, each of the disciples understood that they had each abandoned Jesus at the end. They had not believed the first reports that Jesus was alive.  They were a wounded, broken group of followers whose journey had come to an end.  There was no future for them.  The best they could hope for was to hide out around the lake, quietly earn their living fishing and trying to forget what they had been foolish enough to believe and follow.

I began to follow Jesus from an early age. It did not take long for me to discover that the road of discipleship might not be as smooth as I had believed.  There were trials.  There were temptations.  There were successes, and then set backs.  At one point I began to wonder if the journey might end due to my own lack of wisdom and obedience?  What do you do when people close to you betray you and the ruin becomes public?  As a young assistant pastor at the La Canada Presbyterian Church in the midst of renewed blessings, I could not see that I had a future.  In the quietness of my soul I asked, “What’s Next?”

In the last decade many pastors have asked this question about a denomination that has seemed to be in a meltdown. A new organization sprung up called, “The Next Church”. It was perceived by many of the centrist pastors that the old church did not have much of a future. So they began to invite others to gather and to imagine that there might be a Next Church. They were asking, “What’s Next?”

When groups of pastors get together in fellowship often they find themselves in times of discernment seeking to discover their ways through the ups and downs of pastoral ministry, family life, health challenges, personal ambitions, and temptations. When they gather they are not much different than those in the boat on the lake with Peter and John.  We find ourselves asking, “What’s Next?” “Is there a next?”  “How is it that we have arrived at this place?” We are tired, confused, puzzled, without a clear awareness of what might be coming next.  Therefore, we meet, we eat, we pray, we fellowship, we laugh, we lament, we seek the guidance of the living Lord.

The project we began, the work of the Lord, the long journey that has seen us through much hardship and fulfillment, has come to an impasse. Is there a call beyond what we have experienced?  Why has our journey turned out this way?  What’s next?

Three decades ago I began to experience a deep restlessness. I did not know what it meant.  I asked the question of our text:  “what’s next?”  One summer on vacation I prayed wondering if I was being prepared for a new ministry opportunity.  My prayers were answered one day during a quiet meditation: “Jerry, wait and see what I will do.” “Wait and see.” That answer was not the answer I desired. I thought I was on the upward path to significance. “Wait and see what I will do.”

The answer implied that I was not the lord and master of my destiny, that someone else had a purpose and project for me. “Wait and see what I will do.”  I came to trust that this was the voice of God with the clear direction that the Lord was doing something in my life that did not have to do with my moving to another place.  I came to realize that the living Lord was knocking at the door of my heart wanting to be welcomed into the totality of my life.  The Lord had other plans for me to give to me a future with hope.  As more has been revealed, the still small voice of the Lord has said to me, “I am more interested with what happens in your soul, in your inner journey, than I am with sending you someplace else to do the same ministry again.  “What’s next for you is to be shaped and formed in the image of Christ so that you may know me and serve with humility the work of my people.”

In my 40+ years as your pastor what I have often feared was “Congregational Drift”. That is, coming to an impasse after a few accomplishments with no clear vision for the future.  Therefore, every five years I insisted to the session that we do a new Mission Study to assess where we were and what new challenges there were before us. After much study, prayer, and planning, we wrote new mission statements, with new goals and objectives for the next five years.  What God has done in us and is doing through us has been miraculous.

I have loved C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy” Lewis told the story of the boy named Shasta.  Shasta was called to a long journey which he did not understand.  From childhood, life had presented him with multiple challenges. There were wounds he had sustained. He had arrived at a place of great discouragement while traversing a mountain pass in the darkness of a deep fog. Strangely he did not know his destination.

A presence joined him. He thought it might be an enemy who would attack him.  This had happened before. Shasta was terrified.  He found himself in a conversation with the Presence.  The Presence was Aslan the Lion.  Shasta told him about his troubles, even though he did not know who or what was beside him.  Aslan told the boy his life story and his own role in it.  Shasta asked Aslan to explain the meaning of some of the experiences of his traveling companion Aravis. She had been attacked by lions and wounded.  The Lion answered, ”I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.” P. 159

Soon the Lion was seen in the morning light. It was Aslan who had been pushing Shasta forward so that he might be a agent of help for Narnia in its wars against its enemies.  This was the Lord’s providence at work.

The answer to Jesus’s question was central. “Do you love me?”  “If so, tend my sheep.  Feed my lambs.  Be a good shepherd”.

Do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know everything.  I love you with all my weaknesses and wounds, and with all my failures, I love you.  And the Lord, with deep compassion, has said to me, “then keep tending my sheep and feeding my lambs.”  “Keep loving me and my sheep.”

I was listening to a friend recently as he lamented about the trial of calling a new pastor for his church. He said to me, “we need a pastor who will love us, stay with us in all our trials, struggles, failures, and hopes.  As I have listened to the voices of the church over the last 15 years I have heard this over and over.  Do the leaders of the church, pastors, elders, and deacons, love us?  Are they seeking their own glory and upward mobility, or is the number one ambition of their lives to love the flock of the people of God.

Jesus brought this truth home to Peter’s heart and mind. Peter, love my people!  Know their names; lead them to good pasture and clean waters. Protect them from their predators.  Be willing to lay down your life for the sheep!

Remember this Peter,

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.  Follow me.” Jn. 21:18-19

Both Peter and Paul ended up in Rome during Nero’s persecutions of the Christian church. The Quo Vadis legend said that Peter was running for his life beyond Rome and leadership in Rome’s church.  Along the way, the resurrected Lord met him again carrying a cross.  Peter asked him, “Where are you going?” Jesus said, “I going to Rome to be crucified again.”

Tradition says that Peter returned to Rome and was crucified on a cross upside down and set a fire in the Vatican Gardens. St. Peter’s burned bones are buried under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Paul was beheaded outside the walls of Rome and his remains are buried under St. Paul’s Basilica Outside the Walls.

To the very end of their lives they were called to “Follow Jesus”. They came to trust that nothing could separate them from the love of God.  Their God was a God of grace and of the New Creation. Their deaths were not the end of the journey, but the beginning of an eternal journey into the fullness of Life.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Burning Hearts Open Eyes

Date: April 23, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Burning Hearts / Open Eyes is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Luke 24:13-44. It is the 2nd Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ and coming to the Lord’s Table!

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Luke 24:13-44

Barbara Brown Taylor, in one of her sermons, called to mind the power that stories have. “A good story does not just tell you about something that happened once upon a time.  It brings that time back to life so that you can walk around in it and experience it for yourself.  You finish an epic like “Gone with the Wind” and you can feel lonely for days, missing Scarlett and Rhett and Melanie.  You read James Michener’s, “Hawaii”—specifically, the chapter about navigating the Strait of Magellan during a storm—and you can get as seasick as any sailor just sitting in your chair.  That is the power of the word, and when the word concerns Jesus, that power becomes God’s power.

“Scripture is the message our ancestors rolled up and put in a bottle for us, because they wanted us to experience the person of Jesus in the word” (Barbara Brown Taylor,“Believing in the Word: Home by Another Way”, p. 116-117).

At the beginning of Luke’s story we the readers are caught up into the power of his story telling genius. We read the story knowing that a stranger whom the two disciples have not recognized, but whom the Gospel writer has identified as the resurrected Jesus, has joined the two on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  The question is whether or not the two will awaken to who it is that walks and talks with them?  Their perception seems blinded.  I find myself rooting for them that they will see and believe the presence of the living Lord in the stranger.

Cleopas was the name of one of the disciples on his way to his home in Emmaus. The other disciple walking with him may have been his wife.  Whether the two were male and female or two disciples walking and talking together, it was one of the most important walks and conversations of the Biblical story.

The two had been in Jerusalem during Passover week. Perhaps they had been followers of Jesus for some period of time? They were still discussing what they had experienced in the last few days. Clearly, they were distressed, confused, and trying to make some sense of “the things” of the past week and Sunday morning.

As they walked along the stranger joined them. He asked them about the things they were discussing.  They were amazed that he did not know about the things that had happened to Jesus of Nazareth from Thursday to Sunday.

“What things? “He asked. They answered him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” (Luke 24)

The stranger was interested in their story. But then he shocked them with his biting critique: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24)

How do strangers have such an honest conversation?

The stranger sounded adversarial and confrontational.  How do you suggest that another person is foolish and slow of heart to believe?  This confrontation was in the same mood as John the Baptist’s, who preached to those who came down to the Jordan River to be baptized,  “You brood of vipers! Who warned  you to flee from the wrath to come?” (See Luke 3)

Jesus was saying to them, “Listen up! Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.  They all bear witness to the crucified and resurrected Messiah,”

As they approached their home in Emmaus it seemed as if the stranger was about to leave them and walk on to another place. As a reader of this story I want to cry out, “Open your eyes! Can you not see who is with you? Do not let this encounter be the final commentary on your spiritual journey.”

But by this time they were not about to let him get away. Their hearts were burning within them.  They wanted to hear more.  The man was making some sense of the biblical story. He was interpreting the story in the light of what had happened in Jerusalem. They had seen and heard but not understood.  They were about to wake up. The stranger had piqued their interest. They were hungry for further conversation. They asked for more interpretation.

Cleopas and the other disciple urged the stranger to stay with them that night and to have dinner. This was an act of hospitality for the man who interpreted the Bible with such authority and power. He consented, but as they gathered at the dinner table the stranger became the host. He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. In that moment they knew who the stranger was. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him. It was Jesus, the resurrected Lord. But just as suddenly, as they recognized him, he vanished from their sight.

They said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Lk. 24:32) Immediately, they returned to Jerusalem to share with the others that they had seen the Lord. As they did so, they heard the report that the resurrected Jesus had also appeared to Simon Peter.

Luke organized his story telling around 3 different types of eyewitnesses.

First, there were positive eyewitnesses. 

They saw, heard, and believed the mighty acts of God.  Like the Virgin Mary, who saw and heard the Angel Gabriel’s promise that she would conceive and bear a child of the Holy Spirit.  The child was God’s Son.  He was Israel’s Savior.  He would bring salvation to the world and Mary was favored as the young woman, unmarried as she was, to be the one through whom God would bless his people. Her response was, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your Word.” In this confession of faith and surrender to the mysterious ways of God, Mary became the ideal disciple, the positive eyewitness and servant of the Word of God.

Others joined her. Her cousin Elizabeth who was with child was deeply moved when Mary announced what the angel had said to her.  The embryo of her son, John the Baptist, leaped in his mother’s womb.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the crowds bore witness to what they were seeing and hearing.  The religious authorities told Jesus to command his disciples to be silent, but Jesus said, “If these were silent the stones on the road would cry out.” (Lk. 19)

Luke produced a long line of positive eyewitnesses: there were the poor, the broken, the demon possessed, old men and old women, the marginalized, tax collectors, known sinners, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, women and men, Jews and Gentiles, a few of the religious authorities.

Secondly, there were negative eyewitnesses. 

Among them were some of the religious and political authorities, who responded to what they saw and heard with threat, defensiveness, and hostility.  To them, Jesus was either a threat to Rome or a blasphemous fake Messiah, a dangerous false prophet who had the charisma to draw a crowd with tricks that might call forth the wrath of Rome.

Many rich men refused to listen to God’s Word or to follow Jesus. Their lives had become so wrapped up in the pursuit of material wealth that they had become blinded to the truth.  They served other gods.  It had become impossible for them to see reality or to open their minds to the kingdom of God present in Jesus.

But then there were neutral eyewitnesses.

These were the disciples.  They heard Jesus’ powerful teachings about the kingdom of God.  They saw him heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sins, and raise the dead.  But they had another agenda for Jesus.  If he were Israel’s Messiah, then his mission would be a success.  The kingdom of God would be established in Jerusalem, the Romans cast out, and they would be installed in positions of influence and power.

It was as if a veil was over their eyes. Whenever Jesus had told them that it was necessary for him to go up to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die, and be raised on the third day, they cried out with Simon Peter, “God forbid, this will never happen to you.” They knew and loved Jesus their friend, but they were only in early stages of spiritual awakening. Somehow their eyes, their minds, their hearts needed to be opened to reality.

Luke’s purpose was to engage his readers with the gospel story so powerfully that they might have their eyes, ears, minds, and hearts opened to believe and to follow Jesus into the fullness of God’s mission for his people.  And how did Luke’s Jesus do that?  By calling his readers to listen to the scriptures of Israel, to the words of Jesus illumined by the Holy Spirit!

The hermeneutic with which one listens and reads makes all the difference in connecting with the truth of the kingdom of God revealed in Jesus.

Last week I was watching C-Span’s Book Review program late at night. It came from a bookshop in Florida. There was a panel composed of the bookstore owner and two university professors who were writers of poetry and novels. The interviewer was the regular on C-Span. They were discussing what it takes to be a good writer. The answer was that all good writers are first and foremost “readers”. They shared their own pilgrimage with reading books from the time they were children. Their parents had passed on to them the love of books. They had grown up to be published writers.

The woman professor and writer shared some of the books she was now reading. I was happy to see her lift up Tim Snyder’s small paper back that I recommended a couple of weeks ago. He is the professor of history at Yale University whose new book entitled, “On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century”— now on the best selling book list.

In that book, he argued that the 20th century taught us to respect language and the power of words to form persons and cultures. He argued that Church members ought to return to reading their “foundational book”– the Bible, since it is as relevant as ever to the human condition. It speaks to what is the truth in a generation that does not think there is ultimate truth.

It seemed as if each of the panel members were political and maybe religious progressives and that reading had led them to such a world view. A woman called in and said how much she was enjoying the program. She often visited the bookstore, but then she revealed that she was a conservative who felt very sad that it had been implied that conservatives do not read or  have values consistent with the great canon of literature. She was angry and said she would find it difficult to hang out at the bookstore.

Without equivocating the members of the panel apologized and suggested that they sell, they read, and they teach both conservative and progressive texts. All persuasions, world views, and ways of interpreting texts are welcome in the store and in the classroom.

This illustrated to me the difficulty that Luke’s Jesus was dealing with in his three different types of witnesses. One may know the facts of a story, or  carry a different world view, or definition of words, that make it exceedingly difficult to agree about a read or proclaimed text. People read even Holy Scriptures through different interpretive lens. Nevertheless, Luke’s Jesus confronted this issue head on.

The resurrected Jesus interpreted the scriptures of Israel from the Law of Moses, to the Prophets, and to the Psalms as the key for rightly understanding the truth of the kingdom of God present in his self. In other words, Luke’s Jesus had an agenda.  He was opening eyes and ears, the hearts, and the minds of the two disciples by teaching them how to read the reality of what God was doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The lesson is clear for the church of our time. God is stilling calling us to be disciples engaged by the living Word of God revealed in Jesus the resurrected Lord. For years I have been saying that this is the key to our being a faithful church “Reformed by the Word and Spirit of God”. Through the writing’s of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels, the Letters, of the Bible, the living Christ calls the church to spiritual renewal and mission.

At the same time, the Scriptures call us to worship at the Table of our Lord.

Word and Sacrament go together. It is here that the resurrected Lord meets us for the sake of transforming us, of giving to us the mind of Christ, of centering us in relationship with him.  At this Table our hearts are burning, our eyes are being opened, our ears are listening, our minds are being transformed, and we are receiving through faith Christ the Lord.

This week several of you have shared with me the results of the latest Gallup Poll. The poll discovered that people who come to church long to hear a biblical message that is connected with their lives.  We come not just to be entertained or to be comforted, but to hear the Word of God, the Good News, seriously expounded and interpreted in the light of what is happening in the world.

It seems to me that this has always been the case and is surely the case where the church is strong, healthy, and alive with spiritual vitality. We want our hearts to burn within us as we come under the spell of the Holy Spirit that inspired the words of scripture and is present with us at the Table. In the process we must confess that we bring interpretive assumptions and prejudices that distort the message of the Gospel.  Nevertheless, we are committed to staying focused in the written, spoken, and visible Word of the Sacraments.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Easter Joy

Date: April 16, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Easter Joy is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 20. It is Easter Sunday morning and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

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Easter Joy, John 20

Early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus was buried. It was still dark.  There were a few other women who were with her, according to other Gospel accounts.  She knew that the grave had been sealed by a large stone rolled over the entrance of the tomb.  To her total surprise, she discovered that the stone had been removed.  Immediately, she ran and went to Simon Peter and to John, the beloved disciple.  When she arrived she cried out to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The two men, Peter and John, jumped up out of their sleep and ran to the tomb. John outran Peter.  When John arrived he looked into the tomb but did not go in.  He saw that the burial clothes were lying in their place.  The cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was folded and left in place.

Then Peter came huffing and puffing to the Garden Tomb. He went into the tomb after pushing John aside.  He saw the linen garments lying in place, but there was no body present.  It was as if the body of Jesus had simply escaped the burial clothing and disappeared without messing up the clothing.

John then entered the tomb. He saw and believed.  Neither of them understood the scriptures about Jesus that promised he would be raised from the dead.  Anxious, confused, doubting, troubled, and fearful, the two disciples returned to their homes.

Left alone weeping in the Garden, Mary bent over and looked into the tomb. There she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” In the Gospel of Luke they said to her, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” Mary had seen a man outside the tomb whom she thought was the gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

“Mary!”, Jesus said to her.  Quickly, she recognized the man’s voice.  It was the voice of her Teacher. This was the man she was seeking. She tried to grab him, to hold on to him, and to touch him.  He said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary Magdalene went as an “Apostle to the Apostles” and proclaimed the joyful good news, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20:1-18

After three or four centuries the burial place of Jesus was forgotten by those who did not care. The city walls of Jerusalem were shifted as the population grew.  The hills and the valleys were filled in with rocks, gravel, and soil. Memory retreated. The Romans built a temple for one of their pagan gods over the site.  It was not until the Emperor Constantine converted to the Christian faith in the 4th century A.D. that his mother Helena traveled from Rome to Jerusalem seeking to discover the places of the Jesus story.  Central to her quest was the hope of rediscovering the tomb of Jesus, marking it, and building a church over it as a place where pilgrims could go and worship.

Helena was convinced that she had found the site of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified.  An old wooden cross was discovered that she announced was the cross upon which Jesus was crucified and died.  Nearby there was found  a garden  burial tomb. Helena proclaimed the tomb  the burial place of Jesus.

As the centuries passed churches were built and rebuilt over the Golgotha hill and the tomb.  The churches were destroyed in times of wars.  Sometimes fires burned the church or earthquakes shattered the Jerusalem area.  Warring armies fought over the holy places marking the sites of the Jesus story.  The present Church of the Holy Sepulcher has stood since the 1200’s A.D., and somehow has survived all the damages inflicted by nature, by fires, by earthquakes, by invading armies, by conflicts from differing religious groups.

Under the great dome of the church there was a smaller church built over the identified tomb of Jesus. Until the past year, the actual  underground tomb had not been seen by human eyes since the 1500’s. Because the small church had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of caving in on the tomb, three of the six Christian groups that claim parts of the larger church agreed to raise the money to restore the small church.

Over the past few months the tomb area was opened for the first time in over 500 years. The National Geographic TV channel did a special documentary of that effort. Google the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and you can read about the history of this holy space.  The space has been reopened and our group will be able to see it this May 2017.

What was very important was that when the tomb was carefully opened it was clearly seen that the slab upon which it is believed the dead body of   Jesus was laid, was empty.

I have often wondered what would have happened if the tomb was opened and the skeletal remains of Jesus’ body were found? DNA tests could have been done.  I think Christianity would have been discredited and the message of the Christian religion  would have needed to be changed.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that it discovered the Apostle Peter’s bones buried under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.   St. Paul’s bones rest under the altar of St. Paul’s Outside the Wall.  This is not disturbing because the joyful good news of the gospel is that “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  The Apostles are with the Lord waiting for the great day of resurrection and the final judgment.

For over 1500 years, Christians have come to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to reverence Jesus Christ, to be at the place where Jesus died on the cross and was raised by the power of Almighty God.

Christians line up to enter the ancient building, to wait in long lines to enter the small church within the larger church.   Small groups enter the space to celebrate the Mass, to bow, to pray over, to kiss the marble slab, surrounded by candles, incense, and priests with long beards.

Father James Martin shared his first pilgrimage experience at the CHS. Martin, the RCC Jesuit priest stood in a long line of tourists wanting to enter the smaller church.  He noticed that a man in front of him kept checking his smartphone.  He said, “I peeked over his shoulder in violation of all tourist ettiquet to see what could be so important and half-expected him to be typing, ‘Can’t talk. In church where Jesus died.  Call you in 5.’  Instead, he was playing a video game.” P. 395, JESUS A PILGRIMAGE.

In a time in which many holy places have to compete with all kinds of distractions, both within and without our heads, we ought not be surprised to discover that we come to this Easter Sunday with many things in our minds.

We may be in church this morning thinking about the Easter egg hunt at the park or field.  I remember years ago on Easter Sunday  racing with our young son to the high school for the  egg hunt.  It seemed that within 10 minutes every egg hidden by the American Legion would be found.  We did not want him to miss out and be disappointed. We had parental anxieties.

Now we plan where we can have Sunday brunch, have good reservations, and get members of our family transported to a local restaurant. I can remember a brunch in which a huge Easter  Rabbit showed up to entertain us.  It was delightful.

There were several early Easter Sunrise services at the Irvine Bowl in which I thought I would freeze to death and I wondered if I could do those and remember what to say back at our sanctuary.

When I first visited the CHS in Jerusalem I was so preoccupied by the infighting among the six Christian groups trying to control various parts of the church that I seriously doubted that Jesus would ever have showed up in this place of intrigue, power struggles to control the property, and the embarrassing truth that a Muslim family held the church keys and opened and locked the church daily to keep one Christian group or another from capturing the keys and locking out the other Christian groups.

When James Martin first entered the smaller church he knelt down with his head on the marble slab with a specific prayer for his mother who was seriously considering moving into a retirement home. Since he was in the place of Jesus he decided he would by-pass the saints in his prayers and simply ask Jesus to make his mother’s decision happen smoothly.

He shared that “it was one of those times in prayer that I felt that I had really expressed myself, that I had been as clear as I could about this single intention.

I knelt on the floor and bent my forehead to the cool stone, touching it with my hand as well. The moment I did this, I had an instant, powerful, vivid image of Jesus lying on the stone and then sitting up.  I could see him, feel him, rising up.  The image filled my mind.  Emotions overwhelmed me, and I started to cry.

Stumbling out of the tomb, I stopped by the columns outside the small enclosure and knelt down. Why had I not understood that this was not simply the CHS, the church of his tomb?  It was also the Church of the Resurrection.

I spent two hours by the pillars meditating on the Resurrection. He rose from here, I thought.  I thought of how he did it for everyone—past, present, and future.  I thought of all the pilgrims who had come to this spot—past, present, and future.  And how it changed everything.” p. 396

Today we remember the church bombings last Palm Sunday in Egypt. Dozens were killed and buildings damaged on that high holy day for the Egyptian Coptic Church.  I read this week that  Coptic Churches in southern Egypt cancelled Easter celebrations out of fear.  The President of Egypt has called for a 90 day emergency in Egypt.  There will be some Saturday prayers, but Sunday family celebrations of Easter are being severely cut back or entirely eliminated.

The darkness of the world seeks to overshadow the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Could it be that Easter is more about death than life? Frederick Buechner, ended one of his Easter sermons in his book, THE MAGNIFICENT DEFEAT,

“What I believe happened and what in faith and with great joy I proclaim to you here is that Jesus somehow got up, with life in him again, and the glory upon him. He got up and said, ‘Don’t be afraid.” P. 80

“Anxiety and fear are what we know best in this fantastic century of ours. Wars and rumors of wars. From civilization itself to what seemed the most unalterable values of the past, everything is threatened or already in ruins.  We have heard so much tragic news that when the news is good we cannot hear it.

But the proclamation of Easter Day is that all is well. And as a Christian, I say this not with the easy optimism of one who has never known a time when all was not well but as one who has faced the Cross in all its obscenity as well as in all its glory, who has known one way or another what it is like to live separated from God.  In the end, his will, not ours, is done.  Love is the victor.  Death is not the end. The end is life.  His life and our lives through him, in him.  Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream.  Christ our Lord has risen.” P. 81

The end is life. I love that.

This was what the gathered disciples were beginning to learn on the first Easter morning and evening. They were all together, except for Thomas, on that evening.  They were in hiding in fear of the religious authorities.  John tells us that the resurrected Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. And he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he  said,

‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Then he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’

 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” John 20:19-23

The tomb was empty. The disciples were amazed, as are we. Mary saw and witnessed to the living Lord.  The disciples gathered to hide in fear, but Christ joined them, and they saw the Lord alive; they were filled with his Holy Spirit; and the transforming mission of the church is history.  So we witness this morning in the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is alive; he is with us this morning; and his mission is our mission to the ends of the earth. “PEACE BE WITH YOU”.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Passion of Christ Good Friday

Date: April 14, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Passion of Christ Good Friday is a podcast of the Good Friday worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching. The readings this evening are from John’s Gospel.

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* The asterisk indicates that the congregation stands.
Words in Bold are spoken or sung by the congregation.
PRELUDE:     O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, Hassler     – Sookyung Bang
Were You There, arr. B. Kinyon    – Chancel Bells

WORDS OF WELCOME    – Kathy Sizer
To symbolize the darkness of this Good Friday we will conclude this service in a moment
of full darkness. Please meditate and rest in the silence until the lights come back on.
We will depart the Sanctuary tonight in silence.

OPENING PRAYER    – Kathy Sizer
Today the carpenter’s hands are nailed to a cross, the King of kings is crowned with thorns and wears the purple robe of mockery. Today he sets us free, himself imprisoned on a tree.
Today is God’s Friday. We come in worship.

INTROIT: Lonesome Valley, Graham and Nix    – Chancel Ensemble
Jesus walked that lonesome valley for you and me.
Jesus climbed the hill of sorrow for you and me.
Walkin’ up that trail of tears, Jesus stumbles on the road.
On his back he carries our fears, such a dreary, weary load.
Jesus bore the cross for sinners like you and me.

CALL TO WORSHIP: Isaiah 53:1, 4-5, NRSV    – Kathy Sizer
L:    Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
P:    Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted.
L:    But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
P:    and by his bruises we are healed.

* HYMN #177:  What Wondrous Love Is This, American Folk Hymn
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down.
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing!
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing!
To God and to the Lamb, who is the great “I AM,”
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
while millions join the theme, I will sing!

SCRIPTURE: John 18:28-38a    – Mike Regele

HYMN: Beautiful Savior, arr. B. Ingram    – Chancel Bells

SCRIPTURE:  John 18:38b-19:1-7, NRSV    – Steve Sweet
L:    After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them,
“I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover.
Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
They shouted in reply,
P:    “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
L:    Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.
And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head,
and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him,
striking him on the face and saying,
P:    “Hail, King of the Jews!”
L:    Pilate went out again and said to them,
“Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.
Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted,
P:    “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
L:    Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
They answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die
because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

HYMN:  Lamb of God, T. Paris    – Praise Team

SCRIPTURE:  John 19:8-13, NRSV    – Caroline and Michael Millson

* HYMN #178: O Sacred Head Now Wounded
O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded with thorns thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn,
how does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn.
What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior; ‘til I deserve thy place;
Look on me with thy favor, assist me with thy grace.

SCRIPTURE:  John 19:14-16a, NRSV    – Kathy Sizer
L:    Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon.
He said to them, “Here is your King!” They cried out,
P:    “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”
L:    Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” They answered,
P:    “We have no king but the emperor.”
L:    Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.

HYMN: The Heart of Jesus, Hayes and Frombach    – Chancel Ensemble
The crowd moves closer now to see, the Son of God in agony.
They nail his hands stretched far apart; they pierce his side, but not his heart.
They nail his feet into the tree; he now fulfills the prophecy.
A crown of thorns tears flesh apart; they bruise his head but not his heart.
His voice is silenced, no word is spoken; his breath and life too soon are gone.
The heart of Jesus cannot be broken; the love in his heart lives on.
They spit upon his dying frame; they mock his sacred, holy name.
The Roman law they must impart; they take his life, but not his heart.

SCRIPTURE: John 19:16b-27, NRSV     – Ceil Sharman
SCRIPTURE: John 19:28-30, NRSV     – Jerry Tankersley
L:  The Word of the Lord.
P:  Thanks be to God.

MEDITATION    – Jerry Tankersley

PRAYER    – Jerry Tankersley

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

The Christ Candle is extinguished.

HYMN:  Were You There?    – Beth Pinney

We will turn on the lights following  2 minutes of silence.
We depart in silence.

This service continues Easter Sunday at 8, 9:30 and 11am.

Power Struggle Maundy Thursday

Date: April 13, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

Power Struggle is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on John 13:1-20. This is Maundy Thursday and we are beginning the Triduum.

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You can download the Maundy Thursday Bulletin by clicking on the link below. You will find the bulletin in the 2017 archives.


* The asterisk indicates that the congregation stands.
Words in Bold are spoken or sung by the congregation.
We invite you to begin your personal preparation for worship during the prelude.

PRELUDE: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee, Dykes, arr. Smith    – Bobbette Cameron, Venetia Ellis

* OPENING HYMN #211: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, vs. 1, 2
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to my glorious rest above!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread his praise from shore to shore!
How he loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How he watches o’er his loved ones, died to call them all his own;
How for them he intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!


CALL TO WORSHIP: Psalm 34:1-3, 8, NRSV    – Jerry Tankersley
L:    I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
P:    My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
L:    O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
P:    O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

God of Day and God of Darkness (See Music Insert)

(Please Be Seated)

Love, Love, Love (See Music Insert)

SCRIPTURE: John 13:1-20 (see page 107 in the New Testament)    – Kathy Sizer
L:   The Word of the Lord.
P:     Thanks be to God.

MEDITATION:  “POWER STRUGGLE”                        – Kathy Sizer

L:    Christ shows his self-giving love by washing his disciples’ feet.
Surely we do not live up to Christ’s example.
We confess now our sin and our need of a Savior.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION (Spoken and Sung)    – Steve Sweet
L: Merciful God, we have not loved you with all our heart, mind, strength and soul. (Silent Confession) Lord, have mercy.
P:    (Sung)  Kyrie eleison

L:    We have not loved our neighbors as you have taught us.   (Silent Confession)  Christ, have mercy.
P:    (Sung)  Kyrie eleison (See Music Above)

L:    We are indifferent to the saving grace of your Word and life.   (Silent Confession)  Lord, have mercy.
P:    (Sung)  Kyrie eleison (See Music Above)

L: Merciful God, in Jesus and his way of life, you have given us an example to replicate––
an example that is in sharp contrast to the ways of the world.
In the grace and power of your Spirit,
may we be a community that refuses anxiety because of our sure confidence in you.
Empower us to reach out in compassion and love.
(Silent Confession)

Lord, have mercy. Amen.

– Prayer from Bruggeman’s, “A Way Other Than Our Own”, p. 89.

L:    Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Jesus we remember tonight is the Savior of the world.
In Christ we are forgiven. And through him God abides with even us.
Let us stand and affirm our faith together.

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess to the glory of God: Jesus Christ is Lord!

* PASSING THE PEACE OF CHRIST, John 13:34, NRSV    – Steve Sweet
L:    Hear anew the teaching of Christ: “A new commandment I give to you:
Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
The peace of Christ be with you.
P:    And also with you.


OFFERTORY: Lord, Have Mercy, Townsend/Getty  (See Music Insert for Words)        – Praise Team

* PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE – based on John 17:1-26    – Jerry Tankersley
Tonight we will join hands together across the aisle as a sign of our oneness in the body of Christ.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

INVITATION TO THE TABLE                             – Jerry Tankersley

PRAYER OF GREAT THANKSGIVING                         – Steve Sweet


Gluten-free bread is available. If you are not able to come forward to the Table, please, let one of our ushers know so that our communion servers may come to you.
Music:  Amazing Love, Kendricks    – Praise Team

This practice dates from the 7th century. The desolation and abandonment of this long night for Jesus is symbolized by the removal of all communion ware and paraments.
A single candle remains lit tonight.

ANTHEM: Silent Was the Night, J. Martin        – Chancel Choir

Silent was the night in dark Gethsemane. The Savior knelt to pray in deep humility.
Quiet were the stars that once had sung on high.
The birds all hushed their singing as the Lamb prepared to die. Worthy is the Lamb.

Silent was the night beneath the olive trees. The Savior cries alone, his heart in agony.
Soon the noise of hate will echo through the night; the silence will be broken by shouts of “Crucify!”
Worthy is the Lamb.
Lonesome winds began to blow. Tears began to fall as Jesus took the bitter cup and chose to drink it all.
“Father, let thy will be done.”  He prayed in deepest grief.
With grace he rose to face the night, then turned toward Calvary.  Worthy is the Lamb.

SCRIPTURE: John 18:1-11    – Steve Sweet

SCRIPTURE: John 18:12-18    – Kathy Sizer

SCRIPTURE: John 18:19-27    – Jerry Tankersley

Please, depart the Sanctuary tonight in Silence.
This service, known as the Triduum, continues tomorrow evening,
7pm, Good Friday, and 8, 9:30, 11am, Easter Sunday.

Looking for Jesus

Date: April 9, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Looking for Jesus is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 12:9-26. It is Palm Sunday.  We are welcoming new members as well as commissioning our students for their Molokai Mission Trip, 2017.

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Looking for Jesus, John 12:9-26

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival.  Jews from around the world had come to celebrate the O.T. story of deliverance from slavery into the freedom of the Promised Land. They remembered how the Lord had acted to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt. More than a thousand years later the people of Israel were coming to Jerusalem to eat the Passover meal, to worship in the Temple, and to affirm the identity of the Jewish people.

Some were surprised by the arrival of Jesus and his disciples. The crowds went out to welcome Jesus. They proclaimed him as their Messiah King, the One whom the prophets had anticipated and longed to see. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel! As Jesus rode the donkey into the Holy City, John interpreted the event: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The religious authorities threw up their hands in exasperation and panic. They exclaimed, “ Look, the world has gone after him!”

As the Jewish crowds were welcoming Jesus, so Greeks from Galilee came to Jerusalem. They found Philip and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John 12:21

From around 30 to 33 A.D. the Holy Land was filled with curiosity about Jesus. The crowds came in search of him. They came wanting to see him, to find him, to have their quest for ultimate reality satisfied, to discover the man who had brought such blessings to Galilee of the Gentiles. All eyes were on him! Some were believing eyes, but others were non-believing eyes.

The world still desires to see Jesus. The modern western world may not be all that interested in the institutional church, but there is still a heartfelt longing to see Jesus. This Lenten Season there are cultural reminders of the quest for the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

CNN has been running a six part series on Sunday evenings entitled, “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery.” I saw David Gregory, formerly of NBC News interviewed about the program. David is a Jew. In watching the program it was clear to me that the producers were seeking to honestly evaluate biblical, theological, historical, and archeological findings in their search for the historical Jesus. The cinematography in “Finding Jesus” is outstanding: there are beautiful pictures of the Holy Land.

Last Sunday evening, PBS ran a two hour program entitled, “The Last Days of Jesus.” The program sought to see the Jesus story through the lens of what was happening in the struggles for power between Rome and Jerusalem. Jesus was presented as hardly more than a prophet out to establish his own power base within the context  of Caesar Tiberias in Rome and Herod Antipas in Galilee. Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, the King of the Jews, wanted to inherit his father’s title and power. Only Caesar in Rome could honor him with such a title.  It was fascinating.  The fact that Public television would do a two hour presentation on this dynamic in the first century in the light of the Canonical gospels and other historical resources is a witness to an audience that is still captured by the Jesus story.

At the supermarket two weeks ago I discovered at the checkout counter a shelf full of the latest NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine. The whole magazine was devoted to “Jesus and the Apostles: Christianity’s Early Rise.” The pictures were awe-inspiring. It is an expensive magazine, but for those who are interested in Jesus, it is well worth the price.  Jesus still stirs up the common marketplace.

What these three commercial, historical presentations say to me is that like the Jews and the Gentiles who sought out Jesus in John 12, on the day of his Palm Sunday arrival in Jerusalem, the modern world is not yet ready to dismiss Jesus. We are still looking for Jesus seeking to find the historical Jesus who is also the Christ of faith. To me this is exciting.

Thoughtful readers of the Bible cannot help but turn to the canonical Gospels to see for themselves if the media has done justice to this towering figure who stands out on the stage of world history as the one person who cannot be dismissed or easily forgotten. Like the Greeks we come seeking to see Jesus.

“We wish to see Jesus.” “We are looking for Jesus.” We may be turned off by Jesus’ church or hurt by his church, or troubled by his church, but we still long to see him in all his original authority and power.

What if we were introduced to this human named Jesus of Nazareth so that we experienced an encounter with the Christ of faith? I believe this was the goal of John the Apostle in writing his Gospel at the end of the first century.

On this Palm Sunday we would see a man riding a donkey on the path winding down the Mt of Olives, past the Garden of Gethsemane with crowds of people welcoming and proclaiming him as the King of Israel.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry there were some who wanted to proclaim him as their King. In John 6, after feeding the 5000 with a few loaves and fish, with 12 basketfuls left over, the multitudes tried to press Jesus into being their king.  Any man who could feed the poor like this, who could be the source of such abundance, was exactly what the people desired.

When Messiah came would he do more? Jesus was feeding the hungry, healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching with authority and power, proclaiming the presence of the kingdom of God and the beginning of the New Creation.  Surely, the King of Israel was beginning the movement that would sweep the Roman legions out of the Holy Land and bring blessings to Israel.

Yet, in John 6, as soon as Jesus perceived that the crowds wanted to make him king, he separated himself from those loud voices that did not understand what they were saying.

By the time Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead he had created such a storm of interest that the authorities in Jerusalem were planning to put him and Lazarus to death. They reasoned that it was necessary for Jesus to die in order to save the nation.  The political and religious rulers in Jerusalem could not allow this unrest to build.

It was this proclamation that Jesus was Israel’s king and that he had self-proclaimed himself as God that led to the charges of blasphemy against him. Before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, Jesus was asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus said, “You say that I am a king.  For this  I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

From the beginning of his Gospel John presented Jesus as the very revelation of the grace and truth of God. He was the “way, the truth, and the life”. “No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

What this meant was that in Jesus truth was personal. He was the incarnation and revelation of the character of God and the reality of the kingdom of God. This is what makes Jesus’s claims so difficult for the Pilates of our world.  The message of the winds of our culture is that “God is dead” and that “Truth is dead”. The cover story of Time Magazine this March was this question: “Is Truth Dead?”

The National Catholic Register answered, “Of course, truth is dead”. Only wild-eyed Fundamentalists would say that there is such a thing as objective truth, or facts and values that may be proven. What we are left with are subjective opinions and the need for open-mindedness. I would add that this is the philosophy of our time and maybe of all times.

Humanity has always been in search of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful When there is no ultimate, objective truth the highest value becomes “power” and political party power seeking to win without much consideration for truthful speech. Therefore, those who laugh at “truthiness” often seek to mask the lie as truth.

Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University.  In his efforts to understand the history of the 20th Century he has written a short, passionate bestselling book entitled, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”

Two of his lessons are: “Be kind to our language and believe in truth.”

John’s Jesus would have affirmed these lessons.  Snyder wrote, “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights” (pp. 63-65).

Snyder argued that we need to read books to discover the truth. If we only watch television or become addicted to the internet, we will not engage Jesus’ witness to truth and be able to answer Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” As part of his case he wrote, “Christians might return to the foundational book, which as ever is very timely.”

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32

I think that central to the crisis of the 20th Century is that we have no answer for Pilate’s question: What is truth?  Especially, the church in the western world has lost confidence in the authority of scripture, that witnesses to Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we often proclaim our own ideas and subjective experiences as the truth.  How easy it is then for us to become deceived by our own perceptions and feelings!

This past week I received a wonderful letter from our friend Peter Simpson. He and Vanessa live in the U.K.  I do not share his words in an attempt to puff up my ego or my staff.  He wrote,

Hi Jerry,

Just a note to say how much I value and believe in your leadership and ministry. It’s candid and rare.  I listen to your sermons on iphone (as well as to Steve’s, Kathy’s, and Beth’s).  Vanessa and I walk most afternoons over the Cliffs listening to the messages.

On January 3 I listened to your sermon on John the Baptist. It struck me as absolute core.  After 40 + years as a pillar of 3 churches, I’ve taken time out to just think and talk to God.  Not attended a UK church for 2 years. Church leader’s pride, baggage, rule books, judgment, pageantry and especially lack of discernment, bothers me—obscuring the pure excitement, love, joy and humility of Jesus and God. The young see an impotent Man’s church.

I don’t see LPC as that—especially the loving focus on young people. In my book most Church leaders have lost the plot—deluded into thinking they haven’t. John the Baptist nails the prosperity ministers, logs in eyes—pointing to specs in others, money orientation, prideful—no discernment, aka..Pharisees.

Thanks again for your discernment and leadership. I’m sure you take flack for it.

Cheers, Pete

But why flack? Because the truth is centered in the king who rode into Jerusalem to lay down his life upon a cross, to be lifted up, with the promise that if he be lifted up he would draw all people to himself.

He came to the Holy City and was planted like a seed in the earth so that his life might bear fruit. In his being lifted up and put to death as a common criminal, the light of the love of God, the truth of God shined forth into the darkness. In his humility and self-surrender he planted the truth of eternal life at the heart of human history.

Not all those who saw and heard believed; but for those who believed he gave power to become the children of God, the children of light. As the Crucified God Jesus the Christ is able to save and to secure all those who trust in him and bind themselves to his grace and truth.

He is our King!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Love Is...

Date: April 2, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

Love Is… is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on John 12:1-11. It is the 5th Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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(audio only)

John 12:1   Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:9   When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.