Cause and Effect is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Acts 4:32-37. It is the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
This morning we welcome our Vacation Bible School families! We also invited our VBS children to participate in worship. We are so proud of all our VBS children who shattered our goal of raising $1000 for Lifewater International (Click Here). They raised over $1700 to date! Lifewater is a Christian non-profit working to end the global water and sanitation crisis. Since 1977 they have reach over 2.5 million with life-saving clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
A Prayer for Boldness is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 4:23-31. It is the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is a Communion Sunday.
A Prayer for Boldness, Acts 4:23-31
The religious and political powers sought to silence Peter and John by commanding them never to speak or act again in the name of Jesus.
Some say that the systems of the world function by intimidation. In one way or another they say, “you either give me what I want or I will cause you great pain.” The abuse of power is rampant in our world. Cooperate or you will be sorry! There are consequences for your misbehavior. Intimidation often works!
In fact, in reading the biblical story we learn that the Lord warned his people that there were consequences for their choices. Break the law and the law will break you. Choose Life and not Death! Eat from the wrong tree and you may lose the tree of life and be driven from the Garden. There are consequences, yet the Lord never forced obedience. His warnings were not intimidations, but exhortations to choose the way to life, justice, and righteousness in order to live fully. You will be blessed by living in the way of Jesus Christ. That’s exhortation and not intimidation!
So there are important warnings that are made for our own good; but there are also threats uttered for the simple motivation of having our own sweet way.
What does the community of the Christian church do when the cultural, religious, political, economic authorities issue commands that threaten the practice of the faith?
What do we do when the intimidators threaten our lives for the sake of social control, but also for the sake of destroying us?
We hope that we may never experience such a threat. But what if we do? The first apostles confronted their enemies from the beginning of their mission.
What can we learn from them?
1) They came together.
“After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” (Act 4:23)
Who were their friends? Their friends were the apostolic band, the fellowship with which they shared all things in common. These were their fellow disciples. They had been bonded by the call of Jesus to follow him. They had come to know one another and to love one another. The threat of their enemies drew them together.
Do you remember what happened on 9/11? After we had watched the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the plane crash into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. we knew our enemies had attacked us. That evening our sanctuary was jammed. We came together. We turned to our friends in the community for emotional, spiritual support. We were in shock. It was hard to believe that this had happened to our nation. Our lives changed forever. We are keenly aware of the danger from enemies when we leave the front door of our homes.
Last week someone chained a suitcase to a pole at corner of Alta Laguna and Temple Hills Blvd. Kay and I arrived at the intersection just as the police were diverting traffic. Who could have ever guessed that the corner might blow up just as we arrived? Thankfully, the Orange County Bomb Squad quickly determined it was not a bomb. The point is that we are on razor edge ready for some kind of attack. That is the power of intimidation.
There is something special about having a community of friends to be with in crisis times. I remember how we came together in October 1993 at the time of the fire. All of us went into high gear to be together, to provide housing, food, and fellowship for those who had lost everything. Our church was the center of a caring community of friends whose children had grown up together, gone to the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, played Little League and AYSO soccer. Our children had been together in LPC Preschool and graduated from LBHS. Friends made all the difference as we began to rebuild our lives.
As soon as they were released from jail, Peter and John went to their friends for comfort and fellowship. The authorities had a strategy of intimidating them into silence, but the community of friends found courage in being together.
2) They came together to pray.
We announced a spontaneous prayer service on 9/11. How well I remember that evening. As a pastor I was concerned with what to say. What can anyone say in the face of these evil circumstances? All the great and troubling questions quickly floated to the top of our national conversation. Church prayer gatherings happened across America. All we knew to do was turn to God in prayer and to comfort each other and symbolically in one another, our nation. That evening we prayed Psalm 46.
That day we were united by this hostile attack of the ones who considered us their enemies. Little did they realize the destruction they were releasing into the world! We have been at war against terrorism since that day.
A common enemy united us. On the evening of 9/11 we gathered with our community friends to listen to Scripture, to sing, and especially to pray.
Crises unite us. Some argue that the nation needs an enemy and is in search of someone, some group or nations to scapegoat. Otherwise, we spin into moral and spiritual confusion. Perhaps that is part of our common fallen-ness? It is dangerous for us to have enemies. The danger is that we will become like those whom we hate and employ their misguided behaviors.
Sensitive souls ask, “Who is our enemy?” Is there not some malevolent power in the cosmos which uses every opportunity to turn us into enemies? The church’s history is riddled with its struggles with its enemies.
The apostles prayed. They prayed Psalm 2. This was a psalm that stood along with Psalm 1 as the gateway for all 150 Psalms. Together these two psalms awaken us to the blessedness of following the ways of the righteous lifted up in the Torah, the Law. Psalm 2 reminds us that we live in a spiritual environment that is larger than we could ever have imagined on our own. We need that perspective. So we cry to God.
In Acts 4 the disciples lifted their voices to the God of Creation who had made the heavens and the earth. The Creator was the Sovereign Lord who had spoken the word of creation: “let there be!” and every thing that is came into being. This God was Lord of all, the Sovereign ruler over the kings of the earth.
Psalm 2 re-framed the question of who rules the cosmos and is constantly at work in human history. We may become so anxious and fearful in times of crisis that we forget who is Sovereign over Creation and History. This did not mean that the Sovereign was responsible for the evil threats and deeds of enemies, but it did mean that God’s grace was at work in the midst of human evil.
Listen to the psalmist:
“Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah. For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:25-28
In these words the theological foundations of God’s salvation story were interpreted. In this psalm the disciples were being invited to place the intimidating voices of the world in theological and historical context. By means of spirit inspired imagination they were to see reality from the large perspective of who God is and what God has done in Jesus Christ.
The true Sovereign of heaven and earth had invaded planet earth incognito in the rightful king who was inviting us all to engage in the work of reclaiming and transforming human life, of reconciling enemies, and making friends with fellow humans.
The true Sovereign simply laughed at the little powers of the world which had missed the point of how ridiculous it was for them to assume control. They were spiritually blinded to the great truth that in killing Jesus they were sealing their own destruction. Therefore, all resistance to the God of the cross was folly.
Eugene Peterson in his book, “Answering God, The Psalms as Tools for Prayer,” writes this about Psalm 2:
“Their world is too small, the kingdom over which they rule, trying to exclude God, too small. They need a larger world. The way to a larger world is through adoring reverence before the one who is more than they are. This is not a sovereignty imposed on history or humans; it invades. It begins on the inside, not the outside. Those who embrace this way discover in the life of prayer that follows that the ‘inside is bigger than the outside.’ The work of Psalm 2 is to provide access to largeness, and thereby to rehabilitate the intimidated imagination so that it can grasp the enormous range of the word of God.” (Peterson, Answering God, 31)
I love that thought, to rehabilitate the intimidated imagination from the inside out. Let me play with this thought. A few years ago a group of us did a C.S. Lewis study tour and ended in Oxford, England at Lewis’s house, “the Kilns”, that is now the center of the CS Lewis Society. One of our church members had given a large sum of money to the foundation in order to name the home’s Orchard Garden in my honor. There is a wooden bench in the Garden with my name and the name of our congregation on it.
The Orchard Garden is a small garden with fruit trees in it where one can sit, read, pray. It is just like the Garden in the Chronicles of Narnia. The English children arrived at the gates to the Garden and entered. The Garden seemed so small, but as one entered and went “Further up, farther in” it became like the peeling of an onion, each layer thicker and filled with the mystery of Aslan’s world. From the outside, what appeared to be a very small garden, once entered, became the Way to the largeness of the New Creation.
This has captured my imagination. This morning I suggest that this space in which we worship the Lord is a very small space, a sanctuary that is holy and filled with mystery. Here are a people, a fount, a Table, a pulpit, a Book, a choir, but it appears very small. As we enter the doors of the church our imaginations begin to be awakened and transformed. We have come into the domain of largeness that invites us to go “further up and further in” to the reign of the Sovereign Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Here we are joined by saints from all ages on our way into the fullness of God’s reign, the New Creation.
At Christmas time a few years ago I had three photos framed as a part of a triptych for my wife. On either side of a photo of a Ghost Ranch, N.M. road, winding upward and inward into the ranch’s Box Canyon, there are two photos of Kay with our beloved black dog Freda overlooking Silverton, Colorado. By means of my imagination I saw into the reality of our spiritual journey together into Aslan’s beautiful world. We have been on that journey for a long time, a journey that began in the smallness of our twosome into the largeness of eternal life, of the fullness of God’s salvation. Inside that small garden all the great characters of the Narnian adventures were present joyfully running, walking, flying “further up and further in”.
This expanded imagination was what transformed the small church into a community of joyful, bold witnesses surrounded by their enemies.
The prayer of the Church was that they be granted spiritual boldness to continue their witness. They asked for the Lord to validate their witness with many healings, with signs and wonders performed through the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
When the prayer time was finished, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. Wherever the good news has been faithfully proclaimed and lived the foundations have been shaken and the church filled with a large imagination for the healing of the world.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
By What Authority is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 4:1-22. It is the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Enjoy the Prelude: How Great Thou Art this morning as played our organist/pianist, Sookyung Bang.
By What Authority?
Scriptures: Luke 20:1-8; Acts 4:1-22
The Temple in Jerusalem posed the question of authority. Herod the Great, the Roman installed King of the Jews, had built the Temple for the Jews. He enlarged the foundation of the Temple area and made it a gathering place for pious Jews to worship their God. He did it to gain the favor of the Jewish people. This was the Temple where Jesus and his disciples worshiped and he taught. In a very important way the Temple was a constant reminder of the shared authority of Rome and Jerusalem. At one point in the church’s history a theologian asked, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? This is still the question with all that Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem represent.
From that moment on there was a delicate tension between the Roman authority who could do such things as this and the Jewish authorities who lived dependent upon Rome allowing them to worship at this historic site of Solomon’s Temple.
I think Jesus loved this building. It was his Heavenly Father’s house of prayer. It was the house from which the knowledge of God poured forth into the world. The house was a great gift to the people. But every Jew who walked up into this beautiful place knew he did so by virtue of Herod’s calculated effort to control the political and religious life of Israel.
As Jesus was teaching in the Temple, the chief priests came with the elders of Israel and asked him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” Luke 20:2-8
He posed a question for them: “You tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” His question brought to the surface the central tension between the authority of political rulers juxtaposed to charismatic prophets like John the Baptist or Jesus.
Not only did Jesus teach with the authority of heaven, but also he healed broken bodies, cast out unclean spirits, forgave sins, and claimed the Temple as his Father’s house. John’s Gospel placed Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of his public ministry. John 2 When he found that the religious authorities had allowed the Temple to become a market place for buying and selling, he took a whip, beat the money changers, overturned their tables and drove them from the Temple precincts. For Jesus this house was to be a house of prayer.
The people who managed the Temple demanded to see some sign to validate his authority to take charge. The only sign he offered was this word: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Clearly he was speaking of the temple of his body. It was only after Jesus was raised from the dead that his disciples remembered and believed.” John 2
In reading the four Gospels the question of Jesus’ and the Apostle’s authority was repeatedly raised. So it was in the Acts of the Apostles.
When Peter and John healed the man born lame, the leadership of the temple asked by what authority or power they had performed the healing. Their answer was that the power did not reside in them, but in the name of Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified and then raised on the 3rd day. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the authority and power of God had been released in Jerusalem. The result was that the lame were walking; the blind were seeing; the poor were hearing good news; forgiveness was being given; and planet earth was being liberated from the powers of sin and death. Salvation was coming to those who needed to be saved.
The political/religious authorities could not deny what was happening. Their challenge was to control, to discourage, to intimidate, and to silence the witness that the apostles’ were making.
We remember the Gospel of Luke’s description of what had occurred when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The crowds and the disciples welcomed Jesus who was riding on the donkey into the capital. They were praising God, singing, chanting psalms, and causing a stir. The religious authorities who saw what was happening said to Jesus, “Teacher, command your disciples to be silent, to shut up, to back off.” Jesus responded, “I tell you if these were silent the stones would cry out.”
Jesus and his disciples represented the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven into the streets of the earthly City. C.S. Lewis said it this way: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity, 46)
For the Sadducees, the sect of the High Priest’s family, the number one priority was to silence the voice and witness of the disciples of Jesus. If they allowed it to continue the Jesus movement would sweep through Jerusalem, the Romans would be threatened and conclude that the religious elite could not maintain law and order for the sake of peace. Therefore, they arrested Peter and John and commanded them not to speak or act any more in the name of Jesus.
William Willimon, Methodist pastor and theologian at Duke Divinity School, wrote, “So the authorities take what is always the first step by any authoritarian leadership—they order Peter and John to keep quiet. Suppression of the press, control of the media, banning of books—the rulers always hope that there is some way to keep this sort of thing quite, some way to control the people’s access to information. Unfortunately for the rulers, trying to keep spirit-filled apostle quiet is like trying to hold back a breaking wave. These witnesses are not primarily trying to stir up trouble, they simple want the freedom to ‘speak of what we have seen and heard’.” What had happened to Jesus now seemed to be happening to his followers. “Even as Jesus moved toward a collision with the powers that be, so do Jesus’ followers.” (Interpretation, Acts, 49)
What kind of men were these disciples?
The authority’s judgment was that they were uneducated and ordinary men. They had arisen outside the institutional order of things. They had not gone to seminary to become Rabbis. Peter and John had no ordination credentials to show to the rulers. Their one distinguishing characteristic was that they had been companions of Jesus.
This was an amazing observation. Not only had they been seen with Jesus, but they had come to think like Jesus. They shared his world view. As Jesus had been formed by the Scriptures of Israel and Israel’s prayer book, they were centered in the Word of God, in the worship of the Temple, in the prayers of the Temple. The apostles had learned from Jesus to interpret Israel’s scriptures as Jesus had.
This group of followers had been filled with the passion of the Holy Spirit. They demonstrated the authority that Jesus had asserted. They were free of fear. Remember, he had taught as one having authority and not like the scribes, the Pharisees, and the other teachers of the religious leadership. What was seen in the disciples was a deep conviction and compassion, a Spirit that was blowing through the common people of the City and countryside.
Therefore, they were recognized as uneducated and ordinary men, but who were Companions of Jesus. We dare not neglect this characterization of the early church’s leadership. They were not stupid people. They simply had not matriculated in the schools and orders that validated the clergy.
We Presbyterians are high on educated clergy. We go to college for 4 years; we do another 3 years of graduate school; we often seek additional degrees that lead to Doctorates of Ministry or Ph.D.s in specialized areas. We jump through all kinds of hoops overseen by Presbyteries; we have to pass national ordination exams and be examined on floors of Presbytery meetings, and at last, if we pass all of these things and receive a call to a particular ministry a presbytery and congregation will ordain us.
The temptation to intellectual pride is powerful. We list our degrees on our dossiers to show that we have submitted to the disciplines and learned to read, to write, to translate ancient languages, to know something about church history and theology. We learn through internships, hospital chaplaincies, and group therapies Most of us wish that the process had taught us more about organizational psychology, business principles, stewardship, money management, and how to function in the parish in practical matters.
Do not get me wrong! I value every course I ever took. I have used every bit of information that I ever acquired. But having arrived at my years what has emerged is an awareness that what is important is learning to walk with Jesus, to have the mind of Christ, to be a servant of God, to be a person of God, and to be deeply rooted in the revelation of God found in the Word of God. What is profoundly needed are servants of God who love the people of God, the church, and are committed to keeping their promises.
I want to be recognized as a simple companion of Jesus whatever other credentials I might have. Tragically, this is the training that is often missing in church leadership. The question is: have we been with Jesus, absorbed his teaching, learned to pray, and gained insight into our own brokenness and need for grace. Have we been with Jesus long enough to share his compassion for a world that needs to be set right by the justice and righteousness of God. Do we know what the Lord requires of us: “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
These men were Companions of Jesus and out of this identity they boldly said “NO!” to the authorities.
“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard. We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 4 and 5)
This affirmation is a very dangerous place to stand in a nation and world in which there are so many different conflicting interests, passions, desires, dreams, prejudices, opinions, and challenging circumstances. All kinds of pressures come upon the church from inside and outside.
I have had to learn this in some very painful ways. I feel this on national holidays like July 4th Sundays. Presbyterians came to this new world long before 1787 and the writing of the U.S. Constitution. The pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, N.J. signed the Declaration of Independence. King George was convinced that the rebellion among the colonies was a “Presbyterian Rebellion”. Protestants have a long history of supporting political authorities and also of resisting Civil Magistrates who abuse their powers in the name of God and country.
All one has to do is visit the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem to be reminded that the German Lutheran Church by in large went along with Adolph Hitler’s plans to rebuild German prosperity and political power by means of racists ideologies and false theologies. When Hitler was accepted as the Leader of both State and Church the Confessing Church was born. Though it was small, in 1934 they wrote the Barman Theological Declaration that confessed, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the One Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” (Book of Confessions, Barman, 8.11)
This was a costly Confession to sign when nationalism and a perverted patriotism were capturing the soul of Europe. And it is a costly place to stand in our own time, in our own nation and church that is so deeply divided, with Christians on all sides of the deep conflicts.
In our time we are tempted to listen to all kinds of authoritarian voices that attempt to convert us to their sides on every issue. Billions of dollars are being spent to these ends. Questions of truth, news, fake news, and propaganda have never been so important. Appeals to our anxieties and fears, prejudices and ideologies come wrapped in patriotic rhetoric seeking our commitments or silence. At the deeper level all sides are being called to awaken and to participate in the renewal of democratic freedoms. To what voices will we listen?
The apostolic community in Jerusalem had been listening to the Voice of God in the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. When they heard the command of the authorities to be silent and never again preach or teach in the name of Jesus, they had but one response. “We must tell the story of what God in Christ has done for the salvation and true freedom of our fallen world!”
Two of the Twenty Lessons From the 20th century that Tim Snyder wrote about in, On Tyranny: “Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom all of us will die under tyranny.” (On Tyranny, 111-115)
“We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29)
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
In the Name of Jesus is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 4:1-13. It is the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In the Name of Jesus, Acts 4:1-13
The Peter we see in the Acts of the Apostles is a transformed Peter. In Luke and the other Gospels Peter was brash at times, ego centered, power oriented, and self-serving. The Peter that we see in the Gospels was inconsistent, unsure, anxious, and at times unwise in his risk taking. Often he was wrong and needed to be corrected. But he had the ingredients of being a leader.
Jesus had called him to follow him and to be the rock upon which he would build his church. But if any thing, he was not a rock, but rather undependable and vulnerable to pressures from the inside and outside. He did not understand the things that Jesus had been saying and doing. At the end, he denied that he ever knew Jesus.
But in the Acts story Peter had grown into a new man. He was no longer just a fisherman from Galilee. He had a quality of faith, hope, and love that was surprising. He had emerged as the voice and leader of the post-Easter church that gathered in Jerusalem. Daily Peter and John would go up into the Temple to worship, to pray, and to affirm their spiritual connection with Israel’s story.
One day they were entering the Temple by way of the Beautiful Gate. Beside the gate was a man born lame. He had never walked. He was a beggar and hoped that Peter and John would give him alms. The two did not walk on by, but rather said to the man, “Look at us.” The man did so expecting to receive alms but Peter said to him, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)
Peter took him by “the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”
It was a chaotic scene. It caused a stir. The crowds gathered. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to the lame man. As the crowd gathered it would have been a great opportunity for Peter to promote himself, his own personal power or piety, but no! In a Spirit inspired boldness he expressed a Christ-centered humility.
Peter had become a humble servant of the One who had called him to this mission. How was it that Peter now had a sane estimate of himself? What had changed him from an arrogant, ambivalent man into a man with insight into his own brokenness and failure? What gave him the boldness to stand before the religious authorities and proclaim Jesus’ name as the only power of salvation? There are clues in Acts 3 and 4.
1) Peter’s life had become rooted in Israel’s Story told in Israel’s Scriptures.
In the Acts of the Apostles’ we read the apostles interpretation of Israel’s story. It was an amazing story of blessing and promise to an elect people, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It may well have been that the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had never been a living faith for Peter. But through knowing Jesus, of listening to him teach and preach, of seeing him feed the multitudes, heal the sick, cast out demons, and visit the various synagogues in Galilee and the Temple in Jerusalem the tradition came alive.
The Jewish people who are observant and faithful know the Lord God through the witness of scripture. The Jews who neglected the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were most likely the ones who had never come to know in a personal way the God who was revealed to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the story.
Peter was a first century Jew who had come to know Jesus of Nazareth. Israel’s story had become his story through faith in Jesus.
“You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made the man walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate. This Jesus was the Holy and Righteous One. You had him murdered by Pilate and the Romans. You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.” (Acts 3)
Peter’s witness was anchored in the humility of God who had revealed himself in Israel’s story. Israel’s story was a witness to the source of life, light, love, and salvation through the family of Israel’s ancestors. The Creator had revealed God’s character in this story.
When Moses’ curiosity was stirred by the burning bush in the Sinai, the Voice of God called out to him to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground, in the presence of the God of all authority and power who was sending Moses to rescue his people enslaved in Egypt.
Moses asked, “Who shall I say has sent me? I do not even know your name!” The Voice responded, “Just say that the LORD has sent me, ‘I AM WHO I AM!’ I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have heard the cry of my people and been moved with compassion. I have come down to call you to say to Egypt’s Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’”
It was the holy name of the Great “I Am” that brought Moses to his knees in worship. Moses was humbled by the awareness that it was not his own power or piety that would deliver his people from Pharaoh’s bondage. No! Moses was simply a humble shepherd brought to his knees before the source of all life called to be the agent of what The Lord was going to do in setting his people free for the sake of all the nations of the earth.
So it was with Peter. His boldness before the Israelites in the Temple was rooted in the majesty of the Covenant God of his people. Peter had seen and heard this Burning Bush Voice in the One who said at least seven times in the Gospel of John that he was the Great “I Am.” Jesus who said: “I Am the bread of life. I Am the light of the world; I Am the gate; I Am the Good Shepherd; I Am the resurrection and the life; I Am the way, the truth and the life; I Am the Vine, You are the branches.”
Over and over Peter had seen and heard the Lord of Creation control the forces of nature, heal the sick, restore the sight of the blind, forgive sins, proclaim good news to the poor, and raise the dead. He had seen Jesus, the incarnate I Am, the Word made flesh, bring healing to the broken and sick. This presence and power of God placed himself into the hands of those who hated him. He was put to death, but God raised him on the 3rd day.
Jesus was the suffering servant of Isaiah, the innocent Lamb of God, who was making atonement for the sins of the world, and bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and new beginnings to an enslaved humanity.
This was Israel’s salvation story. Now through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the promise of Israel was being extended through the words and works of the bold apostolic community.
This morning we are honoring those of you who have been married in or through LPC over the past hundred years. The story of marriage is told within Israel’s great story of salvation. In grace the Lord gave Eve to Adam and called them to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Obedience was the pathway to true humanity, joy, and love. But they fell away from right relatedness and suffered the consequences. The good news was that the Lord did not give up on the family of Israel. Over and over Israel was called to faithfulness to the Covenant and to new beginnings.
So it is for those of us who have made marriage covenants. We have discovered that this commitment is not easy. It takes much work. Some of us have failed; all of us have failed in our own particular ways. I tell every couple I marry, “A good marriage lives by the forgiveness of sins.”
Across the years we remember that love is commitment, communication, compassion, caring, and ultimately, love is Christ. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” (See Ephesians 5) Self-sacrificing on behalf of the beloved for the well-being and spiritual growth of the other is at the heart of what marriage is about.
This year my wife and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. For 50 years we have been “duking it out”, working at building a life, growing a family, forgiving one another, and holding on. The rewards have been great. We are so grateful that we are still together. We know that the day will come when one or the other of us will place the other into the arms of our Creator/Redeemer and suffer the grief of loss. I believe that the Lord of our salvation blesses this quality of life and promises to bring us into the fullness of the New Creation. It is a mystery, but I stake my faith, hope, and love upon it.
So many of us have failed somewhere along the way. It almost seems to be the norm that most people have divorces in their past. God forgives, renews the possibility of new life, and grants new beginnings. Therefore, we dare not despair, but commit ourselves to learning, to self-discovery, and to the renewal in love.
2) Peter was bold because he knew there was power in the name of Jesus.
Peter stipulated to those who listened to him that the healing of the lame man was not the result of his power or piety. No! This was an act of the Holy One of Israel, The Lord, the Servant of the Lord, who had acted to lift up a miserable man in the Temple.
When you know that the power and the piety are in the name of Jesus it sets you free to tell and to live God’s story of salvation through faith in Jesus. Peter proclaimed to the religious authorities: “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-12)
When we sing about the power in Jesus’ name, we are proclaiming radical good news of freedom, forgiveness, and healing love. As we sing we are boldly singing with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, Isaiah, Jesus, and Peter. Therefore, with boldness inspired by the one Triune God we baptize those who in faith embrace the good news. We teach and preach in the name of Jesus. We leave the results to the Word and the Spirit of Jesus.
Covenant promises of well being may only be kept by the power of the Spirit of God. This is the Spirit that is able to carry us beyond what we thought possible. This is the Spirit who lifts us up when we are down and on the verge of betraying our best selves or others. This is the Spirit that grows boldness within us for the sake of the human family and community. This is why the fellowship of the church is so important. We live in a throw away culture that questions whether power or love is the highest value.
What Peter proclaimed in Acts 4:12 has become scandalous. Tom Wright asked in his Commentary on Acts, “Why has Acts 4:12 been so unpopular within the politically correct climate of the last few generations in the Western world. ‘No other name’? People say this is arrogant, or exclusive, or triumphalist. So, indeed, it can be, if Christians use the name of Jesus to further their own power or prestige. But for many years now, in the Western world at least, the boot has been on the other foot. It is the secularists and the relativists who have acted the part of the chief priests, protecting their cherished temple of modernist thought, within which there can be no mention of resurrection, no naming of a name like that of Jesus. And the apostles, in any case, would answer: Well, who else is there that can rescue people in this fashion?” (N.T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part One, page 65)
In this season of polarization, of deep divide, of anxiety and fear, of religiously motivated terrorism, of zeal without knowledge, is it not a time for us be claimed anew by the power of the name of Jesus. Is it not time to lift up the biblical story of salvation with boldness? Are there other gods, philosophical worldviews, political or economic policies that have the power to make men and women, boys and girls, whole?
There is no other Name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
The Awe-Inspired Church is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 2:37-47. It is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The Awe-Inspired Church, Acts 2:37-47
After the winds of Pentecost subsided, the newly enlarged church in Jerusalem began to settle into its Life Together. I have always been in awe of the description of the church’s growth. Suddenly, there were 3000 disciples baptized into Christ. What was the next step for them all together or as individual believers? They had heard Peter’s message and been cut to the heart, deeply convicted of their sins.
They believed the message of good news and forgiveness. They desired eternal life. So they came together in faith, hope, and love in a new movement of the Spirit of God. It was an exciting movement of the Spirit that bore witness to God doing a new thing in the history of Israel and in fulfillment of God’s promises.
This sudden increase in numbers from 120 to 3000 must have imposed a major organizational challenge. Luke tells us that they became devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. They were all incorporated into a New Covenant community with practices and disciplines that began to shape their identities and understandings of their mission and destiny.
I want to build my message around each of these four devotions that have historically, over the last two thousand years, been at the center of the spiritual formation and mission of the church.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
Who were these apostles? They were the 12 who had been called by Jesus in Galilee to leave their work as fishermen on the lake in order to become fishers of people. For three years the 12 had followed Jesus. They had listened to him teach and preach. With the multitudes they gathered on the north shore of the lake to hear about the good news of the kingdom of God. The rule and the reign of God was present in the person, in the words and works of Jesus. He taught them the scriptures, even though they had great difficulty with understanding the implication of his words.
When Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, he taught them it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem where he would be rejected, put to death, and on the third day be raised up. Peter and the others refused to accept what he was saying. The teaching was too difficult for them.
It was not until the two disciples were returning to their home in Emmaus on Easter Sunday evening and were joined by a stranger that their minds began to be opened to the truth of what Jesus had taught. The stranger turned out to be the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who interpreted the words of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets, that the two began to have their hearts warmed and their minds opened. When the stranger had broken and blessed the bread that evening their eyes saw that the stranger was none other than the resurrected Jesus. (Luke 24:13ff)
They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he interpreted the scriptures to us on the road?”
Luke tells us that between Easter and the day of the Ascension that the living Lord Jesus was present with the small group of disciples interpreting Israel’s scriptures to them and helping them to come to terms with why Jesus had to suffer, to die, and to be raised on the third day. (See Acts 1) For forty days he continued to teach them about the kingdom of God.
The resurrected Jesus gave to his disciples his mission of teaching the Word of the Lord. Therefore, the 12 immediately began to disciple the 3000 new believers by teaching the Scriptures to them as Jesus had taught them.
Why was this so important? Because Jesus knew and the 12 had come to understand how a Christian view of reality was dependent upon believers being able to view the world around them through the lens of the Scriptures of Israel as they were fulfilled in the events of Jesus’ life.
Consider how many messages we receive each day of our lives. Our parents impart a world view to their children. We send our children to school. There they are taught a body of knowledge so that by the time they graduate they will know what is important to know to get along in life.
Many say that having a high school education is not enough to either survive or to prosper. Getting a good job depends on having a college degree or graduate degree. Information is important. We believe that education in learning to think, to read, to write, to do math, and to become lifelong learners is vital to functioning in the economy.
But how about growing spiritually, with becoming a mature adult who can navigate life transitions that will challenge our emotional maturity?
How about having the mind of Christ, of learning to love, of coming to be a spiritually mature adult having been shaped and formed by the Word and Spirit of God?
I learned pretty quickly that if I were to have the mind of Christ that I needed to know and to love the Scriptures that had formed Jesus in the synagogue and the Temple.
When we baptize our children we give to their parents a beginning Bible for them to read the scriptures to their children. Our Christian education program is geared to help parents teach their children the wisdom of the apostles’ teaching.
Central to our Reformed tradition is the teaching and the preaching from the Word of God in the written canon of scriptures that we have received from prophets and apostles. It is from these teaching that we learn who God is, who Jesus was and is, what is the meaning and purpose of life, and what it means to be fully human.
Did you see last Sunday evenings “60 Minutes” news hour on CBS? There was a segment about addiction to our cell phones, to the internet, and to social media. Watch a crowd of young people, or even adults, they sit or stand glued to their phones reviewing Facebook or Twitter. It is like playing a slot machine. One keeps reviewing the “likes”, the “comments”, the “shares”. Every time we see a like we receive a reward that releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel good and keep us coming back. The man interviewed had quit his job at Google because he could see what was happening. We are being propagandized. Our minds and behaviors, our attitudes are being shaped by the world.
Even the President of the U.S. cannot escape Twitter. He controls the news cycles with his Tweets. The media is addicted to his tweets.
The 12 apostles were commissioned by Jesus to teach the truths of the kingdom of God from the scriptures. Paul the Apostle wrote to Rome: “Do not let the world around you press you into its own mold, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, perfect, and acceptable.” Romans 12:1-2
The believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to the fellowship.
Out of their differences they had become incorporated into a new community, a “koinania” a fellowship of grace, truth, and love. They had come out of different places and cultures, but now were joined for life together.
They were no longer a nation of strangers, but had become brothers and sisters in Christ, called to know one another, to communicate, and to build up one another in a fellowship. No one was to be lonely.
It was the warmth of this community that would keep their own faith, hope, and love burning brightly.
The believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.
They ate together. They broke bread together as one family. They were good Presbyterians. They ate and drank at one table. This was not just in coming to the Lord’s Table. No, this was a radical form of sharing food.
Jesus had taught them to multiply bread. From a few fish and loaves he fed the 5000 with abundance. 12 baskets were left over. This was a sign of the abundance of the kingdom of God. There was great joy as the people ate their fill.
After the choir concert two weeks ago Virginia Grogan gave the invitation to the gathered congregation to come to dinner. I was totally surprised. Kay Tankersley was inviting all of us to dinner. She was paying. It seemed to me that some two to three hundred people came to the party. I confess that the thought passed my mind that this would cost a lot. But that seemed just fine to me. For me, there was such joy in providing a meal for all the people I love. In that moment my spirit was ready to round up the whole town and to feed them all.
Suddenly I was aware of the sheer joy of giving and including everyone at the table of our celebration. It was a glimpse of the promised Messianic Banquet in which people will come from north and south, from east and west, and sit at table with Jesus.
I hope that at least 300 will join us on September 17 at the Hotel Laguna to join in eating and drinking in celebration of our church’s 100th anniversary. It will cost you some dollars, but don’t miss it.
The first century Jerusalem believers devoted themselves to prayer.
To learn to pray is to learn to listen and to speak. It is to be in right relationship with God and with one another. Prayer is at the heart of worship. In worship, whether it is public or private, we answer God’s questions of us and God listens to us.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. The prayer of book of Jesus was the Psalms of the O.T. If you want to learn to pray, daily pray the Psalms. It will change your life. You can pray all 150 psalms in 30 days. Reflect upon the Lord’s Prayer in the light of the Psalms and you will discover the prayer is a summation of the Psalter.
Through the disciplines of the Word, the Fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the Prayers, the 3000 learned to share their possessions.
There was no one in need among them. Those with possessions sold what they had in order to address the needs of the body of believers.
What emerged was a dynamic body of believers who were being carried by the winds of the Spirit. There was great joy and attraction in the church. Day by day the Lord added to their number all who were being saved. They were Saints Alive by the power of God’s Word and Spirit.
When I came to Laguna Beach all I really desired to do was to teach the Word and to build a fellowship of love. I had so much to learn about how God builds joy at the Table of Fellowship. Along the way the Lord taught me to pray. Over the years he has also taught me to share His gifts. He is teaching us all through these tumultuous times.
It would have been impossible for us to begin the process of rebuilding our church buildings in the year 2005 if we had not become a people grounded in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and the prayers, we would never had planned to launch a rebuilding of this icon building with the other contiguous buildings.
What we thought would be a cosmetic touch up, morphed into a complete rebuild costing us $14 million dollars. The first $7 million we gathered quickly as the Lord provided. In 2010 we signed a note for $7 million to cover our construction costs and to be paid back over ten years. The payments were $73 thousand a month. It was a steep hill to climb in addition to maintaining our operating budget. We are a 700 member congregation.
The Layne Foundation leader who wrote out the check for $7 million in 2010 made me sign it as the pastor, in addition to several of our elders. I was shaking in my boots with my signature on the note. This was a leap of faith. We knew we had to risk it for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Well, the good news this morning is that in the last week we have made our last payment on the loan, by the grace of God and the generosity of his people. We will go into this fall debt free. It is a miracle.
It is a witness to the power of God to bless his people who abide in the truth of his Word; who live in faithfulness to the fellowship; who eat, drink, and pray together in building the “peace, unity, and purity of the church.”
Over the summer we hope to replenish the church’s reserves to attend to emergencies we may encounter. So keep giving. We need your generosity this summer. On September 17 we intend to burn the mortgage and to give thanks to God that we are given the opportunity to be Saints Alive living as a Church in Awe of the mighty acts of God.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Open to the Wind is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on Acts 2:14-37. It is Trinity Sunday. We are also celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
Songs Old and New Concert is performed by LPC’s Chancel Choir, Chancel Bells, Sookyung Bang, Organist/Pianist under the direction of Linda White, Director of Choirs on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017 in the Sanctuary of Laguna Presbyterian Church.
This recording only includes the pieces sung by the Chancel Choir and or performed by the Chancel Bells. We apologize that the narration could not be included on this recording.
What Does This Mean? is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 2:1-13. It is Pentecost Sunday.
What Does This Mean? Acts 2:1-13
There were multitudes of pilgrims in Jerusalem during the Pentecost celebration. It was one of the holy feasts on the Jewish calendar. It came 50 days after Passover. Passover celebrated God’s salvation story in leading his people out of Egyptian slavery. It was the exodus into the freedom of the Promised Land.
50 days later Jewish farmers brought the first fruits of their crops to the temple in Jerusalem to offer them up to the Lord with thanksgiving. It was believed the first fruits guaranteed the harvest of the whole crop. But not only that, Pentecost celebrated the giving of the law of God at Mt. Sinai. Both Passover and Pentecost celebrated the gifts of life that had constituted Israel as a covenant people of God.
Jesus had told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until power came to them to live and to proclaim the mighty acts of God’s salvation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, the 120 disciples with the 12 apostles waited and prayed. What they needed was courage to witness to the good news of God in Christ. They may not have fully understood how power from above would come to them. “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” Acts 2:2
People who have lived through a Texas tornado say that Pentecost was like that. The wind would come with a roar of a freight train slowly moving through the countryside or through the city. Many years ago my Mother was living at the center of Lubbock, Texas, when the tornado began to carve an eight-mile wide swath through the center of the city. She lived a few blocks away from its pathway. She said it sounded like a train roaring through the city. In its wake nothing was left standing.
It used to be that every time a B-52 took off from El Toro and flew over Top of the World at about 2500 ft that I thought of my mom hiding out in hopes the tornado had passed her by. At times it seemed that the airplane would rip off the roof of our house. Thank God they made it over Laguna Beach.
Hurricanes and Tornadoes, low flying aircraft, or loud trains, call us to consider what the roar of Pentecost wind was about. The whole city of Jerusalem was awakened; the foundations of the Temple were shaken. Everyone ran into the streets to see what was happening. What they discovered in one part of the city was that over 100 people were moving, speaking, hearing, and overwhelmed with spiritual ecstasy.
In these historical mighty winds of God the Holy Spirit inspired and transformed believers. Believers spoke and listened. This mighty wind incorporated believers into the body of Christ. Often the gift of the Spirit caused persons to speak in tongues inspired by God. Spiritual awakening happened; hearts were opened, ears heard and understood, and power was given as the church grew in numbers.
The Spirit of Pentecost, this birthday of the church, is a divine mystery. There are many dimensions of the Holy Spirit of which I could preach.
Let me try to focus on these truths of the story that we dare not overlook.
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine’.” Acts 2:5-13
Many biblical commentators interpret this story as Luke’s way of saying that the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 was being reversed. I think this was the genius of Luke reinterpreting the O.T. story. At the beginning of the biblical story the humans built a tower up to the heavens to symbolize their pride and pursuit of power, so that they could be their own gods. But God intervened by confusing their language, making communication impossible, and fragmenting the people into many lands and languages.
In Acts 2 God’s Spirit gave the disciples the courage to proclaim the gospel and those who heard understood in their own languages. The disciples spoke with a Galilean ascent, but everyone understood in their own dialect. The result was that the wind of peace and unity constituted a new fellowship that was being called to spiritual unity.
First, Pentecost was the gift of communication.
People in Jerusalem from every nation were empowered to understand each other even though they spoke different languages. What this signaled was that human history was being launched on a new trajectory. People from various nations were given the power to work for the unity and the peace of the kingdom of God. How important was this?
This was basic if planet earth was to be healed. Without a common language anxiety, fear, and endless power struggles would prevail. The result would be endless divisions, building of walls, paranoia, and lack of trust. And so human history has illustrated this over and over again.
The disciples were being empowered to be a light of communication, a community in which words, feelings, anxieties, and fears could be defined and overcome. Lord knows, the church around the world has needed to live into this.
When our group was in the Holy Land, I carefully watched pilgrims from other places and nations. What I saw was an expanding vision of the diversity of the church and the kingdom of God.
One hot day our group of pilgrims walked across the old City of Jerusalem. From the Upper Room, to the Western Wall, to the Teaching Steps we moved up and down the endless stairs of the old City. At the Teaching steps we met again a group of 16 Presbyterian pastors from all parts of the USA. We had originally seen each other at the Mt. of the Beatitudes in Galilee. I knew some of them. At the place where Jesus taught the famous Sermon on the Mt. some of us embraced. Jokingly, I said to them, “Hey, we have enough here to constitute a General Assembly.” Several groaned and answered, “No, anything but a General Assembly.” The groan reminded me that our denomination, like our nation, is deeply divided; not of one mind on so many issues.
When we met again in Jerusalem my Florida Chinese pastor friend, Bill Teng, insisted we have a picture together. He posted it on Facebook. A number of pastors in their group and in other places responded to the picture. One said that I had just written an article on prayer that will be published in his magazine this fall. Others were surprised. Bill responded by saying “Jerry is a good man.”
I was so grateful for that. There were some in his group that were suspicious of me. Maybe because, as an evangelical, I had chosen to remain in the PCUSA! You see as a denomination there is deep division. We speak the same language, but we do not understand one another, we need to have a new Pentecost Spirit poured into us. Only the Spirit may empower “the peace, unity, and the purity of the church.”
Later we made it to our lunch place. The restaurant was crowded. Just before us a large group of Indian pilgrims had eaten buffet style. As they were leaving we took their places at table and began to go through the buffet. The food did not look all that good, but no one said a thing. Then our Jewish guide reviewed the food and made the manager replace most of the food. Our group of pilgrims from America could not eat the same food as the more humble Indian pilgrims. Some of our group had gone to the bar to purchase draft beer that was wonderful after a very hot walk. Our guide made the manager return the money that had been paid for the beers. She gave the manager a lecture about how we westerners were to be privileged.
All of us were stunned. Yet it was a simple example of how difficult it is for Christians from around the world to even sit at the same table. We wear different clothes, speak different languages, come from different economic classes, and eat different foods. So the world perceives us! We need a new Pentecostal Spirit to blow through us. We were strong allies of Israel and we were to be privileged in the eyes of the guide. It was spiritually embarrassing.
Pentecost Sunday calls and empowers us to live into the reality of the New Age of the Spirit, of the wind that is still blowing through the nations.
Secondly, Pentecost is about a deepening knowledge of God and of self.
If you are like me you are likely to find yourself in a lifetime dialogue about your own experience and knowledge of yourself and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
My dreams this week have been troubling to me. I do not know why these dreams are now bubbling up from deep within my soul. I have repeatedly asked the Holy Spirit to be so powerful within me that my anxieties and fears would be healed. But the flesh is still powerful.
For three mornings I have awakened exhausted and troubled by dreams about the valley below our house being developed with houses. One night there were aliens burying endless dead bodies. Another night I had been given my mother’s coffin to bury with her trying to get out of it.
Perhaps the dreams are about my birthday and turning 80. Someone wrote on a birthday card, “Welcome to the 80’s”. Friday I did a Memorial Service for a person one year older than me. I read Psalm 90 about a person living to be 70 or 80 if they are strong, but even then our life span is only toil and trouble; our days are soon gone, and we fly away. “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Ps. 90:10
Another friend called who had been with me at my 40th. On that occasion his gift to me was 40 scoops of ice cream. Jokingly he said he did not have a bowl large enough to contain 80 scoops. Who knows what all these inner struggles are about? I thought these inner dimensions of my soul had been healed.
I need a new Pentecostal Spirit to blow through my soul to heal this divided heart still troubled by old traumas.
Lastly, Pentecost is about our celebration of the mighty acts of God in history and in our experience.
In the first year of my pastorate in Laguna Beach I used to say that I did not know if God had sent me to this place to build a church or to bury one. That was my fear speaking. I have learned over 40 years that God placed me here for the Lord to build his church through me and many others. Even if the body of Christ appears as a Valley of Dry Bones, the Lord is able through his breath to raise the church from its ashes to live again.
Twelve years ago we could not have imagined that the Build It For Him project would cost 14 million and that this 700 member congregation with its many friends would be able to pay the final debt in seven years and this while maintaining our staff and mission outreach.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing a people, restoring a building, and igniting hope for the future. We have good reason to speak in clear languages of faith, hope, and love. As the Spirit renews it brings up the darkness from below, cleans out the pollution, and builds what is beautiful for all to see and to celebrate.
“COME HOLY SPIRIT, RENEW AND RESTORE YOUR PEOPLE. MPOWER OUR WITNESS TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Resetting the Mission is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Acts 1:15-26. It is the 7th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Resetting the Mission by Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Sermon Text: Luke 9:1-6; Acts 1:15-26
Years ago I remember reading a book about the training strategy for new converts to the Communist Party in Southeast Asia. As new followers of the political and economic philosophy of Marx and Engels, they were given assignments after some instruction to go out to the street corners to distribute communist literature to people moving about their cities. Some had great success engaging strangers with the mission of this revolutionary ideology. Others failed, but they all learned. It meant becoming publicly identified with a new world view and philosophy. Risking that public exposure firmed up their identity.
In my first two years of university life the pastor of my little church recruited me to go door to door with him for the purpose of witnessing to the church’s neighbors. It was not a hostile environment, but I learned something about how people identified with various Christian denominations. Without much know how in witnessing, I often asked people on their doorsteps if they were Christians. The most frequent response was that “we are Baptists, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics.” We wanted to ask people if they personally knew Jesus or about their relationship with God.
People became defensive. What we were doing was what the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are still doing, knocking on doors seeking to reach out to people in order to share the faith. Most of us Presbyterians have become too sophisticated to publicly embarrass ourselves in this manner.
After my second year in college I returned to my home town and associated myself with a small Bible Church. The college students, together with men in the Air Force, formed a wonderful fellowship group. We decided to reach out to military personnel on leave from the Base who were moving from bar to bar at the center of Amarillo. We had as portable organ and loud speaker. Since I had memorized more scripture the group asked me to preach on the street. It was my first experience of trying to witness. After the singing and preaching we would spread out into the gathered crowd and witness to them about the faith. By the end of the summer our college group had expanded to over 50 new disciples.
My parents were stunned that I was doing this. Mom and Dad would stand across the street down a couple of blocks and listen. They must have been terrified, as well as they should have been. They were not church people. What was happening to their son? Had he become a part of a cult? Where would this lead? For me, it fired me up. People began to suggest to me that I might have a call to ministry. So it began for me in this new identity and destiny. Doors began to open for me to learn, to live, to proclaim, to care, to teach, to do something positive with my life. Life came alive with meaning. I began to take my studies seriously.
Not all of us have the same calling. Many of my college and seminary friends never went into the ordained ministry of the Church, nevertheless, they have spent their lives serving Christ, building the kingdom of God, using their spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. I am so grateful that the authority and powers of Jesus reached into my life, claimed me for a new life and a lifetime of growing in the grace and the knowledge of God. His calling upon me expanded my vision for the pursuit of truth, peace, justice, and freedom. I made mistakes along the way. I lost my way. I failed. I sinned, but Jesus kept picking me up, forgiving me, affirming me, dusting me off, and preparing me to be of service to his kingdom.
Now I cannot number all the short and long term missions he has sent me on. But the Gospel text from Luke always reminds me that Jesus calls us all to make positive contributions. He imparts his authority and power to heal the world.
After Easter Sunday, the living Jesus was present with those whom he had called. After great disappointment and unfaithfulness, the disciples needed to be comforted and encouraged. They needed to be loved and grounded in the truth of what they had seen and heard and touched of the word of life.
After Jesus ascended to the Father, Peter stood up in the fellowship and began to provide the leadership for which Jesus had called him. The first priority for the 120 member congregation was to reset the mission that Jesus had given them. That meant first resetting the message they had received.
RESETTING THE MESSAGE
What is the essential message the church has to proclaim and to live? The preacher at this week’s Los Ranchos Presbytery inspired me. His name was Dr. Roger Nishioka. Roger has been on the faculty of Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He was recently called to the staff of Prairie Village Presbyterian Church in Kansas. He is a gifted communicator.
He shared that he was invited to be a participant in a W.D.C. White House Interfaith Dialogue. He was one of two Christians invited to represent the Christian faith. The panel was made up of Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, and Muslims. It was a three hour dialogue. After the first segment during the break, the Muslim Imam sought him out. The Imam asked him if he were a Christian. Roger said “yes”. “Well,” the Muslim cleric asked, “when are you going to begin talking like a Christian and tell us what Christians believe, what is distinctive, or essential about the Christian faith? Thus far you have spoken in vague generalities making little distinction between a good American citizen and a disciple of Jesus. I came here to have a dialogue and you are not engaging me.”
Roger said he was awakened. The next hour and a half he articulated from a biblical perspective what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The panel turned into a wonderful interfaith dialogue in which the participants and audience engaged the distinctive of each tradition. When it was over his friends reported to him that he had seemed asleep during the first segment, but in the last part he had awakened to speak of the hope that was in him.
Roger cited sociological studies that discovered that the churches that are growing are those who have a clear message that separates them from the surrounding culture. This is true for every generational group. People want to know what it is that we believe and whether or not our message is trustworthy.
To me this is liberating. The year I stood for moderator of the G.A. there was much discussion about our Presbyterian convictions about the essential tenets of the Reformed tradition. We believe in essential tenets that one must affirm in order to be ordained, but no one wants to say what they are or how many there may be. The more vague we can be the better.
The issue in 2002 was whether or not the leadership of the church believed in the resurrection of Jesus? If so, on what grounds? What happened on Easter Sunday? Was it the resurrection of Easter Faith, or was it a mighty act of God that raised and transformed the dead corpse of Jesus? Was belief in the resurrection of Jesus an essential tenet? Or was it optional?
As Peter and the eleven reset the mission they needed to reset what their message was. They had been called to move into the Greco-Roman world that had within it the cross-winds of many opinions about truth and knowledge.
Our guide for our trip to the Holy Land frequently posts on her Facebook page articles of interest to her. (Tsippi Segal) This week she re-posted a piece from Ancient-Origins.net (05/26/16) that reported on the discovery of the burial tomb of Aristotle in his home town. Apparently, Aristotle’s ashes were brought home to his city that he rebuilt and wrote laws for in the 4th century B.C.
Aristotle was educated in Plato’s School in Athens. Together Plato and Aristotle represented the philosophical foundations of Western Civilization. In Athens there is a famous fresco by Raphael. It shows Plato pointing up to the heavens as a reminder that human knowledge is discovered through reason. Those trained in reason may come to know the Forms which are necessary to understand reality. Those with such reasoning powers were to become guardians for the purpose of building a world of order and justice.
Next to Plato in the fresco stands Aristotle pointing to the earth. The artist wanted to introduce us to the knowledge of reality through empirical observation and experience. Knowledge of reality through reason or empirical observation have informed humanity’s quest for truth for 2500 years.
Into the mix of theories of knowing came the Hebrew/Christian world view that embraced reason and empirical observation, but added Divine Revelation from the Lord as necessary for knowing anything.
On the basis of either reason or empirical observation the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They thought it was foolishness. Others thought it was heresy.
Nevertheless, the message of the New Testament Church proclaimed that the New Creation had begun in the in-breaking of God’s reign in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In searching for Aristotle’s tomb archeologists found the place where his ashes had been buried and venerated. In Jerusalem, the mother of the Emperor Constantine identified the tomb of Jesus. But that tomb was empty. Jesus had been raised from the dead. The New Creation had begun in the resurrection of Jesus.
Luke clarified that the replacement for Judas needed to have been an eyewitness to what God had done in Jesus by raising him from the dead. This is where the knowledge of God was revealed through faith.
RESETTING THE INTEGRITY OF THE MESSENGER.
Judas had been a failure. He was chosen by Jesus, but he was the weak link among the 12. The Gospels give us some insight into Judas’ character. Like the other eleven he was an entrepreneur and was self-centered. It may have been that Judas had financial interests. One of the Gospel’s says he was the keeper of the common purse and was a thief who continually stole from the offerings that had been given to Jesus and the 12.
Some even suggest that he was seeking to push Jesus into a political power play for the sake of establishing his kingdom. For whatever it was that motivated Judas, he finally realized he could not control Jesus. He could see that Jesus would ultimately fail. Therefore, he bailed on the mission while he could still make some money and friends by playing ball with the political and religious authorities. He sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.
Clearly, Judas was not spiritually formed in either character or understanding. He did not have the mind of Christ. He did not love Jesus. Maybe he was just confused. Yet, Jesus had prayed over him, taught him, modeled the life of faithful obedience to him, but he was not yet buying it. Some even suggested that Judas had become a tool of Satan, that Satan had entered into him, and more and more he served the evil one. In a deeper way, some suggested that Jesus had chosen him to be the betrayer who would turn Jesus over at just the right time so that Jesus could fulfill his mission.
When the eleven were considering replacing Judas they remembered that Jesus had chosen him but as far as they were concerned Judas had been as mistake. The replacement for Judas needed to have a good heart. Only God could see into the human heart, so the eleven prayed that out of two viable candidates that God would make the choice through the casting of lots. “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship.”
They were seeking to reset the message and the messenger. The mission before them would require the utmost of honesty, commitment, and personal integrity. Throughout the history of God’s people failure in character has so often brought disaster to the church. What if the leader is not steadfast and faithful? What if the leader has little insight into himself or herself? What if the leader is given to the abuse of power in relationships? What if the leader betrays trust and plants the seeds of distrust in the fellowship?
It is an awesome and terrifying prospect for a group of mortals to seek to call a new pastor. The Presbytery is charged with proving and testing candidates for the ministry. We are all so easily self-deceived. I could tell you story after story of pastors whose characters have not been spiritually formed for the long obedience in the same direction.
For the last several years I have prayed that I might not do anything that would bring discredit to Christ, to my family, to the church, or to me. Lord, protect me. Help me to finish well. The truth is that the journey is never over. To the end we are all vulnerable to the one who wants nothing more than to destroy the mission of God. If any of us thinks we would never commit certain sins, we need to wake up. To the end Jesus was tempted and so are we. The good news is that through all the means of grace we are allowed to know God and ourselves. Through the power of word and Spirit we are called to total transparency and transformation. By God’s grace we may persevere to the end. But never without wounds, weaknesses, and brokenness!
There is not a morning of my life that I do not pray that the Lord protect me, guide me, infuse me with thanksgiving and joy, and so empower me to be a faithful witness.
By 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.
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