S111917 Psalm 111 and 112
There is something about the Leonard Cohen song entitled “Hallelujah” that moves my soul and apparently the soul of many. Cohen wrote it decades ago. Many musicians have recorded it. I suspect that many people listen to it without careful consideration of its lyrics.
Cohen mixed O.T. religious images and stories with sexual innuendo and suggestion. Some have argued that it is a secular hymn that tells King David’s personal struggle with sex and power. In the process of seducing Bathsheba he himself was brought down, publicly exposed, and humiliated. At the end, David’s sexual love affair left him empty and broken as the king of Israel.
“Well I heard there was a secret chord That David played and it pleased the Lord But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Your faith was strong but you needed proof You saw her bathing on the roof Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you. She tied you to her kitchen chair She broke your throne and she cut your hair And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
Maybe there’s a God above. All I’ve ever learned from love Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. And it’s not a cry that you hear at night. It’s not somebody who’s seen the light. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
To be sure, it is a melancholy ballad that interprets the human search for meaning and love in a world of broken relationships and disappointing dreams of human desires and lusts.
The music and the lyrics haunt our postmodern empty longings and abuses of power by both men and women. Given the news reports about sexual harassment by powerful men it could become a national hymn of disclosure and fallen-ness. HALLELUJAH? PRAISE THE LORD?
What the secular ballad sings about is not biblical praise of the Lord, but about fallen abuse of power and outright breaking of the law of God. Its haunting power is in the mystery of sin and the shattering of life. How tragic! But how seductive to the inner ruminations of the heart?
This Thanksgiving Sunday we come to two Psalms that are really one Psalm. Psalm 111 and 112 both begin with “HALLELUJAH, PRAISE THE LORD”. But why does the believer praise the Lord?
PSALM 111 TELLS US WHY.
It was written to be prayed in the Jerusalem Temple during high holy day worship. It is a Psalm that reminds us that we often come to the house of God to worship when life is going well, when life is in balance. God is in God’s heaven, and we are in right relationship with God and with one another. This is a prayer of well-being. Walter Brueggemann identified it.
Surely, we also come into the house of God to pray our prayers of disorientation, when life has spun out of control, when God seems silent or absent. We come when we are in chaos, ill, fearing death or enemies. In these prayers we pray our anger, our loneliness, our vulnerabilities, our failures and sins. Thank God that we may bring ourselves just as we are.
The people who pray psalms of orientation know who God is. The God addressed in these psalms is worthy to be praised because of his character. Knowing who God is gives to us a secure orientation in life. Listen to Ps. 111:
“Great are the works of the Lord. Full of honor and majesty is his work; his righteousness endures forever!
The Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; God is trustworthy.
He sent redemption to his people.
Holy and awesome is his name.” Hallelujah! Ps. 111.
This Psalm celebrates the Lord who delivered his people from Egyptian slavery, led them through the wilderness for 40 years; entered into covenant with them at Mt. Sinai; and paved the way for their conquest of the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land.
This is the Lord who is worthy to be praised because his name is Yahweh, the Lord:
“a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Exodus 34:6-7
This affirmation is at the heart of biblical faith. The God who created all things good and the humans in God’s image has never given up on us. Hallelujah! The covenant promise to Abram and Sara was that they would be the father and mother of many nations, a people numbering more than the stars of the heavens and as many as the pebbles of sand on all the seashores.
This God delivered his people from slavery and through them has worked to establish his reign and rule for the well-being of all people. Hallelujah!
This morning as we come to the Table of the Lord, the Table of Thanksgiving and Praises, we celebrate who God is and remember that as we receive the elements upon the Table we have been redeemed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving we name the Big Story of the cosmos: “the God who created us, who is Lord of the cosmos and all human history, has sent his Son in the fullness of time, born of a woman, born under the law in order to deliver us from the curse of the law, in order that we might be redeemed and adopted into his family as the children of God.” Galatians 4
This is God’s salvations story; the Big Story; the Meta-narrative of all Creation and history.
For this we give thanks! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.
Psalm 112, that concludes Psalm 111, reminds us that we become like the gods we worship. Worship money and you become enslaved to Mammon, the dark side of wealth that has a power to strip you of your humanity and to lead you to fall before the idol of greed.
Worship sex and you begin to see others as objects of your pleasure, as things to be used and abused. You begin to objectify others forgetting that they are persons, Thou’s who bare the image of God. You forget that you are your brother or sisters keepers.
Worship a political ideology, right wing, left wing, centrist, and you forget that those who are committed to other ideologies are persons to be valued and treated with fairness. The public domain becomes a marketplace of competition, conflict, violence, destruction, and falsehood. Therefore, the whole political system comes to ruin.
Worship a nation and you drift into arrogant pride and fear that sees in national symbols, like flags, the norms of patriotism and loyal citizenship. We forget that there are higher powers and loyalties. What finally emerges is a Zimbabwean dictator who rules for decades and democracy is destroyed, the rule of law is subverted, truth disappears in the marketplace, and constitutional limits on power are betrayed. Soon, wars are launched at the whim of a small power elite and the world is destroyed.
Worship a scientific ideology and it limits the human power to see, to listen, to measure, to explain, and to respond to the cries of a natural world in distress. Do you hear the labor pains of creation?
Psalm 112 reminds us that we become like the god’s we worship. Worship a false god and the life of the person, the church, the nation, the natural order is corrupted.
But worship the Lord and you are inspired to proclaim, “Hallelujah”, “Praise the Lord!
Why? Because in worship the mind and soul of the believer is transformed to become like the Holy One of Israel, The Lord, the Great “I Am”.
The Psalmist who wrote these psalms of wisdom witnessed, “Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.”
“They are happy in the land. They are upright and blessed; Wealth and riches are in their houses; they are like light in the darkness of our corrupt world. They deal generously and lend; they conduct their affairs with justice. They will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. “
“Their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord; their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.
The wicked are angry and gnash their teeth against them.” Psalm 112.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
How is it that the righteous are so blessed? Because they have become like the God whom they worship!
What ought to be our ultimate concern as we come to worship? Our ultimate concern ought to be whether or not we are hearing the Word of the Lord and allowing the Holy Spirit to write the truth of God’s kingdom into our souls. Is this a place of spiritual transformation? Are we coming to know the mind of Christ? Are we awake to all that is good in this mysterious God of grace, truth, and love.
One of the great tragedies of our time is that often the church has trivialized the reality of the One whom we worship. We have sought a god who is too small, is not worthy of respect, and reverential awe! We have not sought the God of the burning bush whose Voice and glory brought Moses to his kneels in adoration.
We are like the children that Annie Dillard described in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. We come with our chemistry sets to playfully mix up a few chemicals on Sunday morning, not realizing that we could set up a chemical reaction that would blow up the church. She said, “when we come to church we ought sit in the pews, tighten our seat belts, put on our crash helmets and prepare ourselves for God to show up.”
And the Lord may show up as the mighty One who drowned Pharaoh’s armies in the Red Sea. He may show up as he did before Isaiah in the Jerusalem Temple as the prophet heard the angels singing and the glory of God’s holiness surrounded and called him to speak to a hardhearted people.
He may show up as Jesus did to Peter after the large catch of fish. Suddenly Peter fell before Jesus and asked him to depart since he was a sinful man.
He may show up on the Damascus Rd to turn your life around as he did for Saul of Tarsus. He may show up as to did to Peter with the words that someday someone else will put a belt around your waist and take you where you do not wish to go.
Psalm 111 tells us who God is in God’s inner reality. Psalm 112 tells us what happens to a people when they come close to this God: Transformation happens and we become like Jesus with all his grace and truth and love.
After expounding the grace of God to the Ephesian church, he called them to become like the One whose love had claimed them.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 4:30-5:2
HALLELUJAH! PRAISE THE LORD!
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Ransom My Soul! is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 49. It is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
RANSOM MY SOUL
Psalm 49; Luke 12:13-21
Several years ago I decided that I needed to read and reflect on the classics of American literature. To help in this I took a class at Irvine Valley College. I was not disappointed. I fell in love with some of the great American authors who in their fiction brought biblical insight to American history.
One of the writers was John Steinbeck, a California novelist whose works unpacked the challenges of American life in the 1930’s. His classic of course was “The Grapes of Wrath,” the story he wrote about the migration of folks from the Dust Bowl states of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas during those terrible years of drought during the Great Depression. This was my parent’s generation. Having grown up in North Texas I knew about those years from my parents and one of my uncles who was a farmer in Brownsville, Texas, doing dry land farming, dependent on rain that did not come. What a story he and my mom and dad told of the black dust clouds that would blow into our region darkening the sun at mid-day. I saw the remnants of those clouds in the 1950’s. I will never forget. Ken Burns made a documentary about the dust bowl years.
Steinbeck captured the suffering of the Okies, Arkies, and Texans, pulling up stakes, losing their lands to foreclosing banks, and moving to the Promised Land of California. Some members of my Dad’s family actually migrated to California during those years. It was a time in which there were no government programs to help displaced poor people. The poor were on their own traveling in their broken down cars with all their possessions strapped to the tops of their cars. They were moving into an unknown and insecure future in the Golden State, hoping for a better life. What they discovered was hostility, prejudice, and even more suffering in the state that had represented a new beginning.
Walter Brueggemann writes in his new book entitled “Money and Possessions, Interpretation” that Steinbeck’s novel interprets Psalm 49. Brueggeman writes: “There is no doubt that concentrations of wealth may create frightening social circumstances for those left behind, the kind the Okies experienced in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” (112). He quotes:
“I hears there’s three hundred thousan’ of our people there—an’ livin’ like hogs, ‘cause ever’thing in California is owned. They ain’t nothin’ left. An’ them people that owns it is gonna hang on to it if they got to kill ever’body in the worl’ to do it. An’ they’re scairt, and that makes ‘em mad. You got to see it. You got to hear it. Purtiest GD country you ever seen, but they ain’t nice to you, them folks. They’re so scairt an’ worried they ain’t even nice to each other.”
Brueggemann writes, “It is this relentless threat to the wealthy in their great wealth that propels the psalm. This psalm counters this fear of the aggressive wealthy by attestation to the limit of wealth that the wealthy finally will face. The reality of death is a sober note to the wealthy: You cannot take it with you!”
One of my childhood friends came from a family that was rich in land, cattle, oil and gas. He was an eccentric, spoiled child who lived in a mansion not far from my family’s home. No scheme of misbehavior was beyond his imagination. He touted his financial wealth. I am sure he embarrassed his wealthy parents. He grew up to become a thorn in the side of the city in his adult years. His name was Stanley Marsh 3. He married a wealthy, sophisticated socialite. Together they made a name for themselves in social circles.
Stanley stocked his ranch with wild African animals. At our 50th class reunion we gathered in their home that overlooked the vast praires surrounding the city. Every room in their home was lined with bookshelves. It was like walking into an art and history library. What an evening it was Life Magazine made Stanley’s art project beside I-40 a national destiny. He planted 10 of his Cadillac’s nose down beside the Interstate on his land. People have painted the luxury cars with graffiti. Life said it was great art that had bloomed out of the eccentric mind of Stanley. He knew no boundaries for his bazaar behaviors.
What most of us did not know was that Stanley had a practice of giving drugs to young men and sexually molesting them in his office downtown. As a convicted felon he finally died of dissipation and disease. He just escaped prison. His story has been told in all the major newspapers of America. Until recently, he seemed an aberration. But with the recent revelation about the wealthy sexual aggressors in almost every field of government, business, entertainment, and religion I am beginning to wonder if Stanley was so different from vast numbers of powerful and wealthy people who use their power to intimidate and to manipulate others for their own pleasures? How many House of Cards will need to fall to bring home the truth of Psalm 49 and Jesus’ parable in Luke 12.
Soul was speaking with himself in the parable which Jesus told. “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Luke 12:19
The connection between Soul and Wealth is interesting.
The Soul in Jesus’ parable was a wealthy man. He had accumulated so much that his barns, his storehouses were not large enough to contain them. Therefore, Soul decided that he would tear them down and build larger ones. Then he would relax, eat, drink, and be merry. He was secure and fixed for a happy retirement. But what he had not considered was an early death. The very night he completed the larger barns he died in his sleep. The big question: “who would inherit all he had accumulated?”
The truth is that death is the great equalizer of the rich and the poor. God will not be mocked. This is why death is such a threat to those who possess wealth. And I would include myself, and most of us, as among the richest people who ever lived. What makes death even more intimidating is that the Bible says there is a day coming when we will all be held accountable for the deeds done in the flesh, and especially for how we have used our powers and gifts for the blessings of others.
This was the conundrum of the Wisdom literature. The writer of Ecclesiastes was traumatized to consider that a fool might inherit all that he had accumulated through hard work. Suddenly an unwise inheritor could dissipate his great wealth and power. Vanity of vanities! To contemplate one’s lifework squandered by a fool was too much to consider, yet this worry has been at the heart of all parents who write their wills.
In the Old Testament wealth was seen as a gift from God. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. (See Ps. 24) Great blessing and good could come from wealth, but likewise, wealth had a dark side. It could become a tool of human pride. It could be made into an idol, worshiped, in and of itself. Money, sex, and power went hand in hand. Rather than being blessings they took on dimensions that separated, alienated, oppressed, and led to the suffering of the weak, the powerless, the humble poor and lowly within Israel. That is, widows, orphans, slaves, and the poor were victimized by the insensitive wealthy.
The prophets raged against this.
Yet in the midst of these ultimate realities and dangers, the psalmist trusted the good news of God’s faithfulness. The psalmist of Psalm 49 was speaking to himself, but also to God, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Psalm 49:15
Eugene Peterson translated, “But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death, he reaches down and grabs me.” Ps. 49:15
So what does God grab? What is the soul?
I believe that the soul is Me! It is you! It is that invisible part of us, not separated from our material bodies, but nevertheless, just as real as our physical bodies. My soul is my life that animates my body. My soul is intimately connected with the Spirit of God that has been breathed into me. When the Spirit departs my body, then my life leaves.
Dallas Willard who is now with the Lord in the fullness of life wrote in “The Divine Conspiracy” that if they were to place his body on the operating table, cut him open in search for his soul, that they would not see it or find it. Nevertheless, the soul is just as real as the body. It is me! It is you!
Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mt. 10:28
Jesus was echoing the wisdom of the psalmist. “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?” Ps. 49:5
“Do not be afraid when some become rich. Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.” Ps. 49:16, 20
The New Testament witnesses that the Son of Man came to ransom sinners, that is, to pay the cost that no one of us can pay for ourselves, however rich we may be.
In the most profound sense, we Christians trust that God in Christ has paid the price in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is one of the deepest atonement theologies of the New Testament. At the cross, God reached down and died in our place in the body of his Son. To change the metaphor, Jesus walked into the slave marketplace and there purchased us slaves to the powers of sin and death for himself. Therefore, from that moment on we have belonged to him, in life and in death.
What this means is that we need no longer fear our own death. Brueggemann quoted Karl Barth, the great Swiss Reformed theologian:
“Death does not merely confront man with limitations of life which he has experienced all along….Death is not only a place where man will be, but also a power which holds him in thrall.” “Gospel hope, deeply based in the Old Testament”, can, according to Barth, declare, “Those who believe in Jesus can no longer look at their death as though it were in front of them. It is behind them” (114-115).
I want to end my sermon with the words of Frederick Buechner in his famous sermon on Life and Death, entitled: “The Magnificent Defeat.” When Jesus rose up from the grave on Easter Sunday, he proclaimed,
“Don’t be afraid.” “Rich man, poor man, child; sick man, dying; man who cannot believe, scared sick man, lost one. Young man with your life ahead of you. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’”
“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” (81).
“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Ps. 49:15
“But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death, he reaches down and grabs me.” The Message
I find great comfort in the thought that God in Christ has ransomed me, purchased me, and that in life and in death I belong to him. I did not recognize it at the time, but when I was baptized into Christ, I died, but also I was raised to walk in the power of resurrection Spirit. My death is in the past. My life is present and is coming in its fullness.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Jn. 5:24
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1
At the cross he ransomed all who would believe. The tragedy of the self-centered rich is that they persist in thinking they have enough to buy a ticket out of Sheol. The only way to life is through faith in Jesus, through trusting his promises that all is well and nothing can separate us from his love.
Our souls have been ransomed. We trust in the goodness of God’s truth and grace.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Satisfy Us in the Morning! is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 90. At the 10am hour we commissioned our East Africa Ministry Team. They travel this month to East Africa to the Tumiani Children’s Home where we sponsor over 120 children.
It is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time and we celebrate All Saints’ Day this Sunday morning.
Satisfy Us in the Morning!
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Sermon Text: Psalm 90
The title of the Psalm attributes this prayer to Moses, a Man of God. Tradition says he wrote the first five books of the O.T. In doing so he witnessed to the Creation power of God. The second creation story in Genesis 2 was a beautiful work of poetic theology. He wrote, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). What he meant was that Adam’s source of life was the breath of God. He was made of the dust of the ground, but then God breathed his Spirit into “Ha Adam” (the ground) and the dust lived.
This story was not unlike the Ezekiel 37 story of the Lord showing the prophet a Valley of Dry Bones. He asked the prophet if these bones could live again. Ezekiel did not know what to say. He was commanded to prophesy to the bones. When he did so the bones began to move. They came together and formed the body of a man. But then God asked again, if the bones and flesh could live? Ezekiel replied, “I do not know.” The scripture tells us that Ezekiel “prophesied and the wind of God, the breath of the Lord infused the perfectly formed man with life.” The result was that Israel lived and was raised from the dead. It was like a parable that taught the people of God that the only true life they had was a gift from God. This life from God constituted Israel’s identity and power for building the kingdom of God. But it required that Adam live in communion with the source of his life.
By the time we read Genesis 3 we discover that God the Creator gave to Adam and Eve everything needed to live the abundant life. There was only one tree from which they were not permitted to eat. In an act of rebellion and pride the first couple disobeyed, lifting themselves up to live life as their own gods without dependence upon the Creator. The consequence for them was the loss of Paradise. No longer could they eat from the Tree of Life. Human life fell under the power of sin and death. The human’s discovered that they had lost their true humanity. They discovered life “East of Eden” to be filled with violence, oppressive work, and the reminder that death was their destiny. “They had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
So also for all humanity! Life became short, brutish, filled with power conflicts and warfare. The sting of death ruled. As the humans were made from the dust of the ground, so they would return to the dust of the ground. Even though, as N.T. Wright said, “God’s time and human time” continued to overlap and to intersect, the truth was that the human’s in misusing their freedom ended up enslaved to the powers of sin and death (see “Simply Jesus” p. 131ff).
Psalm 90 is a poignant reminder for us that human life outside of right relationship with the Creator is miserable: “You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortal.’”
“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away, they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.”
“For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Ps. 90
I have loved and hated this Psalm. It reminds me that my human freedom is limited. It has boundaries. To live estranged from God destroys life. At the time when this Psalm was written the average life span was around 25 to 40 years. The graves around the walls of Jerusalem hold the remains of persons who died around these ages. Of course, some lived into their 70’s and 80’s, but still that was unusual.
In 1900 the average age was 40. The divorce rate was low because most marriages were dissolved by death and not divorce.
The 20th century was the most violent century of human history. Millions were blown away by warfare. Penicillin was not discovered until the 1930’s. Antibiotics came along later. An infection could be deadly. The Polio vaccine came after WWII. Plagues ravished the earth and still do in many places. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and AIDS are among the disease killers. The list goes on and on. We are grateful for the research and discoveries of treatments and technologies that have extended human life expectancy. Yet millions of people do not have the financial resources to purchase expensive medications or treatments for mental illnesses. The opioid epidemic has been declared a national emergency. Multitudes of homeless walk our streets and sleep in the wet coldness, some by choice, but many for other reasons.
And so if we should live to be a 100 years, what would it matter? A woman who had just turned 100 was asked on her birthday what her life looked like from the perspective of 100 years. She said her whole lifetime seemed like one day: human time; birth and death!
What is the meaning of all the days that make up the dash between the day of our birth and the date of our death? How are we to live in the in-between days of the dash between our birth and death?
1. WE PRAY FOR WISDOM
Given our dilemma with the brevity of human life, how should we pray? The Psalmist prayed, “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Be reflective! Do not go through life so busy that you miss the poignancy of the day. The Psalms began with the reminder that the righteous person meditates on the law of God day and night.
This is more than just discovering an ethical code by which to live. This is more that an intellectual embrace of a moral code. A wise person knows that true wisdom is in God and that the source of wisdom is right relationship with God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
James, the brother of our Lord, wrote, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3:17). In the process of counting our days and making the most of them we discover that loving the God of wisdom revealed in Christ is the way to fullness of life. We learn that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and that his law is at the heart of divine love.
2. FOR COMPASSION
“Have compassion on your servants!” The Lord had said to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cries for deliverance; I know their suffering; I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3).
The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus saw the world through the eyes of compassion. He saw that the people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He was moved to the depth of his inner being. Out of his compassion he acted to heal the sick, to restore the sight of the blind; to touch lepers, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. (See Matthew 9:35-38)
The way of wisdom leads to the compassionate and enduring heart that reaches out to bring comfort, peace, and hope.
3. THAT OUR SOULS BE SATISFIED WITH GOD’S STEADFAST LOVE
We live in a generation that has difficulty being satisfied for long with anything or anyone. Our news reports are filled with stories of those who cannot get enough of “money, sex or power.” At the center of our souls there is a restless seeking for something or someone who can fill up the empty vacuum in our souls.
How is it that we have so many powerful men who abuse their power with women? There is not a organization that does not have to do sexual misconduct training, from the church, to Hollywood, to businesses, to giant corporations, to political parties, to political leaders. It is not simply lust, but a need to have conquest of those who are less powerful and who may fall prey to manipulation and intimidation. I had a teacher who once said that our world is filled with orgasm collectors.
All of this calls to mind the Rolling Stone’s grinding lyrics, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Money, sex, and power simply do not satisfy. We require more, but this “more” will not satisfy.
We begin with work, alcohol, marijuana, food, opioids, heroin, and any number of street highs we could name. Years ago I was reading the book “12 AND 12” of AA. It said that many alcoholics relapse because they are frustrated by anger and disappointment. They want MORE “money, sex, and power” and when they do not get more satisfying results in anger they drink or use again. The failure of more leaves an deeper space in the heart.
Basically, all of these desires for MORE mask the more fundamental emptiness with which we struggle and that is our God shaped vacuum we each have in our souls. The only thing that can fill us up is God. St. Augustine had it right when he wrote in his, “Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God.”
Augustine confessed that his early life had been focused on “money, sex, and power.” He said he had been so busy licking the earth that he could not faithfully respond to the love of God. At the right moment of personal misery he read the Apostle Paul’s words to the Roman Church, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling an drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:11-14). In that moment he trusted the amazing love of God that promised spiritual freedom for the soul addicted to licking the earth.
4. FOR A CLEAR VISION OF THE WORKS OF GOD’S GRACE IN THE WORLD
Being awake spiritually to what God is doing in the world in the midst of the chaos, confusion, and noise of our time is a gift. Spiritual blindness and hardness of heart cheat us from experiencing the favor of God.
5. THAT THE LORD WILL PROSPER THE WORK OF OUR HANDS
When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah made an investment (see Jeremiah 32). He purchased property in Anathoth as a witness to the faithfulness of God to his people. He went about his work as a statement of hope. I’ll never forget the Seminary class in which the Business Manager of the Seminary was asked why it was that Fuller Seminary was building buildings and developing programs when the return of Jesus was so near? Why invest in the present for the sake of the future if the world is coming to an end? The manager said, “We take the return of Christ seriously, but we invest as if his return will not happen for 500 years.”
This is the Christian stance in a world in which evil is at work persecuting Christians seeking to destroy the good work of God. By faith we see how God’s Time and human time overlap and intersect. We glimpse in faith the coming City of God. Because of that vision we build in hope as if 1000 more years may be ahead of us. Indeed, 1000 years are as one year to the Lord. God has his own timing.
Psalm 90 is most often heard in a memorial service of a departed saint. It is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of all human achievements. Egypt’s Pyramids were built thousands of years ago. Only this week it was announced that modern technology had seen a hidden space in the Giza Pyramid. Could it be the burial chamber of the Great Pharaoh? Civilizations leave behind the footprints of their architectures, art, literature, religious and political achievements. Travel the Fertile Crescent and the artifacts of Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Greece, and Rome are everywhere
Empires rise and fall, often from corruption from within. Could it be that the American Century with its visit to the surface of the moon and our exploration of mysterious places in the cosmos will pale in comparison to our fall, destroyed from within by spiritual and moral chaos? Will the brevity of history reveal that we were the richest nation and civilization ever to be, but we ended up on the ash pile of dust and ruin to be excavated by archeologist of some future generation?
We pray that God may prosper the work of our hands and make us a blessing.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
A Whole New World is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Psalm 95. It is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. We are also celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Joining with us this morning is Calvary Church Choir, Santa Ana, directed by Helen Weed. Along with Trish Folsom, Accompanist. Trumpets: Melanie Hoffman, Jim Ziegler; Horn: Mark Ghiassi. Trombone: Danny Ridgway. Percussion: Danielle Squyres.
Prelude: “A Mighty Fortress,” from Reformation Suite B, Culli; Postlude: “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice!”, from Reformation Suite B, Culli. Choir and Congregation are singing: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, arr. by D. Forrest, directed by Linda White. The Choral Anthem is “One Faith, One Hope, One Lord” by C. Courtney, directed by Helen Weed.
Shepherd Me, O God is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on Psalm 23. It is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Is God Good? is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 73. It is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The audio provided below begins with the Choral Anthem: “We Are Not Alone” by P. Choplin, featuring soloists: Melanie Harvey, James Gjurgevich. This is followed by the Sermon on Psalm 73, “Is God Good” as preached by Dr. Tankersley at the 8:30am worship service. Included is the Offertory: “Lord, You Are Good” by Steve Merkel, and sung by LPC’s Praise Team, followed by Prayers of the People, Closing Hymn: Jesus Shall Reign, and the Postlude: Psalm 19.
If you would like, you may also listen to the entire worship service by clicking on the following link.
Is God Good?
One of my favorite Old Testament scholars is Walter Brueggemann, a retired professor from Colombia Theological Seminary. He may be retired, but he is one of the most sought after teachers and preachers in mainline Protestant churches. Seems like he publishes a book a month. Of all his writings I especially appreciate his work on the Psalms. It is compelling. I have been envious of his brilliance and prophetic charisma.
Walter has a threefold schema into which he places many of the psalms. In one of his book, “Praying the Psalms, Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit,” he writes, “I suggest, in a simple schematic fashion, that our life of faith consists in moving with God in terms of: 1. Being securely oriented; 2. Being painfully disoriented; and 3. Being surprisingly reoriented. I want to read Psalm 73 through these three lenses or orientations.
Secure orientation in the world is one of the places we all long to be and to remain. God is in heaven. We are firmly planted on the earth and in our place. Israel is secure in the Holy Land. Justice and righteousness characterize the life of the people of God. The enemies of God’s people are preoccupied with other things and are not threatening our existence.
To contemporize, the Iranian Nuclear Deal is certified. Peace treaties are ready to be signed. North Korea has abandoned its military ambitions and has ceased pursuing its nuclear agenda. The powerless and the weak are being served and lifted up. Racial discrimination and social inequality are being addressed. Victims of sexual addiction and harassment are being healed. The economy is strong. The Dow is going up. We are richer today than we were last year at this time. The government will soon cut taxes. The opioid addiction crisis is being conquered. My recent blood tests are normal. Our pains are in control and even diminishing. Cancer research has made progress. Our physical afflictions are in check. Depression is lifting.
It looks like we are safe and secure.
The hurricane season is nearly over. Gentle rains have come to northern California; the fires are out. It has been a long time since we had a devastating earthquake. Climate change is being faced and nations are acting to clear the air, the rivers, and the oceans. Even the church has found ways to be one church, with one apostolic confession and orthodoxy. We have found common ground in how to get along. We are learning how to love one another or at least to forebear one another. The denominations are filled with growing congregations and the whole church is united, peaceful, and pure. Conflict, division and polarization have been minimized and we are hopeful about the future.
All is well. Most people are satisfied and feeling happy. If we could say one thing about ourselves and our world it could be found in Psalm 73:1, “Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.” The wicked are being eliminated, but the righteous, the pure in heart, are secure and maturing.
After all, Psalm 1 says that those who walk in the way of the righteous will be blessed. They meditate on the law of God day and night. They are like trees planted beside streams of water and in fertile soil. The result is that they bear fruit in season.
Job was a Psalm 1 “righteous man.” He was healthy, wealthy, and wise. He was securely oriented and was recognized as a good man who had been blessed with far more than he needed. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).
“Secure Orientation is a minor theme in the Psalms and not very provocative. The Psalms mostly do not emerge out of such situations of equilibrium. Rather, people are driven to such poignant prayer and song as are found in the Psalter precisely by experiences of dislocation and relocation. It is experiences of being overwhelmed, nearly destroyed, and surprisingly given life that empower us to pray and sing” (Praying the Psalms, 4).
Last April, I was asked to write an article on prayer and the use of the Psalms in times of trouble. The Prayer Connect magazine has just been published. In reading again what I had written I realized the subject of the fall magazine is highly appropriate in 2017 and in all times. It is entitled, You Will Have Trouble. Many of the Psalms are written by poets, theologians, and musicians to help the people of God pray their troubles.
Therefore, many of the Psalms were written to be sung in the Jerusalem Temple in times when persons or the people were painfully disoriented. The writer of Psalm 73 had begun with the stated longing of his life and of the righteous: “Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.”
But in the next verse he confessed his time of trial: “My feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). “For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning” (Psalm 73:14).
He does not tell us what had happened, but clearly his spiritual state had become disorientated. His life had spun into chaos. The equilibrium he had enjoyed was gone. He had begun to compare himself with the wicked. His words were filled with humorous contrasts: Speaking of the wicked he said, “They have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek.”
Allow me to paraphrase: “The wicked look like they just left 24 Hour Fitness. Their muscles ripple. There is not an ounce of fat on them. They have been pumping iron and doing the spin class. They could jump over any obstacle. They are the right height; they have broad shoulders with chiseled jaw lines; their hair has not grayed; their eyes are clear; if they have not been regular at the beach, then they have been going to the tanning salon. They appear never to have been ill, no dark rings under their eyes. Every part of their lives seems to be working out. The proportion of their chest measurements with their waists and hips appear to be 36-24-36. Implants have made it possible.”
Sometimes on Sunday mornings at 5:30am as I am eating my cereal I watch Joel Olsteen on T.V. preaching from Houston and selling his prosperity gospel. The huge center is jammed with 20 thousand people. His smile is contagious; his frock of hair is abundant; he paces back and forth telling people if they only had the right faith that they could accomplish whatever they might choose and over come the troubles of their lives. He and his wife are gorgeous. They are wealthy and totally successful: healthy, wealthy, and wise. I can assure you that there are preachers around the country watching and wondering why they cannot have the success of Joel. So most of the time I turn him off and select a channel where the news may be horrible or fake, as some say, but nevertheless provocative.
The psalmist went on to say of the wicked, “They are not plagued like other people. Pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; they threaten oppression. Their mouths are set against heaven; their tongues range over the earth.”
And to make matters worse people turn and praise them, and find no fault in them. They say, “How can God know? They are always at ease, they increase in riches.”
Now I am not sure whose names you would identify with the Psalmist description of the wicked. Some come to my mind. It makes me want to lament, to weep, and to wonder. I think of the beautiful starlets who have been manhandled by men promising to advance their careers. I think of young women harassed by men of power and prestige. I think of all the lies that politicians have spoken seeking to redefine reality according to their own interests. I think of all the love starved preachers who have acted out in hurtful ways.
Was the Psalmist lifting up a straw man? Are there people like that? To one degree or another, this is a description of human nature and human history. The Harvey Weinstein’s have accumulated all the “money, sex, and power” of a world gone mad with the accumulations of upward mobility and popular acclaim.
Whatever we may think of the psalmist envious words and attitudes, if we are honest, we know that we have come across people whose lives have tempted us to become bitter, envious, and vengeful.
Not long after I came to be your pastor I was standing out front of the church with a pastor friend of mine. He confessed his envy of me. He asked why it was that I was called to this church and not him? He was in a dangerous place, but so was I. I could have said to him, “You are just not as good as I am.” But that would have been an arrogant statement that was untrue. There are not many of us who are not afflicted with ambitions that we do not understand, with the apparent successes of others, and we ask “Why?”
The Psalmist was in trouble. I think his perceptions were distorted. He was projecting the conflicts of his soul and the thoughts of his mind on to others. He finally had enough insight into himself to confess: “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you” (Psalm 73:21-22).
What changed? He tells us. “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.”
In that movement the Psalmist moved from disorientation to new orientation. His perceptions of the wicked of the world were not totally wrong, but his thinking, his reasoning had led him to a false evaluation of others. He needed correcting; spiritual formation, a world view anchored in the revelation of who God is and how God sees the world.
And this is what he received in the Jerusalem Temple, the Sanctuary in which Israel’s and God’s Story were celebrated and the revelation of God’s character, faithfulness, loving kindness, mercy, justice, and righteousness were lifted up. In the house of God the salvation of God was proclaimed in God’s Word. In this house the Torah, the Law of God functioned as a mirror in which the one who worshiped saw who he or she was and who others were, but not just that, they saw the rescuing power of God’s Word and Spirit that could change not only human perceptions, but also transform the heart with faith, hope, and love. In the Temple the Psalmist was restored by the grace of God.
He was awakened to a New Secure Orientation that changed the way he saw everything. Where reason had failed him; revelation brought him to a new place of secure orientation.
Listen to some of the things he said: “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand; you guide me with your counsel; you will receive me with honor.” He confessed: “Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. It is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.”
This Psalm informs us about the seasons of our walk with God in this world. Sometimes things seem easy. Other times we find ourselves catapulted by experience into a time of chaos or disequilibrium; we struggle with doubt, temptation, weakness, disappointment; but then we go to church and we listen to the Word of God’s promises; in faith we ask the Spirit of Jesus to come into our hearts; we experience forgiveness, acceptance, and restoration.
I know this cycle from my own experience. This is the spiritual rhythm of 2000 years of church history. Every one of us could tell the story in our own life experience. We know the Psalmist got it right. This is why we need to pray the Psalms. It is why Jesus prayed the Psalms. He knew the Voice that assured him that he was the Father’s Son. Filled with the Spirit he was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. All could have been lost. But because he had learned the Word of God and trusted the Father, he never lost touch. He faced into the disequilibrium of his life, trusted the goodness of God, and was raised from the dead.
He lived what the Psalmist affirmed:
“Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Sleeping in Peace is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 4. It is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sleeping in Peace
I have been following with great interest the Nobel prizes for 2017. The prize for Medicine was given to three American researchers for the work they have done on Circadian Rhythms in humans, plants, and animals. They studied the biological processes of these rhythms in fruit flies and discovered that the production of certain proteins when they were bonded with other proteins allowed entry to the cellular nuclei that then controlled the rise and fall of the proteins that regulate our waking and sleeping rhythms.
The report said “their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.” (Ariana E. Cha, The Washington Post Oct. 2, 2017.)
“They isolated a gene that is responsible for a protein that accumulates in the night but is degraded in the day. Misalignments in this clock may play a role in medical conditions and disorders, as well as the temporary disorientation of jet lag that travellers experience when crisscrossing time zones.”
What this means is that there are biological boundaries in each of our bodies that are related to light and darkness, to awake-ness and sleep that if pushed beyond the limits by overwork and lack of rest and sleep may cause great harm to our well-being. “Alzheimer’s depression, ADHD, heart disease, obesity and diabetes and other metabolic issues are among the many conditions that appear to be linked to circadian rhythms being out of whack.”
Did you read the articles about overwork in Japan? Workers are culturally forced to work overtime each month in order to be successful. The result is that young people, especially women, are dying of heart attacks and other stress diseases. Like many of us they burn the candle on both ends by working around the clock, becoming sleep deprived and rest deprived.
I absorbed this same pressure. As a boy and into my early college years I loved to sleep. Then I began to realize that if I were to make it in this competitive world I needed to wake up, burn the midnight oil, and work harder to master the subjects that were before me. It was such a painful process. I remember taking zoology for one of my science requirements. It was known as one of the harder, demanding courses at the university. I found myself getting up in the middle of the night to go to the study lounge in our dormitory seeking to memorize the facts we had studied. I succeeded in the course, and I applied the discipline to every course I took after that.
It was amazing how my grades changed. I had unconsciously adopted a “labor theory of value”. The harder you work, the more hours you invest, the better you do in life.
I once told the registrar at Fuller Seminary that I was committed to getting an “A” grade in one of my harder courses, even if it killed me. She smiled at me and asked, “What good will it do you if you are dead?”
Nevertheless, I was so determined to excel that the “work ethic” embedded itself in me. One of my friends said he only needed 4 hours of sleep a night. I tried to emulate him, but failed. A few nights of 6 hours of sleep drained my resources, led to colds and flu’s that required me to seek extra sleep. One of the psychology professors at Fuller Seminary School of Psychology suggested that most depressions would be cured with a regular 9 hours a night of sleep. I thought he was crazy. I had learned that staying in control of life and coming out on top required relentless labor, day and night.
Soon our biological rhythms begin to catch up with us. Atul Gawande, the physican who wrote “Being Mortal”, said that his dreams began to terrorize him. His account was humorous and terrifying:
The shock to me was seeing medicine not pull people through. I knew theoretically that my patients could die, of course, but every actual instance seemed like a violation, as if the rules I thought we were playing by were broken. I don’t know what game I thought this was, but in it we always won.
When I saw my first deaths, I was too guarded to cry. But I dreamt about them. I had recurring nightmares in which I’d find my patients corpses in my house—in my bed.
How did he get here? I’d wonder in panic.
I knew I would be in huge trouble, maybe criminal trouble, if I didn’t get the body back to the hospital without getting caught. I’d try to lift it into the back of my car, but it would be too heavy. Or I’d get it in, only to find blood seeping out like black oil until it overflowed the trunk. Or I’d actually get the corpse to the hospital and onto a gurney, and I’d push it down hall after hall, trying and failing to find the room where the person used to be.
Hey! Someone would shout and start chasing me. I’d wake up next to my wife in the dark, clammy tachycardia. I felt that I’d killed these people. I’d failed” (Being Mortal, p. 7).
With me, my stress nightmares almost always have me leading a tour trying to get a group of people from one place to another to catch a plane or a train. But there are always some fellow travellers whom I cannot find. I don’t know what time the plane leaves; I can’t get my clothes into my bag, the bus taking us to the terminal is late and I wake up panicked with anxiety and fear of failure.
How can I get to sleep when there are so many demands? In 1993 I had a panic attack while driving. I managed to get to the hospital emergency room. To calm my rapid heart rate you know what they did? They put me to sleep for an hour. When I awakened in calm the psychiatrist was waiting and he asked, “Have you ever contemplated suicide?” He scared me! “No!” I immediately said. I was not having a heart attack. Rather, it was a panic attack brought on by the internal pressures I was feeling.
The pharmaceutical companies advertise all kinds of remedies. We begin to self-medicate with liquor or other chemicals to relax our brains, to calm our inner voices, or to harness our inner demons. Sometimes in the night time we pick up the cell phone or the iPad, go on line and check the news. The media does not fail us. There are always things to worry about, new disasters, crises, shootings, and out of control events to contemplate.
So we lose sleep and the next day we are exhausted.
The psalmists knew about the rhythms of day and night, of light and darkness. Therefore, the people who put the psalms together placed a morning and evening psalm at the beginning of the prayers. Eugene Peterson in his book, “Answering God, the Psalms as Tools for Prayer” writes that God built the rhythms of creation into the biology of nature.
In the daylight world it is easy for us to suppose that we are in control. In the night world we relinquish our grip on jobs, people, even thoughts, and experience the will that is greater than ours, the God who answers previous to our asking, who acts previous to our prompting.
We never arrive at a condition where we are beyond sleep, self-sufficient in 24 hour control. Daily we give up consciousness submitting ourselves to that which is deeper than consciousness in order to grow and be healed, be created and saved. Going to sleep is biological necessity; it can also be an act of faith.
Even though it is decreed in our bodies that we return to this sleep, it is not easy. We want to stay in control. We want to oversee the operation. Evening prayer is a deliberate act of spirit that cultivates willingly what our bodies force on us finally” (Peterson, Answering God, 62-63).
Peterson argued that Psalm 4 was built around several verbal imperatives that would lead us into believing obedience. I need these daily evening disciplines to help me go to bed and sleep in peace.
First, “Be angry!” No day is perfect, but some days are really painful and threatening. On 9/11 I woke up to the terrorist attack in NYC and WDC. I watched the buildings fallings as I prepared to go to my home office to pray and to journal. I knew I had to turn the TV off and get myself centered in God’s Word and presence. But I was angry with whoever had done this cowardly deed.
Same thing this past Monday morning as I heard the reports from Las Vegas about the mass murder of people enjoying a music festival. How many more times will we have to endure this gun violence? Is there no responsible governmental agency that can limit the sale of automatic rifles that have been converted to machine guns whose only purpose is to rapidly kill people? Enough is enough!
The psalmist gives us permission to pray our anger about the world in which we live, to acknowledge what we are feeling. Maybe some of us need to cry out our windows, “I’m angry as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
There is a lot of anger loose in our streets. We need to get in touch with it within ourselves for the sake of our souls. The Apostle Paul wrote in his Ephesian letter, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Secondly, having acknowledged what has disturbed our souls, the psalmist counseled, “Be angry but sin not!” Day by day we see and hear many things that anger us. But if we act out our anger in either word or deed, we only compound our dilemma. We create larger problems. Very quickly I can begin to plot my revenge, to get even, to even the scales, to right the wrong. Vengeance planning comes so easily as we seek to get to sleep at night. James, the brother of our Lord, wrote,
You must understand this, my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).
Thirdly, “When you are angry, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent!” Listening to one’s self leads to self-knowledge. Examining one’s inner life, listening to one’s own heart, engaging one’s self is something difficult to do when all day we have listened to many voices and seen different behaviors that have violated our own space or right to exist.
To stop long enough as we place our heads on our pillows each night to ponder the conditions of our inner lives is a corrective and helpful use of time.
Listening! How long has it been since you listened and pondered your own heart? Silent contemplation may bring restored harmony and peace to the soul. In praying Ps. 4 you may discover that you have much for which to be thankful. Gratitude may begin to grow. “You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” Ps. 4:7
Fourthly, “Offer right sacrifices!” What was the Psalmist saying? I believe he meant the inner confession of all that disturbed us and of all that had angered us. He invited us to simply and honestly offer it up to the one who has heard it all before and who has absorbed the pain of the world.
One of you gave to me a small plague upon which is written this reminder: “Before you go to bed, give your troubles to God. He will be up all night anyway.”
Could it be that my right sacrifice to God are all the illusions I have pursued during the day? Should my prayer be a litany of my thoughts, my feelings, and my words? Dare I pray about my inner doubts, desires, temptations, and frustrations? Can I name the person who is threatening me and making it difficult for me to be honest to God? Does the Lord want to hear my anger and distorted perceptions? How does God see the walls I have built between my fellow believers and me? I believe God knows all about me and you and what is going on in our souls as we seek to control others and the circumstances of our lives!
And last, but not least, “Put your trust in the Lord!” I learned the meaning of this exhortation in the 12 Step program of Al-anon. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and courage to change the things I can.” I learned that the knowledge of self leads to the knowledge of God and the knowledge of God leads to the knowledge of the self, just as John Calvin said in his Institutes.
I have come to believe in a power greater than myself who can restore me to sanity. I have come to the 3rd Step of Recovery from sin, “Made a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of God as I understand him.”
This means that there is a power greater than ourselves who is good and who knows our needs better than we do. This power has proven his love for us by offering up his own Son upon the cross to make atonement for our sins, to reconcile us to himself, to make peace with us.
Trusting in God’s caring and loving providence that nothing can separate us from his love allows us to go to bed, to maybe read a book, and then at last to peacefully fall asleep in the arms of God’s grace.
“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” Ps 4:8
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Praying for the Peace is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 122. It is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time and we are celebrating World Communion Sunday.
Praying for Peace, Psalm 122; Luke 19:29-46
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.’ For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” Psalm 122:6-9
I believe that Jesus went up to Jerusalem with the words of this prayer echoing in his heart. He loved this City and its Temple. He prayed for the well-being and prosperity of his beloved city, the City of David, the City that carried the vision of God’s kingdom of peace for which he prayed.
For his entrance into the city he chose to ride a humble donkey that symbolized peace. The crowds and the disciples welcomed him to the Holy City by chanting Psalm 118,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” Luke 19:38-40
As Jesus looked out upon the old city that had seen so much and which had come to symbolize the essence of Israel’s hopes and dreams, he wept, he lamented. From the ancient Babylonians to the Roman legions, Jerusalem’s enemies had breached its walls, burned its temple, killed its kings, and carried its people into captivity.
This was a city that did not know the things that made for peace! How to make and to live within the blessings of peace had escaped their understanding. The city was spiritually blinded to who had arrived at the gates of the city. Jerusalem’s king, “the Prince of Peace” had come to claim his capital. David’s son, the promised king was present as the fulfillment of God’s promises through the prophets. The glory of the Lord had come to dwell at the center of Israel’s worship. Grace and Truth incarnate knocked at the gates. The light of the glory of God was penetrating the spiritual darkness of the world. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” John 3:16
Yet, Jesus knew that by in large the city would say “No!” to him. Therefore, Jesus could easily see that soon Jerusalem’s enemies would again set up ramparts around the city and hem it in. “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Luke 19:43-44
Jesus loved Jerusalem and with a broken heart he prayed for its peace. He wept over the city. Jesus had read Jeremiah. Just before the Babylonian armies destroyed Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C., Jeremiah the weeping prophet said to the city:
“For from the least to the greatest of them everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”Jeremiah 6
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” Jeremiah 8
As followers of Jesus we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. In doing so we affirm that the peace of Jerusalem is the peace for which we pray for all cities where we live. Jerusalem is the church, the gathered people of God in their places of worship. We are a people called to carry the vision of the promised Peaceable Kingdom of God in our own identity, mission, and destiny. We carry this vision for the sake of all peoples, nations, kingdoms, and rulers.
We have heard and come to believe in Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9
As Christian pilgrims what does it mean for us to “Pray For the Peace of Jerusalem”?
I believe it means that we pray for our understanding of and commitment to the message of God’s Peace.
The Gospels make it clear that Jesus understood he was going up to Jerusalem, the City of Peace, to make peace. He would make peace not by means of the “war horse” of military power, but by the humble sacrifice of himself upon the cross. At the cross and in the blood of Christ, God made peace, broke down dividing walls of hostility, made atonement for the sins of the world, reconciled us to God and to one another, and incorporated all believers into a new humanity.
Then with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God’s peace, we were built up into a spiritual temple in the Lord for the sake of our being agents of his reconciling love. Ephesians 2:11-22. We were blessed to be God’s peacemakers in a hostile, violent, war torn world.
How tragic that the members of the church of Jesus Christ have so often misunderstood the gospel of peace and the way of peace modeled by our Lord. We have often sought to reclaim the message of God’s peace in its fullest biblical reality, only to be rejected and persecuted by those who see the conflicts of our world through different eyes.
This past week I have been watching and reliving the Vietnam War by means of Ken Burn’s film on PBS. It comes in 10 parts of 2 hours each. It was 10 years in the making. It features violent war scenes and interviews that are exceedingly difficult to watch. All sides of our national debate were presented. Tapes of Presidential/Military conversations are heard. We feel the anguish, the longing for peace, and the frustration of not knowing how to make peace between enemies determined to win, to save face, and to prevail.
I came into the pastoral ministry during the 1960’s and 70’s. While completing my Ph.D. in Government at Claremont Graduate School, I taught on the adjunct Political Science faculty of CSULA. At the same time I was a part time pastor at the La Canada Presbyterian Church. I was caught up in the national debate about Vietnam and pulled in painful directions.
On Thanksgiving Sunday 1968 I preached at La Canada. My subject was: “HOW CAN WE GIVE THANKS IN A YEAR LIKE 1968?” During that year we had seen the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; we had seen the assassinations of MLK Jr. and Robert Kennedy. We had seen Civil Rights protests in our cities and the burning of our cities. It was an election year. We watched the Democratic Convention in Chicago break out in protest and violence both within and without the Convention Center. Families in my church were divided and deeply troubled by the issues of peace. One family with two sons had to deal with a son who served two terms in Vietnam on helicopter gun ships. He loved the war. Another son asked me to write letters for his CO classification with his draft board. Their parents were trying to love and embrace both sons. They asked me to help them make peace in their family.
I remember attending a Religious Peace Conference at the old Ambassador Hotel in LA at which State Department leaders with Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant teachers made their cases pro and con about the war.
My congregation was deeply divided. The larger church was polarized. After my Thanksgiving sermon one man asked me at the door if I were a Communist. Another man asked if I was a member of the John Birch Society. I thought that I may have got something right in the message since the two extremes were unable to accept what I was trying to say. I began to understand how polarizing the word “peace” or “peacemaking” had become in our country.
At the same time our denomination had adopted a new Book of Confessions that included the Confession of 1967. The Confession sought to witness to the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in the process helped polarize the church about the meaning of the word “peace” in the light of “national security”. Since that time I have realized that the biblical word, “Shalom, Peace, Salvation, Wholeness, Well-being, and the absence of conflict” makes me vulnerable to being misunderstood and judged as unpatriotic. Nevertheless, it is a word that the Bible loves to use in interpreting its vision of the kingdom of God and the healing of the nations.
On this World Communion Sunday as we gather at Christ’s Table we gather at the Table of reconciling love, sacrifice, and peace. It is the Table of Salvation. Here we receive the elements of God’s peace in the bread and in the wine. The implications of this table for our spiritual lives, for our relationships with each other, for our mission in our world are profound. I believe that our troubled world awaits a church that believes and trusts the message enough to work on behalf of peace.
In 1968 a movie came out based on the novel written by Morris West. It was entitled THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN. The story was about an Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church who had been released from 20 years of prison and hard labor in Siberia. It was a time in which the Soviet Union, China, and the United States were on the verge of a nuclear war. China was suffering from famine. Its citizens were starving.
The Russian Catholic priest returned to the splendor and wealth of the church in Rome. Soon, he became a Cardinal of the Church and was unexpectedly chosen in a Papal Conclave after the former Pope’s death, to be the next Pope of the Catholic Church. It foreshadowed Pope John Paul 11 from Poland.
The challenge the new Pope faced was to make peace among the nations during the Cold War and in a time of division between the rich and the poor, the Marxists and the Capitalist. The Catholic church with it great wealth symbolized in the Vatican’s properties and arts was put to the test to see if it could be a mediator, a peacemaker, so as to avoid the Third World War and a nuclear holocaust.
The author of the book was asked to help write the screenplay. For the sake of the story, the screenplay was given a new ending. The new Pope was invited to a secret conversation at the Kremlin in Moscow. He was joined by the Soviet Premier and the leader of China. “The world was on the brink of nuclear war due to a Chinese-Soviet feud made worse by a famine caused by trade restrictions brought against China by the United States.” (Wikipedia) Unless the Western powers could provide food and other resources for the suffering people of China war would surely happen.
In an amazing turn, the new Pope committed the financial resources, the assets, properties, the buildings and the art treasures of the Church to feed the hungry for the sake of the world’s peace and security.
The response of many was that this scenario would be highly unlikely and that even the suggestion was naïve and fiction. When we were in Rome touring the Vatican this past May, I thought about this as once again I was impressed by the possessions and the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church.
In an interview, Morris West, the author of the novel and the screenplay said,
“We’ve come to a point in history where women and men—black or white, Marxist or Capitalist, Christian or non-Christian—are going to have to make a choice. They’re either going to have to commit themselves to an act of love for each other or an act of hate for each other. People on each side have to say: ‘Look we’re all brothers and sisters. Why do we kill each other in the streets? Don’t lets drop the atomic bomb. Let’s talk for one hour more.’ Today this is the real triumph of good over evil. It’s what I’ve tried to put into the last speech for the film.” L.A. Times, May 5, 1968, Don La Badie. Wikipedia, Shoes of the Fisherman.
The Ken Burns movie on The Vietnam War brought all this back to me. But it helped me to see more clearly what I have come to believe since. Peace and justice are the challenges to the human community of nations, but foundationally, they will never come until the human heart is healed from the inside out.
There is anger and there is hostility in all human hearts that still needs to be healed. The works of the flesh dominate the human heart. Ken Burns probed this in his movie. He knew that “the veneer of civilization” is very thin. When pressed or threatened, civilization and culture disintegrate. Reason leaves us. Competition, conflict, the desire to not only survive, but to kill the enemy takes over.
The bottom line is that we need the gospel and this Table of Peace more than ever. Without the presence of the Prince of Peace in our hearts and in the heart of the church, our nation and our world are at risk in the same way they were in 1968. So we hear the Invitation of Christ to come to him to be healed, forgiven, sustained, and given spiritual courage to believe and to live the truth of the good news.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
I Will Hold Up Your Head is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Psalm 3. It is the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.
O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me; many are saying to me,
“There is no help for you in God.” Selah
But you, O LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Deliverance belongs to the LORD; may your blessing be on your people! Selah
Longing for Home is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 84. It is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
This evening Laguna Presbyterian Church will celebrate it’s 100th Anniversary with a Gala and Silent Auction (proceeds to benefit the capital reserves and expenses of LPC) at the Hotel Laguna.
“Longing for Home” – Psalm 84, Sermon by Dr. Jerry Tankersley
On our first visit to Jerusalem in 1971 we landed at the Lod Airport in Tel Aviv. In those days the planes parked on the tarmac of the runway and unloaded the passengers to wait for the trams to deliver them to the terminal, which was a much smaller building than is there now. In 1972 the airport was renamed Ben Gurion International.
As we waited and watched many Jewish rabbis and pilgrims, we were touched by what we saw. As soon as they moved out from the plane many of them bowed on their hands and knees and offered up prayers of thanksgivings for having arrived in the Holy Land. They kissed the ground. They had returned to their spiritual home, the Promised Land, the land of kings, priests, prophets, and people devoted to the way of the Lord.
As Gentile Christians we were one with them in Spirit. After a year of intensively studying the Old and New Testaments of the Bible using the Bethel Bible Study materials, our group was on a pilgrimage to our spiritual history and place. As we left the airport and drove up to Jerusalem we read the road signs with familiar biblical names and places. Excitement grew!
At last when we turned into the old city we saw the golden Dome of the Rock that sits atop the very place where King Solomon and Herod the Great built their Temple’s of the Lord. The Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century A.D. and have believed this was the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. Pious Jews believed this was Mt. Moriah where Abraham offered up his son, Isaac, but where the Lord provided the sacrificial animal as a substitute for the promised son.
Jews, Muslims, and Christians hold these grounds to be sacred. Today, the State of Jordan administers the site. Israeli military are all around this holy hill. Palestinian intifadas have begun on this hill because the wrong people entered where they were not welcome. To say the least the eyes and ears of the Middle East are open to Mt. Zion and to the religious history it represents.
This was and is the very center of Israel’s universe of spiritual meaning, the source of its identity and the promise of its destiny. The remaining Western Wall of the foundation of Herod’s Temple is where people from around the world come to say prayers and to write them on pieces of paper to place them into the cracks of the wall. The Rabbi’s Tunnel allows the pilgrim to go to the depths of the Temple’s foundation. At the place closest to the Temple’s Holy of Holies, people pray 24/7. Many Jews pray that one day the Temple of their God will be rebuilt on Mt. Zion. But such an effort would ignite a religious war that would likely consume the Middle East.
In 1971 and each time I have come into the old city my heart has jumped within me. As a pilgrim I was coming home to the City of God for which I had developed a growing longing.
In December 2009 when our congregation entered the newly restored sanctuary of Laguna Presbyterian Church, many of us felt like spiritual pilgrims who had come home to holy ground where our house of prayer had stood since 1928. The longing to return was deeper than I had imagined. We had rebuilt this Temple of the Lord from the foundation up. We studied; we planned; we argued; we prayed; we consulted engineering authorities and architects; we worked with liturgical architects; we gathered in homes to interpret; we worked through anxieties and fears; we sought to raise the funds necessary to rebuild this house of prayer; we processed doubts and angers that new pews would ruin the space; we moved through the Great Recession in 2008, just when we had stripped the building down to its boney skeleton. We lamented and longed to see our way clear to the completion of the project; we watched with joy as the bell tower cupola was lifted high above the city. It seemed unimaginable that the final cost would be $14 million to restore this light house of the gospel on this south coast of Orange County.
I was not ready for the wave of emotion that gripped by throat and soul on that coming home Sunday in December 2009. I think we all felt the same. Tears of thanksgiving and joy came from my eyes. I could barely speak, as I looked out upon you the gathered congregation, a sense of holy awe came over me and rose up within me from the depths of my heart. A mighty work of God had happened at the center of our city. In the midst of this secular and good city God’s people in the power of love and gratitude had rebuilt the house of God more beautiful than ever. Wow!
This past June when we announced that we had made the final payment of the $7 million dollar construction loan we had a standing and joyous applause in the first hour of worship. God had been faithful to us; heaven was rejoicing with us; the people of God, inspired by the Spirit of God had done far more than all we could ask or imagine.
So we will gather this evening at the Hotel Laguna to celebrate the faithfulness of God during these 100 years of our history on this 2nd and Forest corner of Laguna Beach, in this building, with many saints who have loved this Temple of the Lord.
Psalm 84 is a perfect prayer for us this day.
First, because Psalm 84 reflects on the inner longings of spiritual pilgrims on their way home.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Ps. 84:1-2
Psalm 42 witnessed to this longing for home, for thirst assuaging water:
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” Ps. 42:1-2
In the Garden of Gethsemane there is a church at the base of the Mt. of Olives just below the old city of Jerusalem. The front of the church faces up to Mt. Zion and the site of the Temple. Atop the front of the church is the sculpture of two deer with huge antlers. The deer’s heads and eyes are stretched upward to the heavens. The cross of Christ stands at the center of the artwork. The cross was planted on a globe of planet earth. The deer on either side of the earth look up to the cross. The church is called the “Church of All Nations” or the “Basilica of the Agony” built over the rock where Jesus prayed on the night in which he was arrested in the Garden. It is a reminder that the nations are on a pilgrimage, like the deer, in search of living spiritual waters. This is the longing that inspires our spiritual journeys that promise to lead us to the wellspring of life.
I believe that all of humanity is on a spiritual pilgrimage longing to see to the depths of reality, to have their hearts filled with the Spirit of some faith, hope, and love that may sustain their lives. The symptoms of this longing are everywhere. Humanity experiences a God shaped vacuum in its soul. We try to fill that empty space with money, sex, and power.
A narcissistic generation searches for more. When we do not find it, we experience spiritual pain and longing that moves from our souls into our bodies. So we seek to ease the pain and to forget the longing. We drink more alcohol; we eat more food; we buy larger houses; we ingest greater amounts of painkillers. We become addicted to oxycontin or to other opioids. The suicide rate goes up; the violence increases; new religions and philosophies are considered. The marketplace seeks to sell us all kinds of things, remedies, and trips to momentarily satisfy our longings. But when we return the same insatiable longing returns. Getting in touch with your inner longing for peace, for justice, for wholeness, for love, for joy, and hope is the awareness that makes the pilgrimage conscious to us.
Therefore, we begin the pilgrimage to the house of God seeking to satisfy our longing with good news.
Secondly, Psalm 84 teaches us about what happens inside our hearts and minds while we journey.
“Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” Ps. 84:5
When I first read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, I realized I was reading my story and the story of my pilgrimage out of the shadow lands into the reality of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Remember that story? The shadow lands of unreality had been our dwelling place. Yet there was a growing awareness that we lived in a region of hell. Soon we were invited to take a bus to the Higher Country of Heaven.
The problem was that when the shadows reached the bus station at the entrance to heaven, they did not like what they saw or heard. In fact, those who left the bus found themselves walking on green grass that was painful to walk upon. Many turned back and took the bus returning to the shadow lands. At every step on this highway leading further up and further in to reality a strengthening was required that produced some discomfort. But the higher up one traveled the more real one became.
I believe Lewis was telling us about our difficult pilgrimage as Christians who are in a process of transformation in which we progressively die to sin in order to come alive in the resurrection Spirit of Jesus Christ. Like the Apostle Paul who died to his previous ambitions within his Jewish community in order that he might know Jesus Christ and share his suffering and death in order to be raised to resurrection life.
I began to realize that the “highways to Zion” were the highways being paved into my heart and mind. “Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”
What is it that launches us on this highway? The Psalmist tells us:
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of host, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” Ps. 84:10-12
The highway to Zion leads us through the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. The highway takes us through the Temple on Mt. Zion, and unto the hill called Golgotha and the empty tomb of Easter morning. It leads us into the Jerusalem of the Day of Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the resurrected Christ was poured out upon the church. The journey will take us into the reality of heaven and earth no longer overlapping and interconnecting at the thin places of our earth, but to the reality in which they have become one in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
For this we long. The Holy Spirit bears witness within our hearts to this longing deep in our souls. We are the children of God right now, redeemed, reconciled, forgiven, and fitted for the journey to higher ground. In the meantime we wait in the presence and power of the living Lord as the journey continues.
One of my heroes is N.T. Wright, Bishop in the Church of England and scholar at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He wrote a book on the Psalms: The Case for the Psalms. When he spoke of Psalm 84 he said it was about “practicing the presence of God: making time for God, making space for him in our busy lives. That’s always hard, and I remember it being hard for me. There were many things I wanted to do, many plans and ambitions and hopes and possibilities” (The Case for the Psalms, N.T. Wright,177).
No good thing: it doesn’t say that the Lord will not withhold many things that we want, or that we think we ought to have, or that will satisfy our ambitions. He will indeed withhold many of those. But he will not withhold any good thing—‘from those who walk uprightly,’ who make God’s kingdom and his way of life the central focus (177).
No good thing! I would simply add my testimony to Bishop Tom’s. If I had achieved all that I think I wanted, my life would had been a mess. God knew what I needed and what was for my good much better than I.
I close with Tom’s story about his father who came home from WW11 after spending 5 years in a German prisoner of war camp. When he died in March of 2011 Tom was going through his Dad’s letters and diaries from his life. He said he discovered that his Dad had been offered a good paying job in England’s Territorial Army. However, at the same time he had been asked to be a churchwarden in the local church, taking responsibility for all sorts of things from ringing the bell for services to handing out books at the door, taking up the collection, and being part of the legal fabric of the parish.
Tom said his Dad had modeled for him Psalm 84 verse 10: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.”
“No good thing!”
What is it that launches us on such a journey? Is it not the vision of the New Jerusalem, of the new heaven and earth that John saw and wrote of in Revelation 21:1-5:
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See I am making all things new.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley