I Saw You

Date: January 14, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

I Saw You is a podcast of portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 139 and John 1:43-51. This is the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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“I Saw You”  Text: Psalm 139; John 1:43-51

There are people we look up to as having intelligence, honor, leadership accomplishments, and many traits we wish we had. Maybe even we envy them a bit for what they have done with their lives. They have become celebrities. Some times we romanticize them and hope to be recognized and befriended by them. We go to conferences where they are speaking.

When these persons share their life stories, their strengths and weaknesses, we prick up our ears to listen. We can’t believe they have struggled with the same things we have. Suddenly we begin to see them as human like ourselves.

A few years ago several of us attended a conference on worship at Calvin College. Some of the heavy hitters were speaking and leading seminars on issues related to our pastoral work.  We sat at the feet of our heroes. Walter Brueggemann, the profound and prolific Old Testament scholar, taught us and preached.  It was like sitting at the feet of Isaiah or Jeremiah.  We soaked up his biblical wisdom.

Another of my hero’s, N.T. Wright, a bishop in the Church of England, a strong Christ-centered teacher, preacher, scholar, and writer, spoke to us about his use of the Psalms. Brueggemann and Wright have published many books They have broken fresh ground in biblical studies and advanced our understanding of the Word of God in dialogue with the winds of human history and culture.

Both have written on the Psalms. Together with Eugene Peterson they are three men who have served the cause of the kingdom of God and taught many how to be knowledgeable and inspired pastors. Thank God for them. At Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, all of the budding preachers gave sermons that sounded like Walter. He had to work hard to encourage them to discover their own voice and life journey with Jesus Christ. I am deeply in debt to these three men, along with others, who have inspired and helped me along the way.

I have listened to their personal stories in dialogue with scripture and been especially inspired when they allowed me to see them, to enter into their life experience, and to walk in their shoes. Where did they gain the courage to teach and to preach with such integrity and vulnerability? I believe the Psalmist taught them and mentored them.

One example of this is found in N.T. Wright’s sharing his life with the Psalms.  In his final chapter of “The Case for the Psalms” he shared how he had prayed and sung the Psalms in church from his childhood.

When he was in his middle 30s as he was getting started as a person called to ministry in the Church of England and also as a biblical scholar beginning to grabble with the psalms and with his own self.

He said he fell into a deep depression. He did not know what to do. His therapist suggested that he pray Psalm 139, study the Psalm, commit it to memory, and write it upon his heart for the sake of allowing his faith to be informed and inspired to a deeper level of trust, to help him deal with his anxiety and fear.

In the busyness of his life, he had failed to address painful memories from his past. He did not write about the specifics, but anyone who has ever struggled with family issues, with past traumas, with failures, and previous sins, or simply behaviors that had been denied, knows what I am talking about. To overcome anxiety and fear with the painful reality of depression, one must take a journey into the reality of God and the reality of the self.

I remember in 1993 I had an anxiety attack. It took me a long time to regain my emotional balance.  That experience drove me to openly share my feelings with others for the sake of disarming their power over me.  Out of the depths of my heart came many memories and feelings that could no longer be denied or suppressed.   I learned from praying the Psalms that I was not alone.  The Psalmist had been right where I was.  These ancient poets and prayer warriors validated my spiritual journey.

In fact, John Calvin began his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” with these words:  “As one grows in the knowledge of God, one also grows in the knowledge of one’s self.”  Or, “the knowledge of self leads to the knowledge of God.”

Self-disclosure is not easy. It may be painful. We are not sure anyone would understand or have a compassionate ear.  Finding someone to trust with one’s inner journey may seem foreboding. One of the worst relationship failures is to gossip with others about what someone else has shared in confidence. Those of us in the caring professions have needed to learn the importance of confidentiality. Recovery in AA depends on anonymity for the personal sharing.

Forty years ago I attended a conference on preaching in Anaheim. The gifted preachers of the nation were present, one of them led a seminar after his speech before a thousand people on the Danger of the Personal in Public Communications.

In his speech before the larger group he had spoken of one of the other presenters in an affirming way.   He said it was the first time he had ever heard his friend preach without exposing his private parts. He used vivid language.  He was speaking of self-disclosure for the sake of interpreting the text.  You could feel the air being sucked out of the huge room.

We have moved into a season of undisciplined speech for the sake of getting attention, of stirring our base of support. It almost seems as if anything can be said in the public marketplace.

When N.T. Wright spoke of his depression he was risking people’s misunderstanding. How would his readers interpret this? Would they think less of him because he had sought out help and had to learn to pray the very scriptures that he recommended to others?

Wright shared that over time his depression lifted with the help of counselors, friends, and the theology of Psalm 139.

I have for many years prayed this Psalm. In this Psalm we are instructed by the truth of the Lord who has searched us and known us.

The Psalmist prayed, GOD THE SEARCHER.
“O Lord, you have searched me. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Search me, O God” (Ps. 139).

Remember the Garden of Eden story. Each day the Lord came searching for Adam and Eve for fellowship with them.  He walked and talked with them.  But one day, he could not find them.  He discovered that they were hiding from him. Immediately, the Lord knew that something was wrong.

This is a parable of the human story. We seek to escape from the presence and eye of the Creator.  We run to the ends of the earth. We hide in the darkness.  Yet, there is no moment of human existence in which we can resist the hound of heaven that searches for us day and night.  Even the darkness is as light to the Lord.

At every moment of Israel’s history the people of God were pursued by the presence of the God of love.

If God were not a searcher for his children we would never come to everlasting life. This is why the Creator sent his only Son to search for and to move into our neighborhood. Every parent has experienced this drive to seek the beloved child or member of the family.  As we read about the fires, the floods, and the mudslides in Montecito, we see the frantic search for the beloved.

John’s Gospel tells the story of John the Baptist who came into first century Israel’s story to search for a lost nation. His Voice cried out in the wilderness to awaken and open the ears of those who heard. People came to the river, listened in, and through John’s words of witness were awakened to the Searching God who was on his way to save his people.

Jesus found Peter and his brother Andrew. They found Philip and then Philip found Nathanael. Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  “Come and see.” Philip said.

The Good Shepherd lost one of his sheep, perhaps an insignificant little one whose life would not matter. But the Searcher left the ninety and nine vulnerable on the hillside and went searching for the beloved lost sheep.

When the Psalmist prayed about God as the Searcher he was affirming a quality of God for which we give thanks. Our God searches for the poor, the broken, the wounded, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. When they are found all of heaven rejoices. He ended his prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

Frederick Buechner said that we are each on a journey in search of ultimate reality, of a self to be, work to do, and someone to love.  What we discover is that God the Searcher has always been in search of us.

GOD THE KNOWER: “You have searched me and known me.” The Lord who created us knows us each from beginning to end. This is amazing truth.  The Lord was present at the moment of my conception.  The Lord formed my inward parts; the Lord knit me together in my mother’s womb.  The Lord’s eyes beheld my unformed substance. In the Lord’s Book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

GOD THE TRANSFORMER – The knowledge of God leads to the knowledge of the self. What we see in ourselves may be shocking.  Perhaps we were not aware of how much rage, anger, and hatred lurks in our hearts.

What was revealed to the Psalmist was his desire to see the wicked killed. It is true that there are evil people in the world who have done great harm to God’s people.  History is filled with the stories of those who have told malicious lies and lifted themselves up against the innocent.

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord! And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Praying the Psalms has connected me with some of my inner demons that I had not faced before.   There have been some whose behaviors and words have so wounded me for whom I feel perfect hatred.  But is there any such thing as perfect hatred?

Jesus knew that some hated him, but he refused to hate them in return. He understood that we become like the people we hate. In fact, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

I think that David in writing Psalm 139 was coming to realize that his inner motives were mixed and that there were aspects of his heart and mind that needed transformation. So he ended his prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).

In this prayer we come face to face with the Lord who searches for us, with the Lord who knows us, and with the Lord whose truth, justice, and love will give to us hearts that have been healed of hate and of all those aspects of ourselves that will destroy us unless his Word and Spirit purifies and sets right our inner lives.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Voice of the Lord

Date: January 7, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Voice of the Lord is a podcast of portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 29 and Mark 1:1-11. It is the Baptism of the Lord Sunday. We are also installing and ordaining Ruling Elders in the 8:30am hour and Deacons in the 10am hour.

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The Voice of the Lord
Sermon Text: Psalm 29; Mark 1:1-11

One summer evening I had been waiting in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport at American Airlines for a long time. I was catching the smaller transit jet that American uses for shorter hops. It had grown dark; the sun had set and the clouds of nearby summer storms had gathered. There was some question if any flight would take off to northwest Texas, and in particular to Lubbock. I was on my way to visit my mother and was ready for wheels up. Finally, we were cleared, but the thunder and lighting clouds were everywhere.

The pilot’s job was to direct the jet around the thunderhead clouds that stretched thousands of feet into the air. These clouds were filled with powerful winds, rain, hail, updrafts and downdrafts, with lightening flashing and thunder sounding above Texas. One never wants to try and fly through such a cloud.

The pilot carefully moved through open spaces between the menacing, tumultuous clouds. I watched out the window of the airplane praying for divine guidance for the pilot. The air was rough and the passengers were silent hoping to make it to our destination. At last our wheels touched the runway in Lubbock and all was well.

I have been in West Texas thunder and lightening storms in the summer time that absolutely terrified me. Tornadoes spinning nearby! Huge hail falling from the clouds leaving indentations on automobiles, tearing off roofs, and on one occasion leaving a swath of mangled buildings through the center of the city.

We have our earthquakes, fires, and floods. But when the lightening hits your house and you see a bolt of electricity circling in your kitchen you know you are on Holy Ground.

Once I was with the Maxwell’s going over a High Sierra mountain pass in the midst of a storm. We took cover behind some huge boulders, plugged our ears to soften the thunder claps and watched as lightening was jumping from rock to rock with rain and hail pounding the ground around us. In such moments one prays for deliverance.

Whenever I have read Psalm 29 I have thought about such experiences.

The metaphors of the Psalm related to the Voice of the Lord have caused me to wonder what worship would be like if the Word of the Lord sounded forth in our midst with such awe-inspiring sound and fury, light and darkness, and primeval chaos?

Psalm 29 calls me to remember the story of Elijah the prophet in 1 Kings 19. At Mt. Carmel he had challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to prove once and for all who was the Lord. Was it Baal or Yahweh the Lord? At last fire came from heaven and consumed Elijah’s offering. This after the prophets of Baal had failed to awaken their gods. Elijah had all 400 of the prophets killed. God had vindicated his servants courage.

When Elijah discovered that Queen Jezebel had heard that he had killed all of her prophets he was terrified. He ran away toward Mt. Sinai. He was exhausted. The birds fed him and he rested in a cave. Then he heard a Voice addressing him, “Elijah, What are you doing here?” Elijah told about all the mighty deeds he had done for God’s sake in the midst of an unfaithful people. He was exhausted, worn out, burned out. He could not go on. Once again, the Voice asked “what are you doing here?”

The Voice commanded him to stand up and go to the entrance of the cave on the side of Mt. Sinai. He did so. “There came a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

Again, the Lord asked, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah, was on the pity pot. After all he had done he was a broken, exhausted man who had served the Lord in the midst of an unfaithful people. His life was in danger. He was afraid. He was alone. Jezebel had determined to kill him. He was running from the ultimate powers of the northern kingdom of Israel.”

The Voice told him to return to his mission.

He would provide him a helper named Elisha. He needed to know that there were yet 7000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. This was the same Voice that John the Baptist had heard in the wilderness and in dialogue with the writings of Scripture. He dressed like Elijah, like a man of the desert who had been called to be a troubler of Israel, a proclaimer of the Word of the Lord to a nation that was in profound spiritual chaos.

The prophetic Voice of the Lord had not been heard in Israel for many years. Then suddenly, John the Baptist arrived on the scene. He had been spiritually nurtured by his father and mother Zachariah and Elizabeth. They had told him what the Angel Gabriel had said to his father in the Temple in Jerusalem. “You, my Son, have been sent to us in our old age as a gift from God. You have been sent to prepare the way of the Lord.”

We know almost nothing about his growing up. But somewhere in his childhood years, John began to hear the Voice of the Lord. Some have said he was a member of the Qumran community near the Dead Sea, or of some monastic sect that lived in the wilderness of Judea. In that community, Israel’s Scriptures spiritually formed him. He had absorbed the writings of Isaiah.

Especially, the prophecies of Isaiah 40-55 gave to John a vision of a New Exodus, of an in-breaking of the glory of God in Israel’s history. God had acted to bring his people back from oppression in Babylon. Quoting Isaiah 40, he identified his own voice as the Voice of the Lord crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Mark 1:3

This was not the first time that God’s people had heard the Voice.

This was the Voice that said, “Let there be light and there was light.” Genesis 1 affirmed Creation by the Word of the Lord. This was the Voice that called out to Abraham and Sarah and gave to them the promises that sustained their lives. Not only did this Voice make promises, but this Voice fulfilled the promises through Abram and Sarah’s growing family.

This was the Voice that called out to Moses at the burning bush at Mt. Sinai. Moses discovered he was on holy ground and that the glory of God’s presence was claiming him and calling him to a mission of leading God’s enslaved people out of Egypt to a land of freedom and blessing for all nations.

This was the Voice that had gripped David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, along with many others. This was God’s Creation/Covenant powerful Word that David prayed about in Psalm 29.

It was no accident that John the Apostle who wrote the Gospel of John wrote his Prologue to the Gospel around the theme of the Word or Logos of God, the Voice of creation that called life and light into being. The most astounding witness he made was that “the Word took on flesh in Jesus, the Son of God. In this incarnate Word grace and truth came to dwell and to speak at the center of human history. All who received and believed this living Word were given the power to become children of God, born anew of the Word and the Spirit of God.” John 1

This was the Voice that preached through the Baptist calling the nation to repentance and baptism in the River Jordan. The Baptist promised that there was one coming after him more powerful than him, through whose words, works, death, and resurrection, the kingdom of God would come.

It was this Word and Spirit that would give new birth, call the church into being, and empower the disciples for their mission in the world.

When the Baptist baptized Jesus in the water of the Jordan the heavens were split open, the dove symbolic of the Holy Spirit came to rest upon Jesus, and the Voice of the Father in heaven proclaimed, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” This was an affirmation of love and authority. It was a quote from Psalm 2. It said that Jesus was Israel’s true King, Servant Son, and that he was being enthroned as Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. Jesus was both Lord and Christ.

These were images of authority and power.

When the Lord spoke things happened. The promise of this authority and power has haunted the people of God in every generation.

Indeed, it has haunted the Christian church and in particular those of us who worship the Lord in the Reformed tradition. The 16th century reformers like Luther and Calvin rediscovered the presence and the power of the Voice of the Lord in their personal journeys. It was the Voice of the Lord that transformed their lives and led to the transformation of their churches.

They taught that when the Scriptures were faithfully preached that the human voice of the preacher became the Voice of the Lord to the church. But the preacher’s voice could be heard as just another human word without authority and power unless the Spirit of God stirred faith.

Each time the preacher stands in the pulpit to say “Thus saith the Lord”, he or she knows that unless the Lord and faith are present in those who listen, that nothing will happen. Yet, it is an intimidating thing to assume that the Voice of God might speak through our imperfect words and shallow lives. One may become exhausted and feel so alone in bucking the culture of a secular world that has little regard for either church or preacher.
There comes a crisis in every persons life who wants to be a servant of the Word of God and who finds himself seeking to build the kingdom of God into the life of a congregation and culture.

Eugene Peterson, the translator of “The Message” shared that in the early days of his being a new church developer he was constantly busy running and seeking to control his new church development. One night his young daughter said to him as he was leaving for another committee meeting, “Dad, read me a story. You have gone out to a church committee meeting 27 nights in a row.”

Gene said he was smitten. He was neglecting his family, filled with anxiety and fear trying to succeed in the way the culture dictates. In that moment in his own mind he was going to resign from the church and seek another way to make a living. He went to the small session and made his announcement. He was quitting. One elder asked him, “Gene, how do you want to be a pastor? He told them that he wanted to be an unbusy pastor, a man of God, to study scripture, to pray for his people, to care for them, and to be a channel of blessing for the congregation. The elder asked him, “Well, why don’t you do it.” “Be the pastor you want to be and let us run the church. No more committee meetings. Trust us and we will trust you to do the work that a pastor is called to do.” (The Pastor by Eugene Peterson, page 278 ff.)

That night his life changed forever. It was not easy. A new bond was formed between pastor and people and Eugene finished 30 years and built a vital congregation. Those years in the work of study, prayer, and spiritual reflection built a man who has blessed the larger church a thousand times beyond what he could have imagined.

Out of those years came the translation of the Bible called The Message.

Listen to Peterson’s translation of Psalm 29.

Bravo, God, bravo!
Gods and all angels shout, ‘Encore’!
In awe before the glory; in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention! Dress your best to honor him!
God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters.
God’s thunder tympanic, God’s thunder symphonic.
God’s thunder smashes cedars, God topples the northern cedars.
The mountain ranges skip like spring colts, The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.
God’s thunder spits fire. God thunders, the wilderness quakes;
He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.
God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, ‘Glory!’
Above the floodwaters is God’s throne from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.
God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

More Than Meets the Eye

Date: December 31, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

More Than Meets the Eye is a podcast of portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on Psalm 148 and Luke 2:21-40.

This is the 1st Sunday after Christmas.

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Witness to the Light

Date: December 24, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Witness to the Light is a podcast of portions of the Christmas Eve worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 97 and John 1:1-18.

Christmas Eve Worship Service.

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WITNESS TO THE LIGHT, Psalm 97; John 1:1-18

Last week we were watching the TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson on U Tube. It was an old one, but very funny.  On this particular one he had the comedians, George Carlin and Flip Wilson.  Together they were doing a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE type skit.  They pared up to do the evening television news, in this case  “fake news”.  They passed the news from one announcer to another.   In many ways their skit was before its time.

It came Carlin’s time to interpret the weather. In low key and calm voice he announced that “at sundown it will begin to get dark.   At 7 p.m. it will be dark; at midnight it will be dark; at 4 a.m. it will be dark.”   At daybreak, he said, “those awake will see streaks of light flashing through the dark sky.”    And that was it. The audience laughed.

Did you see the SpaceX missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California Friday evening?  Against the dark sky the light captured the attention of Southern California.  As the 10 telecom satellites were launched into low earth orbit the light morphed into a whale like image.  Fears of aliens invading gripped hearts. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, tweeted, “Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea.”

Heavenly lights streaming across our dark nights immediately stir fears of some new beast creeping toward Bethlehem to be born, in the words of the poet.

I have seen Carlin when he was a lot funnier and more vulgar, but his understated, bored, almost indifferent tone and style seemed like a humorous characterization of night and day. Perhaps it was a commentary of what we take for granted.  We live in the context of both light and darkness daily.

After all, how many different ways can the weather be reported? It may be this is why the T.V. channels in order to capture the viewer’s attentions have gone to scantily dressed young women in order to make the weather news more sexy and compelling.

Darkness and Light!   I confess that I do not like our early evening darkness. I rejoice that the sun will now progressively begin to have more time to shine on us.  The darkness really cuts into my late afternoon dog walks.  By the time I come back from walking the dog it is really dark.

A couple of years ago we installed independent solar powered lights along our long driveway at home.  We not only wanted to have an attractive driveway, but also one that allowed visitors to see and for me to find my way with the trash cans in the dark.

Even more perplexing has been the recovery of our mail from the box at the entrance to the driveway.  We had the box built a couple of years ago but have not followed through on mounting a light that would allow me to see my way to the entrance with the  key,  to insert the  key in the small hole in the darkness to retrieve the mail.

Not long after we installed the solar lights, someone came along in the darkness of the night and stole several of them near the driveway entrance. Once again I could not see the small keyhole without a flashlight!

Therefore, having had the solar lights stolen a couple of times, Kay decided to buy me a small flash light with a bright light. I could carry it back and forth after dark in order to overcome the destructive powers of darkness. I just decided that I needed to accept that people steal from others in the night darkness.  Evil lurks in the darkness.

I confess the thieves enraged me. I developed various plans to overcome the sinister intent of the lurking evil in the darkness that was determined to extinguish the illumination that I had provided.  I considered television cameras to capture the image of anyone who passed by.  I reported the thief to the police.  They took the report, but little came of it.

We have a dark alley behind the church. We imagine that at night all kinds of villains strike in the darkness with graffiti or with efforts to break into the church.  Now we have installed cameras to provide for the security of our property.

Last week, the electrical power went down at the Atlanta Airport, the busiest in the world.   Airplanes were backed up in the air waiting to land.  Planes could not leave on the runways.  At midday, inside the terminal it was pitch dark and passengers had to carefully move around.  The darkness prevailed for hours.  Now it is being questioned if Amazon will place their distribution hub in Atlanta.  In order to function, businesses need to have energy and light that is dependable.

Darkness is more than part of the daily, diurnal rhythm of day and night. It has historically been interpreted as a cosmic conflict between the powers of light and darkness, or good and evil.

At the beginning of the creation story in Genesis 1, the Bible witnessed that, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Gn. 1:1-5

In a story culture of the biblical world before artificial light people were far more linked with the natural rhythms of light and darkness than we are. Little wonder they feared the darkness and developed mythologies around light and darkness. When Isaiah the prophet wrote these words his readers were impacted by the truth of what he said,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Is. 9:2

The Psalmist witnessed to his faith,

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Ps. 27:1

“Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.” Ps. 97:11-12

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps. 119:105

The natural processes of heaven and earth, of sun, moon, and stars took on spiritual significance. When the Apostle John interpreted the Christmas story he used the words, “light and dark” to draw out the importance of the birth of Jesus, to witness to Jesus as the incarnation of light. The O.T. witness to light and darkness shaped John’s theology!  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5

John the Baptist was not the light, but he was sent into the spiritual darkness of our world to bear witness to the light, the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. John 1:6-9. John the Baptist was a “burning and shining lamp”. John 5:35

But John was not the light to whom he bore witness. No, the light was Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

THE LIGHT OF GRACE

“The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

Moses received the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai. The 10 words were rooted in the grace of God.  God’s forgiving grace delivered the people out of slavery and led them toward the Promised Land.  Along the way, God revealed to Moses how the people were to walk in the darkness of the world.  Walk in this way and one would walk in the light of life.  Break this moral law and it would convict and break the lawbreaker.

Jesus loved God with the totality of his being. He was obedient to the law and because of that he was the true light. For the rest of us we have received the commandments, but also have broken them all.  We need forgiveness; we need grace.

It was not an accident that John placed the story of the accused woman just before Jesus made the claim that he was the light of the world. The self-righteous men had discovered a woman in the act of adultery, had led her to Jesus to see if he would uphold the law in its judgment of any adulterer, and have her stoned.

He did not respond, except to write in the sand after saying, “let anyone without sin cast the first stone.”  None of them cast a stone. They walked away.  Jesus did not condemn her, but challenged her to go and sin no more.  He was the light of God’s grace present in the brokenness of the darkness of sin.

It is good news to know that when the light of heaven flashes into our lives it comes with forgiveness and not condemnation; it comes to seek and to save the lost.

THE LIGHT OF TRUTH

It flashes into our spiritually confused world with the light of truth.

From the biblical perspective the words “light” and “truth” are used interchangeably.   The one who walks in the light is one who speaks the truth in love.   The one who walks in the light is the one who loves the other.  The one who walks in the light follows Jesus the Light of the world in speaking the truth, in living the truth, in loving the other as one would be loved, in forgiving the other as one has been forgiven.

Walking in the light means coming out of the darkness, renouncing secrets, and keeping the law of God even to ones own disadvantage.

Where do we see and hear the light of truth? Preeminently, in the Word and the Way of Jesus Christ! He was and is the light that shines the light of truth into our fallen world.

I remember the Professor of Christian ethics in my seminary teaching that we are able to know if a certain behavior is ethical if we are willing for it to come to the light of day, for it to be seen by others.

Why are we so upset by the behavior of men who have abused their power in taking advantage of women? The “Me-Too” movement has brought to the light hidden, covered up, behaviors of sexual misconduct.  When publicly exposed we learn that there have been financial settlements with non-disclosure legal agreements.

Even the trainer of the Olympic women’s gymnastic team has gone to jail for using his power over young girls to abuse them. He sought to cover it up.

Last week, Cardinal Law died in Rome. He was the Cardinal that oversaw the Boston Archdiocese of the RCC during the exposure of pedophile priests.  Those who were the victims demanded that the Pope not bless Law at his funeral service in Rome.  It has cost the RCC millions of dollars and the loss of good will. It is as if the cover up is still going on.

Our politicians spin their words, the behaviors, the practices of their lives that hide narcissism and self-interest.   In the public marketplace truth seems to have been eclipsed by the false, the lie, and it has taken center stage.  Fake News is whatever you want it to be!

The result is that our society has seen such hypocricy in our leaders that we no longer trust one another and we assume that all people are self-centered and that truth claims are simply an assertion needed to hold on to power or to get rich.

Jesus was truth incarnate and personal. He modeled what it means for us to love one another.  He gave a new commandment that we love one another as we have been loved.  Later in life John the Apostle wrote:

“I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

Whoever says ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.

Whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” 1 John 2:7-11

The good news of Christmas is that the light has shined and is shining into our darkness. The light, Jesus Christ, is the hope of our world because he shines grace and truth.   The darkness strikes back but has not been able to extinguish the light.  The destiny of human history is the light of grace and truth revealed in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Ready for A Surprise

Date: December 23, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

Ready for A Surprise is a podcast of Sunday morning worship service on Sunday, December 24th. This is the 8:30am worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Psalm 96 and Luke 1. 

This is the 4th Sunday of Advent.

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Surprised By Joy

Date: December 17, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Surprised By Joy is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 126. This morning our children also are presenting the Christmas story in drama and song, “A Not So Silent Night.”

This is the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

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SURPRISED BY JOY

Psalm 126; Luke 1:46-55

I grew up in my hometown of Amarillo, Texas, from age 3 to 12. And then when I was in the 6th grade our family moved to a city about 50 miles away.  It meant leaving my friends, our neighborhood, our house, my school, and all that I had assumed was the security and joy of my young life, to begin anew in a another city, in another house, in another school, with new friends, and with a great sense of displacement and no little childhood depression.

As we moved into the new neighborhood and my Dad began a new business I was very unhappy. The whole family was unhappy.  It was not panning out.  With each day the longing grew deeper to return home.

In the nighttime I had dreams. I would see myself in the old neighborhood with my old friends playing football and army games, attending the elementary school a few blocks from our house.  And then I would awaken to the new reality of a house I did not like, a school where friends were hard to make, and slowly but surely becoming aware that Dad’s new business venture was not going well.   I wanted to go home, but had no reason to think that would happen.  I was miserable and lost.

And then one day, with smiles on their faces, my parents announced to me and to my sister that we were moving back home, that Dad had a new job, and that our old house, which still belonged to us, was waiting.  It was as if a huge burden was lifted from my soul.  We were going home from exile.

We live in a world of constant change and movement. Few families still own the homes in which they grew to maturity.  What if you begin school in Laguna Beach and graduate from Laguna Beach High School?  How do you ever get the beach out of your heart?  How can you move away?  The Laguna Beach culture shapes and forms your life.  The tragedy is that our children, by in large, will never be able to purchase a house in the place where they grew up.  They will look longingly and with an inner desire to one day coming home.

Better be careful where you plant your family! Even though I had no desire to move to the beach, after a few years I discovered that I had put down deep roots in this place.  There were a couple of times when I considered moving to another place only to have my dreams interfere with static and deep fear.  I would have anxiety dreams about being in another place and serving another church while at the same time doing everything I could do to get home to Laguna Beach.

I was deeply troubled by this because I desired more than anything to do God’s will and not just to be comfortable and immovable. Nevertheless, I am so grateful that the dreams warned me and guided me and helped me to see and to accept that the Lord wanted me to fulfill my calling in the place where he had planted me.  I would simply have to trust the inner conviction that the Spirit inspired within me.  “Bloom Where You Are Planted!”

At the age of 12 I did not know Psalm 126, but the dynamic of my life was the same.   In 587 B.C. the people of Israel lost their Promised Land, their capital city, Jerusalem, the political and religious order that they had trusted, and the people were marched to the capital of the Babylonian Empire 700 miles away.  There they settled into a miserable situation as an exilic people who were longing to return home, yet without any real hope of ever returning.  All they could do was dream.

Jeremiah the prophet wrote them a letter telling them to settle in to the life of Babylon, to work for the welfare of the city, to pray for the city, and to build a new life until the tides of history might change.

After nearly 100 years, Cyrus the Great, the Persian, led his armies in one nights time into Babylon and the city fell. Cyrus was sent as God’s servant.  He released the captives from Jerusalem and sent them home to rebuild their Temple in the Holy Land.  The response amongst the liberated Israelites was one of total joy.

For a 100 years they had had one dream, “Next year Jerusalem”.   The yearning for the homeland, for the land promised by their God, where King David and Solomon had reigned, had grown so powerfully that the pain of the dream could no longer be denied or comforted.

Then as a mighty surprise, God sent his servant Cyrus to bring judgment upon the evils of the Babylonian Empire.  The captured Jews were set free with the vessels of their Temple.  They packed their bags, took whatever they had accumulated, and began to march behind the glory of the Lord who had forgiven them and now led them into a future that could only be provided by the Holy One of Israel.

The Psalmist captured the excitement and joy of the exiles:

“It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.  We were the talk of the nations—‘God was wonderful to them!’  God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.”  Eugene Peterson, in THE MESSAGE, translated Psalm 126.

 

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessings.”

Eugene Peterson wrote in his book on the Psalms of Ascent, entitled, A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION, that joy has a past, present, and future story for the people of God.

THE PAST

When you think of your past history, there have been moments in which you were truly happy and at peace with the circumstances of your life?  I can remember many such surprising past experiences of my life.  In fact the memory of this past year of Celebration of LPC’s 100th birthday inspires joy.

When we made the final payment on our debt several of us went down into the church parlor with the check in our hands for over $300k and took a photograph with each of us smiling from ear to ear as we held the check in front of us. When we burned the mortgage paper that showed how I had signed it seven years before committing us to a $7 million dollar debt, my heart was jumping with joy. The video of that burning shows me shaking all over with joy.

When we reentered our restored sanctuary on the December Sunday in 2010, I could not speak. I had tears, but the real source of my silence was a profound sense of joy and blessing.  May these memories always keep us laughing at the surprising gifts of joy!

THE PRESENT

The present circumstances of our lives may not be joyful. Joy has a history. Shortly after our September celebration Kay had a stroke. It has turned our lives upside down with anxiety and fear.  We have looked for any little sign of improvement and they have come, but in the context of great concern.  You have walked with us through this.  We rejoice at the love of LPC.

Surprises come as great blessings but also as life experiences which challenge, deepen, and prepare us for the mysteries of the future which we do not control.

Peterson wrote these words of encouragement:

“Joy is not a moral requirement for Christian living. Some of us experience events that are full of sadness and pain.  Some of us descend to low points in our lives when joy seems to have permanently departed.  We must not in such circumstances or during such times say, ‘Well, that is the final proof that I am not a good Christian.   Christians are supposed to have their mouths filled with laughter and tongues with shouts of joy; and I don’t. I’m not joyful, therefore I must not be a Christian.

Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking the way of faith and obedience. It is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality.”

I would add that profound joy often comes to us in the midst of suffering, of disappointment, and struggle. In fact, it is in such times that Christian character is shaped in joy and hope.  Hebrews wrote that Jesus embraced the cross of suffering with deep joy for what his obedience would accomplish.

Thanksgiving Sunday of 1964 I was in worship at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church. I was alone and hurting.  It was the first anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy.

The previous year on that Sunday, the Pastor of my church, because he was politically opposed to the President, did not mention that our President had been murdered in Dallas the previous Friday. It was as if nothing had happened. As a young pastor I did not know what to make of it.  The congregation was in deep pain, yet in neither sermon nor prayer were the horrible events of the past few days mentioned.

A year later, after having voluntarily separated from that church, I was listening to Pastor Ganse Little in Pasadena reading Psalm 126 to commemorate the death of President Kennedy. I wept!  I felt comforted! I experienced a sense of joy in the midst of my despair.

The psalmist was totally surprised with what God had done. He had restored the fortunes of his people while in Babylonian captivity.  Suddenly, Babylon had fallen to Cyrus the Great.  Cyrus released the captives and suddenly there was a New Exodus out of bondage and a return to the Promised Land to build anew the Temple of God and the City of Jerusalem. He prayed,

“And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing with armloads of blessing.” Ps. 126

The Holy One of Israel had kept his promises. He had acted in history to restore his people.   I think what Ganse Little said on that long ago Sunday morning was that in the nation’s tears and suffering the seeds of joy had been planted that would bear fruit in the lives of those who knew how to grieve, to mourn, to lament.  By walking in that way they were surprised. They had suddenly rediscovered that the God of Israel was the God of surprising joy.

C.S. Lewis entitled his autobiography, SURPRISED BY JOY. From his childhood he had experienced moments of mysterious insights into what he named as “JOY”.   The problem was that he could not hold on to those moments. They were fleeting and they occurred as surprising flashes of the other, but what other?  He grew to desire such encounters, but could not force them to happen.  The result was disappointment and emptiness.

As he grew older he spiritually moved from atheism, to agnosticism, to theism, and finally to a settled conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Son of the only God.

The Incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth was the last truth he ever thought he would embrace, but it finally happened.   His brother Warnie was driving their motor cycle with the two of them to the zoo with Jack in the sidecar.   Jack wrote,

“I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.  Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.  Nor in great emotion!

It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.” P 237

He could have said that, “he was surprised by joy.”

THE FUTURE

Joy has a future! If God had restored his people in the past and journeyed with them through every present moment transforming it into meaning, purpose, and joy, then surely he could be trusted to do it again in the future.

Every moment of joy in our long journey is but a reminder that we are on our way home into the future of eternal life with all God’s saints, in the New Creation, in the reality of heaven.

Our 100th year has been filled with remembering and celebrating what God has done.  Do we believe that the Lord can surprise us again with joy? Will the Lord inspire his people to finish the year with our bills paid and the church in the black to begin a new year in joyful hope?

Do it again Lord so that the dreams, the sacrificing, the laboring of 100 years may be capped off with a clean slate of new beginnings in the Promised Land of God’s mission through us!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

An Oracle of Salvation

Date: December 10, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

An Oracle of Salvation is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 85.

This is the 2nd Sunday of Advent.

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Psalm 85; Mark 1:1-8
AN ORACLE OF SALVATION

The Psalms of Advent are cries for God’s salvation for the people of Israel. Especially, Psalm 85 remembers the history of God’s saving acts in Israel’s history. Listen again to these words of remembrance: “Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” Ps. 85:1-3

These words of memory are where biblical faith begins.

The people of God, whether Israel or the Church, remember and give thanks for God’s mighty acts of deliverance and rescue. They remember the Lord’s victory over the armies of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. They remember the Lord’s patient journey with them through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land; they remember the many times when the Lord was angry with them because of their unfaithfulness and lack of trust.

They desired to return to Egypt; to change gods, to live like the pagan nations. Repeatedly, disobedience characterized this people whom the Lord had chosen to carry his promise of salvation to the nations. They refused to enter the Promised Land because of lack of trust and the paralysis of fear.

The Lord could have given up. He came close to doing so, but Moses interceded and asked for God’s forgiveness for the people. Moses reminded the Lord that the Lord’s reputation would be tarnished among the nations if he did not keep his promises to Israel. The Lord would be mocked and ridiculed by many enemies. Even though Israel had defiled the name and reputation of the Lord among the nations, the Lord was asked to sanctify, to hallow his own name for the sake of his own character.

The psalmist of Israel remembered the Lord’s character and actions and lifted up communal psalms of lament in which they praised God for who he was and for what he had done for his people.

The Psalmist invited us to remember who God is and what God has done for us.

There would not be a people of God on planet earth if it were not for the Lord’s mercy given freely for us sinners. Like Israel, we are a broken people, an idolatrous people, an unbelieving people who have missed the mark of obedience to the law of God. We have not lived with gratitude for the gift of life. Yet, psalmists, prophets, and apostles celebrated the forgiving grace of the Lord.

In contemporary worship an effort is often made to be more pleasing to the culture by removing the Prayer of Confession. Often times the great symbol of the cross has been removed from our worship spaces for the sake of the church being more acceptable in a secular culture. I have heard many times from people’s lips that the chosen prayer of confession for Sunday does not express who they are or what they have done. They are better than what the liturgy says!

Often the prayers are tough, penetrating, and calls into question the way we live our lives in relationships with God and one another. The 10 commandments convict us; they tell us the truth about ourselves before God and one another. They hold the covenant community of God’s people accountable to the truth of reality.

Some would like to post the Ten Commandments in every courthouse lawn without recognizing what that means for all of us. The moral law of God convicts us, even those who desire to post the commandments. Human nature does not have the power to keep the law. That is why we need the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. If we simply summarized the commandments as Jesus did, “Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength; and your neighbor as yourself.”, we would all stand convicted. Not a one of us has loved perfectly.

Measure yourself by the Sermon on the Mt or the life of Jesus and you fall short and stand convicted before the God of truth and grace.

Deep in our culture is a longing for a positive word to be delivered by the church that affirms the essential goodness of human nature without the cloud of sin. But our Reformed theology, based upon biblical truth is that, “there is no one who is righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Our most basic need is to face the truth, confess it, and ask God to forgive, as we repent and turn from our sins to walk in the light of his Word.

I tell every couple I marry that a good marriage lives by the forgiveness of sins by the grace and forgiveness of God. Therefore, learn to forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you.

So it is with the church! We are a community of forgiven sinners who are also saints in the process of being transformed. We are saints and sinners at the same time.

The Gospels of the New Testament tell the story of the good news of God’s grace with the preaching and baptizing of John the Baptist. People were drawn to John and to his message. John was a holy man, yet he was also a sinner. He said to the multitudes who went down to the Jordan River to listen what most of us preachers would be hesitant to say, “You brood of vipers, who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Do works worthy of repentance.”

John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of new life in which the baptized would bear fruits worthy of repentance. God was on the move restoring his people.

The psalmists knew this truth: there would have been no Israel if God had not been merciful over and over again. Yet, God’s grace was not cheap grace. Rather it was the costly grace of God that called for the transformation of the sinner into a saint. This grace empowered gratitude in the lives of all who welcomed the gift.

I received my first call to ministry after seminary when I was 26 years old. Intellectually, I knew about God’s grace, but it was not until my first marriage failed and I had to cast myself upon the mercy of God, through the Presbytery of Los Angeles, that I learned anew what it meant to have failed in keeping the law of God. I had vowed that I would never be unfaithful to my vows, but without realizing what had happened, I failed in the relationship. I had to face up to what I had contributed to the failure. It took time, but gradually, I began to see that I needed to turn to the Lord in a deeper way and ask for his healing forgiveness to take deep root in my soul. Otherwise, I had no future without, except with anger, resentment, and a need for revenge.

In mercy, the Lord sent people into my life who befriended me, picked me up, forgave me, and restored me to my call to serve Christ through the church. This was where my theology of salvation became real. The Presbytery posted in its minutes a statement of my forgiveness and restoration to the gospel ministry. I will never forget the burden of guilt and shame being lifted and the freedom of joy to have a new life. The La Canada Presbyterian Church mediated the Lord’s love for me and gave to me my future. Since then I have had a heart for all those seeking restoration, wholeness, and new beginnings.

Some things one never forgets. When I stood for moderator of the G.A. I struggled with interpreting myself to the larger church around these issues. I prayed. I worried about people misinterpreting me and rejecting me because of my past. I was warned that institutions without grace often shoot their wounded and go forward without them. I knew I could not escape my life story and that I needed to publicly embrace it.

People still remind me that the church changed its mind on divorce and remarriage. Nevertheless, I decided to be transparent about my life experience. I am a firm believer that we are only as sick as our secrets and that the church needs leadership that is not afraid to speak the truth in the context of grace.

On the floor of the G.A., I was asked about this and I shared my own experience of the need of forgiveness and how the Presbytery of San Fernando mediated it to me. The day after the GA vote for moderator a commissioner to the G.A. told me as I was walking the halls of the Assembly that, in his eyes, I was winning his vote until I shared my story of God’s restoration. Then he changed his vote. I had been afraid of that response. Yet, it was grace alone that allowed me to have a future. I could tell you more painful stories about my experience over the years.

This is why when Dave and Linda Roberson honored me at C.S. Lewis’s home, the Kilns, in Oxford, I asked that a bronze plaque be placed on the bench in the Orchard Garden that had my name upon it, but also “By Grace Alone”. That might as well be my epitaph: “Saved and Sanctified By Grace Alone.”

“You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.” This is the confession of the people of God in all generations. Do we believe this?

The Words of Remembrance in the Psalmist’s Prayer became the basis of his intercession.
“Do it again Lord. In this hour of need when our national life has been called into question by your anger toward our sins, ‘restore us again, O God of our salvation. Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.’” Ps. 85:4-7

And then it was as if the people waited to see if God would answer. An individual listener stepped forth and said, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” Ps. 85:8

The community waited and prayed. The designated listener heard the Word of the Lord and proclaimed the message of good news. This was what he heard and proclaimed. It was an Oracle of Salvation. The Lord will speak peace to his people. The angels announced the word of peace on the night when Jesus was born. They proclaimed God’s shalom. In a world like Narnia that was frozen over in the winter and in which Christmas never came the presence and power of the true Lord of heaven and earth was on the move. He was the Prince of Peace, the source of all healing and reconciliation, the final Word of deliverance for a people with little hope.

This Word would take on flesh and dwell among us for the sake of bearing our sins upon the cross and making atonement for our sins. The psalmist did not say all of this, but Jesus’ words were the fulfillment of what the psalmist heard. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, ‘let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

In this Prince of Peace heaven and earth would overlap and interconnect. “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet in him; righteousness and peace will kiss each other in Christ; Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.”

All of these characteristics of God were incarnate in Jesus, the Son of God.
This is what John the Baptist heard and saw. There was One coming after him whose sandals he was not worthy of tying. John baptized with water, but the Coming One would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. “The kingdom of God was at hand; all were called to turn to the Lord and become prepared for the arrival of peace, healing, justice, righteousness, faithfulness, and steadfast love.” Of course, the listener had seen and heard what the Baptist had seen and heard: “the Lord was at hand; God was on the move; salvation had arrived already with healing in his wings.”

The Psalmist and John the Baptist call the Church to the message of good news revealed in Jesus Christ. This is how St. Mark began his Gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mk. 1:1

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The people went out to John and were baptized by him confessing their sins.” Mk. 1:4-5.

Over the years I have gained a deeper awareness of my need for repentance and forgiveness. I wish I could say that I had not sinned since 1964. But that would not be honest. As I have lived the past 50 years I have become increasingly aware of the subtlety of sin in my heart. I am convinced that with our world and its condition that we are all in need of mercy to see us through in past, present, and future.

For this we pray. Amen.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Restore Us!

Date: December 3, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Restore Us! is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. This morning we celebrate our 100th Anniversary. LPC was chartered by the Presbytery of Los Angeles on December 2, 1917. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 80.

This is the 1st Sunday of Advent.

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RESTORE US!

Psalm 80; Mark 13:24-37

Psalm 80 was likely written in the 8th century B.C. The poets and theologians of the Jerusalem Temple  wrote it for use in worship. Around 900 B.C. ten of the northern tribes had separated from the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The separation was a protest about King Solomon’s excessive taxing of all 12 tribes.

Upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam, when given the opportunity to reverse his father’s policies, refused to do so and told the 10 northern tribes that he would increase their taxes. The leadership of the ten tribes said to the new king, “Read our lips, no new taxes.” But the king unwisely persisted. Therefore, the schism between the northern and southern kingdoms happened.

Nevertheless, the 12 tribes drew their identity from their shared history. In the words of Abraham Lincoln in his 2nd Inaugural Address in 1865:  the two sides in the Civil War “read the same Bible, pray to the same God, and invoke the aid of God against the other.” North and South had become enemies, but they shared a common identity, spiritual history, and understanding of God’s providence.  But the schism had occurred and war had come. Neither of the two sides had their prayers fully answered, Lincoln said.   The sorrow was that the Southern part of the Union now lay in ruins in 1865.

In 722 B.C. the Assyrian armies destroyed the northern ten tribes of Israel. The people of Israel were carried away into captivity and were assimilated by foreign cultures in other places.  Thus the “10 lost tribes of Israel”!  Both North and South were traumatized.   In the Jerusalem Temple Psalm 80 was prayed for all 12 tribes.

It was a communal lament in which the people of the Jerusalem Temple prayed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Shepherd of Israel who had led Joseph, the people, like a flock, might hear their prayers, and come to save them all.   Suddenly, their tribal identity’s seemed a lot less important than their common calling and spiritual history.  They realized that all 12 tribes had enemies, and that if the north could be destroyed, then also the south.

In fact, two hundred years later, Judah, the southern kingdom, was carried away into Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem was conquered; the Temple was razed; the leadership of the nation was removed; the Promised Land was lost; and it seemed as if all was lost.

Late in the 8th century BC the prayer masters of the Temple wrote Psalm 80 to cry out: “Stir up you might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God;” Ps. 80:2-3

“RESTORE US, O GOD!”

LPC knows about the cry for restoration. Before I came to Laguna Beach a pastor friend of mine said, “Coming to pastor the church in LB would be like a new church development, but with a building and a budget.”  I was not sure what he meant, but he seemed to be saying that this congregation, and indeed, the larger LB city had gone through difficult days in the 1960’s.  The city was impacted by run away youth from around the country. We had our own Woodstock musical festival in the canyon; kids were living in the caves of the surrounding hillsides; Timothy Leary was pushing dope in town.  We drove through the city in the late 60’s and I remember saying to Kay, “I would never want to live in this place.” “Well, never say never!” God has a sense of humor.

Soon after we arrived in 1972 it seemed that the whole city began to change, as did the culture of the US. The Vietnam War was winding down. A process of rebuilding began in the early 70’s. The old Lumber Yard was razed. Forest Ave. business fronts were redone. Houses were remodeled around town. There was a new surge of life in the city.

The Community Presbyterian Church of Laguna Beach reflected the wear and tear of the larger city. The lower level of the sanctuary was a basement storeroom that looked like a ruined building in L.A. Hills Hall was stacked high with boxes and other things. The only machines we had in the office were an electric typewriter and a primitive copy machine, a memograph upon which we printed the bulletins. There were 950 members on the rolls of our church, but many had disappeared for one reason or another. In my first year we cleansed the rolls and removed 200 non-existent members.  It was a grand start for a new pastor.  Within two years after I came I had reduced the congregation by 200 members.  I said in home gatherings that I was not sure if I had come to build a church or to bury one.

By the late 70’s the people were beginning to be restored. We planned to do an initial restoration of our buildings. The cost was just over $1 million.  We had a great banquet at the Marriott Hotel in Newport Beach.  Our theme was taken from the prophet Haggai.  We called the effort, “Restore the Splendor.” We sent the invitations to the banquet that read, “Restore the Spender.” I thought to myself that this might ruin our effort toward restoration. How could all of our eyes have missed the  dropped the letter “L”?

We had some good laughs. I treasure the memories of those years. John Bulleit, Marv Drew and others pulled us through and at the end of the process we had built a new Fellowship Hall and refreshed the sanctuary.  We ended debt free.  We were launched. What has resulted has been four decades of Restoration, Renewal, Revival, Spiritual deepening, and expanding vision for ministry in Laguna Beach to the ends of the earth.

Restore or Restoration had become two of my favorite words. They are important biblical words that signify what needs to be happening in the church in all generations.

As disciples and persons we all learn that we need the Lord to revive us again, to awaken us to what is going on in the world, to open our eyes and ears to where God is at work in our lives.

Nations need restoration and renewal.

Ancient Israel’s tribes had worshiped gods that were no gods. They wanted to be like the surrounding peoples.  In the process their religion and their society became defiled and corrupted.  When Psalm 80 was written and prayed in the Temple the community cried to the “Shepherd of Israel” who had taken the tribes out of slavery in Egypt.  They were like small grape plants. They had potential for growth.  The Lord planted them in fertile soil, attended them, watered them, and they grew.  They spread from Sea to River over the Promised Land.

The owner of the vineyard expected these good vines to produce sweet wine grapes, but when they were harvested they produced sour grapes and bitter wine. Isaiah the prophet used the same parable of the Vineyard: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant plantings; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” Isaiah 5:7

God’s judgment came upon the vineyard. The people needed restoration; they needed to turn to God; to remember the mighty acts of God’s deliverance and planting of them in the Land.  They needed to abide in the Vine as branches so that the Spirit of the holy God might produce the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control. The Lord desired to form a people that would be a light to the nations, a model of justice, righteousness, and peace. Yes, the Lord desired a people whose society cared about the poor, the widow, and the orphans. What had developed was a society in which the rich were becoming richer and the poor poorer. People were losing their houses and fields. Ten percent of the people owned 90% of the land; the prophets said that the merchants were dishonest; the politicians were bought off and the priests of the Temple simply went along without a prophetic Word from God.

As a nation, Israel as the holy people of God had disappeared and God’s judgments came upon them. Prophets and priests began to wake up to what was happening. The northern kingdom was destroyed and the southern kingdom was next. The Word of God called the people to repentance, to restoration in the ways of the only Lord of the nations.

I believe that we Americans are living in such a time. The business, political, religious, and social leaders have lost their moral compass; we have become endorsers of the cultural narcissism of the western world.  Truth has disappeared in the marketplace and the halls of our politicians; getting rich has become an end in itself; and people are treated as objects to be used for self-gratification and sexual conquest of the weaker. What has become of honor, of honesty, of integrity, of truth, of compassion? Have we forgotten how to blush?  Is there no Word of God, no gospel that has the power to heal the nations soul?

The church and the nation need to cry out to the living God, “Stir up your might, and come to save us!” Ps. 80:2   “Restore us, O God.” Ps. 80:3, 7, and 19.  Restore us to what you intended us to be as your people.

“LET YOUR FACE SHINE, THAT WE MAY BE SAVED.” Ps. 80:3

In both Old and New Testaments the face of God was the source of the bright, shining glory of God. This was the glory enthroned upon the cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was  kept in the Holy of Holies.  Above the Ark that contained the tablets of the 10 commandments, pieces of the manna the people ate in the wilderness, and Aaron’s budding rod, the presence of the Holy God lived.  The lid of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat. Once a year the High Priest would carry the blood of the sacrificial animal on the Day of Atonement, smear the blood on the mercy seat, and ask God to no  longer see the sins of his people, to forgive them, and to heal the land. So the people prayed, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

This was a bold prayer for Israel to pray in the 8th century B.C. This was a lament asking for the God who had delivered his people from Egyptian slavery and defeated Pharaoh’s armies at the Red Sea, who had led them for 40 years in the Sinai, and finally settled them in the Promised Land, to once again save his people from their enemies. The prayer was a cry for the light of God’s glory that had dwelt in their presence and had delivered them from their enemies to shine forth into the darkness of the world.

John’s Gospel witnessed that “What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1

Where does the light of God shine in our spiritually darkened world? The light shines in the face of Jesus Christ. This Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:4-6

On this December 3, 2017, morning in which we celebrate the chartering of our congregation as a member church of the Presbyterian family in Southern California, I want to declare that we have been restored by the grace of God. The God of light has continued to shine in and through us.

But the restoration is not complete. It is not finished.  The gospel text is from Mark 13.  Jesus was discussing with his disciples the destiny of Jerusalem and its Temple.  He said, “not one stone would be left upon another.”  He spoke with them about the ends days and the spiritual and moral deterioration of life on planet earth.

I have to tell you that people are increasingly raising the question with me if we are living in the last times?   Is Christ coming soon?   I do not know, but we do seem to be living in prosperous and morally bankrupt times not unlike what Jesus described in Mark 13 and Matthew 24.    He taught his disciples that they were to “Stay Awake” and to not be anesthetized by the pagan culture.  We dare not go to sleep.

LPC will continue to be at risk. Still people conjecture if we will become a parking lot, a private residence, or a hotel/restaurant?   100 years from now will there be a vital Christian Church on this corner of 2nd and Forest. Will we be able to draw a new people to us who will share a vision of building the kingdom of our Lord and Savior into the hearts of our city?

We are still here! God has answered our prayers.  He has restored us and shined his light into our hearts.  He has saved us and is saving us.  He will continue to do so, but still, we are called to be awake to the gathering storm  clouds of history and culture.  So we pray,

“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” May this prayer be on the lips of each coming generation of this lighthouse of the gospel!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Wonder!

Date: November 26, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

Wonder! is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on Psalm 100. It is the Christ the King Sunday.

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Hallelujah!

Date: November 19, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Hallelujah! is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 112. It is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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Hallelujah! – Psalm 111 & Psalm 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 salvation’s story; the Big Story; the Meta-narrative of all Creation and history.

For this we give thanks! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.

PSALM 112

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