Burning Hearts Open Eyes

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

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

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BURNING HEARTS / OPENED EYES
Luke 24:13-44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do strangers have such an honest conversation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, there were positive eyewitnesses. 

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

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

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

Secondly, there were negative eyewitnesses. 

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

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

But then there were neutral eyewitnesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Easter Joy

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

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

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Easter Joy, John 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end is life. I love that.

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

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

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

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

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Passion of Christ Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDITATION    – Jerry Tankersley

PRAYER    – Jerry Tankersley

CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP, Phil 2:3-8
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Darkness

The Christ Candle is extinguished.

HYMN:  Were You There?    – Beth Pinney

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

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

Power Struggle Maundy Thursday

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

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

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

Bulletins

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

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

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

WELCOME & OPENING PRAYER    – Kathy Sizer

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

* PRAISE GOD IN SINGING (SEE MUSIC INSERT)
God of Day and God of Darkness (See Music Insert)

(Please Be Seated)

Love, Love, Love (See Music Insert)

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

MEDITATION:  “POWER STRUGGLE”                        – Kathy Sizer

RESPONDING TO THE WORD
CALL TO CONFESSION    – Steve Sweet
L:    Christ shows his self-giving love by washing his disciples’ feet.
Surely we do not live up to Christ’s example.
We confess now our sin and our need of a Savior.

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

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

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

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

Lord, have mercy. Amen.

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

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

* AFFIRMATION OF FAITH, Phil. 2:5-11, NRSV
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess to the glory of God: Jesus Christ is Lord!

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

OFFERING

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

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

CELEBRATING THE EUCHARIST
INVITATION TO THE TABLE                             – Jerry Tankersley

PRAYER OF GREAT THANKSGIVING                         – Steve Sweet

BREAKING OF THE BREAD

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

BEARING AND FOLLOWING THE WORD INTO THE WORLD
THE STRIPPING OF THE CHURCH
This practice dates from the 7th century. The desolation and abandonment of this long night for Jesus is symbolized by the removal of all communion ware and paraments.
A single candle remains lit tonight.

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

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

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

SCRIPTURE: John 18:1-11    – Steve Sweet

SCRIPTURE: John 18:12-18    – Kathy Sizer

SCRIPTURE: John 18:19-27    – Jerry Tankersley

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

Looking for Jesus

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

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


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Looking for Jesus, John 12:9-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Jerry,

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

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

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

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

Cheers, Pete

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

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

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

He is our King!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Love Is...

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

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

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(audio only)

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

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

Do You Hear His Voice?

Date: March 26, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Do You Hear His Voice? is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 11:11-44. It is the 4th Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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DO YOU HEAR HIS VOICE? 

Jesus had friends who lived just outside Jerusalem. He often visited in their home in Bethany. Bethany was a small village on the eastern side of the Mt. of Olives that one passed through on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.  Just over the rise of the mount and a short distance from Bethany there is a breathtaking view of the old city of Jerusalem. Following that trail down the Mt. of Olives one would pass through beautiful trees, the Garden of Gethsemane, into the Kidron Valley, and up Mt. Zion into the old city, a distance of two miles.  I think Jesus loved that view because he loved the City of God.  It was from that vantage point that he wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

John had Jesus several times in Jerusalem for the religious festivals. Whenever he came to town he stayed with his friends in Bethany, Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. He held them each as special friends whom he loved.

Luke’s Gospel reported on one such visit in their home. (Luke 10:38f)   Martha was preparing dinner, while Mary listened to Jesus in the living room.  In frustration, Martha confronted Jesus and Mary. “Lord, if you want to have dinner tonight command my sister to come help me!” He responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10)

Mary was listening to the voice of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. For Luke this was what faithful disciples did: they centered themselves in the Word of God.  That centering brought focus to their whole lives.

But John told us more. Under mounting resistance and threats to his life Jesus had retreated to the Jordan River where he had heard the Voice of his heavenly Father: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” While listening to the Father’s affirmation, the message came from Bethany, “Lazarus, your beloved friend, is seriously ill. Come quickly!”

Yet, Jesus waited two more days.

He did not return in haste to heal his friend. To return was to walk into the jaws of danger.  The authorities were threatening to stone him for what he was saying and doing.  Finally, his decision was made after much prayer. He told his disciples that they would be going to Bethany to awaken Lazarus. They assured Jesus that Lazarus would be fine. After all he was but sleeping.

“No,” Jesus said, “Lazarus has died. He is dead. I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” (John 11:13-15)

While they were near Bethany word was sent to Martha and Mary that Jesus was coming. Immediately, Martha ran out to meet Jesus who was still on the way.  When she approached Jesus, she cried out to him what no friend and especially no pastor would ever want to hear:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The implication was clear: “You have let us down.” “After all these years of friendship and hospitality when we needed you, you were somewhere else.” “You could have healed our brother. But now he is dead and buried for four days.” No little anger under these words.

“Martha,” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Lord,” Martha responded, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Then Jesus said to her the words that we often read at the beginning of each Memorial Service in our sanctuary,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  (John 11:17-27)

Martha ran back to the house and quietly told her sister Mary that Jesus was near and calling out for her. Mary rose up and ran to him with a large crowd of mourners following.    She was weeping and crying out.  She fell down before him in an act of worship and cried, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Emotional chaos was breaking out. Everyone was crying.  Jesus’ inner spirit was greatly disturbed and moved.  He also wept!  Some in the crowd were criticizing him and murmuring quietly that he had let them all down.

“Where was the Son of God when we needed him?”

With a heart filled with trouble; with eyes and ears open to the suffering of the human condition under the power of life and death, Jesus insisted that they take him to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried for 4 days.

There he prayed. He wept. He thanked his heavenly Father for having heard him already. He was determined to witness to the gathered crowd to the glory of God by calling Lazarus out from the tomb of death.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!”

“The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” Jesus said to them, “UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO.”

I have loved and resisted this story at the same time. No story has troubled and comforted me more than this story. Permit me to make some personal, theological reflections with you.

First, this story has helped me accept my tears caused by human mortality.

Jesus’ freedom to cry in the midst of pain, suffering, and loss have helped me to accept my own emotional life.

We live in a society that so often denies the reality of loss or death. Little boys grow up being taught that big boys do not cry.  They simply swallow their tears, dry their tears in private, hope that their broken hearts will heal, and then get on with life as if they were not impacted.

I have learned over many years that this way of dealing with grief is destructive to ones emotional health. I have been compelled to live into Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I was called into a vocation in which I could not escape the central questions of life:  What is the meaning and purpose of life?  Why do people die?  Is there life after death?  Is there life before death?  The truth is that from the time I was a little boy I somehow knew I was vulnerable to loss, to grief, and to tears.

St. Augustine lost his best friend Nebridius. He was plunged into desolation.  C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Four Loves”, quoting Augustine,

“This is what comes of giving one’s heart to anything, but God. All human beings pass away.  Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”

“Of course, “Lewis wrote, “this is excellent sense. Don’t put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of.  And of course, I am a safety first creature.  Careful! This might lead you to suffering. I prefer safe investments and limited liabilities.

“But there is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.

“Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

“The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” (The Four Loves, 167-169)

In my own words, life is risky and we are all vulnerable. Embracing our joys and sorrows is at the heart of emotional/spiritual maturity.

Secondly, this story has drawn me to Jesus.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The Gospel of John witnessed to Jesus as the very incarnate Word of God who spoke and called everything into being. In him was life and his life was the light of the world.  This Creation Word of God spoke himself into human life and moved into our neighborhood.  He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  He was the way, the truth, and the life, the open gate to the Father.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgments, but has passed from death to life.”  (John 5:24)

These words have drawn me to Jesus over and over again. They do so this morning.  What they teach is that eternal life begins the moment we believe in Jesus and welcome his loving presence into our hearts.  When we do that we open ourselves up for suffering and true joy.  We begin to embrace the great truth that in the moment we die we are brought into his presence, a presence and power we already had entered through faith during our earthly journey.

Martha’s misunderstanding was that she believed that resurrection life only occurred at the end of the age when the dead were raised. But no!  Eternal life begins the moment we believe and are baptized into Jesus.    Resurrection to life is now, through faith.  This is the miracle of the good news, which Jesus lived and enacted in his ministry.

This has been the most difficult for me to trust. I have often lain awake at night pondering if I would be alive after my body died.  It is so difficult to consider life beyond this body.  At times I have been tormented by the anxiety of this question.  What about my friends and loved ones?

My friend, Michael Wenning, my covenant brother of many years, would often have me drive him to covenant group when he was so ill. You may remember Michael as the South African pastor who officiated at the graveside service when  President Ronald Regan died and was buried at his Presidential Library.

Michael had cancer for a number of years and was being kept alive by powerful drugs. At our last Covenant meeting at his home, we laid hands on him, prayed and wept with Michael and Freda.  Michael spoke and prayed in spiritual language, with tongues of praise to God.  He was going into the fullness of Life, a life which he already had glimpsed.  I wanted to hold on to him as my friend.  John Huffman and I drove away from Michael’s and Freda’s home as they waved us good-bye the last day.

When I did his graveside service, the day was dark and it was raining so hard we could barely stay under our umbrellas. His family gathered closely around me in the wet cold.  As I proclaimed Michael’s favorite scriptures, the dam of my emotions burst.  I sobbed my way through these words written by the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

I had made Michael promise that he would meet me at the gates of heaven to welcome me when my time came. It was such sweet sorrow and deep meaning, but also of profound joy.

He had been with Jesus for many years, but now he was praising the Lord in the fullness of life. The question for me was Jesus’ question for Martha, “Do you believe this?” “Do you trust this?”  I confess I do.  If I did not, I would check in my ordination credentials. Nevertheless, at times the pain of loss washes over me and I question and doubt. So Jesus walked to the tomb of his friend and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. Then he cried in a loud voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT! THE DEAD MAN CAME OUT.”

Could it be that this story creates the possibilities for us to have new futures. This story may remind us to value the relationships that we take for granted.  We do live in a time of instability and rapid change.  Persons here today may not be tomorrow.  One thing for sure, “Jesus Christ is the same today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Waiting for Mercy

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

Waiting for Mercy is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 5:1-18 It is the 3rd Sunday in the Season of Lent. We are also coming to the Lord’s Table.

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WAITING FOR MERCY, by Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersly

Sermon Text: John 5:1-18

Over the past several months Kay and I have made several visits to hospital emergency rooms. They are places that most of us would like to avoid. Me Too! Thank God they are there in an emergency when we think we need help.  Getting to the emergency room as quickly as possible may be the key to our survival.  Spending time in the waiting room hoping to be called to the inner rooms for tests, treatments, drugs, stirs deep feelings within us, and makes us aware of how dependent we are upon sources of help in times of need.

What a relief it is when the doctors and the nurses begin to show up. It is a real gift to encounter a helping team that sees you as a person with feelings, anxieties, fears, and not as just another piece of flesh, an object upon which to impose invasive procedures, a customer to be admitted to the hospital with the financial tab running higher and higher. What we hope to discover from the emergency room staff is compassion, sensitivity, expertise, reassurance, and a rapid response to our needs.

It is a unique form of anxiety to be left in a cubbyhole room for an extended period of time while others in crowded spaces are receiving the attention they need. Walk into a hospital emergency room on a Saturday night and you will likely be shocked by what you see.

The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem was known as the House of Mercy. It was a  large pool of water that functioned as a place of hope in a city filled with persons in great need.  Each time I read the introduction to the story in John 5 I am reminded of the pools central place in the old city.  It was near the Temple of the Lord.  Across the street one could see the Roman army center that over looked the activities on Temple Hill.  There were five porticoes in the pool.  They were made from Jerusalem stone and it was likely an inviting place.  Nearby, sheep were brought into the old city by means of the City Gate.

When Jesus visited Jerusalem he would arrive over the Mt. of Olives and walk the path he later used on Palm Sunday to enter the city. The pool was the first place he would see as he entered the City by means of the Lion’s Gate.  Sheep were being herded into the area to be washed and later taken into the Temple courts to be offered as sacrifices.  It was a noisy place.  And this large pool known as a place of Hope and Mercy was filled with waiting people. In the five porticoes lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.

The tradition had it that these were healing waters that would from time to time be blessed by an angel who would stir up the waters with bubbles. It was believed that the first one in the pool after the waters bubbled would be healed.  So multitudes crowded around the porticoes waiting in hope, frustration, anxiety, and fear.

The picture on the cover of the bulletin is of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, NYC. It was commissioned for the City to commemorate the arrival of clean water into the City after a cholera outbreak in the mid-19th century.  The Angel atop the fountain was inspired by the story of John 5.  People come to this fountain seeking hope, healing, comfort, and peace.  When the AIDS epidemic was rampant in the City, many afflicted with HIV came to this place to find healing and hope in their suffering and fear. They were searching for mercy.

In John 5 Jesus saw one of the invalids and knew the man had been there for a long time. He was a man who had been ill for 38 years. Daily, he had to be carried to the pool.

Jesus asked him,  “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

Perhaps this was an excuse. But it was at least partially true. The healing resource of the Angel’s visit could not be predicted. All the invalids gathered around the pool competing to see who could get into the waters first and receive the blessing. The first in got the blessing.  The others had to wait in line till the next time the bubbles in the water were seen.  Imagine the restlessness of the crowd and the unfairness of the limited mercy.  There was access to the pool, but the mercy was rationed and given to the strongest and most competitive of the needy.

Archeologist discovered that the pool was fed from time to time by an underground spring that caused the bubbles. Nevertheless, a mythology had developed that the bubbles were the work of an Angel of Mercy.

On that day at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus arrived as God’s healing mercy. He said to the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” “At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” (John 5) Later he reported to the authorities that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Even with places of mercy, we are aware that many have waited for years for healing that hospitals cannot provide. James Martin in his book JESUS A PILGRIMAGE wrote about his long wait for healing.  While in seminary typing his term papers and planning on becoming a scholar and writer of books, he developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both of his hands, wrists, and arms.  It threatened to incapacitate him and to make it impossible for him to write.  He shared that he sought medical care, but finally, the doctors could not provide the healing he needed, nor were they able to give a name for his affliction. So he has had to negotiate his way in the priesthood as a writer and spiritual director. The result is that he has continued to manage the periodic incapacitating pain.

He shared he has visited many places of healing, including Lourdes in France. Millions of people visit those cold waters to plunge themselves into them with prayers for healing.  Out of the millions there have only been 67 certified healings. After his visit, praying, and bathing, the next morning the affliction was still with him.

He reminded his readers that there are many physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual conditions that persons have had to accept, manage, and work to improve. Just think of those who suffer with bi-polar, manic-depressive disease, or schizophrenia, or rheumatoid arthritis.  The list goes on and on.  Persons in great pain wait in hope for merciful relief.  I listened to the Senator from West Virginia speak this week about the poverty and drug addiction of people in his state. The opioid and alcohol addictions are epidemic.

At times I wish that an angel of mercy would fly down upon planet earth, speak a magical blessing and heal the woes of humanity all at once. Even with all of the advances of medical science still humanity waits beside the pools of Bethesda.

Of course, this compassion for the world was at the heart of Jesus’ mission. This was his work and it was the Father’s work.  The one triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit saw that humanity was like sheep without a shepherd.   God was moved. The Lord knew that his heavenly Father had sent him to launch a healing mission of dealing with humanity’s bondage to the powers of sin and death.

Jesus carried the promise of humanities being made well in his own body.  He took the suffering, the pain, the patient waiting and carried it all the way to the cross and to the right hand of the Father where he intercedes and prays for us.

The Apostle Paul discovered he had a thorn in the flesh. We do not know what it was: depression, epilepsy, migraine headaches, eye problems, arthritis, physical-spiritual exhaustion, periodic bouts with depression.  He asked the Lord three times to remove the affliction, but each time the answer was the same:  “No! My grace is sufficient for you.”  The healing that came was the assurance that the Lord was with him, blessing his mission through Paul, but always living with dependence upon God and others to see him through.

Neither Jesus nor Paul provided easy answers for why they had these sufferings. They did not adopt the easy answers of Job’s comforters who suggested that sickness was the result of sin.  All people are sinners, but not Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus, the righteous servant of God took the suffering of the world upon himself for the sake of setting us free to live by his grace.  Paul knew that he was a forgiven sinner, but he never suggested that because he was an apostle, that he no longer had to deal with the human condition. Paul could hear the labor pains of the creation waiting to be healed. (Romans 8)

Neither Jesus nor Paul despaired. They were persons of faith, hope, and love.  They inspired the building of houses of hope and mercy.  They knew that the Father had sent them and commissioned them to build places of hope and healing at the center of the human community.

Rodney Stark, a church historian, wrote a book entitled, The Triumph of Christianity. It was about the pagan world in which Christian faith, hope, and love took root in the first few centuries after Christ.  He wrote that the ancient cities like Athens, Corinth, Jerusalem, and Rome were filled with squalor, misery, illness, and loneliness. “Christianity provided an island of mercy and security.”

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Jesus’ teaching and example began to work its way into the life of humanity. Stark wrote, “In the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues—that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful” (page 112).

What Jesus launched into the world through his acts of mercy was a community of persons who had received mercy, that which they could not earn or deserve.

“The classical philosophers had nothing useful to say except to blame the misery of people on fate. But Christians claimed to have answers and, most of all, they took appropriate actions. As for answers, Christians believed that death was not the end and that life was a time of testing.

 

“Already mercy had come in Christ and the Christians believed that the way of mercy was to be lived in and through their churches. In following Christ, the Christians lived longer lives and slowly lifted up the pagan world.

 

“The Christians buried their own dead and the dead of the pagans rather than throwing their bodies into the gutters of the city. Faith mattered” (p. 119).

But faith, hope, and love need to be renewed and empowered day by day. This is why we come together this morning at the Table of the Lord. Here we remember that he gave his life that we might live. He called his disciples to acts of mercy.  He began a movement of compassionate mercy in a miserable world.  Wherever the mission of God has moved on planet earth the mercy of God has been forefront in building new communities using all the benefits of medical science, psychological insight, and human action.

When our Presbytery mission team was at the Wanless Hospital in India, we saw a old cobalt radiation machine used for the treatment of cancer. On the wall behind it was a framed picture of Jesus Christ with light flowing from his hands toward the mission hospitals colbalt machine. To me that said it all. In a world of horrible poverty and misery in which many villagers lined up to receive treatment, the mercy of God was present. It was a pool of Bethesda, a place of mercy and healing.

So we come to his Table, the Table of our Lord, a Table of Mercy that is at the foundation of all caring.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

From Jesus to Christ

Date: March 12, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

From Jesus to Christ is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Matthew 16:13-26. It is the Second Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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From Jesus to Christ: Three years ago during the Season of Lent a cable television network ran a series of programs entitled, “From Jesus to Christ.” This Season of Lent their religious program is called, “Finding Jesus.” Both series are worth watching. There are wonderful pictures of the Holy Land and some excellent narration summarizing the quest for the historical Jesus. The programs remind us that the Christian faith is deeply rooted in a time and a place. Visit the Holy Land and it becomes a Fifth Gospel telling us the story of Israel and Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus of Nazareth

Sometimes we forget that Jesus was first known as Jesus of Nazareth. He was a Palestinian Jew who was a carpenter working in Joseph’s shop in Nazareth. I think he looked like a man of his times.  He was fully human.  He shared the fullness of our humanity. We do not know if he was tall, short, handsome, or not so handsome.

Two thousand years ago there were no cameras to capture an image of Jesus. That has been helpful, but also challenging.  An image, a picture could have thrown us off track in our understanding of Jesus.  Do you remember the movie, “Ben Hur”? Judah Ben Hur had been betrayed by a Roman friend, arrested by the military,  and was being led into slavery to Rome. As the prisoners walked through Galilee on their way to the seaport and on to Rome, Ben Hur, a privileged Jewish man, stumbled and fell.  He was thirsty and hungry.

In one of the most moving scenes, a man beside the road lifted up Ben Hur’s head and gave him a drink of water. Ben Hur looked up with an expression that said it all. He was grateful. He was in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. But as the camera moved away all that was shown was the back of Jesus’ head.  Goose bumps went up and down my back. Judah had been brought face to face with the man whose providence ruled the cosmos and who would transform his life and the suffering of his family.  He had met Jesus the human whose life was characterized by kindness, compassion, and acts of mercy. He had received mercy from the stranger which he would not see again until he looked up into the face of the Crucified One on Golgotha.

Christian artists have sought to capture the face of Jesus of Nazareth. One of those efforts is on the cover of our morning bulletin. In 2014 our group saw this mosaic in St. Sophia’s Church in Istanbul, Turkey. The church, now turned into a museum and mosque, still has Christian images on its walls. This is a famous depiction of Jesus, and I love it, but it does not do for my soul what the movie scene of Jesus’ act of compassion toward Judah Ben Hur.

The Gospel writers paint word pictures of Jesus. They stir our imaginations. They invite us to enter the story and to be among Jesus’ disciples as they followed him for the three years of his public ministry.

Jesus of Nazareth had left Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum on the north shore of the Lake of Galilee. There he had made friends with a group of fishermen.  He rode in their boats; he helped pull the nets aboard the small boats; he taught them by example and by word.  Galilee was a large outdoor stage. On one occasion he called these humble fishermen to follow him. They did so. What happened was transformative for them.  In the Capernaum synagogue they had listened as he taught and healed with authority.  His word healed the paralytic. Jesus forgave him his sins. The disciples had listened while Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. They had seen and heard Jesus calm the storms upon the lake. They watched as Jesus multiplied the fish and the loaves to feed first 5000 and then 4000 with basket-fulls of bread left over. They had seen Jesus calm the soul of legion the man possessed by many demons who lived among the tombs bruising himself and constantly howling.

Mid way through his three year public ministry, Jesus led his 12 disciples 30 miles north of the lake to the foothills of Mt. Hermon, to the region of Caesarea Philippi. There he asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They were quick to answer:

“Some say you are John the Baptist returned; others say you are Elijah come back; others, Jeremiah, or one of the ancient prophets.” Then Jesus asked those who had joined him, “But who do you say that I am?”

How would they answer? Peter, on behalf of the twelve, responded,

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   And Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” – Mt. 16:13-19

Can you imagine how pumped up Peter must have felt after realizing that he had given the answer that Jesus was hoping for? He got it right.  He was affirmed as the rock upon which Jesus would build his church.  Peter would exercise the keys of the kingdom of God.  What authority and power.  Peter’s ego must have soared.  He had followed Jesus of Nazareth who had suddenly become more than just another man.

Jesus the Christ, Israel’s Messiah

On the basis of what Peter had seen Jesus do and say, he had come to the conclusion that the kingdom of God was present and that the road to glory lay before him. Peter had backed the right horse. His candidate for political leadership was about to fulfill Peter’s wildest dreams.

You see, Peter had an understanding that when Israel’s Messiah arrived that he would be a King David type warrior. He would mobilize the armies of Israel, do battle with the Roman legions, and drive them out of the land.  The Messiah would be a powerful human/divine actor who would succeed in establishing the Reign of God.

If Peter were to be the Messiah’s right hand man then he would be a leader in one of the greatest dramas in all of human history. The thought made his head swim.

CHRIST REDEFINED

It was at this point that Jesus began for the first time to teach his disciples that it was necessary for him to go up to Jerusalem. There he would be rejected, arrested, put on trial, condemned, put to death, but on the third day be raised from the dead.

This teaching was so incongruent with everything that Peter believed about the Messiah that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “God forbid, this will never happen to you.” Jesus confronted Peter, “Get behind me,  Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

For Jesus, being God’s Messiah, the Christ, meant being God’s Suffering Servant Son whose humble death and triumph over death would proclaim the truth of the self-empyting Servant-Son of God whose death would atone for the sins of humanity and reconcile us to God and to one another. This was the will of God for Jesus.  This was what it meant to be God’s Christ.

This part of Peter’s faith journey was the zenith and the nadir, the height and the depth, of his life. How could he be so right and so wrong in so few words?  But this was Peter.

Indeed, who of us have been able to integrate our Confession of Faith in Jesus with the reality that he was seeking to lead us into the deeper truth that it was God’s will for him to be God’s Suffering Servant Son for the sake of making atonement for the sins of the world at the cross.

For most of my faith journey I have intellectually known this great truth. But incorporating my spiritual identity into the identity of Jesus Christ has called for continual intellectual, emotional, and spiritual stretching. I have been in awe of the witness of the Apostles Peter and Paul.  They both believed that God’s Christ had chosen the way of “downward mobility” rather than “upward mobility”.

Years ago, Henri Nouwen, the Catholic priest wrote a book on leadership. It was called, “In the Name of Jesus”.  It was a study of Jesus’ encounter with Satan in his desert temptation after 40 days and nights. It was there that Jesus struggled with what it meant for him to be the Father’s Son and Christ. The evil one whispered into his ears and gave visions to his eyes that he could show him how to become a successful Messiah. All Jesus had to do was choose the way of “upward mobility”, assert his power, worship the devil, prove his divine power, and he could rule the world.  At each moment Jesus “chose the way of downward mobility”. This was the way of the cross and not the way of glory.   But the temptation was with Jesus all the way to the cross of his suffering.

The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich.” – 2 Cor. 8:9

Or, in the words of the famous Christ Hymn in Philippians 2,

“Even though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

In Nouwen’s words, Jesus chose the way of servant leadership, of downward mobility. He rejected the choice of becoming great in the eyes of the world for the sake of washing the feet of the world in servant love.

This past week I learned that Tim Keller resigned from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. He was the founding pastor of the church in Manhattan that has grown into an influential presence in a city in which many have thought the Christian faith and church was finished. What is amazing is that Tim does not look like a super-star pastor who has chosen the way of upward mobility. He is a bald, 60ish, man who is not a spellbinder, but simply an intellectual, spiritual man who has been saved by the grace of God. He has been a humble servant, a man of integrity who has taught and lived in the Spirit and truth of Jesus Christ. I have not met him, but he has greatly impacted the lives of many of my friends in the various Presbyterian denominations.

Redeemer will be broken into three small congregations and Tim will be teaching leadership and pastoral theology in a NYC seminary. This week one of his former associates wrote a moving tribute to Tim in his blog. The writer was Scott Sauls who pastors Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. (Scottsauls.com)

What was so touching was how he described the person-hood and leadership style of his friend, Tim Keller. Basically, he wrote of a man who had modeled the humility of Christ, who had not sought the way of upward mobility in a City filled with ladder climbers of self-seeking people. Rather, in building a congregation for those hungry and thirsty for the living God and the Word of God, Tim has opened up NYC to the kingdom of God in a new way.

We live in a world in which human nature seeks greatness, money, sex, and power. So what is new?  This is un-redeemed human nature. It is the central quest of many. This was the inner temptation that was vying for the attention of the 12 disciples as they followed Jesus. They desired supremacy over one another. The competition had begun among them as to which of them was the greatest and which of them would be allowed to sit at his left and his right when he came into his kingdom.  If they had not learned the way of Jesus Christ there would be no church today.  The crisis of the American church is about whether or not we will learn from Jesus.

I have found that this issue has continued to haunt me. Who does not want to be great? I remember Ian Pitt-Watson, the world known Scottish preacher and professor at Fuller Seminary sharing that the great temptation of his life had been to be great. His warning resonated in my soul.

When I attended the Men’s Conference 15 years ago in New Mexico led by Father Richard Rohr, I did not fully realize what was creating such anxiety and fear within my soul. What Rohr taught me in the male initiation into spiritual adulthood was that Jesus had called us all to die to ourselves in order that we might come alive in true male identity.  He said this is what our Christian baptism is all about. In the waters of baptism we begin to die to the powers of sin and death, but also to be raised to newness of life.  It is the way of the mind of Christ, of humble servant-hood, of reckoning ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ. This is the way that shatters pride, breaks ego, and creates hearts of compassion and devotion to the truth.  This surrender to know and to do the will of God is the leadership our nation and church so much needs and to which we are often blinded.

The amazing reality is that this is the way to life, to love, to joy, to freedom, and to a life filled with meaning and purpose. In seeking to maximize ourselves we end up destroying ourselves with anxiety and fear.  We fall  into greater bondage as we are owned by all that we seek to possess.

Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

That's the Way Love Is

Date: March 5, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

That’s the Way Love Is is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Mark 6:35-44. It is the First Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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