To Survive or To Thrive

Date: April 22, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

To Survive or To Thrive is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on John 10:1-18 and Psalm 23. It is the 4th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating The Great 50 Days.

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Seeing Him

Date: April 15, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Seeing Him is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Luke 24:36-49 and 1 John 3:1-3. It is the 3rd Sunday of Easter of the Great 50 Days.

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“Seeing Him” – Sermon Text: Luke 24:36-49; 1 John 3:1-3

Since I did some of my education at Claremont Graduate University I receive their publication entitled, “The Flame.” In the Spring 2018 edition they reported on Peter Drucker Day 2017 and the presentations by the speakers on organizational management.  One of the major presenters was Renee Mauborgne on her new book entitled, “Blue Ocean Shift.” She used a metaphor to describe the shift that  businesses must make in order to move from the Red Ocean full of predators to finding new markets in a Blue Ocean without rivals.

She asked, “How can an ordinary organization with ordinary people shift? To do that, you have to acknowledge people’s fears and build their confidence to take that journey” (Blue Ocean Shift, p. 14).

These are the kinds of issues and questions that are addressed in graduate business schools or graduate management programs.

Peter Drucker taught at Claremont for 30 years. He was one of the early gurus of management theory and practice. Many have read his books. His personal authority and wisdom is often used as foundational for helping leaders be effective in bringing about change.

It was announced that there would be a special speaker at the conference. Who would it be? Peter Drucker himself would make an appearance and speech. For the many who had never met him, seen him, or heard from him they would see and hear the original guru.

The only problem was that Peter Drucker had been dead for several years. How would it be possible for Drucker to appear and to be seen? Lo and behold, the school presented a hologram of Drucker. There he was on stage as a visible presence to be seen and heard.  He delivered a speech about how he developed ideas that continue to help many companies do business today. He said he first began to develop management theory by accident.  That in it’s self was worth hearing. It did at least lead me to rethink the foundations of his authority. Did his wisdom come from heaven or was it of experiential learning through trial and error? Well, maybe a little of both.

The Gospels writers told the story of how the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to his disciples on Easter Sunday and for 40 days following. He was their teacher. His wisdom and truth came from above and also from the traditions of his people. There were no technical capabilities the disciples could have drawn upon to bring Jesus alive. There was no magic to bring a dead person back to the stage of history. No human witch was available to conjure up the dead Jesus from the land of the dead. As in the movie Star Wars there was no hologram of Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi or of Peter Drucker to speak wisdom, truth, or to bring assurance and comfort to a terrified group of disciples.

Only Luke tells us that the resurrected Jesus joined the two disciples on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus on Easter Sunday afternoon. He appeared to them as a stranger whom they did not know. Along the way they were discussing the “things” about Jesus of Nazareth.  They recited the facts of his life, death, and reported resurrection. The stranger took over the conversation and interpreted to them the things about the Messiah from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. As they walked along their hearts burned within them as they were beginning to put the story  together.

Finally, they invited the stranger to spend the night in their home. As the stranger broke and blessed the bread at their table, their eyes were opened and they recognized that the stranger was the resurrected Jesus. They rushed back to Jerusalem and reported to the other disciples that they had seen Jesus alive. In the excitement the others reported that Jesus had appeared also to Simon.

Suddenly, the living Lord Jesus was present in the Upper Room. He greeted them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost, some type of apparition, or spiritual hologram. The one whom they knew to be dead and buried was present with them again.

He showed them his hands and his feet. He invited them to touch him and to see that he had flesh and bones.  He was no ghost.  He asked for food. They gave him fish and he ate before them.  Still they were disbelieving, yet filled with joy and excitement.  Clearly, they did not understand.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures: Thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  Stay in Jerusalem until you have received power from on high.  Then go. I am sending you on my continuing mission.  I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Luke 24 and Matthew 28)

From that moment on the disciples knew the living Lord had illumined them by the power of the Holy Spirit. What they only partially realized was that their journey was to be one of progressive transformation in becoming like the one they had seen and heard.

It was to this reality and power that John the Apostle witnessed in his old age. In his Gospel and in his letters he sought to open the minds and hearts of the members of the seven churches of Asia Minor.

Listen again to what he said, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” 1 John 1

In the Gospel of John he bore witness to the miracle of new birth. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born anew or from above, of the Spirit.” To those who believed he gave power or authority to become the children of God, who were born not of human blood or intention, but born of the Spirit of God.

The result was that the believers in Jesus had been given a new identity.  They were the beloved children of God.   “Children of God; that is what we are now!”


For all who believed in the resurrected Christ, they received this new identity. They were adopted into the family of Christ. They were now not just Jews or Gentiles, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor.  They had a new standing in the present in right relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ.  From that moment they were to think of themselves as the forgiven, restored persons that God intended from the beginning.  Created in the image of God, the image had been restored.  They were very good as Adam and Eve in the Garden.

This is the great biblical truth that we so much need to reclaim. From the fall of Adam humans have been afflicted with guilt and shame.  They have lived with self-depreciating and hating thoughts about who they are.

A number of years ago Thomas Harris wrote a book entitled, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.” He argued that all humans engage in self-talk that says “I’m Not OK.” There are many explanations for this hateful self-talk. But if we could just begin to affirm ourselves as OK many of our problems would go away. But it is not that easy. How can I declare that “I Am OK, if I am not.” This is the human dilemma. We all carry the burden of sin. We cannot justify ourselves. We can only come to a healthy self affirmation if some power greater than ourselves declares us to be “okay.” But who is that greater power than our self’s? Only God can say to us “You are OK because I created you. I have the moral authority to give to you a new standing as righteous in my sight. I impute to you the righteousness of Christ. I see you in him. You are Okay!

The Apostle Paul said it this way: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

The baptized believer, adopted into the family of God by the resurrection Spirit of God, begins to live as a new person. “If any one is in Christ they are new creations; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“Therefore, consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 6)

Now! You are a child of God.  A new life has begun. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20-21)

If I know that I have been unconditionally accepted by God in Christ, forgiven, and given a new and good identity, I can begin to affirm myself and others as also OK in Him.

This is foundational for our new life in Christ. We are children of God right now, forgiven, reconciled, empowered, and being transformed from one degree of glory to another. 2 Corinthians 3


We have a new identity! But there is more. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

Our true identity is in Christ, but each believer has begun a long journey of transformation in having our eyes, our ears, and our minds opened as we slowly are transformed to be more like him.

In the present we are both saints and sinners. We have not yet arrived.  We continue to struggle with the flesh and the Spirit.  Nevertheless, it is true what C.S. Lewis said in his book, “Mere Christianity.” Lewis was a brilliant interpreter of biblical truth. I am so grateful for his wisdom that has helped me to understand my spiritual journey.

Lewis argued that each morning the believer gets up and dresses up like Christ. We clothe ourselves with him.  We pretend to be like Christ, even though we know what is in our hearts.  Nevertheless we pretend to be “Little Christ’s”.  We know we are not Christ, but in faith we believe that one day we will see him more clearly and be like him in perfect love and obedience.

The truth is that it is God the Father who is pretending. God knows that we are works in progress. So he sees us in Christ and through his Spirit creates the desire to become like Christ. He breathes upon us his Spirit and the change begins and grows.

This is the story Lewis told in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Following the resurrection of Aslan the Christ lion, he bounded into the witches castle and began to breathe upon the stone statues. These statues were the characters of Narnia that had been turned by the witch’s evil magic from living beings into stone and stored away.

After Aslan breathed upon the stone statues, a line of life began to run up the stone. Slowly but surely, the statues came alive.They moved. They were filled with joy. They had come face to face with Aslan and had experienced his call to new life. They were alive, resurrected by the resurrected one who had defeated the power of evil through his self-sacrificing love.

Lewis argued that something like this is going to happen to every believer. The Spirit of God’s resurrection life is being breathed upon us.  We are becoming real.  We do not know what we shall be, but the day will come in which we become like him for we will see him as he really is. In the New Creation the fallen and enslaved cosmos will be transformed and the power of life, light, and love will have driven out all spiritual darkness and death.

Each day between now and then God pretends that we are his holy and pure people.  Each day we grow in our desire to be like him, to be holy and pure.

The profound truth is that we have been entrusted with the mission of God of breathing upon a world paralyzed by sin and death, enslaved by the principalities and powers of this present darkness, but set free by the witness and work of God’s Little Christ’s.

Lewis says it so well:

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.  Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.  Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. (Mere Christianity: 226-27)

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley





Whom Do You Trust

Date: April 8, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

Whom Do You Trust is a podcast of the Sunday Worship and Communion Service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on the story of doubting Thomas, John 20:19-31. It is the 2nd Sunday of Easter.

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Whom Do You Trust (Audio Only)

Sermon Text:  John 20:19-31

John 20:19   When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:24   But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

John 20:26   A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

John 20:30   Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Guarding the Story

Date: April 1, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Guarding the Story is a podcast of the Easter Sunday worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Matthew 27:62-28:15.  Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!

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Matthew 27:62-28:15

Only Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the religious and political authorities did everything they could to suppress the story of Easter.

The N.T. Gospels tell us that Jesus of Nazareth repeatedly told his disciples that he was leading them up to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. But when he arrived he would be arrested, put on trial, convicted, mocked, humiliated, beaten, nailed to a cross, put to death, and buried.  But on the third day he would be raised from the dead by the power of God.

Jesus’ followers kept denying his words. They refused to accept this was Jesus’ destiny.  This was not what they desired.  This would never happen.  They had seen Jesus do mighty works of healing, of restoring the sight of the blind, of causing the lame to walk, of lives being restored, of the dead being raised.  When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem they believed he would be proclaimed as the King of the Jews and the nations would bow before him.

This past week we have read the Passion story anew. The Gospels report that what Jesus had said came true.  He was arrested in Jerusalem.  He was convicted before a religious and political court.  He was sentenced to die by crucifixion.  And in fact, he did die.  He was buried. And that was the end of the story, or was it?

The religious authorities had heard what Jesus had predicted. They sent a delegation to Pilate the Roman governor with this request,

“Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore, command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first”.

“Pilate consented, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.” Mt. 27:62-66

N.T. Wright, in his book, SIMPLY JESUS, argued that in the first century Mediterranean world there was a political and religious storm brewing and that Jesus was at the center of that storm.

He said it was the Perfect Storm. It embraced the political and religious entities of the first century.

The Roman Storm

In the first century B.C. and A.D. the power of Rome’s armies had gradually subdued the Mediterranean world. Julius Caesar had taken the title of Emperor.  As commander of the Roman army that had defeated all competitors, he returned to Rome and proclaimed himself to be divine.  His enemies assassinated him.  But Octavian, his adopted son followed in his father’s footsteps.  He took the title, “Augustus”, which meant “majestic, “worthy of honor”, “Caesar”.   He declared that his adoptive father, Julius, had indeed become divine; this meant that he, Augustus Octavian Caesar, was now officially ‘son of god,’ ‘son of the divine Julius.’ P. 29 SIMPLY JESUS.

The Roman political order was given divine sanction. The gods of Rome had installed one of their own who was worthy of worship. He was the great one; he was the totalitarian dictator in control of the Empires Story, the worldview that recognized that Rome was the source of all life and of all power.  Therefore, Caesar was to be worshiped.  There might be other so called gods, but the Emperor ruled over all.   As long as the citizens of the Empire burned incense to Caesar and confessed that “Caesar was Lord” other gods could be worshiped, but under the sovereign control of Rome’s Caesar.

Wright wrote,

“The message was carved in stone, on monuments and in inscriptions, around the known world: ‘Good news! We have an Emperor! Justice, Peace, Security, and Prosperity are ours forever! The Son of God, Caesar, has become the King of the World!” p. 30

Caesar would guarantee the safe transport of grain from the Middle East to feed the multitudes living in Rome. It was not oil, but food that dictated Rome’s interests in the Middle East.  Pilate was the Roman governor of the Holy Land.  He was a real historical person.  In Caesarea there is a stone with Pilate’s name on it.   On my right hand I wear a ring made of a first century coin with Pilate’s insignia on it.  On behalf of Rome, Pilate was charged with maintaining law and order. Through taxation and the smooth transport of grain the Roman world, divine as it was, would be a blessing to all.


There was another storm coming from the Middle East. It was the Jewish Storm.  This was the long story of Israel.   It was the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It was the story of the Exodus out of Egyptian slavery. The God who had brought his people out of Egypt would do it again. It was the story of the law and the prophets.   It was King David’s story and of God’s kingdom.

This was a story that envisioned a fulfillment of God’s promises. It was the story of God blessing the nations of the earth through Israel’s story of salvation.   It was the story that John the Baptist proclaimed out of the Book of Isaiah.  It was about an expected Spirit anointed Messiah who would come in the fullness of time to establish the reign of God, to lead a New Exodus in the power of the Holy Spirit.   It was a story about a peaceable kingdom filled with justice, righteousness, and love.

It was a story about God’s suffering servant king and the suffering that would heal and reconcile the nations, that would bring the forgiveness of sins and transform the kingdoms of this world into the realized rule of God.

It was this story that created a storm of conflict between Rome and Jerusalem and which made the Jewish people so difficult for Rome to manage and to control.

These two stories blew like a Perfect Storm through the Middle East. And it came to be that this story of the One God of Israel created a hurricane by bringing to fulfillment Israel’s story in the birth of the Messiah Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection.  He proclaimed that “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.” The mysterious story of Rome and of Israel came to fulfillment in the reign of God the king of the universe, of Jesus, the ruler of the kings of the earth.

But the Jesus Storm conflicted with both Rome’s and Israel’s Story.

The question was who was going to control and guard the Stories of the Greco-Roman world? Rome and Israel had written their narratives and their narratives while pointing toward the fullness of time were found to be in conflict and collusion for the sake of keeping the rule of God in and through Jesus the Christ from transforming both the Roman and the Jewish Stories into the one Story of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of all humanity?

Therefore, the Principalities and the Powers of the world, both Roman and Jewish, acted to terminate the Jesus Story.

It was remembered that Jesus the impostor had told his disciples that he would die in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival and as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But they were not to be afraid.  The one true God of the cosmos would act in history to raise his Son triumphant over the powers of sin and death.  In the process of his dying and rising the spiritual powers of evil would be defeated.  The kingdom of God was present already, but would come to its ultimate fulfillment in the victory of God, in the transformation of the old creation into the New Creation.

This conflict and horrible storm in human history and in the spiritual rebellion within the chaos of the cosmos would in the fullness of time inaugurate a healing of the nations and the final triumph of love over the totalitarian dictators of the world.

Until that day the church of Jesus in its proclamation that “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed” would do battle with all the spiritual powers of this present darkness until Satan himself would be cast into the bottomless pit.

This is what we have seen throughout history. The powers of the world have sought to control the narrative of history.  Ancient Babylon did it;  Alexander the Great tried to do it;  Caesar of Rome did it; Charlemagne did it; some of the Popes of the RCC did it; Napoleon did it; Hitler did it; Vladimir Putin is doing it; and every tin horn aspiring dictator has attempted to do it.  Do what?

Divide and Conquer.   Oppress descent.   Terrorize the people.  Kill or marginalize its enemies.  Write and proclaim the ideology; publish the propaganda.  Above all Guard the Empires Story, the false story for the sake of extinguishing the light of the truth.

Pilate asked Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  Jesus, “what have you done?”, Pilate asked.  Jesus responded,

“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.”

“So you are a king?”

“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, “What is truth?”

Rome and Jerusalem found common ground. They both knew they had to guard their stories. To do so they had to rewrite the Jesus story.  He had said that he would be alive again after Good Friday, that God the Father would raise him.  If that were to happen, which Rome and Jerusalem denied, the stories of the kingdoms of the earth would be canceled, terminated, unmasked and their idolatrous claims revealed.

So they colluded. Rome and Jerusalem sealed the tomb and stationed their guards to make sure the disciples of Jesus did not come    and steal the body and say that he had been raised from the dead.

On the third day, early in the morning the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb. They discovered that the seal on the tomb had been broken and the huge stone had been rolled away.  The guards had been so frightened by the earthquake and the lightening that they shook and became like dead men.  The women were invited to see the place where the body of Jesus had been. “Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly, the angel said, and tell his disciples, ‘He is not here; for he has been raised, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

The women were commissioned to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was alive and would see them again in Galilee. But on the way the resurrected Jesus appeared to them with his greeting.  They were not to be afraid but to take the good news to the disciples who were in hiding.

The guards knew they were in trouble. They had lost Jesus’ corpse and could not explain.  The religious authorities paid them off and promised they would make up a story for them. While they were asleep the disciples came and stole the body.   The guards took the huge sum of money, signed the no disclosure agreement and promised to stay silent as they were directed.

Today, on Easter Sunday, the followers of Jesus gather to worship the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Today we tell the story that judges and redeems all competitive stories: Christ is risen indeed.  The tomb is empty.  The body has been raised.  The story of salvation has unmasked the competitive narratives of a resistant world.  The church has been commissioned to preserve the truth, to bear witness to the good news, and to invite the stories of all people to be transformed and reformed for the glory of the one true God.

This Easter morning we witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. We tell the story that has the power to save all who see, who hear, and who believe. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the story that cannot be guarded or destroyed. Why?  Because the mighty power of God breaks the seals we place on our hard hearts.  The angel comes and rolls the huge stones away.  Our dead lives are raised by the power of God to walk in resurrection life. We discover that the living Lord goes before us to Galilee.  On the mountain the living Lord commissions us with the authority of God to make disciples of all nations, to baptize all who believe, and to teach all who believe what it means to be Spirit inspired disciples alive for the glory of God.

The rulers of this present darkness still seek to guard their stories, but the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus stuns the guards, leaves them paralyzed having to deal with the empty tomb, the witnesses who encountered the resurrected Jesus, who have been empowered by the Spirit of faith, hope, and love to rebuild our broken and hurting world.

Christ has been raised! He is raised indeed!   Let joy have the final word.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Good Friday

Date: March 30, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Good Friday is a podcast of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Psalm 22 and John 19. 

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Poetry in Motion - Maundy Thursday

Date: March 29, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

Poetry in Motion is a podcast of the Maundy Thursday worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on John 13. 

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On the Way with Jesus

Date: March 25, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

On the Way with Jesus is a podcast of the Worship Service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Mark 10:32-11:11.  It is Palm Sunday.

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Mark 10:32-11:11

In 2008 our tour bus of 40 passengers from Laguna Beach was not allowed to enter Jericho. It was considered to be too dangerous. It is a Palestinian city with a long history of importance and conflict. It is the Gateway to the Promised Land from the East. Major archeological digs have been conducted in the various Old and New Testament Jericho’s.  In 2008 an Israeli tour company might have felt it was too risky to drive the road in and out of Jericho.

Last May 2017 I insisted our group be driven into Jericho and allowed at least to see some of the biblical sites that one cannot see by skirting the city. As the bus moved through the old city of Jericho my heart was in my throat hoping that we would be safe.  This concern was on my mind for the whole time.

Finally, the bus was on the road leading out of Jericho to the turn off to the super highway leading up to Jerusalem 20 miles away.  Our Israeli bus was moving at a moderate speed departing the old city. I was seated in the front seat and could see what was coming at us.  A Palestinian man driving a fast car was racing and trying to pass another car on the two- lane highway.  There was no way that the passing car was going to slow down.  It looked like a suicide driver bent on a head on collision with our huge bus.

In that moment all kinds of fears, fantasies, memories, and anxieties ran through my inner being. I did not wish to die on the way out of Jericho.  Just before the racing car came to the bus flying fast as a bullet, the driver drove his car on to the gravel beside the road on the passing lane side.  He missed us by a couple of feet, but it scared the daylights out of me and our guide!  We did not say anything to the group, but I lifted up a quick prayer of relief. Maybe the racer was simply trying to scare the “you know what” out of a group of tourists.  We will never know.

On the day when Jesus and his disciples traveled that way just before the bend in the road leading up to the Holy City they saw a man and heard a voice crying out:

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

From the depths of my heart I was saying this prayer: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!” “Save us from this disaster on the road out of Jericho.”

For some period of time Jesus and his disciples had been slowly walking from Galilee to Judea. It was a long walk that Jesus used to instruct his disciples in the ways of being his followers.  Many of his most important stories were told during this journey. They were on the way with Jesus to the Passover Celebration of Holy Week.

Many pilgrims traveled this road up to Jerusalem. This was the way that Jesus led his disciples to take as they journeyed up to Jerusalem.  The journey was a school for Christian discipleship.  There was much to learn on the way.  This Palm Sunday I want to focus on the inner experience of the disciples as they walked with Jesus and listened to him tell stories along the way.

What were they feeling and thinking?

First, they were amazed and afraid.

What amazed them?

Of what were they were afraid?

In many ways they were driven by fear. If they had taken the Enneagram test to determine their life orientation, they might have registered as a number 6, as ones whose lives were restricted and haunted by insecurity and fear.  Most pastors test out as 6’s on the Enneagram scale.

I think the disciples were amazed and frightened by the message that Jesus was teaching them about his own destiny. When they arrived in Jerusalem he would be condemned to death by the Jewish and Roman courts.  He would be humiliated, mocked, spat upon, flogged and killed.  After three days he would rise again.

This message panicked them. What about the disciples if Jesus died? They were puzzled. They were amazed.  They were afraid.  This was a normal reaction to expect.  What about us?  They hoped to flourish, to prosper, to succeed, to establish themselves.  But Jesus kept telling them about his God appointed destiny in Jerusalem.  There was a cost to discipleship.   Repeatedly, Jesus told his disciples that they needed to take up their crosses and follow him. If they sought to save their lives they would lose them.  If they lost their lives for his sake they would live. Clearly, this was no new profession or promised prosperity of well-being.  This prospect scared them, caused them to deny Jesus’ word, and to do all they could to redirect Jesus from harm.

It had been risky enough to travel to Jerusalem with Jesus for Passover, but the repeated warnings he gave them and the change that would make in their plans filled them with amazement and fear.

In the last month, I was interviewed by a Los Ranchos Presbytery Pastor in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the Presbytery. Last week, I was interviewed by Skip Hallowell of the LB Indy Newspaper in regard to my retirement.  Both interviews led to a discussion of the state of the larger church in this time of historical, political, economic, and religious chaos.  As I was speaking I felt a bit of trepidation as I spoke of the message that God sent me to Laguna Beach to teach and to preach.

I remembered the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians,

“When I came to you, brothers and sister, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words of wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” 1 Cor. 2:1-5

Skip and I discussed chaos theory and how important it is to bring order out of chaos. I told him that one of the ways that happens is to plant the healing message of the cross in the center of the chaos of human history and the life of our institutions for the sake of stabilizing amazing and fear inspiring forces of a world gone mad with its pursuit of self-centered power.

This is what it means to follow Jesus on the way of the cross. The cross calls into question the way of the world, invites us to repent, and to walk in the light as Jesus walked in the light of God’s mercy.  As we do so we reflect on the message we proclaim and the resistance and indifference with which it is often met.  Therefore, I know, and you know that in lifting up the message of the cross in LB creates conflict and threat all the while.  At the same time it is the power of God unto salvation.

The disciples were amazed and afraid as are we on the way to Jerusalem.

The disciples were also ambitious.

James and John asked Jesus about their prospects when they arrived in Jerusalem. If he were Israel’s Messianic King would he allow them to sit at his left and right in his kingdom? This request showed they desired to get a step ahead of the other 10 disciples.

When the 10 heard about this request they were angry.  Luke tells us that this debate among the 12 went on around the Passover Meal when Jesus was speaking to them about his body and his blood and the making of a new covenant.  As he broke the bread and poured out the wine remembering Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, they were whispering around the table as to which of the 12 was the greatest.

Jesus taught them that they were thinking like the Gentile world   or the nations.  Their kings lorded it over their subjects and made their subjects into slaves.  Not so in the kingdom of God.  Jesus came as one called to serve his disciples. He washed their feet and served at the table.  Anyone wishing to be the greatest had to be willing to serve and to lay down his or her life for the sake of others.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus was vulnerable to the way of the nations. The devil tempted him at the point of his greatest weakness, and that was to use his power as the Son of God to do whatever he desired that might benefit himself.

Maybe we have never had that option. But rest assured we have all longed to secure our power, our place, our blessings, and our investments.  We have desired to climb the ladder of self-exaltation and to be recognized by the world. We are ambitious for ourselves.

The disciples longed to see a king, but a king whose rule would lift them up to positions of honor and recognition in the eyes of others. If you have been watching CNN’s programs on the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church you will remember the conflicts, the ambitions, and the struggles of men and families seeking to rule the families of Italy and to expand the church in many places.

As Jesus and his disciples came to the intersection of the road leading up to Jerusalem they were no doubt in a hurry to make that 20 mile hike from 800 feet below sea level to Jerusalem at 3000 feet above sea level. Better to start early and to arrive before the hot early afternoon.

Any person wanting to see Jesus would not be allowed to distract the disciples! It was full speed ahead.  Every step they took higher was one more step toward the cooler air and the important business of their journey.

It was on this road down to Jericho and up to Jerusalem that Jesus had told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10) It was the story that contrasted two rabbis who walked on by a wounded man without stopping to help, and a hated Samaritan who saw with the eyes of compassion, stopped, ministered to the man who was in the ditch left for dead, and then  took the man to the closest hospital, paid the bill and checked up on him later.  Jesus asked, Who proved to be the good neighbor? It was the man who showed mercy.

Bartimaeus, the blind begger, taught the disciples to slow down, to calm their anxious and fearful hearts for the sake of showing mercy to a powerless man.  Jesus heard the man’s cry for mercy.  Bartimaeus asked Jesus to restore his eyesight.  Jesus did so. “Immediately, the man received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.” 10:52

Jesus lived what he taught. He was centered enough on the way to overcome his anxieties. Out of inner peace he stood still long enough to be the Good Samaritan who showed mercy to the man who cried out for mercy.

It was mercy, the very character of God the Father, that Jesus carried in his heart into Jerusalem.

As a result of this encounter the disciples journeyed with adoration in their hearts for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.

The events were unfolding just as Jesus had foretold. With a small crowd of disciples and others who were amazed, whose hearts were afraid, whose minds were ambitious for themselves, the disciples walked with adoration, into the Holy City.

Each of the Gospels tell us that many of the people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then they proclaimed,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

What a contrast of emotions for the disciples on the way with Jesus. From amazement, to being afraid, to expressing their ambitious hearts, to having the spirit of mercy, adoration and worship for Jesus, they completed their journey to Jerusalem, the City of Peace.

Many of us watched yesterday the March for Our Lives in the nations capital. Young students of every race and color joined in mass rallies across America singing and demanding change. “Enough is Enough”!  “Nation, leaders, help us!  Have mercy upon our young lives!  Save and unify our nation! Give to us a future!”  This was a demonstration of primal democracy.  Will the nation stand still long enough to act out of mercy?

It took courage to journey to the centers of the principalities and powers to confront a nation paralyzed so much by fear and violence that it has armed itself with guns for the sake of protection. We are an armed camp. Who cannot understand the cry of our children to somehow stop the spread of weapons of destructive violence? “Jesus, have mercy upon us.” In the midst of our amazement and afraidness; in the midst of our ambitious dreams; in the midst of the sound of adoration heal our lives and transform us with your peace!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley



Come and See, The Invitation

Date: March 18, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Come and See, The Invitation is a podcast of the Worship Service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 12:20-36.  It is the 5th Sunday in Lent.

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Come and See, The Invitation

Sermon Text: John 12:20-36

At the beginning of the Passover Festival when Jews were arriving in Jerusalem for the time of remembrance of Israel’s Exodus from Egyptian slavery, along with them came some Greeks or Gentiles. We do not know how many Greeks or Gentiles were in the group, but they were no doubt those who had been drawn to all that the people of God, Israel, represented in their pagan world.   So they came to worship in the Jerusalem Temple, but also to see Jesus, as a possible future well known person within the nation’s culture.  Their coming awakened Jesus to his impending hour or time of death.

The Greeks found Philip from Galilee, a Gentile territory, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Their request, when related to Jesus, was not received as one might imagine.  I would have expected Jesus to say, “Have them join us at this time and at this place. All are welcome.” But no!

Eugene Peterson preached on this story on the 50th anniversary of the church he organized in the early 60’s in Maryland. The church was named, “Christ Our King Presbyterian Church.”  He was the pastor for nearly 30 years.  This congregation had shaped his spiritual life and helped teach him how to be a pastor.  After having retired and been gone for nearly 20 years this was the text he chose to preach from on that important occasion.

He suggested that the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus were likely tourists hoping to see the sights of the Holy Land, not unlike many of us who have wanted to see and to explore the deepest mysteries of the biblical story by visiting the important places. Perhaps they had seen Jesus proclaimed as the King of Israel on what we call Palm Sunday.  Right along the disciples had been listening to King and Messiah talk.  Peterson said this was pretty heady stuff.  Who would not want to meet the new King of Israel?

What if Jesus were crowned Israel’s King? What kind of king would he be?  Obviously, this was an appropriate text for the 50th anniversary of the church Peterson had organized.  Christ Our King Presbyterian Church!  What identity did this imply for the congregation that worshiped Christ as their King?

Before holy week was over Jesus would be crucified. He must have realized that he had much work to do with those who had followed him up to Jerusalem.  They too were longing to see him installed as Israel’s king with all that that would mean for them.

Peterson argued that the link between Jesus’s life and death was the four-word prayer: “Father, glorify thy name.”   “GLORY!”   When I think of glory I do not think of death and dying.  I think of acquiring power and honor in the way the world thinks of it.  I think of success. I think of winning, of being Number 1.  I think of dancing in the end zone of the field after making the game winning run or reception, or as in hitting the homerun in the final game of the World Series.  We all have our own definitions of “glory”.

Peterson shared that the word “glory” had not taken root in his life.

“As I grew up, it was roots I was after; roots as I went to worship and work, roots as I voted in elections and bought tires for my car, roots as I got cancer and had surgery, roots as I accumulated birthdays and anniversaries,  roots as I wrote letters and read books.” AS KINGFISHERS CATCH FIRE, Father, Glorify Thy Name, pp. 327-332

I think we all could fill in the blanks about the various ways that we seek the meaning and purpose of our lives, about the goals we pursue, about the models by which we measure our successes, about the various ways we evaluate our lives as well lived.

I am embarrassed by some of my earlier ruminations and ambitions. Thank God the Lord did not allow me to have some of my dreams.  Some of them would surely have destroyed me.

As I have approached retirement I have thought a great deal about my own life and ministry. What are the roots I have been seeking to plant in the hope that one day I might see the plant flourishing and bearing fruit?

There were many years in which I thought of success as accumulating power and prestige by the number of degrees I earned, or by the size of the congregation I pastored, or the invitations I received to speak, by the number of books I had written, or by the important persons I had met and who knew me. Those were restless years filled with anxiety, always needing more to reassure me that I had made it.

As a young associate pastor in my former church I watched outside the sanctuary as President Nixon and his Cabinet departed from the wedding of Robert Finch’s daughter. As it turned out the congregation was locked in the church until the President’s Cabinet had departed.  The President walked over to me and engaged me in a conversation about my schools.  It was a heady moment.

Later in Laguna Beach I ran on the High School Track with Dan Rather, attended a wedding reception at what was the Western White House, saw the room where the President met with the Russian leaders, had pictures taken of my wife and I on the grounds. Somehow I felt at the center of glory, of power, of success. It was really fun to be close to the power center of a nation’s leadership. It was also spiritually dangerous for my soul.

In 2008 our combined group from Laguna Pres and St. Andrews Pres in NPB arrived just as President George W. Bush landed in Jerusalem. His arrival created a traffic jam on the highways leading up to the Holy City.  We had seen the Presidents plane, Air Force One, parked at the Airport.  You could cut the air with all the excitement of being in Jerusalem for the 60th anniversary of the Jewish State. We got caught up in that historical moment.  The woman in the hotel store announced to some of us:  “This is our land.  We will never give it back.”

In many ways such experiences are the devil’s material in seducing us to choose the way of upward mobility, as the world understands success. Some of my dear pastor friends were invited to preach in the East Room of the White House during the Nixon years, but finally had to hide their autographed pictures after the Watergate scandal.

Peterson said, that rather than getting in to see Jesus, the Greeks discovered they were tourists in the Holy City. “They had heard about Jesus, heard about the glory, and wanted to see it for themselves. Cameras at the ready, guidebooks in hand, they approached Philip and tried to hire him as a tour guide. (John 12:20-22)”

“When Andrew and Philip told this to Jesus, he, in effect, dismissed them. Instead of posing for a photograph for the Greeks, he talked about his death.  ‘His was no celebrity glory’.  The hour had come for the Son of man to be glorified.  ‘Hour’  meant ‘time to die’.  It was God’s appointed time for the Son of Man to die so the Son of Man might be glorified.

Andrew and Philip probably told the Greeks to go back home and take picture of the Parthenon. Jesus’ glory was not the sort of glory that was featured in glossy magazines and travel posters advertising sun and sand on the Greek islands. You can’t take a picture of it.”

“Jesus is the dictionary in which we look up the meaning of words. We look up glory, and what do we find?  Obscurity, rejection, a sacrificial life, an obedient death.  Yes, the proof of God’s amazing, miraculous love’.”

“And through and in and around all that, the bright presence of God backlights what the world despises and ignores, what we so often despise and ignore.” Pp331-332

Blessed are those who come to know that Jesus’s primary concern was the glory of God that calls us to humble adoration and worship before the cross of Jesus. This is what it meant for him to be King.

John tells us that Jesus’ soul was deeply troubled.  I have to confess that it is this soul trouble that draws me to Jesus.  He too had difficulty in facing his destiny.  He wanted to be accepted as king, believed in as king, worshiped and adored, yet he had come to understand that to be Israel’s king meant suffering and the losing of his life.

His life would be planted in soil like a grain of wheat. In the dust of death his body would germinate in order to bear fruit.  He would be required to lose his life in order to save it.

So it was for anyone seeking to follow him. They would be called to live a cruciform life, a life of dying to sin in order to walk into the power of God’s love and light.  This was the Cost of Discipleship.  It meant being obedient in surrendering to doing God’s will.  This was Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane prayer. “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.”

My pastor friend, John Huffman, was a very close friend of Billy Graham’s. He and Anne were invited to Billy’s funeral service last week.  They attended it.  Billy was 99 when he died and went into the Lord’s presence.  He was ready.  Billy, as Grant Wacker, Professor Emeritus of Duke Divinity School, wrote in The Christian Century this week, will be one of the three names remembered in American religious history, along with Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther King, Jr.   Billy had hobnobbed with Presidents, with Princes, with Kings and potentates, with rich and poor, black and white, with capitalist and communists, with believing and unbelieving.

I cherish earlier pictures of Graham in his prime. Tall, handsome, charismatic, passionate, powerful!  At the end, he was blind, deaf, and suffering with Parkinson’s, and prostate cancer.  Like all other great men, he faced his own mortality with courage.  This is the human condition. In his final years he wrote a book about heaven and facing the fear of death.

When we are younger we think we are immortal, that we will never suffer or die. John and I have been in a pastor’s covenant group together for nearly 40 years.  We have buried two of our covenant brothers. Last week one evening we had another of our evening telephone conversations about the world and the church, about ourselves, and what is before us.

We remembered playing tennis and golf together. We laughed and John said, “those days are gone forever.” We lamented our prostate surgeries and the humor of the results. We shared about our excursions in different places and the fun we have had in our friendship. We both suffer from arthritis.

He shared with me his experience of watching the Toshiba Golf ClassicTournament at the NB Country Club last week. He was walking down the path toward the Club House.  Behind him John Daly, the pro-golfer,  approached in a golf cart and hit him from behind.  We had watched Daly win the British Open at St. Andrews in 1995.  Since then Daly has gained weight and has continued to struggle.  John said he ended up in Daly’s lap in the front seat of the golf cart.  Daly had a look of terror on his face and in his eyes.  But he did not say a word. Thankfully, John Huffman walked away from the accident, but with more pain.  I am so grateful to have a friend of so many years with whom I have laughed and cried.

Somehow our friendship has helped us to face the ultimate realities of human weakness, of human ambition, and the ephemeral nature of all of our so-called important accomplishments. It caused me to remember my Maine experience of being locked in the room of Tom Magill’s house only to be rescued by Sally’s 90 year old mother, Martha.  Martha passed into God’s presence last year. If you don’t laugh, you cry.

I think Jesus needed his friends with whom to laugh and to cry. Their camaraderie lifted his troubled heart and helped him to carry the burden of the human condition. They would soon see him completely identified with the human weakness, of suffering, and death. They would see him, not on the lap of a well know professional golfer, but hanging upon a cross before all the world’s pretensions of pride and power.  They would see him humiliated, mocked, and abused at the hands of sinful men.

It was at the cross that the glory of God in Jesus was revealed as the power of self-sacrificing love. The proof of God’s amazing love was the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead. At the darkest hour of human history the light of life and love shined forth and revealed the spiritual darkness of an unbelieving world. The powers were unmasked.

Our world is filled with the infatuation for money, sex, and power. Yet life teaches us that we are vulnerable and that the pathway to light and life leads us out of the darkness into the way in which Jesus walked.  His path illumined the darkness and brought hope to all who followed.  His call was for those who saw his word and example to believe in the light so that they might become children of light in a troubled world.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley







Pastoral Transition

Date: March 11, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Pastoral Transition is a podcast of 10am Worship and Congregational Meeting at Laguna Presbyterian Church to receive the motion to accept the request of the Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley do dissolve the pastoral relationship with LPC on June 30, 2018. The Rev. Jim Szeyller of Laguna Niguel Presbyterian Church is moderating this meeting as the Committee on Ministry Representative of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos.

Pastoral Transition


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Lifted Up for Us

Date: Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Lifted Up for Us is a podcast of the 8:30am Worship and Communion Service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 3.  It is the 4th Sunday in Lent.

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Scripture Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

Jesus called upon the story from Numbers 21 to make his point. The people of Israel had grown impatient in their long desert journey to the Promised Land.  They spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Num. 21:5

The impatient complaint of the people was rooted in an awareness of the discomfort of the long journey. It was a painful time.  There were enemies along the way.  Perhaps most of all they did not like their food and drink.  They detested the miserable food that God had provided, the manna, the birds, and the water.  It had kept them alive, but it did not satisfy their longings for the flavors of Egypt.

It is very easy for the people of God to become impatient, disappointed, unsatisfied, and angry.   So they begin to protest their situation and bear witness to their lack of trust in the providential goodness of God who delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. Perhaps the gods of their enemies had become sources of temptation.  The restlessness of the long obedience in the same direction had set in and the goal of the journey seemed impossible.

Like kids on a trip with their parents they asked, “Are we there yet?” After the question is asked several times the whole family is angry.

The Lord heard the complaints of his people. Right along the Lord had been aware that even though his people had cried out in their misery in Egypt to be delivered from slavery, nevertheless, after the miraculous deliverance had occurred, it did not take them long to begin complaining. “Why aren’t we there yet? We are hungry.  We do not like the food.  The enemies are threatening. We need a rest stop. The trip is exhausting.  We may never get there.  The one who launched this journey may not be trustworthy.  Perhaps he does not know the map. Maybe he cannot guide us to the promised destination.  Let’s renegotiate the agreement and make a better deal.”

The story implied that the Lord’s patience was tested by his people’s complaints. To awaken them to the dangers of their lack of trust, he sent poisonous snakes among them.  They bit the people and many died.

The people came to Moses and asked him to pray for them and to ask that the Lord take away the dangerous snakes. Moses prayed for the people.  The snakes were not taken away. The Lord answered.  He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it upon a pole.  Whenever the people were bitten they were to look to the lifted up serpent and live.

The serpent on the pole was a sign, a symbol of the mercy and grace of God. It was a symbol of healing and hope, of the power of God to rescue and to save.  It represented God’s purpose and plan to rescue his people and at last to bring them to the fullness of life.

Therefore, Jesus used this O.T. story to interpret the meaning of his mission.

First of all, the story implied that humanity had a problem.

Adam and Eve had unleashed into the spiritual bloodstream of the human race a toxic spiritual rebellion that led to despair and death.

We have been reading about the father and daughter exiled to the U.K. from Russia, where the father had turned into a counter spy against the KGB. Apparently, the daughter had come for a visit from Russia.  Somehow the two were sitting on a park bench in Salisbury and were poisoned by a nerve agent.  They are both in critical shape.  The authorities are rapidly searching to discover how the apparent assassination happened and who was responsible.  Clearly, they think this was an act of the Russia government approved by President Putin in retribution for his betrayal of the homeland.

What these stories have in common is the truth that we live in a dangerous world where there are enemies from whom we need deliverance and healing. The message is that humanity has been bitten by a poisonous snake with the venom of unbelief, of pride, and rebellion.  The consequence is that we have become enslaved to the enemies of our soul, the powers of sin and death.

Secondly, the story had a message of good news.

God hears our prayers and acts to save us. In the O.T. story help comes from the symbol lifted high above the people at the center of the camp.  The source of the danger has become incorporated into the agent of rescue, of healing, of deliverance.  The symbol of judgment had become the means of forgiveness and healing.  As the people looked toward the bronze serpent on the pole they were healed, saved, forgiven, and they lived.

Jesus used this story to interpret his mission:

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jn. 3:14-15

What moved the Lord to provide this symbol of salvation?   John answered,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Jn. 3:16

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God had every reason to condemn the human race and to start anew. But “No!”  Rather than condemn us for our wickedness, for our rebellion, for our hostility, for our lack of trust in the goodness of God, God acted in Jesus to prove to us the depths of his love for us.

John said it this way in his first letter:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. God is love. 

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:7-12

When Jesus, the Son of Man, was lifted up on the cross, the place of judgment and the place where criminals and non-Roman citizens were executed, he became identified with the sins of the world. He was the Lamb of God, the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  He was made to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Whenever we look to him in faith, upon the cross, trusting in God’s provision of love, we are rescued, we are delivered. We become identified with the death of Jesus so that we might be raised with him to walk in newness of life. You see, at the cross God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  In the act of an innocent victim he reversed the consequences of our sin, set us free from our guilt and shame and gave to us new life.

Those who have listened to my preaching over the years will remember the writer, theologian, who has helped form my faith and understanding of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis. In THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE he told the story of young Edmund in the land of Narnia.  There he was seduced by the Wicked Witch who was ruling over a land where it was always winter and Christmas never came.

Edmund betrayed his three friends who had entered this land through the wardrobe. The deep magic of Narnia was that a traitor was lost forever unless an innocent victim died in his place.   Edmund was doomed to die, and would have died if Aslan, the Christ lion, the true sovereign of Narnia, had not taken  Edmund’s place on the stone altar as a sacrifice to satisfy the deep magic of Narnia.

The witch was persuaded she had won Narnia forever as she plunged her knife into Aslan’s heart as he lay tied upon the altar. The three children from England watched in horror as the witch and her mob of demons danced in triumph around the altar.  Aslan died in Edmund’s place.

Amazingly, three days later the huge Lion sprang to life again and the witch was routed. When asked the meaning of his new life, Aslan told the children that while the witch knew the deep magic of Narnia that only the death of an innocent victim could set free a traitor, what she did not know was the Deeper Magic of Narnia that when an innocent victim died for a traitor that time began to run backwards and the victim was restored to life.  This was Lewis’ way of interpreting the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Each week I meet with a Jesuit priest of the RCC for the purpose of discerning God’s will for my life and to grow deeper in my love for God by praying the Ignatian Prayer exercises. They are really a directed prayer discipline rooted in Scripture meditation.

During our conversation this week we discussed the movie THE MISSION. I shared with him my favorite scene in the movie.  The slave trader Rodrigo had killed his brother in a duel in a moment of betrayal and rage.  That failure and sin left him a broken man who had to face up to the wreckage of his hardened life. But how was he to deal with his guilt and shame.  As an act of repentance he was required to carry a huge burden of symbols of his violent life on his back.  He would need to carry them to the top of a famous waterfall.  As he finally neared the top of the steep climb who would remove these symbols of his spiritual burden?

Only the Indians whom he had hunted, captured, and sold into bondage could set him free of his violent past. As he arrived at the top of the falls, an Indian met him and with a sword cut the rope holding his guilt and shame on his back.  Quickly, the burden fell away and the man was set free for a new life as a Jesuit missionary.  God’s amazing grace!  Rodrigo’s enemies mediated forgiveness to him.  This is the meaning of the cross upon which Jesus was lifted in order to save us from our sins and to give to us the blessings of eternal life.

In 2002 when I stood for moderator of the G.A. I was searching for a theme or vision of this standing for the highest elective office within the PCUSA. What came to me in a dream at night was the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the cross of Jesus in Ephesians 2.  From all of Paul’s letters we have learned that the cross of Jesus was God’s way of reconciling the world to himself by bearing the sins of the world in his own body. He told the Corinthian Christians that his sole message was the crucifixion of Christ.  He knew full well that Jews demanded signs and Gentiles wanted wisdom.  But he preached Christ crucified, a stumbling block for Jews and Gentiles, but for all who were being saved the power of God unto salvation.

At the cross God made peace and reconciled us to himself and us to one another. Therefore, the cross became the great symbol of the Christian faith, the inner meaning of holy history, the sign that stands at the center of all reality.  The vision that came to me was to lift high the cross before the assembled PCUSA.  A critic of mine suggested that Mr. Tankersley seemed to want to preach to the Presbyterian Church.  He was right.   I believed and still believe that we can only stand united in mission under the cross of Jesus.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up on the cross. If so, he will draw all people to the reality of God’s love.  I am convinced that this remains the central task for us all within the church and it is the great need of the world to come together at the place where the love of God brought peace, healing and new life, beneath the cross of Jesus.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley