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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The Very Man

Date: March 1, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Very Man is a podcast of portions of the Ash Wednesday Service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Mark 5:1-20.

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The Very Man

Message for Ash Wednesday, Sermon Text: Mark 5:1-20

My young friend posted a picture on Facebook of a man whom I did not recognize. He asked if anyone knew the man. The request stirred my curiosity. The picture showed a man with no hair. One eye was sealed shut and black and blue from a fight. He had been pummeled.  He had a tattoo around his neck. The face was thin and emaciated. The look was of a prodigal who had come to his end in a foreign land. My friend asked if any of us recognized the man?

I looked for a long time shocked by the picture. Who was this man?  I did not know him.

24 hours later my friend posted another picture beside the image of the broken man. The first was taken in jail of the prodigal who appeared to have the sentence of death upon him. Something had gone very wrong in the life of the battered man.

In the other picture the man seemed at peace. The face was rounded out; he looked rested; there was no swelling. He had hair. He was clothed. He was healthy looking. What was the relationship between the two pictures?

They were pictures of the same man. The second picture was the very man whose life had spun out of control, who teeth were rotting, whose health was compromised; whose hair had fallen out; whose self-destructive behavior was manifest. This was the man whose body might soon end up in the morgue, the victim of self abuse, of alcohol and drugs, of behaviors in relation with others that had brought him to the jail where he was languishing and crying out for help from his parent.   His mother had saved him over and over from facing the consequences of his behavior.  But this time, “no”!  He would do time.  For several months he wrote in his journal his thoughts on the daily scriptures he was reading.  By the time he was released he was ready to enter a 30 day treatment center for Veterans.

Several years later he posted the two pictures of his personal salvation story. It was not now an academic interest in religion. It was now a story of God finding him in his misery, through Scripture and the fellowship of AA and NA. What a transformation! He was telling the story of what God had done for him.  He was clothed and in his right mind. The demons had been driven out of his soul.  He no longer was living among the tombs of death and despair.  He had been set free by the power of God.  It was like a new birth. He was an emotional adolescent in a man’s body.  There was much to be redone and relearned.  He was on the pathway to spiritual maturity.  I will never forget those two pictures.

Immediately, I thought of the man named “Legion” or “Many”. His story was told by three of the Gospels of the N.T.  It was the story of Jesus’ encounter with Legion on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  It occurred soon after he had calmed the winds and the waves and thus saved the disciples from the early evening storm upon the lake.

Jesus and the disciples arrived on the eastern shore of the lake. They were in Gentile territory.  As they pulled their boat upon land and walked up the steep hill running down into the lake, they saw a naked man who lived among the tombs of a cemetery on the hillside.  He had lived in a nearby village, but had been exiled by the villagers.  No one could restrain him.  He broke his chains and shackles.  He seemed to have supernatural strength.  Night and day he howled among the tombs and bruised himself with stones.  The citizens of the village were terrified of him.  No one knew what to do.

When the man saw Jesus and his disciples he ran toward him. He bowed before Jesus and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” Already Jesus had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

“What is your name,” Jesus asked him. He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  Legion asked to be sent into the herd of pigs grazing on the hillside overlooking the lake.  Jesus gave permission and immediately the many unclean spirits left the man, went into the pigs, and 2000 pigs ran to their death in the lake where they drowned.

Even as Jesus had calmed the storm on the lake by the authority of his word, so now he restored the man to his sanity. When the people checked it out, they were amazed to find the man at peace sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed, and in his right mind.  The villagers were so overwhelmed with fear at this mighty work that they asked Jesus to leave their countryside and return home.

We read this story and it may seem bazaar. We may conclude the man was mentally ill.  He needed help, but no one knew how to help.  In fact, people had given up on him.

From time to time we see persons on our streets or walking through our lives who may be diagnosed as schizophrenic or psychotic. They are seeing people and places that we do not see. They are talking with people that we do not hear. They may be loud and upset over things that have happened to them in the past. Or they are so filled with fear that they have become paranoid and perhaps angry.  They are often frightening people.  Those of us who think we are sane and healthy may become anxious and fearful wondering what we can do, if anything.   I have always been thankful that there are trained people and institutions who know how to deal with these individuals.  Surely, the last thing a troubled person needs for us to do is to accuse them of being demon possessed.

Many years ago I preached on this story from Mark 5. It was at the time when the novel and the movie, “The Exorcist” were popular. I did not see the movie, but I read the book. It was the story of a young girl named Regan who was possessed by unclean spirits. The Roman Catholic priest/psychiatrist performed the church’s exorcism rite upon her. He hypnotized her and also the spirit that was in her. When she was under he commanded the spirit within her to also be hypnotized. Then the priest had a conversation with the demon within Regan. It was frightening. Afterwards a highly educated and sophisticated man in our congregation said to me at the door that he heard no word of God in the sermon, but only in my pastoral prayer. I was crushed. He was a scientist and had no room in his reason to think demons might actually have power to possess a human life. I valued my older friend’s point of view and loved him. It was a dilemma for me. Thankfully, we remained friends.

We may separate ourselves from Legion, but our issues about personal identity may be very much the same. We have things in common with Legion. If we are honest we know what Jesus and the Apostle Paul knew and that is that we live in a mysterious spiritual environment. Paul challenged the church in Ephesus,

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  – Eph. 6:10-17

This is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. For this day, Walter Brueggemann writes:

“I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.

 

The good news for the church is that nobody, liberal or conservative, has high ground. The hard news is that the Lenten prerequisite for mercy and pardon is to ponder again the initial identity of baptism….’child of promise,’ ….’to live a life worthy of our calling,’ worthy of our calling in the face of false patriotism; overheated consumerism, easy, conventional violence; and limitless acquisitiveness.

 

Since these forces and seductions are all around us, we have much to ponder in Lent about our baptismal identity.”

A Way Other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent, p. 3

What is our baptismal identity?

Is it not that we have been drowned in the waters of baptism in order to die to sin and death; but also so that we might be raised to live with transformed minds, to receive the mind of Christ, to be made whole by Christ, to have our humanity restored so that we might walk in the light of   love, even as Jesus was the light of the world and the love of God in human flesh.

If we were to go deep into the meaning of our own identity we would likely have to acknowledge that our hearts are divided. We believe; we think; we speak out of all the spiritual forces that have shaped and formed who we are.

The psalmist prayed in Psalm 86,

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.” – Psalm 86:8-11

Jesus said to Peter,

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has desired to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32

When Legion fell before Jesus he was beginning the process of becoming a new man, a restored man. Salvation had come. He was born anew.  The Holy Spirit came to dwell within him and he was a New Man.

One of the most beautiful lines in our text that has haunted me for years is this:

“They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion.” Mk. 5:15

He had been touched by the grace of God; his heart was full of gratitude. Imagine, “clothed and in his right mind”.  He was filled with the Spirit of Christ.  The authority and the power of the reign of God had liberated him and launched him into a new life.  He desired nothing more than to spend the rest of his days with Jesus.

But “no”!   Jesus said to him,

“Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Mk. 5:19-20

And so he did. My friends, this is the story of salvation, of liberation from all that has distorted the image of God within us.  This is the story of human need, of enslavement to all that seeks to dehumanize us.  This is the story of the mercy of God reaching down into the human condition to set us free to begin a new journey into the Promised Land of freedom in which we will be slowly transformed to have the mind of Christ.

This is the story of my salvation, of what has been happening for the past 2000 years as the reign of God has moved out into the spiritual darkness to proclaim the good news of God’s love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is why we are gathered on this Ash Wednesday. Here we are signed with the cross of Christ.  Here we renew our baptismal vows. Here we put to death the works of the old man, the first Adam, and surrender ourselves to be clothed. Here the inner turmoil of the flesh and the Spirit are faced. Like Legion, we receive the sign; we bow before Jesus; we ask Jesus to live within us, to empower us to think, to feel, and to act in spiritual maturity.

Tonight we live into the reality of the New Creation already present within us, yet still in conflict within souls that often deny the truth and which continues to live by the lie that we can live without the power of Christ’s Spirit.

And it is here that we are directed back to our family, to our friends, to our neighborhoods, and cities. Here we move empowered into God’s mission for the sake of seeking the lost and of lifting persons and peoples from the ways of death into the fullness of joyous life.

Yes, Legion’s story is our story in one way or another. Like Legion we are receiving and coming awake to the fullness of what it means for us to be set free to love.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Mother of All Storms

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

The Mother of All Storms is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service and the sermon at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching on Mark 4:35-41. It is the Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday.

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Who Can Forgive Sins?

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

Who Can Forgive Sins? is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service and the sermon at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Mark 2:1-12. It is the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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Who Can Forgive Sins?

Sermon Text: Mark 2:1-12

Four people decided to carry a friend to Jesus who was teaching and healing in Capernaum. The man had been paralyzed and was unable to take himself to Jesus. So his friends decided to carry him to Jesus. The text does not tell us what had caused the paralysis. Reading between the lines, we know that many things can cause paralysis, limit our mobility, inhibit our personal, social, economic, and spiritual autonomy.

A young husband of our church fell down the steps of his apartment and was paralyzed from the neck down. I was introduced to the 5th floor of our local hospital that was filled with people who were being kept alive by machines, paralyzed by one thing or another.  It was heart breaking for him and his wife. He barely clung to life. He could not speak, but his eyes said it all. It was deeply disturbing for me.  Soon he passed away.

A few years later I was in the same hospital for a surgery. I was experiencing difficulty in getting out of bed to walk. It was painful. My nurse reminded me of the patients on the 5th floor who would never get out of bed.  She said to me, “You better get up and walk.”  “Wow!”  I dragged myself up, and before I knew it was walking the halls and ready to go home.”

One of my friends was riding his horse in Anaheim Hills. He was flying down a horse trail with a group of guys in the early evening when he struck a branch beside the trail with him head.  He survived, but would be in a battery powered wheel chair the rest of his life.  I had walked through many life experiences with him. I had officiated at his wedding.  I have a picture in my home office that he gave me signing his marriage license on December 31, 1973. He disappeared from my life for a number of years.  One day he rolled into my office in his wheel chair, told me of his discovery of Jesus, and asked to be baptized. I baptized him when we were worshiping in the Fellowship Hall. His new wife gave me a picture of his baptism. It is in my church office. Not too long after that he suddenly died. I did his memorial service. I would have done anything, carried him anywhere to seek healing. His prayers were answered. The Lord took him home. He was liberated, set free, forgiven of his sins.

My Dad went blind four years before he died. He wanted nothing more than to see again. He tried every remedy. We carried him to every hospital promising hope for restored vision, from UCLA to USC. The larger family was mobilized. My aunt had desired nothing more than to carry my Dad to Jesus, and she did. He confessed his sins and accepted Jesus. Without her and her compassionate determination to make sure his needs were served I do not know what we would have done. Sometimes it takes a large family, many friends, a congregation, to carry us in our brokenness. When my aunt died I called her son, my cousin, and we wept on the phone for a long time. I could not speak. I needed to be comforted. Our memories needed healed. My cousin wept also. We had grown up together in good and bad times.

I do not know what any of us would do without friends, family, neighbors, who remember us and show up to help us. Throughout my parents final years I often felt paralyzed by my own limited time, space, and financial resources. Thank God that many surrounded us; even the government when my Mom had exhausted every resource she had. It took machines and people to move her from her bed to her wheel chair. It was so painful to watch.

This week, did you see the picture of the Syrian boy who had his legs blown off by barrel bombs from the Syrian Air Force? He was heard crying out for his Pa Pa to pick him up and carry him.

That cry frames all of human history. It frames my life.

These few personal stories are partially what this text is about. We could all add our own stories, struggles, and times of physical, emotional, and spiritual paralysis through which we have been carried by people who cared.  They were the arms, the legs, the eyes, the ears, the brains, and the compassion of God who found us and carried us into Jesus’ presence to give to us that which we were  unable to provide for ourselves.

Dr. Mark Roberts, former pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church and Scholar in Residence of Laity Lodge, Kerville Texas, led our Presbytery Pastor’s Retreat this week. He shared his own story of watching his Dad die of cancer over four years. There was much suffering.  Mark said he almost lost his faith. If it had not been for the members of their church bringing food to his family during those years, he would have drifted into atheism. The church members and friends carried his family to Jesus and would not let them go. In sharing his story he gave to us all the courage to reflect upon the many times we have all been carried to Jesus in the arms of  those who have cared.

When Jesus saw the paralyzed man before him, he surprised everyone with what he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes, the good Presbyterians, questioned in their hearts, “Who does this fellow think he is. He is blaspheming God. Only God can forgive sins.”

When Jesus perceived their thoughts he said,

“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?’ ‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ –he said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’   Immediately he took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”

Jesus was not saying that sin was responsible for the man’s paralysis. That was the common explanation for human suffering in Jesus’ time.  If something bad happened to a righteous person it was the result of that person’s secret sin. This was the argument of Job’s friends to explain Job’s losses and sufferings. But that was not what Jesus was suggesting. To be sure, he knew that the paralyzed man was part of the brokenness of creation and history. Like all of us, we have fallen into spiritual bondage that claims us, limits us, and fills us with physical, emotional, and spiritual anxiety, fear, and despair. We are all trapped and need to be carried to Jesus in hopes of liberation from all that would destroy and imprison us.

The Gospel writers want to bear witness to how God is related to our human condition and slavery to the powers of sin and death. They know that we live in enemy occupied territory into which there has been a divine invasion for the sake of setting us free from the dominion of all that has afflicted and enslaved us.

The Gospels bear witness to how God has determined to carry us, to forgive us, to free us from all that oppresses and enslaves us. The Lord sends his people, his servants to anoint us, to feed us, to nurture us, to lift us up in the arms of compassion inspired by the love of Jesus.

The entire biblical story witnessed to the power and compassion of God. The Prophet Isaiah asked,

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Is. 40:28-31.

When the Prophet Hosea spoke to faithless Israel he witnessed to the God who carries his people into saving grace:

“It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea 11

And the Lord demonstrated his carrying compassion by human arms and legs, with human hearts of mercy.

In Jesus the Word became flesh. He moved into our neighborhoods through the hearts of other humans for the sake of carrying us into the joy of faith, hope, and love.

Even if we are not aware of this great truth, nevertheless, we have been and are being carried to Jesus who is present in this holy, beautiful space.

Last Sunday, February 12, 2017, David Brooks preached at the Washington National Gothic Cathedral in D.C. You can watch it on YouTube. He spoke of the importance of the beauty of that Gothic building. He said we build buildings and they build us. As he spoke I thought of LPC.

Brooks said that in a world of moral relativity that is now so powerless to heal itself that our nation’s Capital needs a building that is beautiful and whose symbols of Word, Sacrament, and Saints call us to the God of Beauty whom we have come to know by faith in Jesus.  He said that he had often come into the Cathedral to see beauty and to become centered.

A few years ago, he shared that his life was in chaos and he was in deep anguish and despair over a loved one. He came to the surrounding park and sat under the tree that for him was a holy space. The surprise was that his fiancé  came at the same time and found him under the tree in deep depression and sadness. She comforted him. She led him in a prayer that he said was the most authentic prayer he had ever prayed. They walked into the small chapel where the presence of God was experienced in that small space. Ann, his fiancé, carried him into the presence of the God of peace worshiped in that space.

Mark’s Gospel wants us to know that the one to whom the four people carried the paralyzed man was the Son of Man, Jesus, who had the authority both to forgive sins and to speak words of healing love. Soon the paralyzed one stood up, picked up his bed, and walked away a person made whole.

This morning the people of God carry us all to the Table of our Lord. They carry us to the Lord of forgiving grace. They place upon our heads the anointing oil of blessing.  This is the one who promised that he would die and be raised again for the sake of healing humanity. May God give us courage to be a place and a people in this South County to bring others to Jesus!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Wonderful News

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

Wonderful News is a podcast of the sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes.

It is the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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Wonderful News.  The crowds gathered wherever Jesus was present. People with many kinds of afflictions, diseases, or spiritual maladies either came to him or were brought to him.  In his presence, under the authority and power of his Word, many were healed and made whole.  Soon his fame spread from Galilee, to the Ten Cities, to Jerusalem, to Judea, and from beyond the Jordan River.

When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was as if the true king had arrived and successfully established his reign. He found a place to sit down, and his disciples came to him.  Soon a multitude of people came to the place and Jesus began to teach them. The teaching that emerged from his mouth was what came to be identified as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew recorded the teaching in his Gospel, chapters 5 to 7. By the end of chapter 7, the listeners were astounded at his authority, his clarity, and the mystery of life in the kingdom of heaven.

As I have read and reflected upon this sermon over many years, I have found myself as part of the crowd, sitting, listening, and seeking to understand what he was saying. This May, it will be my 6th time to sit with a group in the park-like environment of the Mount of the Beatitudes and to listen to Jesus’ famous words that have inspired and moved many of his followers to this day.

There one sits on the hillside overlooking the blue lake of Galilee. There is a Franciscan Hostel at the top of the hill.  Many of the important events in the life of Jesus occurred nearby.  The beauty inspires silence and prayer.  One knows that Jesus walked those hills, prayed, and taught the people whom he loved. They gathered to listen and to seek the reality of the kingdom of heaven.  It was a place of hope and healing.

The central word that began each of the beatitudes was the word “Blessed”.  That Greek word may be translated as “Happy”.  N.T. Wright translated it as “Wonderful News”.

“Wonderful news for the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.

Wonderful news for the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.

Wonderful news for the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.

Wonderful news for people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied.

Wonderful news for the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves.

Wonderful news for the pure in heart! You will see God.

Wonderful news for the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.

Wonderful news for people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you.”  N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, page 34.

We live in a generation that is preoccupied by the News. News is non-stop.  We absorb news 24/7.  It comes to us in newspapers, in television news reports, in Breaking News, by means of social media.  On my iPhone News is prepared just for me in special reports.  We consumers of news argue about Real News versus Fake News. We speak of “real facts” but also of “alternative facts”. We do not trust the bearers of news. We think of news sources as having special interests behind them, with an axe to grind, with financial demands, with political ideology, as advocates for one party or another, oftentimes personality driven. Anything but the truth!  We listen with skeptical and cynical ears. If one listens to the News from a source outside of our country a different perspective is heard than through an American lens.

When Walter Cronkite delivered the evening news on CBS he was one of the most respected persons in American culture. His delivery and reputation was shaped over several decades as a messenger who got it right. Some proposed that he run for President of the U.S. People trusted him and welcomed him nightly into their homes. When he signed off on the CBS Evening News, his tag line was: “And that’s the way it is.” I will never forget watching him when he reported on the death of President Kennedy.  He sat in front of the camera, behind the news desk, with white shirt and tie, with tears falling from his eyes. He removed his dark rimed glasses from his face and bowed his head in grief.  Some images become branded in the memories of our hearts.

He was a man who carried gravitas. He spoke with authority and we trusted his reports about NASA’s efforts to go to the moon. We celebrated at the wonder and joy of Neil Armstrong taking that step to the surface of the moon. We listened with sorrow as he reported on the Vietnam War.  Many of us grew up listening to Walter. He helped teach us the facts and truths of the world. He was not Jesus.  But he had many of the characteristics of Jesus, qualities of character that we long to see once again in our leaders.

Jesus brought “wonderful news” to those who followed him. It was not that he was a source of nightly news.  Rather he carried in his own character the truth and love of the kingdom of heaven about which he taught.  He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk.  He was God’s humble suffering Servant Son.

Jesus delivered the wonderful news that the kingdom of heaven would belong to the poor in spirit.

He was himself the model of what it meant to be poor in spirit. The Apostle Paul said it this way. He wrote to the Corinthians:

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9

Or, in the Philippian letter:

“Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:6-8

When the people heard Jesus’s “Wonderful News” they could trust his promise because he was one of them. He lived among the poor and broken. He had seen poverty up close and personal.  His was a life of humble servant hood from beginning to end.

Who are the poor in spirit? They are the persons who know they cannot live without the presence of the grace and love of God in their hearts.

At every step of the way Jesus was humbly surrendered to serving the needs of the poor, the wounded, the marginalized. He was the personal presence of the reign of God, the God who had stooped low into human fallenness for the sake of rescuing a needy humanity..

This was the Wonderful News of God in Christ who was fully human and who had come to reconcile us to the Father and to one another. He came as our brother to lift us up and to restore our humanity.  This was Wonderful News.  The Messenger of this news had integrity, the integrity and character of the God of love and truth.

Anyone who gets close to Jesus begins to have his character, to share his gravitas, to be transformed in knowing that they need a power greater than themselves to be restored to sanity.

It was Wonderful News that those who mourned or grieved would be comforted.

Jesus experienced the suffering of God as a result of a rebellious creation. The Father of the Prodigal had lost his son to the far country and grieved. The shepherd had lost one of his precious sheep and mourned. The woman had lost her precious coin and was pained.  Jesus would grieve the loss of Judas, one of the 12 who betrayed him. Jesus would weep over the death of his friend Lazarus. He would weep over the City of Jerusalem because it did not know the day of its visitation or the things that made for peace.

The Wonderful News was that the God of Comfort had become incarnate in Jesus for the sake of comforting each one of us who have lost. The Comforter has come near.  He is present with us and will not allow us to weep alone.

Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian missionary scholar, spent 60 years teaching N.T. in the Middle East. In his book, JESUS THROUGH MIDDLE EASTERN EYES, he shared that he had recently attended the memorial service for a dear saint who had passed on.  During the service, there was an open mike and people shared the many ways that the man had touched their lives.  The hearts of all those present were comforted with tears and laughter as they remembered.  The Holy Spirit brought blessing to all those who were in attendance.

How often we have had the same experience as we remembered the blessings imparted by loved ones now in the presence of God. We have shared in the midst of tears and laughter and found ourselves lifted up in hope.  This was and is the fulfillment of the Wonderful News of Jesus in the Beatitude.

WONDERFUL NEWS for the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Jesus was the meek. In Matthew 11 Jesus issued the invitation:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Mt. 11:28-30

The promise of Psalm 37 was that the meek would inherit the land. The land was the holy land.  But beyond that, the land was the earth. It was not just one people or individual who would inherit the earth. It was not the rich and the powerful, the high born, the politically and economically well-placed. No!  The inheritors of the earth would be the gentle and kind, the humble in heart, the marginalized, those who had been left out and suffered injustice.

WONDERFUL NEWS for those who hungered and thirsted for the justice of God. They would be filled.

WONDERFUL NEWS for the pure in heart, for they will see God.

WONDERFUL NEWS for the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

The peace of the God of peace was at Jesus’s heart. He came not just to end violence, but to restore God’s original harmony between God and God creatures, to grant to us each the inner peace of mind that would heal anxiety and fear. He came to end war with the promise that on the last Day, God’s peace will reign and suffering will be no more, with every tear wiped away.  He was himself the presence of a peace that stabilizes and heals the worry and troubles of our lives.

Finally, Jesus made peace upon the cross by his own blood as an atonement for our sins and for the work of reconciling us to God and to one another. And what the church and the nation needs now is the power of God’s peace released through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Peacemaking is the Believers calling.  It is central to the mission of God through the church.

WONDERFUL NEWS that those persecuted for righteousness sake will receive the kingdom of heaven.

Last December one of you sent me a copy of George Hunsinger’s 2015 book entitled, The Beatitudes. Professor Hunsinger teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary.  In it he argued that Jesus was the embodiment of each of the beatitudes.  He wrote,

“Jesus is the secret center of the Beatitudes as a whole, and therefore, of each one in particular. He is finally their real subject matter, and in them he points to his own person. It is he who embodies each personal attribute, he who is truly the blessing, and he who is always the promise. The Beatitudes are thus best understood as the self-interpretation of Jesus. As Pope Benedict 16th has written, ‘The Beatitudes display the mystery of Christ himself, and they call us into communion with him’.

At the same time, they are a call to discipleship and a sign of hope for the world’.” (pp xix-xx)

All of this is why I am drawn to Jesus of Nazareth. He was no “meek and mild pale Galilean”.  No!  He was a man who carried the gravitas, the authority and power of the reign of God in his life. He lived; He taught; He preached. Through him the tender mercies of God flowed into other lives.  His holiness, compassion, and righteous indignation about the brokenness of the world; His presentation of himself as the Truth with a capital T  drew men and women to his side and opened the door of transformation, of adventure, of pilgrimage, of the discovery of what is real and why we were born.

I have not had one regret about following Jesus, of listening to his Wonderful News. I have discovered that I am not in this journey for what I want to get out of it, but simply for the privilege of knowing him.  Every day my prayer has been that I might walk closely enough with him that I would become like him, even to bearing his cross for the glory of God, so that I may experience the authority and power of his resurrection life.

The journey is not yet complete. We know that we live between the “already and the not yet” of God’s kingdom.  And just as surely we believe that because he came and because he has poured out his Spirit into our hearts that one day heaven and earth will not just overlap and interconnect, but will be one.

Father, your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Journey Inward; Journey Outward

Date: February 5, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Journey Inward; Journey Outward is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service and the sermon at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Mark 1:29-45. It is the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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Journey Inward; Journey Outward

Sermon Text: Mark 1:29-45

The Gospels of the New Testament give to us living in the 21st century a glimpse into the 1st century A.D., and into the human condition into which Jesus came. Last week I quoted C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Jesus came into “enemy occupied territory” to begin his ministry. The spiritual enemy had enslaved humanity under the afflictions of “sin, disease, and death”. There had been a rebellion in this part of the cosmos, that is, on planet earth. There was a civil war going on. God the Creator had landed on the beachhead of the enemy’s dominion for the sake of liberating humanity from all that enslaved and dehumanized the family of man. Jesus encountered the enemy on the lakefront of the Sea of Galilee.

In the small village of Capernaum and in the Jewish Synagogue built as a public assembly gathering place, a man with an unclean spirit cried out in response to Jesus’ teaching authority. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Jesus rebuked the man’s unclean spirit. “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mk. 1:23-28).

The people in the synagogue on that Sabbath day were amazed at his teaching and healing authority and power.

So the divine invasion was launched. A beachhead was established on the north shore of the lake. As Jesus lived and ministered in Capernaum and the surrounding villages, the push back from the enemy was powerful and terrifying.

On that Sabbath morning Jesus and Peter walked from Church across the center of the village to Andrew and Peter’s house to discover that Peter’s mother-in-law had suddenly been taken ill with a fever. She was in bed burning up. This was in an age before medical diagnostics. There were no community health clinics. There were no antibiotics. An infection in the body, a common cold or flu, could quickly turn septic, poison the blood stream, and within hours pneumonia could set in and the person would be dead in a few hours.

This was reported to Jesus. He went into the woman’s bedroom, took her by the hand, and lifted her up.  The fever left her and she resumed her daily work.

On the same evening, at sunset, as the Sabbath was over, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. The whole city was gathered around the door of the house where Jesus probably lived with Peter, Andrew, and the larger family.

Mark tells us that Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out the demons. The Galilee region was a land of deep spiritual darkness.  But with the coming of Jesus light was shining. The power of life, of healing, of love, and light had arrived and the darkness was being illumined. Matthew’s Gospel said it this way:

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.  Jesus saw the crowds and he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  (See Matthew 4 and 9)

As Jesus moved about the region with his disciples they encountered the blind, the deaf, the unclean, the lepers, the poor, the identified sinners, the dying, the broken, the wounded, the grieving, and the depressed. With love in his heart, he reached out to announce good news; he touched the lepers; he helped the blind to see again; he raised the dead, and gave hope to a hurting humanity. There was no cruelty in his heart, just the love of God and the truth of God’s kingdom incarnate in him.

The multitudes responded. His fame spread.  The crowds gathered, and Jesus worked intensively and endlessly.  The quiet years of working in Joseph’s carpentry shop were over.  Now he was engaged in a work that shook the foundations of the region and which would ultimately turn the world upside down.

Mark tells us.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mk. 1:35

 

Jesus Prayed

Jesus had had a full Sabbath weekend of work. Yet, he got himself out of bed early in the morning while it was yet dark and went out to pray. How could he do that? On the Monday morning after a busy weekend of ministry I experience myself as physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent.

Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message shared with a group of us that on Monday mornings after a big weekend at his Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Christ the King Presbyterian Church, that he and his wife would get up early, pack their lunch and backpacks and drive into the Maryland forests. They had an agreement that neither of them would speak until noon Monday. They would walk on the wooded trails in silence.  During those Monday mornings the first order of the rhythm of life together was to be alone with God in silent prayer.

One of my pastor friends posted a sunrise video on Facebook of the Lake at Galilee. It was taken from Tiberius on the southern end of the lake. The video was awesome. The sun was just rising over the Golan Heights in the northeast.  As the videographer videoed from south to north the sky was a dark blue with a huge flock of birds flying over the lake from south to north.

Northern Galilee is a migratory route for birds moving from Africa to the eastern Mediterranean, to Turkey and Russia. One sees huge birds, storks and others floating through the heavens in community working their way to the north and to the east. I could not tell what the birds were but they were beautifully silhouetted against the dark blue morning sky over the lake.  I could hear the water breaking on the shore. Other than the water and the birds it was a morning of lakeside silence and calm, no wind at all.

The first time I saw this scene was in 1971. I took many color slides.  My friend and artist, Ruth Basler, borrowed one of the slide pictures of the sunrise with the light reflecting off the blue lake as the small fishing boats were bobbing up and down being prepared for the days fishing.  As I was leaving the La Canada Church to move to Laguna Beach Ruth  painted me an oil on canvas of that sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.  I treasure it as a reminder of where Jesus began his ministry.

I do not want to overly romanticize the lake, but to me it is a sacred place. When Mark wrote that Jesus awakened early on Sunday morning to experience the beauty of the sunrise over the lake from a place of solitude I understand. What must Jesus have been praying about?

I think the silence of the view over the lake from the north formed a Cathedral of holy space.  There as he looked to the south, he saw the lake, the hills, the beginning light breaking over the eastern hills of Golan.  It was there in the silence, in the solitude of nature that he was surrounded by the presence of God the Creator.  He prayed the Creation psalms.  I think maybe it was Psalm 104.  There the psalmist reflected on the trees, the land, the birds, the darkness, the light, the sun, the fresh air, the sea, and all the gifts of God’s Creation.

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

These all look to you to give them their food in due season.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works; I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord! Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” Ps. 104

The earth’s beauty calls forth our faith and adoration of God the Creator. In the solitude of that early morning Jesus praised the Lord.

God’s paradoxical Creation

Juxtaposed with the good creation were the paradoxical things Jesus had seen and experienced on the weekend. He had seen and heard the cries of persons who had lost their humanity to unclean spirits who possessed them.  He had seen the synagogue frightened by the demons cry.

He prayed for Peter and Andrew’s family. The mother-in-law had been healed of the life threatening fever.  He remembered the multitudes of the sick, the paralytics, the epileptics, the deformed, the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the oppressed and hurting humans afflicted by sin and death.

I believe he prayed for this fallen creation that could be so beautiful and good and at the same time bear such evil and mystery. The people he had encountered on the Sabbath were just the tip of the iceberg. They were a testimony to the magnitude of brokenness of nature and human life.  All of this called him out of sleep into the sacred place of view and conversation with his heavenly Father whose love caused his heart to swell with joy,  grief and tears.

Then there were the disciples hunting for him with the crowds demanding to know where he was. These were the 12 whom he had chosen to expand his mission, to be sent forth in his name to do the Savior’s work of making the creation whole. They were weak men.  The line of sin ran through their hearts. They could not be trusted to understand him and to support him all the way to Jerusalem.  He was mentoring them seeking to prepare them for his and their destiny that would take them beyond this beautiful, tormented lake into the suffering of a world longing for good news of salvation.  So he prayed for them.

Perhaps just as importantly, he prayed that his Father would sustain his energy and grant him wisdom as he faced another day of confrontation with the enemies of men’s souls and bodies. He prayed, “O Lord, do not let my power become an end in itself. Do not let pride rule my heart.  Keep me humble.  Protect me from the evil one.  Empower me to stand in truth and love this day so that your kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.”

When the disciples found him and reported, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Mk. 1:38

You see, Jesus was on an Inward Journey in love for God through prayer, but also on an Outward Journey in service to the kingdom of God. One without the other was incomplete.

Yes, brothers and sisters, there is an outward journey empowered by the spirit of the inward journey. One without the other is inadequate.

It is our relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit that renews and empowers our lives from the inside out. That is why Jesus was always breaking away from his disciples to find time and space to pray for what he needed to do the will of God.

This is why our personal and corporate worship of God is so important. Without it our soul will quickly run on empty.

Likewise, we may be filled up with prayer and Bible Study, always in worship, maybe speaking in tongues, but never going forth to use our spiritual gifts for the blessings of others. Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came out to do.” Mk. 1:38

Risking to go out for the sake of kingdom work is energizing. Engaging with the world to work for justice, peace, and social righteousness bring meaning and purpose to our spiritual journey.  People feed us in many ways.  We receive far more than we give.  Blessed are those who have learned this great truth in life. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

We are learning, aren’t we? In the 1980’s the new leprosy came to town in the form of AIDS.  I was appointed by our Mayor to the City of Laguna Beach’s AIDS Education Task Force.  We learned a lot.  People were afraid.  There was no cure, no silver bullet to heal.   But some of our members began to reach out to bring comfort, to touch those who felt so rejected, shamed, and lonely.

We became aware of the massive drug and alcohol epidemic destroying so many young lives. We began to host AA and to seek to educate.

When the city nearly burned in 1993, we became a recovery center. Self-sufficient ones learned they needed help and cried out.  Think of the joy we have experienced in being at the center of this City of need.

Last weekend we received recognition from the Chamber, from Orange County, and the Community Clinic that we have been a major contributing institution for the well-being of our City and County. Those recognitions and honors call us to meditate in our inward journey and its outer expression.    I could go on and on about this:   All of this has slowly emerged out of years of coming to know Jesus.

Think of the abandoned orphans at Tumaini School in Kenya. Many of us support these little ones for Jesus’ sake.  He has called us to respond to the lost sheep who have no shepherd.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

What Is This?

Date: January 29, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

What Is This? is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service and the sermon at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Mark 1:21-28. It is the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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What Is This?

Sermon Text: Mark 1:21-28

Capernaum was a beautiful, small, lakeside village. The population lived on the north shore of the lake; the climate was tropical; the economy was strong. Trade routes ran near by.  The Roman legions were stationed not far away.  The people made their living catching fish or farming the surrounding hills.  There was a Jewish synagogue that was a community center and worship space.  It was to this building that Jesus went on the Sabbath in order to fellowship, to teach, to study, and to pray.

On one Sabbath he was the designated teacher. He took the scrolls of his tradition, read them, and interpreted them. His voice was steady.  He maintained eye contact.  He spoke from his diaphragm.  He projected his words.  Every one heard Jesus.  His Voice was filled with authority.

The listeners were astounded. He taught them as one having authority. This set him apart from the local scribes or rabbis. They would read a text and then share the history of interpretation. “One Rabbi said this, another Rabbi said that!” There was this school of thought; but then there was another school. Members of the gathered group shared their opinions. There was a diversity of voices. Members of the synagogue would need to make up their own minds as to the meaning of the text.

But Jesus came right out with it! “Thus saith the Lord!”

Jesus proclaimed a word from God. There was something about his presence that called for certainty, clarity, and conviction. There was no place to hide. His presence and his authority in speaking the truth of God made a dramatic impact upon the gathered members of the assembly.

About ten years ago I was a part of a Presbyterian team designated to work with an equal group of Jewish rabbis to rewrite our denomination’s paper, The Relationship Between Christians and Jews. Twenty of us met at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. The subject for that meeting was Truth. The question was: “What is Truth?” Our Jewish friends who represented several different denominations of American Jews went first. After small group discussions on the question: “What is Truth?” Those who were Jewish answered that they were not of one mind when it came to Truth. There were various opinions about “truth”. They had learned to be tolerant of their diversity and to embrace all truths.

I was stunned. I wanted to stand up and say to them, “You folks are people of the Book.  What would Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, or Jeremiah have said about truth?” I was so thankful that the head of our denominations Theology and Worship unit in Louisville gently presented our Protestant Reformed understanding of Truth:

He said: “For us the Truth is found in a person, Jesus of Nazareth. It is in his person, in his teaching, in his preaching, in his life, death, and resurrection that we have revealed to us what Truth is. We are encountered by the Holy One of God in Jesus of Nazareth! He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

I restrained myself, but silently asked myself, “Is this the end of our dialogue? Where do we go from here?” Thankfully, the door was opened for differences and for various convictions. No one was forced to change their notions of Truth. Great friendships were forged out of that dialogue.

On that morning in Capernaum one of the men in the gathering became restless. He stood up in the circle of gathered Jews and cried out, “ What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

Imagine that happening. Many years ago a member of our church visited another church in town on Easter Sunday. The preacher in his sermon was exploring the various possibilities about Jesus’ resurrection. Our member listened with critical judgment. It seemed that the pastor was waffling on one of the most important truths or facts of the Christian faith.

Were there other valid interpretations as to whether or not the biblical story of Easter was factual? Our member stood up and confronted the preacher in the middle of the sermon time. People were upset. The preacher was angry. Easter Sunday was ruined. Early in the afternoon the pastor called me and asked if the man was a member of Laguna Presbyterian Church? Now I was troubled. I think he half thought that I had sent him to spy out his orthodoxy and to correct him. I would never have done that out of respect for my colleague for whom I cared. Nevertheless, it had happened. I apologized for our member’s lack of respect.

You never know exactly what might happen in a Sunday morning worship service. Public speakers need to be aware that there are folks whose emotions may become stirred and cry out, laugh, cry, stand up, and run out. Churches across the country now hire armed guards who watch for troubled agitators. In the present climate of public vulnerability and the threat of people carrying guns into church we have all been taught to be aware of what is happening in our space and what others might be ready to do.

Last year we had the LBPD give our staff training in how to respond to an active shooter. It was sobering, especially after what happened in the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, S.C. A young white man joined a mid-week Bible study of nearly a dozen African Americans. The pastor was leading it. Near the end the young man drew a pistol from his clothing and shot up the group. Nine were killed. At his trial he represented himself.  He said he wanted to start a race war. He said he was not crazy, but fully aware of what he was doing and why.  He was convicted and sentenced to die.

A story like we read from Mark stirs all kinds of thoughts and feelings within us. What can we say about the man who cried out in the synagogue of Capernaum?

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  He knew who Jesus was. He knew where he was from. He knew his name. To know another person’s name meant he had some power over him. So the man asserted his own power over Jesus. He called him by name. He exposed Jesus to the gathered group.  It may have been that the gathered group knew Jesus’ name already and had been listening to his teaching for some time.  But the unidentified man’s confrontation with Jesus was an unmasking or disclosure of a deeper dimension of Jesus’ identity.

“Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The man’s words revealed that the presence of the teacher was somehow beyond the ordinary. The man saw through the humanity of Jesus to the heart of who Jesus was.  He was the Holy One of God.

The gathered assembly listening to Jesus was on Holy Ground. God was present.  Yes, the same God whom Jacob heard and saw at Bethel. In a nighttime dream Jacob had seen a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending.  “And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring: and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall be blessed. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob awakened, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (Genesis 28).

For Jacob, Moses, David, and Isaiah the Holy Presence of the God of Israel was terrifying. This was authority and power beyond description.  This was the presence of a glory and grace that could annihilate anyone who carelessly gazed upon the bright shinning light of the Holy One.

David the Psalmist prayed,

“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” He answered, “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart” (Psalm 15).

Like Isaiah in the Jerusalem Temple, the man in the synagogue caught just a glimpse of who was present. He immediately knew he was a man of unclean lips and that he dwelt in the presence of a people of unclean lips.  You see, the Holy One had shown up in worship in the person of Jesus.

Annie Dillard wrote that we are often like children who come into a worship space on Sunday morning with our chemistry sets to mix up a combination of elements that might just get out of hand and over which we have no control. She warned, “We need to wake up to who may show up.” Therefore, she said, “As we sit in our pews we ought to buckle our seat belts and put on our crash helmets.” Why, because the Holy One may show up with all his holy authority and consuming love.

Such a presence and power shakes the foundations of our worldviews, convicts us of our uncleanness, surrounds us with the light of divine glory, and threatens to transform us from the inside out. For some of us that threat of transformation means the destruction of all that we have assembled and in which we have taken pride.

As the man in the synagogue of Capernaum was crying out Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” Jesus’ voice spoke with authority. He had mastery over the man.  He understood whose voice was crying out through the man. Jesus was unmasking the evil one. The troubled man was liberated by Jesus’ word of authority.

What happened that Sabbath day had profound implications for planet earth. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote,

“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the N.T. seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin.

Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity, 45-46)

The people in the synagogue in Capernaum were amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:21-28)

Now, I do not pretend to understand the mystery of this story. I have no desire to become preoccupied with unclean spirits, demons, or the devil.  In the early 1970’s, the movie, The Exorcist, became a great success and was nominated for several Academy Awards.  Every one was seeing it or reading the novel. I decided to preach on the subject.  Afterwards, a highly respected man in our congregation at the time accosted me as having preached an unacceptable sermon with no word of God in it. Only my pastoral prayer that focused on love was helpful to him. His words wounded my soul, but we remained good friends.

This is the dilemma of every Bible preaching pastor. How do we interpret stories like the one from Mark?  When the highly respected scholar, N.T. Wright, an Anglican Priest and prolific N.T. interpreter spoke at our Presbytery Pastor’s Retreat a few years ago I was spellbound by what he shared with us about writing his book, Evil and the Justice of God. He said that all kinds of trouble broke out in his parish in England. There were troubles in his family.  His wife begged him to stop writing the book. The two of them came to believe they were under demonic attack. Why? Because he was unmasking the mysterious powers of evil and the enemy did not like it. There were voices that objected. Voices  that spoke through parish members and others. So I am not seeking to have a major confrontation with the evil one.

Nevertheless, what the gathered synagogue in Capernaum experienced was the liberating power of God’s kingdom present in Jesus of Nazareth. For a church or preacher that seeks to be faithful to the Truth, they will encounter crying voices, subtle threats, warnings of financial blackmail, and even letter writing campaigns to destroy the credibility of the messenger.

As Jesus’ fame spread in Galilee because of his teaching, preaching, and healings, at the same time resistance grew and he became aware that he was engaged in spiritual warfare. Thank God! His authority mastered the voices of powers that had enslaved and held in bondage persons who were dear children of God.  Freedom was coming to enemy occupied territory in and through the Holy One of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Answering the Call

Date: January 22, 2017 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

Answering the Call is a podcast of portions of the Sunday morning worship service and the sermon at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching on Mark 1:16-20. It is the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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Answering the Call

(Audio only) Scriptures: Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11

Mark 1:16   As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Luke 5:1   Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.