Think of It This Way

Date: January 18, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Baptized into Christ” from Romans 6:1-11. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from Peterson’s, The Message. This morning we are celebrating communion.

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S011815
Romans 6:1-11

THINK OF IT THIS WAY

“So your must consider (reckon) yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:11

Last week I was on the table in my physical therapist office. We have been at work since the end of December on my upper back, neck, and shoulders. I have discovered some disconcerting things about the joints and muscles in my shoulders and neck. In the process of my focus on the old and the new hip I had forgotten that I have other parts of my body that demand attention. To neglect them causes them to become dysfunctional and painful.

My therapist was asking me to stretch in ways that my shoulder muscles had forgotten. Even my brain had difficulty in giving commands to my shoulder, arm, and elbow. I could get my arm to cross my body, but I could not keep my elbow close to my side at the same time. The elbow wanted to reach out in another direction. It was like trying to keep your right arm and elbow tight to your body while shooting a bow and arrow, or like driving a golf ball down the center of the fairway.

The therapist reminded me that our muscles and joints have memories of past use. If they have not been regularly used through rigorous exercise, they forget how to respond to the brains commands.

In the summer of 1995 I was doing a study leave for a couple of weeks at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. It just so happened that John Huffman and I were there at the beginning of the British Open. We walked the course with some of the great professional players of the time. They made playing golf look so easy and simple. Watching Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Ray Floyd play a pre-Open 18 holes to celebrate Palmer’s retirement, I came to believe that I could step out onto the New Course and do exactly as they did, swing smoothly, keep my eyes on the ball, hit the ball exactly where I chose.
It did not take me long to discover that my body did not have the coordination to step to the tee, address the ball, keep my head down, and watch it sail down the middle avoiding the rough and the deep sand traps. Nevertheless, during that time my game improved dramatically. It was great fun.

As I thought about it more I remembered watching Tiger Woods practicing his drives for hours on the driving range. I remembered watching Steve Ballesteros, the great Spanish golfer, training himself how to lift a ball out of a sand trap without carrying all the sand onto the green. He practiced for well over an hour on one type of swing. I was comforted to watch Nicklaus take 10 strokes on the 17th hole to get his ball out of the deep trap. Literally, these great players had devoted themselves to years and thousands of hours in practicing their swings. No wonder they were so good. I was discovering what Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book. He argued that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve excellence in any field.

Well, with all the practice of a lifetime I would never be able to play the game of golf as they did. Let’s face it, they were gifted with eye-hand coordination, with determination and the brains that made all the difference. Nevertheless, they had to think through their swings and train their bodies to make the right moves.

Those who have accepted their powerlessness over alcohol and drugs and embraced the program of AA with its 12 Steps for spiritual recovery know that there is something called “stinking thinking”. Stinking thinking may lead a person to drink and use again. To stay clean and sober the addict needs to learn a new way of thinking about life, about God, about others. It is through working the 12 Steps that a new way of thinking begins to retrain the body and soul so that the desires to relapse are overcome.

A new way of thinking is foundational, but to learn it and to reinforce it will require going to meetings, having a sponsor, and of dealing with matters of the human soul and spiritual longing. The program will reorganize ones life and relationships. It will call you to a serious moral inventory, to face yourself and the wreckage you helped create and then to seek to make amends, and to forgive. It is a slow process of thinking through, feeling through, and living through a lifetime of unproductive thinking. It is the journey into spiritual maturity and love.

The Apostle Paul was saying something like this in his letter to the Romans. The Christians who had been baptized into Jesus Christ had received a new standing or status in relationship with God in Christ. They stood in the grace of God by faith in Jesus. They had received a new identity. By virtue of their being baptized into Jesus they had become identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus. They had died to sin in order to be raised to new life in Christ. The old self had been crucified with Jesus so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:6.

He used the word “reckon”. It was a bookkeeping term. It meant adding up the numbers and discovering the sum of all the numbers in the list. To do this took a mental action. It required one to “think” through the facts in order to discern the will of God.

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:11

“When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” THE MESSAGE.

In my early college years I made a serious commitment to being a disciple of Christ. To help me out it was suggested by one of my friends that I enroll in The Navigators Bible Memory program. I did so. That program began with a small pack of memory cards with important Bible verses for the new Christian to memorize.

The Navigators understood what young Christians were up against in the world. From the time we are born the world seeks to shape and form our thinking about reality and about what will make us happy. I had already learned at the university that many of the students were in hot pursuit of not just information or knowledge. Even though the university was in a dry county where alcohol was not sold, there was plenty of booze flowing through the student body, and especially in the fraternities and sororities. So it was with the pursuit of sex. It was not far from Animal House.

For a young person seeking to hold his life together in the midst of the pressures to be free and to succeed it was a test. I remember that our first year accounting finals were coming up. The fraternities had all the exams with the right answers in advance. I was invited to cheat in order to succeed. I became so discouraged. By God’s grace I decided I would risk failing the final for the sake of maintaining some sense of my own integrity. If I had not been memorizing those Bible verses I likely would have caved in to the pressure to go along. Thankfully I passed.

Thankfully indeed! I learned just enough to support myself as a bookkeeper in a small hi-tech firm during the first two years of seminary. That course allowed me to flourish in God’s call upon me.

I am so grateful for two of the scriptures I memorized by the time I was 19.
“How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” Psalm 119:9-11

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Those scriptures shaped my character enough to give me some way to think my way through early temptations and trials, and to secure me from ruining my life with wrongheaded actions. And you know what, the issues have never gone away. The temptations have just become more sophisticated and subtle. I am still seeking the mind of Christ every day as I seek to consider myself as dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ.

I believe that the Apostle was calling the believers in Rome to understand that Jesus had called them to the way of life, to the way of flourishing, rather than to the way of death.
So often the faith is interpreted as a series of rules or laws to be obeyed for the sake of being righteous and sinless. But Jesus and Paul called disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and to forsake the destructive power of anxiety, worry, and fear. God knows what we need, therefore, trust God and trust one another. Die then to self striving for personal glorification. Come alive to the use of God’s gifts.

The poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. Those hungry and thirsty for the righteousness of God will be filled. The merciful will receive mercy. The pure in heart will see God. The peacemakers will be named the children of God. The kingdom of heaven will belong to those persecuted for righteousness sake.

Therefore, build your life upon the word of Christ and in the storms and stresses of life, you will stand, you will flourish, you will be truly free to love. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly. John 10:10

The world whispers into our thoughts that we are going to miss out of something if we die to the old life and seek a new life in Christ. Holiness makes a person miserable and intolerable. But Jesus calls us to die to all that destroys and to wake up to true happiness.

St. Augustine refused to be baptized into the new life because he was convinced that as a young successful lawyer in Rome he could not abandon what he called “licking the earth.” His pride, his success, his sexual lusts and promiscuous lifestyle had enslaved him. o he tottered between saying “yes” or “no” to God’s call upon him. The preaching of the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose had him under conviction. But to be baptized into Christ meant he would need to die to the old for the sake of coming alive to Christ. What he did not understand was that saying “no” to sin and “yes” to Christ would be the beginning of the abundant life.

He finally said “yes” to the call of Christ and was baptized. What began was a life that would be used to write the theology of the church for the next 1000 years. And he became a bishop in North Africa. Out of his service he found fulfillment and true joy. Looking back there was little to regret. There was deep meaning, purpose, love, and joy.

What was it that Jesus had modeled and to which he had called his disciples? It was to have the mind of Christ that was characterized by self-sacrificing love, to the way of humility and servanthood, to an obedience to the will of God that promised eternal life in the kingdom of God, to a life in fellowship within the community of the church. Yes, to a life of flourishing in the way of the cross, in the way of dying to sin and being raised to life.

This morning we come to the Table of our Lord. Here we die to sin and come alive to all that is good and which grows life.

Think of it this way!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Baptized into Christ

Date: January 11, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Baptized into Christ” from Romans 6:1-4. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the Baptism of our Lord Sunday.

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S011115
Matthew 3:13-17; Romans 6:1-4

BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST
John the Baptist suddenly appeared on the radar of the authorities in Jerusalem. He was baptizing in the Jordan River. He called the nation to prepare for the coming of the Lord by publicly confessing their sins and by being baptized in the waters of the Jordan. People from around Jerusalem and Judea came out to see and to hear this new prophetic voice. Many were baptized in the river. Among them was Jesus of Nazareth.

When Jesus waded into the waters of the Jordan, John hesitated. He said to his cousin, “I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus insisted that this was the beginning of something more than John understood. In this act of obedience Jesus was beginning his public identification with the sins of the world. The greater baptism would be his obedience to being the sacrificial offering upon the cross in order to save humanity from its sins.

As Jesus came forth from the waters of the Jordan, the heavens were split open and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. A voice came from heaven and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Mt. 3:16-17

This was his identity. Son of God! Israel’s Messiah! The Lamb of God! The Suffering Servant!
Following his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, the Apostle Paul was blinded and was led into Damascus. Within a few days his vision was restored. He was now a believer. The one whom he had persecuted was his Messiah. He believed the good news of God, was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. He began to proclaim in the synagogues, “He is the Son of God.” Acts 9:20 All were amazed at this turn around in Saul’s life.

Something important had occurred in Paul’s life. Being baptized into the reality of the kingdom of God was a life transforming new beginning. It was the gift and the empowerment of a new spiritual beginning.

I was baptized when I was 10 years old at the First Presbyterian Church of Amarillo, Texas. The story began when our neighbor invited my sister and I to Sunday school at First Pres. I was not very happy about going to Sunday school. I was puzzled by the visit of the pastor and elder to our home. It was in the summer of 1948. My mother drove my sister and I to the church and we were placed in a line of people who were baptized. As we drove away from the church my mother asked me, “Do you feel any different?” I answered, “No, am I supposed to feel different?” I was annoyed by the question. The upshot of the matter was that I had become a Presbyterian.

Nearly 10 years later in my early college years I had a spiritual awakening and chose a new baptism in a small Bible church. This time I was submerged. I went down into the waters and came forth publicly identified with Jesus Christ. I felt the Spirit was calling me to some form of ministry.

It was not until I was in theological seminary that I began to seriously reflect upon this call and my baptism. As a group of seminary students we were coming from everywhere in our understanding of the sacrament of baptism. One day in systematic theology class a light bulb turned on in my brain and I remembered that I had first been baptized in the Presbyterian Church. I had discounted that experience. But now, sitting in the Pasadena classroom, it was as if I knew I was a Presbyterian and that God was calling me to serve in our denomination. In mysterious ways God’s providence had led me from the age of 10 to that moment of identity affirming call. The sense of peace that came over me was profound. I have never looked back in my commitment to the Presbyterian family.

In 1977 I was commissioner to the GA of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. During the meeting I heard the name of Francis Pritchard called out as a retiring missionary from South East Asia. That was the name of the pastor who had come to my house when I was 10 and who then baptized me. My Dad refused to be sprinkled with water. He insisted on full immersion. Pastor Pritchard took our family to the local Christian Church on another Sunday afternoon. There he immersed my Dad in front of the family. It was a moving experience. I knew that my Dad needed a good washing. He got it. He came gasping out of the water and the memory of it was branded in my soul.

During the 1977 GA I saw Pastor Pritchard walking toward me. I stopped him and introduced myself to him. Sure enough he was the pastor that God had placed in my life as a child to claim me for Jesus. He had gone the whole way with my family by helping us to move toward the reality of God in our lives. He was retiring to California. I asked him to visit us in Laguna Beach. I invited him to preach. I learned that his wife had been run over on a busy street in Southeast Asia. He had remarried. He and his new wife had lunch with us at our home. God made that connection for me and I cannot tell you how stirred my soul was. I am still in awe at the wondrous grace of God at work through my hometown Presbyterian church. I knew this was my spiritual family and I was so thankful for it.

In the last 40 years of my life I have baptized many infants and adults into Christ. At another GA in 1991 a young man approached me. I did not recognize him. Then he told me that he was the son of a former associate pastor of ours. I had baptized him when he was a baby. The memories flooded through my mind of my own experience. We were members of the family of Jesus Christ. Jesus had been at work in mysterious ways in our lives!

Each time we see a baptism in our worship we are invited to renew our baptismal vows. The Apostle Paul used the truth of baptism to interpret the beginnings of the Christian life. He wrote,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death.” Romans 6:3-4

BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH
This is indeed a mystery. Paul believed that in the waters of our baptism into Christ we became identified with the death of Jesus in that we died with him to sin. For Paul, Christian baptism was the event in which the death of Jesus transferred us from the kingdom of spiritual darkness into the light of the kingdom of God’s light, grace, and freedom.

It was like Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Paul applied Israel’s Exodus story to the Jewish/Gentile church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 10 he wrote, “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:1-4

Therefore, Paul saw Christian baptism as a New Exodus. The believer, in the waters of baptism, died with Christ to the powers of sin and death and was buried. In a symbolic sense the believer died to sin and death.

I had to laugh at the power of one of William Willimon’s stories about baptism. He shared that a friend of his had a brother named Will who had gotten serious about being a follower of Jesus. He had decided to be baptized by his pastor somewhere in the deep south. After a violent rainstorm when the rivers were flooded and roaring out of their banks, the pastor with Will and other members of the small Baptist church gathered at the river and began to wade into the brown swirling waters. The brother was alarmed. He ran to the river to see Will up to his waist in the flood. He cried out to him, “Will, Stop! A fellow could get drowned in these waters!”
Of course, this was the spiritual point that the Apostle Paul was making. In the waters of Christian baptism we die to the power of sin and death. We do get spiritually drowned. We die. We pass through the cloud and sea! We enter the waters and shed the skins of the old man Adam.

Paul put it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but 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 2:19-20

C.S. Lewis told the story of the nasty spirited boy named Eustace whose inner ugliness was finally manifested in his external appearance. He became a dragon. This was fine until he realized he could not tear the dragon skins from himself. He had lost his humanity and his human community on the ship named the Dawn Treader. As he despaired, Eustace was encountered by the Lion named Aslan who said he would need to remove the dragon skin from him. He plunged his long claws into Eustace’s thick and knobby dragon skin and painfully peeled it away until at last the tiny shriveled up boy named Eustace was found and pulled forth from the core of his dragon identity. The lion took the tiny boy and threw him into a pool of water. Eustace’s skin was raw, but the water was healing. Soon the lion clothed the boy and restored him to the fellowship of his friends on the boat. He had been “un-draggoned”. (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Ch. 7)

BAPTIZED INTO HIS LIFE
“Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4

Fourteen years ago Byron Beam and I traveled to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe. It is the national conference center of the PCUSA. The Franciscan priest, Father Richard Rohr, was conducting one of his Wild Men retreats into which men were initiated into adult spiritual maturity by means of dying to the old and coming alive to the new. He said that cultures around the world had developed rituals of initiation for boys ready to move from boyhood to adult masculine identity. He believed that the church needed such rituals to allow male disciples to enter into a deeper discipleship in following Jesus.

300 men from around the world gathered to be initiated. The worship liturgy was based on Romans 6 and the Apostle’s teaching on the meaning of baptism. Through worship, scripture meditation, prayer, journaling, and sharing in small group fellowships we spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally worked our way into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I will never forget the experience. Using red mercurochrome we painted the sign of the cross on our chests. We were sent into the wilderness by ourselves to reflect on the five principles of adult maturity. They went something like this: 1) LIFE IS HARD; 2) YOU ARE GOING TO DIE; 3)YOU ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT. 4) YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL. 5) YOUR LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

After 5 hours we were invited to go to a small pond of water and to baptize ourselves anew, symbolizing that we had died in Christ but were raised to walk in newness of life. The initiation ended at the communion table outdoors overlooking the ranch. There we reaffirmed that we had passed from death to life, that we were dead to sin and alive to all that was good.

Believe me the men discovered much brokenness in their lives, sacred wounds that needed healing, many deep feelings about their birth fathers, and great need to be reconciled. There were anxieties, fears, and doubts faced. Anger and tears were expressed. Powerlessness was embraced. But whatever there was it was placed at the cross of Jesus. In the ritual of baptism a door of new life was opened. Like Eustace, many of us discovered the power of the resurrected Christ to strip us of our dragon skins, to wash us in the water, and clothe us in the righteousness of God.

In the waters of baptism we died to sin in order to walk in newness of life. Paul addressed the issue of cheap grace that his critics had suggested characterized his theology of grace: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it.” Romans 6:1-2

One of the books I read on Christian discipleship when I was starting in ministry was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, “The Cost of Discipleship.” He argued that the Lutheran, State church of Germany in the 1930’s had made God’s grace cheap. The whole nation had been baptized, but there was little said about discipleship, of taking up the cross of Jesus, of dying to sin and walking in the way of holiness.

This is the great danger for a church that preaches the grace of God without calling baptized disciples to obedience to the way of Jesus. We preachers are drawn to grace because sinners love the message of forgiveness and the promise of God with us no matter what we do. Yet, that message does not square with the call of Jesus. The grace of God cost God the life of his own Son on the cross.

Lewis had it right in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I loved the way Lewis summarized Eustace’s stripping, washing, and restoration: “It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that from that time forth Eustace was a different boy. To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.” (Dawn Treader, p. 112)

The cure is the way of costly discipleship that begins in the waters of baptism that transfer us into the kingdom of grace that issues in a life of gratitude in response. This is how the Apostle Paul will write about our life as baptized disciples. To speak in any other way makes grace cheap and perverts the gospel.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Sin versus Grace: Grace Wins!

Date: January 4, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Sin versus Grace: Grace Wins!” from Romans 5:12-21. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from The Message. This is the 2nd Sunday after Christmas.

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Sermon January 4, 2014
Romans 5:12-21

SIN VERSUS GRACE: GRACE WINS

A couple of years ago I signed up with 23 and Me to have my DNA tested. All I had to do was collect a small container of saliva, mail it to the lab, and wait for the results. A few weeks later the report was sent to me. It told me about my genetic inheritance and potential health dangers and possibilities related to my genes. The FDA has now forbidden 23 and Me from passing on possibly misleading information about health risks until the regulatory process of vetting is completed.

Whenever I tell folks that my mother is still living at age 101 almost always the response is: “Well, Jerry, you have longevity on your side. You have good genes. You are likely to live a long life.” My response has been, “I am not sure I want to live as long as my mom and other members on both sides of my family if it means enduring the hardships of old age in the way my mom has in particular.”

I was mainly interested in the origins of my ancestral family. The report did not tell me anything I did not already know. My ancestors came from Northern Europe and the British Isles. From time to time I receive an email from 23 and Me seeking to connect me with a potential 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousin living in another place.

We are aware of the great interest there is in tracing one’s genealogy and of filling out the family tree. In early America the family Bible had introductory pages upon which one could write the names of family members as far back as possible. Families have prized the family Bible and handed it down from one generation to another.

In some works of fiction the genealogy of the central characters of the story are mapped out at the beginning so that one can keep track of the story’s movement and the interconnections of the personalities and events of the larger story. Good writers of fiction create a world inhabited with persons, families, and events in a time and a place that set the boundaries for the narration. To do such work requires great imagination and insight into the dynamics of life and death.

What all of this tells us is that we are members of the human family that had its beginning in the distant past. Anthropologists have suggested that humans first came to a rational awareness of themselves as related, but also different than the animal world, somewhere in Africa and then began to migrate out of Africa to other continents. Thus began human civilization and culture.

In 1994 our group visited the museum in Narobi, Kenya, East Africa where Dr. Leaky made his discoveries in the Rift Valley. It was amazing to see the visual depiction of the origin and migration of the humans.

ADAM
Whatever we may make of that story of human origins, the Apostle Paul’s worldview, imagination, and interpretation of reality was deeply rooted in the Bible’s story of Adam. Paul believed the story of Genesis 1 to 3 to be historically true. The Creator had acted to create Adam in his own image and likeness. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam, or “Ground”, became a living being charged with working with the Creator to create life, to preserve life, and to live in a material environment that God declared to be “very good”.
Yet, the man was alone. He needed a helper, a companion, with whom he could live in intimate communion. In mercy God provided the woman and Adam exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And the two became the Father and the Mother of the human family.

The two were placed in a garden provided with the abundance of all that produced life. They were told that they could only hold on to life by walking in fellowship with the Creator. The tragedy of the story was that the two fell away from right relationship with God and with one another. In an act of unbelief, rebellion, disobedience, and pride they turned away from the Creator. The result was that they lost paradise, the Tree of Life, and were driven out of the garden to live East of Eden. The image of God within them was clouded. Conflict, violence, and death entered the human family. In losing right relationship with the Creator and with one another, the power of sin and death began to reign in the human experience. Spiritual darkness was the domain of corrupted human life.

In Romans 1 to 3 Paul described what happened. God gave up the humans to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. The symptoms of sin grew and were everywhere. In turning from God the humans lost their humanity and death became the reigning power on planet earth. The whole cosmos groaned under the slavery and bondage of sin and death. The humans were trapped without the power to rescue themselves or to set things right.

Whether or not we believe that the Adam story was historical we do not have to look far to see the working out of human sin in the human family of nations. If we did not inherit Adam’s sin by virtue of birth, with sin written into our genetic inheritance, clearly, every human who has ever lived has reconfirmed Adam’s disobedience to the will of God in his our her life decisions. Even the richest, most powerful, pious people on the earth still sin and die. The wages of sin are death.

One may write another story to explain the human condition, but the Bible’s story is as accurate as any other story humans have written. Human life with all its potential for good and well being has become enslaved. Even the moral code of the law, while pointing the way to life, has proved itself as impotent to change human nature. The law stirred up the deeper problem of human nature. It empowered sin. It taught humans that we cannot rescue ourselves. There must be help from beyond if the cosmos is to be set right and human life to have a new beginning.

This is the human condition, whether we like it or not. All people die, good and bad alike. To deny this is to refuse to face the truth of our need for what the Bible calls salvation.
The Apostle Paul wanted the Romans to know that they belonged to Adam’s family before they belonged to Caesar’s Empire. The Roman law, order, and peace bore witness to the human longing for life. And it is the same for we Americans. What our ancestors carried with them to the new world was Adam’s sin and death. Thus the destructive consequences at work in the heart of the very best of empires. And even if we settle on a new planet in some outer space conquest what we will carry with us in the midst of our knowledge, development, and technology will be the wreckage of Adam that does not know the things that make for peace.

CHRIST
Nevertheless, the Apostle desired that the Christians in Rome hear the greater truth, and that was that through faith they belonged to the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. The first Adam was a type of the one who was to come.

What Jesus, the 2nd Adam brought into the world that first Christmas was a fully human life. His followers came to trust that he was also fully God and Israel’s Messiah. In his life and death Jesus recapitulated the 1st Adam’s story except for sin. From beginning to the end he trusted his life into his Father’s hands. He surrendered to God in order to do God’s will.

He resisted the tempter’s suggestions in the desert that he declare his independence from God to live life on his own terms. The tempter promised to give Jesus all the power and glory of the world if he would fall down and worship. He could be the Messiah on the devils terms without suffering. Satan told him he knew how to be a success without subservience to a demanding Father.

The early church came to celebrate what Jesus modeled, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

Paul exhorted the Christians “to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

But in Romans 5 the Apostle argued that Jesus released into the world the power of the free gift of the grace of God. This free gift of God’s love and our entering through faith into the way of life “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14

Paul’s worldview has captured my imagination. His teaching about the 1st and 2nd Adam has provided the church with an analogy to explain the power of sin and death, but also of the free gift of grace that has led to forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe.

I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text. He wrote, “Here it is in nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.”

And here is the really good news: “But sin didn’t, and doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.
All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” The Message

The Apostle’s two Adams analogy reminds us that Christians are identified with them both. The rest of the Roman’s Letter flows from this great truth. We have been and still are of Adam. In this time between the already and the not yet of the New Creation, our identity is in Adam. The good news is that the powers of sin and death cannot compete with the free gift of God’s grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the competition between sin and grace, “grace wins hands down.”

In this present time we have been transferred into the domain of grace and life. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

IN CHRIST
At the beginning of this New Year what we celebrate is that there has been a new beginning. We are in the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ. His grace has found us, our sins are forgiven, and we have received the gift of life, life eternal. It is into this new life in Christ that we are called to live.
We look forward to eternal life, but eternal life has begun in the present now. We are alive to God in Christ, his Spirit has been poured out upon us. Grace has won and will continue to win until Christ carries us into the eternal presence of God and all the saints.

In this present time the Holy Spirit assures us that we have been rescued and transferred into the dominion of life. We are saints who are alive in Christ because Christ is alive within us.
In “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis wrote that when we accepted the invitation of life in Christ and welcomed him into our hearts, we may have thought that we were going to undergo a cosmetic make over. Perhaps we expected the house of our human bodies and souls to be remodeled. But what happened has been surprising. When we invited the power of grace and life to reign within us, we discovered that the Lord was not satisfied with a remodeling project. No, his Spirit set about to completely rebuild us! We began to think, to feel, and to act anew. Through his Word and Spirit, he gave a new foundation; he knocked out walls, he built new balconies; he enlarged the footprint; he rewired the house with high powered electricity; he put on a new roof.
What we began to be aware of us was that he was building a palace in which he intended to dwell in the fullness of his grace and life. Being in the 2nd Adam began the long work of spiritual transformation that would lead to the fullness of eternal life.

As we move forward in the Letter to the Romans we will discover that this is the Christian life lived in grace and the power of life. Everything that Paul will write to Rome will become foundational for our own spiritual journey. I am excited about moving our preaching and teaching on the New Life in the Spirit won for us by the One to whom we now belong and who is alive within us.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Lord Is Present

Date: December 31, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

This is a podcast of the New Year’s Eve worship and communion service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Steve Sweet is preaching, “The Lord Is Present” from Luke 7:36-50. We are reading from the NRSV.

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The Gift of Reconciliation

Date: December 28, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Kathy Sizer is preaching, “The Gift of Reconciliation” from Romans 5:6-11. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 1st Sunday after Christmas. We are also celebrating Communion.

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The Gift of Christmas

Date: December 24, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the sermon and portions of the worship service from Laguna Presbyterian Church held on Christmas Eve. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on Romans 5:1-5, “The Gift of Christmas.” We continue in our sermon series based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.

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Romans 5:5
THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS

About once a month I meet with a spiritual friend, mentor, and former Jesuit priest in the RCC. In recent years he was professor of Spiritual Formation at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. What we do is talk about our lives, the church, and the world, in the context of scripture. I have found his guidance and wisdom to be a special gift. So have many others.

The last time we met he gave me a scripture passage to contemplate during this season. I know the text well. It is one of the most popular stories of the Bible. It is found in John 3. You will recognize it immediately as the story of the Pharisee and leader of his people, Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night perhaps to guard his own reputation from criticism if he were seen at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jn. 3:1-2.

What flattery! “Why, you are one of the most powerful preacher/teachers we have ever heard. You keep going like this and you will create a successful movement in the world.”

Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” But…“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Then Jesus taught him that he needed to be born from above, from the Spirit of God.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
“How can these things be? Nicodemus asked.
“Jesus answered, ‘ Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Jn. 3:10

I have found myself reading this text in a new way. I am a teacher/preacher of the church. I went to seminary. I have been baptized. I am a Christian. I have seen some of the fruit of the Spirit in my life. The truth is that as a Christian I have found myself struggling with the world, with how to understand and to accept life on God’s terms, with how to live at peace in my own skin, and to trust that God is good and that history has a good ending. I have concluded that one of the chief issues of life is how to keep oneself spiritually alive over the long course of ones life?

The first time I re-read the text I wondered what my friend was trying to tell me about my life. Suddenly, I realized that I was Nicodemus. I was a leader of the people of God. I have invested a lot of my time in the organization of the church. I have studied, discussed, even debated the meaning of scripture with leading theologians. All of that has been good. It has enriched my life.

But in seeking to interpret my own life experience through the lens of scripture, struggling with all my questions about reality, the church, and where God has been at work in my life and in other lives it may well be that I needed to reconsider the most fundamental truth. And that truth is that the presence and power of God in my life story and in yours is like the wind. If we are to be alive to the meaning of life and love we will need to be born anew of the Spirit of God over and over again.

I think my Jesuit friend was making a suggestion like this to me his Protestant friend. You know, Pope Francis is a Jesuit from South America. This week he addressed his Christmas message to the gathered Curia at the Vatican in Rome. He did not pull any punches. What courage it took to stand before the leadership of his church and say to them that they all needed to be born anew, to be born anew of the Spirit of God, to rediscover what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in a messy church and world. He listed 15 illnesses that were afflicting the leadership of the RCC. It was not a happy moment for the gathered leaders. The internet and social media have been filled with discussion about the Pope’s words to those who are running the institutional church.

I comment upon just a few of the 15 illnesses.

He said they had forgotten that they were mortal and would be gone in a few years. He invited them to walk through the Vatican cemetery and read the names of the saints who had gone before them.

He said some of them have the Martha syndrome, that is, they are always working and neglecting the really important things, like listening to God’s word, praying, and resting.

Some had developed hard hearts and minds. They were going about the functions of the organization, planning and running the machinery of the church. They had neglected communication and the building of trusted relationships.

They were afflicted with spiritual Alzheimer’s. The had lost their first love. They had forgotten why they entered the ministry at the beginning. Someone posted a question on Facebook asking the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA if he would soon make a list of our Presbyterian weaknesses? Grayde Parsons responded, “I don’t know. I can’t remember.” It was a painful, revealing joke.

The Pope suggested that their lives were filled with rivalry and vainglory. They were hypocrites, all dressed up in their robes, looking religious, and serious but suffering an existential schizophrenia. They grumbled, gossiped, and were sycophants seeking to climb the ladder of ecclesiastical success. Compassion was missing in their lives. They practiced party politics. They accumulated wealth and power. In other words they had be more shaped by the world than they had by God.

They needed to use this Christmas season to seek spiritual renewal, to turn to the God of love in a deeper way than ever before. They needed, he said, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and to be born anew, again and again. The mission of God through the church depended upon it.

I thought about the Seventh Day Adventist pastor written up in the LA Times. Ryan Bell faced the spiritual crisis of his life in his early 40’s. He confessed that he did not believe what his church taught about God and the world. In fact, he thought he was an atheist. So he resigned his church and took a year long sabbatical in search of God and love. He and his wife divorced. He read books seeking to harmonize the faith with science and philosophy. He ended up at a convention of atheists in Las Vegas in a room filled with a boisterous crowd and a loud band with a stripper swinging from a pole. People were shouting that God is dead. There is no God. God, if there is one, is not good. He concluded that he was trapped in the middle between those who believed and those who did not.

His question for the moment was this: “Why do I need religion to love?”

I wanted to say to him, “you don’t need religion. Religion will not help you, empower you, heal you, or transform the world. Look at the world. Religion is at the heart of many of the conflicts and wars that are going on from India, to the Middle East, to Europe, and North and South America, to Asia.

What you need is to be born anew of the Spirit, the Spirit that hovered over the chaos on the first day of creation. The Spirit that proclaimed the Word of God through the prophets; the Spirit that desired to live in the heart of humans. The Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary and birthed the Son of God; the Spirit and Word that took on flesh in Jesus; the Spirit that empowered his faith in the desert of temptation; the Spirit that empowered his ministry and touched so many lives; the Spirit that guided him to the cross; the Spirit of holiness that raised Jesus from the dead; the Spirit that was poured out upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost; the Spirit that comes to dwell within the believers heart and which grows the fruits of the Spirit in our souls.

What the people of God need is the wind of the Spirit blowing through their lives. There is no way that religion, or self-help, or human discipline, brain power, or wisdom, or education can grow love. Why? Because love is the fruit of the Spirit. I’m not speaking of romantic love, or strong feelings, or erotic lust. I’m speaking of the love of heaven that the Lord desires to breath into our souls empowering us to become his children, to sacrifice ourselves for what God knows is important in our families, businesses, and churches. The Lord wants to transform us into “little Christ’s” as CS Lewis said.”

Religion, good works, will-power, cannot do this. Only God can give to us the gift of Christmas. And what is the gift of Christmas? Is it not, “CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY!”

His name is Immanuel, God with us. Colossians 1:27. God with us; Christ in you, is the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, fanning the heart and mind alive and raising Christ’s church from the dead. It is this Spirit that brings about the renewal of our first love, or love for God and then our love for our neighbors and for one another.

This is the gift we all need this Christmas. Jesus issued the invitation to receive the Spirit: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ He said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” In the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening he breathed upon them and called to receive the Holy Spirit.” John 7 and 20.

The Apostle Paul promised the Romans that the gift of Christmas was available to all who believed. He said, “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

Paul wrote to Pastor Titus, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

“Live by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

The Christmas gift we all need to receive this Christmas Eve is the Holy Spirit. Receiving this gift promises the renewal of our hearts, our families, our church, our nation, and our world.
May it be so!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Gift of Hope

Date: December 21, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “The Gift of Hope” from Romans 5:1-5, Luke 2:21-38. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 4th Sunday of Advent.

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S122114
Luke 2:21-38; Romans 5:1-4
THE GIFT OF HOPE

The days before Christmas are such a build up for us. They are days filled with expectations and longings. The merchants watch the reports to see how sales are going. The economists know that spending for Christmas can make or break the year. We wait for the movies to be released on Christmas Day.
As our students were riding back to Laguna Beach on Friday evening, my son and two grandsons were in the back seat of the church van. In our conversation my son asked what my favorite Christmas movie is. I named two, but I think my all time favorite is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. I never cease to laugh. They show it on TV every Christmas season. I hate to miss it. I guess it connects because it is the story of expectations and fantasies we all share as we wait for the traditional Christmas celebration with tall trees, decorated houses, family reunions, and the longing that everything will be perfect. Many a Christmas I investigated the gifts under our family’s tree to see if the longed for gift was present. There were some great Christmas celebrations in my family of origin, but never a perfect one.
Clark had his own expectations. As in previous years he was confident that he would receive his Christmas bonus. But he could not wait. He had spent it already. His fantasy was that the bonus would be large enough to pay for the new swimming pool that he had ordered already. But then his expectation was shattered by his boss’s decision not to do bonuses that year. When his anger finally surfaced and found expression he called the owner of the company every vile name he could remember.
In a moment of justice his world was set right when the owner was held accountable and reversed his decision about the bonus. What did some one say about expectations? Planned disappointments?
During the days of Advent we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord knowing that he has already come but that his second coming is not yet. We find ourselves living in the in-between time of the Already and the Not Yet of the New Creation promised in scripture. This is why the Simeon/Anna story is so important. In them we see the depths of our longings.
We have been singing one of my favorite Advent songs.
“There is a longing in our hearts, O Lord, for you to reveal yourself to us.
There is a longing in our hearts for love we only find in you, our God.
For healing, for wholeness, for new life: hear our prayer.
In sickness, in grief: be near, hear our prayer, O God.
Lord save us, take pity, light in our darkness.
We call you, we wait: be near, hear our prayer, O God.”
What a remarkable man Simeon was. He was an Advent person. He had been waiting to see the coming of the Lord, the Savior of Israel and of the Gentile nations. Simeon represented the best of expectant, hoping Israel.
He had eyes, ears, and a heart attune to the presence and the power of the God whom he worshipped. Guided by the Holy Spirit he came into the Jerusalem Temple.
For many years Simeon had been looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. I believe that he and Anna, the prophet, would have fully affirmed the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5. “We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Romans 5:2.

HOPE OF SHARING THE GLORY OF GOD
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25
I do not know what planted the vision of hope in Simeon’s and Anna’s hearts. But I can make some educated guesses.
Clearly, they were identified with the Jerusalem Temple.
This was the place where Israel worshipped the Lord. This was the space within which the people of God gathered to listen to Scripture read, Psalms sung, and where the liturgy called forth praise, rejoicing, and proclamation of the mighty acts of God in Israel’s history. Here the Exodus story was told and retold at Passover time. Here confessions of sin were made. Here in the Holy of Holies the blood atonement was made and forgiveness announced.
One may only wonder how many times Simeon and Anna had heard God’s words read and preached in the Jerusalem Temple? During Advent we often read texts like Isaiah 11. In that text, Isaiah promised
“A shoot coming out from the stump of Jesse, (King David’s father).
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bears shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:1-9
Isaiah said that with the arrival of the Prince of Peace that the nations would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Is. 2:4
It was in the Temple context that “the hope of sharing the glory of God” had been inspired within Simeon and Anna.”
It had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that Simeon would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, the Savior, the One who would rescue humanity from the powers of sin and death.
Both Simeon and Anna boasted or rejoiced in the hope of sharing the glory of God in the fullness of time. The remarkable truth was that Simeon had been promised by a direct revelation from God that before he died he would see the light of good news for the nations and for glory to the people of Israel.
Amazingly Simeon, guided by the Holy Spirit, entered the Jerusalem Temple just as Joseph and Mary were presenting their baby Jesus for circumcision and naming. Simeon was deeply moved in that moment. He knew this was the moment for which he was born. The child before him was God’s salvation incarnate. Mysteriously, Simeon knew that this was David’s son. It was through this child that God’s revelation light would shine upon the Gentile world. This child would be glory for Israel, the people of God.
Simeon stretched out his arms and pulled the baby to his chest. Anna came and prophesized that this child would be the one who would bring redemption to Jerusalem. Suddenly they knew they were on holy ground at a moment in which the “hopes and fears of all the years” were present.
The Gospel of John witnessed that the Word that called all creation into being had moved into the human neighborhood to dwell with us. John wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14-18
Simeon realized that this was the day for which he was born. Every experience up to that moment had been preparation and waiting. Now he held the glory of God incarnate in his arms. His life was complete. He was ready to depart, to die, to pass into the fullness of eternal life. He had fulfilled God’s destiny for him. The promised hope of God’s glory he was now sharing and celebrating. He was at peace. What an experience? Have you ever had such a moment in your life, a moment in which time and eternity intersected and you just knew that you were ready to surrender to the faithfulness of God and say, “I have lived, mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord”.
Both Anna and Simeon “boasted, rejoiced, at the hope of sharing the glory of God.” Romans 5:2
But not only that, “they boasted in their sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Romans 5:3-4.

THEY BOASTED OR REJOICED IN THEIR SUFFERING
Simeon saw more than he fully comprehended as he held the baby Jesus in his arms. It had to have been an experience of profound joy and meaning. As he blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus he spoke words that must have stunned the parents.
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35
Simeon was speaking of suffering for those who lived between the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God. For Mary this proved to be true as she watched her beloved son, Jesus, executed as a common criminal. The pain of the mother must have been unbearable, but even more so for Jesus. The writer of Hebrews wrote,
“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Hebrews 5:7-8
When Paul was called to his apostolic ministry he was told that he would discover how much he would have to suffer for the sake of Christ. In Second Corinthians 11 and 12 Paul shared all the dangers, trials, tribulations, and afflictions he had experienced in his various travels. He was given a thorn in the flesh that he prayed would be removed, but the Lord said “no”. When he was weak he was strong. God’s grace would be sufficient. He had suffered the loss of all things, but that was as nothing compared to knowing Jesus Christ, the fellowship of his suffering, and the hope of resurrection in Jesus Christ.
So it was for Simeon in his long wait. Like the people of Israel waiting for consolation, Simeon had no doubt experienced it all. But now he held the one in his arms who would become God’s suffering servant for the salvation of all human kind.
Three years ago in December one of our former members who had been dear to me came into my office with a framed print of a painting of Simeon holding the baby Jesus. The beautifully framed print hangs in my office. The old man cried in ecstasy and agony as he held the child. The pastor at my friend’s new church had projected the painting on the screen during one of his sermons. The old man held the baby Jesus tightly to his chest. A shining star was painted in the body of the baby symbolizing that he was the light of the world. Behind Simeon and the child a globe of the earth had been painted, symbolizing that this child would ultimately transform the nations through his life, death, resurrection and Pentecost Spirit poured out upon the nations.
We all respond to art on our own terms. My friend said he wanted me to know his response to the painting. He said that as he saw the picture during worship that he began to cry. Simeon, he said, was me. He shared that he was the babe. What it meant to him was that I had held him and his family in my arms for many years seeking to comfort them and to care for them. As a devout man of God he had suffered. In that moment I understood that what we were both doing was boasting in our mutual suffering. It was the affirmation of one brother to another. The suffering had produced patient endurance, character, and renewed hope. It was a tender moment. It was a reminder that Christian brothers and sisters suffer between the already and the not yet of God’s kingdom. This was no triumphalist understanding of the Christian faith and life. Rather, this was simply a parable of the journey to hope in which we all walk in these years between the already and the not yet of God’s kingdom.
For the last 8 months Steve Hayner, my friend and former President of Inter Varsity and Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Georgia has being dying of pancreatic cancer. His only hope is a trial drug. He and his wife have posted on the CaringBridge web site their reflections on their journey to hope. This week she posted an Advent poem that Steve wrote on a napkin in 1990 at their small group in Madison, WI. She said that they were seeking to share with others where they wanted to see God at work—sharing those places in their lives where for years they had hoped they might experience transformation and healing. Mostly in their helplessness that Advent, they could only say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” She wrote, now in another powerless and suffering moment 25 years later,
“This remains our prayer as we walk through the next days, weeks and months. We are all terminal. We just happen to know it up close and personal. Our prayer for you and for us is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come. We have prepared a place for you.” By Sharol Hayner—December 17, 2014, CaringBridge Journal
I want to close with Steve’s poem.
Here are the words, words which Simeon, Jesus, or Paul could have written,
“Is there grace enough to cover
The darkness I discover—
To light the inner places
Long cloaked in sad disgraces?
Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Is there love enough to lift me
When bold rebellion grips me
And failure bleakly presses
Guilt’s overwhelming stresses?
Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Is there peace enough to hold me
When nagging fears erode me;
And strangling expectation
Turns hopes to desperation?
Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Is there joy enough to fill me
When barren reaches chill me
And grieving contemplation
Brings spirit’s isolation?
Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

by Stephen Hayner, November 18, 1990

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Gift of Grace

Date: December 14, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Steve Sweet is preaching, “The Gift of Grace” from Romans 5:1-5, Ephesians 2:1-10. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. The Children’s Choir is presenting their musical, “Carriers of the Light”. This is 3rd Sunday of Advent.

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The Child Is Born Concert

Date: December 8, 2014 Author: LPC Chancel Choir, Bells, Instruments, Organ, Piano

This is a recording of LPC’s Christmas Concert held on December 7, 2014 in our sanctuary. Program is presented by Choral and Hand Bell Choirs, Organ, Percussion, and Brass with Linda White directing and Sookyung Bang on organ, and Bobbette Cameron on Piano. The program is included in the “Transcript” portion of this page.

Thank you all for coming to our concert! Merry Christmas to each and everyone of you.

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Prelude: A Merry Tango by Joel Raney, Bobbette (Piano) and Sookyung (Organ)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, arr. Tim Fisher
Introit on O Come, All Ye Faithful, arr. Brad Nix
O Come to Set Us Free, arr. Mary McDonald
The Gift of Hope, Bert Stratton, Vicki Tuker Courtney
A Peaceful Midnight Clear, arr. Patti Drennan
One Small Lamb, Pamela Stewart, Michael Barrett
Angels We Have Heard on High, arr. Barry Braman
Sussex Carol, arr. Tim Fisher
Patapan, arr. Matha Lynn Thompson (adt. Linda White)
In the Bleak Midwinter, arr. Martha Lynn Thompson
Still, Still, Still, arr. Joey Hoelscher
Joy to the World, arr. David Wise
Ding Dong! Merrily on High, arr. Larry Shackley
The Child Is Born, Gwyneth Walker
Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah, G. F. Handel
Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals, Sigfrid Karg-Elert
Chancel Choir
Soprano: Betty Freeman, Andrea Galante, Alice Jensen, Dana Laird, Debbie Perkins, Kristen Pickering, Kathryn Pitts, Linda Ross
Alto: Sandy Grim, Virginia Grogan, Chris Larek, Kari Nies, Dee Williams, Lindsay Williams
Tenor: Shirley Case, Marsha McCoskrie, Jeff Nagel, Faulkner White
Bass: Adam Braun, Ken Crumley, Richard Derby, David Swan, John Wilkerson

Chancel Bell Choir:
Judy Bell, Adam Braun, Bobbette Cameron, Diane Cullings, Jessica Harlow, Cornelia Larek, Sally Mitchell, Bill Parish, Tallie Parrish

Guest Instrumentalists:
Marty Frear, Melanie Hoffman – Trumpet
Mark Ghiassi – Horn
Ryan Elder – Trumbone
Ty Rust – Tuba
Louis Allee – Percussion

Sound Engineer: David Galante

The Gift of Peace

Date: December 7, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “The Gift of Peace” from Romans 5:1-5, Ephesians 2:11-22. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is 2nd Sunday of Advent.

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Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:11-22

THE GIFT OF PEACE
In 1971 my tour group’s bus waited in line at Check Point Charlie in West Berlin. It was an experience I will never forget. West and East German police moved through the center isle of the bus checking passports. The large German shepherd dogs sniffed along beside the officers. I looked out the window and I could see the border guard moving the large mirror on wheels under the bus to see if we were hiding anything or any one. In looking up I could see the guard towers with the machine guns over looking the no man’s land that we were entering.

I knew this was where many Germans from the East had tried to escape to freedom in the West and had been killed in trying. This was near Hitler’s bunker where he took his own life. As we moved from West to East it was like leaving the bright colors of freedom to enter a world that was gray, drab, and without architectural style. The group was silent and pondering all of this, most of us afraid at these symbols.

The Berlin Wall was a witness to the hostilities of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain years. I was thrilled when President Reagan stood before the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate and proclaimed to the Soviets, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!” Last month we remembered and celebrated the falling of that Wall and the meaning of that event for the world. It almost seemed that a new age of peace and freedom might be coming.

Humans, societies, cities, tribes, cultures, nations, and neighbors build walls to protect themselves, to secure themselves from dangerous threats, from ideologies and political/economic systems that contradict their view of reality.

We still live in a world in which there are dangers and enemies. As soon as we perceive the presence of the enemy we retreat inside our walled neighborhoods and cities, lock the gates, and wait to see when it will be safe to once again open them. Almost all ancient cities were built on high places and with protective walls.

Travel to Bethlehem this Advent Season to see the birthplace of Jesus the Prince of Peace and you will need to move through a Wall that is a carbon copy of the Berlin Wall with guards, dogs, guns, and long waits. And so, human history continues to bear witness to dividing walls of hostility. Some of those walls are invisible, but many stand as symbols of human anxiety and fear.

I have been haunted by Robert Frost’s famous poem, Mending Walls. It was written in the early part of the first decade of the 20th century. Frost wrote of two neighbors mending a wall that divided their properties, one on one side and the other on the other side. They carried stones to repair the damage of winter. It was springtime.

“He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Why do they make good neighbors? Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down. He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”

The Apostle Paul knew all about dividing walls of hostility. His life had been claimed by the gospel of God, the good news that would slowly work its way to destroying the cultural and religious divides between Jews and Gentiles. His message had drawn Jews and Gentiles to Jesus Christ. From each camp some had believed in the promises of God to Israel and been adopted into one new humanity made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free persons, males and females, rich and poor, dark skins and light skins, barbarians and educated, with many different languages and tribal or national cultures. Gates were being opened for all who believed in Jesus.

The Apostle was building a new community of believers and that meant a reordering of old relationships and the tearing down of dividing walls of hostility. The one letter of Paul’s that we seldom read was his shortest letter. It was written to a brother in Christ named Philemon. When N.T. Wright began his two part life work on Paul, entitled, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, he began with an exposition of the Philemon Letter. He did it because all the great issues of the interaction of the gospel of God and human culture came together in the life experience of Philemon who was a Christian owner of a slave named Onesimus who had run away.

In God’s providence Onesimus likely met the Apostle Paul in Rome where he heard the gospel, believed, and became a brother in Christ. Paul now knew both men and wrote the letter to Philemon telling him he was sending Onesimus back to him not as a slave but as a brother in Christ. The issue was whether or not Philemon could live in the way of the peace of God and overcome the evils of slavery in his own life experience.

There were many walls to be addressed and overcome as believers in the first century church sought to walk into the way of peace.

Peace with God
The Apostle Paul witnessed to the most fundamental of dividing walls of hostility. In both Romans and Ephesians he argued that by virtue of humanity’s fall away from the Creator God that a wall had been built between the Creator and the creature.

Paul asserted that the gospel of God was the good news that God had acted in the history of Israel and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, his Son, to make peace, to break down dividing walls of hostility, to open the gate to the way back into right relationship with the source of life.

At the cross of Jesus, God made peace through the blood of Jesus, and broke down the dividing walls of hostility by absorbing the wrath of humanity and the justice of God in his own body. In that historical, mysterious, event the world was reconciled to God and the gate leading to peace was opened.

Zachariah’s prophecy in Luke 1 was Paul’s message: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Lk. 1:78-79

Paul wrote to Rome, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

Peace is the gift we have from God, but what will it mean for us to be guided into the way of peace. I believe it will mean that in each moment of our days and nights we will be challenged to live into the gift we have received.

Worship will be the key.
As we join with others in the house of the God of peace we will hear the gospel of peace calling us into right relationship with God. Here we will come to the Table of Peace where we receive over and over again the broken body and blood of Jesus the Prince of Peace. Here we will learn that we are invited into the fellowship of peace. The Prince of Peace keeps knocking at the door of our hearts. He is the light of the world and he stands at the wall and the locked door of our hearts. And he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” Revelation 3:20

Last week one of our worshippers said to me after the service, “Do you Presbyterians ever give an altar call and invite people to welcome Christ into their lives? You needed to do that today.” He was right. And today is the right time again to say “yes” to the Prince of Peace to confess him as Savior and Lord.

Peace with Self
Finding peace with God leads us to peace with ourselves. It may be surprising to discover that there are dividing walls within our own souls. The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 86 spoke so powerfully about the human condition. He prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.” Ps. 86:11

Because we are human we have divided hearts. The line of sin runs right through every human heart. Sometimes we like ourselves. Other times we hate our selves. Guilt and shame may destroy our souls.

We find ourselves filled with anxiety and fear by the circumstances of our lives. As we begin to open up we discover dimensions of ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, that if acted upon could lead to self-destruction. We do not know how to pray about such matters. I think this is what led Paul to write the Philippians 4 exhortation. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and you minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7

I once told Dallas Willard that I was afraid to pray in this way. What if I came unglued and paralyzed by the dividedness of my soul and my thinking? His response to me was “What better place to come unglued than before God in prayer?” “He is able to hold you and to calm you, and to order your soul in peace.”

Peace with Others
We all have people in our lives that we have identified as our enemies and we have built walls to keep us apart lest we attack and destroy the other. There really are dividing walls of hostility between brothers and sisters.

Each time we consider making amends or seeking forgiveness, or being open to forgiveness, we do not know how to do it or what to say? What if an apology makes it worse? What if the person we have wounded and whom we need to forgive is deceased? I have heard stories of men and women making peace in the cemetery over a grave site. Or maybe writing a letter and reading it, and then burning it. and letting it go?

Making peace with a neighbor or with a fellow member of the church with whom there has been a misunderstanding or a wall is some of the most important work we can do for the sake of the gospel of God.

Peace for the sake of the mission of the church.
And I believe the Apostle Paul taught in Romans and Ephesians that the church of Jesus was to be the church of the Prince of Peace. This was the church called to live into the gift it had received, the peace of God.

So Paul could write to the early church, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6

They came together for congregational dinners. Half of the room was kosher and the other half non-kosher. These differences created conflicts and ruptured relationships, and threatened to destroy the early church. The first century church was made up of saints and sinners. We argue about diversity, but the early church had every kind of diversity. And there, the work of spiritual transformation and reconciliation was being lived out with tension. This is the history of the church.

I was touched last week by the gathering of Pope Francis of the RCC with the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the 10th century A.D. the Christian church divided between east and west. They had differences, cultural, spiritual, and theological. There was competition between Constantinople and Rome. So they separated leaving a huge chasm of alienation between east and west.

But now, a thousand years later the winds of peacemaking are blowing. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church recently spoke at the Vatican Family Conference in Rome. You can see and hear his and N.T. Wright’s presentations on the Christianity Today website. Upon his return he said that we Protestants have far more in common with the RCC that ought to unite us than what has divided us. What unites us is the gospel of the God of peace who has acted to incorporate us into the new humanity committing us to live into the peace of God.

I believe that the world is still waiting to see in the church, what Lesslie Newbiggen called, “A hermeneutic of the gospel.” What he meant was that the world is still waiting to see a church that lives what it preaches, that takes seriously its calling to make peace in a deeply divided world. Yes, a church whose quality of inner peace is so winsome and caring that it is a community of attraction and not just another religious institution that does not know the things that make for peace.

LPC is living into this. It is a dynamic fellowship of faith with a lively sense of its humanity. We know that we have received the gift of peace, not because we have earned or deserved it, but because we worship the God of peace who has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley