That's the Dumbest Thing I've Ever Heard?

Date: September 14, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching from Romans 1:1-7 as we begin our new sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.


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Galatians 1:1-12; Romans 1:1-7

Victoria Osteen is the co-pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, a post she shares with her husband, Joel. They have a huge following around the country as leaders of the Prosperity Gospel movement. That is a movement that affirms that God wants us all to prosper in every area of our lives, especially financially. God wants us to be happy by acquiring what we deeply desire. More is always better. And we can if we just think right, believe right, act right, and give right. They proclaim the gospel of happiness.

God forbid that I become critical of a sister and brother in Christ. But I was stunned by a clip from her sermon from late August 2014 posted on Facebook. Victoria was waxing eloquently with her smiling husband standing with her nodding his approval. What she proclaimed was this: “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy. People should obey God because it will make them happy.”

Someone added an old clip from Bill Cosby, the comedian, saying, as he stood up with a shocked face, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard her, and then I began to reason with myself in order to test my response. Maybe the Cosby statement, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” misses the point.

What she was seeking to do is to interpret the truth of reality as she understands it. She was placing the little stories of her listeners lives into the context of the big story of reality which she believes and illustrates with many stories from her life experience. We all seek to do much the same.

Richard Stearns is the President of World Vision. In his new book entitled, Unfinished, he argued that we all seek to make sense of life’s greatest mysteries. At the beginning of the book he cited Ross Douthat of the NY Times, “At the deepest level, every human culture is religious—defined by what its inhabitants believe about some ultimate reality, and what they think that reality demands of them!” (p. 1)

Assumptions about reality presuppose that there is truth at the heart of the mystery. So we seek to make sense of it in the hopes of discovering if our life has meaning and purpose. To do so we rely upon stories. Stearns suggested that there were essentially three choices people can make. They are:

Choice # 1: Believe There is No Story.

To choose this option is to be an atheist. There is no ultimate right or wrong. Choice #1 “leads to a world without truth, and a world without truth leads to chaos. So what are the consequences of all this? One just needs to look at the bloody and brutal course of world history to see the answer.” (page 2) This choice assumes that power is the ultimate truth and that whoever’s ideology has the power to control others will define what happiness is, what reality is.

Choice #2: Make Up Your Own Story.
People make up their own stories and then live accordingly. They create views of reality that make sense to them; they develop value systems and then live out their own homemade realities. They decide not to think about the bigger mystery much at all, and they often don’t really care exactly how they got here or why they are here. They simply invent their own truths. Here are some of the truisms (see page 11):

You should be able to do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt people.
The one who dies with the most toys wins.
Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.
We can all find God in our inner self. We are divine.
Only the strong survive.
All religions are just different roads to the same place.

One can pursue happiness over a lifetime of 70 or 80 years only to discover that when the game is over the lights just go out. A self-created narrative simply evaporates on the day of the individual’s death.

Your chosen story can make all the difference. I think of those who chose the big story of Marxism and joined the Communist Party. Marx articulated a story he received from the German Philosophy of idealism. Except, he stood the dialectic of history on its feet and proclaimed that the movements of history are determined by materialistic and property considerations. In doing so he missed the point and promoted a false ideology that oppressed millions of people.

I think of the story of National Socialism that the Nazis sold an entire nation for the sake of national pride. Their big story was that history had achieved its highest realization of freedom in the emergence of Adolph Hitler. All the nation needed to do was get rid of the Jews and to purify the race. So a nation marched in lockstep into a totalitarian future and the destruction of western civilization.

I think of westerners who have chosen the story of ISIS and gone to take up arms in the name of some perverted story of jihad. In the name of religion a violent enemy of freedom now threatens the whole world and this under the guise of some chosen big story.

In Laguna Beach we have a historical memory of Timothy Leary’s appeal to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” with drugs. Many have chosen that world view and destroyed body and soul. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll promised life, but often has led to suffering and chaos.

Even the story of democracy has been corrupted by national self-interest and economic security. The writers of the U.S. Constitution as they interpreted the American story in the Federalist Papers made it clear that our constitution was an attempt to check and to balance the stories of interests groups and to protect the rights of majorities and minorities of the population. But it has only partially succeeded.

In the marketplace of stories the good insights of all that we value in our political, economic, social, and religious systems have been put to the test.

Therefore, choose your Story carefully.

Choice #3: Become Part of God’s Story.
Yes, but what is God’s story? If God has a story, then how do we discover what God’s story is? All the great religious stories of the world have been distorted and corrupted. Is there any authoritative, normative standard for evaluating whether the story of the god’s are true?
This is why the PCUSA has made this foundational affirmation: “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God in the power of the Spirit.” (Book of Order, PCUSA F-2.02, p. 9)

Therefore, the Letter to the Romans was Paul’s exposition of God’s Story into which he was inviting Jews and Gentiles to believe and to live. He demonstrated over and over again that he was ready to trust God’s story and to lay his own life on the line for its truth.

First, Paul had not invented the gospel of God.
He said to the Galatians, “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)

God’s story had claimed Paul. On the road to Damascus he was blinded that he might see the truth of reality. He began to learn that the gospel of God, God’s story, would be foolishness to those who were perishing, but the power of God unto salvation for all who believed. God’s truth revealed to him had claimed and redirected his identity and destiny.

So this is where he began in launching his mission to the Romans. God’s story had made it imperative for him to clarify the elements of its truth.

Second, Paul’s Gospel was not about him, his own success or happiness.
Right up front he said of himself: “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” (Romans1:1)

He had not signed up for the self-promotion that so many others had. He was not a salesman promoting his product for the sake of making a buck. No, he had become a servant or slave of Jesus Christ. He no longer belonged to himself, but to Christ. He had been called by Christ into his service. He was an apostle, one sent on a mission.

Remember that movie in which Robert Duvall played the Pentecostal preacher? The movie Apostle had a poignant scene in it in which the preacher walked into the water and simply baptized himself again after his failings and sins. This was not the Apostle Paul. God had called him and set him apart to be his servant to the Gentiles. He had not baptized himself, rather he had experienced the hand of God through the hand of the followers of Jesus.

Third, Paul’s message was not new.
He said that God had told the story beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures. It was not a new story. Rather, it was Israel’s story written in the scriptures of God’s people.

In a very important way this was what the Apostle Paul was seeking to do. He had come to believe that God’ Story in the words of N.T. Wright was a five act drama: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, the Church. He and his churches lived in the 5th act of the drama. He knew that God’s story revealed in Creation, in the history of Israel, and in the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people in Jesus Christ was the Big Story that had transformed his life. This story was the launching pad of God’s mission through Paul and the church. It was the foundation of the reality of heaven and earth. It was Good News, the Gospel of God, the Gospel concerning his Son, which the world needed to hear, to see, to believe, and live into.

The Apostle Paul carried God’s Story made known through Israel’s story into the Greco-Roman world. This was the story of the God who is love and who is good who called all that there is into being by the power of his Word.

This is the Father who fashioned the humans in his own image and set them to work to build God’s kingdom in the garden in partnership with God.

This is the God who gave the humans freedom to choose life in obedience to God’s will. This obedience would allow them to hold on to their humanity.

This is the God who grieved when the humans misused their freedom and fell away from right relationship with God.

Yet, this is the God who did not give up on Adams family, but made promises and covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through them God promised to bless all the nations of the earth. Through them God mounted a rescue mission to bring a people who had chosen death into the fullness of life.

The Creator revealed his character and commitment by journeying with Israel seeking to empower them to become a light to the nations of God’s faithfulness, justice, and love.

Through Moses, David, and the prophets the promises of God’s salvation were renewed over and over.

Finally, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

Yes, the Word of Creation became flesh, moved into the human neighborhood, shared our humanity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In him grace and truth were revealed. Through the sacrificial death of the One who was fully human as Son of David, yet fully God, declared to be the Son of God by resurrection from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s salvation was revealed for all who believed.

Fourth, Paul’s message was for the world.
“We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations.” (Romans 1:5-6)

The is the message the church has received as foundational for God’s mission in the world. We carry the same grace and calling as did the Apostle Paul. We are an apostolic covenant community still at work to witness and to work for the transformation of every person and nation for the glory of God.

And we pursue this mission in the joy of the Spirit of God’s calling and power. We trust that we have received the Creator’s joy that sustains our lives through every hardship and suffering and which promises to ultimately come to fulfillment in the New Creation when all shall have been made right and been transformed by the joy of God’s love.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Destination? Mission of God

Date: September 7, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Craig Williams

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Craig Williams is preaching from Acts 16:1-15. The video referenced in this sermon is entitled, “Start Something New” is an IKEA commercial that aired in Spain, but not in the US. This morning we are reading the Acts passage from, The Message.


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Whenever You Pray

Date: August 24, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching from Matthew 6:7-13 and the section on The Lord’s Prayer. We are reading from the NRSV.


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A Good Shepherd, A Wise Woman, A Loving Father

Date: August 17, 2014 Author: Rev. Michael Regele

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Michael Regele is preaching from Luke 15. We are reading from the NRSV.


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The Pathway to Confidence

Date: August 10, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Steve Sweet is preaching from Hebrews 10:11-25. We are reading from the NRSV.  David K., “That Flute Guy” is our musical guest this morning.


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Life Is Messy/God Is Good

Date: August 3, 2014 Author: Beth Pinney (M.Div.) Worship Leader, LPC

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Beth Pinney (Worship Leader) is preaching from Psalm 40. We are reading from the NRSV. Guest Worship Leader: Dawn Orr Grizel along with Andrea Galante, Jeff Nagel, (Vocalists), Gil Orr (Guitar), Jesse Hughes (Bass), Adam Bravo (Keys), Thor Fay (Drums) and Sookyung Bang (Organist).


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Sermon on Psalm 40
During my time as a chaplain at Hoag a couple years back, patients would often ask that I read to them from the Psalms, Often it was Psalm 23, but on one occasion I can remember reading portions of Psalm 139 to woman who was homeless and had been living in her car; and on another occasion reading Psalm 51 to someone who was dealing the consequences of some very poor choices––Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Why the PSALMS? What is it that draws us to them in both the difficult and the joyous time of life?

Perhaps it is because as one commentator noted: “While most of Scripture speaks to us: the Psalms speak for us. The psalms teach us by showing us HOW to pray rather than telling us how to pray. They speak to us from God by showing us how to speak TO God.” (John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom)

When life is Messy, the Psalms become our expressive language TO God. One preacher said, “I was never so low, that I didn’t find David lower; I was never so high, that I didn’t find David higher.” In Psalm 40, David is so low, “He could play handball against the curb.”

You ever felt like that? I have.

Several years back I was in the hospital. It was a time in my life of great suffering, a time of depression and physical illness; it was a time of vocational transition and it was a time of personal loss and resulting grief. Pastor Jerry came to visit me in the hospital, and standing at my bedside, I can still remember him reading Psalm 40 over me.

As the words of Psalm 40 were read over me—it felt like water was watering my parched and dry soul. It was if this were my Psalm; David’s words were my words…I could have written these words myself! As the words were read, I began moving from desolation, to consolation, from disorientation to re-orientation in the mercy, compassion, faithful love of God: “Beth, you are my daughter, I take thought for you.”

I don’t know if you are in a “messy” time of life right now, but I do know, there is a pretty good chance that you have been, and an even better chance you will be in the future. My hope is that you might remember this Psalm is here for you, and go back to it, and let it speak to God to you as you let the Psalmist speak to God for you.

Let’s look Psalm 40 together, see page 513:

vs. 1a. I waited patiently for the Lord.
In these first 10 verses the Psalmist is reflecting back on a MESSY time of life. David remembers it as a time of waiting patiently for YHWH. In Hebrew, this word, _____, indicates that David is waiting with hopeful expectation upon God. David is trusting God will act to deliver him from his present trouble as God had delivered him in the past. Notice vs. 11-17 speak to his present trouble, which, as we will examine in a moment, appears to be much worse and far more intense.

vs. 1b. “He inclined to me and heard my cry.” GOD HEARS!
God Heard. God hears. God bends his divine ear in our direction so as to shema: which in Hebrew means to both HEAR & ACT. God doesn’t lecture or reprimand David…NO…God listens and acts with mercy and compassion.

vs. 2. “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” God ACTS!
The Psalmist was in a deep, dark pit (maybe it was a cave he was hiding in for protection, or maybe it was a cistern that he was thrown into like Joseph), this pit was a miry bog–a boggy bog! David was in it up to his neck, in a situation he could not extricate himself from. I love this image of God drawing David up. The Transcendent God, the Immanent God, the One who now extends his divine arm…God reaches out to you, and to me!

We know that in Christ, God reaches out to all of humanity to draw us up from death to life. Read John 3:16!

We see God’s active love for us every time we look at the cross. The God of all creation acts: listen to the verbs: God inclined, God heard my cry, God drew me up, God set my feet upon a rock. God places David on a plateau. It is a place where David is able to gain perspective, and move forward again with steps that are secure, even in the presence of his enemies.

This is true for us…our foe is sin and death…but no longer: the good news of the Gospel is that: “You have been raised with Christ (the Rock) and your life is hidden/protected with Christ in God.” (Col 3:1-3) You are secure upon the Rock of Jesus Christ.

vs. 3. “He put a NEW song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear (awe), and put their trust in the Lord.” GOD RENEWS
God doesn’t stop with rescue, God goes beyond rescue to restoration, to renewal, and is transforming us––by the work of His Holy Spirit (placed into our hearts)––into the image and likeness of Christ. In Christ, everything is now made new. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and by that God demonstrates his love to the world! Many will see and hear, AND put their trust in the Lord.


Linda Ross shared a wonderful message this past Wednesday in Bible Study. After Ian’s memorial a friend had given her a framed needlepoint. It said, “Live your life so that those who don’t know God, may come to know God because they know you.” I think that sums up Psalm 40 pretty well.

vs. 4-8. This is the song! The New Song. Notice now that the tempo seems to pick up in Praise of YHWH…it’s almost as if David’s joy is building as he recounts God’s Goodness to him. 4 Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. 5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward US; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.

David sings this new salvation song in the great congregation. David who has been pulled up out of the pit and is now filled with Praise! One preacher titled his sermon on Psalm 40, “From the Mire to the Choir!” David’s lips will not be restrained! The drums begin the beat, and the major chords begin to play, the stringed instruments come in, then the full choir, the organ swells, the keyboard plays, and soon every instrument, along with everything that has breath begins to, PRAISE THE LORD for his wondrous deeds, too numerous to count!

Now at vs. 6-8. David receives divine understanding to the plan and purpose of God. Now I will paraphrase this section a bit:

Sacrifice and offering, burnt offering and sin offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear, “Here I am, Lord, my name is in your book! I delight to do your will, your law is written in my heart.”

You mean God doesn’t want sacrifices? In this amazing section of Psalm 40 we have the foreshadowing of the work of Christ–a new heart I will give to you! Psalm 40 is quoted this way in Hebrews 10:16-18:

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds, I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Forgiveness comes to us in Christ. God is Good.

Yes, Life is Messy. The world seems pretty messy right now!

Our God FORGIVES and then goes to work in us, transforming us from one degree of glory, under the LAW, to another/different degree of glory (imperishable and unfading), that is the Grace of Christ. You destiny is secure for you will be like Christ in the end. You and I will see him as he really is. We will know fully/we will understand, even as we have been fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12).

vs. 9-10. “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation: see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden this message/I’ve spoken of your faithfulness/your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and faithfulness from the great congregation.”

Notice David repeats himself here. Reminding God…of what David did say to everyone…how testimony and gratitude flowed from David’s heart. It’s building up again, when even right now, he finds himself in the pit, up to his neck! It’s not “self-talk.” No, this is confidence that rests in the knowledge and that the God who HEARS & ACTS.

Now here we come to the Present Tense of the Psalm, vs. 11-17. We can hear the drums subsiding, and the stringed instruments begin to play a minor chord and David begins his lament:

vs. 11 – 15 “Lord, don’t withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.”
David begins his litany of lamentation:

Vs. 12 – Evils encompassed me – I can’t even count them.
My iniquities have over taken me, until I can’t see: they are more than the hairs on my head (which includes eyebrows for those of you who have no hair), my heart fails me.”
vs. 13 – needs God’s deliverance and help.
vs. 14-15 “Let them be put to shame and confusion, those who seek to snatch my life away.” David’s very life is threatened by the evil all around.

David is being laughed at for his faith and trust in God, a God who looks to them to be silent, slow to act, and they rejoice that David is in trouble, they are delight to destroy his life. It’s their delight to see people of faith fall and they say, “Another Hero bites the dust!” Ha Ha!


vs. 16 Then David is calm and there is silence. The conversation becomes very intimate. BUT may all who seek YOU rejoice and be glad in YOU; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great Is the Lord!”

vs. 17 “As for me, I am poor and needy, BUT”…and it’s an important BUT, “the Lord takes thought for me. You are my helper, my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.

What are we to make of this ending?

Do you want to know what happened next?

Does David really need to tell us? I don’t think so. Because we know, that his life story, and my life story, and your life story is going to cycle right back around to vs. 1 again! For even after experiences of God’s deliverance, there will come days of trial, and, yes, days of even greater trial.

There will be times when we will be praying for God’s deliverance, we experience God’s answers to our lament, and we must sing, “How Great is the Lord!”

In 1994 when my brother Bob died Mad Cow Disease. I felt as though I would never sing again; that I would never be whole. BUT…Wholeness has come in the waiting, in the worship, through life in community. God drew me up out of the desolate pit, he set my feet upon rock. I have to tell you that, of course the word Rock refers to Christ, but here I stand on limestone–limestone was my brother’s specialty by the way – he was a geological mining engineer. In God’s divine humor, he placed me here rock upon Rock, and God has put a new song in my mouth.

God has given me a new song, a calling, a vocation, a re-orientation. 18 years later I am so thankful that God has used all the loss in my life to bear witness to all the goodness of God. I have had the great privilege of seeing God do the same thing in many of your lives as you have been gracious enough to share with me your trials, your miry bogs, your times of desolation and the work of God in your life to bring consolation and newness of life as you waited in the mess, and saw that God IS Good.

Yes, I am poor and needy. You may feel poor and needy this morning…you may even feel so low you could be playing handball against the curb…God takes thought for you.

You may be in the pit this morning…I want you to know that God takes thought for you…my hope for you is that you may be able to wait patiently, with hopeful expectation on God.

You may be on the Mountaintop, singing, “Praise the Lord!” We need your encouragement and testimony of God’s faithful love to you, so that many will see and put their trust in the Lord!

I think that David shares his trial with us, because he wants to encourage the people of God about the very character of our God. God is the one who is HOLDING YOU through the Love and Grace of Jesus Christ…for nothing in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is why we gather here Sunday after Sunday to proclaim to all of Laguna and to the ends of the earth… “Great is the Lord.”

Yes. Life Is Messy. God is Good. Thanks be to God.
By Beth Pinney

Stay in the Ship

Date: July 27, 2014 Author: Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching from Acts 27 as we complete our sermon series through the Book of Acts. We are reading from the NRSV.


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Ten years ago at this time I was on a C.S. Lewis Study Tour with my friend John Huffman. We were able to join the C.S. Lewis Society Study Group at the last moment because there was still room and the price had been reduced. It was a rare opportunity and experience that began in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at Lewis’ birthplace, took us by bus to Dublin, and then on to the Sea Cloud 2 for a several day and night cruise across the Irish Sea between Wales and Ireland. The final destination was Oxford, England and The Kilns, Lewis’s home of many years as he taught at Oxford and Cambridge.

On the way Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ step son read to us in the evenings from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Chronicles of Narnia. How wonderful those evening were in a group of Lewis scholars and devotees having Lewis’ stepson reading to us as Jack Lewis had hoped The Chronicles would be read and enjoyed by parents and children having their imaginations stirred.

A chapter in The Dawn Treader tells of the storm that occurred on the Narnian seas not long after the four children from England had been drawn into the Narnian magical world and placed upon the ship. The Voyage began in beautiful and calm weather. But soon a storm of wind and waves beat upon the small ship. Eustace the beastly little boy retreated to his room and described the experience day by day in his journal. All he longed to do was to escape from the ship named the Dawn Treader. His daily postings were totally nasty and critical of everyone on board.When at last they made it through the treacherous storm they arrived at a bay on an island. As soon as possible Eustace took leave of the others and became lost in the mountains. His adventure led him to a total transformation at the hand of Aslan the Christ lion. He discovered how important his friends were and why it was necessary for him to cooperate and to hold tight to the ship that had weathered the storm.

Ten years ago, on the Sunday morning off the coast of Wales we prepared to disembark the Sea Cloud to boat to the shore on a small Tender to hear the great Anglican evangelical pastor, John Stott, preach in his home parish in St. David. At the last minute we were warned that the process of getting into the small boat that would take us to shore had become very dangerous. A storm was coming. The Tender was being slammed against the side of the Sea Cloud. The force was so powerful the Captain warned that if your leg was caught in between the Tender and the Sea Cloud it would likely sever your leg. I decided against it and stayed on board the Sea Cloud for morning worship.

By noon time the winds and the waves were increasing. The issue was whether or not the few brave ones could actually make it back to the Sea Cloud. They did so and the Sea Cloud began its journey across to Ireland, but it was a journey that would take us into the North Atlantic for a part of the way.

By dinner time I had already taken two or three sea sick pills. I had been asked to say the evening prayer before dinner. As I worked my way up the stairway of the Sea Cloud and moved toward the beautiful dining room, the moment I smelled the food I knew I would soon barf if I joined the assembled folks. I passed word on. I felt like such a weakling.

What I did not realize was that we were entering the North Atlantic and the winds of Hurricane Charlie that had devastated parts of the U.S. were now blowing upon us. The ship was being pounded by 30 to 50 ft waves. Food, dishes, and bottles of wine were being thrown across the dining room. Almost everyone was getting ill, even the crew. Dinner was impossible.

I went back to my room on the lower deck and lay flat on my bed and held on for dear life. The nausea diminished. I could not have managed to write in a journal as Eustace did. As we crashed through the huge waves and the ship was buffeted by wind and waves I read about our destination the next morning. It was to be Cork, Ireland. This was the last port of call for the Titanic before it had its tragic encounter with the iceberg in the North Atlantic. This completely terrified me. What kind of omen was this?

My friend John brought me another pill and reported what was happening to everyone on board. I held tight to the bed so as not to be thrown around the cabin. The last thing I wanted to do that night was to abandon the ship to go overboard seeking to save myself. I was prepared to go down with the ship knowing that my only hope of being saved was by staying in the ship and riding out the storm. I wondered if Douglas Gresham’s reading the evening before had been a prophecy about what was happening to us. C.S. Lewis’ narration of the storm that hit the Dawn Treader was a perfect description of what was happening to us. It was like being caught up into that story.

Jesus and his disciples knew what it was like to be caught in wind and wave storms on the Sea of Galilee. On more than one occasion the disciples thought they were perishing. In Mark 4 they went to Jesus who was asleep in the bow and cried out, “Lord do you not care that we are perishing?” He awakened and commanded the storm to cease and it did so. The disciples were in awe. They asked, “who is this that commands even the winds and the waves?”

On another occasion Jesus came to them walking on water in a night time storm. They thought he was a ghost. Peter cried out to him, “Allow me to come to you walking on the water.” Jesus invited him to come, but within a couple of steps Peter began to sink and cried out for help. Jesus caught him and placed him back in the boat and Jesus climbed in as well. Not once did Jesus ask his disciples to step out of the ship in order to escape the storm. Rather, he rode out the storm with them. He asserted his authority as Lord of the sea and of the chaos that the sea represented for the Hebrew mind.

Sometime in the middle of the night I heard the ships engines of the Sea Cloud begin to relax, and I relaxed and went to sleep trusting that we were safe. A calm came as we entered the protection of the island of Ireland and we made it by morning time into the safe harbor of Cork. It was an experience I will never forget and which I do not want to repeat.
In the midst of a storm at sea, when the chaos seems to be threatening the order of the world and the life of Jesus’ disciples, we dare never abandon the ship of the church.

The poet Homer from 7th century B.C. Greece told the story of the hero of the Trojan Wars returning home to Ithaca in hopes of being reunited with his family. He and his crew had to sail by the island of the Sirens where the female voices sang so beautifully that they led seafarers to jump ship to swim to their sure deaths. The sailors prepared. Odysseus melted wax and stuffed it into the ears of his men so they would not hear the music and jump overboard. He commanded his men to lash him to the mast of the ship. He warned them not to release him no matter how hard he begged them. As he listened the desire to abandon the ship to swim toward the beautiful music was overwhelming. Thankfully, the ship made it beyond the Sirens music and Odysseus stayed with the ship because he was lashed to the mast.

As the Apostle Paul was being transported to Rome by the roman military, he watched carefully what was happening. It was God’s will for him to witness to Rome, to stand before Caesar and to make his case for his freedom. It was now late fall and winter was coming. Wind and waves would pose danger for ships seeking to sail from the east to the west. He warned that they were pressing their luck. The owner of the ship and the centurion would not listen. At last Paul’s counsel proved to be right. The winter winds beat upon them. Control of the ship was lost. 276 lives were threatened. Millions of dollars of products could be lost. But the authorities would not listen to the prisoner.

After many days and nights the people aboard the ship had given up hope. It was at that moment that the Apostle Paul stood up before the passengers and military men and witnessed that during the night a messenger of the God to whom he belonged and whom he worshiped had told him that he would appear before Caesar. They were not to be afraid. They were to take courage. The Lord who had created him, redeemed him, repeatedly saved him through many dangers, would now deliver them all, but all would need to stay in the ship.

When Paul saw that some of the crew were preparing to board the small lifeboat to escape the coming disaster, he warned the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”

Within the first centuries of the church’s history church fathers began to speak of the church as the ark of salvation. One proclaimed that outside the church there is no salvation. Around the world in churches of all types the ship was often pictured in stain glassed windows and on hangings on banners, pulpits and lecterns.

But why stay in the ship in the stormy waters of chaos? In my family of origin there seemed always to be a threatening storm. I found myself searching for a refuge, a safe place. It was this experience that partially drew me to God and to the church family. When I joined the church and began my journey toward ordination in the Presbyterian Church I thought I had escaped the threatening storms of life. It did not take long to realize that even in the church there was no escape from danger, both internal and external. I could tell you story after story about that. Perhaps this is at the heart of the human condition. In this world the people of God will always be in a ship pounded by all kinds of storms.

In this present time the storms within the church and outside of the church threaten to sink the ship. Congregations are deciding to jump ship, to leave a denomination considered to be deathly ill, dysfunctional, and out of touch with people in the pew. For the past two years our own Presbytery has been in a process of discernment about affiliation with one another. There have been times in which I wanted to strap myself and others to the mast of the ship.

What is the mast of the ship of the church? You know what it is. It is the cross of Jesus Christ. Over and over again in the threatening storms I have lashed myself to the cross. At the cross, God in Christ purchased our souls and translated us into the fellowship of his people moving through the stormy seas of human history in the ship of the church.

I believe that the Christian Church is on a long journey through history and that we have moved through many choppy seas, calm seas, and outright stormy seas. But the answer has never been to abandon ship.


First, because of the Presence of the Word of God.

That Word came by means of the angel of the Lord to Paul the Apostle. He and they were not alone. The Presence of the Lord was with them in the ship. Paul belonged to the One whom he worshiped. He had been bought with a price. He no longer belonged to himself. He had been crucified with Christ and the life he now lived he lived by faith in the Son of God whose Spirit now was alive within his body and spirit. The Lord was at work in leading him to Rome to make his witness before Caesar and the Lord promised to get him there, but he had to stay in the ship along with everyone else. Paul was lashed to the mast, to the cross of the ship.
Therefore, Paul challenged all 276 persons to not be afraid, to take courage, and to stay in the ship. God was able to see them through the storm into a safe port.

I find myself as a pastor in this Presbytery making Paul’s appeal to sister congregations, to brothers and sisters purchased by Christ: “Stay in the Ship” until the destination in the New Creation has arrived. Do not be afraid. Take courage. Trust the purpose and plan of God for his church.

Why stay in the ship?

Secondly, because in the ship of the church is the bread of life.

After more than two weeks of being battered by the storm, all 276 people were famished, hungry, and weakened. Paul stood before them now as the leader taking charge and said, “I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.
After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.” Acts 27:34

It was the unrecognized stranger in Luke 24 who took the bread in the house of the Emmaus disciples, broke it, and gave it to them. In that moment of sharing blessed bread their eyes were opened and they knew that the crucified and resurrected one was present with them.

You see it is in the ship of the church that the Word of God is proclaimed. It is the Word of promise, of comfort, and hope. It is in the ship of the church that the visible Word of the Sacrament is blessed and given to terrified disciples. Here we learn to surrender our lives to the living Lord, to trust in his providential leading, to live into the reality that in life and death we belong to God and God is able to work all things together for good for those who love him.

Horatio Spafford wrote the haunting poem at the very spot in the North Atlantic were members of his family had lost their lives in a ship wreck. Tears must have streamed down his face as he wrote, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come. Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

Let us stay in the ship lashed to the mast of the cross. He will see us through to safe harbor.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Invitation

Date: July 20, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. This Sunday is our VBS celebration Sunday. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching from Acts 20. We are reading from the NRSV.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Date: July 6, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This Sunday Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching from Acts 18:1-18. We are reading from the NRSV.


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Acts 18:1-18


The Apostle Paul had come to Corinth, Greece, because the Spirit of the Lord had guided him to that place. He was on God’s mission. He had not come out of curiosity seeking a vacation or a good time.

In fact, many came to Corinth for a good time of enjoying pleasure. It was a seaport town and seafarers could find about any pleasure they desired in Corinth. It was a cultured, cosmopolitan Roman colony where commodities from around the Mediterranean were bought and sold.

Temples to many of the gods and goddesses of the first century world were present. The Temple of Apollo, the sun god, stood looking over the marketplace. The Temple of Aphrodite stood atop the 2k ft. mountain called the Acrocorinth overlooking the city. Some historians have argued that many prostitutes worked in the Temple or the city’s marketplace. In the Greco-Roman world Corinth developed a reputation.

To “Corinthianize” meant to be immoral.

The first time I saw Corinth I said to myself, “this is the Southern California coastline with mountains, oceans, hustle and bustle, people worshiping the sun, happy in the pleasures of which the Beach Boys were singing.

Paul remained in the city for 18 months doing God’s work. His mission became a great evangelistic crusade. In the process a fellowship of believers in Christ emerged made up of Jews and Gentiles, people who had been already shaped by the stimulating culture of the city. To these believers the Apostle wrote at least four letters. He was their father in the faith. He wrote to the church that he had established in Corinth, “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5:20

The Apostle Paul arrived in Athens and Corinth knowing that he had come on behalf of God. His was a visit into a world dominated and ruled by principalities, rulers, and powers that were often hostile to any authority from beyond. He represented the true Sovereign ruler of heaven and earth and he had come to Corinth to proclaim, to herald, to announce that the Creator and Redeemer of heaven and earth had sent him to establish a beachhead that would lead to the transformation of Corinth’s life.

He set about his task.

Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. The Apostle Paul was focused and intentional.

He was proclaiming the good news of the gospel that God in Christ had acted in history to reconcile the world to himself and us to each other. In Christ God had acted to heal the human heart, to bring peace to a broken humanity, to restore the justice of the kingdom of God in every city. He came to Corinth to build the one, holy, apostolic, church of Christ, with the understanding that he was building a temple for a dwelling place for the Spirit of the resurrected Lord.

In his travels in the Greco-Roman world Paul had studied the architecture of the great buildings and temples he had seen all the way from Jerusalem, to Ephesus, to Athens, and Corinth. So he said of himself, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

He wrote to the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Cor. 3:10-17

He knew he was up against it.

He said, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cor. 1

Now there are many different strategies for how to build the church of Jesus Christ.

First and foremost the temple of God must be built on a solid foundation and that foundation is Jesus Christ.

We lay the foundation as we teach and preach Christ. The first great end of the church is: to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Everything else we do flows from this proclamation that Jesus is Savior and Lord, the only way to right relationship with God, the way God has chosen to restore a fallen creation.

So Paul knew that he had to build wisely if the temple of God was to emerge amongst the temples of Corinth. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” 1 Cor. 2:1-5

It did not take the authorities long to catch on to the truth he proclaimed. The kingdom of God had arrived in Paul’s witness. The synagogue leadership cast him out and Paul moved next door in the marketplace to witness to the Gentiles and Jews who would continue to listen. He supported himself by making and selling tents. The authorities sought to silence him. They intimidated him. Yet, the church was growing in Corinth, but not without danger, within and without.

In a time of possible discouragement, anxiety, exhaustion, and fear, Paul was given a vision in the night. The voice of the Lord said to him, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9-10

“Do not be afraid.”

Fear and weakness have often haunted disciples of Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul described the dangers he had faced in doing the mission of God: “He had been imprisoned, flogged, near death, beaten and left for dead. He had been ship wrecked; he had crossed dangerous rivers, been exposed to bandits, threatened by Jews and Gentiles; he had confronted false brothers and sisters; he had worked night and day to support himself. He had been hungry and thirsty, cold and naked; his anxiety for the churches he had established were ever present to him. He knew what it was to be weak and afraid. He had been given a thorn in the flesh that brought him low from time to time. God would not remove the thorn.”

When I first came to Laguna Beach to pastor this congregation I confess I was afraid.

I had every reason to be afraid. I did not know if I had come to build a church or to bury one. Church’s are fragile and the work of building a people, a building, a mission is a terrifying reality. I did not have any secret formula or program. I still do not. All I knew to do was what Paul did in Corinth and that was to busy myself with teaching and preaching the Word of God. I asked one of my mentors what I ought to do and he challenged me to go native in Laguna. You mean with all those artists, new agers, hippies, and Lagunatics? It could have been a great party with drugs, sex, rock and roll. Exactly, he said, you will need to figure it out.

So I jumped in like every pastor who was ever called to build the church. But I have always been aware that I did not have the power in and of myself to do it. So I have had good reason to be afraid.

As a people we have gone through a number of seasons at LPC, within the PCUSA, and within American Protestantism since the 1960’s. We have lived in future shock. In every season I have learned to cast myself upon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, to study, to worship, to pray, to live, to laugh, to learn, and to get up every morning to face a new day with courage, or just to get up in faith, hope, and love.

It may well have been that the Apostle Paul thought of himself as an Elijah type prophet who was at work challenging the prophets of Baal, the religious spiritual guides of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah had become known as the Troubler of Israel. In a contest with the 400 prophets of Baal Elijah had demonstrated that the Lord alone was God. He had destroyed his enemies in a demonstration of power and Spirit. Fire came from heaven and the prophets of Baal were defeated. When Jezebel heard that he had routed her prophets she promised that Elijah would be dead before day’s end.

Elijah ran away from her. He was afraid. He was exhausted. His spiritual energy was depleted. He traveled all the way to Mt. Sinai where the Lord allowed him to rest, to sleep, to eat, to reflect, and to pray. There on Mt. Sinai where Moses had received the law of God, the voice of the Lord asked him several times, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” All he could answer was to tell the story of his trials and tribulations and how alone he felt in doing battle with the rulers of the world. Finally, the Lord assured him that he did not need to be afraid. Paul heard the same assuring word, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent”.

Many of my pastor friends are afraid at this time and feeling very alone.

Some have become so frightened that they have sought to leave the PCUSA and to find a safer place among like minded people. They cry to God and to their people about the apostasy of others within our denomination, about the theological drift, loss of biblical authority, and cultural bondage of the church. They are afraid. I can understand that fear. I have had it myself and at times had wanted to run to some Mt. Sinai. Some of my friends under the stress of life and pressures of the church have just flipped out into a moral holiday and have fallen in one way or another. The dropout rate of servants of the church has been great.

Others of us have decided to hang in there and to honor the vows we took within this covenant family. Some of us are planning to gather after the dust settles to see who is left, to meet, to pray, to plan, and to see if we can go on. What if we are left alone, or in a small group of churches that will need to be connected with a larger Southern Ca. Presbytery? Will we be able to stagger on? What does all of this mean for the financial well being of the church as an institution that must pay for buildings and staff, manage pension programs and foundations, and continue to support foreign missionaries whom we have sent to the fields of the world?

Into this moment comes the word of the Lord, “Do not be afraid.”

Why? For I Am with you.

No greater promise than this. “I am with you.”

“If God is for us who can be against us?”

“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” Romans 8:31-32

The Bible is filled with this promise. It came to Jacob at Bethel. It came to Moses in the midst of his trials with Israel in the wilderness. It came to the shepherd boy David as he faced the giant Goliath. It came to Elijah at Mt. Sinai. “I am with you.” “You are not alone.” “There are 7 thousand people in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Jesus also walked that Valley of Fear.

It appeared that his public work was coming to nothing. He felt abandoned by his Father and cried from the cross. Yet, in humble, servant trust he laid down his life upon the cross and cried, “It is finished”, and because of his obedience the power of God in raising him from the dead life, hope, power and love have sprung forth. And just when it appears that all is lost in the darkness, the sun rises, the winds of resurrection life and the breath of the Holy Spirit is blown into the seemingly dead Israel and a New Exodus into life begins.

“Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9-11

How could we have forgotten all of you, here Sunday by Sunday, faithfully worshipping, giving sacrificially in love, willingly choosing to do mission with us frightened preachers? There are many in this city who are the Lord’s people. There are many in the PCUSA who are the Lord’s people.

Do not be afraid, but speak. I am with you.
You are not alone.
Get on with the work.

Dr. Jerry Tankersley

How Does the Gospel Play in Athens?

Date: June 29, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This Sunday Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching from Acts 17:16-34. We are reading from the NRSV.


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Acts 17:16-34


At last the Apostle Paul arrived in Athens, Greece, ground zero of the worship of gods and goddesses of all kinds. There were so many altars for worship of the pantheon of deities that Paul of Jerusalem became deeply distressed by the idolatry of Athens. He was in the city where the “principalities and powers” of spiritual forces ruled the culture of the Greco-Roman world view and cultural life. And he was there alone, yet Christ was with him as he waited for Silas and Timothy to come.

While walking into the city he had seen an altar to an unknown god. The Greeks were concerned about keeping all the divinities satisfied and on their side. They did not want to neglect any possible spiritual force that might need to be appeased. The gods could become angry and punish a city very quickly unless they received what they demanded.

It was Paul’s first visit to Athens. Up to this moment he had only read about the Acropolis at the center of the city. I think he wanted to see it firsthand. I suspect he had seen it at a distance upon arrival at the seaport.

In 1971 was my first visit to the Acropolis of Athens.
Our group arrived in the evening from Rome. I was so excited to get out early the next morning to see the ancient wonders of the Parthenon, the temple of the worship of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. That building had stood at the center of Athens from the 5th century B.C., built in the golden age of ancient Greece by Pericles. It was and still is an architectural wonder. Phidias, the great Greek sculptor and artist had planned, formed, and installed the famous statue of Athena. It was made of stone, silver, and gold. It symbolized the power and glory of Athens.

During the night of my visit to Athens, I awakened and was deathly ill with food poison. All night long I barfed. We called the hotel doctor early in the morning. I pleaded with him to help me. I had a group to lead. But above all I wanted to sit on the Areopagus, on Mars Hill, and look up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. I had taken courses in college in the history of Greece and Rome. This was a moment for which I had lived. I had arrived and could barely get my head off the pillow. The good doctor said, “Don’t worry. You just ate and drank the food and water of Rome. Put some drops of this medicine in a glass of water, drink it, and you will be on the Acropolis by early afternoon.” And sure enough, he was right. I treasure looking at the pictures of me as a young black headed associate pastor reading our morning text to my fellow disciples atop the Areopagus, spellbound by the view of the Parthenon.

This was the place where Paul the Apostle stood and engaged the culture and philosophy of ancient Greece with the good news of the gospel. He carried the message of Jerusalem to the city of Athens. He must have wondered how the gospel would play in this center of paganism.

I have read Tertullian, an early church father’s question and pondered it: “what has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” A profound philosophical, religious question! Each city’s temples witnessed to differing, conflicting world views and understanding of the gods.

Perhaps with fear and trembling, the Apostle Paul walked into the marketplace, the agora of Athens, the center city, the shopping mall if you will, the place where the political leadership gathered in assembly to make the laws and to administer the life of the city.

What a moment it was.

He joined other teachers and their disciples in this center of debate and conflict. He gathered a crowd around him and he began to tell the good news of Jesus and the relevance of this good news for Athens.

Soon he was encountered by both Epicurean and Stoic philosophers with whom he argued. This is what the Greeks loved to do. They listened for a while to Paul, and finally decided he was a babbler who had picked up bits of information and knowledge in his travels. Basically, they decided that Paul was full of it and that he was proclaiming a message about some foreign deities.

The Epicureans had one view of god and the Stoics had another. In the argument with Paul what was revealed was a clash in world views and understandings of God. Recently, N.T. Wright of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, has written a book entitled, SURPRISED BY SCRIPTURE. In it he argues that we are all mainly Epicureans in the western world, and especially in America.

He wrote, “The founder of the Epicurean philosophy in the 3rd century BC had become fed up with the murky world of pagan religion in general and the Stoic pantheists in particular.” The Epicureans argued that the gods did not concern themselves with our world, whether to intervene in it or to judge its inhabitants after death. In fact, since the physical world continued on its self-caused way without help from outside, physical death simply meant complete dissolution of the human being.

You could sum up Epicurus’ philosophy with the slogan that Richard Dawkins and his associates put as advertisements on London buses two or three years ago. ‘There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ “Don’t worry be happy!” Put happy in a lyric with a great repetitive rhythm and you can sell a million copies.

Draw a direct line from him to John Lennon: imagine there’s no heaven, no hell beneath us; now get on and live for today.”

The Stoics believed there was a divine, rational principle that permeated all of nature. Rational, virtuous men could know the truth by reason and could through rational processes endure any suffering patiently.
Basically, nature was divine.

In these two schools of thought engaged by the Apostle Paul in Athens, he confronted a world that argued there was no god and if there was, he was far away and uninvolved, or whose presence could be known immanent in nature.

When Paul was called before the elders of the city to appear before their council to be investigated as to the content of his teachings, he stood at ground zero with his message of the ultimate truth of the kingdom of God that argued, in the words of N.T. Wright, that “heaven and earth overlap and interconnect” and interpenetrate.” Luke gave us a synopsis of Paul’s message and this message is now inscribed in bronze on the hillside known as the Areopagus. It was written in Greek and stands as a silent witness to the gospel of God at play at the center of Greco-Roman culture and philosophy. How would the gospel play in Athens?

First, he met the Athenians on common ground as much as he could. He witnessed to the mighty act of creation by the Word and Spirit of the Lord.

I think most of the Athenians believed that there was some god or goddess but they did not know how this god was related to human life, human history, and especially to the Greek world. All of Greek culture and behavior was anchored in this Greek world view.

So Paul witnessed that there was a Sovereign Creator God who made all that there is in heaven and earth. However, this God’s presence could not be contained in temples made by human hands. This God needed nothing from humans. In making this assertion the Apostle was calling into question the very foundation of all the temples of the Greco-Roman world. He was turning the world upside down or right side up.

This God revealed and incarnate in Jesus made all the nations and gave to them their allotted times and places. The purpose and plan of this transcendent, yet immanent God was to create a space where humans could search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “In him we live and move and have our being’. Between the lines we know that Paul was also witnessing to the God that is good and intends to bless all of humanity.

‘’For we too are his offspring.’

“The Athenians were not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.” No man made building could contain the Creator’s presence.

Secondly, Paul bore witness to the consummation of the New Creation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the early Christian church the cross of Jesus became the great symbol of the purpose and plan of God for human history and indeed for the healing of creation and human history.
This has always been the case for the church in its mission. The gospel turns the world upside down or right side up by the message of the cross. Within three centuries of Paul’s visit to Athens, the gods and the goddesses of Greece and Rome would fall before the cross.
There is a powerful work of art that is in the Vatican Museum. It pictures a pagan god having fallen before the cross of Christ and is shattered into pieces.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul wrote that God in Christ made peace through the blood of Christ upon the cross. At the cross the walls humanity had built to divide were shattered; humanity was reconciled, and God’s purpose and plan to unite all things in Christ were fulfilled.

God had set a day upon which the created order would be healed and made right. And to assure humanity of this good news, he had raised Jesus from the dead.

It was when Paul preached the resurrection of Jesus’ body and the in-breaking of the rule of God that the Athenians were offended. For them, salvation meant deliverance from the material world and transfer of the immortal soul into some other place.

Twelve years ago I stood for moderator of the 214th GA of the PCUSA. The pastor who nominated me to our Presbytery was Bill Flanagan, Associate Pastor, SAPC. Bill went to be with the Lord three years ago. This past week while I was in Detroit, Christy, his beloved wife, dropped dead in a restaurant while paying the bill for herself and her daughter. No warning. Flan, her husband had been with me in Columbus, Ohio.

Last summer David Roberson died.
He and Linda were with me to support me in this endeavor that had sought me out.

Last Friday, Ian Ross passed into the presence of the Lord. Ian and Linda have been such good friends since our days in La Canada. They went with us to Columbus as a part of the team. They made me practice on the stage of St. Andrews giving my speech before the Assembly. They were so kind and helpful. That experience helped me begin to overcome my fears of making a fool of myself before the world.

As I prayed in the middle of the night in preparation for that standing for moderator the vision and message Paul’s message to Ephesus and Athens was framed in my mind. It was the message and calling I felt to lift high the cross of Jesus Christ both in the church, in my personal life, and in our world. The PCUSA has always given me the freedom to proclaim this gospel. Nothing has changed.

One of my critics wrote after the election in which I was not elected that I seemed to want to preach to the church. He was right. I wanted to lift high the cross of Jesus by which we have all been invited into the fellowship of the one triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believed then and I still believe that the source and hope for unity and peace in church and world is found in the message of this gospel of God.

The words of Pastor Joseph Iteri of the PCEA still ring in my ears from 1994. He directed our mission groups eyes to the ceiling of the chapel to the wooden cross. As an African pastor, with all of our history, he said that the only way we could be in one room together was in the blood that was poured out at the cross of Jesus where God made atonement for our sins.

This has been and continues to be the calling of God upon my life. I believe that in fellowship with God in Christ that we are being incorporated into a new humanity, gathered as one people of God who will one day gather at the throne of God our Creator and Redeemer in the worship of the God of love. Until then we work to make the gift of God’s unity visible in the power of love revealed at the cross, and anointed in the Holy Spirit. Until that day we work for the healing of God’s earth and the restoration of justice and social righteousness.

Will the gospel play in Laguna Beach?

You bet it will, by the presence and power of the God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

This morning I stand with Paul at the center of a searching and groping city. Find your way to Jesus Christ! Be reconciled to God and to one another!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley