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

The Knowledge We Need

Date: November 30, 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 Knowledge We Need” from Romans 5:1-5, Luke 1:67-80. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is 1st Sunday of Advent.

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THE KNOWLEDGE WE NEED

“To give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.” – Lk 1:77

John Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with the assertion that the knowledge of God always leads to the knowledge of the human self, but also that the knowledge of self leads to the knowledge of God. This was at the heart of all wisdom. One could not be certain which knowledge came first.

This was surely true in my case. In my late high school years I began to have an awareness of my body. A close friend asked me in the fall of our senior year in high school why I did not lose some weight. Up to that time I had always loved the holiday times, especially Thanksgiving as times of feasting with family and friends. For some reason his comment got to me and I decided shortly before the holiday season to see if I might lose some weight. That was the beginning of a coming to a new self awareness. Up to that time I had no idea what hunger pangs might be like. I discovered that holiday season. It hurt, but by Christmas time I realized I was making progress, and by springtime I had lost 30 pounds.

I told my mother that if I were to keep it off I needed to have scales in the house so that I could weigh each day in order to keep track of how I was doing. I did not realize that I was inventing my own “Weight Watchers” program. So mom and I went to the store downtown and purchased a very heavy portable scale. Thus began the habit of the weigh in each morning after rising.

That scale has been with me all my adult years. I had come to the knowledge of how easy it is to allow one’s eating habits to expand without being aware. Over time the self-knowledge that was awakened in the discipline of weighing one’s body generalized to interests in all forms of knowledge. Was I ever surprised! Soon disciplines of running, weightlifting, and studying, and developing relationships emerged. I found that these new habits were exciting and rewarding. There were continuing challenges of risking and putting myself on the line to either fail or to succeed.

I still own the scales that mom and I purchased. They are a sign for me of spiritual awakening. They are now moved into my office at home, and lo, Amazon arrived last week with a new bamboo covered digital scale. You can barely see it on our floor. Its light! The unique thing about it is that the scale is solar powered. It registers me as two pounds heavier than my old scales. I did not like that, but what’s another challenge. It will not work unless light is being captured from the sun.

It reminded me of the dilemma of the Rosetta Orbiter that chased down the comet after a decade of gradually closing in on the goal that was moving at 34k miles an hour. The comet was the size of NY City and was gradually rotating. Amazingly the Rosetta Lander set down on the comet’s surface after bouncing three times. It rested in the shadow of a cliff so that its solar panels had limited exposure to the sun. So it soon went to sleep, but scientists hope it will awaken as it draws near the sun. This gives me goose bumps.

How the world and our understanding of this cosmos have changed in the life span of my first scales? Is there anything that is not digitalized? We have so many digital devices at our home that I cannot begin to remember the passwords. The Speer Library building at Princeton Seminary has now been demolished and replaced with a new library. The advance of this new world class theological library is that all the books are being digitalized and put online. Pastors and teachers around the world who can connect to the internet may read books never before available to them, and information and knowledge will expand and hopefully bless the world.

My enlarged world began with a scale that allowed me to grow in self-knowledge. The scale became an open door for my future with a new love for all kinds of things, books and libraries. I have visited some of the great world-class libraries which contain the creative works of generations of scholars and persons of acclaim who have blessed the world with, information, scientific theory, philosophy, literature, political ideology, and the heritage of human history. These places are cherished by the nations.

I shall never forget walking into the Trinity University Library in Dublin, Ireland, to see the ancient biblical manuscript of the Book of Kells, but just as importantly, the huge hall, several stories high, with shelves on each side of the hall reaching to the ceiling all packed with books. I wanted to get on my knees with a spirit of awe. Mysteriously these places stir a passion in many to learn, to accumulate, and to preserve knowledge for the enlightenment of the world. And I think that is good.

Calvin was right that self knowledge opens the door to a deeper knowledge, to the knowledge of the glory and fallenness of human nature and history. As that knowledge convicts us, so it brings the awareness of the brokenness of humanity and the tragic, violent, history we have written.

A number of years ago Paul Johnson wrote a book entitled, Intellectuals. Chapter after chapter he reviewed the theories of knowledge and world views of people like Rousseau, Shelly, Marx, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Sartre and other ideologues who had informed people and nations in their search for the truth. But what Johnson did was discuss the personal lives of those who were the fathers of philosophical schools and various ways humans have come to knowledge.

What he revealed was that even though these men were giants in the elite intellectual world and their writings helped shape the modern world, their personal lives were disasters. They could not live within their philosophical castles they had constructed. They neglected and abused those closest to them. They often led immoral lives. Whether they discovered reality by means of deductive reason or empirical scientific observation, or poetic genius, their personal relations with others were a mess.

They were fallen humans like all other humans who had ever lived. They needed to receive a knowledge that would address the most basic of human needs, and that was the knowledge of salvation that proclaimed good news for sinners. What they needed was the gift of revelation that could only be received by means of faith and which had the power to enlighten all human ideas and imaginations.

Zechariah was such a man. He was a good man. He was an old priest married to an aging woman named Elizabeth. While serving in the Jerusalem Temple he was encountered by the Angel Gabriel. Like Abraham and Sarah they no doubt had some knowledge of the Creator God, but that knowledge had been relegated to the past, to the liturgy of the Temple, and to the scriptures of Israel. It was not alive. It could not give life. The Word and the prophetic Spirit had not been heard in Israel for centuries. God seemed absent and silent.

But suddenly Zechariah learned that the God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” was on the move in his historical circumstances and in his personal life. He was stunned. The Angel announced that the old couple would give birth to a child to be named John. Their son would be set apart for the service of God. The Word and the Spirit of the God of Israel would rest upon him and he would be used to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Lord. Zechariah could not speak for nine months. It was not until the child was born and named John that his mouth was opened and his tongue freed so that he praised God. His words became words of prophecy inspired by the Spirit. Thus the church was given the Benedictus, the prophecy and the prayer for use in the morning prayers of God’s people.

Zechariah and his son, John the Baptist, became the means by which the “knowledge of salvation, the forgiveness of sins” was proclaimed to a people living in the darkness of spiritual exile in a fallen world.

Self-knowledge at its best opens the door to receive the revelation of the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God opens the door to receive the good news of the gospel. And that good news is that even as God has always been on the move in human history in the lives of his people Israel, so that movement of God came to fulfillment in the One to whom John the Baptist would witness. It is his message that we proclaim this Sunday.

The Baptist came out of the wilderness of Judea shaped and formed by the vision of Isaiah the prophet. In the 6th century B.C. the prophet proclaimed that Israel in exile in Babylon had been forgiven its sins and that God was doing a new thing. He would rescue his people from the slavery of Babylon in a New Exodus. A highway for the Lord was being prepared from Babylon to Jerusalem and the glory of the Lord was marching in front of his people comforting them and leading them as his forgiven people.

John the Baptist stirred his nation with this old vision. God was on the move again acting to do for Israel and the nations what we humans could not achieve for ourselves whatever our knowledge, theories, ideas, laws, or truths might be. This time the glory of the Lord was incarnate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, Son of David and Son of God. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

It was Isaiah’s, Gabriel’s, Zechariah’s, and John’s message that the Apostle Paul interpreted in his Letter to the Romans. He was proclaiming “the knowledge of salvation, the forgiveness of sins.” Luke 1:77

Paul in Romans 5:1-5 summarized what he had written in the first four chapters. The Gentile world had turned away from the knowledge of the true Creator God to worship and serve created things. They fell into idolatry. In turning away from the knowledge of God they lost their humanity and became defiled. They became futile in their thinking. Their senseless minds were darkened. God gave them up to a debased mind.

The Jewish people had received the revelation of the will of God in the Law, but they had not lived the Law. Paul’s conclusion about both Gentiles and Jews was that “all have sinned. There is no one who is righteous. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3

The consequence for all of humanity was bondage to the power of sin and death.

Last week there was a blog that went viral on social media. It was written by Benjamin Watson who plays for the New Orleans Saints in the NFL. Watson is an African-American athlete. He wrote about the confusing, angering events associated with the Michael Brown, the Grand Jury decision, and following chaos. He concluded his blog with this truth: “It was not the color of skin that was the problem in Ferguson. It was sin in the human heart that was the source of the violence and accusation coming out of those events.”

The entire Bible would agree with that assessment.

What Zechariah sang about in the Benedictus of Luke 1:77 spoke to this problem: “to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of sins.”

It was to this knowledge that John the Baptist witnessed. God was on the move to rescue his people from the powers of sin and death. This was the good news to which C.S. Lewis witnessed in, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The imaginary world of Narnia had come under the spell of the Wicked White Witch. It was a land where it was always winter, but Christmas never came. The good news was that Aslan, the Christ Lion and true Sovereign of Narnia was on the move. Father Christmas had been sighted. A spring thaw had begun. Narnia was about to be rescued. Salvation was coming.

This is what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 5. “Therefore, being justified by faith.” What he meant was that the Christ event had already occurred. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus salvation had occurred. Sin had been atoned at the mercy seat of the cross. And all who believed and trusted in Jesus received the benefits. Through faith in Christ humans were set right, forgiven, and brought into a new standing with God. The consequences our sins deserved were borne by Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. A whole new beginning to the human story had happened for those who had faith in Jesus’ accomplished work on the cross. In his death and resurrection the righteousness of God had happened.

This mighty act redeemed all who believed and trusted this promise of God.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Why Hope?

Date: November 22, 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, “Why Hope?” from Romans 4:13-25. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This Christ the King Sunday and 2015 Stewardship Sunday.

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How Blessed We Are!

Date: November 16, 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, “How Blessed We Are!” from Romans 4:1-15. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.

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S111614
Romans 4:1-15

HOW BLESSED WE ARE!

At midlife, Abram heard the Voice and saw the Vision that shaped the rest of his life. The Voice called out to Abram. The Book of Genesis says that it was the Voice of the Lord. Therefore, the Abraham story began with God taking the initiative in making a Promise to Abram and to his family. The Voice called him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him;” Genesis 12:4

The Genesis text does not tell us much about any qualifications that Abram had for this call and journey. Certainly, we learn later that Abram was a flesh and blood man with all the strengths and weaknesses of any other man.

About five years ago I was an invited participant in a series of dialogue sessions with an equal number of Presbyterian pastor/theologians and Jewish Rabbis of various Jewish denominations. I remember the session at Princeton Seminary when we were discussing Abraham. The question was “why the Lord called Abraham and promised to bless him?” The Rabbis were certain that it was because Abram was one of the most intelligent, gifted, and virtuous men who ever lived. He was the father of their family and to launch this family God would have chosen the very best just like we would have.

When an excellent firm seeks to add to its employees it will likely interview a number of candidates for the job, evaluate the credentials of each, test their compatibility with the firm’s culture, and determine what they might add to the business potential and profitability bottom line. Then the elect person would be invited to join the team. The Rabbis argued that God worked in the same way. Abram was the best candidate for the call. He had more going for him than any one else.

The Presbyterians in the dialogue knew that the story of Abraham in Genesis was more complex than this. In the Bible Abraham comes off as more than a hero of faith. He was an imperfect man who made mistakes, who failed at times, who doubted and struggled with the call. He was a sinner whom God had chosen to forgive and to become a pilgrim walking into a future that only God was able to fulfill in God’s own time.

Abram had been “blessed to be a blessing.” In chapter 15 the Lord spoke to him again in a Vision. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But this time Abram complained to the Lord. “Look, you promised to us a great family and a land. Yet, Sarai and I do not have a single child. We have no heir and we are getting old. Soon we will be beyond human possibility for birthing a child. At this point we have no future. Sarai’s womb is barren.”

The Lord responded, “Your servant from Damascus will not be your heir. Your own issue will be your heir. Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” Genesis 15

The text tells us, “Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6

Abram believed the Lord. Imagine trying to count the stars in that dark sky in which there was no artificial light. It must have been an impressive, holy moment in Abram’s life.

Again the Lord took the initiative in making or cutting a covenant agreement with Abram. The covenant promised blessings to Abram, his family, and heirs. This was a family that would inherit the Promised Land. But not just a land with a limited boundary, this land would run from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River to the north.

Abram believed.

He believed that God was able to keep his promise. But time passed and Abram and Sarai grew older. At long last they arrived in old age childless. It was humanly impossible for them to produce a child themselves. Abram was nearly 100 and Sarai was 90.

The Lord came to him again and stirred his imagination with the renewed promise. Abram heard, fell on his face, and laughed. The old couple offered to help God out and provide a surrogate wife and mother. Ishmael was born of Abram and Hagar. But he would not carry the promise. So God changed the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah laughed, but at long last God did for them what they could not do on the basis of any human potential or power they had.

Isaac, the child of the promise, was born in their old age. The old couple received the gift of their future in Isaac. Over many years they had believed and journeyed into the future that God had promised.

It was their trust in the promise making God that the Apostle Paul lifted up when he wrote in Romans, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6

He had been reckoned as being in right relationship with God long before the covenant was sealed with the rite of circumcision. It was the author of Genesis’s way of saying that Abraham was forgiven, accepted, shown favor, and blessed, not on the basis of obedience to the law, but by faith alone.

This was the reality and foundation of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. The covenant was rooted in grace and promised by the merciful God who had called his people from the beginning to trust the call and to walk into the future that God alone could give. God had granted to Abraham forgiveness of sins. All of Israel’s life would be lived out upon the foundation of this reality.

With my imagination I can see Abraham and Sarah near the end of their lives walking out together under the starry sky of the Middle East and reflecting on the beginning of their journey and contemplating all the mysterious happenings along the way.

They were but one couple in a vast movement of people. They heard the Voice and knew they had been claimed for a journey that would have implications for all the nations and peoples who would live after them. They had trusted the Voice and followed the guidance of the Spirit’s direction. It had not always been easy. There was suffering along the way. There were mysterious events that they could not understand and which tempted them to question if the Voice’s promises were still true.

What was planted in Abram’s imagination was the seed of a Vision of blessing for all humanity. They faced their own barrenness and inability to fulfill the Voice’s promise on their own terms. Yet, over a lifetime they came to believe in ever deeper ways in the integrity and faithfulness of the one who had promised to give to them a new world set right and restored to what God intended from the beginning.

“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13

What that says to me is that Abram came progressively to see that all the blessings of his life along the way of his journey were leading him into larger fulfillments that would ultimately bring him to the Promised Land that his imagination had not been able to grasp.

Near the end of his earthly journey the size of his possessions had multiplied. His family was increasing. His son, Isaac had been born. A Promised Land named Canaan was taking shape. In a maturing realization Abraham came to see that none of the immediate blessings exhausted the Promise of the Voice.

This is so important to consider.

The writer of the Hebrews Letter said it this way: “For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. From one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They came to confess that they were seeking a homeland. They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:8-16

At each stage of Abraham’s journey there was a fulfillment, but no fulfillment exhausted the magnitude of God’s promised blessing. Abraham came to understand that no gift could guarantee blessing. Only the giver could guarantee the gift of the ultimate fulfillment.

How true this has been in my own life. I invite you to reflect upon your own spiritual journey. The Voice came to me when I was barely aware of who I was. It called me through many different people and circumstances. The big leap of faith came when the door opened for me to leave my place and family in West Texas and journey to Southern California to complete my college. When I arrived at age 20 in Santa Barbara I thought I had gone to heaven. In many ways it was heaven, but only a partial fulfillment.

Then there were many years of graduate school, ordination in the Presbyterian church, marriage to Kay, the gift of a family, a church in La Canada that seemed like heaven. Finally, the Voice called me to Laguna Beach and to LPC. I was scared to death because this place was as beautiful as heaven and I did not want to come here for that reason, but only if this was God’s call.

So we came and it has been like heaven, but also as hard as hell at times. It has seemed like the Promised Land and it has been, but it has only barely captured what the Voice set up as a desire in my mature imagination. Each time I have walked into this restored sanctuary I have glimpsed a new heaven and a new earth and a redeemed people. This corner and these buildings cause me to remember what faithful discipleship is about: “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”, as Eugene Peterson named it.

The truth is that the faith by which I have lived all these years is really a faith seeking a homeland, the City of God, that moment in the cosmos, in historical time, when heaven and earth overlap and interconnect and all is transformed by the glory of God the Creator/Redeemer who has promised a New Creation, the fullness of the kingdom of God.

In that City there will be no more sin or death. Evil will be eliminated, spiritual darkness lifted. No more tears or pain. In that homeland all will be made well with God’s shalom, peace, justice, and righteousness. Jesus Christ will be at the center as the light of God’s love. And we will be with all God’s saints forever more.

Faithfulness at each moment will form the blessings we have been promised. That is why it is so important for us as members and friends of LPC to keep on planting the restored kingdom of God right on this corner and in the hearts of this people. We are in the midst of the fray and we dare not surrender the battle to the enemy.

This week I was having my blood drawn at a lab as part of a regular physical. The lady getting ready to punch the needle into my vein asked me what I did for work. I told her I was a pastor. She immediately walked to the door of the room and closed it. Then she said, “I think there is spiritual warfare going on. What do you think?” I was surprised by her question, but I knew she was on to something, but in a very confused way. She quoted a text that I had never heard. Thank God the session was quickly over and I walked into the lobby to see an old friend in whose life I knew there had been great trouble and blessing.

This is the world in which the children of Abraham live. The promise is sure. The blessings great! The journey long! The present at times painful and threatening! Life incomplete! The Vision compelling! The desire for our true homeland and people deepening!

At each step of his journey Abraham believed God and the Lord reckoned it unto him as being set right.

C.S. Lewis ended “The Last Battle” with the central characters standing before the Stable Door. They were afraid to enter. But as they entered they discovered Aslan the Christ Lion standing on the other side. Some who entered disappeared into Aslan’s shadow never to be seen again. Others looked into Aslan’s eyes with love and devotion and they began the journey “further up and further in.”

It was not the end of the story, just the beginning of the story that would go on forever. Each chapter of the story would be better than the last. As they journeyed further up and further in it was like a discovery of deeper layers of the Real Narnia and of life. That is the land we are all seeking. That is our homeland, the better country, the City of God.

May it be so!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Set Right

Date: November 9, 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, “Set Right” from Romans 2:21-26. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.

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Romans 3:21-26
SET RIGHT

If you have been listening to the debates during this election season you have heard all kinds of proposals about how our politicians intend to set right our political, economic, and social life. The clashing ideologies of the political parties have been presented as if they were absolutely right and that our nation and world are in the wrong because of false ideologies that have worked their way into our common life. Depending on your party or personal convictions the results of the election was either a cause for celebration or deep frustration.

Wall St. celebrated as the Dow peaked at a new high. Many believe that the new congress will set right what has been wrong.

Some have argued more about the personalities, the character flaws, the weaknesses, inconsistencies, and failures of opponents. In the process they have presented themselves as leaders who are in the right and that if elected they will clean up the mess in Washington DC, or in the statehouse, the local city, or in the local school board.

This seems to be at the heart of all elections in our nation’s history. The guy in office is demonized as a jerk, dominated by a false ideology, or behind the scene interest groups who are seeking to use their money and power to dominate, to control, and to manipulate the electorate for their own self-interests and profits. We now call it “freedom of speech”.

Lurking under these debates is a genuine consensus that human life is not in the right, that something needs to be fixed, and that the human agenda is to work at making right what is wrong in human history.

And of course, this was why the Apostle Paul began his letter to the Romans with a lengthy legal indictment of the whole human race as being in the wrong. Humanity needs to be set right!

Gentiles had turned their back upon the knowledge of God in creation and had ended up worshiping created things rather than the Creator. The central problem was the worship of gods that were no gods. Idolatry was the central problem of humanity in deep rebellion against the Creator. Paul wrote a long litany of sins that resulted from this turning away from God. In turning away we lost our humanity and the nations became enslaved to the power of sin.

The Jewish people, even though the Creator had blessed them with the oracles of God, with covenant promises, the law, the worship, the Scriptures, the fathers and mothers, the tradition, and the birth of the Messiah, were also in the wrong. They had not lived what they had received. In their hypocrisies they had betrayed their calling and mission. They were not in right relationship with God. Humanity needed a new heart.

Both Gentiles and Jews had to face that they were in slavery to the power of sin and death.

We need to be Set Right! But who can do it? ONLY GOD!

And how has God set us right?

First, we are set right as a gift of grace.

THE MESSAGE reads, “God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. AND HE DID IT BY MEANS OF JESUS CHRIST.” Romans 3 This was an amazing claim. God in Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” John 3:16

It is so surprising for us to hear this message that God set us right as an act of grace, as a gift of himself on our behalf.

It is an affront to human pride. Yes, it was pride that led Adam and Eve to assert themselves to become more than they were. They chose to lift themselves up in pride to establish independence from right relationship with their Creator. They wanted to be like God. The result was that their relationship with God was ruptured, broken, and lost. Their relationship with each other and their family was fractured. Dividing walls of hostility were erected and soon murder and violence entered human history. Broken relationships ruled the day. It could have remained that way.

But God, in a free act, worked through the history of Israel and preeminently in the incarnate gift of love in Jesus to restore the lost relationship, to set us right. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. God proved his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.

“In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son.” Galatians 4:4

Paul meant that God’s gift had been planted at the center of human history for all humanity. We dare not miss this. The Apostle was deeply committed to the Bible’s view of time. For Paul, time had a beginning. God spoke and called everything into being. Creation and human history began to move and to grow. There was a time line that ran from the beginning to the end. The end was the fulfillment of God’s purposes in creation and history. Between the beginning and the end history had meaning and purpose. The kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God was present, even in a world that had rebelled against the Creator.

One man said that the time line of the Bible runs like this: Paradise Created; Paradise Lost; Paradise Restored. Or Time began in a garden and will come to its appointed end in a garden in the New Creation. There is a “telos” in history, an appointed end to which prophets and apostles have witnessed.

At the center of the biblical time line stood the cross of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection God planted the flag of his rule over the cosmos. The cross symbolized the reality of God’s determination to redeem all of the creation and all of human life, to make us right by dealing with the central problem of all nations and persons, the devastating corruption and enslaving power that Paul called SIN.

This was the gift that had turned Saul of Tarsus’s life around. Grace overflowed for him. Having been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence, he was welcomed into right relationship with the Lord who would not let him go. And his acceptance and favor was pure gift. 1 Timothy 1:12-17; “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”

God set right the nations and all who would believe in Jesus as a pure gift.

Secondly, God set us right through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Peterson translated in THE MESSAGE,
“He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.”

The mess we are in! And what is that mess?

It is the mess of sin from which we cannot escape on the basis of our own good works. We are simply trapped under the power of sin and death. As C.S. Lewis said in MERE CHRISTIANITY, “there has been a rebellion in this part of the cosmos and planet earth has been enslaved.” “The good news is that there has been a DIVINE INVASION on the shores of human history. There has been a D-Day just as in 1945 on the beaches of Normandy and Omaha in France. From that moment the totalitarian forces that threatened western civilization were rolled back and freedom was coming to the world.

Like Israel trapped in Egyptian slavery, we cannot escape Pharaoh’s slave masters and armies. We are powerless to help ourselves. We long to be free of our bondage. We cry out for the heavens to help us. God heard Israel’s cry for deliverance. He sent Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” After many confrontations, God acted and in the Exodus event set Abraham’s family free to journey toward the Promised Land. They had been redeemed.

Did you see that movie entitled TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE? It won the academy award last year. It was a story of a free African American man in the 19th century who was kidnapped in Washington, DC, and sold into slavery, separated from his family and all he loved. He ended up belonging to a plantation owner and suffered for 12 years all the evils and cruelties of the institution of human slavery. The good news was that a Christ figure came into his life, heard his story, and acted to set the man free to return to the freedom and love of his family that had not known if he were dead or alive. There was not a dry eye in theater as we watched the reunion with his wife and children.

The Apostle Paul was writing in a world in which there were slave markets where persons were bought and sold as property. When he wrote about “redemption” he was saying that Jesus had come into the slave market and purchased sinful humanity for himself. The price he paid was his own blood. From the moment of his death for us we belonged to him and became his servants only to discover that in service to him we were truly free. Yes, the death of Jesus was a New Exodus. Only this time humanity was set free, or made right, from the power of sin and death. Jesus redeemed us.

Thirdly, God set us right by forgiving our sins.

And God did that through the death of Jesus upon the cross. “God put Jesus forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” Romans 3:25

Now this notion may be foreign to many of us, but it is at the heart of the Apostle’s understanding of the cross. In order to interpret the cross Paul used the language and practice of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It was in that Holy Place that once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, that the High Priest would take the blood of an innocent lamb into the Holy of Holies, into the throne room of the Holy One of Israel. Only the high priest could enter that room.
In that room there was a gold covered box called the Ark of the Covenant. Relax this is not the movie, “Indiana Jones”. In the box were the tablets of the 10 commandments that Moses carried from Mt. Sinai, some of the manna that Israel ate in their 40 year wanderings in the wilderness as Moses led them, and Aaron’s rod, a symbol of authority in the Exodus from Egypt.
The lid of the Ark was covered with gold and on either side stood the Seraphim. They symbolized the heavenly host. Between the Seraphim and over the mercy seat of the lid, the presence of God’s glory lived. This was the Lord’s throne.
So once a year the high priest would cover the mercy seat with the blood of the lamb in order to make atonement for the sins of Israel as a people.

The Apostle interpreted the mercy seat or lid of the Ark as the cross where Jesus the Lamb of God sacrificed his life, poured out his blood, and covered the sins of humanity. He did it once and for all. His death, his blood, atoned for our sins.
This was the mercy seat where God set right what had gone wrong in the heart of humanity. It was pure gift; it was redemption for slaves; it was the place where the sins of all who believed in Jesus were forgiven. And the consequences for the cosmos, for planet earth, for Israel, and the nations were life transforming.

For many the thought of sacrificial offering and the shedding of blood are repugnant. How could a good God sacrifice the life of his only Son? Yet, this is the Bible’s witness. Many metaphors are used to interpret the meaning of the cross. But here in Romans Paul witnessed that this was the mysterious way that God chose to set us right and to heal the cosmos.

At the cross Jesus was made to be sin for us. He took our place and bore the judgment that our sins deserved. He satisfied the justice of God, and poured out his mercy upon all who believed and trusted his love.

This was the place where the faithfulness of God to his covenant promise was proven for all time and space.

The first glimpse I had of this was when I was a lowly sophomore at Texas Tech. In my soul I was struggling with the direction of my life. Each afternoon in the privacy of my dormitory room I read through the N.T. to see what it said and to discover what Christianity was about.

When I came to the Book of Hebrews I read this, “Jesus appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Heb. 9:26

The Holy Spirit whispered into my heart this message: “Jerry, this was for you and the whole world. Once for all, two thousand years ago, in the fullness of time, God acted and as a pure gift, redeemed us, set us free, and justified us, set us right, began a new relationship with us by atoning for our sins through his own blood at the mercy sin, the cross. I was overwhelmed. By the time I read this I knew I was a Christian set right not by my good works, but by the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

By No Means!

Date: November 2, 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, “By No Means!” from Romans 3:1-20 as we continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This is All Saints’ Day. We are reading from the NRSV.

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Sermon 11/02/14
Romans 3:1-20

BY NO MEANS!

As we read Paul we find ourselves, and the entire human race, in a courtroom, in the doc, and on trial before the Judge, before the faithful one. We stand as Gentiles and Jews convicted of having turned away from the faithful God and having fallen into unfaithfulness, disobedience, and subject to the wrath of God. We chose death rather than life and the Lord has allowed us to suffer the consequences of our unbelief and lack of trust in God’s faithfulness to God’s promises.

Paul strung together a series of quotes from the Psalms and from Isaiah the prophet to make his point about the spiritual condition of Israel and the Gentile nations. It is embarrassing to read the charges.

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
No one has understanding;
No one seeks God.
They have become worthless;
No one is kind;
Their speech is corrupted;
they have throats like opened graves; their tongues deceive,
and the venom of vipers is under their lips; their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
The world is filled with violence: humans are bloodthirsty;
their paths are filled with misery and ruin; the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Romans 3:9-18

Paul intended his litany of the human condition to be staggering, shocking, convicting. It was his way of silencing the lie, of revealing the secrets, of breaking open the truth so that the whole world might be held accountable to God. Indeed, through the law comes the knowledge of sin. No human has escaped. It is not just that someone else has the problem and we can forget it. No! The line of sin runs through every human heart. We live in an interconnected world, a global village. And we are lost and enslaved to the powers of sin and death.

The sobering truth comes to us from many sources. Every day our entertainment parades the sins of humanity before us. We have become so desensitized to it that we allow it to entertain us. We no longer blush at anything. Television and movies push the boundaries of what is acceptable for the family hour. The Daily Show mocks our hypocrisies. How is it that some of our most profound interpreters of life are the comedians? Is it that we cannot face our brokenness without mockery and humor?

Turn on the news and the talking heads in all their beauty and brightness are busy blaming everyone else for what is wrong with our nation and our world. In the rhetoric of ideology we anathematize our politicians, our business leaders, our religious leaders. We end up biting and devouring one another.

As we approach next week’s election we will spend whatever it takes to bring down the enemy. Winning is everything, whatever it costs. Money, Sex, Power! And then the cycle is repeated without much protest. So fear rules in many hearts. I suspect the world is not a lot different than it ever was. Now we simply know more and sooner than any previous generation.

If I were God I would have given up on humanity a long time ago. It is easy to reach the conclusion that planet earth represents an experiment gone badly. If what the Apostle Paul wrote about the human race is true then one must ask, “What does this say about God?” “How has God hung in there with humanity?” “Has not God abandoned the human race?”

The time is late for God to justify Himself. Can we still proclaim that God is faithful to God’s promises?

The Psalms of the O.T. were Israel’s prayer book and they were sung in the Temple repeatedly. One scholar argued that there are three different types of psalms. Walter Brueggemann said that there were psalms Israel prayed when she was securely oriented. These psalms were sung when things were going well and the world was at peace with prosperity and health. There were psalms prayed when Israel was painfully disoriented. Israel prayed these laments when they were surrounded by their enemies, when the promised blessings had disappeared, and evil seemed to be winning. There were psalms prayed when Israel was surprisingly reoriented when well-being was restored and there were reasons to give thanks.

Paul knew that the prayers of the church would reflect this cycle between the already and the not yet of God’s promised blessings and that before there could be a celebration there needed to be lament in the house of God. Psalms of painful disorientation needed to be prayed.

One of my pastor friends reminded me of this on Facebook. He had posted a picture of himself and his wife. I posted a message and told them how good they looked. I have not seen them for years. We have been friends since I was an assistant pastor in my first church out of seminary. They were a young couple just getting started. The two of them helped save my life when all that I loved and had worked to achieve seemed lost. We would get together with a Japanese friend on many Friday evenings and have a celebration with Saki. I have never forgotten it. So I posted on Facebook that it was time for us to have another celebration. That set off a sequence of memories for them and for me. Their response was that our journeys have led us through many times of joy and celebration but also of sorrow and suffering. True.

This past week I was on the telephone with my Spiritual Director for an hour. We try to have these conversations once a month either on the phone or in person. I found myself apologizing to him for having to listen to my laments, my reflections upon life, my struggles to come to terms with the incompleteness of life, with the labor pains of the creation, with the threatening darkness of the human condition trapped in the bondage of sin and death. He said, “no apology is necessary”. He reminded me that the psalms are filled with lament, with complaints to God. The lament is a form of prayer. That reframed my discontent and fear and placed them in the context of prayers of well-being and thanksgiving. Somehow they all demand to be held in a delicate balance.

There is a sense in which the first three chapters of Romans are prayers of lament, of complaint, of facing the truth that life is not without suffering, even when we have known supreme joy and success. I think Romans reminds us that God laments. Yes, God weeps over a world so filled with injustice, violence, disease, poverty, and death.

I see Jesus standing before the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus, torn apart by the grief, anger, and sorrow of the human condition. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus wept. These chapters call us to remember the broken heart of God, the tears of God, the struggle of God to hang on, to be faithful to his promises. These prayers ought to remind us that Jesus is in heaven interceding for us before the Father.

A part of God’s grief and tears is that the Lord knows that his own integrity and character are on the line in human history. The Apostle Paul understood this. He verbalized what many were thinking. Many reasoned, “If the world is in such a dam mess does this mean that God’s mission has failed. Does it mean that after the gift of the oracles of God to Israel that God had abandoned his people and turned from his promises?”

If I were God I would have given up a long time ago.

“What if some were unfaithful?
Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”

If you have never struggled with this question then you may never have taken God’s promises for being true and had to live through dark valleys in which God seemed absent or silent, or in which life seemed without meaning.

Abram and Sara came to the place after waiting for the birth of a son into their old age that they began to laugh at the promises of God.

Israel in the wilderness questioned if the God of the Exodus could set a table in the wilderness and provide for his people’s needs for bread and water.

If the enemy destroyed Jerusalem and took the people into captivity, did this mean that the promises of God had come to an end?

Like Job, the righteous man, who was allowed to lose everything, his family, his possessions, and even his health, and to struggle with the mystery of God’s ways, we wonder what the end of the story may be?

If Christ was crucified, dead, and buried on Good Friday did this mean that the faithfulness of God was canceled, that evil had won, that hope was finished? That God’s promises to Israel had been nullified?

If we have waited for 2000 years for the promised blessings of God’s New Creation, does this mean that God is not faithful to his promises?

If the church we have sought to build in America self-destructs and melts down before our very eyes, does this mean that God is finished with us? Believers and church members have watched their congregations shut down, their buildings sold and turned into restaurants, museums, or parking lots for urban centers seeking to survive.

Has the faithlessness of some nullified the faithfulness of God?

Do we not see that God’s integrity is threatened? Yes, God’s character on the line?
Is God faithful?

What about the promised faithfulness of God?

Paul’s answer ought to cause celebration. “BY NO MEANS!”

Are there signs of God’s faithfulness in our lives today? BY ALL MEANS!

Just as we are face to face with ultimate loneliness, grief, and painful disorientation, the faithful one sends an ambassador or friend. How often did the flowers arrive from the church delivered by a friend to a recovery room in the hospital or at home?

As Elizabeth Wetzel was dying she said she did not know she had so many friends. Lindsey Phillips came from San Francisco to spend several days with her. Her children came; many tried to visit. All of this as a testimony that she had shown hospitality to us all!

I did not realize how much I miss her hugs, laughter, even her tears. In the mystery of life together the faithfulness of God has become real.

This is what the church is all about. We are a community of faith in which human presence means everything, in which common prayers of well-being, painful disorientation, and surprising reorientation bring the comfort of the Holy Spirit to our lives. The truth is that we could all make a long list of the ways in which the faithfulness of God’s presence and power has come to us.

I was touched to recently read about an effort by some in the urban decay of Detroit to choose a struggling congregation and to show up to worship on any given Sunday. They did not want to see the church that was trying to keep its doors open be destroyed by white flight and other demographic changes. Once a month the great church building would be filled and an offering taken.

The faithfulness of God in human history totally surprises us. And this is what I want to preach about next week, but let me say this. The righteousness of God, the faithfulness of God, which is the active power of God at work for the salvation of humanity has once for all appeared on Golgotha, the hill outside the city wall of old Jerusalem. There, on a cross, the place where common criminals were executed by Rome, the incarnate Son of God, fully human and fully God, planted the faithfulness of God at the center of the human condition for the sake of saving all who believed., to teach us the presence and power of God’s love.

At the depths of human unfaithfulness the crucified God looked upon an unfaithful human race and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

All the promises of God came to fulfillment in the death of Jesus. But if that were the end of the story we would all be trapped in our sins. You see, the faithful God who was at work on Good Friday raised Jesus on Easter Sunday and defeated the powers of sin and death. Because this is true, whatever the nature of our disorientation and lament, the faithfulness of God promises to raise us also to live eternally in His presence with all God’s saints. All the promises of God have come to fulfillment in Jesus and we believe that he is coming again and he will bring the New Creation” with him in its fullness. OUR LORD COME!

Until that day in our worship of God we celebrate the faithfulness of God. And we affirm with Paul in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who is 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? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Taize Evening Service

Date: October 26, 2014 Author: Laguna Presbyterian Church

Taize Service held at Laguna Presbyterian Church on October 26 at 5pm.

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A Matter of the Heart

Date: Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and the 10am worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Steve Sweet is preaching, “A Matter of the Heart” from Romans 2:17-29 as we continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This is Reformation and Confirmation Sunday. In the 10am hour we welcomed 34 high school students in the membership of LPC.

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