TOTALLY EMBRACED

Date: March 29, 2015 Author: Dr. Jerry Tankersley
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S032915 Romans 8:28-39
TOTALLY EMBRACED
The story of the Return of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 was captured by Rembrandt in his painting that hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. I have never seen it in person, but a print of it hangs in my office. Each time I look up from my desk to the print on the wall the painting proclaims good news to me and reminds me what it means to be a pastor or representative of God in a broken, suffering world. The painting calls me to the truth of compassion, the compassion of a father for his lost sons.
In the parable that Jesus told he spoke of a younger son who had broken relationship with his father, taken his part of the family inheritance, and moved to a far country away from the father. At last after he had spent his money he hit bottom, came to himself, and returned to his father in hope of finding a job. The surprise was that when he returned his father saw him coming up the road. In the ecstasy of compassionate joy, the father ran out to him, embraced him totally, threw his arms around him, welcomed him home, restored him in the family as his son who had been lost and dead, but now found and alive.
The father launched a great community party. He covered the son in the best family robe. He put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. He killed the fatted calf and sent invitations to the celebration of the prodigal’s return.
These kinds of stories move me. They interpret the gospel of God to us. Last week, CNN had a special program on the growth of Atheism in American culture. They interviewed a young man who was a college student still living at home with his parents as he went to college. He lived with his parents even though there were dividing walls of hostility between him and his mom and dad.
The parents were fundamentalist Christians who had sought to control their sons spiritual life by raising him in the church and insisting that he grow up to be a believing Christian adult person. What a surprise to them that he had become an atheist leading an atheist organization at the college seeking to recruit fellow students to atheism, making arguments against the existence of God, denying the supernatural, and antagonizing his devout, controlling parents.
CNN interviewed the parents about their son. They shared their disappointment, loss, and grief. They articulated a religious worldview that their son was dead to them and that he was on his way to hell. Yet they refused to be interviewed with their son. Kyra Phillips, the reporter, who did part of her college work at Westmont College, a Christian college, played the parents interview for their son to see and to hear. When he heard his parents say that he was dead to them and would go to hell he cringed with spiritual pain. There was little compassion for the son. There was only a strange hope that the son might repent and get right with the truth.
I felt such pain for the parents and the son. They were lost to each other. I wanted to cry “stop”. Get over your control issues. Listen to each other. Find a way of opening the door. Discover the way to compassionate understanding, acceptance, and embrace. Detach with love. After all, God loves our kids more than we do. Keep the door open. Who knows what the Lord may do?
I wanted to weep. The parents were like the elder son in the story Jesus told. He refused to come to the party. The father’s grace seemed like a form of divine injustice to the elder son. Yet, the father went out to the elder brother and pleaded with him to come to the party. He said to him, “we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:32
The father in Jesus’ story was so filled with compassion that he was empowered to “totally embrace” both sons and to work for reconciliation. Jesus’ story was seeking to announce good news to us, to tell us what is in the heart of God our heavenly father.
The parable tells us exactly what the Apostle Paul was proclaiming to the Roman church and to the Christian community for the last 2000 years. Eugene Peterson translated Romans 8 in a powerful summation of the letter to the Romans:
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?” THE MESSAGE.
In a series of rhetorical questions and statements the Apostle Paul summarized the message of his letter to the Romans. He interpreted God’s total embrace of his beloved children.
“If God is for us, who is against us?
The implied answer to the rhetorical question is “Nobody”.
But what is the truth that stands behind this question and implied answer? Paul tells 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. NRSV
Earlier in the letter he wrote,
“God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.” 5:8
Undergirding the good news of God was the Abraham story in Genesis 22. Remember, Abraham heard the Voice of God the father tell him to take his son of promise and sacrifice him. Abraham obeyed. It was a trial of his faith. He bound Isaac on the mountain and placed the dearly beloved son on the altar and was ready to offer him to God. In the last second, the Voice called to him not to do it for God now saw that Abraham understood and trusted that his future could only be guaranteed by the One who had given the child and not by the gift of the child himself. At the last moment the Lord provided a ram as a sacrificial animal. Isaac was set free to fulfill his destiny as the promised child and carrier of God’s blessings.
In the events of Holy Week we move with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. We sit at table in the Upper Room with Jesus and the 12 to eat the Passover meal. We watch from a distance as Jesus is killed as a common criminal. He is offered up by God as a sin offering. What Abraham the father escaped by the mercy of God, God the father suffered in the offering up of his dearly beloved Son, Jesus. The Father embraced a lost human family for the sake of bringing us home.
How and why did God choose to rescue humanity by such an act? There are many who refuse to believe in the God of the Bible for this very reason. The cross appears to them as a form of divine child abuse. What loving father would have done such a thing?
To argue in such a way is to miss the point of who God is and the nature of the human condition. Humanity is lost, without hope, spiritually dead because of its own rebellion against God. We have demanded to live life on our own terms. We have broken relationship with the Creator and have worshipped idols, no gods, gods who have defiled us and led us into sin and death. We have lost our humanity. “Gentile and Jew, all of humanity, have been cut off from the tree of life.” “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is no one who is righteous; no not one.”
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:23.
We are like the prodigal in the far country. The moment of healing begins when we come to ourselves in such a way that we turn toward home in hope of forgiveness, of the gift of grace. And the Father who is for us, who sent his only Son to bear the consequences of our sins, receives us at home. Through his death, the Father made atonement for our sins. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Son was not spared, but delivered up on the cross. The cross was the place of God’s total embrace of a lost world.
“If God is for us, who is against us?” Nobody!
“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
Again the only answer to the rhetorical question is “Nobody!”
The language suggests a courtroom in which humanity is on trial. The courtroom is the final judgment in which we stand before the only one who can make charges against us. It is a terrifying scene. It inspires anxiety and fear. It threatens hell. It is a vision that has captured many. It is the vision that had captured the parents whose son was a self-proclaimed atheist. Surely, it was assumed that the fires of hell were what awaited their son. The parents emerged in the son’s imagination as the ones who were making charges against him.
These were the charges of the elder brother in Jesus’ parable. “This son of yours has betrayed the family. The evidence is here. He has squandered the family’s resources on harlots and irresponsible living. Now you want me to joyfully welcome him back? Forget it. Embrace him? Throw my arms around him and welcome him home? All I can do is make charges and present the evidence that will convict.”
But in the courtroom that the Apostle described the judge was the justifier. God in Christ had declared the sinner as acquitted, forgiven, set right, and once again welcomed into right relationship with the only one that could make charges against the offender. This was the good news of total embrace.
Who is to condemn?
Again the answer is “nobody”.
The Gospel of John said,
“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17
Paul asks,
“Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” Rom. 8:34
These questions and answers reveal the good news of God. What is revealed in the Letter to the Romans is the God who is not against us; the God who will not hear any charges against us; the God who will not condemn us. This is the God of grace who has “totally embraced” the human condition for the sake of setting it right, of healing our brokenness, of bringing us into right relationship with the one triune God who has declared himself to be unconditionally for us in every dimension of human existence.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Nobody.
This good news is the source of our eternal assurance.
Often I wonder what I will say before the Father on the final day. I know I do not have a leg to stand on. One of my dearly beloved friends once said to me: “Do not give me justice, but give me mercy.” I believe the adopted children of God will meet the Compassionate Father on the final day of home going. And we will know in that moment that the Father is for us; the Father has forgiven us; the Son does not condemn us; the Son and the Spirit makes intercession for us at the right hand of the Father. From beginning to end we have been totally embraced by the one triune God. God could have chosen in his freedom to exclude us all. But the Father would not exclude because the Father’s heart is filled with compassionate love.
God’s mercy is beyond our comprehension. I think this may be the reason that we have turned the good news of God into good advice. It is easier to give advice than it is to proclaim the radical grace of God. The God of the Bible stuns me with his capacity to faithfully embrace all those whom he loves. We cannot imagine loving everyone in the way God does. Therefore, we seek to define the boundaries of God’s inclusion as narrow enough for us to control. We have the same problem as the elder brother. God’s grace may sound like a form of divine injustice.
I suffer with this as do most Christians. There are many that I would just as soon not embrace. Human nature excludes. Who comes to your mind?
When we are hurt and angry it is easy to bring charges and to condemn, even those closest to us.
Even God struggled with this as he considered his relationship with his people Israel. He had blessed them in every way, but they had by in large turned away. So the prophet Hosea asked what God was to do? Would it be justice or would it be love? What was revealed through the prophet was the victory of love over justice in the heart of God.
So the love of God paid the painful price in the death of his Son for the salvation of his people.
On Palm Sunday, we dare not forget that Jesus wept over the City of Jerusalem because it did not know the day of its visitation from God nor the things that made for peace. The City could not see the ultimate consequences of saying “No!” to the God who had come to save. God in Jesus reached out to embrace the Holy City and the whole world.
So God will do through the end of time. But today is the day of salvation. Do not harden your hearts to the grace of God.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Praying Our Weakness

Date: March 15, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “The Spirit Is Life” from Romans 8:18-27. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 4th Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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Romans 8:18-27

PRAYING OUR WEAKNESS

We may be surprised to discover that our great men and women heroes have weaknesses, struggles, burdens, or temptations. In our thinking about leaders and authorities that we have glorified in our thinking, people whom we would like to emulate, we tend to frame them in our thinking as perfect humans. If they have weaknesses we are often shocked to learn about them. But lo, sooner or later we begin to see the truth about all humans, including our heroes.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in LIFE TOGETHER argued that this is the moment in which our wish dreams are shattered about human community. The sooner this happens the better. Because only then do we discover that we have life together by the grace of God revealed in Jesus.

This is why the biblical story is so compelling and interesting. There are no plastic saints in the story.

Our father, Abraham, tried to save his own skin by selling his wife, Sarah, into another man’s harem. He said she was his sister.

Jacob was a liar and a cheat, always looking out for his own interests.

Moses was a murderer and renegade from justice.

King Saul was overwhelmed by his envy and jealousy. He caved in the moments when God required his obedience.

King David was an adulterer and a vengeful old man.

King Solomon was a wise man with an insatiable desire to increase his harem. His sexual passions led him into idolatry and ruined the spiritual life of Israel.

Many of the kings of Israel and Judah were apostate, immoral, and unjust in their treatment of the poor. They abused others for their own selfish gains.

Every one of Jesus’ 12 chosen disciples betrayed him and were in conflict with each other.

In the long history of the church we have seen the very human, imperfect side of God’s people. What we have seen has not been pretty. From pastors, to popes, to people we have all faced our own weaknesses.

Yet, we have learned to love these very fallible humans. Why? Because they are like us. Somehow in realizing that they have struggled and failed in the ways that we have we have been able to see that their story is also our story, and also God’s story.

When I arrived in seminary as a first year student I came in awe of the authority figures on the faculty. I knew them by their writings and leadership. As far as I was concerned they were my heroes. Before the end of my first year I had become aware that some of my heroes had suffered emotional break downs, been hospitalized, and were in therapy. Before our class graduated most of us were on the couch dealing with our weaknesses and brokenness.

Coming to terms with our hero’s weaknesses is one of the first steps in growing into spiritual maturity and understanding of the human condition that afflicts us all. None of us escapes, if we are honest.

Blessed are those leaders who are not afraid to be transparent and to model what it means to be on a journey toward wholeness and healing, but always in touch with the deep impact of Adam’s sin in their own lives.

In reading Grant Wacker’s study and account of Billy Graham, entitled AMERICA’S PASTOR, Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation, I was touched with his honesty about Billy. In Graham’s recorded conversation with President Richard Nixon, Billy made some very embarrassing anti-Semitic comments about the Jews. He has publicly apologized. I suspect he was just expressing what is in the DNA of every American citizen. It is not only the fraternity at OU that can sing racists chants without thinking. I love Billy Graham even more because of the way he has conducted his life in faithful, open transparency, in the humility inspired by grace.

One of my authorities and heroes is N.T. Wright, the Anglican biblical scholar. He spins off a new book of profound biblical wisdom almost every week. I desire to be like him. But where he has helped me most is in his sharing of personal weakness. In his book on the Psalms and their role in his spiritual journey I learned something that I had not known before. He commented on Psalm 139 in THE CASE FOR THE PSALMS: “I had known this psalm, like all the others, from my early days. But it came home to me when I went through a period of deep depression in my mid-thirties. All kinds of anxieties and fears, which I had allowed to build up and had kept at bay with hard work and general busy-ness of life, suddenly burst over my head, and I found myself sinking.

One of the wise counselors who came to my rescue and helped me to work through old memories and sorrows drew me to Psalm 139. God was involved, says the psalm, from the very beginning of our mysterious conception, and he knows through and through all that has gone into making us the people we are. It is possible to offer shallow comfort, but this psalm gives the deep sort.

There are two mysteries there that sit closely together. With all our modern knowledge of how human personalities are formed from the first moments in the womb, we still find human character in all its rich variety a deep and unfathomable well. Likewise, the greatest saints and theologians can only gaze in wonder at the thought that when we say the word ‘God’, we are talking about the one who knows us through and through at all those levels and more besides. All our hidden motives and fears are like an open book before him; he knows where they came from and he understands what they are doing to us and what we are doing with them.

Coming face-to-face with all this did not at once lift my depression. But it was one of the building blocks that my counselor helped me to put in place, one of the foundations of the staircase that led out of the pit and up into the light.” Pp181-82

When C.S. Lewis lost his wife Joy to death, he was plunged into a deep grief. During that time he daily wrote the story of his grief, his faith, his doubt, his perplexing theological questions, and his deep pain. His journal of his personal experience was not published until after his death in the fall of 1963. This was the first book of Lewis’ I read after seminary. I read it as I was struggling with my mid-20’s losses. Lewis was a daily companion and comforter as I was slowly lifted out of my pit of failure and grief to live again by the grace of God.

So it was with the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12 he wrote of a “thorn in the flesh” with which he had struggled for years and that he had prayed about three times that God would remove it from him. We do not know what that thorn was. Some have said that the weakness was the paralyzing fear of persecution and death, or malaria, or epilepsy, or an eye malady, or more likely, a depression that brought him low from time to time. The answer he received from God three times was the same, “No!” “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness”

“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor. 12:7-10

In the early 1970’s I became friends with Robert Munger, the former pastor of Berkeley, First Presbyterian Church. He wrote the famous sermon, “My Heart Christ’s Home.” In it he spoke of the Christ who stands at the door of our lives knocking wanting to be welcomed, not just into the entry way, but into each room of our hearts.

I was on a plane trip with Bob and we were in the Dallas Airport waiting to catch our flight back to L.A. He asked if I would ride in the seat next to him and not let him lapse into a diabetic sleep. He had been diabetic since his youth. He had that weakness that made him dependent upon God and upon his brothers and sisters to help him out. I loved him for that. I heard him preach on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”. He suggested that the preacher’s great gift to his congregation was to be transparent by sharing his own weaknesses. He helped me so much.

WORDS
I think it was out of his personal pain and weaknesses that Paul was able to write Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Part of the spiritual journey is that we are moved by the groans of the world to pray. Last Friday at our Laguna Beach Rotary Club a man present his 35 minute film on WW1. It was poignant. It caused me to remember Paul Tillich’s comments that one night on the battlefield of WW1 shattered his whole optimistic world view. Man’s inhumanity to man left him traumatized searching for words of interpretation for the horror he had seen.

I have never stood at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, without being wordless. I see the 55 thousand names and my prayers rise not as words but as deep sighs, groans, and tears.

One of our public school teachers left after the first service and shared that the unit she had taught to her students that week covered the Jewish holocaust of the 1930’s and 40’s. She said the boys in her classroom wept as they heard and saw what really happened in the life time of their grandparents. How do we pray in response? I suggest that we sigh, we groan in hopes that the Holy Spirit will lift our prayer to God and bring healing to the world.

As believers we seek to verbalize our deepest spiritual sighs. Our sighs are our groans about the human condition and its needs for redemption.

Remember the movie with Jim Carey, BRUCE ALMIGHTY? In frustration over his life he began to pray for an opportunity to succeed. Along the way he meet God. God allowed Bruce to experience what it is like being God. Bruce demonstrated that he could not handle the power. He had not anticipated having to answer all the words of intercession rising to the throne of God. He sat at the computer day and night reading and responding to his emails from people verbalizing their desires for God to act on their behalf. The stress was so great that it almost destroyed him. The business of being God was not all it was cracked up to be.
Some of us may have a view of God that sits at a giant telephone switch board in the sky, plugging and unplugging wires that are connecting people to God with their words. J.B. Phillips, in YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL argued that such a view of God was too small. Have you ever wondered how the Sovereign Creator/ Redeemer is able to listen and to respond to all of our demands and prayers? The Apostle Paul gave us a clue: “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

WAITING
In this passage the Apostle revealed the great truth of God. While we wait and pray God is with us and for us! In Hebrews 7 we read that Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is at the right hand of the Father as a faithful high priest. There he intercedes for us; he is an advocate for us. The mystery of God is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are with us in the perplexity, the suffering and the weaknesses of our lives. When we are at trial the Spirit steps up and represents us, interprets us before the judge, carries our shame and guilt, and clothes us in his righteousness.

The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Advocate, the Comforter that Jesus promised to give to us is at work searching the deep places of our hearts. Therefore, he knows us better than we know ourselves. The Spirit lifts the deep groans of our hearts, the sighs, and the prayers that we have no words to articulate, into the presence of God.

The Spirit knows the will of God for us. Even at our best, we may not fully comprehend the meaning or direction of our life story. But the Spirit knows us, accepts us, dwells within us, searches our hearts, and directs us. In a miraculous way our words are filtered by the love of God.

It is to this reality of God that Paul points us. Weakness becomes strength when the Spirit takes our Words and interprets them to the Father who is good and who only gives us what will transform us into the image of his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
I believe that the Father has heard all my words. Thank God he has not given me all that I asked. It would have wrecked my life. In the long journey he has promised to listen to his people and to bring them to the fullness of faith, hope, and love, yes, to the fullness of joy.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Reason for Our Hope

Date: March 8, 2015 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 Reason for Our Hope” from Romans 8:12-17. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 3rd Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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Don't Forget Whose You Are!

Date: March 1, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “The Spirit Is Life” from Romans 8:12-17. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 2nd Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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Romans 8:12-17; Mark 8:34-38

DON’T FORGET WHOSE YOU ARE!

“For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.”

The Spirit of slavery.

Israel was delivered out of slavery in Egypt by the power of God under the leadership of Moses. The people left the domain of slavery to enter the new life of freedom in the journey to the promised inheritance in Canaan. But they often struggled with anxiety and fear. Freedom was a frightening adventure. There were enemies to be confronted. There were vulnerabilities in nature and basic human needs, like bread and water, to be satisfied. There was deepening longing for the security of slavery. The bondage and fear of slavery had been forgotten. They were ready to return to the slave masters who had oppressed them. You can free a people, but you cannot as easily remove the spirit of slavery from their fearful hearts.

After all, the people had followed Moses into the Sinai desert in pursuit of a God that could not be seen with the natural eye. All they had was a pillar of cloud by day and a fire by night. They soon demanded a god they could see and who could lead them back to what they had known, hated, but which satisfied some fearful need. Their hearts were gripped by fear of the unknown. Their dreams became nightmares about an identity and a destiny. They were not sure that the Lord was good or trustworthy. More and more I have compassion for their struggles.

I sometimes have dreams that symbolize my anxieties and fears. I wonder if Moses had those dreams? Often my dreams have me leading a tour group seeking to get the group to its appointed destiny on time. There are hotels to check out of, buses to catch, people to round up, airplanes to board on time, bags to pack, and endless efforts to get dressed and to not fail in my leadership.
The other night I dreamed I was just back from a trip. My bags were all in the church’s prayer room. My clothes were scattered all over the room. I had slept in my church office. It was Sunday morning and I was supposed to preach. For the life of me I could not get my clothes on in time to get to the sanctuary to worship. I tried in the prayer room to shower, to shave, to find a pair of shoes. The early service had begun. I finally arrived in the sanctuary half dressed and disheveled. The pulpit was gone; the people were leaving and I was frozen with fear.

My Spiritual Director told me that repetitive dreams are often God’s ways of seeking to communicate an important message. As a child our family moved away from our hometown to another city. I had repetitive longing dreams to go home, to see my friends, to return to my school, to resume my old life. I was afraid I had lost what had secured my life, our house, our neighborhood, my school, and my friends. One day my parents announced we were moving back home. I remember the joy and peace that filled my soul.

Our lives are often driven by unconscious anxieties and fears. Those deep longings and fears seek to drive us back to what we have known and trusted. In those moments we forget who it was that caused our journey in the beginning. We forget that the Lord is our shepherd and that he is with us and for us. He walks through every dark valley with us. He provides for our tables. He is good and can be trusted. We need to surrender to his Sovereign providence and provision for the journey of discipleship. But that journey may cause suffering along the way.

My dreams drive me to my knees in total dependence. They raise the question of who is my God? Can I trust God? Do I know that he claimed me and that I belong to him? At the very moment I am tempted to return to any place, people, family, house, or reason for being, I need to remember that I have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Rather, I have received the Spirit of adoption into a new family, into the family of God, the family of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

My spiritual director suggested to me this past week that perhaps at the deepest levels of my soul I have not yet been able to trust that I am one of God’s beloved children.

Perhaps this was why I was so moved last Monday morning in watching the memorial service for Steve Hayner on live streaming from Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

Two of Steve’s children memorialized their Father. The daughter, Emilie, said that people had been asking if she was not proud of her Father. He was brilliant and charismatic. He was a well known respected pastor, scholar, board member of well known Christian organizations, a professor, world missionary, seminary president, and so much more.

She shared she had never really known him in all his public, acclaimed roles. So while she was proud of him, it was not for these reasons that she was proud of him. In their last few weeks together she had shared her doubts about God with him. He had helped so many to believe that God knew them and loved them. Yet, from his deathbed he confessed that he had never really been able to believe that God loved him. How could God love a man like him? He knew himself in ways that no one else did.

Emilie said, “this is why I am proud of my father. He was my Papa. That’s how I knew him. He was my Papa. He was not perfect, but he was my Papa whom I could trust. He shared the depths of his soul with me. I belonged to him. I was his child. I knew him in the personal intimacy of family love. I was his beloved child. I could talk with him and he could hear me and share his own humanity with me. He was my Papa.”

“But you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

The Spirit of adoption.

It was out of all the nations and peoples of the earth that the Lord chose Abraham’s family to bear his identity and to move into his promised future. Israel came to understand themselves as God’s elect, chosen people, adopted to be his special people. They were led to Mt. Sinai to worship the Lord, to seal this relationship. As generations passed they came to understand their special covenant with the Lord as a blood identity. To be born into Abraham’s family was to have blood pride.

In the New Testament it was revealed that Abraham’s family was chosen to be the children of God for the purpose of revealing the Father’s love to the nations, of being a light to the nations.

It was no doubt disconcerting when the people of Abraham discovered that God’s election was spreading to the nations of the earth, that the Gentile world was also the focus of God’s love. But the good news was that the knowledge God’s love had come first to Israel and then to the whole world through the church of Jesus Christ which was made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.

In the waters of baptism the God of Israel claimed us. In that moment we confessed that Jesus is Lord, we died to sin and were raised to walk in the power of Christ’s resurrection life. All of us together were adopted into the family God in which we have begun to trust the goodness of God, to pray to God in the most intimate, personal language of all.

Jesus modeled this language in his life. At his baptism he heard his Father’s voice, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit for his mission in the world.

It was in the presence and power of the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of our adoption, that he set his face toward Jerusalem. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night of his arrest, that he prayed in anguish and sweat great drops of blood, that he cried out, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

“Abba” was Aramaic for “Daddy”. It was Emilie’s word for her Father, “Papa, Papa”. It was the most personal, intimate way of expressing trust and love. It was as if Jesus had climbed into his Papa’s lap with tears, anxiety, and fear, to cry out to the only one who could help him on his way to the cross.

The Apostle Paul said that this was the language of prayer given to the community of the beloved that had heard the Papa’s word of affirmation, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

He wrote to the Galatian church, “But 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. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Galatians 4 4-7

I believe that we are so easily drawn back into the slavery of fear because we have been unable yet to trust our heavenly Father’s voice, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

This remains the cutting edge of my need for spiritual growth. Like many of you I have sustained a “father wound”. Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr believes that most of us carry this wound because we never knew our earthly fathers well enough. We never had a personal intimate relationship with our Dad’s. The great challenge before us is to talk with our earthly fathers in the intimacy of our hearts needs. Such a conversation might lead us to understand that our father’s were humans also who have shared our joys and sorrows and with whom we have needed reconciliation.

Each time I have visited my Dad’s grave I have talked with him with great tears of confession, forgiveness, and love. It has been healing and freeing. Blessed are those who have worked out their relationship with their earthly fathers before they died.

Chip Hayner, Steve’s son, shared that his Papa always drove him to school as he was growing up. Each morning as he dropped him off, his Papa would say to him, “Be a gentleman, a scholar, and do not forget whose you are.”

Chip said that he thought this was just a father’s admonition to a child at the beginning of the day and that it had little meaning. The words went in one ear and out the other. But in recent years, he had been thinking about his Papa’s words to him. He realized that Papa was saying something very profound to him. He came to understand that Jesus had been the perfect Gentleman, who always treated people kindly and demonstrated compassion for others. Jesus was the perfect scholar. He knew God’s revelation; he walked with God; he called students around him, taught them, and asked them to trust and to obey. He was a gentleman and a scholar. His mind was the mind of God.

But most important to Chip was that his Papa was reminding him daily not to forget whose he was! He was a child of the king. He belonged to God in life and in death. His heavenly Papa was the one Chip was called to know, to please, and to love.
Don’t forget whose you are.

How easily we forget, we do not remember that God our Father created us, redeemed us, and has given us the Spirit of adoption. He is leading us into promised inheritance.

“And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” 8:17

Yes, as God’s children we are heirs of all the promises of God to Abraham’s family. Abraham’s inheritance was the Promised Land. Our inheritance is all of heaven and earth, the New Creation, the transformation of this creation so that the taint of human sin and death are removed, pain is eliminated, and we are with our Heavenly Papa for eternity in the fullness of life.

Another way that we may speak of this inheritance is “the fullness of joy”. To choose the joy of heaven is to turn one’s back to the slavery of fear and death. It is to move forward trusting God into the fullness of life.

Yet in this present time we have chosen the way of suffering, servant love, of working with Christ for the healing of the cosmos, for the healing of human history, and for the healing of the church. Hear the words of the writer of Hebrews, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son he learned obedience through what he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Hebrews 5:7-9

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do not grow weary or lose heart. God is addressing you as children. Endure trials for the sake of discipline! God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.” Hebrews 11 and 12.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Spirit Is Life

Date: February 22, 2015 Author: 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 Spirit Is Life” from Romans 8:9-11. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 1st Sunday in the Season of Lent.

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Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:9-11

THE SPIRIT IS LIFE

One of the most powerful stories of the Bible is found in Genesis 2. It is a second creation story. The text says that the Lord God formed the man Adam from the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living being. This was the wind of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of God that hovered over the chaos on the first day of Creation. This Spirit was the source of all life.

This was the Spirit that breathed life into the people of Israel and empowered their history and the blessings the people received. Ezekiel the prophet was carried in the 6th century B.C. into a valley of dry bones where he saw the remnants of the people of Israel dead in exile, in Babylon. It was at this moment that the prophet questioned whether or not Israel had a future. She had lost everything. The Lord placed the question before the prophet. “Can these bones live again?”

Ezekiel was commanded to speak to this valley of dry, dead bones. As he proclaimed God’s Word, the bones began to come together until a body had been reconstituted, yet the body was without life.

Ezekiel proclaimed the Word from God to the dead corpse. As he did so, the breath of God came to dead Israel. The people were resurrected on the stage of history and lived again to do the will of God. Israel had a future.

What was seen by Ezekiel was the creation power of the Lord God. Creation was dependent upon God’s Spirit. Remove the Spirit from the body and man returns to the dust. But blow the Spirit into the body and life bursts forth. Remove the Spirit of God from human empire and all the symbols of greatness and power return to the deserts and ultimately to the museums of antiquity.

This was the witness of the N.T. The same Spirit of God overshadowed Mary and her womb was filled with the life of the Son of God, Jesus, the Savior and Lord. The child was the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus was fully human, but also fully God. The same Spirit that called the creation into being, which journeyed with Israel across the Sinai desert leading in a cloud by day and a fire by night, was the source of Israel’s life. This Spirit dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple.

It was this Spirit that became incarnate in Jesus, full of grace and truth. The Word became flesh and moved into the human neighborhood. It was this Word and Spirit that filled Jesus, anointed him for his mission, empowered his mighty works; spoke with authority through him, and which called the corpse of Jesus from the tomb on the third day. It was this Spirit that breathed upon the gathered disciples on Easter evening and they received the Holy Spirit.

It was this Spirit that called forth the church on the Day of Pentecost and empowered its witness from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The witness of the Spirit was that God had acted to raise his Son from the dead as an act of the beginning of the New Creation. Paul wrote to Corinth, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; “the last Adam, Christ, became a life-giving spirit.” 1 Cor. 15:45

To confess Jesus as Lord was the result of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. To be the church in mission was of the Spirit. To be born anew of the Spirit was to be a Christian, one who walked in the Spirit, manifested the fruit of the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit.

The reality of the life of God, the Spirit, came to dwell in the believer’s heart. The Holy Spirit came to dwell in the new temple of the Spirit, the body of the believer and of the body of Christ, the church.

Paul wrote to the Roman church, “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Roman 8:10-11

This is the miracle that C.S. Lewis captured in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Remember that Narnia was a land where it was always winter and Christmas never came. Yet the good news had been heard. Aslan, the Christ Lion, was on the move. Warmth was coming. Spring time was melting the snow. The rivers of Narnia looked a lot like Niagara Falls this week. But the ice was breaking up. The white witch who had placed Narnia under her cold spell turned many of the residents of the land into stone statues to be stored away in her castle.

She believed she had defeated Aslan when she killed him on the Stone Table, the altar of sacrifice. But in that moment in which the traitor Edmund was set free of his traitorous act, time began to run backwards and Aslan was alive on the third day.

One of the first things he did was bound over the walls of the witch’s castle. Taking the earth children with him, he began to breathe upon the statues. As he did so, the stone cracked and crumbled. Color returned. The statues awakened from their sleep. Once again they were fully alive and energized in ways they had not been before the witch touched them with her magic wand. As Aslan breathed upon them his Spirit rested upon them and filled them. They too were raised from the dead.

In MERE CHRISTIANITY, Lewis spoke of the gift of biological life we have all received, but also of spiritual life. He captured our text with these words, “A man changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.” Book 4, chapter 1.

I love statues and what the sculptors intended to say. In thinking about the words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, my imagination drew me to Rockefeller Center in NYC. In 1937 the statue of the Greek Titan, Atlas, was placed in the plaza across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in mid-town Manhattan. That was the year of my birth. It is a bronze statue and it is 45 feet tall.

Atlas stood there, as many objected, looking like Mussolini the Italian Fascist dictator during the 1930’s until he was hung by his own people near the end of WW 11; some said that Atlas was made to be as Mussolini imaged himself. Atlas stood as a weight lifter with every muscle of his body flexed. His muscles were huge. His arms and broad shoulders were stretched out. In his arms and shoulders he held the heavens and the earth. For 77 years he has held the cosmos on his shoulders. With any imagination we might ask, “How long will Atlas’s strength endure in holding heaven and earth together?

The juxtaposition of Atlas in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral poses profound theological questions about the nature of reality. Who holds the cosmos together in his arms? The Cathedral witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. His strong shoulders and arms were stretched out on the cross in an act of self-sacrificing love. In his story we are told that the love of the one triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created and holds the cosmos together.

In a real way, Atlas represents humanity in all of its political, economic, and cultural pride and power working hard, straining every muscle, holding on for dear life. At any moment the human experiment might collapse and the statue and all of heaven and earth as we have known it may crumble. May crumble like the statues of Saddam Hussein, or Lenin, or Hitler.

Inside the Cathedral there is a small statue of the boy Jesus at about age 10. He stands behind the altar. In one of his hands he holds a globe of planet earth. He stands with a gentle smile on his face effortlessly holding the orb in the palm of his hand. The juxtaposition of the statue of Jesus with the 45 ft. Atlas straining to hold heaven and earth on his back poses the question to us of who holds and sustains the creation.

Bruce Larson, in one of his books told of seeking to help a high powered executive let go of his need to control the world. He led him to see the statue of Atlas straining to hold the world with all his might. Then he took him across the street to the Cathedral to see the small statue of the boy Jesus holding the orb of the earth without strain in the palm of this hand. Larson asked the man to choose between Atlas and Jesus. To seek to be Atlas for the rest of his days would destroy him. To follow Jesus was the way to peace. The decision was his. Surrender and live; or labor in one’s own strength and die.

The Cathedral across the Plaza witnessed to the Spirit of the Christ as the source of all life, as the one who breathed life into being. One Easter Sunday St. Patrick’s was jammed with people. As they opened the huge doors of the Cathedral for people to exit, Atlas was framed in the middle of the open doors. The people were reminded that they were entering a world that would weigh them down without surrender to Jesus.

What if the Christ lion were to bound into Rockefeller Plaza and breath upon the statues, the buildings, the empires, the financial clout of international corporations, and even NBC in all its struggles to tell the truth and to entertain?

Atlas carried the weight of the world. Sometimes we do also. A year or so ago I heard on Pandora a new Judy Collins ballad. Judy is one of our best folk singers. She sings about things that cause us to feel the pain of human existence and the joy of life. The tract that I heard was entitled, The Weight of the World. Many times while riding my stationary bike I have listened to her sing about her brother Michael being sent off to war in Iraq as a late teen. At last the Army sent him home again in a flag draped coffin on a cold December morning. She sang,

“The weight of the world, too heavy to lift
So much was lost, so much was missed
It doesn’t seem fair that any innocent boy or any girl
Should have to carry the weight of the world.”

This is a folk ballad for a generation that watches American Sniper and reads about the trial in Texas of the soldier who killed him on the shooting range. This is the weight of the world, along with all the burdens we carry. And we are all afflicted by this weight in ways that we are not aware.

We cannot walk through this world without being burdened by its weight. I do not know what weight you are carrying in your soul this morning. It may be the weight of a distant memory, a family loss, a disappointed dream, an awareness of brokenness. It may have bent us over and drained our dreams, and shattered our hopes. The weight may have frozen us in place and we may have become paralyzed by its pain.

But the good news of God witnesses to THE SPIRIT OF LIFE! Sometimes the Spirit blows like a gentle breeze through our lives. Other times it blows like a powerful wind. This is the Spirit that causes us to remember that Jesus carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He carried the cross to the hill where the weight of human sin and lost-ness buried him.

But then just as quickly, we hear and believe the gospel truth. The Spirit of God the Creator/Redeemer spoke and breathed New Life into the corpse of Jesus and he was alive again.

When we lest expect it the living Christ bounds into our lives as we have been frozen in place by the law of sin and death. Through his Word the Spirit nudges us, convicts us, woos us, leads us, breaths upon us, and moves us from the domain of the exhausted Atlas’s to the domain of the Spirit of Life.

The mysterious and beautiful truth is that the Spirit of Life comes to dwell within us. Renewal comes from the inside because our bodies have become temples of the Holy Spirit. He then gives life to our mortal bodies.

The Spirit within us stirs hope that even as Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we in this present time, but also in the fullness of time, in the joy of eternal life.

Like Nicodemus, we discover that we have been born anew of the Spirit, from above. We begin to walk, sometimes to run, experiencing a new joy and love. Then roads of darkness upon which we are surrounded by the heavy fog of loneliness, anxiety, and fear, come upon us. In those times we discover that there is a God and it is not us.

Isaiah was right, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:27-31

This is the work of the Spirit of Life who inspired the Apostle to write, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Ash Wednesday

Date: February 18, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

This is a podcast of the 7pm Ash Wednesday Worship and Communion service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Kathy Sizer is preaching, “Dead to Sin: Alive in Christ from Romans 8:1-8. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.

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My Tug of War

Date: February 15, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “My Tug of War” from Romans 7:5-25. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This communion Sunday and Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday.

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Romans 7:4-25

MY TUG OF WAR

It is very important that the Christian disciple know his or her inner heart. What was so winsome about the Apostle Paul was that he knew the brokenness of his life and his inner vulnerabilities. He wrote, “I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”

“I am of the flesh”.

What he meant was that there were dimensions of his self that were so broken that if allowed to act could still destroy him. We do not know what the Apostle’s thorn in the flesh was, but we do know that it brought him low and kept him dependent upon the grace of God. It may have been some besetting sin that had never been removed.

Growing in spiritual maturity awakens one to these inner dynamics of the self which Paul called “the flesh”. “The desires of the flesh”! How would one characterize these desires?

In several places Paul listed the “works of the flesh”. The lists of these works are impressive. I suspect that they might be found in some of our personal dairies or journals. They are those aspects of ourselves with which we find ourselves in an inner “tug of war”. Some of the works of the flesh are these: “fornication (sexual immoralities of all kinds), impurity, idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing,” (Galatians 5:19f); “covetousness, murder, deceit, craftiness, gossips, slanderers, haughty, boastful, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” (Romans 1:28ff); and “greed, abusive language from your mouth” (Colossians 3).

At the very moment we think we do not have to struggle with these issues within us we have deceived ourselves. Therefore, I have to guard my mind, my thoughts, my soul, my heart, my tongue, every part of my body. External powers can inflame my inner desires and make me aware that there is an internal “tug of war” going on in me.

This is why entertainment is so dangerous for our internal thoughts, fantasies, and imaginations! Why has the paper back romantic novel, “50 Shades of Gray”, sold millions of copies around the world, even though literary critics say it is poorly written? “Time Magazine” this week, with the release of the movie, says that the book appeals more to women that to men. Women get their sexual fantasies stirred more by the written word than by the visual in movies. Men like the visual. When men want to see pornography they primarily go to their computers or magazines. Women read and imagine.

One of the most trying parts of living in the dormitory while in university and trying to be a Christian was the wall paper in many of the rooms. “Playboy” was just taking off and the centerfolds lined the rooms. It was difficult to walk into a fellow students room, to hang out without having my eyes on the wall hangings. The hormones were flowing in my blood stream. I was a healthy boy. The testosterone was overflowing on our campus.

When I first came to Laguna one of our male members wanted to take me to his barber in Huntington Beach. He thought my hairstyle needed to be redone. It needed the dry look. I had enough hair on my head in those years to work with. But beyond that his barber was a former Playboy centerfold. So we took delight in taking the pastor to be worked on by the Playboy centerfold. I went as a sheep to be sheared.

She was a nice person. Then she and her husband moved to cutting hair at their home. I walked into their home for a cut one day only to see the original pictures done in Laguna Beach just down the street from the church. I realized that I needed another barber for the sake of my soul. Now I just go to Rudy across the street. Each time he finishes my cut he says, “Jerry, once again you are perfect.” He is the same one who also reminds me that the devil never takes a day off. Last week he said it again to me: “You are perfect, but the devil never takes a day off.” A profound word of truth.

Did you know that sexual pornography is one of the chief addictions of our time? Many Christians confess that pornography is a major issue for them. Once one is exposed to it and has experienced the rush the next time around it will take more to satisfy. The addiction begins and grows. I know of pastors who were fired from their churches because of the history of their visitation to porno links on their church computers.

But it is not just pastors. Men are vulnerable from every walk of life and profession. To become addicted to pornography leads to dissatisfaction in the marriage bed. Not just for men, but also for women who long for a mixture of money, sex, and power to sweep them off their feet, seduce them, and cause them to lose touch with reality.

Ironically, the Apostle Paul had come to understand that the source of his internal “tug of war” was his desire to keep the law of God. He confessed that the law of God was God’s revelation. It was good, holy, and just. The 10 commandments were not evil, but in meditating on the law Paul discovered that the commandments stirred up sin within him.

The Apostle Paul knew all about internal stresses and strains. Indeed, his internal life was filled with tug of wars between various aspects of his self. As a self-righteous Pharisee who was dedicated to obedience to the law of God, he had developed what many would have called “religious pride” at his accomplishments.

Saul of Tarsus was circumcised on the 8th day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. For him his pedigree and hard work had allowed him to climb the ladder of success in the Jerusalem establishment (Philippians 3).

No doubt his religious dedication and success had led many people to admire him, but for others to fear him. One gets the impression that Saul the Pharisee would have been focused on external appearance and the maintaining of image. He would have been like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who stood in the Jerusalem Temple praying and thanking God that he was not like other men. He fasted; he prayed; he tithed; he was kosher; he was observant; and felt himself to have accomplished his objectives. Not only that, in the service of God he was determined to bring the followers of Jesus to justice.

On the road to Damascus to persecute the Jewish Christians, filled with fuming hostility toward those that he knew were in the wrong, he was encountered by the resurrected Jesus Christ, blinded, and knocked to his knees. He had been wrong.

From that moment Saul began his long journey in the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. He came to see himself as the chief of sinners. His love for the law of God, the 10 commandments and traditions of Israel continued to grow. But the revelation of Jesus Christ to him caused him to see the depths of his souls condition in a new way.

The law that had been a source of pride to him became the truth that broke him. In meditating on the law he had discovered another law at work within him. The law of sin emerged in and from his heart. The commandment, “you shall not covet” caused him to covet. Sin increased. But the good news was that as sin increased, God’s grace abounded all the more. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, he had been set free from the law of sin and death. But the inner tug of war between sin and grace that were both in his heart often brought him low as he realized that he would never be perfect in this life. He would always be on a spiritual journey toward eternal life.

In Romans 7:6 he wrote, “While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

I Am of the Spirit

This was the truth of the Tug of War. The tug of war was within the divided heart of the Apostle. This is also the foundation of our inner struggles. Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).

C.S. Lewis’ character, Eustace, in the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, represented the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Eustace was a nasty boy who made everyone miserable. He was so nasty that his inner disposition became visible. He was turned into a dragon. I told the story a few weeks ago. It was not until Aslan the Lion “undraggoned” him, peeling the dragon skins from him, that his humanity was restored. The Lion threw un-draggoned Eustace into a pond of waster, washed him, and healed his raw, shriveled skin. Then he re-clothed him and restored him to the others who sailed aboard the Dawn Treader.

The narrator made the point that Eustace had become a new person and was much easier to get along with. Yet, he was not perfect. He could still be wearisome and irritating. But no one said a thing about that because, as the narrator said, “the cure had begun”.

This is why Jesus is so important for each of us. Paul proclaimed the gospel of God. This good news placed Jesus, the Son of God, at the center of all reality. He was the one who created all that there is. He was the Lord in whom Abraham believed and who had reckoned Abraham to be righteous by faith, apart from works. He was the Lord who journeyed with Israel out of Egyptian slavery toward the Promised Land. His was the glory atop Mt. Sinai. His was the voice that gave the 10 commandments to Moses. His was the glory present in the face of Christ. He was the transfigured one on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John. It was the voice of his Father who said to the frightened disciples, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”

He was the one whose death and resurrection made atonement for our sins. His blood reconciled us to the Father. He purchased our salvation. He was the one who breathed upon his disciples the Holy Spirit. He was the one who empowered the mission of his disciples. His was the peace that calms our worries and fears. He is the one who will bring us into eternal life without condemning us. His is the love from which we cannot be separated. And Jesus, our Savior and Lord, is the only one who can resolve, reconcile, and heal our Tug of Wars.

It is to his Table that we are invited this morning. Here his Spirit surrounds us, fills us, renews us, forgives us, and works for the wholeness of our lives. He is here! Come, eat, drink, live in the name of the one triune God –– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Freedom of the Law

Date: February 9, 2015 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, “Freedom of the Law,” from Romans 7:1-6. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.

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Romans 7:1-6, NRSV
1Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

Freedom Is Just Another Word

Date: February 1, 2015 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Freedom Is Just Another Word…” from Romans 6:15-23. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This morning we are reading from, “The Message”.

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Romans 6:15-23, The Message

FREEDOM IS JUST ANOTHER WORD…

The Bible is a Freedom Story. The Old Testament is the story of Israel’s liberation from Egyptian Slavery. How we remember this story and from what perspective we interpret it is of great importance. The Exodus story can be read as a major putdown of the evil Egyptians who were oppressing the Jewish people. As we read the Exodus story we need to remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he spoke of the compassion of God for all people and nations, a God who sends his rain upon the just and the unjust, who calls us to pray for our enemies, and to be like God in showing mercy.

Dr. Christopher Leighton is a scholar and Presbyterian pastor whom I came to know through our Inter-Faith Dialogues with American Jewish leaders. Chris works for an interfaith institute in Washington D. C. (Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies). He just wrote a review of the new movie called Exodus: God’s and Kings. In it he said that God is presented by Ridley Scott as a xenophobic, petulant and vindictive child who is only for the Hebrews and takes all kinds of vengeful acts against the Egyptians for their unwillingness to do the deity’s will. “To advance his Chosen People, this God apparently does not hesitate to behave like a moral monster.” (See ICJS.org for the source of this quote.)

Chris called the movie, and the Bible, a dangerous story that ought to have a warning label on it. It could lead to anti-Semitism and misunderstandings of who the God of the Bible is. Christopher Leighton is a wise Presbyterian pastor and good friend of the American Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.

Yet, the Bible is a story of the oppressed slaves of Egypt who were set free to journey to the Promised Land and to live within the blessings of freedom, justice, and righteousness. It is the Bible’s Exodus story, or salvation story, that has inspired the vision of freedom in western civilization. But if one reads the story from the Egyptian perspective it is threatening, confrontational, and disturbing to the well being of their land.

The Bible’s liberation story came to fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Jesus story was just as confrontational to first century Israel and to the ruling Romans.

Jesus began his public ministry in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

In his following sermon Jesus said that this text had been fulfilled in the congregation’s hearing. What he meant was that he was Israel’s Messiah who had come to complete the liberating work of the kingdom of God. It was the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year in which debts were to be cancelled, lands restored, slaves set free, and liberty proclaimed for a new beginning within Israel. God’s Savior had come and creation and history would never be the same. The work of setting right the cosmos had been inaugurated by the Spirit anointed One, Jesus the Christ.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8

The religious authorities were threatened by his words because they called into question their privileges within Israel.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Corinth, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17.

To the Galatians he wrote, “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” Galatians 5:1, 13

To the Romans he wrote, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:15-23

So, when we read the Bible’s salvation, liberation story, we read it with care. If the Bible sees the human problem as one of slavery to the principalities and powers of this present darkness, it tells a powerful story about our liberation from the powers of sin and death by the revelation of God’s love in Christ. It tells the story of the God of love who sent his Son to set us free from our bondage through the self-sacrifice of his own life at the cross. At the cross, the devil, the one who is a murderer and a liar from the beginning, was publicly unmasked for what he is.

At the cross, God in the life of his Son, bore the curse of God upon human sin. There, in the blood of his Son, God acted to reconcile us to him self and us to one another. God acted to set us right and to begin to restore the Paradise that he had intended from the beginning.

Dividing walls of hostility were broken down. Those who believed in this good news were incorporated into a new humanity to live at peace and in justice. This people made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, male and female, were brought together into a spiritual temple empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a light to the nations and to make peace. Through their sharing in God’s mission the people of God were called to be a freedom loving people.

At the cross, Jesus purchased us with his own blood. Therefore, he owns us. In slavery to Jesus as our Lord we have been called to be truly free. In service to Jesus our true humanity is being restored. O the difference this has made in a world that has many different visions of freedom, but which in seeking to make them work ends up in deeper slavery.

The Bible’s Vision of Freedom is profoundly spiritual.

A people may be delivered from Egypt by a mighty act of God, but that will not guarantee their freedom. The people of Israel still carried in their souls the spirit of slavery. They were slaves in the way they thought and framed their lives. Freedom in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land created anxiety and fear. They wanted to return to Egypt and to the security of being slaves. They missed the foods of Egypt. It took 40 years in the desert before they were spiritually free enough to enter Canaan. A whole new generation that had not known slavery in Egypt was required before Joshua could lead them into their future.

How many years did it take for the followers of Jesus to understand and to live into the freedom that he proclaimed and won for them at the cross? How many centuries has it taken the Christian church to understand and to live into the fullness of God’s good news of spiritual and social freedom?

The Bible’s Vision of Freedom is profoundly social.

How many years has it taken for America to live into the freedoms of what the founders proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence? Freedom has been a long time in coming. Both spiritual and social freedom comes slowly and yet dramatically. Just when we think we have it, it slips from our hands, and we revert to the slavery of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The great theme song of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s — “We Shall Overcome. We’ll walk hand in hand; we shall live in peace; we are not afraid; One day we shall overcome.” It was a song of hope, of promise, of faith in a coming day of freedom in which all God’s children would live together reconciled by the claims of justice and righteousness. But that freedom has been a long time in coming for both blacks and whites.

Not all the freedom songs of the 1960’s expressed such hope. Kris Kristofferson, a Rhodes scholar, ex-army helicopter pilot, singer, song writer, and film actor traveled across the United States drinking and doing drugs, lost in the cultural scene of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. During those journeys he wrote a classic of the country/folk genre of music. Janis Joplin made the ballad famous. It was entitled, “Me and Bobby McGee”. The rhythm was haunting and the chorus was branded into the mind of the chaos of the “Freedom movement” of the late 60’s.

It went like this:
“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

Tragically, Janis Joplin, who seemed free only when she was on stage wailing her songs, finally overdosed in 1971. In her cry for freedom she gave herself to a destructive bondage that finally killed her.

Bobby Dylan had it right: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody, It may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

I thought about this freedom music while watching the movie Selma. Every American ought to see the movie. It is a dramatic telling of the longing and search for political and spiritual freedom in America. It was a freedom inspired by the faith of the African American church and its gospel music. Its setting was 1965 Selma, Alabama, and the March from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of the state where George Wallace was governor and Lyndon Johnson was in the White House in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the emerging leader of the Civil Rights movement with the cry for equal Voting Rights for Whites and Blacks.

I think the central symbol of the movie was the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Highway 80. It crossed over the Alabama River. It was named in honor of Edmund Pettus who served in the Confederate army. After the war he was one of the founders of the KKK and helped develop the policies of segregation and Jim Crow for the purposes of controlling the liberties of African-Americans.

On the Selma side of the bridge were the marching African-American folks on their way to Montgomery to non-violently protest the denial of their political liberties. They were marching for justice and freedom a hundred years after the Civil War ended that set the slaves free, yet, not totally free.

On the other side of the bridge were the representatives of the white dominate establishment, the Selma police. The police represented more than the criminal justice system. They represented the privileged, ruling establishment, the white power racist culture that was standing fast against the threatening change this march might mean for America. On that day in 1965 the police nearly beat to death the whole crowd of non-violent marchers seeking to leave Selma on their march for Voting Rights and full citizenship privileges. It came to be called “Bloody Sunday”.

The white churches were silent. Many mainline churches across the South, including the largest Presbyterian churches, were not allowing African-Americans to worship along side “whites” in their sanctuaries. Their elders lined up at the church’s front doors and refused entry to those seeking to pray on a Sunday morning.

In 1963 ML King, Jr. had written his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. In it he had spoken as a prophet to the church in the South. It had by-in-large refused to speak to and live into the Bible’s freedom story. In many ways this dilemma remains in the Christian church in America. Somehow we had thought that the issues of racial justice and freedom had been overcome. In the last few months we have seen that there is still much work to be done.

In many ways the Selma story was the Bible’s story of freedom. Israel’s Exodus story was the story of confrontation between Egypt’s gods and Israel’s God, Yahweh. Yahweh was on the move to miraculously deliver his people through Moses. The New Testament Exodus story was again a mighty act of God in Jesus to deliver the nations from their bondage to sin and death.

Freedom is a profound work of sanctification.

I believe holiness is the destiny for all those who have been set free in Christ. The end of the journey is eternal life. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I’ve had some tears this week with the death of Jack Schirm whom I baptized last year at 90 years old. The tears broke forth in me as I was trying to prayer the scriptures early one morning. I had received the news that Steve Hayner, President of Columbia Theological Seminary, in Georgia, was near death. He passed away on Saturday afternoon at 66 years of age from cancer. He and his wife had posted news over Caringbridge for the last several months.

In the latest post after his passing she shared a parable that a friend had written about a retreat experience Steve and he had shared. They went on a Trust Walk together. Steve was blindfolded and his friend gave him the words of direction from behind him. He reminded Steve that he had guided him through the thicket of a forest. It was one step at a time seeking to dodge the branches and thorns.

At last they arrived at the edge of the thicket. Before them was a level field of grass. The man doing the guiding told Steve to take off running even though blindfolded. Steve trusted his friend’s words so he did just that. He ran with his arms waving. He ran and he shouted in complete joy.

It was a parable that brought comfort to Steve’s wife and family. She said that Jesus had always led them and that they had learned to trust the providential caring of our loving God and the assurance of his Word. When Steve passed he ran into the fullness of joy, set free from the powers of sin and death, to live into eternal life.

This is our journey. The freedom of God promises to lead us into the fullness of joy and into eternal life in the New Creation.

Is “Freedom” just another word for nothing left to lose?

No, freedom is the biblical word and truth revealed in Christ that leads us to trust that we have everything to gain in the fullness of time. To this way we are called to commit ourselves.

Freedom is just another word for the coming New Creation for which we long, struggle, sacrifice, and stand in the Spirit of Christ.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Need a Reminder?

Date: January 25, 2015 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, “Need a Reminder?” from Romans 6:11-15. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.

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