On the Road

Date: April 20, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This morning is Easter Sunday. We conclude our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke as we read the Road to Emmaus Story in Luke 24.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message. Included is some of the music from the morning’s three worship services.

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Luke 24:13-35

ON THE ROAD

One of my all time favorite movies is Forest Gump. The movie sought to interpret our times. It was humorous; it was sad; it was inspirational; it raised some of the great philosophical issues with which we all struggle. What are the foundations of human knowledge? What is the relationship between human freedom and necessity? Is anyone in control of human life and history? Does life have any transcendent purpose or meaning? Or is life like a feather that is blown by the breezes of life? One never knows where the feather will fly or land.

Forest, played by Tom Hanks, was a simpleton who always seemed to show up at the important moments of the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a good boy; mocked by his classmates, yet always overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds over which he triumphed. His home state was Alabama. When his mama died, leaving him alone, she explained what was happening to her. “Death is a part of life, Forest.” She brought the message down to his level. “Forest, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”

Forest, in order to deal with his many joys and sorrows, took off running from one end of the United States to the other, from coast to coast. He ran for over three years. At the end he interpreted the run as his way of putting the past behind him so that he could move into a new future. Along the way, he grew a beard and gathered disciples who ran with him until at last he was finished with his running and announced to his followers that he was tired; he was going home; the run was over, and so he returned home to Alabama.

Somewhere out in Monument Valley, Forest just stopped running. The scene was awesome with the long, straight road ascending behind him and which he would have to go up in the long way home. He turned around to face his followers who had come to believe that he was a guru, a man of secret wisdom who seldom spoke. Before he could speak to them, one of them said to the others, “Quiet. He’s going to say something.” As he walked through them on his way home, the dedicated disciple cried to him, “Now what are we supposed to do?”

The road or the way is a metaphor for the human life journey. The road of our earthly journey has a beginning; it winds, it goes up and down, it is full of surprises; it is hard; throughout our life journeys we think about our stories seeking to organize them, to reframe them for the sake of understanding; along the way we age and hopefully mature; many people join us along the way; we make friends; we go to school; we start our own families; we raise our kids; we work; we play; we accumulate; but sooner or later the journey comes to an ending. We discover, at least, that poop happens. We have stepped in it. We have taken risks; we have loved and won; loved and lost. We have been wounded; our dreams have been shattered; our trust of others put to the test; our hopes redefined, if not destroyed. We ask of the cosmos and of history, is this all there is? Is there anything or anyone waiting for us somewhere beyond the rainbow?

Life is lived on the road, on the freeway, in the air, on a boat, The long and winding road has many off ramps and options, ways to take. Many gurus would like to lead us on the road. But what is the way for us to choose if we want to live well and fulfill our dreams? Jesus said that there were two roads, one broad road that many choose and which leads to destruction; the other road narrow that leads to life; but few find that road.

The two disciples on the first day of the week following Passover traveled the road that would guide them from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Cleopas and likely his wife must have been emotionally exhausted as they returned home from Jerusalem. We are all seeking a way home. It was a seven mile walk. Someone asked how long it would have taken them? I know that it takes me around 20 minutes to walk a mile when I am not pushing it. So likely the couple faced a walk of around two hours. As they walked together they were having an intense conversation about reports they had heard of the preceding days in Jerusalem.

Perhaps they had walked to Jerusalem to be a part of the Passover observance. If so, they were doing what observant Jews had been doing for thousands of years, remembering the story of their people whose long history had been filled with many ups and downs. Talk about a long way or road, through deserts, storms, deprivations, enemies, dreams, promises, a land, a homeland, exile, a temple, a vision that seemed always to slip through their fingers just as they had arrived and were secure.

Jesus had set his face to walk from Galilee to Jerusalem where it was necessary for him to arrive at his divinely appointed destiny on a cross. Perhaps he could have chosen another way, another road, an escape. But he chose his Father’s will of walking toward the moment for which he had come into the world. He had sought to prepare the disciples who followed him, but they could not hear what he was saying. It was beyond their comprehension. Their world views had not been large enough to embrace what he was saying. What he had told them happened to him. It was more than stepping into a cow pattie, an inspiration for a bumper sticker. He had walked into the jaws of death and he was destroyed by his enemies.

Jesus died and was buried in a sealed tomb. The long walk with his disciples was over and the disciples went into hiding or were scattering to return to their homes and work. Hope shattered; hearts broken; love disillusioned; trust overwhelmed by evil powers. The road less travelled.

On the road Easter Sunday evening, a stranger joined the two returning to their home in Emmaus. He asked them about the “things” they were discussing. They could not believe that he did not know about the things that had happened in Jerusalem. “What things,” he asked. They told him about the things of the Jesus story. They had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. But the religious and political authorities would have nothing of him. They arrested him, put him on trial, convicted him, and demanded the Romans execute him, which they did. But now it was the third day since his burial. A report had gone out that some women went to the tomb and found it opened, the stone rolled away and the body gone. Only his burial clothes were in the tomb. Amazingly, they said they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

The stranger began to teach them from the scriptures of Moses, the psalms, and the prophets. Passage after passage he cited to show them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer, to die, and to be raised on the third day.

As they arrived in Emmaus, the two invited the stranger to spend the night with them. He did so. At the dinner table, the stranger took the bread, blessed it, and prayed over the meal. As he did so the eyes of the two were opened and they recognized him. They saw the living Jesus Christ present with them. And as soon as they recognized him he disappeared. With excitement they exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us on the road as he interpreted the scriptures to us?” Their minds had been opened as he was opening the scriptures to them. Their eyes were opened as he broke the bread. It was a moment of revelation in which they knew the things they had reported to the stranger were true. God had done what they would never have expected. God had acted through the power of his Word and Spirit to raise the body of Jesus from the grave.

What was it that had happened in the “things” of the Jesus story? Bishop Tom Wright, in SURPRISED BY HOPE, p. 67, wrote,

“To put it at its most basic; the resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or the theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude :

Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.

But how do we come to a way of knowing the new creation beyond the limits of our materialistic and scientific ways of observing and coming to know reality?

Tom Wright, who is one of the most important biblical scholars of our century, argues that our ways of knowing must not only embrace the things of our world, but must also rediscover the knowledge that comes through faith, hope, and love.

The Apostle Thomas, doubting Thomas, would not believe that Jesus had been raised without empirical evidence. He needed to see, to touch, to measure, to quantify before he would assent to the report of the others. So a week later, the resurrected Jesus came to him in the upper room and presented himself to be touched. All Thomas did was knee and confess his faith. In his kneeling, New Faith was born that allowed him to know the reality of the New Creation.

The Apostle Paul lived in a world desperate for hope. Through his encounter with the resurrected Lord on the Road to Damascus he was himself transformed by hope. By coming to know Jesus he had come to the knowledge of the transformation of heaven and earth that was already overlapping and interconnecting. Read Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15. Because Jesus had been raised, our own resurrection is assured and the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of God is guaranteed. This is foundational hope.

The Apostle Peter was given the sure knowledge of the New Creation by the power of love. Beside the lake in Galilee, the resurrected Lord asked him three times if he loved him. Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Peter was restored by the power of God’s love. He came to understand that the knowledge of ultimate reality could only come through the experience of God’s self-giving, forgiving, transforming, love.

Faith, Hope, and Love were released into our world as the foundational ways of knowing and experiencing the New Creation.

This morning we are on the same road as were the two on the way to Emmaus. We are on the road which Jesus and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem. We are on the way seeking what is real; what is true, what will give to us life and meaning, and hope of eternal life. And our roads have led us to Laguna Presbyterian Church this Easter Sunday.

Some of us only come to a church on Christmas Eve or Easter. Maybe some cultural vestige lingers in our memory from childhood that reminds us this is the thing to do. God bless us all!

Maybe someone invited you. Maybe you came out of curiosity. I commend you. I suspect we all came not as accidental tourists walking different roads, but underneath it all we traveled this road on this Easter because in some way we are searching for a reason to be, work to do, a faith that will sustain, hope to keep us going, and love to bring comfort in community.

Partially, we think Forest Gump’s mother’s wisdom may be true: “Life’s a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get.” Our lives have been blown around in the storms of life. Like feathers we have landed in this place. Where will we be blown this afternoon or this coming week? Or, I am haunted, by the cry of the man on the road, “Now, what are we supposed to do?”

If you are like me, and I suspect we are all alike, more than we know, we are searching for a place to stand, a new center for our being, a world view or reality out of which we may live. So we gather to this time, to this space, to this people, to this house, questioning whether or not there is a lens through which we may see the New Creation.

So we gather and we are read a story. We hear a report about the things of Easter. My friend Jack Haberer, the editor of Presbyterian Outlook magazine emailed a prayer to all his readers on Saturday morning written by Brian McLaren, a fellow pastor. I found it so helpful:

“Dear Lord, I pray for all the pastors today
Who will feel enormous pressure to have their sermon
Match the greatness of the subject
And will surely feel they have failed.
(I pray even more for those who think they have succeeded)
Help them to know that it is enough
Simply and faithfully to tell the story.
Help the preachers feel it,
And if they don’t feel it, help them
Preach it anyway, allowing themselves
To be the receivers as well as the bearers of the Easter News.”

Christ is risen! He is with us On The Road. Alleluia!

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Reality Check Time

Date: April 13, 2014 Author: Dr. Jerry Tankersley

This morning is Palm/Passion Sunday. We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message from the text of Luke 19:28-48. We are reading this morning from the NRSV.

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“REALITY CHECK TIME”

Secretary of State John Kerry said this past week that it is now “Reality Check Time” for the Israelis and the Palestinians in their peace negotiations. He was also applying the reality test to the U.S. government. For several decades the emissaries of our government have worked to make peace in the Middle East by mediating Jewish and Arab conflicts in regard to the State of Israel and the West Bank of the Holy Land. A great amount of time and money, of American prestige and power, have been placed on the line to help two resistant groups of people to make the compromises necessary to win the peace in the Promised Land.

But now it is “reality check time” for all parties. Secretary Kerry set the end of April 2014 as the deadline to have completed the process of drawing national boundaries, the allocation of natural resources, West Bank settlements, the right of return for those exiled, and the joint use of Jerusalem for both people living side by side at peace. But up until now the answers from both sides have been “No!” We must continue to pray for this peace process, that it will succeed for the sake of the entire world.

Who knows what the results of a failure to make peace could mean for the Middle East and for the U.S.? Since 1948 the United Nations has sought to establish two states living side by side at peace, without dividing walls, and with shared prosperity. But ancient hatreds, religions, and power interests have not allowed cooperation and breakthroughs. So we have come to “Reality Check Time”. Sounds as if the mediator is ready to walk away from the table and to allow for the two sides to suffer the consequences of their inability to make peace. Perhaps this is part of the mediation strategy? To say the least, the entire Middle East is a mess, still divided by conflicting loyalties and artificial boundaries drawn in the 20th century by colonial powers and painful wars.

The people of the 21st century Middle East do not know the things that make for peace any more than the people of the first century. For those who pay attention to these things it is enough to make them weep.

As he moved toward Jerusalem Jesus lamented over the city that he loved. He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:31-35)

Jesus grieved over the Holy City.

As he rode over the top of the Mt. of Olives and looked down upon the old city, he could see Herod’s Temple built on the site of Solomon’s Temple. This was the house of God and the city of God with such a long history. Jesus knew that he was its Savior and Lord. He was Israel’s king, the Son of David/Son of God, and he had come to bring the peace of heaven which the city required if it were to save itself from impending disaster.

He understood that the religious and political authorities of Jerusalem would not welcome him, that they wanted to kill him in order to maintain the status quo. At any moment the Romans could decide to attack and squash a revolutionary movement. The Romans were like the Russians massing their troops on the border with Ukraine. For Rome the “Pax Romana” was all that mattered. They maintained the order of the world under the heel of their legions.

The Gospel of John tells us that the day before Jesus rode into the city that he had raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. Imagine the stir! He had stood outside of Lazarus’ tomb and wept for his friend and his two sisters. He called him forth and the dead man walked into the open air wrapped in his burial clothes as a testimony to the power of God. The people who saw it were overcome with emotion. The Pharisees said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

The religious authorities called a meeting of their session. “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” The chief priest, the moderator of the council said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:45-53)

Luke tells us that Jesus wept over the city, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will destroy the city because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Lk. 1941-44)

“REALITY CHECK TIME”

It did not take a prophet to see what would happen to Jerusalem before the end of the first century. In fact, Luke was writing his Gospel around 80 AD. He knew what had happened in the 60’s and 70’s AD. The Jewish Wars with Rome had broken out in the 60’s AD. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote the history of those wars. In detail he recorded how the Roman armies moved against the Jews of Jerusalem. They surrounded the city, breached its walls, burned the temple, and tried to either exile or to kill every Jew they could find. One may still see the outlines of the Roman Tenth Legion encampments below Masada. Some say it was during this time that the temple library in Jerusalem was taken down to Qumran near the Dead Sea and sealed in caves to keep the Romans from destroying the treasured scrolls. There they remained until they were discovered in 1947 by an Arab shepherd boy.

It was a wise move to preserve the religious heritage of Israel. It was not unlike what happened in Europe in WWII when the great art of western civilization was stored away to save it from the ravages of warfare. The Monument Men tried to discover the places where the art had been hidden in order to restore it to the people and museums from whom it had been stolen.

So Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem at Passover Time. A large crowd of pilgrims welcomed him as Israel’s king. They had seen his powerful deeds of healing the sick, of raising the dead, of proclaiming good news to the poor, of forgiving sinners. They were ready for him to be Israel’s king and to lead them against Rome. And he was Israel’s king, the Prince of Peace, riding into Jerusalem, not upon a war horse, but upon a humble donkey, a symbol of peace. He came in fulfillment of the prophecies of Zechariah.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, you king come to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)

“REALITY CHECK TIME”

Jesus’ modern critics say that he may have engaged in prophetic symbolism by riding the donkey into Jerusalem and by cleansing the temple, but the truth was that he was not Israel’s Messiah. His mission failed. The authorities arrested him, put him on trial, condemned him to death, and executed him on a tree, his body hanging between heaven and earth after having been beaten half to death. He brought no peace to the earth. Wars and rumors of war continue. Human evil runs rampant. Peace, Peace, but there is no peace. When Messiah comes he will succeed. Until then, we have to maintain the order of the world in the only way we know how. Reality argues that the balance of power and military might is what sustains any kind of peace and order. A nation cannot have enough guns, tanks, and bombs. You may walk gently, but you had better carry a big stick and not be afraid to use it.

This is where the world is at.

“REALITY CHECK TIME”

What is reality? “Does not might makes right?”
We have a name for this worldview in the history of the church’s theological reflections. It is called “Christian Realism”. It rejects any form of pacifism and argues for dealing with the world in the way we have experienced it as an evil place still driven by self-seeking tyrants. Surely, after the 20th century and its many wars, who was right, Jesus or the religious high priest?

I confess to being tormented by this tension. Part of me is a Christian Realist. I know full well that it took the armies of the allies to save western civilization from the totalitarian ambitions of the Third Reich. Another part of me is a Christian Pacifist that longs to see the hope of prophets and the followers of Jesus come to fulfillment. In this time between the Already and the Not Yet of the kingdom of God we wait the fullness of time. But every moment of time is pregnant with potential for the healing of humankind’s original violence and congenital obsession with conflict and power.

In a mysterious way the New Testament witnesses to the truth that Israel’s God brought the promise of the kingdom of heaven to fulfillment in the 1st century through the events of Holy Week. What happened was the Crucifixion of the Son of God by the “principalities, the rulers, and the powers”.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Corinth, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:21-24)

“We speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Cor. 2:7-8)

“REALITY CHECK TIME”

Christians believe, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, that God made peace at the cross of Jesus. In Jesus’ blood poured out on the cross God’s grace made peace with humanity and reconciled us to one another. This is the deepest meaning of Good Friday. What was the worst of times became the best of times. At the cross, God’s love was revealed at the heart of human suffering. What this gospel meant was that at the moments of evils great assault upon God the peace of God was winning the victory promised by prophets and apostles.

Elie Wiesel, the Jewish Nobel Peace prize winner in 1986, wrote of his teenage experience in the Nazi Concentration Camp. His autobiography was entitled, “Night”. Wiesel is not a Christian, but he wrote of what he saw as the three Jewish prisoners were placed on the gallows to be hung in retribution for the efforts of some prisoners to escape. He said the two adult men died quickly, but the 10 year-old boy who was light as a feather hung for minutes slowly suffocating to death. As the gathered camp watched the horror, one man cried out “where is God when we need him?” At last an old rabbi answered, “He is there hanging on the gallows before us.”

What he meant was that God was identified at the heart of this spiritual darkness. What he did not say was that this was the deepest meaning of Good Friday. At the cross where the Son of God suffered and died, which we remember on this Palm Sunday, the healing love of God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He bore humanity’s sins and in a mysterious moment in history fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent into our world. At the cross the love of God triumphed over human power and evil and revealed that the final meaning of the cosmos is LOVE!

“REALITY CHECK TIME”

But we are continually put to the test when it comes to resorting to violent power as over against self-sacrificing love. A week ago, the Jesuit Priest in Homs, Syria, was assassinated outside his monastery. Father Frans van der Lugt arrived from the Netherlands in Syria 50 years ago. He has loved Muslims and Christians all those years. A few weeks ago he refused to be evacuated from Syria in the midst of war choosing to stay in the land where he has served in the name of Jesus Christ. A single assassin took him, beat him, and shot him two times in the head. The Pope said, “No more war! No more destruction!”

Today, in this moment, the Spirit of Christ’s love is knocking on the door of our lives. Do we recognize the time of visitation from God?

“REALITY CHECK TIME”

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Just Passing Through?

Date: April 6, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Steve Sweet is giving the message from the text of Luke 19:1-10.

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The Prodigal Father

Date: March 31, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Kathy Sizer is giving the message from the text of Luke 15. It was also 3rd Grade Bible Presentation Sunday at the 10am hour.

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There is no transcript for this sermon.

Luke 15:1   Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 15:3   So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:8   “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:11   Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:25   “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But 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.’”

The Father's Pleasure

Date: March 23, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to St. Luke.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message from the text of Luke 12:13-34. It is also Communion Sunday.

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Luke 12:13-34

THE FATHER’S PLEASURE

My anxiety peaked when I read the L.A. Times article that said that 37% of Americans have saved less than one thousand dollars for retirement. I thought to myself, “you gotta be kidding ?” How much economic security will that provide, especially in a political environment that argues that Social Security is running on fumes. With an aging population of baby boomers now retiring the “me” generation may be living with major denial of reality and only beginning to wake up. Is it too late?
Economic insecurity is certainly at the top of our worries. Jesus confronted the reality of economic fear when a man beseeched him to help resolve a family inheritance conflict. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” That is a pastoral snake pit. Jesus responded, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” He refused to place himself in the middle of that family dispute. But the request led him to give a warning for all those who would listen, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” A part of my soul wants to say to Jesus, “you gotta be kidding. Of course it does! You can never get enough economic security. The more you accumulate the better your life will be.” This is the message of our culture. Watch the television adds that play on our economic insecurities and our aging anxieties.
Rather than give a theoretical exposition, Jesus told a story. As always his stories stimulate our thinking, engage our feelings, and cause us to struggle with the meaning and purpose of life. His stories had the capacity to threaten our securities and to call us to deeper understanding of life.
The man named Soul in the story Jesus told had done a great job of building his economic security. His business investments had gone well. His stocks and bonds had continued to appreciate. So what if the market had nearly gone into a great depression. He was a bottom feeder who bought when the market was low and sold when it was high. His property holdings were growing. His cash in the bank was increasing. He had done very good estate planning. He came to the conclusion that he had gathered enough to more than last him through his retirement years.
He was the kind of guy who regularly watched the Dow Jones and consulted with his investment counselor. He made sure there was a good balance between stocks and bonds. My guess is that his counselor had regularly asked him how much stress he could bear. If he was overly anxious, then he needed to invest in bonds. But to grow rapidly, his portfolio would need to have a strong element of risky stocks, even in emerging markets. Soul had maintained a balance over the years and had done well.
He could now maintain his multiple houses. He and his wife could travel. His kids were through college. He was debt free. He could clip his coupons and manage his investments part time and enjoy his life. He had it made. He was a member of the top 10% percent. Who of us would not want to be in this elite club? His only miscalculation was that the day he retired to enjoy his economic freedom, he died.
Dam you Jesus! How dare you tell such a story! What a kill joy. He suggested that just as the man’s economic plan had been fulfilled, his mortality caught up with him. What kind of world is this? Life plays jokes on us and we fly away. Who knows who will inherit what we have accumulated?
For years I have monthly prayed through the 150 psalms of the OT. This was Israel’s and Jesus’ prayer book. The psalms were the backbone of the temple liturgy in Jerusalem. I am so glad I decided to learn to pray the psalms. But I have always hated Psalm 49. The psalmist prayed,
“Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. For when they die they will carry nothing away; (no U-haul trailer tied behind the hearse on the way to the cemetery)
Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.” Psalm 49
What kind of prayer book is this? I want to have my fears assuaged and not stirred up! I know that in the light of the vast majority of all the people that I am and we are amongst some of the wealthiest people who ever lived. Yet, the psalmist prayed,
“For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Ps. 90
Survival security was the chief focus for the vast majority in Jesus’ day. Such things as food, water, clothing, a roof over the head, and other bodily needs dominated the interest of most people.
Jesus knew that we humans worry about many things. We have a unique awareness of our insecurity. The disciples who followed him up to Jerusalem felt the same insecurity. They asked him about their vulnerability. They had left everything to follow him. These were important issues that needed to be addressed.
After telling his story about Soul, Jesus taught his disciples,
“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Luke 12:22-31
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Lk 12:32
The question with which I have struggled through the years of my spiritual journey is “do I believe this assurance of economic security?”
Several decades ago Kay and I began the journey of saving for the future. We consulted with a financial planner and investment guidance person. I had such difficulty believing that I could save anything and that if I invested what little I had in the market it would probably disappear in the ups and downs of the world’s economic swings. Indeed, we had earlier lost on an investment sold to us by a member of our former church. We were afraid.
In the middle of our discussions I must have lamented to the counselor about our poor possibilities for the future. I was afraid that we would end up with next to nothing. As it turned out, the man was a Christian. He confronted me with the ultimate truth that God would take care of his servants and that we could trust him. The light bulb went on in my imagination as I said to myself, “really”? Is this the truth of reality? Can faith trump fear?
We decided to risk it, to believe that our heavenly Father was great and good enough to feed, to clothe, and to house us for a life time. What we needed to do was to be rich toward God. If we organized our lives and resources around ourselves and lived in fear that someone would steal them away or that the ever changing circumstances of life would leave us with nothing, we would be miserable in our self-centeredness.
We decided to trust Jesus’ promise that our heavenly Father’s good pleasure was to give to us the kingdom of God and that we needed to love God with the totality of our being and our neighbors as ourselves.
Notice that Jesus did not say that material possessions were evil in and of themselves. His warning had to do with taking care that we did not fall into greed. Greed was idolatry, of trusting that the things of this world could secure our lives. Greed would cause us to organize our lives around our possessions, to hold on to them, to enjoy them for ourselves, to secure ourselves for an unsure future. Greed would lead us to be defensive, anxious, fearful, and selfish persons.
Jesus knew that we needed to be set free from that fear if we were to live with joy and blessing. Greed enslaves and saps us of peace. It turns us into paranoid people who see enemies everywhere. So how can we break free of the tyranny of greed? By practicing a faithful stewardship of all God’s good gifts. Yes, by learning to work, to play, to rest, to save, to share, to center our lives in God’s kingdom rule.
Jesus taught,
“Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” Lk. 12:32-34
Rowan Williams, in Tokens of Trust, spoke of church ministries that have witnessed to the integrity of the gospel. In viewing these ministries, people responded with these words, “I have seen the church, and it works.”
I love these words. “I have seen the church and it works.” I want to affirm the reality of Jesus’ words in my own life. In the process of preparing our tax returns this year my wife pulled up from Quicken the total amount of our giving over the past several decades. I was stunned. In my earlier years I could not have imagined that I would ever see that amount of money. I thought about the total and I reasoned, “think of the cars, the trips, the clothes, the eating out, and all the things we could have had if we had not given away so much.” But rather than regret, there is a joy and a freedom, a thanksgiving for what God has made possible.
The amazing thing is that living within our means, knowing our priorities, centering our lives in the reality of the kingdom of God, we have had enough food, clothing, housing, and savings to live in security and to see them also multiply. We have discovered that we cannot out give the Lord. The issue of letting go and trusting God to provide has never gone away, but I know that there is a God and it is not our possessions, but learning to let go and to share is the most important lesson one can ever learn.
I have seen the truth of Christ, and it works. The only remedy for worry, anxiety, or fear is to know where your treasure is. If your treasure is in God you have seen and you know the Father’s good pleasure to give to you the kingdom.
How true this is for the church. A church that turns in upon itself, become greedy with its money, no longer risks for the mission of Christ, refuses to be guided by generosity, is the church that will shrivel up and die. But let a church look outward and focus its life in the mission of God in the larger world and it comes alive.
I have seen the church and it works. I have seen the lives of faithful stewards and they work. Why? Because they have been delivered from fear and discovered the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom.
At the Table this morning it is this grace that we celebrate and receive anew. The Lord of this Table gave himself to us that we might live in the freedom and power of his kingdom of love.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Instruments of God's Peace

Date: March 16, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message from the text of Luke 10:1-24.

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Luke 10:1-24
“INSTRUMENTS OF GOD’S PEACE”

The 70 disciples whom Jesus had sent on a mission returned from their experience rejoicing. They had seen and heard what kings and prophets had desired to see and to hear, but had not seen or heard. They had perceived God’s kingdom breaking into human life. They said to Jesus, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

And Jesus, who had been spiritually monitoring their work, had seen it happening. He said in response, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.”

With rejoicing he prayed and gave thanks to his Father, the Lord of heaven and earth. These 70 were like young children who had received a revelation, a glimpse of the ultimate liberation of planet earth. The kingdom of God was near. Its transforming authority and power were rolling back the forces of evil and liberating human life from its ancient enemies.

What a blessing to be allowed to see and to hear the in-breaking of the New Creation. The old was passing away; the new was coming. The blind were seeing; the deaf were hearing; the lamb were walking; the oppressed were being liberated; the poor were hearing the good news of the gospel of the kingdom of God, sinners were being forgiven, and the dead were being raised.

And this was happening through the mission of the 70. God was at work in and through these disciples who had risked it all in their mission of healing and giving of the peace of God. They had become instruments of God’s peaceable kingdom and good things were happening. They were a part of something much larger than themselves.

What follower of Jesus does not desire to see and to hear the transformation of the world into the new world of God’s salvation? To experience this new reality was to receive the revelation of God.

There is a longing in all of our hearts to be given a vision, an awareness, that the power of life is breaking forth, that evil is being defeated, that hope, joy, peace, healing, forgiveness are breaking forth. And of course, this was and is the truth of reality for the past 2000 years for those who have had eyes to see and ears to hear. The kingdom of God has come near and the followers of Jesus, the church of Jesus, have been the instruments of this shalom, this wholeness, this well-being, this rescue, this salvation of planet earth.

God’s peace is already present, but not yet in its full transforming power. Today we live somewhere between the already and the not yet of the full triumph of kingdom of God in human history.

This coming week we are hosting a seminar and lab at our church called Underground Preaching. It was John McKeague from Trabuco Presbyterian Church who had the idea and he invited Candy Blankman from San Clemente and myself to join with him in spending next Thursday morning with pastors in our Presbytery in planning and working on a series of sermons based on the Apostle’s Creed and a book written by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reverend Rowan Williams. The book interprets the theme of trust and it is an introduction to Christian Belief. Its title is Tokens of Trust.

Rowan Williams began one of his chapters with these melancholy observations: “Peace and praise, reconciliation and delight; these are the purposes of God. But they are not at all in evidence in our world. The world is not where it might be, and where—if all we have been thinking about so far is true—it should be. The familiar world is one in which people do not habitually give to each other as they could, let alone giving to God. It is a world with powerful defenses between individuals, nations, ethnic groups, classes and religions.” (pp. 81-82)

The power of original sin is still experienced. We learn how to be human only as we also learn the habits of self-absorption. And every failure and wrong turn in the history of a person as in the history of our species locks us more and more firmly into ourselves. No wonder we drift further and further from peace, become less and less free to give.” (pp. 82-83)

The church does its mission between the already and the not yet of the full reign of God.

In one of his chapters Williams wrote of the expected “Peace Dividend” after the Cold War. He writes, “When the Cold War ended, there was a great deal of talk about the peace dividend—how, since we no longer needed so much money spent on nuclear weapons to defend ourselves against other people’s nuclear weapons, there would be quantities of money available to spend on development and hunger and poverty and so on. As far as the world situation goes, we’re still waiting.” (p. 90)

As we wait, we remember that Jesus led his disciples toward Jerusalem. He was the emissary of the “peaceable kingdom”. He was the incarnation of the God of Peace. He came to plant the vision of God’s peace into the hearts of those who followed him. He breathed his peace into their lives and promised that all those who welcomed him would be blessed and become a blessing by breathing the “peace of Christ” into the homes and lives of those who extended hospitality to them.

Jesus knew what he and the 70 missionaries would face in the world.

I find myself so drawn to this text. The story is a paradigm for the mission of God through the church. The 70 had been sent on a mission to represent the kingdom of God with this instruction, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

We live in a world that is self-absorbed, its will bent in upon itself, and which does not know the things that make for peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem for this very reason. He said it did not know the day of its visitation. It was spiritually blinded to the in-breaking of the God of peace in the Prince of Peace Israel’s Messiah. He could see that in the near future there would be no “peace dividend for Jerusalem.

The situation of Jesus’ world and of the world in 2014 is not a lot different than it was in the 6th century B.C. when Jeremiah the O.T. prophet characterized the culture and leadership of his nation with these words, “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.

They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.

Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’

But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Jeremiah 6:13-16

Inside the soul of humanity we have forgotten how to blush. And when called to the ancient paths and the good ways of doing justice, walking humbly, of being kind, and of seeking to make peace, we resist the invitation of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

PEACE
Yet, we need the Peace of Christ more than ever! I need his peace. Deep in our souls we are bothered and troubled about many things. O, if some visitor were to come to the door of our lives selling peace, how much would we pay for peace of mind.

I listen to a cacophony of voices in my head, endless committees in hot debate about all kinds of things. We fret and we worry about the well-being of our bodies, of the economy, of our intimate relationships, about things we have done, and about words we have spoken that people misinterpreted. We worry about the future of our children and of our businesses. We watch the nightly news. The media focuses upon conflict, plays on our anxieties, and threatens our well-being. We carry the internal dialogue through endless days and nights. We turn to prescription drugs to calm our fears and control our pains. We turn to television preachers for words of peace and hope.

Yet, the preachers have their own joys and sorrows, fears and anxieties, and spiritual journeys. We are all so human trying to get it right and finding ourselves at times hanging by slender threads.

Even Joel Osteen had to face the issue of original sin recently. Someone robbed his church of the Sunday offering last week. It was only $600,000, one Sunday’s contributions. The article reported that for many churches that offering would be one year’s contributions. For Joel that was one Sunday’s reminder that we all live between the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God: that would disturb my inner peace.

This past week I had a touching encounter at my local pharmacy. There I was picking up prescriptions and seeking to understand all the changing insurance issues with the pharmacist. The lady seated next to me suddenly asked me if I were not from Laguna Presbyterian Church. She had been attending she said. I was not exactly in a pastoral mode. I had just left physical therapy and had my gym clothes on and was hoping not to be seen in such disarray and public discussion. I did not immediately recognize her, but I was so thankful for the encounter. She was doing what I was doing, picking up prescriptions. She said her family needed a blessing. She looked at my prescription bottles from a distance and said maybe mine did as well. I said to her, “yes, we are all so human.” Before I could say, “God bless you” she said her own blessing upon herself and upon me. It is very true that we all have our needs to be blessed with God’s peace. We never know where it will come from.

A few days ago, Kay Warren, Rick Warren’s wife, the pastoral team of Saddleback Church posted on Facebook a long reflection on their son’s suicide a year ago. She was responding to a growing desire on the part of many for their pastor’s grief to be over. So many had said things about the family and their public vulnerability and they felt so exposed to misunderstanding about their loss. Kay Warren said she would never get over it. She said the past Rick and Kay Warren were no more. What was emerging was a new Kay and Rick Warren shaped and formed by the family’s sufferings. My heart went out to her and her husband. There is no escape from the limelight in either our joys or our sorrows.

Her posting was passed on to me by Denise Hess, a Presbyterian pastoral therapist at a Catholic hospital, specializing in palliative care for patients and families dealing with death and dying. Denise has been in the CNP group of which I am a mentor. I have such respect for the work she does and the integrity of her life. Literally thousands of responses have been made already to Kay Warren’s post. My guess is that the vast majority of us understand the need we all have to receive the gift of inner peace.<

When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting his trial before Caesar’s courts, he wrote to the Philippian church, which he had founded. I have seen that cell, or pit in Rome. They said that is where Paul was placed because he had preached the message of the kingdom of God around the Empire. He had been an ambassador for Christ’s message of reconciliation and peace. If anyone ever needed peace he did. Amazingly, he wrote to the church about joy and peace. He counseled the church: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

How could he have written these words? He could write them because he had been breathed upon by the Prince of peace, Jesus the resurrected Lord. Therefore, he knew he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. He was abiding in Christ. He was trusting in the God of peace whom he had met in the resurrected Christ.

He had been entrusted with the message of the cross. Paul knew that at the cross God made peace through the blood of Christ. At the cross we were reconciled to God and to one another. At the cross, Jesus bore our sins and released the grace of God into the human condition. Therefore, for all who trusted this free gift of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit, they were given the assurance that nothing could separate them from the love of God, not even their sins and inner chaos. Paul had come to trust this message and presence. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus he had seen with his eyes and heard with his ears the announcement of good news. And he had trusted in the truth of God.

Therefore, in the name of Christ we proclaim the presence of God’s peace in the this very moment for all who see, hear, and welcome the kingdom of God.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

What's Your Excuse?

Date: March 9, 2014 Author: Dr. Jerry Tankersley

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message from the text of Luke 9:51-62.

We are reading this morning from the NRSV.

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Luke 9:51-62
WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

Jesus was sent into our world on a mission. It was a mission given to him by God, his heavenly Father. It was the mission of the seeking God of love who longed for nothing more than to be in right relationship with those whom he had created. It was a mission that resulted in an open invitation to love God and one another as God had loved us. It was the mission that invited us all to be followers of Jesus.

But how do you get anyone to love you? From the earliest stories of the Bible we learn that God created the humans with free will, with the capacity to choose whether or not to live in right relationship with the Creator and with one another. Some have said this was God’s greatest risk.

God could have created us as robots programmed always to do the will of God. But no! God created us in his own image. The Bible celebrates from Genesis to Revelation the freedom of the God of grace. To be created in the image of God is to experience the capacity to say “yes” or “no” to invitations to love.

Years ago I was leading a church family retreat and I was asked by an anxious mom and dad about their child. Their child was manifesting rebellion against the parents. He or she was saying “no”; would not cooperate, was running with friends of whom the parents did not approve. The parents had tried everything, every form of behavioral modification, every discipline from “time outs”, to “groundings”, to denying of privileges, to “physical coercions”, to “lectures”, to “therapists”. The parents simply could not understand what they had done to deserve this disobedience. They were not only threatened, but they were angry. And they were asking me for pastoral counsel. This was before I had an adolescent child. It is easy to think one has all the right answers for the questions posed by human freedom.

How do we get people to do what we want them to do? This is a dangerous question. One thing I remember telling them was this. I still stand by it. We cannot make others love us! Often times our children, our friends, our fellow members of the neighborhood, our colleagues deserve the right to say “no” to us. Love is always a gift, a gift that cannot be coerced but must be freely given.

Don’t misunderstand me. True love draws boundaries, enforces boundaries, can be tough, but must always preserve the well-being and integrity of the one being disciplined. Love is an act of the will. Love requires wisdom. The greatest form of love may lead us to simply “let go and let God.”

Many a star-crossed lover has done everything possible to make a relationship work, only to be met with interference and failure. Unrequited Love is painful. Rejection, tepid toleration until something or someone better comes along may lead to broken hearts and deep disappointments. Even then, we learn that we cannot force anyone to love us. Along the way most of us will experience rejection and have to process our pain, our anger, and our grief. I know what that is about. This is the human condition. We cannot make anyone stay with us for the long journey of life. Love anyone and you run the risk of deep suffering. This has led to the destruction of trust in many a human heart and made it difficult to ever again risk vulnerability.

C.S. Lewis wrote in THE FOUR LOVES, “I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.’” P 168

Jesus knew about this and his followers had to learn it. As he launched his mission of traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem he set his face with total determination to do the will of God and to lead as many as would go with him into the crucible of rejection, suffering, and resurrection life. I think he could have said “no” to the Father and gone his own self-serving way. I think all of heaven stood on edge as Jesus struggled with his own freedom at every moment.

Many who had followed him in Galilee began the journey up to Jerusalem. Some of them expected that the pilgrimage would be a triumphant journey that would lead them powerfully, victoriously, overwhelmingly through enemy occupied areas. The Jesus Movement would roll right through every resistance. Hardly before they had begun they came into Samaritan territory. Jesus’ advance disciples announced to the Samaritans that the Jewish Messiah was on his way and needed hospitality for a visit or way station. To their surprise, the Samaritans said “no”! They were not willing to receive him because he had set his face toward Jerusalem. The Jews of Jerusalem were their ancient enemies. Jews and Samaritans hated each other.

When the disciples returned to Jesus to report the Samaritan’s negative response, they asked him, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In the O.T. story of Elijah that is exactly what he did upon those who worshiped false gods. He called fire from heaven and they were consumed. 2 Kings 1

Well, rejection can make one exceedingly angry. How many scorned lovers have decided in their rage to murder the ones who rejected them? Even in religious movements, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, the means of evangelism has at times used this message: “convert or die!” Evangelism by fear or coercive threats have been used over and over again.

But notice Jesus in our story. When the Samaritans would not receive him his disciples wanted to call fire from heaven upon them, Jesus turned and rebuked his disciples. About as tough as Jesus got with those who rejected his disciples was his admonition in Luke 9: “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them and be on your way.” Luke 9:5

From beginning to end, Jesus rejected the way of violent coercion in order to make disciples. He honored human freewill to say “Yes” or “No”. Nevertheless, he persistently pressed his case for the kingdom of God. He told his disciples to “proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand”. They were to tell the story of God’s good news, of God’s love for everyone. They were to heal the sick and to bless their enemies, and to love in the name of the goodness and kindness of the Creator who made his sun to shine and the rain to fall upon all people.

Along the way of the journey up to Jerusalem, Jesus met many who were prepared to follow him. But when it came to going with him up to Jerusalem Jesus had to deal with conflicting priorities that became excuses for not joining him at that time. So Jesus sought to clarify the urgency, the dangers and the claims of the kingdom of God.
Someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Lk. 9:57

What he meant was that he had no permanent house in which to live. He was homeless. Foxes had holes; birds had nests, but Jesus had no sure place to lay his head.

Now I don’t know what problems Jesus poses for you, but for me, and I suspect for most of us he presents issues. One thing for sure, we need a place to call our own, if only for a while. In a community that revolves around the real estate market we seek clarification of Jesus’ teaching. Laguna Beach properties continually appreciate on the market and this keeps many out. The truth is that the economy of California is built on the bedrock of housing development and sales. The real estate bubble of the last recession hurt many people.

When we first came to town real estate prices were still low enough for us to borrow enough for a down payment and to live in the city to which we were called. People in the leadership of our church told me they thought I was nuts for trying to buy a house. My Dad told me it was a major misstate. The truth is I could not afford to buy it now. This will remain a major problem for all churches seeking to call a pastor to come to California. Even UCI has struggled to make it possible to call faculty from other places.

There is nothing like home ownership. It gives you roots. It also gives you a lot of pains and unexpected expenses, and sometimes conflicts with neighbors over views and noise.

Each year we have tried to do just enough to maintain our house. From roofs, to windows, to floors, to driveways, to yards, to paint, it is a yearly challenge. It costs a lot of money.

So this is the environment in which we seek to represent Jesus. The amazing thing is that we represent one who had no place to call his own and who warned those desiring to follow him that they were signing up to follow one who would require them to place the priority of the kingdom of God over home-ownership.

How often I have heard people say that they have become so indebted with house payments that they could not possibly make a pledge to the church?

Jesus said to another, “Follow me”.

The man responded, “Lord, first, let me go and bury my father.”

That sounded like a legitimate excuse. Jesus knew the law: “honor your father and your mother.” Indeed, family obligations can become so large that they preoccupy our time, our treasure, and our energies. None of us would want to turn our backs upon family obligations.

Yet, Jesus said to the man, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

When I buried my Dad I felt the crushing pain of what my call to ministry had meant for our family. Each time I have visited his grave it has been an extended time of crying to him and to God. I’m not sure what those tears are about, but they are real.

Another said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Early in college when I first was really feeling the call to ministry I joined a summer church college fellowship that took on a street ministry in the bar section of our downtown. By that time I had memorized more scriptures than anyone else, so the group asked if I would do the street preaching. We had a portable organ and sound system. On Saturday evenings we would sing and preach on the street of my hometown. Huge crowds would gather around us. Men from the Airbase joined our fellowship. By the end of the summer we had over 100 in the fellowship. My parents would watch from a block away. I know they were concerned that I had flipped my cookies and they were there to rescue me if needed.

At the end of that summer I came to California to complete college and to move toward some form of ministry. My parents delivered me to the campus in Santa Barbara, left the car with me and took the bus back to Texas. They did not and I did not understand the implications of that transition for me or for them. All Dad ever said to me was that bus trip back to Texas was one of the most lonely journeys of his life.

What had happened was that I had been called away from my family and homeland to pursue the calling of God. My mother used to tease me that she should have never let me come to California. Indeed, leaving home to follow a call may be emotionally distressing. It was for me. It always has been. I have missed many family gatherings.

Jesus’ family at times tried to call him home and out of danger, but he knew that he could not allow family claims to keep him from his journey that he knew was his heavenly father’s will.

In the first church I served out of seminary we had a lovely family with outstanding children in the membership. The mother worked and supported the family. The father had become religiously sick. He believed that God had called him to go on regular evangelism missions and because of that he could not work. The family was deprived and struggled to survive. We would see the father standing in Pershing Square in downtown LA holding up placards calling people to repent. Occasionally, he would return home long enough to produce another child and then be on his way. It was heart breaking.

One of the most poignant parts of John Bunyan’s famous allegory of the Christian life, PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, was the story of Christian hearing the call to begin the journey up to the new Jerusalem, to the City of God. To get to the gateway of his journey away from the earthly city, he had to say goodbye to his wife and family and friends. All of them tried to hold on to him, but he could not resist the call. The story was about the difficulty of the journey and about the times in which he confronted temptation or took the wrong road and had to be rescued.

So Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Lk. 9:62

Repeatedly in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus spoke about the cost of discipleship. Again and again people made excuses for not following Jesus. He spoke about the coming invitation to the Messianic Banquet at the end of the age. People sent their RSVP’s with their regrets. Their excuses we can understand. There was a piece of land to see and to care for. There was a yoke of oxen that needed to be tried out. There was a marriage to be consummated. Therefore, those who sent their regrets were left out. The giver of the banquet sent his servant to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. The banquet was filled with a motley group of unexpected people who accepted the invitation.

It was as if Luke wanted to ask us: “What’s Your Excuse?”

What competing priorities are keeping you from following Jesus in the journey of faithful discipleship.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Listen to Him!

Date: March 2, 2014 Author: Dr. Jerry Tankersley

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message from the text of Luke 9:18-36. We are reading this morning from the NRSV.

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Luke 9:18-36

LISTEN TO HIM!
When the 12 apostles signed on to follow Jesus, they believed they had backed the right candidate and that when they arrived in Jerusalem they would rule with him, sitting at his left and right? The 12 were the kitchen cabinet and they expected to gain power and honor by following Jesus. Their central concern was which one of them was the greatest and which of them would be seated next to the Messiah at the expected Messianic Banquet at the end of the age. They were on the glory road leading upward into honor, prestige, power, and wealth.
For Peter this meant Jesus had begun a movement that could only lead to upward mobility and ultimate success in the way that all people could see and affirm. In those days only a small group of religious leaders possessed the power to negotiate with Rome. The political zealots longed for a charismatic, powerful figure who would be a Son of David like King who would destroy their enemies and rule in Jerusalem, having cast out the Roman legions. He would be a military type leader who would rally the armies of Israel, defeat Israel’s enemies, and prove to the nations that Israel’s God was the only God. Perhaps the image of a political ruler like V. Putin, riding bare-chested on a horse in front of his tanks and military to preserve Russian order would not be too far from the visions of the zealots of first century Palestine. The disciples may have shared some of these zealot expectations.
Clearly, this was not the way of Jesus. He had discerned that God had a different calling for God’s Messiah. He said,
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Luke 9:22
Then came a discipleship teaching that not only redefined words, but pointed to a daily way of living modeled by the way of the cross. In giving this teaching Jesus knew that his words cut across all human desires and expectations for life. Who would have ever expected that Jesus would say that to find life one had to lose one’s life? Was he serious in suggesting that the roman cross was the symbol for life rather than death?
Most of us raise our kids with clear instructions about how they must live, what they must do, in order to accumulate and to maximize their potentials. As far as we are concerned when we enroll our kids in LP Preschool we have begun their journey to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.
After all of the club sports we hope they will receive athletic scholarships to play volleyball, soccer, baseball, or water polo at a major university and that tuition will be covered. I remember watching my son play club volleyball in his Thurston School years hoping for a future scholarship. We had many conversations with other parents with the same dreams. Security and success requires big dreams, focused goals, hard discipline, clear vision, perseverance, not giving up, hot pursuit of that which promises happiness in the long run. We are determined to win in the way the world appreciates. Too bad about those who cannot compete to win and are left behind. With our kids we are on the way to success.
Maybe some of us expect to win the lottery and live on easy street for the rest of our days, but even those who get rich quickly still have to deal with the meaning and purpose of human existence. Indeed, one can have all the money, sex, and power the world promises and still be miserable. Ask Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Did you read about the couple in Northern California who discovered the buried treasure of 19th century gold coins on their property? That’s a dream come true. Their discovery buried in rusting cans is a dangerous find. The coins are worth over 10 million dollars. They are not even announcing the couple’s name. Gold rush fever may set in and every backyard in their area would likely be dug up by those seeking to strike it rich. Or, they could be murdered and robbed.
Jesus struggled with these issues over his lifetime. What kind of Son of God/Messiah would he be? At his baptism by John the Baptist he heard the Voice from heaven saying to him, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The devil promised him that he could show him how to be a successful, powerful Messiah. Command the stones to become loaves of bread. Use your power to maximize your success. The devil showed him all the glory and power of the nations and promised he would give it to him. It was his to give. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil. And if not that he might do something spectacular like throwing himself from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. By this he could prove to his people that God was with him and would protect him. In other words, Jesus could put together a strategy and plan that would be convincing. With his power he could rule the world.
But at each stage of temptation Jesus said “no”. He would be God’s Messiah on God’s terms, in obedience to the will of God. At mid-course of the gospel story Jesus began to speak about this with his inner circle. God’s Christ would be required to go to Jerusalem where he would be rejected, suffer, die, and be raised on the third day.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Peter’s first response was “God forbid!” “This will never happen to you.” Jesus said to him, “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking like men and not God.”
As time passed and as Jesus led his disciples up to Jerusalem and his destiny he spoke to them repeatedly about this. He sought to prepare them for what was coming. He wanted them to know that his and their destiny would mean a daily taking up a cross of self-denial. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran martyr and theologian who resisted the evils of Hitler’s Third Reich, wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, that the church had baptized everyone and made God’s grace cheap. He wanted the church to be reclaimed by the costly grace of God. So Bonhoeffer said, “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” The way to life in the kingdom of God was the way of the cross.
In our midweek Bible Study class it did not take long for members of the group to remember the Reverend James Jones, the charismatic preacher from San Francisco, and the members from the People’s Temple who followed him to Guyana to begin a new utopian community separate from the world. This self-proclaimed messiah, Jones, cut his followers off from the world, drew a circle around their community, and would not allow anyone to disagree with his teachings. The end result was that a thousand people in Jonestown drank kool aid laced with poison and died. They followed the wrong messiah.
Another group named the Heaven’s Gate, in San Diego County in a very expensive community of houses, committed mass suicide in order to join a space craft of aliens from another world that was coming to rescue them from planet earth. They followed the wrong messiah.
As Jesus repeatedly spoke of his impending rejection and death and told his followers that this was also their destiny, many disciples no longer journeyed with him. Jesus asked the 12 if they also would leave him. Peter responded, “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” John 6
I think Judas finally understood that being a disciple of Jesus was not promoting his own self-interest. So secretly he turned Jesus in to his enemies and sold him for 30 pieces of silver. Judas must have reasoned to himself that he needed to get out of this pilgrimage to death while he could and benefit in some way.
This conversation with his disciples led Jesus up another mountain in Galilee to pray through the night. He took Peter, James, and John with him. While he prayed, he was transfigured. White light wrapped him. Two others joined him. Their names were Moses and Elijah. They represented the law and the prophets of O.T. Israel. On the mountain Jesus, Moses, and Elijah conversed about Jesus’ coming Exodus in Jerusalem. The three represented the fulfillment of God’s story and promises to Israel. They confirmed Jesus’ destiny of death and resurrection in Jerusalem. The way of the cross was God’s will for his Christ.
And then Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John were overshadowed by the cloud of God’s glory. The three followers of Jesus were terrified. They heard the Voice that had spoken to Jesus on the day of his baptism. Except, this time the Voice of the Father was addressing them,
“This is my beloved Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Luke 9:35
When the glory of God’s presence lifted, Peter suggested that they build three temples, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. There they would all remain forever. But Peter did not understand what he was suggesting. Following Jesus was not some escape from the world to dwell on a holy mountain. Following Jesus did not mean cutting oneself off from what was happening in world. No! It meant going back down into the valley of despair and wreckage, a world dominated by lies, demonic forces, human suffering, the pursuit of human ambition and upward mobility, of self seeking and competition, to deal with the fallenness of the human condition and to participate in the mission of the Christ who had come to seek and to save the lost.
This was God’s project of healing and making right all that was wrong. And the only way that salvation could come was by the way of self-sacrificing love.
Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal priest in NYC, told of walking down the street in the city to step into the street to cross over to the other side. As she did, a taxi cut the corner too quickly, hit her, and left her lying on the concrete for nearly an hour before the ambulance arrived. She wrote,
“What I remember most about that long wait was the great distance between me on the concrete and the faces high above. In those minutes I very much needed someone to get down on the ground with me, to put a coat under my head, to hold my hand and stay down with me until help arrived.” P. 84 THE BIBLE AND THE NEW YORK TIMES
God knows that this is what we all need. He calls us to come down from the mountain to the level plain where people need help. But it may not be easy to take that journey of downward mobility in servant love.
About the time I began to awaken to Christ’s call in my life, I did not think I had much of a self to deny or to die. My lack of self-esteem was so profound that ambition for success in the world was extremely limited. I felt so powerless that I was just standing on the sidelines watching the world go by. I needed to be loved and challenged to dream, to work, and to trust that I had something worthwhile to give.
As a high school student I was so far behind due to lack of discipline that I feared competition. But when I began to listen to the word of Christ, his word sparked my soul and I came alive. What was begun was an adult lifetime of self-assertion and academic discipline. The call of Jesus was a call to life and committed discipleship. So I learned to compete and I learned that with average intelligence and hard work I could pull my self up. But that was not enough. Academic success and upward mobility in the way the world understands it may only be part of the call.
I remember attending the Wild Man Initiation with Franciscan Father Richard Rohr at Ghost Ranch, N.M. Men came from around the world to that initiation. At the initiation we were made to face head on that we each had a decision to make. Either we would become old fools in the way of upward mobility; or we could become identified with Jesus’ cross, choose the way of downward mobility, of servant love to become wise old men and in the process to give what humanity needed.
One afternoon we spent five hours alone in the wild journaling around five messages of truth. They went something like this: “Life is hard; you are going to die; you are not that important; you are not in control; your life is not about you.”
When we finished the five hours, one by one we walked down to a small lake where we baptized ourselves in the water. In those moments I faced in a fuller way than I ever had that I was dying to live and that Jesus Christ’s destiny was my destiny. I realized that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. More than ever I wanted to know and to model the love of God who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to embrace a broken humanity left wounded in every life.
But it is a daily decision. This week we are moving into the season of Lent. During these days may the self-sacrificing love of Christ take deeper root in our lives! May we be empowered to love as we have been loved by Jesus. May we listen to him! Amen.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Embarrassing Emotions

Date: February 23, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Jerry Tankersley is giving the message from the text of Luke 7:36-50. We are reading this morning from the NRSV.

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S022314 Luke 7:36-50
EMBARRASSING EMOTIONS
When Bode Miller was interviewed by Christine Cooper of NBC News about his winning the bronze medal in the Alpine Ski race, I was riveted to the exchange between the two of them. Bode has been around for several Olympic Games and has won many medals in international competition. At 36 years of age he is identified as being one of the old men still trying to compete with a younger generation of athletes.
He has developed a reputation for being one of the Bad Boy daredevils of the sport. In fact, if one did not live on the wild side and take great risks, participation in these sports would not be likely. Throwing your body down a mountain at speeds reaching over 70 miles an hour, zigzagging around flags, fighting with snow melting in the hot sun of Sochi, Russia, and at any moment knowing that you could fly off the marked track and destroy your body and even lose your life takes more than I have. What a way to live! What a race!
One can only imagine the buildup of stress, anxiety, anger, and fear, along with the pressures of the hungry pack of ski racers who want nothing more than to dethrone the old man Bode and to remove him from the medal platform. He said he only desired to make himself proud of his effort.
In his first races he did not do well enough to advance to the medal platform. When he finally won the bronze the NBC reporter pressed him to share how he was feeling about all of this. What resulted was one of the most interesting, honest, vulnerable, and painful moments I have ever seen on T.V. Many who watched the interview felt it was an emotional rape of an athlete who was clearly hurting, an insensitive intrusion into his personal life. Ms Cooper kept pushing for him to talk about the stresses and strains of his life outside the sport. As a Bad Boy there have been a number of female companions with babies born out of wedlock, with custody battles, with marriage and miscarriages, with the death of his younger daredevil brother Chilly this past year. And all of this like a Reality TV show featuring Bode Miller.
The interviewer pressed in upon him and as he tried to speak the tears trickled from his eyes and ran down his cheek. He tried to wipe them away. She finally asked about his standing at the top of the run, looking up into the heavens, and talking with someone. She wanted to know to whom he was speaking. Was he speaking to his deceased brother who had desired to be a member of the Olympic team? Was he crying out for a power greater than himself? Was he hoping for help from the heavens? To whom was he speaking? What was he feeling?
He begin to say that it had been a tough year, but when she asked about his talking to the heavens before launching on his race, the emotional dam burst, he bowed his head weeping while millions around the world were watching. Having lost control of his emotions he moved a few feet away and bent over crying his eyes out. There he bowed with the crowds all around watching this remarkable melt down of a man overwhelmed by the struggles, the defeats, the failures, the competition, the risks, the disappointments, the grief, and the longings to succeed.
He was alone before the world and hardly anyone knew what to do or what to say, but the cameras zeroed in on him. Out of the crowd came his wife Morgan, a beautiful, professional beach volleyball star. She raised him up and held him in her arms. She wiped away his tears and kissed him in his embarrassing emotional display, and comforted him. It was one of the most touching scenes I have ever seen. It went viral on the news.
I do not know Bode Miller. But I could surely identify with him. I suspect we have all at one time or another in our lives, carried far more in our souls than we had been aware, only to have a final straw break the camel’s back, or a question open us up to a demonstration of tears or laughter, or anger, or some behavior that was not an act, but which had integrity, authenticity, and honesty within it. And maybe it left everyone frozen in place, not knowing what to do or to say in an embarrassing emotional moment.
I remember officiating at my childhood best friend’s marriage to my wife’s cousin at the First Pres Church in Santa Monica. I got halfway through the first paragraph of the liturgy when the tears began to flow. I blubbered through the vows. My vision became tunnel and it was as if I was seeing into the heart of the human condition and the long, joyful, and painful journey of success, grief, and ambition. And there they all were! Yes, a family that I had grown up with in our hometown. The groom was my friend who had challenged me in high school, to wake up intellectually and to discipline my life, and who had come to faith in Christ his first year at MIT in Boston. He was my best friend and now a brother in Christ. He was the best man at our wedding. There he met Barbara, Kay’s cousin, and the rest is history. Thinking about it can move me to tears of gratitude for all God’s gifts. I apologized to everyone after the service. You know what they did? They held me and rejoiced that they had been present. They gently smiled at me and I knew my humanity was safe.
I remember standing on the floor of San Fernando Presbytery and saying goodbye as I was on my way to Los Ranchos Presbytery and my new call to LPC. I was trying to say “thank you” for the many gifts of love, comfort, and healing that had opened the door to my future. As I spoke, I had one of those embarrassing emotional moments. I began to weep. I could barely speak. At the end of my thank you, an older pastor friend stood up for me with such words of encouragement. He had been with me through the thick and the thin of success and failure. He was a Dad to me and he emotionally held me. He knew my tears were tears of gratitude for the God who had promised to journey with me and his people through every dark valley and over every mountain peak of accomplishment and joy.
When the woman off the street entered Simon the Pharisee’s house I think she came to say “thank you” to Jesus. She came with a heart filled with gratitude for what she had already received from an earlier encounter with him. She found herself drawn into this all male dinner party. She was a woman lost in the despair of her life on the street. She had a reputation. No religious man would want to get near her. But Jesus had been different. He had met her at the place of her need for acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, and hope. Emotionally and spiritually his presence had embraced her with a new beginning. This is what we must read between the lines of Luke’s story. God’ grace through Jesus had filled her heart with the spirit of gratitude.
In an act of worship, she carried an expensive bottle of perfume. Perhaps she came to anoint Jesus’ head, but as soon as she walked into this emotionally charged atmosphere and became the center of attention, she knelt behind Jesus with tears running down her face. She bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She anointed his feet with her expensive perfume and kissed his feet with her lips. The men at the table must have wondered what Jesus would do. It was an embarrassing, emotional moment with everyone watching and thinking.
The wealthy Pharisee, the good Presbyterian who had been working so hard to keep himself pure and right with the law of God, thought to himself,
“If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Lk. 7:39
In that moment, Simon wrote Jesus off in his mind, and closed off any human compassion he might have had for the woman.

I remember officiating at my childhood best friend’s marriage to my wife’s cousin at the First Pres Church in Santa Monica. I got halfway through the first paragraph of the liturgy when the tears began to flow. I blubbered through the vows. My vision became tunnel and it was as if I was seeing into the heart of the human condition and the long, joyful, and painful journey of family, friendship, relationship, success, grief, love, and ambition. And there they all were! Yes, a family that I had grown up with in our hometown. The groom was my friend who had challenged me in high school, to wake up intellectually and to discipline my life, and who had come to faith in Christ his first year at MIT in Boston. He was my best friend and now a brother in Christ. He was the best man at our wedding. There he met Barbara, Kay’s cousin, and the rest is history.
Thinking about it can move me to tears of gratitude for all God’s gifts. I apologized to everyone after the service. You know what they did? They held me and rejoiced that they had been present. They gently smiled at me and I knew my humanity was safe.

S022314 Luke 7:36-50
EMBARRASSING EMOTIONS
When Bode Miller was interviewed by Christine Cooper of NBC News about his winning the bronze medal in the Alpine Ski race, I was riveted to the exchange between the two of them. Bode has been around for several Winter Olympic Games and has won many medals in international competition. At 36 years of age he is identified as being one of the old men still trying to compete with a younger generation of athletes.
He has developed a reputation for being one of the Bad Boy daredevils of the sport. In fact, if one did not live on the wild side and take great risks, participation in these sports would not be likely. Throwing your body down a mountain at speeds reaching over 70 miles an hour, zigzagging around flags, fighting with snow melting in the hot sun of Sochi, Russia, and at any moment knowing that you could fly off the marked track and destroy your body and even lose your life takes more than I have. What a way to live! What a race!
One can only imagine the buildup of stress, anxiety, anger, and fear, along with the pressures of the hungry pack of ski racers who want nothing more than to dethrone the old man Bode and to remove him from the medal platform. He said he only desired to make himself proud of his effort.
In his first races he did not do well enough to advance to the medal platform. When he finally won the bronze the NBC reporter pressed him to share how he was feeling about all of this. What resulted was one of the most interesting, honest, vulnerable, and painful moments I have ever seen on live T.V. Many who watched the interview felt it was an emotional rape of an athlete who was clearly hurting, an insensitive intrusion into his personal life, that his boundaries were violated. Ms Cooper kept pushing for him to talk about the stresses and strains of his life outside the sport. As a Bad Boy there have been a number of female companions with babies born out of wedlock, with custody battles, with marriage and miscarriages, with the death of his younger daredevil brother Chilly this past year. And all of this like a Reality TV show featuring Bode Miller.
The media has been seeking to personalize the Olympics, to tell a story, to invite us into the reality of what it is like to prepare and to compete with athletes from around the world. Stories have ways of inviting us to identify with the central characters and in so doing to gain insight into our own stories. As Americans we want our athletes to compete and to win, to be almost superheroes.
The interviewer pressed in upon him and as he tried to speak the tears trickled from his eyes and ran down his cheek. He tried to wipe them away. She finally asked about his standing at the top of the run, looking up into the heavens, and talking with someone. She wanted to know to whom he was speaking. Was he speaking to his deceased brother who had desired to be a member of this Olympic team? Was he crying out for a power greater than himself? Was he hoping for help from the heavens? To whom was he speaking? What was he feeling?
He begin to say that it had been a tough year, but when the reporter asked about his talking to the heavens before launching on his race, the emotional dam burst, he bowed his head weeping while millions around the world were watching. Having lost control of his emotions he moved a few feet away and bent over crying his eyes out. There he bowed with the crowds all around watching this remarkable melt down of a man overwhelmed by the struggles, the defeats, the failures, the competition, the risks, the disappointments, the grief, and the longings to succeed.
He was alone before the world and hardly anyone knew what to do or what to say, but the cameras focused in on him. Out of the crowd came his wife Morgan, a beautiful, professional beach volleyball star. She raised him up and held him in her arms. She wiped away his tears and kissed him in his embarrassing emotional display, and comforted him. It was one of the most touching scenes I have ever seen on live TV. It went viral on the news and the internet. It may have been a moment of emotional rape, of personal exposure and vulnerability that most of us would like to avoid, but it no doubt will supply articles and pictures in People Magazine.
I do not know Bode Miller. But I could surely identify with him after watching him in several Olympic Winter games. I suspect we have all at one time or another in our lives, carried far more in our souls than we had been aware, only to have a final straw break the camel’s back, or a question open us up to a demonstration of tears or laughter, or anger, or some behavior that was not an act, but which had integrity, authenticity, and honesty within it. And maybe it left everyone frozen in place, not knowing what to do or to say in an embarrassing emotional moment.
I remember standing on the floor of San Fernando Presbytery and saying goodbye as I was on my way to Los Ranchos Presbytery and my new call to LPC. I was trying to say “thank you” for the many gifts of love, comfort, and healing that had opened the door to my future. As I spoke, I had one of those embarrassing emotional moments. I began to weep. I could barely speak. At the end of my thank you, an older pastor friend stood up for me with such words of encouragement and affirmation. Lee Kliewer had been with me through the thick and the thin of success and failure. He was a Dad to me and a wise mentor and he emotionally held me. He knew my tears were tears of gratitude for the God who had promised to journey with me and his people through every dark valley and over every mountain peak of accomplishment and joy.
This has always been an image for me of what God intended the church to be. In the midst of our life together we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep. We stand together in Christ in shared convictions and reconciliation.
THE WOMEN OFF THE STREET
When the woman off the street entered Simon the Pharisee’s house I think she came to say “thank you” to Jesus. She came with a heart filled with gratitude for what she had already received from an earlier encounter with him. She found herself drawn into this all male dinner party. She was a woman lost in the despair of her life on the street. Likely, she was a prostitute. Luke does not tell us her name. She had a lousy reputation. No religious man would want to get near her. But Jesus had been different. He had met her at the place of her need for acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, and hope.
I imagine Jesus had been present to her, treated her with respect, entered a conversation with her, listened to her, shown compassion for her, knew her story, and in the process brought consolation into her life. For her it had been a totally different encounter than with any other man. She did not know how to love him in return. We remember the emotional and touching ballad sang by Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, “I don’t know how to love him.”
Emotionally and spiritually his presence had embraced her with a new beginning. This is what we must read between the lines of Luke’s story. God’ grace through Jesus had filled her heart with the spirit of gratitude. Luke would have been a great reporter for People Magazine. He could have written the history of the Olympic Games and turned it into a wonderful, emotion filled story, a divine drama of salvation.
In an act of worship, the woman carried an expensive bottle of perfume. Perhaps she came to anoint Jesus’ head, but as soon as she walked into this emotionally charged atmosphere and became the center of attention, she knelt behind Jesus with tears running down her face. She bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She anointed his feet with her expensive perfume and kissed his feet with her lips. The men at the table must have wondered what Jesus would do. They were all transfixed. It was an embarrassing emotional moment with everyone watching and thinking.
JESUS OF NAZARETH
The amazing thing was that Jesus did not get up from the table and back away. He could have thought that this woman’s gratitude toward him so violated the rules of decent society that it would compromise his own identity and mission.
But he did not flinch. He sat there in the circle of religious authorities and allowed the woman to emote over him, to weep all over his feet, to pour expensive perfume on his feet, to dry his feet with her hair, and to even kiss his feet. He was simply content to be present to her and affirm her show of hospitality to him. He was secure enough in himself that he could move in the midst of all kinds of people, rich and poor, sinners and religious, lost and found. His presence was the presence of the kingdom of God, of the reign of God. Everything that we hold dear and which we value was hanging in the balance in this public demonstration of love for the One who had forgiven her. The very character of God was on display. The truth of the gospel was incarnate in that dining room.
Here was the Son of God seeing, hearing, feeling, filled with compassion for a person who needed him. And all of this was occurring in this most touching moment in which all kinds of boundaries were being violated.
SIMON THE PHARISEE
The wealthy, upright, legalistic Presbyterian who had been working so hard to keep himself pure and right with the law of God, thought to himself,
“If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Lk. 7:39
In that moment, Simon wrote Jesus off in his mind, and closed off any human compassion he might have had for the woman. Simon made a judgment about the woman and about Jesus. Inside of his head he had taken offense at this embarrassing emotional display. And Jesus knew his thoughts without Simon saying a thing.
What would we do if every thought we had about others were to be translated into immediate public speech? How embarrassing that might be! Thank God our brains have filters that do not allow us to say embarrassing things about people when we are face to face. Nevertheless, we have our thoughts and when the persons we judge are not present, we have gossiped to others what we have thought.
But Jesus knows our thoughts and oftentimes we can guess what others are thinking. Jesus said to Simon, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Then Jesus told a parable that suggested that the pathway to loving runs through the grace of forgiveness, that those who have been forgiven much are those who love much. In other words, to the extent that we can experience life in all of its ambiguities, with its stresses and strains, with our failures and successes, with all of our mixed up emotions and behaviors, and know that God is good and gracious, always willing to forgive those who repent and who confess their sins, that to that extent we are able to love.
There was little love in Simon’s heart. He had not come to grips with the fact that he was a sinner who needed grace. He had not shown hospitality to Jesus. The woman who was outside the church membership, whose reputation was ruined, was the one who fulfilled the law of God. It must have been a devastating moment of truth for Simon to face. I have often wondered how that dinner party ended and how Jesus got out without being driven out. It was an embarrassing emotional encounter for everyone involved.
WHERE ARE YOU IN THIS STORY?
“Where am I?” I confess, a part of the woman’s story is my story. I know what it is like to come to Jesus in gratitude for his grace. But I would have much preferred to come with success, invincible, accomplished, secure, without need. But life has not allowed me that luxury. It did not allow the Apostles Peter or Paul that denial of need. They both had to live with their thorns in the flesh and confess their needs for God’s forgiving grace.
I would like to be like Jesus: present, nonjudgmental, gracious, life giving. Yet, he was so identified with the human condition that he suffered over the wreckage in other’s lives. His suffering opened him to see God at work in every aspect of life. His compassion led him to a cross where he looked upon his enemy’s and forgave them because they did not know what they were doing. My prayer has been that the heart of the Good Shepherd will be my heart for others.
I confess that I have a streak of Simon the Pharisee in my heart that wants to either judge or to avoid human suffering and pain. I want to believe that Simon came to faith in Jesus because of this table encounter with the woman. She had love in her heart. Simon was so defended that he was truly one of God’s chosen frozen. Yet, in that moment he was allowed to see himself and his need in a new way.
Where are you in the story? Maybe like me, part woman of the street, part Jesus, part Pharisee! What better could happen to us this morning than for the dam in our hearts to break and to weep or to laugh in coming to Jesus! I have often wondered how people have the courage to walk to the front of the church after the worship service and ask our prayer support team to pray for them. Nevertheless, I have seen tears of grace and gratitude on many faces.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Whom Do You Love?

Date: February 19, 2014 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

We continue in our Sermon Series in The Gospel According to Luke.  Rev. Steve Sweet is giving the message from the text of Luke 6:27-36. We are reading this morning from the NRSV.

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Luke 6:26   “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Luke 6:27   “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:32   “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.