Blessings for All Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 01 July 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 1, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Lebanon, Oregon
Texts:  Psalm 146;  Mark 5:21-43

She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” — Mark 5:28 [The Message]

[Jesus] clasped the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” — Mark 5:41 [The Message]
I want to give you an assignment this morning—I suppose you could call it a summer reading assignment.  I want you take time to read the entire book of Mark aloud in one sitting.  Very likely that’s how it was meant to be experienced.  It’s not long—just 19 pages in the pew bible, 31 in my large print copy of The Message.  I imagine you could read it all in less than 90 minutes—about the same time as a short movie or play.  Mark calls this whole story “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  But this morning we’ve only heard but a tiny portion of the beginning of the beginning of this “good news.”

The problem with focusing on any single passage in worship is that it’s like having to review a play based on a single scene lasting but a minute or so.  But Macbeth is far more than any single scene or even collection of scenes.  So we need to know more than just what’s happening here.  How does this episode fit into the whole?  What went on before this?  Where’s the story heading?

By this point in the fifth chapter of Mark, several things are clear.  First, Jesus is a man of constant action.  Starting with his baptism in the Jordan, he travels, heals, calls followers, teaches, preaches, even calms a stormy sea.  So there’s an insistent urgency (be sure to catch it in your reading).  One of his favorite words is euthus, a Greek word meaning “at once” or “immediately.”  Things are always happening immediately.  Sometimes, as in this morning’s reading, things happen almost on top of one another.
FAITH: The Gift that Keeps on Giving Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 24 June 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — June 24, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Mark 4:26-34;  Ephesians 2:1-10

…and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. — Mark 4:27b

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. — Ephesians 2:8

There's a legend about one of the Desert Fathers—St. Anthony of Egypt—who lived more than 1700 years ago.  As a young man he longed to be a saint, so he left his home and family behind, gave all he had to the poor, and set off into the desert to find God.  Settling in a dark cave with little to distract him, he began praying day and night.  At first he yearned for the good things he’d left behind.  But after many months he finally was at peace.  Several years later God spoke to him, saying, “Leave your cave and go off to a distant town.  There, seek out the town shoemaker and stay with him awhile.”

The holy hermit was puzzled by God’s command, but he left immediately.  After several days journey over desert sands, he came to the village, found the home of the shoemaker, and knocked on the door.  A smiling man answered, and the hermit asked, “Are you the shoemaker?”

“Yes, I am,” the shoemaker answered.  Then seeing how tired and hungry the hermit was, he invited him in, and offered him a meal and a place to rest.

The hermit stayed with the shoemaker and his family for three days.  He asked many questions about their lives, but said little about himself, even though the shoemaker and his wife were very curious about his life in the desert.  They talked a lot and became friends.  On the fourth day, the hermit said goodbye and returned to his cave, wondering why God had sent him to visit the shoemaker.
Welcome Circles Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 17 June 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — June 17, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 98;  Acts 8:26-40

Make a joyful noise, all the earth… For God] is coming to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity. — Psalm 98:4, 10

As they continued down the road, [Philip and the eunuch] came to a stream of water.  The eunuch said, “Here’s water!  Why can’t I be baptized?” — Acts 8:36 [The Message]

Joy fairly gushes from Psalm 98, with its seas roaring, rivers clapping, and hills singing to greet the Lord.  And that very same joy echoes in the depths of our being when we lift our voices in Isaac Watts’ classic setting of this psalm—“Joy to the world!  The Lord is come…”  The joy is not just because the Lord comes, but that the Lord comes in love to judge all “the peoples of the earth with equity.”  That plural “peoples” is especially important, for it represents perhaps the most inclusive expression in ancient Israel.  Not just the Jews, not just “insiders,” but the goyim, the Gentiles, foreigners, strangers—all peoples will be swept up in God’s “welcome circle”—to use a term from our opening hymn, “Draw the Welcome Circle Wider”—God’s welcome circle encompasses all peoples without exception.

I’m pretty sure that when the Mary Louise Bringle wrote that hymn text she must have had in mind Edwin Markham’s poem “Outwitted.”
He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
We all draw circles.  But ours are rarely so wide.  They always take us in, but turn into walls that shut some out.  Maybe that’s why we rarely hear the seas roar, the rivers clap, or the hills sing for joy.  Too many in our world are left out.  The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts suggests just how great the challenge is to “have the wit to win” when is comes to who is welcome and who is not.

That eunuch could not have been more unlike Philip.  He’s a foreigner, a stranger from a far off land.  And even though he’d been on a pilgrimage to the temple, he wouldn’t have gotten closer than the outer courtyards because he’s not a Jew.  This man just does not fit into Philip’s world.

The Heart of the Law Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 10 June 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — June 10, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Mark 2:23 – 3:6

Then Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. — Mark 2:28a [The Message]

When I was kid growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the 1950s and 60s, I listened to the radio a lot on hot summer days.  One of the main local stations, WKZO, was owned by the owner of the Detroit Tigers, so it broadcast all the Tigers baseball games.  Hot summer day listening to baseball, and several times each game an ad would come over the airwaves several times for the local drag racing track, the Martin US 131 Dragway north of town.  It always began like this—play sound file of “SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! ”—and then there was the roar of a top fuel dragster burning off that quarter-mile.

Today is SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!—and here we are in the Gospel of Mark, which takes off like a top fuel dragster when the green lights flash.  In chapter one, events just fly by—John comes with his camel’s hair coat and locust lunch… he baptizes Jesus and the Holy Spirit drops in… then off to be tempted in the wilderness… John is arrested and Jesus announces his ministry… he calls disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John… in the synagogue he casts out an unclean… Peter’s mother is sick so Jesus heals her along with many people crowding around her home… then off he goes on a whirlwind preaching tour, and he cleanses a leper.  And in a mere 45 verses, Jesus is now so famous he can’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd.

The second chapter keeps up the pace, but Mark introduces a new element, namely the beginning of an opposition.  Jesus is upsetting things, and the most upset—wouldn’t you know it—are those who are the most religious (or at least see themselves that way.)  It begins when Jesus heals a paralyzed man by telling him his sins are forgiven.  Scribes—what we might think of as first-century biblical scholars—are offended.  Only God, they say, can forgive sin.  Jesus asks if it matters whether he says, “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Take up your mat and walk.”  The end result is the same.  Then Jesus calls a tax collector as one of his disciples and proceeds to dine with him and his shady friends.  Now the Pharisees, the next level of religious authority, join the scholars in their displeasure.  Next comes a complaint about Jesus’ disciples not fasting as they should.  Why, even John’s disciples fast, say the Pharisees.  Why don’t yours?
Last Updated ( Friday, 15 June 2018 )
Spirit of Surprise Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 20 May 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — May 20, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  John 3:8;  Acts 2:1-21 — PENTECOST

The wind [pneuma] blows where it chooses… you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. — John 3:8

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh… even upon your slaves… — Acts 2:17, 18

In many ways the Book of Acts is a book of surprises.  It opens with the disciples waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit that the risen Jesus promised to them at the close of the Gospel of Luke.  They establish a secluded community in the upper room of a house, and go through an orderly process of replacing Judas in their fellowship with Matthias.  It’s all so “decently and in order” you’d almost think they were Presbyterians.  But then comes Chapter 2 and surprises galore. 

Without warning, the upper room rocks with the din of a violent wind, a pneuma.  That Greek word, pneuma, means all at the same time wind or breath or Spirit.  Can this be the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of the Living God, the wind that swept over the waters of creation, the very breath of life first breathed into Adam?  Then more surprises as tongues of fire appear over each person.  And speech breaks forth—involuntary, incredible speech in languages for everyone to understand.  Nothing can contain the Spirit that fills these people.  They pour into the street, and bewildered onlookers think they’re drunk.  “Decently and in order” is blown away.  Surprise and unpredictability hold sway as the Holy Spirit Wind blows wherever it will, in surprising ways, refusing to be controlled.

I wonder if most of the time the Holy Spirit is just way too uncontrollable for us.  We may like surprises, but there are limits.  Various forms of “church” seem to have developed different ways of trying to tame the Spirit.  On one hand there are churches that call themselves “Pentecostal” or “charismatic.”  They take the freedom and danger (!) of the Spirit and ritualize it in the sanctuary.  Church becomes a kind of glorified “gift shop” where charismatic gifts are bestowed on certain individuals.  These are astonishing gifts—the ability to speak in tongues, to see visions, to heal, to speak prophecy.  But they soon become, not wondrous surprises, but achievements that mark true believers.  Pentecost is repeated each Sunday in church, becoming a tamed and familiar happening, an exciting yet comfortable, repeatable Pentecost for all concerned.

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