Sheer Silliness vs. Fancy Wisdom Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 04 March 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — March 4, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Isaiah 29:13-14;  1 Corinthians 1:17-31

I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears.  The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. — Isaiah 29:14abc [The Message]

Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God.  Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”  — 1 Corinthians 1:25 [The Message]

 Paul begins his letter to the church at Corinth by saying his central message of “Christ on the cross” is “sheer silliness” (The Message) or “foolishness” (NRSV) to the wise and powerful who seek to lord it over the world.  “Silly” and “foolish” are not words we tend to associate with the cross.  Crosses are everywhere in our world, but I don’t see many people laughing at them or calling them foolish.  Oh maybe when they’re handed out as trinkets or used to make a fashion statement, they can end up being trivialized.  But largely the cross is taken pretty seriously. 

Ever since the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and had the eagle on his legions’ shields replaced by a cross, the cross has been aligned with power and privilege in Western Christendom and viewed by much of the rest of the world as a symbol of Western imperialism.  Every European nation has some branch of Christianity as its official state religion.  Despite separation of church and state here in the U.S., vast numbers of people still insist we’re a Christian nation.  Crosses are important.  They’re part of the culture.  Churches display them high atop steeples for all to see and put them up throughout their buildings—crosses of wood, brass, stone, gold, crystal, and other materials.  Christians wear them as jewelry, glue them to their cars, tattoo them on their skin, and put them on their business cards.  Crosses appear as memorials on gravestones, along roadsides, and spotlighted on hilltops at night.  Crosses in our world don’t seem to involve anything at all like “silliness” or “foolishness.” 

In Paul’s world, however, crosses were not everywhere.  As I noted last Sunday, crosses had one single, very serious purpose, namely crucifixion.  Crucifixion was how the Roman Empire publically tortured and put to death anyone who challenged or defied its authority.  The cross was an instrument of fear that the Roman Empire wielded it freely as a deterrent.  And its message was clear:  “This is what will happen to troublemakers who challenge our authority.”  So when Paul says that he proclaims “Christ, the Crucified,” of course his message would seem silly or foolish to the society of such a worldly and cosmopolitan trading center as Corinth.  Where’s there any benefit in going and getting into trouble with Roman authority?  It’s dangerous and (even worse!) bad for business!  The mere fact that Jesus died on a Roman cross marks him as an anti-imperial troublemaker and brands his gospel—his message of good news—as subversive and foolish in the extreme.  When Jesus told his followers to take up their cross, he was daring them to face into their deepest fears and to follow him in challenging the way things were in his world, knowing full well that Roman authority would respond to this challenge with the cross.
Last Updated ( Friday, 09 March 2018 )
Questions. Answers. Action. Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 25 February 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 25, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Mark 8:27-38 — 2nd Sunday in Lent

[Jesus] asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”—Mark 8:29a

[Jesus said], “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”—Mark 8:34b

This is the point in Mark where, for the disciples (and us), the rubber hits the road.  Up to this point things were going pretty well.  Oh yes, Jesus’ hometown isn’t all that fond of him, resistance was building among the religious authorities, and King Herod had come down on John the Baptist like a ton of bricks.  The rumblings are there.  But the disciples had been with Jesus for all sorts of wonderful happenings—amazing healings, the feeding of enormous crowds, Jesus walking on water and even raising a little girl from the dead.  They’d heard him tell so many wonderful stories, and even though they’d been pretty confused by his teachings at times (a lot of the time actually), they’d experienced first hand the liveliness, the fellowship, and the sense of purpose that had drawn them to Jesus in the first place.  But now all of a sudden he’s talking about suffering and dying, and just what is it with this stuff about “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”?

This is one of the hardest sayings of Jesus, and I suspect most of us would rather do without those words.  I, for one, like it better when he’s saying things like “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Mt. 11:38], or “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” [Jn. 3:16].  These are comfortable words, safe sayings.  After all, the world can be a harsh and cruel place, and shouldn’t our faith protect us and keep us safe?  “No,” says Jesus, as he tells his disciples the bad news that he (even he) is going to die, and it’s going to be awful:  bloody, painful, humiliating.  What he’s doing is not safe, and if they expect safety they’re in for a disappointment.
Blessings Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 18 February 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 18, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.—Psalm 103:1-2

Psalm 103 includes some of my favorite scripture verses.  There’s the promise that “the Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.”  And the assurance of amazing grace that God “does not deal with us according to our sins…but as far as east is from west, so far God removes our transgressions from us.”  And it opens with two verses we sing at the close of communion that hold a special meaning for me personally.  I first heard them sung as part of communion in chapel my first year at seminary.  We’d gather in a circle around the table, and often I’d have my infant daughter Kimberly in a backpack.  The cantor would sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” and I’d respond, “and all that is within me bless God’s holy name.” The cantor again, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” and with my daughter Kim on my back as a blessed reminder I’d sing, “and forget not all God’s benefits.”  Now I’m privileged to sing the cantor part.  And in a few minutes as we sing these two verses, I’ll be remembering that today Kim turn 30 years old.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits…”

According to an ancient rabbinic story, in the beginning, God created people for blessing.  They were to play together, frolicking in the streams, fields, and forests, enjoying laughter and just being together.  But the serpent came and taught people to keep score.  And people turned out to be very good scorekeepers—so good, in fact, they ended up spending just 20-30 minutes each day playing and the rest of the time figuring out the score.  Eventually they gave up frolicking altogether, because it was just too hard to score frolicking.  Blessings only mattered if they could be counted up and scored.  So God sent the people out of the Garden of Eden, because God simply wasn’t interested in keeping score.  Yet even this didn’t change things.  People just kept adding up their scores, comparing them, and redoubling their efforts for higher and higher totals—as if their scores were what mattered most when they died.

Bless the Lord, O my soul…”  But, oh, we do forget so many blessings!

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 March 2018 )
Questioning Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 11 February 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 11, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Mark 9:2-10 — Transfiguration Sunday

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” — Mark 9:7

When I was a graduate student in chemistry at Maryland, I served as a teaching assistant for a class on chemistry of the environment for two years where we were encouraged to develop our own bi-weekly pop quizzes for our recitation sections.  For one quiz I asked my students to pose a good question about the material we had been studying and then to answer that question.  Most asked relatively easy questions where they could parrot back an answer from the reading.  But one student took a different tack, posing a truly excellent, insightful question that she could not answer.  Instead she suggested several possible approaches that might lead to an answer.  I gave her full credit on the quiz.  She grasped that the essence of science is more about questions than answers.  “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” Albert Einstein once said.

When I went off to seminary many years later I expected I would have to spend considerable time learning all about the various doctrines, creeds, and dogmas of the church.  But to my pleasant surprise I discovered that Einstein’s words still applied.  My church history classes focused largely on what kinds of questions people were dealing with when they came up with those “official” church teachings.  My first theology professor was far more interested in our questions than in force-feeding us any answers.  He assigned only one written assignment at the end of the semester.  It could be on any topic we liked, but it had to address one overarching question:  “What do I know that I don’t know now, that I didn’t know I didn’t know when the semester started?”  In other words, what new questions had been given birth by my latest answers? 

That’s a little turned around from our usual way of thinking.  We usually ask questions in order to get answers.  And maybe that’s all well and good in many everyday activities.  Yet answers can put an end to further investigation—as well as promote a hierarchy of power, authority, and privilege that accrue to those who control and give out the answers.  But when it comes to the kind of ultimate matters that are of concern in theology—theos-logos, which literally means “words about God” or "words about God"—answers are what generate new questions.  It’s a different way of looking at things—like the old saw that “a chicken is an egg’s means of making another egg.”  And it gives us a different take on the divine command in Mark’s story of the transfiguration, “This is my son… listen to him.

Honking for Jesus Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 04 February 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 4, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 36:5-9; Psalm 91:1-6; Isaiah 40:21-31

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!  All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 36:7

Do any of you remember those bumper stickers that said, “Honk if you love Jesus”?  I haven’t seen one in years.  In fact I don’t notice all that many bumper sticker messages any more.  I guess it’s all memes on Facebook and Twitter now.  I do remember that when the “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers were common I never heard very much honking.  Maybe people were too shy… or they just didn’t love Jesus.  There was this one time I was just sitting in my car at a really long red light, bored and impatient, and the car in front of me had one.  So I decided on the spur of the moment to go ahead and honk—kind of a friendly little beep, beep, beep.  And the other driver looked around… and gave me the one-finger salute and gunned off through the intersection.  Well, I guess the signal had just turned green.  But still…!  I’d hoped for a friendlier response than that.  Apparently, “Honk if you love Jesus” was not meant to be taken literally—at least not on a bumper sticker. 

Some years ago a former dean of the San Francisco Theological Seminary named Browne Barr offered a different take on honking if you love Jesus in a book, titled High-Flying Geese, subtitled Unexpected Reflections on the Church and Its Ministry [Minneapolis,MN; Seabury Press, 1983].   This marvelous little book takes a flock of wild geese in flight as a metaphor for the church and offers up a number of surprising connections and insights.  If the church of Jesus Christ really is (or can be) like a formation of wild geese honking its way across the sky, then we who love Jesus should go ahead and honk all we like.

Birds have long been taken as a metaphor for both God and God’s people.  There’s the dove at Jesus’ baptism, and birds show up in all different kinds of hymns—like “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “God of the Sparrow,” and our closing hymn this morning, “On Eagle’s Wings.”  In Celtic Christianity the wild goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. 
Last Updated ( Friday, 02 March 2018 )
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