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.

God as Mother Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 13 May 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — May 13, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 23;  Hosea 11:1-11 — Mother’s Day

I lifted him, like a baby, to my cheek [and] I bent down to feed him.  — Hosea 11:4b [The Message]

I expect most of you have heard the story of the man who returned from near death, shaken to the core.  “I saw God face-to-face,” he cried, “and it’s awful!”  His friends tried to comfort him, since he now knew God was real.  “But you don’t understand!” he said. “She’s black!”  I loved this joke the first time I heard it.  It is profoundly subversive and provocative theology.  It challenges our unquestioned sexism and racism and how these play out in our notions of God.  But because it’s a joke, people laugh and move on.  Not so when the challenge is more concrete, as in Honoria Rosales’ painting, The Creation of God, in which she reinterprets Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam by depicting all the figures as black women.  When she posted the image to Twitter and Instagram a year ago, a social media frenzy ensued.  Many people said they were overjoyed and moved to see mothers, aunts, and grandmothers in the face of God.  Others decried the work as “disgusting,” “degenerate,” “blasphemous,” and not a few were outright racist and even threatening in their comments.i

Images for God are most of what theology is about.  In his best-selling book, The God We Never Knew, Marcus Borg said, “Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your theology.” ii   When you think about God…or pray to God…or talk with a child about God, who or what do you see in your mind?  Is your image male or female or something other than a person?  Is he, she, or it young or old?  Does God look like (or feel like) your father or your mother?  A grandfather or a grandmother?  A friend?  Perhaps you see yourself as beyond all that.  You know deep down that God is neither male nor female and is far more than we can imagine.  But even so, until you heard the choir sing the words of Bobby McFerrin’s setting of the 23rd Psalm a few weeks ago or spoke them this morning—“The Lord is my shepherd… She makes me lie down in green meadows…”—had you ever once thought of this shepherd Lord as a woman?  I suspect not.  I hadn’t.

The hymn by Brian Wren we sang at the start of worship calls for us to “Bring Many Names” for God, but it’s so very difficult.  Brian once told me how at first, hymnal after hymnal rejected his hymn, largely because it originally started with the second verse:  “Strong mother God…”  Hymnal selection committees just couldn’t accept that as a hymn title.  Did any of the hymn’s other images bring you up short—like maybe  “old, aching God” or “young, growing God”? 

Friendship with God Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 06 May 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — May 6, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Proverbs 18:24 & 27:9;  John 15:12-17

“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know
what the master is doing; but I have called you friends…”
— John 15:15

What I just read from John is an example of a common unit of ancient literature.  Did you note how it began and ended by saying the same thing: “that you may love one another”?  This signals that the unit may be “peeled like an onion”—with parallel (or identical) statements removed from each end—to reveal the crucial teaching lying at the center.  Instead of using a topic sentence at the beginning or building to a conclusion at the end, ancient writers highlighted a point by nesting it in the middle.  Here in the center is what is important.  And what is at the center here is both surprising and revolutionary.  It is Jesus saying to his followers (and the church in general), “I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends.”  Friends!

The sudden equality of such a statement comes as a surprise because throughout John’s Gospel Jesus stands far above ordinary people.  He is the true vine, the good shepherd, the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the Master, after all, and we are his servants.  But here Jesus does away with all hierarchy by calling his followers friends.  This is a relationship of mutuality.  From the very beginning of his Gospel, the author of John clearly sees Jesus as God.  He opens with the now familiar words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Then a few verses later—“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This “Word become flesh” is God incarnated (literally “become flesh”) as Jesus.  So the central teaching in today’s passage concerns friendship between people and God.  And such friendship is a truly challenging and revolutionary idea.

What does it mean to be friends with God?—and for God to be a friend to us?  Well to begin, there is a real closeness in friendship.  The proverb knows this, saying, “Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.”  The intimacy of true friendship challenges all of those ideas we may have of a distant, transcendent God way out there who is so great as to be unapproachable.  For as friend, God sticks closer to us than our closest family member.  God as friend is closer even than God as father (or mother).
The Lordís Song Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 29 April 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 29, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Palm 96;  Psalm 42:8  —  Choirs Appreciation Sunday

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth…
let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice. — Psalm 96:1, 11

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night [God’s] song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. — Psalm 42:8

One of the best preachers of our time, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, in her 1997 Lyman Beecher Preaching Lectures at Yale University described preaching as trying “to toss the fragile net of our words over the bone-melting music of God.”  Perhaps she was taking a cue from the German poet Heinrich Heine who wrote, “When words leave off, music begins.”  No preacher, no matter how skilled or inspired, can net with mere words more than a tiniest fraction of the divine harmony.  So I am always grateful that music is such an integral part of worship, because music offers us glimpses of all that lies beyond the scope of the preacher’s words. 

I am especially thankful for the talent and dedication of the choir members and church musicians who devote so much time week in and week out to honing their skills, practicing their parts, and making music together.  You may have noticed that the anthem each week begins that portion of the worship that we label “We Listen for God’s Word.”  There are times when we hear whatever God might be saying to us just as well or even better in the music of the Chancel Choir, the Children’s Choir, or the Bell Choir than when the worship leader reads from the Bible or the preacher opens his mouth.  Thank you, choirs.

Music of one kind or another is a recurring element throughout the Bible—from the trumpet that blares on Mt. Sinai when God speaks to Moses to awesome hymns in Revelation at the triumph of the Lamb.    In between there’s Miriam’s song after the Exodus, Hannah’s song at the birth of Samuel, and Mary’s song at the birth of Jesus.  There are the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah’s vision of the Temple and the choir of angels singing to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people.”  In the Psalms—that great collection of 150 songs of David and others—we hear about the Lord’s song.  In Psalm 137, a people in exile sing out, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  And in the middle of Psalm 42, a desperate person in a dire situation sings out in faith and hope, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night [God’s] song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”  And in the last moments of his life on the cross, Jesus turns to one of these songs, that desperate lament in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Last Updated ( Friday, 11 May 2018 )
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