A Spirit of Protest Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 29 October 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson—October 29, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 82;  Jeremiah 31:31-34
Reformation Sunday

Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked. — Ps. 82:3-4

This next Tuesday is Reformation Day, marking the 500th anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  With this act of protest, Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church’s theology of salvation and sacraments, sparking a Reformation that would give birth to the Protestant religious movement.  Other reformers followed: John Calvin (the father of Presbyterianism) and Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland, Jacobus Arminius in Holland, and the like, as the movement spread across Europe and then, with the Puritans and many other immigrants, to America.

Reform was on their mind.  An early motto of the movement was ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda—“the church reformed and always reforming.”  Wanting to make both the church and the world better for all, Luther, Calvin, and the others questioned the practices and beliefs of both the church and the world.  They reached new insights and understandings, put them into practice, and then went on to question and rethink those.  Calvin kept revising his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, throughout his life.  It was only after the deaths of people like Luther and Calvin that their ardent followers took their thoughts and insights and “froze” them and began debating and dividing over the minutia of various interpretations of what these men had said and written. 

Despite the emphasis on reform, Luther, Calvin and the movements that they inspired did not become known as “Reformists,” but rather as Protestants for their vigorous protests against the prevailing conventions of their day.  They argued continually on behalf of those suffering under religious, social, and economic oppression.  They protested the church for being too rich and too in thrall to kings and princes, for having sold its soul to the wealthy and powerful.  The original Protestants preached, taught, and argued on behalf of freedom for all—spiritual, economic, and political freedom—because they viewed God’s law as written on individual human hearts (as the prophet Jeremiah had said) and God’s justice and love as things to be embodied in the church and the world.
From the very beginning there was a spirit of protest woven into the fabric of Protestantism… a spirit we Protestants 500 years later need to recapture.

From the very beginning the courage to challenge injustice and give voice to those who have no voice was written into the DNA of Protestantism—to stand with and speak for those Psalm 82 calls “the weak and the orphan…the weak and the poor,” all who long to be delivered from the power of the wicked.  Early Protestants believed that all people were meant to know God’s grace and bounty, not just spiritually but actually.  They saw themselves as giving rise to both a renewed church and a renewed world closer to God’s desire that all humanity know abundant life.  Their original impulse was to resist all powers of worldly domination, because God holds sole dominion over the earth (the Sovereignty of God), and God’s Spirit is ever moving and at work to transform human life and society.  “God’s mercies are new every morning” [Lam. 3:22-23].  Protestants were forward- rather than backward-looking, not content with the status quo or maintaining traditions that were no longer life affirming.  They knew things were not right, so they protested and sought ways to make the world better.
The Laughs Shall Be First Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 22 October 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — October 22, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Proverbs 8:22-31;  Matthew 22:15-22

Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. — Matthew 22:21

I did my seminary internship in 1990 at St. Luke Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, CA.  The pastor there, the Rev. Dan White, liked to quote G. K. Chesterton’s claim that “angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.”  Often he’d begin his sermons with a joke, saying, “The laughs shall be first,” hence my sermon title.  In that spirit, here’s a joke from last month’s “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” (9/19).

A pirate walks into an inn, and the innkeeper says, “Hey, haven’t seen you in a while.  What happened?  You look terrible.”
“What do you mean?” says the pirate.  “I feel fine.”
“What about the wooden leg?  You didn’t have that before.”
“Well, I got hit by a cannonball in a battle.  But I’m fine.”
“Okay, but what about that hook? What happened to your hand?”
“Well, in another battle my hand got cut off in a sword fight.  I got fitted with a hook.  I’m fine, really.”
“And that eye patch?  What about it?”
“Oh, one day a sea bird flew over, I looked up and it pooped in my eye.”
“You’re kidding,” says the innkeeper. “You can lose an eye from that?”
“Arghhh, matey,” says the pirate, “ ’Twas my first day with the hook.”
Is there a place for humor in worship?  The Bible never outright says Jesus had a sense of humor.  The Bible tell us, “Jesus wept” (everyone's favorite Bible memory verse), but never that “Jesus laughed.”  So the Church tends to emphasize an utmost seriousness, a somber gravity, and a sober fear of God in religious life.  Preachers have denounced playfulness and laughter as undignified in the context of the divine majesty of God.  (Three questions about our bulletin cover.  Can you imagine such a scene with Peter and Jesus sharing in a joke.  And which one do you think is Jesus?  Did any preconceptions influence your answer to #2?)
Laugh-middle East Jesus

Such high seriousness in religion can readily spill over into our everyday lives—especially when it comes to our work.  The phrase, “the Protestant work ethic” is rooted in the valuable insight that our vocations are from God.  But it has come to mean we need to take all work very seriously—work hard and you shall be rewarded.  So we slip into the realm of workaholism and always having to be busy.  But this is not the abundant life we are promised in John 10:10.  Such seriousness and busyness do not give life; they kill.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 November 2017 )
New Every Morning Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 15 October 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — October 15, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Psalm 98; Lamentations 3:21-24

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, [God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning… — Lamentations 3:22-23

O sing to the Lord a new song… Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. —Psalm 98:1a, 4

I love the image in Psalm 98—of all the earth, every last bit of it, breaking forth in joyous song.  I wonder if the maker of this video had that image in the back of his or her mind? 

We, too, are to be singing songs of joy in God’s presence.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber tells a story about a beloved rabbi whose students gathered after his death.  One asks, “Do any of you know why our master went to the pond every day at dawn and stayed a while before coming home again?  He was learning the song the frogs sing to praise God.  It takes a very long time to learn that song.”  Just think how many songs there are to learn in God’s creation!  But we become so distracted in our busy lives… or so used to and bored with the world around us… that we’ve stopped listening.

Not only are we to sing praise with all of creation, says the psalm, we are to sing to the Lord a new song—new because the Lord has saved us and brought true justice in the midst of our old situations.  God has saved the people of Israel, so no more of their old Egyptian slave songs.  They are to sing new songs of liberation and justice.  As Christians, we know this God of salvation, of second chances, and of newness, best in Jesus Christ—in his life and resurrection. 
A Prophetic Thought Experiment Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 08 October 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — October 8, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Isaiah 5:1-10;  Matthew 21:33-46

[God] looked for a crop of justice and saw them murdering each other. 
[God] looked for a harvest of righteousness and heard only
the moans of victims.
— Isaiah 5:7cd [The Message]

[Jesus said], "Here’s another story. Listen closely.” — Matthew 21:33a [The Message]

A group of high priests and elders challenge Jesus, and he responds, “Tell me what you think of this story…”  And then right after, “Here’s another story.  Listen closely.”  Then Matthew says he tells “still more stories” [Mt. 21:28, 33; 22:1].  Each of the stories is like a prophetic thought experiment—two sons who do or do not do what their father asks, greedy farmhands in a vineyard who keep killing the servants sent to them by the vineyard owner, and a king who throws a wedding banquet where all of the invited guest refuse to come.  “What do you think of all these stories?” Jesus is asking.

The setting in that middle story—the one we just heard—is especially violent.  There’s greed and premeditated murder and not even a hint of a happy ending.  Servants are beaten, abused, killed.  The vineyard owner’s son lies dead between the rows of grapevines as the rebellious farmhands seek to seize land and power.  And what’s to come of all this but revenge and yet more violence.  It’s so much like news of our world with continuing cycles of violence.  I take some comfort in the fact that neither Matthew nor Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is like this.”  Instead Jesus addresses his opponents with the voice of a prophet, “Tell me what you think of this,” and then he gives them a view of the way things are in the world in which they live.  This is not the dominant story these high priests and elders tell about themselves and their world.  It’s a story meant to provoke them and make them uncomfortable.  It judges their story.  That’s what prophets do.

That’s what Isaiah does in Isaiah 5 in what is sometimes called the Song of the Vineyard, telling a story that challenges the “spin” of the official state “prophets” who keep saying all is well.  Those high priests and elders challenging Jesus would have known Isaiah’s song well and would have easily recognized it is the setting of Jesus’ story—the carefully cultivated vineyard, the winepress, the lookout watchtower.  Isaiah’s song is a word of judgment on his nation for injustices almost beyond number.  We heard but the first of a long series of pronouncements of doom on the leaders who lie and cheat the people.  Many more follow.  For the people are the vineyard, says Isaiah, and God expects “a crop of justice… a harvest of righteousness.”  Instead there is murder and the moaning of victims.  When Jesus tells his story 700 years later, he sets the same scene—a vineyard, a winepress, a watchtower.  Something simply must be done to stop the murderous cycles of violence and pain.  It is the same all too often for us, more than 2000 years after Jesus—sometimes quite literally, as the heartbreaking videos and stories from Las Vegas this past week have made all too clear.  Something simply must be done to end the violence!
Take God Seriously Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 01 October 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — October 1, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Micah 6:1-8 & 6:9-16  —  Peace & Global Witness Sunday

We hear the words of Micah 6:8 so very often, whether from the pulpit, at BREAD meetings, or at state house demonstrations.  It’s a go-to Bible verse to get people to engage in spiritually-centered social justice.  From the NRSV—“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  What we don’t usually hear is the context.  For this is not some new command.  It’s something the people already know or should know.  As such it is being used as evidence against them.  For God is bringing an indictment against the people.  Listen for the word of God in these words from The Message.
Micah 6:1-8 (The Message)

1-2 Listen now, listen to God:
“Take your stand in court.
   If you have a complaint, tell the mountains;
   make your case to the hills.
And now, Mountains, hear God's case; listen, Jury Earth—
For I am bringing charges against my people.
   I am building a case against Israel.

 3-5 Dear people, how have I done you wrong?
   Have I burdened you, worn you out? Answer!
I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt;
   I paid a good price to get you out of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you—and Aaron and Miriam to boot!
Remember what Balak king of Moab tried to pull,
   and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him.
Remember all those stories about Shittim and Gilgal.
   Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.”

 6-7 How can I stand up before God
   and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
   with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child,
   my precious baby, to cancel my sin?

 8But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
   what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
   be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.
       Micah lived in a harsh, violent world.  War was a constant factor, and in all the land it was “everyone for himself.”  The state prophets—the mouthpieces of power, the official spin doctors—kept saying all was well.  But Micah speaks truth to power in chapters 2 & 3, listing wrongs and injustices.  It’s like the wealthy lie in bed dreaming up new ways to fleece the vulnerable.  They use their money and influence to get whatever they want—cheating in the marketplace, loan-sharking, seizing land from poor families, driving them from their homes.  And the rulers?  They look the other way, for the poor have nothing to bribe them with.  Judges, priests, and prophets are for sale to the highest bidder—raw, oligarchic capitalism at work.  The state prophets and priests keep telling Micah to stop making such a fuss and saying bad things about the country.  Where’s his loyalty?  “Don’t preach like that,” they say.  “Surely God is on our side, blessing and watching over the nation.  Nothing bad will ever happen to us!”

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