Sermons
Godís Own People Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 14 May 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — May 14, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Lebanon, Oregon
Text: Exodus 19:1-6;  1 Peter 1:2-10
 
Godown Road Sign
 
You shall be my treasured people…  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.—Exodus 19:5b-6a

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you might proclaim the mighty acts of [God]. — 1 Peter 2:9

This morning’s bulletin cover might seem a bit strange to you.  I took the photo earlier this week and then photoshopped in the apostrophe “s” to read “God’s own.”  It’s a street corner sign I drive past near my home all the time.  As Kathy and I were first here and looking at houses back in the summer of 2000, I was puzzled by the name of the street and quickly learned it’s pronounced as “go down road,” which is kind of cute and memorable.  I can direct people to go down Godown Rd.  But it looks like it could be “God own,” and the Garmin lady that speaks in my GPS unit has a third way to say it, something like “Guh duhn Road.” 

I thought of the sign this week because both Exodus 19 and 1 Peter 2 speak of how everything is God’s own.  “Indeed the whole earth is mine,” says the Lord, addressing Moses at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  “You are… God’s own people,” says the author of 1 Peter.  Recalling the actions of the prophet Hosea, he continues, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  So it’s God’s Own Road… this is God’s Own Earth… we are God’s Own People.

As the author of First Peter gets started in 1 Peter 2, it’s like he can’t quite make up his mind about who or what we are to be.  So he proceeds to try out one metaphor after another.  First he speaks of us as nursing babies, calling for us to be “like newborn infants, long[ing] for the pure, spiritual milk.”  Going beyond the psalmist’s call in Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” the author urges us to take more than just a taste and eat our fill so we might grow up into salvation.  Next, he calls us stones, living stones that God will take and mortar together to fashion a great, spiritual temple.  He cites three different passages about stones from the Psalms and the prophet Isaiah.  And clearly it is better for us to be cornerstones or building stones rather than stumbling blocks.  (We celebrated the lines about living stones back in September on the occasion of the centennial of this spiritual house—the literal stones that form the walls of the building and the many living stones who have worshipped and engaged in ministry from here over the past 100 years.)  But then the author again switches images and calls for us to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, not for ourselves but (and this is important) so we might offer up sacrifices to God on behalf of others.  The metaphors fly fast and furious as the author of First Peter seeks to develop and offer a comprehensive and compelling vision of how God relates to us and how we are to respond to God as followers of Jesus Christ.  No one image can convey the full meaning of this.

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Knowing the Shepherdís Voice Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 07 May 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — May 7, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 23;  John 10:1-16

God, my shepherd! — Psalm 23:1a [The Message]

 “…[the shepherd] leads them, and [the sheep] follow because they are familiar with his voice.  They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.” — John 10:4-5 [The Message]

 “God, my shepherd!” the psalmist sings in Psalm 23.  “I am the Good Shepherd,” says Jesus.  So I guess that makes us all sheep—you, me, all God’s children are sheep—which is not an especially nice thought when we realize what sheep are like.  Sheep are… well, sheepish.  They’re not very smart, and they panic easily.  They follow some other sheep blindly or just wander off and get lost.  They make most of their decisions based on their appetites.  And they tend to get into head-butting contests for no reason at all.  OK, maybe we are sheep… and that’s not at all complimentary.  Still, there must be something here, for these shepherd images of God and Jesus have long been favorites throughout the church.

I used to see a lot of sheep in the winter fields of Western Oregon where farmers grow grass seed—miles of “lawn” stretching into the distance.  But I can’t recall seeing sheep much here in Ohio except at the state fair.  I expect few of us have any direct experience with shepherding sheep.  Range wars were fought in the American west between cattle ranchers and sheep farmers mostly because sheep don’t behave like cattle.  If you don’t stop them, sheep will overgraze, eating everything in sight.  But the big difference is that you can herd cattle from the rear by hooting and hollering and cracking whips and such.  But if you get behind sheep and make loud noises, all they’ll do is scatter, with many trying to get behind you because sheep prefer to be led.  You push cows, but you lead sheep.  Sheep will follow after a shepherd who goes before them.

I’m told it is still possible in the Middle East—in Palestine, for example—to observe a scene that would be completely familiar to Jesus and his followers:  Bedouin shepherds bringing their flocks home from the various pastures where they grazed during the day.  It’s not like the U.S. where sheep are trucked around to fenced fields.  There, sheep and shepherd seem to share an especially close relationship, as if the sheep consider their shepherds to be part of the family and share a private language with them.  Good shepherds learn to distinguish between bleats of pain and pleasure, and the sheep learn the various calls, clucks, and whistles that mean food or danger or time to go home.  At dusk, different flocks often end up at the same watering hole, getting all mixed up.  But when it’s time to head home, each shepherd issues a distinctive call, and the shepherd’s sheep follow, for they recognize their shepherd’s voice. 

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How Can We Sing Godís Song? Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 30 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 30, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Psalm 137:1-6  —  Music/Choir Appreciation Sunday

Our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  — Psalm 137:3b-4
   [Congregation sings 2 times in unison]
By the waters, the waters of Babylon,
We sat down and wept, and wept for Zion.
We remember, we remember, we remember Zion.
  [Hymn #784]
The Hebrew people have good reason to weep—conquered people, living in exile on the banks of the Euphrates River in Babylon, strangers in a strange land.  Babylon is the opposite of all they know and believe as people of God.  To make matters worse, their captors mock and humiliate the captives by demanding, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  “Nyah! Nyah!  Nyah!  Your temple on Mount Zion lies in ruins, as does your holy city of Jerusalem.  Where is your God now?”  Israel had been overwhelmed by an empire, that like all empires bases its rule on force, fear and greed.  “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How, pray tell?

It’s like the people are just supposed to get over it.  Defeated, tormented, humiliated, how can they sing the Lord’s song in this strange land so completely at odds with their values and beliefs.  So in despair they hang their harps in the trees.  What’s the point?  But there’s something about music and remembering.  “We remember, we remember, we remember Zion.”  So I suspect at least some of the exiles did begin to sing some of the psalms—the songs of Zion—at first, quietly among themselves.  Perhaps they sang Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…though the mountains shake…”  Or maybe Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  Fear is the enemy, wielded by the fist of empire.  It’s no accident so many Jewish and Christian congregations turned to these two psalms after 9/11.  As Martin Luther said, “Nothing on earth is so well suited…to give courage to the despairing…[and] to lessen envy and hate, as music.”

We remember, we remember, we remember Zion.  Now they sing Psalm 84 to remember the great beauty of Zion: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longs, indeed it faints, for the courts of the Lord”—this place where the birds of the air find a home and deserts burst forth with springs of life-giving water.  Then they give voice to Psalm 136 to remember God’s faithfulness in all the wondrous acts of creation as well as in freeing the people from slavery in Egypt.  God’s handiwork is there in each step, and again and again the people sing, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  For God’s steadfast love endures forever.”  Singing the songs of Zion may have been intended as an act of humiliation, but it becomes an act of remembrance, of resistance, and of hope that draws the people back to their faith and away from the culture and values of this strange land that now rules over their lives.
 
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Present(s) from the Beginning Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 23 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 23, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Genesis 1:1-2:4a — Earth Day Weekend

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don't see. —Genesis 1:1 [The Message]

God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!  It was evening, it was morning—Day Six. — Genesis 1:31 [The Message]

For a long time I’ve collected comics strips that relate to theological matters.  One of my favorites is a Family Circus panel from August of 1994.  I suspect many of you have seen it before.  Big sister Dolly patiently shares wisdom with little brother Jeffy: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a GIFT. That’s why it’s called the present.”  I love both the word play and the simple yet profound truth.  The sense that all things—creation, life itself, even this very moment—are divine gifts is a theme I return to often in my preaching and pastoral prayers as well as my own personal devotions.  Every Sunday we sing:  “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; so thank you, Lord, O thank you, Lord, for all your love.”  Indeed the present is a present.  So too is the eternal presence of God, the Giver of all good gifts from the very beginning.

Another thing I like about that comic is how it plays with the wondrous mysteries of time.  Do you remember as a child trying to grasp all the ins and outs of yesterday, today, and tomorrow?  Tomorrow never comes, because tomorrow will become today and this today will be yesterday.  As adults many of us struggle to live, not in the past or the future, but in the here and now—in this fleeting moment that is the present.  It’s so hard to do.

The future lures us with dreams of new possibilities just ahead.  And the past beckons with warm memories of “good old days” or maybe bitter regrets and might-have-beens.  We can trap ourselves in “what ifs?”  What if we could do it over again? Yet perhaps the most fascinating aspect of time involves beginnings.  Recently we’ve focused on our beginnings as a church a century ago while at the same time working on a program of new beginnings.  We retell stories of how things got started and evolved to the present.  And we imagine stories of where new beginnings might take us.  And all good stories start, as the “Do-Re-Mi” song puts it, “at the very beginning.”
 
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With Fear and Great Joy Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 16 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 16, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Acts 10:34-43;  Matthew 28:1-10   —  EASTER

So they left the tomb quickly with great fear and joy and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. — Matthew 28:8-9

Several days of warm weather, all these flowers, it’s springtime.  So it must be time to plant a garden.  But then, it’s Ohio spring.  It could still snow.  In fact, we’ve had snow several times for the Easter sunrise service.   I don’t really know why my thoughts turn to gardens.  When I was growing up, my parents always had a huge garden, and my brothers and I pretty much hated it.  Gardens meant endless chores.  Planting, weeding, hoeing, and raking were like summer slavery to us kids, and Dad’s big-wheeled push cultivator was an instrument of torture.

Oddly, once I bought my first house as an adult, I started planting gardens.  Maybe it’s that once you get a taste of homegrown tomatoes, a garden becomes a necessity.  But I’m still not a fan of the chores.  Our patch for a garden is pretty small here in Ohio—some peas, 3 or 4 tomato plants, maybe a pepper plant or two.  Still my least favorite part comes at the beginning, the farthest point from any of the rewards, namely getting the garden ready to plant.  (And I must admit I mostly leave that for Kathy.)  The winter-packed ground is hard and clumpy, covered with grass and weeds.  It needs spading and tilling to loosen the soil and clear out the weeds to open it up so seeds can germinate and grow without being choked out and so life-giving moisture can trickle down to growing roots.

In many ways, the human spirit is like a spring garden.  For growth to occur, it too must be made ready.  The human spirit must be opened up and room made if God’s goodness is to take root and grow there.  Open minds and open hearts are needed to receive and nurture the abundant life God means for us to have.  This kind of emptying and opening up lie at the beginning of this morning’s Easter story.
 
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