Grace Upon Grace Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 30 September 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 30, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 137:1-6a;  Psalm 126:1-3;  John 1:14, 16-18 — Retirement Farewell Sermon

“Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you…” — Psalm 137:6a

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. — Psalm 126:3

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. — John 1:16

In 27+ years as a pastor, I’ve preached a total of a bit more than 1,000 sermons.  I’ve preached just over 600 of those from this pulpit in 18 years.  One of my preaching professors in seminary often said that most preachers really have only one sermon (with maybe an occasional alternate).  Looking back, I think she had it right for me.  So here on the last day of 18 years, here it is once again.

This morning is a time of mixed feelings, which is why I selected verses from these two psalms—the lament in Psalm 137 and a song of harvest joy in Psalm 126—so we might remember and know God is with us always.  I’ll be saying something more about both psalms, but I’ll be focusing mainly on a few verses from the first chapter of John’s Gospel—John 1:14, 16-18 (follow along in the bulletin):
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
    Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
    Thanks be to God.
As I so often do, I’m going to begin with a story.  It’s about an African village where people bought and began to watch their very first television set. 
      For weeks all the children and all the adults gathered around the set morning, afternoon, and night watching the programs.  It was virtually all they did.  This went on for several months, but then the set was turned off and never used again.  A visitor asked one of the village elders, “What happened?  Why do you no longer watch television?”
      “We have decided to listen to the storyteller,” replied the elder.
      “But doesn’t television know more stories?” asked the visitor.
      “Yes,” the elder replied, “but the storyteller knows us, and we know him.”
Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 October 2018 )
How Does It End? Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 23 September 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 23, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Mark 13:1-8, 24-27, 32-33

Peter, James, John, and Andrew got [Jesus] off by himself and asked, “Tell us, when is this going to happen?  What sign will we get that things are coming to a head? — Mark 13:3 [The Message]

I preached this sermon about four years ago for the first Sunday in Advent, and I wanted to come back to it on this, my next to last Sunday as your pastor, for a couple of reasons.  First, of all the sermons I’ve preached here at IPC, it’s one of my personal favorites.  And second, it deals with endings—not specifically my retirement, but with the kinds of questions that run through our minds about endings both large and small.  And there’s a third reason—I get to reminisce about circuses.

I’ve always loved circuses, though I’ve seen only a few in person.  I was sad when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shut down last year after 146 years in operation.  I know about the problems with circuses and the welfare of circus animal, but as a kid I fell in love with the whole shebang:  clowns, trapeze artists, contortionists, elephants, lion tamers, the circus band: all of it.  I once saw the Ringling Circus in Washington, DC, and one of the highlights was seeing Hubert Humphrey ride an elephant around the arena.  But from the very beginning as a kid watching circuses on Saturday morning television (a show called The Big Top, I think) in the 1950s, what has fascinated me most are the human cannonballs. 

The original human cannonballs were the five flying Zacchini brothers.  Their father Hugo invented the act in the 1920s, and the Zacchinis had their own circus, traveling the world.  Eventually they went with the Clyde Beatty Circus and then Ringling Brothers, where for years Mario Zacchini’s human cannonball act was the grand finale.  He was shot from a cannon more than 5000 times in his life.  He’d don a crash helmet and load himself into a bright red cannon.  Then after a fanfare from the circus band an assistant would ceremoniously light the fuse.  And with a great roar and a belch of gray smoke, Mario Zacchini would be hurled hundreds of feet over pastures or parking lots, even over a Ferris wheel, into a tiny net on the far side.  One day when a reporter asked him the usual question—“What’s it like to be shot out of a cannon?  It must be terrifying to fly through the air!”—Mario thought a moment and said, “No, flying through the air is easy.  Landing in the net is the hard part.”
A Sound of Sheer Silence Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 16 September 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 16, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 19:1-4a;  1 Kings 19:1-16

Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth:  unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.—Psalm 19:3-4 [The Message]

…after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. — 1 Kings 19:12c [The Message]

I’d been your pastor here less than a year when our nation and the world awoke to the tragedy of 9/11, September 11, 2001—2,996 people killed and more than 6,000 injured.  The 17 years since that tragic day have brought us more than 6,300 U.S. soldiers killed and some 52,000 wounded in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus more than a half a million civilian casualties in those two nations.  Each year at this time, there are countless remembrance ceremonies. This is part of what we do as human beings.  We remember.  We commemorate.  In times of great loss we come together looking for ways to make meaning out of it all.  And on rare occasions of remembrance a speaker may succeed beyond all expectations:  such as when Abraham Lincoln spoke at the Gettysburg battlefield resolving “that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  But meaning need not come in words… or in expected ways.

I suspect Elijah set off for Mt. Horeb (aka Mt. Sinai) seeking meaning from God.  Jezebel, the foreign wife of King Ahab, has systematically slaughtered all of Elijah’s fellow prophets of the Lord, and now she has sworn to have him killed as well.  The story says he’d given up all hope and was preparing himself to die in the wilderness, when an angel brought food and drink for a journey ahead.  So Elijah sets off to cross the desert to the mountain where God spoke to Moses, and I imagine he wants to ask why God had allowed all the prophets to be killed and what God is going to do to set things right.  “‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord,” according to scripture.  And surely Elijah longs for sweet vengeance.

After forty days and forty nights without additional food, Elijah arrives at what the Hebrew text says is not “a cave” but “the cave.”  Is this cave perhaps the very cleft in the rock where Moses huddled as God passed by?  Elijah sleeps, and in the morning the word of the Lord comes to him, saying, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  What will this be like?  Will he, like Moses, glimpse God’s backside?  Perhaps it will be every bit as impressive and awe inspiring as Elijah’s past experiences—like when God sent fire from heaven to defeat 450 prophets of Baal.  Or when God sent a roaring storm to end three long years of drought.

The Kin-dom for All Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 09 September 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 9, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Mark 7:14-37;  8:1-21

Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid?”— Mark 7:18 [The Message]

[Jesus] said, “Do you still not get it?” — Mark 8:21 [The Message]

Back in July I gave you an assignment—to read the book of Mark aloud in one sitting.  I won’t ask how many did so, but a few of you have told me about doing it—not a bad response for any summer reading assignment.  Everything in Mark happens so fast.  One of Mark’s favorite words is euthus in Greek, which means immediately.  And Jesus is constantly on the move, taking his disciples into foreign territories where they are aliens in the minority, and then returning to home ground.  In doing so, he is opening their eyes, giving them lessons in empathy and compassion.  It’s like an group exercise in Leviticus 19:34—“You shall love the alien as yourself, for you yourselves were aliens…”—to show them how all people are brothers and sisters in God’s kin-dom.

Back and forth they all go across the Sea of Galilee—home ground on the western shore and a strange land on the eastern shore where strange people do strange things like herding pigs [Mark 5:11ff].  In this morning’s readings they start at home in Galilee and then proceed northwest all the way to the Syrophoenician port city of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast, where an unnamed Gentile woman confronts Jesus.  From Tyre they circle around the Sea of Galilee and head southeast to a region of ten Roman-built cities called the Decapolis, where Jesus astounds everyone by healing a deaf man and feeding 4000 people on seven loaves and a few small fish.  Then back they go to Galilee, where once again the powers-that-be show up to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven—as if his words and actions weren’t enough already.  Finally Jesus and the disciples get back in the boat to sail once more into foreign territory.  Twice before when they did this there were great storms, but no storm this time except for the one within the disciples as they struggle to understand what is going on (and maybe we readers are struggling as well).

Why doesn’t Jesus (or Mark) come right out and tell us directly what it all means?  Well, sometimes Mark tries to.  When Jesus says: “It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution,” the disciples are clueless.  “Are you being willfully stupid?” he asks in frustration.  “[Food] doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach… and is finally flushed.”  At this point, Mark jumps in with a direct comment: “That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.”  Direct, yes, but Mark totally misses Jesus’ main point, which—namely, that it’s the evil intentions vomited from people’s hearts that really pollute them.

Acting on What You Hear Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 02 September 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 2, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Luke 10:25-37;  James 1:19-27

Go and do the same. — Luke 10:37b [The Message]

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other.  Act on what you hear! — James 1:22 [The Message]

I’ve begun cleaning out my files, which is a real chore.  But one of the fun things has been looking through all those things I tucked away in folders for possible sermon use—a total of six hanging files all labeled “random neat stuff.”  There are poems and pictures, stories and songs, comic strips and (of course) jokes.  Here’s one of the jokes I never found a use for… until now.

It seems a Baptist church had undertaken a major remodeling project, so the people needed a place to worship on Sunday.  The only place they could find available was a cocktail lounge down the street.  A little strange for a Baptist congregation, yes, but they decided to give it a try because it was close by.  One feature of this particular bar, however, was it had a talking parrot that entertained the patrons.  Saturday night the owner cleared out the bar and set up the chairs, but the parrot was left there over the weekend.  When the minister walked in Sunday morning the parrot spoke up, “Wraaack!  New bartender, new bartender.”  Then the choir walked in, and the parrot screeched, “New floor show, new floor show.”  Finally the members of the congregation began taking their seats, and the parrot spoke up one more time, “Same old people, same old people.”

It’s awfully easy to be the “same old people.”  Summer is coming to a close, and next week the church “program year” begins.  And it can be so easy to just get back into the swing of things, going to the same old service, hearing the same old sermons, singing the same old hymns, going to the same old meetings, teaching in the same old Sunday school rooms.  I know my retirement will change things for you and for me, but there is a kind of momentum to sameness, to doing things the way we’ve always done them, to keeping on keeping on.  But Christianity isn’t about clinging to the old ways or being the “same old people.”  I think Marcus Borg had it exactly right when he wrote that “the Christian life is about entering into a relationship with God as known in Jesus Christ” and that “that relationship can—and will—change your life.”  With eyes opening, we will see differently.  With lives opening, we will live differently.

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