The Way Out Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 18 June 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — June 18, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Deuteronomy 6:4-12;  Psalm 14;  Matthew 9:9-13

…make sure you don’t forget how you got there—God brought you out of slavery in Egypt. — Deuteronomy 6:12 [The Message]

Go figure out what this Scripture means:  “I’m after mercy, not religion.” — Matthew 9:13 [The Message]

It’s “orange barrel season” in Columbus—although lately it seems a year round thing—so it’s can be hard to get around.  At times it’s just dealing with a blocked lane on High St., but a couple of months ago construction gates went up blocking all the streets at the intersection of 16th and Waldeck, and you couldn’t get to church the usual way from the south and east.  Even people with GPS units struggled to get here and arrived late.  And people trying to get to Hillel had it even harder until the city made a one-way section of Waldeck two-way so they had a new way to go.

This reminds me of when I was serving a church in the small town of Lebanon, OR, and road construction had blocked all the main roads to head west to get out to Interstate-5.  I was driving to a meeting in Corvallis with a friend and trying to follow one of the detours when suddenly he told me to turn left on “D” St.  “Can’t,” I said, “it’s a dead end.”  “Not any more,” he replied.  “It used to be, but they cut a new road through to 12th St.”  There was a new way to go.

That’s a pretty good picture for how God’s grace works whenever life gets hard or tragedy strikes or we just get burnt out, and we begin to think there’s no hope, it’s all over, there’s no way out, we’ve hit a dead end.  We all get there at times.  But grace means God always promises a way out—maybe not one we’d have planned or chosen for ourselves and maybe not easy, but always a way that moves toward healing and wholeness. 
Grace…Love…Communion Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 11 June 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — June 11, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Matthew 28:16-20;  2 Corinthians 13:11-13 — TRINITY SUNDAY

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. — 2 Corinthians 13:13

Paul’s closes 2 Corinthians with what is called the Apostolic Benediction—“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  I usually include a form of this in my closing benedictions.   One commentator calls it the most explicitly Trinitarian statement in all of Paul’s letters.  It along with Jesus’ closing words in Matthew telling his followers to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” are often cited as support for the Doctrine of the Trinity.  But these are the only two places in all of scripture where the three terms occur together in any kind of Trinitarian formula, and there’s nothing at all here about (capital-D) Doctrine.

I was newly ordained and just a few months into serving as pastor of a small church in Lebanon, OR, some 26 years ago when I answered the church phone one Sunday morning just before Sunday School.  The caller asked the usual, “When is worship?”  I replied, “11 a.m.”  But then she surprised me by immediately asking, “Do you believe in the Trinity?”  A bit flustered, I said something like, “Yes.  We’re Christians.  Of course we believe in the Trinity.”  And she hung up without so much as a goodbye.

I don’t think I’d ever been asked that question so point blank and out of the blue before.  Later I realized that my initial discomfort had come from feeling that the caller was challenging my (or the church’s) theological orthodoxy.  Did we say and believe the “right” things?  Do we use the right names for God?  I certainly didn’t get any sense that she was at all concerned with what the Trinity means or with its value as a functioning part of the Christian faith.  Anyway, my defenses went up, and I guess she didn’t like my answer, because she wasn’t there at 11 a.m.
In Their Own Language Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 04 June 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — June 4, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text: Acts 2:1-21 — PENTECOST

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” — Acts 2:11 [The Message]

As the Book of Acts opens, the disciples are waiting for the Holy Spirit to come as Jesus promised at the close of Luke.  They’re all about getting prepared.  They set up a secluded community in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem to gather in safety when they’re not in the temple praising God.  Peter organizes a process to replace Judas in their fellowship.  Two candidates are put forth, and when Matthias is chosen over Barsabbus, once again there are twelve apostles.  Acts 1 is all so “decently and in order” you’d think these were Presbyterians.  But nothing could prepare them for the morning of the Pentecost Feast to celebrate the spring harvest. 

Suddenly without warning, pandemonium erupts!  The upper room rocks as the din of a violent wind fills the building—a pneuma.  That Greek word, pneuma, means wind and breath and Spirit, all at the same time.  Can this be the Holy Spirit of the Living God, the wind that blew on day one of creation, the breath of life God breathed into Adam?  No one knows as one by one all of the disciples burst forth in speech—involuntary, incredible speech in all different languages.  Nothing holds back these Spirit-filled people.  As they pour into the street, the Spirit-wind blows all thoughts of “decently and in order” away.  A crowd of pilgrims, hearing their own mother tongues in the din, runs headlong to see these Galileans, and some think they’re drunk.  But all in the crowd hear and understand in their own language.

Language is important, especially your native language, your mother tongue.  The language of your childhood—words heard at your mother’s breast, words learned bouncing on your father’s knee, words echoing in schoolyard and classroom—permeate your being.  Your mother tongue is a vital part of who you are, your customs and culture.  You may well learn other languages, even come to speak them fluently, but translation and understanding are always problematic.
The Lord Came Down Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 28 May 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — May 28, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Genesis 11:1-9;  John 17:20-26 — Ascension Sunday

God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built.  God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step.  No telling what they'll come up with next…” — Genesis 11:5-6 (The Message)

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us.  — John 17:21 (The Message)

On the surface, the stories in Genesis 11 and John 17 seem at odds with each other with respect to oneness and unity.  In John, Jesus—the one we know as Immanuel, God who came down to be with us—is preparing his disciples for when he’ll no longer be with them.  So he prays they might “become one in heart and mind.”  Their unity is to reflect the oneness of God as well as God’s continuing loving presence in the world.  So unity is a good thing, right?  It’s Jesus’ prayer and God’s will, after all.  But things are different in Genesis 11 as the Lord comes down to Babylon to check out the city and a tower the people are building from clay bricks.  Finding that the people there are one people speaking one language, the Lord garbles their speech to confuse them.  And then the Lord scatters them all over the world so they are no longer one people.  How very strange!  So is oneness a good thing or not?  Are we supposed to be united?

The answer, I think, lies in the sort of unity the Lord found in Babylon—in the kind of place it was and the kind of people who ruled it.  You see… Babylon was a mighty city situated in a fertile valley along the Euphrates River in what we now know as Iraq.  The site is now a heap of rubble and debris, much of which was bulldozed to build Camp Alpha for American troops after we invaded Iraq in 2003.   But it was a magnificent city in its day—the center of a mighty empire, the greatest super power in its part of the world.  The Babylonians themselves called their city Babili, which means “gateway to the god.”  The Hebrews called it Babel, a derisive pun on the Hebrew word for “confusion.”  That’s where we get the English word “babble” for nonsense speech.

Babylon was a huge city, built almost entirely of baked bricks.  So of course there were builders, and there were brick-makers.  The builders designed great walls and extravagant buildings to flaunt their wealth and sought to make themselves famous.  Archaeologists have unearthed private mansions in the city as large as 18,000 square feet.  Huge temples had roof beams and walls covered with gold and silver.  Of course the brick-makers didn’t live so well.  They were slaves, after all—which the Hebrew people knew something about, having themselves been brick-making slaves in Egypt.  I really doubt the builders and slaves were ever completely “one people” or shared one common language.  For the slaves were brought in as captives from the vast reaches of the empire. 

God’s 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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