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 )
Where Is God, Anyway? Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 22 April 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 22, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Isaiah 43:1-7;  John 10:1-10

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. — Isaiah 43:1b

The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the shepherd], and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. — John 10:3

Nineteen years ago this week I was in Oregon preparing a sermon for the fourth Sunday of Eastertide.  That’s today this year.  That week the gospel reading was the scripture from John I just read.  When I checked back in my files this week and reread that sermon, I was struck by just how little difference 19 years has made.  So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before.  I’m going to preach that very same sermon word-for-word [text in bold below]—with an occasional comment thrown in to point to the present.  I preached the sermon on April 25, 1999.  I began writing five days earlier on Tuesday, intending to focus on that promise in John 10:10, where Jesus declares, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  It’s one of my all-time favorite verses.  But on that day, Tuesday, April 20, 1999, the Columbine High School massacre took place.  So this is what I ended up saying in my sermon.  After citing John 10:10, I said…

I’d love to preach on this.  But I just can’t.  It’s not the week for it.  Too many things have happened in our world this past week that seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with abundant life.  The suffering in Serbia and Kosovo continues unabated [today it’s places like Syria and the Gaza Strip in Palestine], but it was pushed off the front pages of the newspapers by the chilling news from Littleton, Colorado of yet another massacre in a high school.  Wednesday morning the “good” news was that the death toll there was not 25 as reported Tuesday evening but “only” fifteen—fourteen school children and one teacher.  The news stories are mind- and spirit-numbing [as they still are with each new school shooting, including the most recent one at a high school in Florida on Friday].  One witness’ story was especially troubling to me.  Apparently one of the two killers approached a girl in the school library and asked her, “Do you believe in God?”  She hesitated, perhaps wondering what answer he wanted to hear, and then said, “Yes.”  He responded “Why?” and then shot her to death.
Can You Come Out and Play? Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 08 April 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 8, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Psalm 133;  John 20:19-23

For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore. — Psalm 133:3b

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’  — John 20:21-22

That morning of the first day of the week—the first Easter morning—Mary Magdalene and then Peter and another disciple discovered Jesus’ tomb to be empty.  A short while later Mary spoke with Jesus in the garden and then went to share the good news with the disciples.  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  “Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!”  But in fact little seems to have changed.  Fear still has the disciples firmly in its grip.  What fears still have hold of us?

As evening falls on Resurrection Day, the disciples are locked away behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews.”  As an aside, those words are a clue that the writer of John is looking back from many years later, from a time when the followers of Jesus have split from Judaism and see Jews differently, as competitors perhaps or even enemies.  After all, Peter and all the other disciples behind those doors are themselves Jews.  It would be like us hiding behind locked church doors for fear of “the Americans” or “the Presbyterians.”  The disciples are not fearful of “the Jews” per se, but of the powers-that-be in their world who crucified their friend Jesus.  However we might name them, such powers still hold sway and elicit fear in our world.

So fear clutches at the disciple’s hearts.  Then what happens?  What happens is the fulfillment of certain promises made in John 14.  First. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit of truth to come in his name so his followers will recall everything he taught them.  And second, he promised peace:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” [John 14:27].  The Holy Spirit and peace: both are antidotes to fear.
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