Las Posadas Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 17 December 2017
by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — December 17, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Luke 2:1-7 — Advent 3
…because there was no place for them in the inn. — Luke 2:7b

The Journey Begins
This morning we’re going to embark upon a symbolic pilgrimage called Las Posadas, which means “the inns.”  Las Posadas is a traditional Advent/Christmas celebration in Latin America, particularly Mexico, and in New Mexico and other parts of the American Southwest.  It dates back more than 400 years to 1587 when a Roman Catholic friar named Diego de Soria devised a celebration to reenact and teach the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for lodging there.  Sometime in the 17th century, Las Posadas began to include a procession, and it moved from being celebrated mainly in the church to in people’s homes.  Today you might find Las Posadas celebrations in homes, churches, and communities.  A Las Posadas procession in Santa Fe, NM, each year brings out more than 3,000 people to the Santa Fe Plaza.

Often, different families in a neighborhood will take turns hosting Las Posadas in their home over the nine nights from Dec. 16th through the 24th.  Neighborhood children and adults act as peregrinos (pilgrims) who are led in procession by two people (often children) dressed as Mary and Joseph.  The people sing songs as they process from house to house, their route marked out by farolitos (little lights) with luminarias at the houses (bonfires for warmth and welcome).  At each house Mary and Joseph knock on the door, and when it is answered the peregrinos divide into two groups. One sings with Mary and Joseph asking for lodging.  The other group joins with those in the house to sing the part of the innkeepers who turn the weary travelers away.  Finally the procession reaches the scheduled house, where the Holy Family is recognized (again in song), and everyone is welcomed in for a party.

We’ll be doing this a bit differently this morning in this space.  We’ll all be processing three times, following Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus around the sanctuary.  Yes, I know there’s no baby yet in the story as Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem, but let the presence of the baby remind us that very shortly the Holy Family will be on the road again, fleeing to Egypt as refugees.  So in our three processions we’ll be following a family who—according to the stories we have—first is forced to travel far from their home by a decree from Caesar Augustus and then must flee for their very lives from King Herod. 
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 January 2018 )
The Way in the Wilderness Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 10 December 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — December 10, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11;  Mark 1:1-8

A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’  — Isaiah 40:3

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ ”. — Mark 1:2-3

Mark is like a little kid, all wound up wanting Christmas to hurry up and get here.  He’s in such a rush to tell his story that it’s like he can’t wait to get Jesus on the scene.  In just eight verses he gets through all the preliminaries before Jesus shows up to be baptized.  Matthew and Luke each take two or more chapters to get to this point, giving detailed genealogies as well as wondrous birth stories filled with angels, shepherds, and magi. 

Mark opens  his story by kicking everything off with a bang using just twelve or thirteen words—seven words in Greek.  “The beginning” (a single word, arché, in Greek)—the very same word that begins the Greek version of Genesis.  Here is a new beginning, a divine new creation.  “Of the good news”—tou euangeliou in Greek.  From euangelion we get words like evangelical and evangelism.  But in Jesus’ day, this word was not some “nice church word” or a label for a particular kind of Christian.  No, euangelion was a word deeply rooted in the cult of the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.  Throughout the empire a euangelion—a good news proclamation—was circulated upon significant events in the emperor’s life:  his birth, his coming of age, and finally his ascension to the throne as both Caesar and god on earth.  But this good news is very different.  It’s about Iesou Christou huiou théou, “Jesus Christ the Son of God,” four words declaring Jesus to be the “anointed one,” the Christos or Messiah, the long hoped-for savior of the Jewish people as well as the “Son of God,” a common title for Caesar Augustus.  From here, Mark rushes on, telling his story of what this all means.  So we need to “listen a lot faster” to Mark, for every word seems to count double or triple.  And even the punctuation is important.

Punctuation, you ask?  Well, yes, punctuation matters.  Perhaps you've seen those coffee mugs and T-shirts that read: “Let’s eat, (comma) Grandma,” and below it, “Let’s eat Grandma” (without the comma), and below that, “Commas save lives.”  It’s not a comma in Mark, but when he quotes the prophet Isaiah, it’s a colon that matters.  In Isaiah 40, “A voice cries out:”—colon.  And what does that voice cry out?  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  This isn’t a voice crying out in a wilderness where no one hears—although haven’t we all had that kind of experience where no one seems to be listening?  No, this is a voice—God’s voice perhaps?—issuing a directive:  “Go to the wilderness.  That’s where a way must be made.  And that’s where you’ll find God revealed and with you as a shepherd.”  Admittedly, it’s a hard directive.  We like our comfort and our security too much.  Wildernesses are frightening and insecure places.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 January 2018 )
An Attitude of Gratitude Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 19 November 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — November 19, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Genesis 45:3-10;  Psalm 136 (sing hymn #75);  1 Thessalonians 5:13b-22

We give thanks unto you, O God of might, for your love is never ending. — Psalm 136:1 (paraphrase in hymn #75, “We Give Thanks to You”)

I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt.  But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me.  God was behind it.  God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. — Genesis 45:5 [The Message]

… thank God no matter what happens.  This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. — 1 Thessalonians 5:18 [The Message]

Last week we looked at how the Apostle Paul connected “delight” and “giving” in 2 Corinthians, how giving is a blessing from God, a blessing not just to the one who receives the gift but also to the giver as well.  And maybe it’s even more of a blessing to the giver.  This results in an overflow of gratitude as giving leads to thanksgiving.  So Paul ends this part of the letter, exclaiming, “Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!” [2 Cor. 9:15] 

In this morning’s reading from 1 Thessalonians, Paul urges the people to  “thank God no matter what happens…”.  Really?!  Is Paul serious?  Thank God in all circumstances, on all occasions, no matter what?  How about when OSU loses 55-24 to Iowa?  Our first reaction might be, “Get real!”  What about when things go horribly wrong?  In good times, OK.  But bad times?  Yet Paul is absolutely serious.  “No matter what happens” (he says) because, “This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”  So what does that mean?

In Joseph’s case, there he sits on Pharaoh’s throne looking down on his brothers who threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery.  And he ends up telling them that, although they intended evil, God was actually behind it all, seeking to preserve life.  So thanks be to God, since Joseph is the one who came up with the plan that saves both the Egyptian people and now his brothers from starving to death.  It’s a matter of perspective, looking back with 20/20 hindsight.  Nevertheless I’m pretty sure Joseph didn’t sit at the bottom of that pit with his brothers up top arguing about how to get rid of him, and say to himself, “Thanks be to God!”  I doubt very much that while Midianite slave traders hauled him off to Egypt in chains he looked to heaven and prayed, “Thanks be to God.”  And when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape and had him hauled off to jail, “Thanks be to God,” was probably not his first thought.  But in hindsight, well OK.

Delight in the Giving Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 12 November 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — November 12, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Proverbs 11:24-25;  Amos 5:14, 21-24;  2 Corinthians 9:6-15 
Stewardship Commitment Sunday

The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.  The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. — Proverbs 11:24-25 [The Message]

I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making… Do you know what I want?  I want justice—oceans of it.  I want fairness—rivers of it.  That’s what I want. That’s all I want. — Amos 5:22, 24 [The Message]

I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give.   That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting.  God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. — 2 Corinthians 9:7 [The Message]

There’s something problematic about the whole fundraising, giving to charity, stewardship, giving to the church thing.  It has to do with motivations.  On the one hand, it seems we human beings have a real need to give that’s been built into our DNA.  Evolutionary scientists are showing this as they look beyond competition and “survival of the fittest”—those things I learned in high school science—and are finding altruism and cooperation to be important factors in evolutionary survival.  “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts,” says the title of a Scientific American article.1  Both selfishness and generosity are at work in evolution, with the first playing a larger role in the short term but generosity and cooperation are essential for long-term survival.2  And beyond the physical, I believe we have a spiritual need to give as well.  Yet that evolutionary selfishness is also built into us.  So generosity and greed get all entangled when it comes to giving or asking people to give.  We’re sensitive to that, so at times we can end up feeling cynical about being manipulated and made to feel guilty.

Perhaps you get regular phone calls and/or mailings asking for donations.  The phone call always seems to come at dinnertime.  Maybe it’s for a readily identifiable “good cause”—the American Cancer Society, your college alma mater, Special Olympics—or maybe you never heard of them, but the name seems maybe OK—like Kids Wish Network or Cancer Fund of America or Project Cure.  All three are rated by the Tampa Bay Times as among America’s worst charities and “little more than fronts for fundraising companies.”3  As soon as you pick up the phone, a memorized spiel begins about huge needs and wanting you to make a pledge, and you can’t get a word in edgewise.  Do you hate it as much as I do?  Sometimes I hang up.  Sometimes I ask them to send me something by mail (and then I check them out).  But even when it’s an organization I like and regularly support, the cynical thought runs through my mind that they’re asking me to send them money so they can keep asking me to send them money.  And so sometimes I end up writing a check with a mixed sense of reluctance and duty.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 January 2018 )
To Grow Up Healthy in God Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 05 November 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — November 5, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text: Genesis 12:1-4;  Ephesians 4:1-16

 [Christ’s] very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. — Eph. 4:16 [The Message]

I love the immediacy of the words and images Eugene Peterson chooses in paraphrasing Ephesians 4.  The usual translations can seem a bit abstract and heady about the “calling to which you were called.”  But here we have Paul, a prisoner, urging people to “get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel,” telling them not to go “sitting around on their hands” or “strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.”  They are to travel this road together, but that doesn’t mean they all have to do the same things.  And along the way they are to grow more “fully alive in Christ,” letting him work in and through them so they  “will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

I should probably note at this point that most scholars don’t think the Letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul, but rather by one of his disciples.  They note marked differences in language, style, phrasing, and viewpoint that distinguish Ephesians from letters like 1 & 2 Corinthians and Romans that are unquestionably by Paul.  But whether it’s Paul or some later disciple writing in his name, it is clear at the beginning of Chapter 4 that we as readers are to recall Paul sitting in in prison, writing this letter.  It’s a Roman prison.  Paul is a prisoner of the Empire.  But the letter says “While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master”  Whatever the circumstances, Jesus is intimately involved in all of this.  For Paul hasn’t been going about the countryside and getting himself in trouble with the Roman authorities because one day he decided on his own that he wanted to be a preacher.  No!  In a dramatic (and rather shocking) encounter on the road to Damascus, Jesus called out to Paul.  Jesus called, and in response, Paul changed… changed his whole life.

That’s important background, because whoever wrote Ephesians is talking about being called by God—specifically, “the road God called you to travel.”  Now, people are called in many different ways, and you don’t necessarily have to be a Christian.  God starts it all by calling, and we respond by changing.  God gives us gifts, so we then have gifts to give to bless others.  And the writer of Ephesians didn’t pull this out of thin air.  No, this idea is woven throughout the history of the people of Israel.  It’s there right in their beginning as a people.  Genesis 12 tells us how one day God called Abraham to leave his homeland for another land, and Abraham did it.  (Actually, the idea of God calling goes back to the very beginning with God calling all of creation into being.)
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 January 2018 )
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