Sermons
Take God Seriously Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 01 October 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — October 1, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Micah 6:1-8 & 6:9-16  —  Peace & Global Witness Sunday

We hear the words of Micah 6:8 so very often, whether from the pulpit, at BREAD meetings, or at state house demonstrations.  It’s a go-to Bible verse to get people to engage in spiritually-centered social justice.  From the NRSV—“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  What we don’t usually hear is the context.  For this is not some new command.  It’s something the people already know or should know.  As such it is being used as evidence against them.  For God is bringing an indictment against the people.  Listen for the word of God in these words from The Message.
Micah 6:1-8 (The Message)

1-2 Listen now, listen to God:
“Take your stand in court.
   If you have a complaint, tell the mountains;
   make your case to the hills.
And now, Mountains, hear God's case; listen, Jury Earth—
For I am bringing charges against my people.
   I am building a case against Israel.

 3-5 Dear people, how have I done you wrong?
   Have I burdened you, worn you out? Answer!
I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt;
   I paid a good price to get you out of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you—and Aaron and Miriam to boot!
Remember what Balak king of Moab tried to pull,
   and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him.
Remember all those stories about Shittim and Gilgal.
   Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.”

 6-7 How can I stand up before God
   and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
   with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child,
   my precious baby, to cancel my sin?

 8But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
   what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
   be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.
       Micah lived in a harsh, violent world.  War was a constant factor, and in all the land it was “everyone for himself.”  The state prophets—the mouthpieces of power, the official spin doctors—kept saying all was well.  But Micah speaks truth to power in chapters 2 & 3, listing wrongs and injustices.  It’s like the wealthy lie in bed dreaming up new ways to fleece the vulnerable.  They use their money and influence to get whatever they want—cheating in the marketplace, loan-sharking, seizing land from poor families, driving them from their homes.  And the rulers?  They look the other way, for the poor have nothing to bribe them with.  Judges, priests, and prophets are for sale to the highest bidder—raw, oligarchic capitalism at work.  The state prophets and priests keep telling Micah to stop making such a fuss and saying bad things about the country.  Where’s his loyalty?  “Don’t preach like that,” they say.  “Surely God is on our side, blessing and watching over the nation.  Nothing bad will ever happen to us!”

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Itís Just Not Fair OR Itís Just, Not Fair Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 24 September 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 24, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Matthew 19:23 – 20:16

When the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received the usual daily wage…and they grumbled…—Matthew 20:10-11

Once a company rewarded its top sales people with a cruise.  Almost immediately after boarding, one salesman is back on deck complaining to the Cruise Director, “It’s just not fair.  My friend has a much better cabin than I have, but I did just as good a job as he did.  I want a cabin just like his!”  “But sir, “says the Cruise Director, “the cabins are identical.”  “Oh, yeah!” says the man, “Well, his cabin looks out on the ocean and mine only looks out on this old dock!”

Now, none of us here are as clueless as this salesman, but I fear that like him most of us play the “comparison game”—checking where we stand, rating how we measure up to others, making sure to guard our rights and privileges and get whatever we’ve earned, all the while trying to gain on those ahead of us and watching out for anyone who might be gaining on us.  It’s almost built into us, and our world reinforces it in countless ways.  Ads show us image after image of people who have more than we do—more money, more (and especially better) stuff, more friends, more fun, more happiness—and we buy into it (literally).

It’s almost impossible for any of us to resist taking whatever factors we count as important in our own lives—money, property, education, physical fitness, gray hair, baldness, how thin or fat we are (or feel)—and compare ourselves with others to see if we are being treated fairly.  One year when I was on the staff of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, some people used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain all of the Lab salary information—what each of the staff members was paid.  They published the entire list in the local paper, and everyone rushed to check it out.  The hue and cry was amazing as people found out just who was making more than they were.  Goof offs were making more than hard workers.  Experienced people were being paid less than new hires.  Morale suffered as people fussed and grumbled that it was just not fair.  Even the goof offs and new hires found enough unfairness to grumble about.
 
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Do I Have to Forgive? Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 17 September 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 17, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Romans 14:1-13 & Matthew 18:21-35

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. — Matthew 18:27

Last week we heard those words from Jesus to Peter about forgiving your brother or sister “not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven times.”  Effectively this means to forgive always, without limit—which raised one of those tricky theological questions for some of you.  I’ve made it my sermon title—“Do I Have to Forgive?”  Is forgiveness required?  On the surface it looks like it.  And the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant seems to hammer the point home with the torturing of that unforgiving servant and the dread warning that our heavenly Father will do the same “if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  Really?  God would do that—God, who seeks out each and every lost sheep and desires unlimited forgiveness?  I think we need to look a little deeper.

Some years ago—actually, just after I was ordained in 1991—a pastor named Richard Lord explored that question—“Do I Have to Forgive?—in an article by that title in The Christian Century.1  A woman named Betty Jane Spenser had come to him asking, “Preacher, do I have to forgive a man who murdered my four sons?”  This is no grand, all-encompassing, general question.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  It seems that some years previously a group of young men broke into her Indiana farmhouse, murdered her four sons, and shot her, leaving her for dead.  Now, one of the murderers had written to Betty Jane from prison claiming he had “found Christ” and asking for her forgiveness.  She wanted to know if she was obligated as a Christian to forgive in this situation.  The murderer hadn’t said he was sorry, just “Forgive me.” 

Not wanting to jump to conclusions, Lord took six months investigating the issues involved, focusing primarily on two things—first, what victims of violent crimes and their families had to say and, second, how the Jewish and Christian traditions might apply.  The victims he talked to were very disturbed by the issue of forgiveness.  They were constantly being told, often by the church, that they must forgive.  But most found they could not.  One woman’s daughter had been killed by her son-in-law, who now said he had “found Christ” in prison.  So the mother concluded in anguish that he would go to heaven to be with her daughter, while she would go to hell because she could not forgive him in her heart.  I suspect that Bible passages like this morning’s parable, with its threat of torture until the debt is fully paid, contributed to her conclusion.
 
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The Messiah Among Us Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 10 September 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 10, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Matthew 18:12-22

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. — Matthew 18:20

Jesus knows just how hard it can be relating with others.  So he walks his followers through baby steps.  If someone offends you, first go in person to them.  If that fails, take one or two others.  Then seek the community’s aid.  But the main concern is always to patch things up, not rejection.  It’s all about trying to renew relationship.  Life is to be about communion with God and living in community with all people.  As Jesus makes clear in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, God is unwilling to let anyone be lost.  And when Peter wants to know how far he has to go—“How many times must I forgive?”—Jesus says, “Lots!  Lots and lots!”
According to an old story,1 there was once a monastery that had fallen on very hard times.  Only a handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters, and in their large sanctuary they praised God with heavy hearts.

In the woods around the monastery, an old rabbi had built a little hut.  He went there from time to time to fast and pray.  And whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk, “The rabbi walks in the woods.”  And their spirits would be lifted by his prayerful presence.

One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and to open his heart to him.  As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome.  The two embraced like long lost brothers, smiling at one another with smiles their faces could hardly contain.

The rabbi invited the abbot to enter.  On a table in the middle of the hut, the Scriptures stood open.  They stood there for a moment, in the presence of the book.  Then the rabbi began to cry, and the abbot joined him in tears.  The two men stood there like lost children, weeping.

After the tears had ceased to flow and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head.  “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said.  “You have come to ask a teaching of me.  I have one for you, but you can only repeat it once.  After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.”  Looking straight at the abbot he said, “The Messiah is among you.”
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Get Out of Godís Way Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 03 September 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 3, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Mark 8:31-33;  Matthew 16:21-23

[Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” — Mark 8:33

[Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me…” — Matthew 16:23

The term “Satan” appears in both Mark’s and Matthew’s version of this Gospel story—“satana” (σατανά) in the Greek from the Hebrew “satan” (שָׂטָן).  Satan is a really loaded name for us.  On the one hand there’s a lighter side where we make jokes about Satan—like the one where a demon stole Satan’s hair piece.  (Oh, you didn’t know Satan has a bald spot?)  Satan was furious.  “Whoever stole it better return it immediately!” he shouted, “Or there’ll be Hell Toupee!”  Yes, I’ll admit, puns are by far the lowest form of comedy.  But the temptation was just so great!  I don’t know what made me do it. Could it be… Satan?  Yes, that’s right; Satan’s to blame.

Once there was a little boy who just would not play in his own yard, no matter how firm his mother’s orders.  When she asked him why he was so disobedient, he blamed Satan—“Satan made me do it.”  So his mom told him that whenever he was tempted to leave the yard he should say, just like in the Bible, “Get behind me, Satan.”  But later that day she saw him outside the fence playing at the neighbor’s.  Hauling him home she insisted, “Didn’t I tell you to say ‘get behind me, Satan’ whenever he tempted you?”  “Yeah,” said the boy, “I said, ‘get behind me, Satan’ and he got behind me and pushed me right out the gate!”

Well, that’s a lighter side of Satan.  But of course there’s a darker, more ominous figure.  It’s there in the typical scary images of Satan, like the ones that gave me bad dreams from the Children’s Bible illustrations of my childhood.  It’s there in literature and art—Satan, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, the Ruler of Hell, Absolute Evil in the flesh—fearsome images all.  And the church has often wielded such images to instill fear in believers and non-believers alike—as in one of the most famous of American sermons, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” from 1741.  Edwards dramatically pictured a wrathful God dangling sinners over the fiery pit of hell, their wrongs pulling them downward to their doom, with Satan eagerly awaiting them in the flames.  (Not all of Edwards’ sermons were like this, by any means.  One wag has suggested that Edwards preached this as his final sermon to a congregation that had just fired him.)
 
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