Being the Sower Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 16 July 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 16, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 126;  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. — Psalm 126:5

[Jesus] And he told them many things in parables, saying:  ‘Listen!  A sower went out to sow.” — Matthew 13:3

Jesus tells this little story about a farmer sowing seeds, and one thing is for sure.  This is not a story you’d find in a self-help book.  Nor would it show up in any of Success Magazine’s listings of top books on how to be successful, with entries like Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Zig Ziglar’s See You at the Top, Kenneth Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, and Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic Think and Grow Rich.  I’ve never heard of that last one (I think all the time and I’m not rich), but it’s listed right after Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as one of twenty-five must-read books for success.  Now, such books may offer useful advice for some people in some situations.  But Jesus’ ideas about success run counter to all our individualistic, capitalistic, “power of positive thinking” notions of how to get ahead in the world.

A huge crowd has gathered around Jesus—so large and so eager to hear him that he had to speak from a boat.  He begins with a story, “Listen!  A sower went out to sow.”  And the story goes on to tell of one failure after another.  In fact, sowing the seeds of the kingdom results in complete failure three out of four times.  Did you catch that?  Three-quarters of the time, the kingdom work you do results in absolutely nothing, zero, zip, nadda.  Maybe that’s good enough for baseball—a .250 batting average is not that bad.  But what if 75% of the cars made by GM or Ford were total lemons?  Or imagine O.S.U. putting together a recruitment brochure that says, “Come to Ohio State, and three quarters of you will fail repeatedly.  Your efforts will come to nothing.  Only one quarter of you will end up with a good job.”  Jesus’ story is long way from The Law of Success In Sixteen Lessons by Napoleon Hill, another of Success Magazine’s 25-must-read books, this one designed to be taught to high school students.

Success in our culture can be a bit like a drug and failure like withdrawal.  Three weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article titled, “On Campus, Failure Is on the Syllabus.”1  The subtitle speaks of “…a crop of university programs to help high achievers cope with basic setbacks.”  Prestigious colleges like Smith, Cornell, University of Texas, Harvard, and Davidson offer courses and programs with titles like “Failing Well” and the “Resilience Project,” trying to “destigmatize failure” and help “failure deprived” students manage what for some are their first experiences of failure.  Many high-achieving students are so used to measuring success by being at the top of their class they simply cannot deal with the mathematical quirk that 50% them will now be (horrors!) in the bottom half of the class.  I recall that feeling when I got to M.I.T. as an 18-year-old freshman.  Rachel Simmons, the unofficial “failure czar” at Smith, says, “We’re not talking about flunking out of pre-med or getting kicked out of college.  We’re talking about students showing up in residential life offices distraught and inconsolable when they score less than an A-minus… Students who are unable to ask for help when they need it, or so fearful of failing that they will avoid taking risks at all.”
Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 August 2017 )
The Fullness of the Earth Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 09 July 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 9, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text: Exodus 3:1-6;  Psalm 33

…the place on which you are standing is holy ground. — Exodus 3:5b

The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. — Psalm 33:5b

According to an ancient story, a traveler asks an elderly beggar at the gates of Athens, “Old man, what kind of people live in this city?”  The beggar asks the traveler, “What’re people like where you come from?” The traveler replies, “Most of them are an awful lot.  They’re not friendly at all.  What’s more they’ll lie and cheat to get the upper hand in any deal.  You just can’t trust them.”  “Well,” said the old man, “you’ll find that people here in Athens are pretty much the same.”

Another traveler comes and asks, “Sir, what are people like in your city?”  Again the beggar asks, “What’re people like where you come from?”  “Oh, they’re mostly pretty good folk,” says the traveler. “Hard-working and honest, they’ll give the shirt of their back to anyone in need.”  “Well,” said the old man, “you’ll find that people here in Athens are pretty much the same.”

It’s a truism:  we find what we expect to find; we see what we expect to see.

This past week I was looking through the Bible, reviewing all the instances where the psalmist says to “sing a new song”—a phrase I especially like.  Lord knows we need some newness in our world and more reasons to sing.  There are nine passages in all, six of them in the Psalms.  Psalm 33 is the very first of these.  As I read it, I realized I cannot recall ever memorizing any of its verses from all the memorizing I did as a kid when I was going with my brothers to the Baptist church in my neighborhood.  It’s clearly a psalm of praise, which is good.  But at times such psalms can strike me as a bit superficial and self-serving—kind of a “way to go, God!…great job!… keep those blessings coming… yadda yadda yadda…yay God!”  So I tried reading slowly and meditatively, listening for “the word of God” in these words composed as a very human song and prayer.

Chosen to Be a Blessing Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 02 July 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 2, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Psalm 82;  Genesis 11:27 - 12:9  —  COMMUNION

All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you.”—Genesis 12:3 [Msg.]

In a sense, the story of God calling Abram really begins the Bible story.  What’s gone before has set the scene.  Think of the opening crawl in the original 1977 “Star Wars” movie—the thrilling music, then the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and more words begin scrolling on a field of stars.  You’re reading along when Zap!—you’re dropped into the middle of a personal, adventure story—spaceships, a battle, a princess saying, “Help me, Obi Won Kenobe, you’re my only hope.”  With Abram’s genealogy, Genesis 11 brings to a close the mythic, primeval saga of creation, “a long time ago in a land far, far away.”  God has been identified as author, director, and producer—The Creator—and now comes the story of a chosen people.

The camera zooms in on the clan of Terah.  Lights, camera, action… The very Lord of creation speaks to Abram (who will later be called Abraham).  God has chosen him and his wife Sarai (which means “Princess” so, yes, we have one in this story, too)—chosen them to begin the history of salvation.  Abram didn’t choose.  He never even speaks.  We hear only God’s voice calling Abram to set out into the unknown, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.”  The adventure starts right now.

And so does the grace.  For it all begins with God promising blessing upon blessing to Abram—a land to live in, a nation of descendents, and a great name.  This adventure begins with grace upon grace right from the start, and so does ours.  For we too are people of the promise, called and chosen by God.  How wonderful to be chosen!  Chosen by God!  But before we lose ourselves in the joy of being special, let’s recall Abram’s situation up to this point.

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.
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