How Can We Sing Godís Song? Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 30 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 30, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Psalm 137:1-6  —  Music/Choir Appreciation Sunday

Our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  — Psalm 137:3b-4
   [Congregation sings 2 times in unison]
By the waters, the waters of Babylon,
We sat down and wept, and wept for Zion.
We remember, we remember, we remember Zion.
  [Hymn #784]
The Hebrew people have good reason to weep—conquered people, living in exile on the banks of the Euphrates River in Babylon, strangers in a strange land.  Babylon is the opposite of all they know and believe as people of God.  To make matters worse, their captors mock and humiliate the captives by demanding, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  “Nyah! Nyah!  Nyah!  Your temple on Mount Zion lies in ruins, as does your holy city of Jerusalem.  Where is your God now?”  Israel had been overwhelmed by an empire, that like all empires bases its rule on force, fear and greed.  “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How, pray tell?

It’s like the people are just supposed to get over it.  Defeated, tormented, humiliated, how can they sing the Lord’s song in this strange land so completely at odds with their values and beliefs.  So in despair they hang their harps in the trees.  What’s the point?  But there’s something about music and remembering.  “We remember, we remember, we remember Zion.”  So I suspect at least some of the exiles did begin to sing some of the psalms—the songs of Zion—at first, quietly among themselves.  Perhaps they sang Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…though the mountains shake…”  Or maybe Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  Fear is the enemy, wielded by the fist of empire.  It’s no accident so many Jewish and Christian congregations turned to these two psalms after 9/11.  As Martin Luther said, “Nothing on earth is so well suited…to give courage to the despairing…[and] to lessen envy and hate, as music.”

We remember, we remember, we remember Zion.  Now they sing Psalm 84 to remember the great beauty of Zion: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longs, indeed it faints, for the courts of the Lord”—this place where the birds of the air find a home and deserts burst forth with springs of life-giving water.  Then they give voice to Psalm 136 to remember God’s faithfulness in all the wondrous acts of creation as well as in freeing the people from slavery in Egypt.  God’s handiwork is there in each step, and again and again the people sing, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  For God’s steadfast love endures forever.”  Singing the songs of Zion may have been intended as an act of humiliation, but it becomes an act of remembrance, of resistance, and of hope that draws the people back to their faith and away from the culture and values of this strange land that now rules over their lives.
Present(s) from the Beginning Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 23 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 23, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Genesis 1:1-2:4a — Earth Day Weekend

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don't see. —Genesis 1:1 [The Message]

God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!  It was evening, it was morning—Day Six. — Genesis 1:31 [The Message]

For a long time I’ve collected comics strips that relate to theological matters.  One of my favorites is a Family Circus panel from August of 1994.  I suspect many of you have seen it before.  Big sister Dolly patiently shares wisdom with little brother Jeffy: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a GIFT. That’s why it’s called the present.”  I love both the word play and the simple yet profound truth.  The sense that all things—creation, life itself, even this very moment—are divine gifts is a theme I return to often in my preaching and pastoral prayers as well as my own personal devotions.  Every Sunday we sing:  “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; so thank you, Lord, O thank you, Lord, for all your love.”  Indeed the present is a present.  So too is the eternal presence of God, the Giver of all good gifts from the very beginning.

Another thing I like about that comic is how it plays with the wondrous mysteries of time.  Do you remember as a child trying to grasp all the ins and outs of yesterday, today, and tomorrow?  Tomorrow never comes, because tomorrow will become today and this today will be yesterday.  As adults many of us struggle to live, not in the past or the future, but in the here and now—in this fleeting moment that is the present.  It’s so hard to do.

The future lures us with dreams of new possibilities just ahead.  And the past beckons with warm memories of “good old days” or maybe bitter regrets and might-have-beens.  We can trap ourselves in “what ifs?”  What if we could do it over again? Yet perhaps the most fascinating aspect of time involves beginnings.  Recently we’ve focused on our beginnings as a church a century ago while at the same time working on a program of new beginnings.  We retell stories of how things got started and evolved to the present.  And we imagine stories of where new beginnings might take us.  And all good stories start, as the “Do-Re-Mi” song puts it, “at the very beginning.”
With Fear and Great Joy Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 16 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 16, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Acts 10:34-43;  Matthew 28:1-10   —  EASTER

So they left the tomb quickly with great fear and joy and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. — Matthew 28:8-9

Several days of warm weather, all these flowers, it’s springtime.  So it must be time to plant a garden.  But then, it’s Ohio spring.  It could still snow.  In fact, we’ve had snow several times for the Easter sunrise service.   I don’t really know why my thoughts turn to gardens.  When I was growing up, my parents always had a huge garden, and my brothers and I pretty much hated it.  Gardens meant endless chores.  Planting, weeding, hoeing, and raking were like summer slavery to us kids, and Dad’s big-wheeled push cultivator was an instrument of torture.

Oddly, once I bought my first house as an adult, I started planting gardens.  Maybe it’s that once you get a taste of homegrown tomatoes, a garden becomes a necessity.  But I’m still not a fan of the chores.  Our patch for a garden is pretty small here in Ohio—some peas, 3 or 4 tomato plants, maybe a pepper plant or two.  Still my least favorite part comes at the beginning, the farthest point from any of the rewards, namely getting the garden ready to plant.  (And I must admit I mostly leave that for Kathy.)  The winter-packed ground is hard and clumpy, covered with grass and weeds.  It needs spading and tilling to loosen the soil and clear out the weeds to open it up so seeds can germinate and grow without being choked out and so life-giving moisture can trickle down to growing roots.

In many ways, the human spirit is like a spring garden.  For growth to occur, it too must be made ready.  The human spirit must be opened up and room made if God’s goodness is to take root and grow there.  Open minds and open hearts are needed to receive and nurture the abundant life God means for us to have.  This kind of emptying and opening up lie at the beginning of this morning’s Easter story.
Listening and Learning Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 09 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 9, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Isaiah 50:4-9;  Matthew 21:1-11  —  Palm Sunday
[After the sermon, read Matthew 27:1-2, 11-37, 45-54  —  Passion Sunday]

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.  Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. — Isaiah 50:4

They brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. — Matthew 21:7

It can be really hard to see and learn anything truly new.  That’s because, as the quote in our bulletin notes, a lot of the time learning involves realizing that something we learned sometime in the past was wrong—or if not wrong then incomplete or misleading.  Once we know (or think we know) something, it can be hard to see new things.  What we know creates expectations of how the world will be, which too readily become established truths we’re reluctant to set aside.
 I remember how hard college physics became when I got to quantum mechanics and had to “unlearn” things about atomic structure as well as about the very nature of reality itself.  Einstein’s theory of Relativity was the same.  Learning that time is not absolute but dependent on relative velocity was just mind-boggling.  Unlearning the old and then learning something new is hard.  When I was a kid I loved the “All-About Books” series.  I think there were 70 or so of them, of which I owned about a dozen.  I read others from the library.  (How many of you remember the All-About Books?)  My favorite was the first one in the series, All About Dinosaurs, by Roy Chapman Andrews.  And my absolute favorite dinosaur in that book was the brontosaurus.  But it turns out that paleontologists had it wrong.  For the original skeleton, they’d combined bones from two different dinosaurs.  What looks most like what I knew as a brontosaurus is really an apatosaurus.  I had to look the name up.  I can never remember it because I originally learned “all about” the brontosaurus.  (I griped once to my kids, “When I was a kid the largest non-meat-eating dinosaur was the brontosaurus,” whereupon they accused me of being really, really old.)

Science isn’t the only area where what we “know” gets in the way of learning new things.  Religious authorities condemned Galileo rather than unlearn that the earth was the center of the universe.  And new understandings of God, Christ, and the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection have always faced being resisted, as people will cling to old understandings even when they stop making sense.  Take God as King, for example—a highly problematic term when kings in our world are either powerless figureheads (except maybe Elvis) or else corrupt despots.  We need to learn new images and ways to speak about divine power.
Reading the Bible from Where We Are Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 02 April 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — April 2, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Psalm 130;  Ezekiel 37:1-14

Wait and watch for God—with God’s arrival comes love, with God’s arrival comes generous redemption. — Psalm 130:7 (The Message)

…[the people] are saying, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left for us” — Ezekiel 37:11b (The Message)

When I stand in the pulpit to read scripture, I often begin by saying, “Listen for the word of God.”  I specifically say “for the word of God” not “to the word of God,” because I believe the words on the page do not offer one single, locked-in word for us, but rather the Spirit somehow moves to give us meaning as we listen in this particular time and place.  Then after the reading I say, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church,” (and the people say, “Thanks be to God.”) as a way to emphasize the Spirit’s role in our hearing and comprehending as well as the idea that what we hear is addressed to us as a faith community, not just as individuals.

So, what is the Spirit saying to the church in this morning’s scripture?  It’s a good question.  And I suppose I should be upfront in saying I don’t intend to answer it in any kind of final way.  But I do mean to offer some reflections on it.

We need to be very careful here in asking what scripture says to us by way of the Spirit.  For we tend to ask this question as if we really can isolate objective, absolute truths from the Bible—meanings locked in stone for all time.  But regardless of what some preachers might say, that’s just not the case.  Total objectivity remains out of reach.  We’re not objects or things.  We’re subjects—living people—so our interactions with scripture are always subjective.  It’s much the same from the Bible’s side.  Oh, the physical book with words on a page is clearly an object, a dead thing.  But the word of God is not.  In scripture we are encountered by God’s living word reaching out to us where we live and breathing new life into us.  We are always reading the Bible from where we are.

So today I just read from the prophet/priest Ezekiel about his vision of the dry bones.  I’ve preached on this passage some six or seven times as a pastor.  It’s a favorite—partly because it connects to that song I learned as a child about “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones” and how “the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone” and so on.  I looked back at those old sermons and realized that each time I’ve preached on the dry bones I’ve found something different to say.  Let me tell you about first two sermons in particular.

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