Just Neighbors Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 19, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Luke 10:25-29;  Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18 & 33-37

…love your neighbor as well as you do yourself. — Luke 10:27b [MSG]

“And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?” a scholar of religion asks Jesus, looking for a loophole—this man who’s testing Jesus, trying to cause him trouble.  At this point we’re primed to hear once again one of Jesus’ most famous parables, “The Good Samaritan.”  The only trouble is we’ve gone and tamed this revolutionary story.  It’s way too familiar to us, and its shock value is lost when we name it “The Good Samaritan.”  Here’s this good guy.  We know he’s a good guy because he takes care of the poor wretch lying in the ditch.  The other two guys who left him lying there beaten almost to death, they’re bad guys.  So we’re supposed to be like this good man, this nice guy who just happens to be a Samaritan. Oh, there probably are bad Samaritans, but this is one of the good ones.  We’ll name hospitals and awards for heroism after him.

But that’s not the point.  The point is that as far as the religious scholar and all those listening in are concerned there are NO good Samaritans, period.  Goodness doesn’t enter into it.  Samaritans are the enemy, beyond the pale—perhaps a bit like ISIS terrorists for us.  Jesus never once calls this man “good.”  He calls him “neighbor,” and so this parable blows the scholar’s mind, stretching his thinking (and ours!) about “how would you define ‘neighbor’?” to the breaking point and beyond.  In reality, the scholar knows all this already.  He’s the expert, after all.  He himself uses the word “neighbor,” when he quotes Leviticus 19:18 about loving “your neighbor as yourself.”  Oh, that’s not the nice comfortable idea of neighbor we conjure up when Mr. Rogers sings, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood… please won’t you be my neighbor.”  Both the scholar and Jesus use a much bigger word, the same word that’s in the Greek version of Leviticus 19:18 in the Septuagint.

This is one of those places where our English translations come up short, for Greek has two words for “neighbor.”  The conventional word for people who happen to live next door to you is geiton.  It shows up other places in Luke, like the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin where the shepherd and the woman invite friends and neighbors (geiton) join them in celebrating that what was lost is now found.  Geiton refers to someone living nearby, who’s a member of your community, someone you see most every day.  Loving such folks as you love yourself is relatively easy.  But neither the scholar nor Jesus uses geiton.  They use the word plesion instead, which has a far broader meaning.
Last Updated ( Friday, 03 March 2017 )
The World Turned Upside Down Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 12 February 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 12, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts: Micah 6:1-8;  Matthew 5:1-12 [both from The Message]

But [God’s] already made it plain how to live… — Micah 6:8a [The Message]

You’re blessed when… — Matthew 5:2a, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 [The Message]

We’ve just heard the Beatitudes—in a new way, I think.  In Matthew these are the very first words Jesus preaches.  Clearly Jesus had preached and taught many times before this, but by opening the story with these words Matthew establishes them as an opening declaration of principles—Jesus’ manifesto, if you will.  Luke does the same in Luke 4 with Jesus’ opening sermon in the Nazareth synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”  Everyone loves his message until they learn that foreigners are also included.  At which point they try to throw Jesus off a cliff.

 The eight blessings in Matthew 5 are every bit as shocking as Jesus’ sermon in Luke.  But the words of the usual translations are just so familiar and sweet sounding.  People put them on posters and plaques, needlepoint them on samplers, and generally treat them as a kind of nice Christian poem.  We’ve heard the Beatitudes so often in church settings that they sound pretty ordinary—like maybe a kinder, gentler version of the Ten Commandments.  Instead of all those “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” we have eight blessings.  The surprising thing, however, is that the blessings all come first. 

Oh yes, as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” goes on, he will issue plenty of pretty direct instructions—both “shalts” and “shalt nots—like “turn the other cheek,” “love your enemies,” “don’t worry about tomorrow,” “do not judge, so you may not be judged,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  But the blessings all come first!  As such they are undeserved and do not need to be earned.  This is the language of grace not law, of hope and promise not warning and threat.  And here is our first inkling of how Jesus is turning the world upside down.  Our world is a place of law and quid pro quo, and for many people it’s a lot harder to hear and receive a blessing than it is to go and earn it.
All Means All Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 05 February 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — February 5, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Isaiah 58:1-12;  Matthew 5:13-20

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. — Isaiah 58:9-10 [MSG]
[Jesus said] “You’re here to be light…” — Matthew 5:14a [MSG]

Does the Matthew scripture feel like “déjà vu all over again.”  Didn’t we just hear about being light in the world?  Indeed, we did.  Two weeks ago I focused on the contrast between two metaphors—purity and light—and their effect on how we act.  If we try to be clean in a dirty world, dirt always wins.  So we need to keep clean and unclean apart, which leads to a need for barriers in the world.  But when it comes to darkness and light, light wins.  Darkness cannot stain or overcome light.  So we are free to beam our light unblocked out into the world.

Each of these metaphors can play a positive role, depending on the context.  When the prevailing issue is one of identity, especially for a minority people, purity can become important.  For instance, when the Hebrew people were in exile as strangers in a strange land, they were at risk of being fully assimilated by Babylonian culture.  So the purity model helped them remember and cling to their identity as people of God.  In Genesis 12, God promised to bless Abraham and make him and his descendants a great nation, so it is vital for the Hebrew people to remember who they are and what sets them apart.  But when purity and identity dominate the thinking of those who are privileged to be in the majority, they’re more likely to give rise to barriers and exclusion.  God also promised Abraham that “in [him] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  For that to unfold, the image of light shining into the darkness calls the people out from behind their barriers to seek commonality with those “others” who are also God’s beloved creations.

These two metaphors often stand in tension, and the Hebrew Scriptures offer arguments for both.  There’s insistence on the ritual and purity requirements of the law codes.  These mark and affirm who we are.  But then people like the prophets highlight those parts of the law codes that call for compassion, hospitality, and protection for the most vulnerable elements of society.  This also is who we are—a people always reaching out in blessing to others.  Do understand that when Jesus says these same sorts of things, he’s not inventing something brand new.  He’s not trying to demolish Jewish law, but to complete or fulfill it.  The vast panorama of the law is about identity, yes—remembering who you are as God’s people—but it’s also about remembering that God’s blessing is never for you alone but for “all the families of the earth.”  And all means all.
Proclaim Grace Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 29 January 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — January 29, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  John 7:53-8:11;  Psalm 40

I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation… I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation… — Psalm 40:9a, 10b

We speak of scripture as God’s word to us (“Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.”).  So what fascinates me so much about the Psalms is that they are human songs originally directed to God in worship.  Yet somehow God speaks to us through them, indirectly, by way of the voices of other people, human voices singing to God. 

So I like to spend time with the Psalms occasionally and see what they might have to say.  Now, I’d be the first to admit that Psalm 40 is probably not in most people’s Top 10 List of favorite psalms.  It’s not especially well-known, and it’s pretty rare to find a setting of this psalm in any hymnals.  We’ll sing the only setting I know after the sermon (“I Waited Patiently for God”), but we won’t use the tune in the hymnal, but instead the tune of Amazing Grace.  I chose that tune for two reasons:  first, the people of the Iona Community originally wrote the words to that tune and, second, the psalm has something very important to say about proclaiming that amazing grace.

To begin, as I read Psalm 40 over and over this week, I realized it captures the essence of what it means to me to be a pastor and preacher.  Indeed, verses nine and ten lay out the very heart of what we are all called to do as ministers of Jesus Christ.  I’m told these verses are sometimes read at pastors’ funerals—“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.  I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
A Light Sermon Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 22 January 2017
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — January 22, 2017
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Genesis 1:1-5;  John 1:1-5;  Matthew 5:14-16

God spoke: “Light!” and light appeared. — Genesis 1:3 [MSG]

What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.  The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. — John 1:4-5 [MSG]

[Jesus said] “You’re here to be light…” — Matthew 5:14a [MSG]

One of the central images that shows up in the church readings for the weeks after Epiphany is light.  This makes a lot of sense because the word “epiphany” has to do with a sudden revelation or realization—like when you’re in the dark and someone flicks on the lights.  So I decided to call this   “A Light Sermon.”  You can decide whether that means it’s shorter than usual… or less serious and more humorous… or low-fat with 25% fewer calories.  But what it is about is how the image of light in scripture reveals something different—revolutionary even—about who we are and how we are to relate to the world.

In his book, Dirt, Greed, and Sex—that’s a great title, and no, it’s not an instruction manual—Prof. L. William Countryman of the Episcopal Divinity School in Berkeley, CA, writes about something called purity codes and how they play out in ethics and morality.  Purity codes exist in all societies and cultures.  They serve to classify things as “clean” or “unclean” so as to avoid dirt and disorder.  However, it is often pretty hard to identify the elements of a purity code from within the culture, because they’re a bit like the air we breathe.  Society instills us with its purity rules at such an early age we tend to regard them as self-evident (if we ever ponder them at all).  We just know that certain things and actions are “dirty,” without having to think about it.  Nice people just don’t do such things!

Being so self-evident, purity rules are rarely questioned, except maybe by children or people who “don’t know any better.”   When a child asks, “Why don’t we do that, Daddy?”, the first answer is often, “Because!”  Pressed farther, the next answer may be, “Because it’s disgusting!”  Press even farther here in our culture, and the answer might turn into, “Because the Bible says so!”  A key aspect of purity is that things are deemed repellent in and of themselves.  Good things are natural and bad things unnatural, and “It’s always been that way!”
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 February 2017 )
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