Never-Ending Stories Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 29 July 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 29, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  John 6:1-21;  Matthew 14:22-33

“There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.  But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” — John 6:9 [The Message]

[Jesus] reached down and grabbed [Peter’s] hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” — Matthew 14:31 [The Message]

The past two Sundays, we heard Mark’s version of these two stories—the feeding of the 5000 and then Jesus walking on the water.  And perhaps you noticed that both John and Matthew tell them a little differently.  In John the five loves and two fish don’t come from the disciples, but from a little boy.  And in Matthew, not only does Jesus walk on the water, but Peter tries it as well.  It’s definitely harder than it looks, so he has to be rescued as he starts to sink.  Part of my new exercise program in the past year has involved water walking in the pool at the McConnell Heart Health Center, and no matter how hard I try I always end up walking on the bottom surface of the water instead of the top.

In our modern, scientific age, the whole idea of miracle stories like these can be a real stumbling block.  It’s too easy to get wrapped up in a maze of never-ending questions:  Did it really happen?  How did it happen?  What really happened?  People have proposed all kinds of ways to “explain away” the miracle stories.  Maybe… in the dim light of a pre-dawn storm, Jesus just appeared to be walking on the water when he was actually walking through the surf in the shallows at the end of the lake.  Then Peter stepped out of the boat on to some sort of sand bar but was swept into deeper water towards shore.  As for the feeding of the 5000, one popular “explanation” is that people were so moved by the little boy sharing his five loaves and two fish they brought out food they had squirreled away for themselves, thereby providing more than enough for all.

While perhaps credible, such “explanations” seem lacking.  It’s hard to see how the first one would have been striking enough to be told and retold and eventually transformed into the story we now have of Jesus and Peter walking on the sea.  And the second, while such “contagious generosity” is both charming and edifying, it doesn’t seem to do justice to Mark calling it a deed of power (remember Mark’s word dunamis that gives us our word “dynamite”) and John calling it a “sign” that led people to exclaim, “This is God’s Prophet for sure!
The Kin-dom at Hand Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 22 July 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 22, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  Amos 5:18-24;  Mark 6:45 - 7:13

[The disciples] were stunned, shaking their heads, wondering what was going on.   They didn’t understand what was done at the supper.   None of this had penetrated their hearts. — Mark 6:51a-52 [The Message]

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”  These are the first words Jesus speaks in Mark and the core of what Jesus preaches as he goes from village to village, back and forth across the Sea of Galilee.  But just what is this time that is fulfilled?  And what does this kingdom look like that is so close at hand, but still needs to be pointed out by everything Jesus is doing and saying?  That is what Mark is all about—and also how people respond to this good news.

Mighty deeds of healing power; mind-bending parables; shockingly inclusive dinner parties; and dangerous conflicts with the powers-that-be:  these are just the highlights of what Mark shows us.  And throughout, the disciples fail to understand.  They just don’t get it, yet they continue to follow Jesus, trying to take it all in.  Masses of people with tremendous needs swarm after Jesus, but understanding isn’t an issue for them as they seek healing, begging even to touch just the edge of his cloak.  Mark calls them “sheep with no shepherd,” but God’s kingdom is bringing them healing and wholeness.  Then there are the powers-that-be, arguing and laying traps for Jesus, ultimately, plotting his destruction.  They understand full well that Jesus is proclaiming a kingdom that undercuts their authority, seriously threatening their power and privilege.

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus takes his disciples back and forth across the Sea of Galilee?  They start out on the western shore in home territory, where they stay through chapter four.  Jesus goes village to village preaching, healing, and teaching, but he ends up on the wrong side of the powers-that-be.  So, off they go across the sea into the teeth of a great storm.  In the country of the Gerasenes (a foreign place where people herd pigs) Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit.  Then back they go to Galilee and more crowds, more healings, rejection in his hometown, a bread and fish supper for 5000+ (our reading last week). Then back into the boats, although Jesus seems to prefer walking on the water, and back they go to foreign territory on the other side.  More crowds, more healings, then the powers-that-be track him down all the way from Jerusalem to ask why his disciples don’t wash their hands.  Picky, picky, picky.
You Do It Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 15 July 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 15, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, OH
Text:  Mark 6:30-44

Jesus said, “You do it.  Fix supper for them.” —Mark 6:36-37 [The Message]

At this point in Mark’s story of “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” we might begin to wonder about the disciples.  They just don’t seem to get it.  They fail to grasp the meaning of the parables in Chapter 4.  And although they’ve seen Jesus do many deeds of power and just done some of their own, they just can’t seem to grasp who Jesus is.  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” they ask in Mark 4:41.  All through Mark’s Gospel they follow along after Jesus, but they seem pretty clueless about what’s going on.

Actually many commentators think Mark purposefully shows the disciples in a poor light to lead readers to make their own decision about Jesus.  Throughout his story, Mark tells much more to the reader about Jesus than those twelve people can know.  So in comparison to the disciples, the question might be, “Do we get it?”  More importantly, does all this make any difference in how we live?

The disciples are perfect foils in this because they are so human, so like us in their reactions.  Mark doesn’t tell us what they thought of great crowds of poor people rushing to be with Jesus in the “remote place.”  Maybe they were hoping to have Jesus to themselves to keep on regaling him with their recent triumphs after being sent them out on their own” “Just look what we did!”  But when Jesus saw the crowds, “his heart broke.”  I suspect this annoyed the disciples.  Look how eager they are to be rid of the crowds later.  “Send these folks off,” they say, “so they can get some supper.”  No broken hearts among the disciples!  They're hungry.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 September 2018 )
Dynamite Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 08 July 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 8, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Mark 6:1-6

[Jesus] could do no deed of power there [in his hometown], except that he laid his hands on a few people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief. — Mark 6:5-6a

This morning we come to chapter 6 of Mark’s story of “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  So much has been happening—just in the last chapter: a storm stilled, a Gerasene Gentile freed from an evil spirit called Legion, a woman healed from hemorrhages, a young girl seemingly raised from the dead.  So now Jesus heads home to Nazareth, where rumors must have been sweeping furiously through the village—“Where did this man get all this?  [The people ask.]  What deeds of power are being done by this man’s hands!” [They exclaim.]   Such wonders, such mighty works, are they real?  Can the rumors be believed?  The people wonder.  Now here is Jesus himself, a grown man, come home to teach in their synagogue on the Sabbath.  So will people who watched him grow up and then go off into the world welcome him with open arms as a “hometown boy made good”?  Well, hardly!

Yes, they’re astounded, but still they reject him.  Jesus will know rejection throughout his ministry right up until Good Friday.  In Nazareth, it’s partly that “familiarity breeds contempt”—or as Jesus puts it, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  (Does being a pastor make any difference at my house when I make some grand pronouncement?  Not a bit!)  According to Mark, Jesus could do no deeds of power in his hometown because of the people’s unbelief (literally, their “unfaith”).  Some Bible versions speak of miracles, saying, “Jesus could do no miracles there.”  But “miracles” is too loaded a term in our rational, scientific world.  The Greek word is dunameis, from which we get the word “dynamite.”  Jesus’ “deeds of power” are like dynamite clearing the way for God’s kingdom

How odd that there is so close a connection between faith and “deeds of power”!  How strange that hardened hearts and closed minds can short-circuit even the power of God!  But it’s more than simple familiarity.  Yes, this is the carpenter, the son of Mary.  His brothers live just over on the next block, and his sisters can be found shopping in the town square.  But beyond “familiarity breeds contempt,” the people of Nazareth “took offense” at Jesus.  In the literal Greek they were “scandalized” by him.  This points to a much deeper, more devastating problem of the “scandal” of the incarnation.  It shocked and puzzled Galilean hearts and minds then, even as it shocks and puzzles us now.  Incarnation.  “Carné” as in chili con carné—chili with meat.  En-flesh-ment.  The Word made flesh.  The deeds of power point to God fully present in flesh, blood, and bone—within the physical limits of a particular human being.  The incarnation is both our salvation and the greatest bugaboo of modern Christian religious belief.
Blessings for All Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 01 July 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — July 1, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Lebanon, Oregon
Texts:  Psalm 146;  Mark 5:21-43

She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” — Mark 5:28 [The Message]

[Jesus] clasped the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” — Mark 5:41 [The Message]
I want to give you an assignment this morning—I suppose you could call it a summer reading assignment.  I want you take time to read the entire book of Mark aloud in one sitting.  Very likely that’s how it was meant to be experienced.  It’s not long—just 19 pages in the pew bible, 31 in my large print copy of The Message.  I imagine you could read it all in less than 90 minutes—about the same time as a short movie or play.  Mark calls this whole story “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  But this morning we’ve only heard but a tiny portion of the beginning of the beginning of this “good news.”

The problem with focusing on any single passage in worship is that it’s like having to review a play based on a single scene lasting but a minute or so.  But Macbeth is far more than any single scene or even collection of scenes.  So we need to know more than just what’s happening here.  How does this episode fit into the whole?  What went on before this?  Where’s the story heading?

By this point in the fifth chapter of Mark, several things are clear.  First, Jesus is a man of constant action.  Starting with his baptism in the Jordan, he travels, heals, calls followers, teaches, preaches, even calms a stormy sea.  So there’s an insistent urgency (be sure to catch it in your reading).  One of his favorite words is euthus, a Greek word meaning “at once” or “immediately.”  Things are always happening immediately.  Sometimes, as in this morning’s reading, things happen almost on top of one another.
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