Advice for the Journey: Think Before You Speak

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
June 30, 2019
Luke 9:51-59



As I was pondering the direction of today’s sermon, I came across this quote: “We do well to remember that the Bible has far more to say about how to live during the journey than about the ultimate destination.”[1] In our passage today, which comes at a turning point in Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus leaving behind his Galilee ministry and heading to Jerusalem. Luke uses this travel narrative as a unifying theme for the middle section of his gospel. [2] Jesus doesn’t arrive in Jerusalem for another ten chapters. During this journey, there are lots of opportunity for Jesus to teach the disciples. Today, we’ll look at one such lesson of how we’re to live during our journeys.

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus with the handful of the disciples experienced the “Transfiguration.”[3] It’s a high point of the gospel, ranking up there with Jesus’ baptism.[4] Interestingly, Luke follows both these “high points” with a story of rejection.[5] Jesus was baptized, then endured forty days of temptation, only to be rejected by his hometown.[6] Jesus was transfigured, seen in his full glory, and then rejected by a Samaritan village. Jesus teaches his disciples about rejection and how discipleship is hard. Are we willing to risk rejection in order to be a disciple? Think seriously about that question as I read this passage. Our scripture is Luke 9:51-58.

          When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, I came into Gorham, New Hampshire for the evening. It’s a small town near the Maine border. I needed to resupply for the trail ahead. I was down to only oatmeal to eat, but I didn’t have enough fuel for my stove to even prepare that.

On my hike I carried with me a multi-fuel stove that could burn regular gasoline. The benefit of such a stove is that I didn’t have to buy gallon containers of white gas, of which I’d only need a liter. It saved me on gas. I’d only spend a quarter or maybe 30 cent to fill up my bottle. It was a lot cheaper than Coleman fuel, and both fuels were cheaper back then. So I stopped at a local Exxon station on the edge of town, set my pack down next to the pump, and pulled out my fuel bottle. As I reached for the nozzle, the cashier ran out of the store yelling obscenities and telling me I couldn’t fill up my bottle.

“Why,” I asked?

“You might spill gas.”

“I’ll be careful. I haven’t yet spilled any and have filled this bottle at least a dozen times.”

“We don’t allow it,” she said.

I was mad. I told her it’s a good thing I didn’t have a car with me, for I would run out of gas before I filled up at her station. Looking back, it seems that even without gasoline, I was able to throw some gas onto what was becoming a fire. She began to curse me and said that she wished all us hikers would go back to where we came. In response, I pulled out my journal, wrote down the name of the station, and asked her for its address. I promised to send letters to the Chamber of Commerce and to Exxon Corporate Headquarters. She had a few more choice words for me as I walked down the street and filled up my fuel bottle at the next station.

          Having been rejected, I found myself steaming. As I left town and hiked north, I began to craft the letters I was going to write… but then I realized I was putting way too much negative energy into this situation. I decided to let it be and I never sent those letters. Had Jesus been among us hikers, I think he’d told me to do just that. Drop it. Harboring such feelings is never good. It just eats at you. We cannot control how other people react to us; we can only control how we react toward them.

         Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, taking the disciples with him. The text that he “sets his face” to go to Jerusalem, a phrase echoed throughout the next ten chapters. On this journey, we learn things not mentioned in the other three gospels. Jesus is not just walking, he’s teaching and healing. But Jesus doesn’t go directly to Jerusalem. If he’d had a GPS and set the destination for Jerusalem, the machine would have been constantly squawking “recalculating, recalculating” as he wanders around. It’s in this wandering we find some of our most beloved parables, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Along the way, Jesus stops and teaches people about who God is and how they should relate to their neighbors.

         But not everyone is ready to see Jesus. Luke informs us that the Samaritans don’t want anything to do with Jesus because he has set his face towards Jerusalem. The Samaritans, who do not see Jerusalem as holy and who worship on another mountain, have grown weary of self-righteous Jews trampling through their land on their way to Jerusalem.[7] They’re just like the gas station attendant, who was tired of hikers coming through her town. In Biblical times, many Jews from Galilee would take the longer away around Samaria in order to avoid such encounters.

The disciples trying to arrange food and lodging for the journey are upset at the reaction they receive. Likewise, I was upset at the station clerk. “Let’s nuke ‘em!’ “Let’s blow them to smithereens!” “Let’s get them in trouble with their boss, or the corporation.” Ever hear people talk about enemies like that? Two of the disciples, James and John, whom Jesus nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,”[8] ask Jesus if he wants them to do away with this village… “You know, Jesus, just a little fire from heaven to melt their hearts.”

       Jesus doesn’t take rejection personally and encourages the disciples to get over it. Too often we forget that vengeance isn’t ours![9]




Then there are people wanting to join Jesus on this journey. We’re not told if Jesus turns them away, but he certainly uses no ad agency to sell his trip. “I have no place to lay my head,” he says. The Message translation here has Jesus saying “we’re not staying at the best inns, you know.” Following Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus makes a demand on our lives. “Are you ready to follow me,” Jesus asks? “If you want to follow me, I have to be first and foremost in your lives,” he says. “Nothing can come before me!”

          Do we put things before Christ? Think about your life and the things you value. Are you willing to give it all up for Jesus? Is Jesus at the center of your life? Is he what’s most important?

There is a tension between the first and second part of this passage. In the first part, we’re told not to be so zealous that we forget the mission. Jesus came to save, not to destroy. Among his followers there is not to be revenge against or violence toward enemies.[10] In the second half of the passage, Jesus says that following him is tough, but if we decide to do so, he’ll demand our total allegiance. We can’t jump halfway in, it’s all or nothing.

What does this passage say to us today? One thing we can gleam is this: If we want to be a follower of Jesus, we must be willing to stand up against the contempt that is so prevalent in our society today.[11] Jesus didn’t allow the disciples to have contempt toward the Samaritans, and I don’t think he’s happy about how we treat others.

Contempt for others seems to have started in national politics where groups of people are identified as deplorable or sick or with some other adjective that says we want them to just go away. Thanks to cable news, it’s ubiquitous. These Ad hominem attacks, which is what they are—a basic fallacy in debate, is used to dehumanize others. Ad hominem means “against the man,” and it refers to one not attacking an issue, but belittling the person on the other side of an argument.

Just think about this. When we hear something we agree with, we jump on the bandwagon without thinking. It then becomes easy for us to let our contempt rule. “Let’s call down some fire from heaven.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? It has gotten so easy to wish those we don’t like would disappear or go away.

We not only see this tendency in our national politics, but locally, even in our own neighborhood. Just recall the way the island divided over the issue of incorporation. Many of the harsh words said had nothing to do with the issue, but was an attempt to discredit the other side. And it happens within churches, between friends and even within members of a family. When we know we’re right and assume they’re not only wrong, but are also evil or stupid for thinking that way, we quickly slide into thinking we’d be better off without them. We are showing contempt. We’re like James and John in our story today. Sadly, it’s easy to mouth off. And our words risk creating a larger divide between us and the other. But the Christian faith isn’t about creating divisions. It’s about bringing people together. It’s about standing up for others, even those we may not agree with. It’s about not spouting off at the mouth. It’s about thinking before we speak.

Let me draw your attention to the quote I attached to the flyleaf of the bulletin. Take it home and ponder it this week. If you want to change the way we treat others in the world, don’t wait for our national leaders to take the initiative. It’s up to you, and to me, to live as Jesus taught. We’re to love others, even our enemies.

   Today, I think back to that encounter in Gorham, New Hampshire, so many years ago. I wonder what would have happened if I had gone back to that cashier at the Exxon station and apologized. I wouldn’t have to say she was right, but I could have acknowledged that my response and my thoughts about her were misguided. As humans, we can’t be responsible for what someone else does. We can only be responsible for what we do and how we react.  Amen.



[1]This quote came from a Facebook Meme posted by the Clergy Coaching Network and was attributed to Philip Yancey.

[2] See Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 139-142.

[3] Luke 9:28ff.

[4] Luke 3:21-22.

[5] Craddock, 142.

[6] Luke4:16ff.

[7] Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Gospel of Luke  (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 292-3

[8] Mark 3:17

[9] Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30.

[10] Geldenhuys, 292.

[11] See Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies (New York: HarperCollins, 2019).

The Ebeneezer Cotillion

Cypress Forest along Ebeneezer Creek


I spent last week at a church camp at the Ebeneezer Retreat Center near Rincon, Georgia. I led the outdoor activities for the youth, which included taking the middle and high school youth on a canoe trip. While they paddled in the channel, I would often paddle through the cypress to get ahead of some of them. With the water low, some of the cypress trunks reminded me of the broad hoop dresses women wore in the middle of the 19th Century. Cypress also have “knees” which pop up around their trunks, which explains their presence in the poem below. 


The Ebeneezer Cotillion

Like a rugrat
I dart between the hoop skirts
of stately maidens-cypress-
bumping into their knees,
zigzagging across the ballroom,
as the top of the trees sway gracefully
in the summer breeze.



Elijah Sings the Blues

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
1 Kings 19:1-15
June 23, 2019



         As a music tradition, the Blues rose out of the African American experience of slavery. In song, they cried about their plight as they longed for freedom. The song, “Go Down Moses,” captures this desire for freedom. But this tradition is found throughout scripture. For of all the Blues’ singers that’s lived, Elijah may have been the best.

In our passage today, from First Kings, Israel has been in a drought and Elijah, the prophet of God, is feeling alone. There’s been a show-down where Elijah challenges all the prophets of Baal. “Let’s see who can call down fire from heaven to consume an offering on the altar.” Elijah succeeds and the people turn on the prophets of Baal. Then, Elijah forecast the end of the drought and rain comes upon the parched land. You’d think Elijah would be a hero. But he’s not. And the queen is not happy.

          “Hot Jezebel!” The queen’s name has found itself on an appetizer made of fruit preserves, horseradish, mustard and pepper.[1] You spread the concoction over cream cheese and serve with crackers. The sweetness of the preserves and the bite of the horseradish grabs your attention. It’s appropriately named.  Jezebel must have been sweet on Ahab for the king to put up with her, but she also had a tempter hotter than horseradish. She wasn’t the type of lady to cross. She could carry a grudge.

In this passage, we’ll hear how Elijah cries out to his God about how unjustly he’s being treated as he flees from Jezebel’s wrath. Read 1 Kings 19:1-15.


        Have you ever felt you were all alone in the world? That everyone was out to get you? If so, you can identify with Elijah’s plight. Twice in this passage, once even after he encounters the Lord, Elijah proclaims his righteousness and cries out about Israel’s apostasy and how all the prophets have been killed except him.  It was the same cry he made in the previous chapter on Mt. Carmel.[2]

Elijah overstates his case a bit. We know there are others in Israel who are faithful. In the last chapter, we’re told that Obadiah, one of Ahab’s servants who remained faithful to God, has hidden 100 prophets.[3] Furthermore, we’re told there are at least 7,000 in Israel who will be spared by God because they have not worshipped Baal.[4] But when he singing the blues, Elijah doesn’t care about the details. It sounds better to say, “I alone am left and they’re after me.” We are a lot like Elijah and have probably overstated our troubles, too. Overly dramatic sometimes gets folks attention.

It’s also interesting how quickly Elijah’s depression follows his triumph. Any satisfaction Elijah received from having upstaged the prophets of Baal is short-lived. For as soon as Jezebel hears about the demise of the prophets of her gods, she sets out to kill Elijah. It probably like that for us, too, as we go from the elation of being on a mountaintop to the fear of descending into a valley of dark shadows. Hopefully, we don’t have a mad queen on our tails.

         The Beatles hit record back in the mid-60s, “Yesterday,” comes to mind when I think about Elijah’s predicament. It a kind of a mellow blues tune that goes something like, “Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away, now it looks like they’re here to stay. O, I believe in yesterday.” Elijah could relate to these words. Perhaps we, too can relate. In the last verse of the song there is the line: “Now I need a place to hide away.” That’s Elijah! And we’ve all been there. The glory of yesterday is gone and we need a place to hide. Elijah flees south into Judah where he’s safe from Jezebel’s reach and then goes off by himself into the wilderness where he finds a bit of shade under a broom tree and lays down to die.

          While asleep, an angel brings bread and water for Elijah.   Obviously, Elijah assumes this is his “last meal.” He enjoys it and then, awaiting death, goes back to sleep. Again the angel wakes Elijah. Some people just don’t like getting out of bed. Elijah’s informed that he has a long journey so he’d better eat up and get on the road.


          Elijah sets out on a forty day journey to Horeb, the mountain of God. Forty is one of those special numbers used throughout the Bible to indicate a purifying process or a time of preparation. It rained for forty days while Noah was in the ark; the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years; and Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness preparing for his ministry… Elijah was being prepared to meet God in his forty day journey. Forty, the number that reminds us that our troubles are not always instantaneously solved.

Arriving in Horeb, Elijah seeks shelter in a cave. There, the voice of the Lord asks him what he’s up to. Elijah repeats his tale of Israel’s unfaithfulness and how he is the only prophet left alive. Instead of answering Elijah’s complaint, he’s told to stand before the mountain, as the Lord is about to pass by. Then our story takes a surprising twist. There’s a great wind, but the Lord is not in it. There’s a powerful earthquake, but the Lord is not in it. Then there is a fire, and likewise, the Lord is not in it.


Three great events, all which are used in other places to describe God: the word for God’s Spirit means wind; on Sinai, the mountain shook as an earthquake to indicate God’s presence; and during the exodus God appeared as a fire, leading the Hebrew people. All three of these events could have represented God, but not in this incident. Here God is presented in a unique fashion. Silence. After all the commotion, there’s silence.  Sheer silence. A silence so terrifying that it pierces Elijah’s ears and he pulls his jacket up over his head and wraps it around his face in an attempt to hide.            Again, a voice asks Elijah what he is doing on the mountain. Once again, Elijah cries the blues. But the Lord doesn’t grant Elijah sanctuary. Elijah is not told, “Just stay here, I’ll take care of you.” God isn’t finished with Elijah. There is still work to be done, so he’s sent back to Israel through Damascus. Along the way Elijah is to anoint the King of a neighboring nation, an illustration that the God of Elijah cares for and controls not just the events in Israel but throughout the entire world.

          This story is rich in meaning. The eerie silence is often how God reveals himself in the wildernesses of our lives. God tells us, through the Psalmist, “to be still and know that I am God.”[5] Barbara Brown Taylor, in the published version of the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University, speaks about God’s silence being a defense against our idolatry.[6] Too often we make God out to be in our image. As Mark Twain once said, “God created us in his image and we returned the favor.” But God is not in our image. The church, throughout the last two millenniums, has taught that God is beyond our comprehension.[7] We only know God when God decides to reveal himself to us—which is revelation. It is a revelation that’s complete in Jesus Christ!

Elijah, in the 18th and 19th chapters of 1st Kings, has two different revelations of God. The first occurs on Mt. Carmel when Elijah’s sacrifice burst into flames to the astonishment of all who were present. Elijah must have thought that he and God were going to make a great team. But God is beyond our control, as Elijah discovers. The Mt. Carmel experience was a one-time event. God would still be present with Elijah, but many times this presence would take on the form of an eerie silence.

          There is a lesson in this for us. All of our spiritual journeys have ups and downs. There are times we feel close to God and other times we feel as if God is far away and doesn’t care what happens. Elijah is like this. From his spiritual high on Mt. Carmel, when there was no doubt God’s spirit was with him, Elijah slips into a depression and begins to sing the blues. “It’s just me Lord, and there ain’t much I can do.” He feels so sorry for himself that he’s ready to die. So God reveals himself again to Elijah, but in a different manner, in a most common fashion: silence.

          Aren’t we like Elijah? There are those times when we know we’re filled with God’s spirit and we’re on a natural high and the blues seem so far away. These are the times we know God is real—they’re our Mt. Carmel experiences. But then, there are occasions when things do not go right, when we feel sorry for ourselves, and God doesn’t seem to be present. It’s during these times we need to slow down enough to listen for God in the silence. It’s in the silence that we can come to trust that God is with us always. It’s not something we can explain or even demonstrate. Its faith: faith and a longing for that which lies beyond our grasp, that which we cannot control, but without which we can’t live.

Ricky Porter, the pastor in Dublin, was our Bible Study leader this week at Savannah Presbytery’s camp. The theme was “Power Up,” and was about prayer. Thinking of the term “power up,” we have a vision of getting all excited about God. But there’s a paradox here paralleling what we see with Elijah. Prayer isn’t just about being all excited and telling God all we think God needs to know. It’s also about listening. To “power up,” we need to be silent and open for God to reveal himself. So each day, Ricky had the campers spend longer periods in prayer, splitting the time between talking to God about our needs and concerns, and just sitting in silence, listening and meditating. Quietly listening is a good practice for all of us, and perhaps the only way we can truly experience God’s presence. Amen.



[1] Hot Jezebel Recipe:  Combine in a bowl:

  • A 12 ounce jar of apricot preserves
  • 2-3 teaspoons of horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon of dry mustard powder
  • Coarse ground pepper to taste

Place in refrigerator to chill. Then spoon it over a block of cream cheese and serve with crackers.


[2] 1 Kings 18:21.

[3] 1 Kings 18:4.

[4] 1 Kings  19:18.

[5] Psalm 46:10.

[6] Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1998), 38.

[7] See the Westminster Confession, Chapter II.1.

Three Book Reviews (Short Stories, Sailing, and the Environment)

From my recent readings. They’re all different! 

Anjali Sachdeva, All the Names They Used for God (Siegel & Grau, 2018), 257 pages.

This is a collection of short stories and the first book by Ms. Sachdeva. I heard Sachdeva read from her book last summer when I was at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. She held a reading at the Prairie Lights bookstore. I was impressed with her writing and that she’s from Pittsburgh!  I purchased a copy of her book, read a couple of stories and put it down. Almost a year later, I picked the book back up and reread some of the stories along with the others. Each story is a surprise..

The stories are all unique with a bizarre twist. Some are darker, such as Pleiades,” which tells the story of a scientific couple who, in the interest of science, gives birth to seven twin sisters. Then slowly, they all die off.  In “Killer of Kings,” she tells the story of an aged John Milton as he writes Paradise Lost. While this is the only historical character in the stories, even this story has a twist with an angel sent as a muse and scribe for the blind poet. Some stories seem more normal, like “Logging Lake”, where couple set out hiking in Glacier National Park. But she disappears, leaving everything behind. Did she run off with the wolves? “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid” tells the parallel story of a mermaid who is drawn to a shark while she lures fishermen. The details of the commercial fishing shows Sachdeva’s research into the stories. Another story, “Manus,” is a dystopian world controlled by aliens. The story that provides the title of the book, “All the Names for God,” recreates the lives of the girls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by Islamic terrorist and, because of their special powers, are able to exact revenge.  While all the stories have twists, they’re all different, but a delight to read and leaves the reader with something to ponder.



John Vigor, Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Sailing, (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Sheridan House, 2005), 187 pages.

Maybe I should have read this book ten years ago. Instead, when I started sailing, I picked up a copy of John Rousmaniere, The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, which is very serious and covers a little of everything. Since then I picked up a few other books that deal with sail shape and racing techniques, which I can only take in small chunks at a time (or I can read them and quickly fall asleep). But this book was fun to read. It’s sort of a dictionary to random things about sailing. Each entry, which appear alphabetically (there are approximately 200 of them), covers different topics. By drawing from a variety of entries, one learns incredible things. Like the chance of a boat being hit by lightning is 6 in 1,000 (according to the insurance industry). But you’ll probably not be hurt, but you might if you’re hugging the mast or holding on to a wire shroud. But it’s more likely that lightning will blow out your electronics. However, occasionally it’s been known to blow a hole through the boat in which case you’re really screwed because a 2 inch hole a foot underwater will allow 4000 gallons of water an hour to seep into your boat (and what self-respecting lightning bolt only blows a two inch hole into anything). But 4000 gallons of water an hour is about a 1000 gallons more water than a good bilge pump can remove, so you’ll be playing a losing game. But that doesn’t matter because with your electronics fried, your bilge pump won’t work. This led me to look at his recommendations for life jackets (or PFDs, and there’s no entry for what is essentially an important piece of equipment when you have a two inch hole in the hull). There is, however, an entry for life rafts. The author basically says they’re worthless.  Despite this, there’s some good information in this book and it’s conveyed in a humorous manner.

Just in case you wanted to know, there are also some formulas that are obviously provided as a way to make celestial navigation seem easy. To determine how much water will be flooding into a boat, one only has to take the diameter (in inches) times the square root of the height the water must rise to equal the outside water level (or how far below the water level the hole is). By the time you’ve done this calculation, you’re probably no longer breathing air. Another helpful formula predicts the resistance of a given boat to capsizing. All you have to do is to divide your boats displacement (in pounds) by 64, find the cube root of that number. Take the beam (in feet and tenths of a foot) and divided it by the cube root above. If your answer is less than 2 you boat is relatively safe from capsizing. It would be advisable to do these calculations before you sail into a rogue wave, and regardless of your boat’s number on the capsizing scale, you might want to put on your PFD while the wave is still on the horizon. Remember the Poseidon Adventure!

Of course, don’t think this is a technical book. The author also discusses luck and suggest that the most valuable instrument in sailing around the world is a depth finder. And there is ideas for a “boat renaming” ceremony to placate the ocean gods.


Alice Outwater, Wild at Heart: America’s Turbulent Relationship with Nature, from Exploitation to Redemption, read by Joyce Bean (2019), 9 hours 31 minutes

Outwater has written a history of America’s relationship with nature, and how we have moved from seeing nature something to be conquered and tamed, to something with value to be preserved. She begins by discussing how several Native American tribes approached nature. The Hopi saw themselves as guardians of nature. The Abenaki sought balance with nature. And the Chinook gave thanks. I was beginning to think she was going back to an idea that we just had to go back to how the tribes lived, but that was not her purpose. Instead, she sat out the beginning of our thoughts about the environment. Then she moves on to discuss the idea of the “commons.” What isn’t owned by an individual, but is seen as owned by everyone and about to be exploited. At one time, land was seen in this way, until it was “claimed” and “used.” The air and the water, until more recently, was seen this way, which led to people dumping all kinds of stuff into his “common” space. But over time, we realized how it is all interrelated.

I found it interesting how the pollution of our rivers began as an attempt to “clean up” urban areas as we tried to get sewage out of the streets. Treatment centers came about relatively recently and have resulted in much cleaner rivers. The same is true for air.

I had a sense that she was attempting to make a political wake-up call for Republicans. From Teddy Roosevelt, to Nixon, Reagan, and the first Bush, she lifted up achievements in how they have worked toward or approved attempts to save wilderness, to clean water and air, to reduce acid rain and save the ozone layer, all which have been somewhat successful. But the danger of rolling back such gains for short term profits, as she has more recently seen, is problematic. Instead of being a doom-day prophet, she calls for rational approaches to the use of resources. She sees the removal of dams, the attempts to rebuild species that have been nearly wiped out by hunting or habitat loss, as positive signs that we can move quickly to address climate change.

This is a good book to understand how our views of nature has shifted over the years. I listened to the Audible version of this book.

Would You Like to Dance?

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
1 Corinthians 2
June 16, 2019


Who likes to dance? I’ll admit that I have two left feet and am not exactly graceful on the dance floor. But thankfully, when it comes to the eternal dance, the only one that matters, I don’t have to depend on my own grace. That’s the good news.

It’s Trinity Sunday. “So what?” You might think. “What does the Trinity have to do with me?” If we just think of God as some force up in the sky, then the Trinity wouldn’t mean much to us. But thankfully, that’s not the way God works.

          On the flyleaf of the bulletin, I placed a quote from Brian McLaren, who describes the Trinity as a divine dance.[1] If we think of the Trinity in this fashion, it does matter. For as the three members of the Trinity, who are mysteriously one, dance, they reach out and invite us to join them. God the Father, the Creator of all that is, wants us to enjoy his handiwork. Jesus Christ the Son, the Redeemer, the one who pays the price for our sin, wants us to make the most out of the new life he offers. The Holy Spirit, whose presence remains with us in this world that can often be daunting, draws us into this dance. And once we join the dance, we are to draw others, as God is praised.

The Trinity reminds us that at the very center of God is about love and relationship. God invites us into a relationship. Do we accept the invitation to dance?

Our passage today is steeped in theology.  Paul lays down a foundation for the Trinity and how God is working to reconcile us back to himself.  Read 1 Corinthian 2.


         “New and improved!” It’s a marketing cliché we hear all the time. Yet, it gets out attention. Whether it is laundry detergent, automobiles, cell phones, computer play stations or soft drinks, our ears perk up and we rush out to buy. This is also be true for churches. We start a new program, there’s a new minister, the music is new, and so forth. We’re drawn to what’s new. By the way, this isn’t anything new! Paul faced this in Greece. The Greeks coming onto the scene. When he was in Athens, Paul was given the podium to speak before the philosophers about his faith.[2] But Paul knew that his message wasn’t based on the sophistication of his argument, but on a deeper truth that mere humans cannot understand without divine intervention. So Paul tells the Corinthians he came knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

         Paul presents himself in weakness, in fear and trembling.[3] He doesn’t depend on his words or his rhetoric to make the case; instead he depends on God’s Spirit. But this doesn’t mean that Paul talks to the Corinthians as if he’s a country bumpkin. He’s not, as the detail of his arguments illustration. It’s just that Paul is referring to God’s wisdom, which is beyond human understanding.

God’s wisdom is eternal and hidden, yet it’s revealed to us. God is free to do that. In verse 8, Paul refers back to Jesus’ crucifixion. The people who crucified the Savior were bright people, but they did have true wisdom. They did not know God; for if they had they would not have crucified Jesus.

         Paul is affirming here the Reformed doctrine of Irresistible Grace, or as it is known in the Westminster Confession “Effectual Calling,” which acknowledges God’s hand in our belief and understanding of the work of Christ.[4] What this means is that God gives us even the faith we need to believe! God’s Spirit works through our spirit to bring us to faith in Christ.

         As we read in Verse 9, we can’t imagine that which God has arranged for those he loves. God’s love for the world is beyond our comprehension. The beginning of our Christian faith isn’t belief, its love![5] God’s love! And as we continue reading, we learn that God lets us in on the secret of his great love.  God’s Truth is shown in the person of Jesus, a truth that for those who don’t understand seems foolish.

      In Ken Bailey’s commentary on 1st Corinthians, he points out how Paul is affirming the doctrine of the Trinity throughout this passage. God the Father has all things under control; in Jesus, God comes to us as a man, in a manner that we might understand; and God’s Spirit, working through our own spirit, reveals this to be true. We see the three persons of the Trinity at work here. Although Paul doesn’t use the term Trinity, through rhetorical exegesis, Bailey cites six occasions in these verses where Paul alludes to the Trinitarian concept. Bailey, who taught most of his career in the Middle East, tells of a time he was a part of a Christian-Muslim dialogue. After dinner, one evening, one of the Muslim scholars questioned him as to the Trinity, asking for his help to understand this Christian doctrine. Bailey took the scholar to this passage and spoke about God’s work as shown throughout these verses. [6]

What does the Trinity mean to you? Do you see the mystery of the doctrine of the Trinity important to your understanding of the faith?

         One popular phrase among Presbyterians is “The Church reformed, always reforming.” It is often cited as a reason for us to change, but it has nothing to do with that and the way it is often cited leaves off an important part of the phrase that came out of the Reformation and proclaimed, “The Church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God in the power of the Spirit.”[7] The fullness of the phrase proclaims the truth of both God’s word, which is grounded in Jesus Christ, and God’s Spirit, which works through us to reclaim us into God’s family. At the heart of our faith is the work of the Triune God., who makes such reform possible. Without God, we’d be blow to and fro like a sailboat without a rudder.

Sometimes we think too much of ourselves, as if we’re self-sufficient and can do it all. In my reading for this sermon, I came across this line which popped out at me: “The church lives not by what we’re able to do, but by what God has done and continues to do in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.”[8] Do you see the interactions of the three persons of the Godhead here? Father, Son and Spirit, they’re all present. What’s ultimately important isn’t what we do, but what God does. Yet, often what God’s does is done through us.

I have always appreciated the insights of Alexander Schmemann.  He’s deceased but when he was alive, he was probably the top American theologian in the Russian Orthodox tradition, one of those groups that describe the Trinity as a divine dance. In his masterful work, For the Life of the World, he wrote about how we, as humans, tend to meet the need we have for God with empty human endeavors. We need to experience God, but we often go for some design we concoct and which fails to meet our needs.[9]

          Essentially what Schmemann goes on to say, and what Paul also says, is that we need to experience a god that is not forced into our secular beliefs, but the God who transcends all so that he might reach out to everyone in love. Paul is referring to a God that is so big he can’t be contained in our human constructs. As believers, we need to be open to God speaking in and through us. And because we love God, we should seek to do that which God loves. For that is why we’ve been created.

Back to my opening point about new and improved… When it comes to the gospel there is no such thing. The gospel is eternal and does not depend on our efforts to be improved. The gospel depends on God’s triune efforts to reach out to us in love.  It’s a simple message that we are to humbly proclaim. Like Paul, we believe in and proclaim Jesus Christ. He is our Lord and Savior, our comfort in times of trouble and our hope in the future. Are we willing to join him? Are we willing to join the dance? I assure you, it doesn’t matter ifyou have two left feet. Amen.





[1] Brian D. McLaren, a Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 55-56.

[2] Acts 17:16-21.

[3] I’m borrowing language here from the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible for 1 Corinthians 2:2-3

[4] Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 67

[5] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (1963, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988 ), 105.

[6] Bailey, 115-118

[7] Book of Order, F-2.02

[8] Mark Achtemeir, “The Lordship of Jesus Christ,” in a Passion for the Gospel: Confessing Jesus Christ for the 21st Century, Mark Achtemeier and Andrew Purves, editors (Louisville, KY: Geneva, 2000), 20.

[9] Schmemann, 134.


Days 4 and 5 in the Okefenokee (May 6-7)

This is my third and final post about a 5 day, 4 night paddle in the Okefenokee Swamp. The map shows our route as we started at Kingfisher and paddled to Maul Hammock platform. I wrote about this on my post for Day 1. From there, we paddled to Big Water on Day 2 and to Floyd’s Island on Day. This is covered my post on Days 2 & 3.  Counting the extra miles I paddled on Day 4, I paddled a little over 50 miles in 5 days, covering a variety of wilderness settings. 

Map of the Okefenokee. We put in at Kingfisher Landing, spent nights at Maul Hammock, Big Water, Floyd Island, and Round Top, and took out at the Suwannee Canal Recreation area.

The storms clear out early Sunday evening while we camp on Floyd’s Island. After dark, we can see the stars overhead, through the trees, along with hundreds of lightning bugs, more lightning bugs than I’ve seen since I left Michigan. Of course, there are also mosquitoes and biting flies. In fact, the biting flies are so bad that when away from the fire, I find myself wearing a bug net over my head. But things are fine once I crawl into my hammock where I read and catch up with my journal before falling asleep. On Monday, we plan to make it an early start as Gary needs to get back home in order to be at a meeting on Tuesday morning.

East side of Floyd Island (Notice cart for portaging gear)

We wake early and begin to pack up our gear. As we’d portaged our kayaks across Floyd’s Island the day before, we quickly eat some fruit and granola and haul our gear down to the boats. After loading up, we cast off into a narrow trail clogged with cut chunks of logs. The last time I was here, this trail wasn’t even open. A hurricane several years earlier had clogged the trail with down trees. It appears as if someone came through with a chainsaw, cut the down trees into firewood lengths of logs, and left them floating in the water. Because the logs are small, we can pushed them under the bows of our boats or push them off to the side. While it is hard work, it’s doable. After a hundred or so yards of difficulty, the path clears from logs

Egret in Chase Prairie

Like the path into the island from the west side, the east side was fairly narrow, but is only a mile or so long. It’s also fairly shallow and we follow (chase?) a rather large alligator (13-14 feet) for a while. He’ll come up, look at us, and then swim fast for a ways, before stopping. I’m pretty sure it’s male, for females don’t generally grow this large. As we paddle straight ahead, we soon close back in on him, and he takes off again. He does this several times until he finds a place to leave the channel for the swamp. All I can figure is that water is too shallow to dive and let us pass over top, which is what the alligators normally do.

After thirty minutes of paddling, the heavy vegetation departs as we entered Chase Prairie. A few hundred yards later, we came to the point where the trail runs back up through Bluff Lake to Kingfisher Landing (where we had started our paddle on Friday). I have been to this spot a few years before, on a solo trip with an overnight on Bluff Lake platform. But instead of turning north, we turn south toward the Suwannee Canal, 2 1/2 miles away. Along the way we pass the turn off for Round Top platform, where I plan to camp for the evening. It’s just three miles down the purple trail. I decide to go around the long way to make sure that Gary finds the Suwannee Canal, which will take him back to the main entrance to the swamp.

This is my third time in Chase Prairie and, like the other times, there are plenty of alligators around. The prairie is fairly open with lots of pitch plants and irises in bloom. There are also a number of egrets and herons around. In the distant, I can hear the calls of a sandhill crane.

When we reach the canal, the path opens up with the tall trees forming a nice canopy blocking the sun. We paddle south, and shortly after the 9 mile marker (the mileage to the main entrance where Okefenokee Outfitters is located), Gary and I say goodbye. He continues paddling on straight, while I slip through a channel that takes me back into Chase Prairie. I have a reservation for one more night at Round Top platform, which is about two miles back into the prairie. The sun is up and its warm, but the paddling is easy and a little before 11 in the morning, I arrive at the platform. I’d stayed here once before and it is by far my favorite place to camp in the swamp as it has nearly 360 degree views of the swamp.  Getting out, I set up camp, fix an early lunch and then catch up with my journal. Later I start reading. I’m only half way through David Halberstam’s The Fifties and with nearly 400 pages left, I have plenty to do to occupy my time.

Late afternoon paddle

After an afternoon of reading and napping (I found myself enjoying two nice naps), I put the kayak back in the water and paddle north on the purple trail which takes me, after three miles of paddling, back to where we had been earlier in the morning. I had not paddled this section before and am glad I decided to make the effort for its beautiful, especially as the light softens late in the day. On the way down, I see an alligator catch a duck by the tail. The duck is flapping and the gator, which is in very shallow water, drags the duck toward the channel, where I am located. Seeing me, the gator pauses and the duck quickly flies away. I assume the gator had planned to drown the duck in the deeper water and enjoy duck for dinner. I also spot a pair of sandhill cranes.

Paddling back in the evening light
mileage sign on purple trail

As I come back after a six mile paddle (three up and three down), I notice the crescent new moon is in the west. Most of this trip was in the dark of the moon, but not that I could tell it as the clouds had pretty thick. In the east, the sun sets as I snap a few photos. Then it is time to fix dinner, some noodles and canned pork. Twenty minutes after the sunsets, the mosquitoes appear as soon as I can finish my dinner and clean up, I crawl into my hammock, under the safety of my bug net.  I wake up in the middle of the night and step to relieve myself. In the south, Scorpius and Sagittarius are just above the horizon. But the mosquitoes soon find me and I crawl back into my hammock.

Around 3 AM, I wake again, as I was the first night, to what appears to be the sound of a chainsaw attempting to be started. Soon, all over the prairie, alligators are bellowing and making this weird sound. I listen off and on, between snoozing. They are so loud (one sounds as if it might be underneath the platform), that I can’t hear the mosquitoes buzzing just outside my netting. They continue on till dawn, and by the time I get up, they are quiet.

In the morning, I fix coffee and oatmeal for breakfast and enjoy eating slowly, taking in the sights. I leave around 9 AM and paddle to Coffee Bay platform, where I stop and rest, taking time to read a few chapters in my book, before resuming my paddle. I don’t see anyone until I run into a couple fishing in a jon boat a mile or so from the entrance into the swamp. They are the first people I’ve seen well over 24 hours. I am back to entrance at 1:30 AM. After loading my gear in the car and putting my boat on top, I am soon heading north to Savannah.

Click here to go to Day 1

Click here to go to Days 2-3

Pitcher plants in bloom

A Blessing for Hazel

This blessing was read at the end of worship yesterday, June 9th, as we honored Hazel for all she has done for our community. In the afternoon, the Landings Association held a reception for Hazel at the Sunset Room at Delegal Marina. 

For Hazel Brown

Out of Mid-America you came, four decades ago.
The church was still in the fire barn
and the island mostly uninhabited.
You came with your husband,
looking to enjoy retirement,
as you exchanged the prairie wind
for salty air and water
and the dreams of sailing.

Over the decades you have seen many changes,
as houses were built, an island populated,
and finally even a new bridge constructed.
All the while people came and went,
some moved on and others left this life.
But through it all, you remained positive,
always smiling, never making enemies,
serving as a beacon of hope.

And though retired, you have remained busy.
You cared for a husband and then, after his death, another.
You served as the president of the Landings Association,
secretary of the Kiwanis Club,
a leader of the Coastal Botanical Gardens,
an Elder in your church,
and chair of a pastor’s nominating committee.
Hazel, may you know your years of service made this a better place.
We are grateful for what you have done.

And now as you leave us, to return back to mid-America,
to Arkansas, near your daughter, you are entering another stage of life.
Know that we will miss you as we cherish the time we had.
As hard and as sad it is, we understand and send you off with our blessings.
We pray for our Heavenly Father to look upon you with mercy and grace
and to keep you safe until that day when you are called to our true home.
In that new age, when Jesus reigns as our glorious king,
may we be reunited and look back to these days on Skidaway,
a speck within eternity,
and smile.

-Jeff Garrison
June 9, 2019

Pentecost Sermon

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 14:8-17
June 9, 2019


Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, a day to wear red in remembrance of those tongues that appeared as flames announcing the arrival of the Spirit. But instead of preaching on the Pentecost passage in Acts, I want us to look at the gospel lectionary passage for the day. Here, Jesus first promises to send a special friend (an Advocate, a Helper, better known as the Spirit) into the Christian Community. In the gospel of John, Jesus reiterates this five times.[1] The sending of the Spirit is a big deal.

Our reading this morning from the 14th chapter of John’s gospel takes place around the table of the Last Supper. The part of this chapter before our reading involves our friend, Doubting Thomas. He asks Jesus how we can know the way to where he’s going if we don’t know where he’s going. In the 6th verse, Jesus gives his classic statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me.

But Thomas isn’t the only one asking questions this evening. In our reading, Philip chimes in with a statement that we could have all made. “Just show me, Jesus, and I’ll be satisfied.” Let’s listen to God’s word. Read John 14:7-17


        Over a period of a few weeks, a minister listened to a parishioners tell the same fish story many times.  Each time the fisherman told the story, the fish took on a different dimension. Sometimes he made the fish out to be a whale and other times it seemed to be just a lively bass. Finally, the minister felt he needed to confront this fisherman about his habitual lying… After worship one Sunday, he called the man aside and told him about hearing the same story told in different ways to different listeners… “Well you see,” the fisherman explained, “I have to be realistic. I never tell someone more than I think they will believe.”[2]

        You know, we can only understand and comprehend so much and it seems that in the passage I just read, Jesus overloads his disciples. He attempts to teach them about the unique relationship between him and God the Father, and our relationship to them though the Holy Spirit. From this passage we learn that our knowledge of God comes from our knowledge of Jesus Christ. Through the life of Jesus, we are able to see God. Furthermore, we learn that through prayer, obedience, and the Holy Spirit we are empowered to carry on Jesus’ work and can experience his peace. This is a passage that deals with the work of the Trinity: God as Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s a lot to comprehend, but Jesus knows his time is short and he needs to prepare the disciples for what’s ahead.

        This passage starts off with Philip begging, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” It’s a natural request. Philip’s descendants must have ended up in Missouri, the “Show Me State.” You know, Philip easily answered Jesus’ call at the beginning of his ministry, as John shows us in his first chapter.[3] But it appears he wasn’t sure why. Perhaps Philip feels he needs some kind of grand demonstration of God’s power, or an encounter like Moses had on Sinai. Such a presentation was not forth coming.

Think about Philip’s question. Don’t we all want to know more about Jesus? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more evidence?   Wouldn’t it be great to just see God and get it over with? Then everyone would believe…But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus tells his disciples that the way they, and everyone else, will encounter God is through him. The way God reveals himself to us is through the man named Jesus. Maybe instead of demanding more evidence like Philip, we need to accept what Jesus has to say.

It may seem a little strange, but after living with Jesus for three years, the disciples still don’t understand his unique relationship to the Father in heaven. We must admit, it’s difficult to imagine Jesus being a man and God. Our minds struggle with such a mystery. As a creature of God, we do not have the ability to understand God…  Before being able to understand anything about God, we must be willing to accept our human limitations. When we do, we can relate to God through another human being… Jesus Christ.

          Jesus asked his disciples to believe that he was in the Father and the Father was in him, and that his words were the words of the Father. The disciples, being normal logical people, had a hard time understanding how the Father and the Son could be the same. As they wondered, Jesus tells them to just believe, and if they couldn’t believe because of what he said, to believe because of the works that he performed. In other words, there are two ways for them to engage with Jesus’ special relationship with God. They can accept his word or be moved by his work.[4]

        Jesus covers his relationship to God the Father because he wants to get on to what’s going to happen after he departs. After all, this is a conversation around the dinner table the night before the crucifixion. Jesus is preparing the disciples for when he’s no longer going to be present with them.

Jesus makes the shift between focusing on his relationship to the Father and to his continuing relationship to humanity in verse 12. There Jesus promises something strange, telling his disciples those who believe in him would be able to do even greater works after he had gone to the Father. Of course Jesus gives some ground rules for these works… The greater works would be done to glorify God the Father and would be accomplished through prayer, obedience, and the Holy Spirit.

        If we pray to Jesus, asking the power to do something that glorifies God, then, he promises, our prayers will be answered. Jesus also promises that God’s Spirit will be with us forever. In other words, we are not abandoned. We are not alone. God is with us. And think about how this has been fulfilled over the centuries. Jesus and his band of disciples made an impact on a small corner of the ancient world, between Galilee and Judea. But within a generation, his followers were planting seeds—from India, to Ethiopia, and to Europe—that would make a significant difference. In 300 years the church would be established all over the region and from there go out into the rest of the world.

        In the 17th verse, Jesus tells his disciples that they’ll be accompanied by a true friend that only they will know. It’s the Spirit that abided with the disciples after Pentecost and now abides with us. In other words, just as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father, so we are in the Spirit and the Spirit in us. Knowing he’s not going to be around much longer, Jesus wants to assure the disciples (and us) that they (and we) will be taken care of. Through the Spirit he’ll continue to nourish our souls….

          Let me point out one interesting thing here. The Spirit, as spoken of in verse 17, isn’t to us as individuals. When Jesus says the Spirit abides in you, it’s plural, not singular. In other words, the access to the Spirit is found within the fellowship of the church. It’s within the fellowship that Jesus commands us to love one another, as we abide in God through the Spirit and abide in one another through love.[5] This passage doesn’t support an “individual” being caught up in the spirit. Such experiences occur within the community.

Jesus’ purpose in this discussion is to give comfort to the disciples who are going to miss him. Jesus encourages them with the promise of God’s continual presence through the Holy Spirit. Through this promise, he’s preparing them to go out and build a church, which they did because they knew two things: that Jesus and the Father are one and that he’s still with them in Spirit. Even though Jesus isn’t present in bodily form, he remains with the disciples (and us) by answering prayers and through the presence of the Spirit. The work of the Trinity involves the Father, Son, and Spirit, but through the Spirit, it also involves us.

         The early disciples found comfort in Jesus’ words, and we can too. Though Jesus we can know God, and more importantly, we can be forgiven and found to be righteous so that we can enter God’s kingdom. Furthermore, it is comforting to know God’s Spirit, which was first manifested on Pentecost Day so many years ago, is still with us today, ready to lead the church into the 21st century. As a church, our life must be grounded in the Spirit that abides in us. For this reason, the church always has hope. Despite persecution or indifference from the world in which we live, we have something the world doesn’t. We have God’s Spirit, and we need to trust this gift, because it is all that matters. If we abide in the Spirit, we’ll be okay.

         Rejoice, today is Pentecost. Be bold, for God is with us. Amen.



[1] John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26, 16:7-11 and 12-15.

[2] Snappy Steeple Stories, compiled by Oren Arnold, p. 43

[3] John 1:43.

[4] Gerald Sloyan, John: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Atlanta, JKP, 1808), 180.

[5] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 836

Adventures in the Okefenokee, Days 2 & 3 (May 4 & 5)

Preparing to leave Maul Hammock

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series on a recent trip through the Okefenokee Swamp. Click here for part 1

It is amazing how tired one can be after a day of paddling. Last night, we both were in our hammocks about 30 minutes after sunset, when we were suddenly bombarded by mosquitoes. For a while, I tried to read, but found myself falling asleep to the sound of night, frogs croaking and insects singing. The most bothersome insects, mosquitoes, were just inches away, on the outside of the hammock’s netting. I wake only one during the evening, to find my left arm pressed against the netting. Several mosquitoes had already feasted upon me through the net. The next time I wake, it is getting light. I hear the mating roar of a few alligators around the edge of the lake. They sound like someone trying to start a two cycle engine, such as an old boat motor or a chainsaw.  I get up. With long pants and a long shirt and a little repellant, the mosquitoes aren’t too bad. I decide to fish a bit while Gary slept in.  There were only a few open places around the hammock where I am able to drop a popping bug on a fly rod.  After a few casts, a fish rises for the bait, but doesn’t take it and soon, I have an alligator friend, a small dude about four feet, watching me. Knowing what I’m doing, like a good friend, he’s ready to help me take any fish off a hook without me getting my hands all slimy. Sadly, for him, I don’t have another bite and, when I put my rod away and began to make breakfast, he heads back under the lily pads in search of his own breakfast.


Gary paddling in Maul Hammock Lake

With only a little over ten miles to paddle to the next platform at Big Water, we take our time getting ready. The morning is gray with a light breeze. As soon as the sun rises, the mosquitoes mostly disappear. We enjoy a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, finish drying out our clothes from the day before, and pack up. At ten, we leave the platform and paddle toward what we thought was the exit from lake only to find that we’ve missed it. In the high lily pads, it takes us several attempts to find the narrow channel that leads us back to the red trail. As it was with the last five miles the day before, we are often paddling through lily pads that are high and require and extra effort to push our boats through. It’s exhausting work and soon I’m sweaty.

Shortly after leaving Maul Hammock, the trail begins to look more like a regular stream bed as we are entering the headwaters of the Suwanee River. We spend the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon fighting through the lily pads, making a measly mile and a half an hour. The highlight of this day is seeing a large owl fly out from the trees just over me and down the river, where he gains elevation until it’s above the trees and then it turns and leaves the channel and flies into the swam. At one in the afternoon, when we break for some lunch, which we eat in our kayaks. We’ve covered less than five miles. Shortly after lunch, we arrive where, sometime in the past few months, they’ve cut back the lily pads with a machine mounted on a small dredge that chops up the lily pads roots. These roots or rhizome, when floating on the surface, look a lot like an alligator. Despite the looks of the floating rhizomes, the paddling is now easy.

A selfie with Gary in background

We arrive at Big Water platform at 3 PM. There’s a group of three guys who’d paddled up from Stephen Foster State Park. They are taking a rest before paddling back out, as they were not planning on staying the night. They have a cooler with them and offer us a cool beer. I enjoy not just drinking it, but putting the cold can on my sweaty forehead. This platform is on the western edge of a wide spot in the river, with nice views of the cypress line stream in both direction.  Later that evening as we prepare dinner, we notice how the bullfrog chorus will seemingly start in one direction and slowly make its way up or down the river, almost like a wave makes itself around a ball park. There are also a number of alligators and we watch several of them argue over territory (or mates).  I spend a few minutes fishing but have no luck, but as it was in the morning at Maul Hammock, an alligator stands on point, waiting for something to bite my line so he (or she) might help me keep my hands clean by relieving me of any fish I might catch. There’s a journal in the shelter register and someone suggests that if you hook a fish, you have to reel very fast if you want to keep it away from gators. With all the good food we have with us, we are not going to starve without fish. Instead, we enjoy a peaceful dinner along with a couple of ounces of Woodford Reserve Bourbon (Gary brought the good stuff) as we watch the light fade in the evening. Again, soon after the sun sets, the mosquitoes are back out and we head to our respective hammocks.

Big Water Platform (notice privy in the background)

Sleep isn’t quite as deep this evening. I leave the fly off my hammock in order to get maximum airflow, but at 1:30 AM, a storm is approaching. I get up and put my fly on (while we are under a tin roof, it’s not that wide and the rain will be blown under the roof). Next, I make sure that everything is put up and secured and won’t blow away. Once done, I watch the approaching lightning turn the swamp into a magical place as the cypress and their bearded Spanish moss are silhouetted by the flashes of light. Soon, instead of flashes, we there are streaks of lightning dancing across the sky. I’m in awe. The wind picks up and I get back into my hammock in order to stay dry. Soon, I’m asleep, but wake up several more times as more storms move through the area.

Paddling through Big Water

When I wake in the morning, there is still thunder to the south. But the birds are singing throughout the swamp and the heavy humidity is moderated with an occasional cool breeze. Gary has brought along a can of corn beef hash along with eggs. We have a feast for breakfast, taking our time as we have a fairly short day paddling to Floyd’s Island.


Notice young cypress growing in a burned over area


We leave Big Water at 10 AM.  The river stays wide for the next mile or so, then it narrows up into channels where there is some flow of the water, but with tight turns that I often have to stop and backup to get my big kayak (18 foot) through the passage. We paddle through areas that have been burned in fires. Over the past two decades, there have been several summers in which the swamp and surrounding areas have experienced massive fires. But the good news is that the cypress is coming back and are standing eight to twelve feet tall. But it is still sad to see many of these burned out areas, but fire is a natural part of the ecosystem and they open up opportunities for new species of plants and animals to thrive.

Five miles south of Big Water platform, we come to the cut off trail to Floyd’s Island. Both Gary and I have been here before, when we paddled into Floyd’s Island from Stephen Foster State Park. The canal pathway takes us across the bottom of Floyd’s Prairie and then narrows up into a tight tunnel like passage where paddles are used for poling instead of paddling. It rains off and on, but never very hard. Before we know it, we pull up on the sandy beach. We are at Floyd’s Island and it wasn’t even 1 PM. We’d paddled 7 ½ miles.

Floyd’s Island Cabin

Floyd’s Island is named for the leader of the Georgia militia who invaded the swamp during the second Seminole war in 1838. His men found and burned a Seminole village, and named the island for him. They then continued to bushwhack through the swamp. As they headed into the swamp, they were in good condition and well equipped. When they came out on the other side, having done something no Europeans had done, they were ragged, but they had conquered a vast unknown section of the country. Floyd was both intrigued and horrified at the swamp. He called it a most beautiful and an infernal place.


With all afternoon to kill, we haul our gear up to the old cabin on Floyd’s island. We string our hammocks and set up a living room on the front porch. The back of the cabin is blocked off because a huge pine had fallen and crushed part of the back of the cabin. The last time we were here, in 2015, Gary and several others (there was a group of nine of us) slept in the cabin. I decided that night I would stay in my hammock. After hearing about the rats, I assumed I’d made the right decision.


We eat lunch under the front porch during a downpour. A turkey and a fawn with spots make their way through our camp as we wait for the rain to clear. Later in the afternoon, when the storms have cleared, we move our kayaks, portaging over the quarter mile or so of the island, so that we’d be ready for the next day’s paddle. That evening, we cook over an open fire. The smoke helps deter the biting flies. We enjoy crackers and cheese, party nuts, along with some Johnny Walker Black Label. Again, I’m impressed with Gary’s beverage selection. I’m saving my cheap bourbon. Tomorrow, Gary will paddle out of the swamp while I will stay for another night.

Write up of Day 2-3

Write up of Day 1

A final view of Big Water

The Resurrection: A Hymn of Victory

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
June 2, 2019



          I’ve seen the bodies of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi and Lenin (not John) in Moscow. Walking pass their preserved flesh, I got chill bumps. It was frigid in the mausoleums. I felt a bit sad for Ho. He wrote specific instructions that his body was to be cremated and the ashes scattered all over Vietnam. But when you’re gone, what happens to your body is no longer in your hands. But there was something else I experienced at these mausoleums. Regardless of what you think of these men who were no saints, they are dead. Sooner or later, we’ll all cease to exist. Our current bodies will become useless and eventually revert back to the dust. But that’s not the final word.

Today I’m concluding a series on the resurrection that began on Easter Sunday.  Paul, in this passage, celebrates what’s to be.  Listen as I read 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.


Paul ends his resurrection essay on a high-note. He began this essay which takes up the entire 15th chapter with a hymn. Now, he concludes the essay with another hymn celebrating victory over death.[1] We can’t help but to be lifted up with this passage of hope. It’s often read at funerals. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting.” Victory comes not through our actions, but through our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of him we have hope.

          There are a couple of issues raised in this text that I want us to explore this morning. Paul begins almost as if confiding a secret to a friend, “Listen,” he draws the Corinthians in, “let me tell you a mystery.” Paul is writing about something he admits he doesn’t understand; it’s a mystery, but in this mystery resides hope. “We will not all die, but we will all be changed.” Now, there is a question here about what Paul means when he says we will not all die. Who are the “WE?” Some argue that Paul believes Jesus’ return is going to be soon, during their lives. We see a similar thread in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians where he comforts those who are concerned about their friends and family members who have died and what will happen to them after Christ returns.[2] If Paul thinks he and some of the Corinthians are going to be alive at Christ’s return, then he changed his mind by the time Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians.[3] However, a more logical interpretation is that Paul looks forward into history and realizes that not all believers are going to have died when Christ returns. The faith is going to still be alive and there will be believers here to welcome Christ when that trumpet of all trumpets sounds.[4]

         In this passage, Paul emphasizes the necessity of change.  Nothing can stay the same. We have to give up the familiar, our mortal bodies, in order to be resurrected in a new immortal body. Interestingly, Paul insists we will be clothed with immortality which was not taught in the schools of the day. The Greeks assumed immortality was our natural state and it was covered with our bodies; therefore the ideal was the soul, not the flesh covering it. But Paul challenges this notion, for our bodies are, in and of themselves, good.[5] We are, after all, created by God. But, with the resurrection, we obtain the imperishable, that which we cannot obtain in this life and in these bodies.

The putting on of the imperishable clothing, the donning of immortality, may have created in his hearer’s mind an image of the investiture of a king or emperor. When crowned, they put on new robes. They are the same in that they have the same body, but the new clothing makes them also a new person.[6]

        As I noted earlier, it’s interesting how Paul book-ends his essay on the resurrection with fragments of what was most likely an ancient hymn. Paul uses lyrics which were probably sung by congregations in order to connect with something familiar to his readers. Paul’s speaking of a mystery and music has a way to say more to us than just the lyrics, so it is appropriate that Paul incorporates such a hymn as he concludes his treatment of the resurrection.[7]

         As Paul comes to the end of our passage for today, he makes a powerful statement. In the last two verses, he uses the term “Lord” four times. The modern British theologian, N. T. Wright, suggests that “like a warrior triumphing over a fallen enemy, Paul mocks the power that has now become powerless.”  The victory is in our Lord Jesus Christ! He is a Lord in a manner that Caesar can never be![8] Paul lifts up Jesus’ victory as a way to call everyone in Corinth back to what is important.

         Paul brings this essay to a conclusion with a final statement in which he calls the Corinthians, “my beloved.” It’s like saying, “My dear friends.” As he’d shown at the beginning of the letter, Paul is fond of the Corinthians even though throughout the letter, he’s been admonishing them for their disunity, their toleration of grievous sin, their lack of order within worship and their mockery of the Lord’s Supper. Yet, Paul still likes these people. He’s not ready to write them off, as we might be. There’s a lesson for us here! Don’t consider anyone beyond redemption! This passage which Paul has been looking into the future ends by bringing the Corinthians back to the present and to what they need to be doing.[9] It’s not too late to get things right.

        When I was in college I lived in a garage apartment about a mile off campus. It was a nice place, on a side street with just a few homes and this one garage with an apartment above it.  There was a porch, with stairs that ran down to the ground. The porch was large enough for a chair and a couple of potted plants. On Saturday mornings when the weather was decent and I wasn’t off paddling a river somewhere, I could be found sitting in a chair, my feet propped up on the railing, reading or just pondering while I had my morning coffee. It was the good life. I enjoyed birds flying by and singing in the trees. It was a dead-end street, so traffic didn’t bother me. It was also a safe neighborhood as the Chief of Police lived at the end of the road.

One Saturday, I had visitors. The Jehovah Witnesses were going two-by-two, door-to-door, one group on each side of the street. The two who came up the steps to my porch were an older white man, probably about the age of my granddaddy, with a younger African-American woman who wasn’t much older than I was at the time. I was intrigued. This was in the late 70s, and this was the South and I remember thinking this sight wasn’t anything I’d see in a Presbyterian Church (not that we’d be seen going door-to-door). Furthermore, I was pretty sure I’d not see such a sight in a Methodist or Baptist or any of the other churches within the city. There was something refreshing about the two of them and I recalled the song I’d learned in Sunday School: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in sight…” Judging from how Paul had scolded the Corinthians for their divisions, such a sight would have brought a smile to his face.

We talked for a bit about everything wrong in the world, and at the time there was plenty wrong, as there is now. When I asked what they thought we should do about the sufferings in the world, the man smiled. “We don’t need to do anything as this means Jesus is coming back soon and he’ll take care of everything.” It sounded like a cop-out to me. We debated. When they finally left, we were at an impasse. Neither of us changed our minds.

Had I, as a twenty year old, spent much time with this letter from Paul, I might have brought up this passage. Even though the future is out of our hands, it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to try to make a difference in the world, of trying to make things better. That’s what I think Paul means at the end of the chapter where, drawing upon all he’s written here about the resurrection, he concludes by reminding everyone, to “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Paul wasn’t always successful in his work. As far as we know, he didn’t establish a church everywhere he travelled, though he tried. Many if not most of the congregations he created were small. This doesn’t sound like what we might define as “excelling,” which may be why the Message paraphrase translates it this way, “Don’t hold back.  Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”

For Paul, as I hope you have understood in these five sermons, the resurrection isn’t just a doctrine that gives us hope for the future; the resurrection provides us the excitement for God’s work in the present. As disciples of Jesus, we have something to look forward to. Our last breath in these bodies isn’t the end. We shall all be changed and that should give us confidence and make us unafraid of taking risks and doing what is good and noble today.  Amen.

[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians  (Dowers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2011), 468.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

[4]  Bailey, 472.

[5] William F. Orr and James Arthur Walter, The Anchor Bible: 1 Corinthians  (Garden Grove, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 350, n53

[6] Bailey, 473.

[7] Bailey 472-473

[8] Bailey 474-475.

[9] Bailey, 476-477.