First Cosmic Velocity

Zach Powers, First Cosmic Velocity (New York: Putman, 2019), 340 pages.


I’m not sure how to classify this novel. At times I thought the author had written the first anti-Sci-fi (similar to the anti-western genre of films that began to challenge the classical westerns in the 1960s). At other times, it felt as if I was reading a comedic Cold War spy thriller or an alternative history. Regardless of the genre, this book is a fun read.


It’s 1964 and the Soviet space program is a deception. Instead of challenging the United States in the race to the moon, the Soviets haven’t yet had a successful mission. They have placed men and women into space, but have yet to successfully bring them back to earth. The cosmonauts have either burned up on re-entry or in the case of Leonid, are doomed to orbit the earth for the entire book. You’ll have to read it to understand what happens. To make up for the lack of success, the Soviet cosmonaut corps are made up of identical twins, each given the same name. While one sibling conducts a suicide mission, the other receives a hero welcome back home. The secrecy of the program is so guarded that only a few know about it. Even the Soviet premier, Khrushchev, doesn’t know of the deceit. At first, even Ignatius, the KGB-type agent who is always close by, doesn’t appear to know (even though she knows more secrets than most). In a country with lots of deception and secrets, maintaining this secret is of ultimate importance for everyone involved (including the remaining twins) risked execution for treason is exposed.


This secrecy leads to humorous moments such as when Khrushchev volunteers his dog for the next space mission. Everyone but the Premier hates his ratty dog, and they can’t find another one like it in all Russia. Khrushchev aids secretly suggest they leave the disliked mutt in space (not realizing that might actually happen as the space agency has no way of returning it alive to earth). The space program is frantically attempting to build a successful heat shield that will allow cosmonauts (and dogs) to safely return, while two of the surviving twins (the second Leonid, the brother of the Leonid in space, and Nadya, whose sister was the first cosmonaut, run away.


The book ping pongs between 1964 and 1950, the year when a famine struck the Ukraine, That’s the year the twins who were both renamed Leonid were taken from their grandma to be trained for the space program. As the reader is taken from the present (1964), into the past, we gain inside into bits of history such as the struggle within the various states within the Soviet Union, the impact of the war (World War 2), and the hope of the space program. Powers also brings up the discussion of faith, looking at how the older members of society (such as the twin’s grandmother) practices faith and prayer, and its role (or lack of a role) with the younger generations who have grown up in an atheistic society. In one discussion, it is suggested that a society without gods must create them from their “heroes”


This is a delightful and unique novel. I recommend it for an enjoyable read. For full disclosure, I was in a writing group with Zach Powers when I first moved to Savannah (and before he left the area). I was under no obligation to write this review.

Becoming Christ-like

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Hebrews 12:1-2
August 25, 2019




       Why do we exist? What is our purpose in life? The Westminster Confession says we’re to enjoy and glorify God. That’s succinct. In Rick Warren’s best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, he expands this into five purposes. First, we are to love God. God wants us to open our lives up so that we might experience and be overwhelmed by divine love and in turn we might show our love to God. We call this worship. Our second purpose is that we’re created to belong to God’s family, which we know as the church. Within this new family, we are to be nurtured and to mature. This morning, I want us to consider our third purpose: to become like God’s Son. A big word for this is sanctification. We’re to become Christ-like. The fourth and fifth purposes are that we’re shaped to serve God and are made for a God-given mission.[1] Our text this morning is from the 12th Chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the first two verses.

         Last weekend, Donna and I were in Cumberland Gap, a significant place in American history even through it is mostly overlooked these days. This gap was the easiest place for settlers from the Carolinas to Southern Pennsylvania to make their way across the Appalachian Mountains. Today, we breeze through those mountains on engineered roads, but in the late 18th Century, those mountains stood like barricades, keeping people out. Then along came Daniel Boone, who built the Wilderness Road through the mountains and for the next hundred years, it was the easiest way to get into Kentucky and Tennessee and further west. It felt good to be there, riding bikes over the same terrain that Boone cut the road that began western migration. I’ve always liked Daniel Boone.

          My first lunch box had a photo of Fess Parker who played Daniel Boone in the TV show that was popular back during my childhood years. And you bet I watched it. When I was in the second grade, we had an opportunity to buy books from a flyer sent home from the school. It was fundraiser designed to raise money for the school and help get books into the hands of children. My parents allowed me to buy a book. I looked through that catalog and knew right away that the book I wanted. It was a biography, written on a child’s level, of Daniel Boone. On the day that it came, I looked through the book, but found many words I did not know so I took it to my mom, and she helped me read. One of the words that I seemed to have a hard time learning was “enemy.” I just couldn’t get it out. I had a mental block against this word and had to ask several times what the word was. Hard to imagine ever being that innocent, isn’t it?

Daniel Boone was a pioneer. A pioneer is one who goes out before everyone else to chart new territory. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us in verse 2, Jesus was the pioneer of our faith. He paved the way for us! Pioneers do the hard work. Daniel Boone helped clear a road into the wilderness, so that those who followed could travel more easily. Instead of hiking over the mountains with only a backpack, people could travel in wagons pulled by oxen, carrying a ton of stuff. Boone did the hard work to make this possible.

Jesus’ suffering, his death and resurrection, was the hard work for our faith. We should give thanks and praise for what Jesus has done for us, but we must remember that as the stone of that tomb was being rolled away, and Jesus was resurrected, the responsibility for God’s kingdom on earth shifted from him to us. Remember John Kennedy’s immortal words, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” With a slight change of wording, we can apply this advice to our faith: “Ask not what Jesus can do for us (for he’s already done it); ask what we can do for Jesus.”[2]

The main image in our text is not a coon-skinned capped pioneer, but that of a coliseum filled with spectators watching sporting events. Think of the Olympics.[3]  The crowd is loud, and everyone cheers as those in the race run. Christ has already taken the lead, now he’s handing off the baton… Next will be our turn to take the baton and run around the track. It’s our chance to emulate Christ and to build upon his lead. With everyone watching, we’re to do what we can to prepare? We shed clothing that might weigh us down, and we focus our mind on the task at hand as we get into the moment, ready to receive the baton.

The race is a metaphor for the Christian life.  Paul uses this metaphor a number of times in his writings, reflecting the interest in sports within the Roman world of the first century.[4] As one running a race must shed all that might slow him or her down, we Christians need to shed the sinfulness that tends impede our gospel-work and tarnish our Christ-like image. One of the problems with sin is shame and one of the devil’s oldest tricks is to whisper into our ear, “You’re not worthy!” “Look at all your sin, you’re not good enough.” And the Devil is right, we’re not worthy, we’re not good enough. That’s why we must keep our eyes focused on Christ! Our hope is not in our righteousness, but in Christ.

As the author of Hebrews writes, not only is Christ the pioneer of our faith, paving the way for us to follow, he is also the “perfecter of our faith.” As I said earlier, Christ did the hard work! Our righteousness comes from what he’s done for us, not from what we do… By focusing on Christ, we can become more like him as we accept his gift of salvation. When we fall into the trap of thinking we must do it all ourselves, we become overwhelmed and easily lose heart. But when we can accept what Christ has done for us and trust in his goodness, we are freed to respond graciously.

“Life is a journey” may be a cliché but there is truth in it, especially for those of us who are Christians. This earth is not our home. Instead, we are pilgrims, like those on the Wilderness Road, traveling through on the path Jesus established, longing for a new and eternal life in the presence of God. As pilgrims, we’re being watched. Our passage reminds us of those who are watching from above, those who have already run the race and are cheering us on. But there are also others watching us, those who are looking to see what it means to follow Jesus. Since we represent our Savior, the King, we need to live in a way that will honor him which is why it is important that as we go on this journey, we strive to be Christ-like.

How might we become more Christ-like? As I’ve already covered, the writer of Hebrews first suggests we strive to unburden ourselves of sin. As a runner, anything that holds us back can be a burden; so we should make sure we are not overwhelmed. We free ourselves of burdens so that we might run faster.  Secondly, we’re to persevere. We are not perfect: there will be times we’ll trip, there will be times we fall, but like a good athlete, we brush ourselves off and continue. We must pace ourselves for it’s a life-long race. We don’t give up for we are after the prize. When our time here is up, we want to stand boldly before God’s throne.[5] And finally, we’re to keep our eyes on Jesus which means we need to regularly spend time studying his life in Scripture and seeing how we might become more like him. Asking ourselves how Jesus would handle a situation is a helpful way of evaluating our response to the challenges we face as we run our race.

Think about your life and see if there are behaviors holding you back that you might let go. Where are you not living up to life Christ is calling you to lead? What can you change to become more Christ-like? Secondly, don’t give up. The Christian life isn’t always an easy run, sometimes it seems, as I discussed a few weeks ago, for every two steps forward, we take a step back. That’s okay, we’re making progress. We’re in the long haul; keep focused on the prize, knowing that Christ has already secured it for us. And finally, spend time with Jesus. Read one of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Learn about Jesus’ life and pray about how his life might inform your own.  Amen.


[1] Rick Warren, What On Earth Am I Here For? The Purpose Driven Life, Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).  

[2] For this link, I’m indebted to Rev. Susan Sparks, “So You’re a Christian?  Whattaya Gonna Do About It?”  (

[3] Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 2013-2014.

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Galatians 2:2, 2 Timothy 4:7 and Philippians 2:16

[5] See Revelation 7:13-17

Baseball as a Road to God

John Sexton, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (New York: Gotham Books, 2013), 242 pages including photos, index and bibliography.



Sexton, the president of New York University, has written a wonderful book that shares his enthusiasm for baseball while weaving in thoughts drawn from his academic background as a philosopher and student of religion. The book’s chapters are divided into innings, each exploring a particular aspect of faith: “sacred space and time, faith, doubt, conversion, miracles, blessings and curses, saints and sinners, community, and nostalgia (and the myth of the eternal return).” He also throws in three extra chapters focusing on baseball: “the Knot-hole Gang (Brooklyn Dodger’s pregame show), “the seventh inning stretch” and “the clubhouse.” He highlights the parallels between the game and faith, and notes how the small details of a baseball game encourages us to slow down and enjoy life and to find meaning and beauty in small things.


Sexton is a member of the Roman Catholic Church and while he generally writes from a Christian perspective, he also draws on religious teachers from a variety of faiths: Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim. This is not a book about orthodox Christianity, although when he writes about the Christian faith, his theology is orthodox. Having grown up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, he was a Dodger fan. In the 70s, he became a Yankee fan (this is where his orthodoxy breaks down). He felt he needed to give his son a baseball team (by then the Dodgers had long moved to Los Angeles).  Discussing team allegiances allows him to explore the meaning and process of conversion.


Baseball is a game that places great hopes on what might happen next year. No one knew this better than the Brooklyn Dodger fans who encouraged one another, year after year, with the saying, “Wait till next year.” Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Presidential historian and another Brooklynite who wrote the introduction to this book, has a memoir that uses this phrase filled with Brooklyn’s hope. Of course, the Dodgers did finally win the World Series just before moving to the West Coast. Baseball, like religion, has its own eschatological vision of the future!


In the chapter of sacred time, Sexton links baseball to religion’s cycles (baseball starts just before Easter and Passover, and the regular season ends around Yom Kippur.  Like all religions, baseball has a cycle of life). Drawing on the writing of Marceau Eliade, he shows the importance of specific places and times which ground our religious traditions, Sexton muses also how ballparks serve a similar function. Discussing miracles, he relives Willie Mays’ fabulous 1954 catch that turned around the last World Series played in the Polo Ground as the Giants beat the Indians. But with miracles, there is always some doubt, as he illustrates with the 1951 Giants coming from a 13 ½ game deficit behind the Brooklyn Dodgers with six weeks left in the season. But then the miraculous happened and the Giants were able to catch up and with the “shot heard around the world,” beat the Dodgers to take the pennant. Years later, it was revealed that during the last ten weeks of the season, when the Giants won 80% of their home games, the team was given an advantage with a telescope deep in a clubhouse behind center field. The Giants had been stealing the opposing team’s signals and then quickly relaying them to the batter. This wasn’t against the rule in 1951, but in 1961, it was banned by Major League Baseball. As Sexton notes, sometimes miracles just seem miraculous.


In the chapter on blessings and curses, we relive the curses of the Cub’s “bill goat” and the Red Sox’s suffering revenge for trading a failing pitcher, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees. In the chapter on saints and sinners, we travel to the shrine of the “saints” at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Saints also play a major role in religion, from those canonized within Roman Catholic Christianity, to the prophets of Judaism, to the “Friends of Allah” in Islam, to the swami of Hinduism. Of course, as with many saints, parts of their lives are overlooked as it was with Babe Ruth whose monument reads: “A GREAT BALL PLAYER, A GREAT MAN, A GREAT AMERICAN.” As Sexton reminds us, Babe wasn’t always “saintly” off the field. As for sinners, there’s Ty Cobb, who still has many records in the book, and others only broken by another “sinner,” Pete Rose. And don’t forget the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal with its conflicting tales.


If there is one thing that Sexton left out, it was purgatory. As a Protestant, I find such a concept lacking in Scripture and doctrine and it’s not a part of my faith, but as a Pirate fan, I sometimes feel stuck in purgatory. Perhaps Sexton could have added an extra inning for this concept that I find more support for at the ballpark than within doctrines of my faith.


I should also note that his book is primarily about Major League baseball. The minor leagues, little leagues and other leagues are not the focus of Sexton’s work. The is room on the shelf for other books about the religious-like hope of the minor player at making the majors, or the high school standout hoping to catch the eye of a big league scout. And, of course, every little league player and kid on a sandlot has dreamed of one day playing in the world series.


On the last page, Sexton humorously muses that maybe baseball isn’t a road to God after all, but it can help awaken us to what’s important around us while providing an example of how to merge together the life of faith and the mind. The reader has been treated to two hundred pages or baseball stories, mixed in with teachings of the great religions. This book is a delight for any baseball player. For the serious student of world culture, the book might help them learn to pay attention to life and not take things too seriously. I recommend this book, but maybe you’ll want to catch a few games as the season moves into its final stretch toward October. By November, when the ballparks are all shuttered for winter, pull out this book and remember when, or (especially if you’re a Pirate fan), “wait for next season!”

Fearlessly Watching

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Luke 12:32-40
August 11, 2019



A group of 12 Presbyterians spent the morning working on a new Habitat for Humanity home in Garden City. Four of us from this church, along with others from Wilmington Island and White Bluff made up the group. It was interesting to see how each person took on tasks as we put together walls. Sarah Benton, a worker from Wilmington Island, captured the willingness of the group when she proclaimed at the start: “I’m a great ‘toter.’ Just tell me what you need, and I’ll fetch it.” That’s the attitude of a committed disciple. It’s the attitude of the Psalmist who proclaims that he’s okay just being a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.[1]

From our group, John Evans operated the saw, cutting boards to lengths needed, while Mark Hornsby attached plates connecting the interior walls with the outer wall. And before those walls were set in place, Debbie Hornsby attached insulation foam on the bottom plate. I worked with the team that built and stood the walls. It was good to see so much done. When the heat started to get to us in early afternoon, we called it a day.

Today, we’re hearing back to back readings from Luke’s gospel where Jesus instructs the disciples not to worry about things in this world, but to build up treasure in the world to come. By working for the benefit of others, we help fulfill Jesus’ expectations for us as disciples. But this passage also has a surprise for us. While we’re not surprised to hear of our need for serving God, we are told here that God wants to serve us. In the kingdom, the roles will be reversed. Read Luke 12:32-40


Did you catch what was said in the first verse I read? Let me paraphrase it. “Do not be afraid, for it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom!” Get that? There is no reason for worry. God wants to give us the kingdom.

         But how many of us truly live life without worry? I fall short of the mark. I worry about a lot of things, just like you. We worry about our loved ones, our jobs, our retirement portfolios, our safety, our health, the health of our animals (that’s a big one for most of us don’t have them insured). The list goes on and on. We worry about the economy and the violence that seems too prevalent in our society. We worry about international politics, climate change, and sea level rise. As people, we worry. But the phrase often heard throughout scripture, whenever God or a representative of God is present, is “do not be afraid.”[2] What would it take for us not to be afraid?

Jesus follows his command not to be afraid with a message of readiness. For some of us, and at a time this included me, Jesus’ return is a reason for worry. When I was in high school, the book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was a best seller, and it seemed frightening. “Give us a little more time, God. Give us a little more time to get our ducks in the row. Let us sin a little more before we make a commitment to you, hopefully right before your glory breaks through the clouds.” Most of us wouldn’t include those concluding remark our prayer, but it’s what we’d be thinking.

         As I said, our passage starts out with a wonderful promise from God about how God wants to give us good things, then it’s followed with two stories about the end of time. Our first story is based on a wedding banquet. The slaves await their master’s return so they can open the door for him and welcome him home. This is a positive parable, for those who aren’t dozing find themselves recipients of the master’s hospitality. He’s in a jolly mood after the wedding, so even though he returns in the middle of the night, the master pulls up his gown and ties it off around his waist, like a servant who needs to have freedom of movement to do his tasks. Then he has his slaves sit down and serves them dinner. This is odd behavior. The master, in the middle of the night, assuming the role of a slave in order to serve his servants. Who has ever heard of such a thing? This story, instead of encouraging us to be afraid of the Second Coming, should make us look forward to it. God wants to reward us by serving us. In scripture, the heavenly banquet is often used as a metaphor for the here-after. If we are doing God’s work when he returns (or when he calls us home), we’re promised good things.

         The second parable is about a thief coming in the night. This parable is a bit more of a threat, for we are reminded of the uncertainty of when things will happen. Jesus reminds us that if the owner of a house knew when a thief was coming, he or she would remain awake. We’d probably be sitting in a chair, with a good view of the door, with a shotgun across our lap, ready to properly greet the intruder. But since we don’t know when a thief will pay us a visit, we must take precautions. We lock the doors. We latch the windows. We safely store valuables and pay insurance premiums.

        These two parables complement each other. In one, we’re told to be awake, to be alert, for the Lord is coming. In other words, we’re told to be busy, doing God’s work. The second parable reminds us that we need to prepare ourselves for we don’t know when our Lord will return.

         Okay, you’re thinking. The church has been expectantly waiting for two millennia and Christ hasn’t yet appeared in glory. But I believe he will. Preparing for his coming is paramount. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if we’ll be the one to see Christ come in the clouds or if we meet him on our deathbed or when we accidently step in front of a dump truck, the time will come that it will be too late. Preparation for our earthly demise is necessary. We’re to make our peace with God so we’ll be justified before the throne on the Day of Judgment. Furthermore, we’re then to use our talents to further God’s glory in the world as we strive to be more Christ-like.

There are two images in this passage worth understanding: girded loins (the loose outer garments tucked in so that they don’t trip up the worker) and burning lamps.[3] Each image reinforces the idea that we must be ready and active. Being a Christian is more than passively accepting Jesus; it requires us to change our lives to be more like him.

       What should we take from this passage and apply to our lives today? Sure, we’re reminded, as the cliché goes, to get our ducks in order. We need to make peace with God while there is still time—before the master returns. But we also need to see there is no need to fear the second coming. The coming isn’t seen as a fearful event, but one of excited expectation, of God’s blessings!

          The first parable reminds us that we need to be ready to use what God has given us, our talents, to further the master’s work in the world. We’ve all been given talents and skills that we can use to build up the body of Christ, just as we all had different talents yesterday on the job site. Are we ready? Do we put our skills and abilities to use? Or do we sit back with the hope someone else does our part? If we chose the latter, we’re no different than the servants who played around and were not ready for the master’s return. But if we’re doing our part, then we’re promised that when Christ calls us home, we’ll find a place set for us at the table.

         Even though these passages encourage us to be alert and active, we need to keep in mind as we do the work of a disciple, we are not buying ourselves into heaven nor are we striving to get a better room in the sweet bye-an-bye. We are called, as Christians, to respond to God’s grace, not to earn it. And we respond to God’s grace by creating a life that honors God and furthers the kingdom’s work in the world. Jesus, our Lord, died for us. He was the obedient servant. Through his sacrifice, our sins are forgiven, and we are freed to go out and work on the behalf of others that they too might come to experience his love. The Christian life is about forgiveness and service. It’s also not worrying about tomorrow, trusting in God’s providence and longing to experience the joy of being in God’s presence.

         When things look tough in the world, when we struggle throughout our lives, remember the promise that God wants to give us the kingdom. Amen.



[1] Psalm 84:10.

[2] This phrase is heard over 70 times in scripture: from God speaking to Abram in Genesis 15:1, to the angels speaking to the shepherds in Luke 2:10, to Jesus addressing John in Revelation 1:17.

[3] Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 165.

Listening to the Heartbeat of God

J. Philip Newell, Listening to the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 112 pages.


I have some problems with this book, but I’m glad I read it. I did like the last chapter where I found myself in agreement with the author on the need to draw from a broad theological base. He labels these two theological camps for disciples: John (the emotional) and Peter (the rational). While I agree with this,he overstates his case when trying to separate the two camps within church history.


My problem is that Newell sets Augustine theology (along with the Protestant Reformation), in conflict with a more ancient Celtic theology. He grounds Celtic theology in the thoughts of Pelagius (a lay theologian who is thought to have come from the British Isles and declared a heretic by the church in the 5th Century). Augustine was the theologian who challenged Pelagius’ thoughts, especially on free-will and original sin. Little is actually known about Pelagius’ thought outside the response of his opponents (this may well be the case of the winners writing history). In fact, so little is known about Pelagius that makes me wonder about Newell’s claims. He suggests that Pelagius may have come back to the “Celts” after his conflict in Rome, but it appears he traveled on East, where he had a conflict with Jerome who was living in Palestine. Then Pelagius disappears from history.

Newell is correct in pointing out problems with Augustine’s theology, especially linking the fall and original sin, which he saw as being passed on generation to generation through sexual reproduction. Then he sets up a “straw man” by linking Calvin and Calvinist thought to such views. Calvin and others struggled with this concept (See Jane Dempsey Douglass, Women, Freedom & Calvin, chapter 4). Furthermore, while Calvin realized sin was a real issue, he never felt the imago dei was completely wiped away from humans who had been “created in God’s image” (see John Calvin, Institutes, I.15.4 and Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 126ff.). Newell’s argument rests on his belief that within Augustine/Calvin thought, there is nothing in creation that can help us understand God. That God’s image had been totally purged by sin. While Calvinist thought certainly suggests that because of the fall, we cannot obtain the knowledge of salvation on our own, it also maintains that God has implanted an “awareness of the divinity within the human mind” (Institutes I.3.i) and that the “knowledge of God shines forth in the fashioning of the universe and the continuing government of it” (Institutes I.4).

It is my opinion that Newell sets up a false dichotomy within Calvinistic thought, where the world is seen as totally evil and contrasts this with the Celtic thought where the world was seen as good. The idea of the physical being evil is more of a gnostic idea than Augustine/Calvinistic thought. As I showed in the previous paragraph, Calvin never saw the world as totally evil. Yes, creation is good, but because of our sin, it has been tainted and we can’t fully know God through it. We need to experience the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which is given to us through the Scriptures.

Newell also conveniently ignores the Calvinistic concept of “common grace,” the idea that God implants grace into all of humanity, even those who are not believers, for the purpose of helping all people. Could not such “common grace” allow everyone to enjoy creation and benefit from it? As Jesus says, it rains on the just and unjust.

Another area that I took issue was the lay centered leadership with Celtic thought verses the clergy leadership of the church. While the clergy certainly dominated the Roman Church, the protestant reformation sought to solve this issue with the concept of “the priesthood of all believers.” This thought balances the power of the laity and the clergy and insists that Jesus is the only priest needed. The clergy/laity separation seems to be another area that Newell is reaching to show the benefits of the Celtic ways. While this would remain true for Roman (and even Anglican) theology, it does not fit with non-Anglican Protestant thought, such as the Presbyterians.

While I agree with Newell in the importance of creation displaying the glory of God’s handiwork, I don’t think the followers of Augustine or Calvin would necessarily disagree. We live in a world that was created and declared good. Yes, as Newell points out, the Celtic ways had ties to pre-Christian beliefs, but that’s not necessarily a problem. You can make the same argument with early Roman Christianity, too.

As for this book, I recommend reading the last chapter, which applies us today. When we strive to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), we do so by involving the emotional sides of our brains along with the rational side. One final comment, the fear and trembling quote comes from Paul, which I don’t believe Newell even mentions.

Imagine the People of God: Fruition

At the bottom of the sermon, I have the opening of my pastoral prayer for the day as I reflect on the atrocities our nation experienced yesterday and early this morning in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. 

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Galatians 5:13-23
August 4, 2019



This is our last worship experience in the series, “Image the People of God. Today, we’re reflecting on the fruit of our imaginations as we long for the kingdom of God—the family of God—to be fulfilled with good and right relationships. What does it look like to be a community who is “believing, receiving, becoming God’s love,” and who can sing with exuberance, “we are your people, O God!” Our scripture from Galatians provides an image of what this looks like. We’re to make a “loyal commitment” to this vision.[1] Read Galatians 5:13-24.


        Did any of you get nervous as the end of a reporting terms approached when you were in school? Be honest. I certainly did. The idea of receiving a report card that had to be signed by parents was troubling, especially if I didn’t do well in a subject. It was even more troubling if I received anything less than a satisfactory mark in conduct. Personally, I never saw anything bad with my conduct, but my teachers had different expectations. It was often reflected with a “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” marks on my report card. I’d go home and if I only had a “needs improvement” mark would discover a few new chores. If it was an “unsatisfactory” mark, I’d find myself grounded for six weeks. Maybe Paul’s claim that freedom is not an opportunity for self-indulgence was meant for me.

        Our passage today is about the God’s expectation for our lives. Paul provides us with guidance on practical Christian living. Such a life should show the evidence of spiritual fruit that centers on love. Paul begins this section by reminding us that we have been called to be free, but we should not use our freedom for our own self-indulgence. Instead, through love, we become slaves to others. Paul speaks of love as way of looking outward, always wanting what is best for the other person. It may be idealistic, but if we all lived this way, we the world would be a better place. Are we making the world better or worse? What kind of report card would you receive?

          Paul draws a comparison between the types of work that come from our own desires and that which shows evidence of God’s Spirit working in our lives. The flesh can lead us down the wrong path, whether it is sexual immorality, idolatry, or creating discord within our communities. We’re to avoid such things, as Paul highlights in verses 16-22. Then, Paul provides a contrasting list of what the fruit of our life in the Spirit should look like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

         In this series, we’re reminded of our call to use our creativity to become better disciples of Jesus. As a disciple, the end goal isn’t to convert the world (that’s God’s work), but to be witnesses which means exhibiting such characteristics in our lives. If we were to receive a report card from God, it could have these nine items listed. How would we do? Would our grades be high enough to make our parents proud?

        Before we get into the individual items, let me suggest that they are to be taken as a whole. We don’t have nine different fruits of the spirit, like you might have apples and pears, bananas and pineapples. Instead, we are to have “fruit of the spirit.”[2] Fruit is singular. And such fruit is witnessed in nine areas within our communal lives. If each of us were living by ourselves, without anyone else, on a deserted island, there would be no need for such fruit and no way to observe if we are fruitful (unless, I suppose, we suffer from a multiple personality disorder). It’s when we come into contact of others that these traits come into play.

        Now let’s look at each of these traits. Love: It’s been said that love always implies a personal investment in the object of love.”[3] Your check book probably says more about what you love than anything else. Where do you invest your resources? We experience this in God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. God gave it all. Love is outward focused, not inward. It’s the first of the traits because the love of God and of one another is the summary of the law. If we don’t love, we are not making the grade!

        The second trait we should be showing is joy. This is a hard one for we tend to think about joy as the person always smiling and laughing, forgetting the truth of that old Smokey Robinson song, “The Tears of a Clown.” We think of joy when the war is over and everyone celebrates in the street or when your favorite team wins the World Series, but such joy is fleeting. Paul encourages us to have joy even in times of trouble and persecution.[4] Joy is not the absence of something undesirable, but is that which gives us hope that our suffering is not the end.[5] God has something better for us, which is why Paul and Silas could sing hymns when they were in chains after having been beaten.[6] With God as the source and object of our joy, we can be joyous despite disappointments because we know that God got this. Our eternal salvation is secured.

        The third trait we’ll show, if we are fruitful, is peace. Again, as with joy, peace is often misunderstood. Without war is what we think peace is, but the Biblical concept is much deeper. Peace has to do with a wholeness within ourselves. It’s a state of mind that keeps us from being overwhelmed when chaos (and war) surrounds us. Peace is an outcome of knowing and trusting God.

         The next trait is patience. Again, think about how we often act. We want what we can get as soon as possible. When we want to go to the store or the club or wherever we’re going, and we are impatience when we get behind a slow driver or a driver who’s lost and looking at mailbox numbers. But as a believer, we should take a deep breath. We should realize the source of our frustration, such as the slow driver, may need a break. We don’t know what is going on in his or her life. Besides, what’s the worst that might happen? We’ll be a minute late? Give the person a break and be patient is the Christian response, but one in which many of us struggle.

          Kindness goes without saying. Again, God has shown kindness to us and calls us to show kindness and mercy to one another.[7] Kindness helps restore relationships, as God’s kindness demonstrates.[8] We’re taught in Proverbs that the one who shows righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.[9] Proverbs also teaches that kind words will bring life, but cruel words will crush another.[10] Do we show kindness to all?

        Next comes generosity. Again, in giving His Son, God has been generous with us, and we are to therefore be generous to one another.




Next is faithfulness. Remember, God has been faithful to us, even when we’ve been unfaithful. Therefore, we should be faithful with one another and not promise that which we will not do. In our world where people get easily offended and then break relationships, we see that faithfulness is in short supply. We need to change this. God stuck with us through thick and thin, and we need to stick with one another.[11]

          Gentleness is another godly trait. Remember the parable of the forgiven servant that Jesus taught?[12] The one forgiven a great debt, but then he puts the squeeze on another servant who owed him a minor debt. If God has been gentle with our great indebtedness, then we should be gentle with those who have wronged us. In a way, strength makes gentleness necessary. God could easily crush us, but his gentleness calls for another response. Likewise, we’re to be gentle, especially when we are in positions of power.

        Going with gentleness is self-control. Self-control implies the discipline of an athlete; a metaphor Paul uses to describe the Christian faith.[13] We don’t make rash decisions or lash out without thinking about what we’re doing. We don’t hit “Send” to forward an angry email without first sleeping on it. We don’t make obscene hand gestures when someone cuts us off in traffic. We don’t make snide remarks about those who hold different political views to ours. Instead, we show maturity by reining in our emotions and acting responsibly/

         We have witnessed God displaying all these traits that make up the “fruit of the Spirit.” Now it’s our turn to learn from life of Jesus and to show such grace to others. Doing so will make this world a better place for all God’s people. Amen.




[1] “Imagine the People of God” is a series outlined by

[2] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 262.

[3] Don. M. Aycock, Living by the Fruit of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 17.

[4] 1 Thess. 5:16-17, Philippians 1:24.

[5] Philip D. Kenneson, Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 62.

[6] Acts 16:16ff.

[7] Zechariah 7:9.

[8] Aycock, 69.

[9] Proverbs 21:21.

[10] Proverbs 15:4.

[11] Aycock, 103.

[12] Matthew 18:23-35.

[13] For example, see 1 Corinthians 9:24 and 2 Timothy 4:7.

20190804   Pastoral Prayer

Almighty and most merciful God, we gathered on a beautiful day, but we’re troubled, for we live in a violent world. We’re worried about what is happening to us as a people. The news is frightening with two mass shootings in one day—in Texas and Ohio—followed by other such events this past week in California and Mississippi. On the world stage, protests rage again in Hong Kong and in Moscow. In the Persian Gulf, Iran has captured another oil tanker. Closer to home, we worry about the church and how we’ll survive as fewer people show interest. More and more people don’t see the need of religion in their lives. We worry about our health and the health of loved ones. We worry about the lack of civility in the public square. As we navigate these dangerous and dark times, we need you more than ever. Give us a vision of a world that reflects your values, not ours. Help us to use our minds to creatively work to build a better world, one in which we enjoy the ripe fruit of your Spirit. May we live in a manner that we’ll be part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem.  May we live in a manner that will be faithful to our Lord’s calling, until we are called to our true home, where we will be united with you.

Hear our prayers as we pray…