Make Somebody’s Day

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
January 26, 2020
Micah 6:1-8


A widow’s son who died in a tragic accident. This put her in great grief as she was not sure what to do. A friend took her to a holy man who was also known as a healer. “Use your power to bring my son back to me,” she sobbed.

The holy man spoke kindly to the woman. “Bring me a mustard seed from a house that has never known sorrow. I will use that seed to remove the pain you have in your life.

The woman set out immediately on a search for such a mustard seen. She visited the home of the wealthiest person in the area, thinking that no tragedy could have struck them. She knocked on the door and the told the woman of the house about her search and how she needed a mustard seed from a house without sorry.

“Never known sorrow?” the woman asked. “You’ve come to the wrong house.” She began to sob and told of all the tragedies that had struck her family. The widow remained in the home for many days, listening and caring.

Upon leaving the wealthy home, she resumed her search and tried a modest home about a mile down the road. The experience was the same. Everywhere she went, she was greeted with tales of sadness and sorry. And everyone she met found her to be a listening and caring woman.

After months of travelling, she became so involved in the grief of others that she forgets about her search for the magic mustard seed, never realizing that her search had driven sorry out of her life.[1]

You know, sometimes we should just do it. Nike may have coined that term, but it’s also the call of a disciple. Our belief needs to be displayed in our actions. God wants us to live in a way that will bless those around us with peace and comfort. We’re not to do good to earn God’s favor, instead we should be touched by what God has done for us and order our lives accordingly. How might we make someone’s day, today?

Our lesson for the morning is from Micah 6:1-8, reading from the Message translation.


          The Scriptures we read today make it abundantly clear that God isn’t looking for heroes. God doesn’t require us to be “Super-Christians.” We don’t have to sacrifice everything we have in order to find favor with God. Instead, God is satisfied with us living a life which brings no harm to anyone and which honor righteousness. These teachings from the Old Testament can be somewhat summarized into Jesus’ command to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.[2]

       The sixth chapter of Micah begins with a courtroom scene. God indicts Israel, asking her to come and plea her case against the mountains and the hills. Why the mountains and hills?  Because they have been around for ages and have seen how God has shown mercy to Israel.[3]


        In the third verse, God asks Israel a rhetorical question.  “What have I done to you, in what ways have I wearied you?”  The people of Israel have been ignoring God. God’s question is designed to grab their attention. Was God the reason for Israel disobedience? Probably not…

The indictment against Israel continues as God reminds her of the Exodus and other great deeds which have shown the saving grace of Israel’s Lord.

         In the sixth verse, Israel answers. Israel knows she has been disobedient and asks how she might come back before God.  Shall it be with the best of sacrifices? Armloads of offerings, and a yearling calf? Or perhaps, like King David,[4] a thousand rams along with buckets and barrels of olive oil?  And if that’s not enough, how about the most valuable thing of all, her first-born? As this response is made to God, each item escalates the value of the sacrifice.[5]

Standing before God is awesome and frightful. The Hebrew people believed that if they saw God’s holy face, they’d be consumed by God’s righteousness. So, it seems natural that if they are called into a lawsuit by God, they should up the ante of what they’re willing to offer. But God is so much greater than anything we can offer. What does God need from us? The offer to ratchet up of the sacrifices allows the prophet to correct the people’s misconception about what God wants. It’s quite simple, Micah says in verse 8. Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and walk with God (Or as the Message translates that ending of the verse, don’t take yourself seriously, take God seriously).

You may be asking yourself, does that mean that sacrifice and offerings to God are of no use?  No, not at all. Instead, what we are told is that living a moral life is required if we expect our attempts at worshipping God to be valid. If you remember, Jesus said something about us healing the rift with a wronged brother before we make our offerings in the temple.[6]

          The beauty of this passage is its simplicity. God is not expecting us to make a monumental effort in order to gain favor.  God does not want religion to become such a burden that we harbor resentment in our hearts. Instead, God wants us to incorporate our faith into our lives so that God is glorified in all that we do…

Wendell Berry is a Christian, an environmentalist, a farmer and a poet from the hills of Kentucky. Years ago, at a commencement speech during a college graduation, which he titled “The Futility of Global Thinking” he told the students:


“Nobody can do anything to heal the planet. The suggestion that anybody could do so is preposterous. The heroes of abstraction keep galloping in on their white horses to save the planet—and they keep falling off in front of the grandstand.”[7]

        Think about what Berry is saying. When we look at the environmental crisis from a global level, it becomes unmanageable. Berry goes on to tell the students that instead of worrying about how to save the planet, they should concern themselves with the care of their own neighborhoods.[8] This is true not just for environmental issues, but every other kind of challenge our world faces. We can’t change the hearts of others and avoid a war, but we can love our neighbors and began to build a community that reflects godly values. And slowly, if blessed by God, such communities can take shape and change the world.

What does Berry have to do with Micah? Well, in a sense, they are both prophets speaking to a world which has lost its connection to its source of life. The priest of Israel might demand that 1,000s of rams and barrels of oil be offered up to God to get Israel back on the right track, but what effect would that really have had on the average Hebrew in the 8th century BC? They’d be overwhelmed. Likewise, we are told that the answers to the world’s problems are global, but that’s overwhelming. We can’t get our minds around such problems.

         Let’s think of the implication of what Micah and Berry have to say to the discussion of the church in America in the 21st Century? We cannot deny-things are changing in our world.  The shape of the church and society are undergoing radical restructuring. Our church and society seem helpless in stopping the violence and the brutality which we read about daily.

We have a lot of problems in our world. The environment, crime, hunger, drugs, war, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment… the list seems endless. As Christians, our Lord and Savior calls us to be concerned and to do our part to make the world better. But isn’t it nice to know that we are not required to do it all ourselves?

        One of the problems of the modern church, I believe, is that we’ve become practical atheist.[9] As practical atheist, we still believe in God, we just don’t believe God is doing anything in the world so we have to make up the slack. Practical atheists can be either conservatives or progressives, and they seem to flourish at both extremes. God is still real for them; they can use the fear of God or the teachings of Jesus to excite Christians into zealous actions. These “practical atheist” are mostly committed to single causes. The conservative cause may be abortion or prayer in school, the liberal cause may be the homeless or minority rights. They demand action now and see themselves as carrying out God’s mission even to the point of martyrdom. Both can cite ways that God is on their side, and in that they are both probably right.

         But the revitalization of our world is not going to happen because of what some individual or group does to drag along everyone else into their camp. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in these issues. I’m just saying that, first and foremost, we should remain focused on Jesus Christ, or as Micah says in the New Revised Standard translation, “Walk humbly with our God.” We don’t need a giant to save the world. Jesus didn’t bless the superstars in the beatitudes.[10] We already have a Savior, in Jesus Christ. We don’t need another Savior; we just need to trust and have patience in him.

What’s holding you back? What’s stopping you from being fair, compassionate and loyal? What keeping you from walking with God? Start today. Do the small things. Do something good that will make someone’s day and make the world just a little brighter. Amen.



[1] An old Jewish legend retold by William R. White, Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers (Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1986), 42-43.

[2]Matthew 22:35–40, Mark 12:28–34, and Luke 10:27.

[3]Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi: Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1984), 50.

[4] See I Chronicles 29:21.

[5]James Limburg, Hosea-Micah: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 191.

[6]Matthew 5:23.

    [7]Wendell Berry, “The Futility of Global Thinking,” Harper’s Magazine (September 1989), 16.

    [8]Berry, 18.

[9] I’m not sure where I first heard this title used, but such atheism can be described this way: “[U]nbelief or atheism is a problem, not intellectually, but politically. Most of our social activism is formed on the presumption that God is superfluous…”Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), 36.

[10]Matthew 5:3-12.

Aunt Callie’s Place

Francis Wilhoit was born in 1920. He was a little younger than my grandmother, and he died a number of years before her, in 2010, at the age of 90. I never met him (as far as I know), but my Grandmother used to always tell me that I reminded her of him. When I was in college, she gave me a copy of his book, The Politics of Massive Resistance, and I expect I’m the only one in the family to have read it. It deals with the white reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. Wilhoit was outspoken against racism at a time few Southerners were speaking up about the problems. He was a professor at Drake University in Iowa. Years ago my grandmother sent me a copy of a poem that he wrote about her childhood home. Callie McKenzie was her mother (my great-grandmother) and Kenneth was her father (my great-grandfather). Wilhoit wrote this poem in 1977, which was over a decade after my great-grandmother’s death and seven or eight years after my great-grandfather’s death. Now all from those generations are gone.

Unfortunately the spacing Wilhoit used in the poem was lost when I posted it in WordPress. I will have to see if I can get it corrected (but not tonight).

“Aunt Callie” is to the left. Next is my father and in front of him, my Uncle Larry. My great-grandfather Kenneth is holding me, and my grandmother is on the right. The picture was probably taken late 1957 or early 1958


“Out at Aunt Callie’s Place”
By F. M. Wilhoit

Based on a poem by James Whitcomb Riley
September 1977

Pleasant it was, O yes I know,
In the good old days in the glow
Of youth, when summer at last had come
And the call of the country beat like a drum,
And we went visiting, our hearts never glum
Out to Aunt Callie’s Place.

It all seems only yesterday!
Though I’m now aged and silvery gray—
Out in the country, by the side of the road,
We aimlessly wandered through Nature’s abode,
Not a fear in the world, not a care to unload,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place

We tramped the lowgrounds and crossed the wood
Where many an ancient oak tree stood,
Where jack rabbits sprang from tall wiregrass,
And honeybees buzzed in a swarming mass,
And threatened to sting as we tried to pass,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

And down to the house of Tom and Kate;
And up to the Garrisons’ vast estate;
And on to the Old Place, over to Culdee,
From tobacco labors happily free—
Our faith as firm as the tallest tree
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

Yes, I see her in the screened-in porch,
Her face as bright as a miner’s torch;
And Uncle Kenneth and the children too!
Wasn’t it great, for me and you,
To place among kinfolks, tried and true,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place?

The apples, the grapes and the gingerbread
And the jams and cakes—O how we were fed!
And the corn in the peas and the deep berry pies—
It all seemed to me like Paradise;
And the more we’d eat the more she’d devise
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

In the old frame-house in the evening cool,
With supper done—as a general rule—
We’d take and talk and talk and talk
And listen to the crickets loudly squawk,
Or maybe join in a nighttime walk
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

And many a time have you and I—
Barefoot kids in those days gone by—
Built mighty castles in the summer sands,
Dreaming of far-off, strange new lands,
Knowing we’d all meet Life’s demands,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

And O, my cousins, how the times have changed,
By age and progress all disarranged;
She’s waiting, though: a smile on her face,
Patient as ever, full of God’s grace,
Calling us back, with a spiritual embrace,
Back to Aunt Callie’s Place!


A few note (from me, not Wilhoit):

Wiregrass naturally grows under longleaf pines.

We lived several hundred feet east of “Callie’s Place” when I was a child (we moved when I was 6). I can attest that the bee’s my great-grandfather kept were known for their temperament and we always stayed away from the hives.

Culdee Presbyterian Church is the family church, which was located South of “Callie’s Place,” on the other side of the Lower Little River

My great-grandmother was known for her berry pies that she always baked in a wood-fired oven (there were two ovens in the house when I was a child, a gas range and a wood stove, and she mostly cooked and baked on the wood stove). She would set them out on the back porch (which was screened) to cool.

One memory of mine that Wilhoit must have forgotten was the nasty spittoon on the back porch and how my great-grandmother loved dip snuff and, I assume, my great-grandfather chewed tobacco. The spittoon was for when they had to spit it out.

Lighten Up (Let’s Laugh)

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Mark 10:23-27
January 19, 2020



We’re looking at another tool to beat Spiritual Affective Disorder. We’ve talked about spending time reflecting on the light. We’ve looked at how music can lift our souls. Today we’re looking another sure-fired way to beat SAD (that’s Spiritual Affective Disorder). We can use humor and laughter. Too often we think of humor as inappropriate in churches. God is seen as some stern judge up in the sky, with piercing eyes and a frown, upset with all humanity. But God delights in humor. We can see it in creation. Why did God create the opossum? Or the anteater? Or the monkey? Or some of us?[1] We can also see it in scripture. In our Old Testament reading we hear of Sarah laughing at the possibility she, as an old lady, will give birth.[2] The story shows us God had the last laugh. God wants us to lighten up, to not take ourselves too seriously, and to trust him. We’ll see this in our New Testament reading, too. I’m reading Mark 10: 23-27, from the Message Translation.

Jim Johnson is a former pastor who now owns the Bull’n Bear Saloon in Red Lodge, Montana. On making this transition for the pulpit to behind the bar, he tells this joke: “Two guys walk into a bar and stop dead in their tracks. One thinks to himself, ‘Oh no, my preacher’s a bartender!’ The other thinks, ‘Oh no, my bartender’s a preacher!’”[3] This joke illustrates how humor is perceived different depending on your perspective. What one person finds as funny might not be funny to someone else, just as a preacher as a bartender gets different reactions from a bar patron and a parishioner.

          It may have been the same way with Jesus’ parable about the camel going through an eye of a needle. Just try to image how silly this word picture looks—a camel, one of the larger animals in that part of the world compared to such a small opening. This is funny, in a “Far Side” kind of fashion.


Imagine the disciples laughing as Jesus tells this story. Jesus had just encountered the rich man who wouldn’t follow Jesus because he had much to lose. The man went away sad. He just couldn’t risk giving up his stuff, but that’s another sermon. The disciples who witnessed this looks to Jesus for some reassurance for their salvation, and Jesus’ tells this story.

           For what we know, none of the disciples were rich, so it’s easy for them to laugh at the absurdity. Or maybe not. Maybe there were those who saw riches as a sign of God’s favor. Unfortunately, there are still some people like that, proclaiming a prosperity gospel. But this story undercuts the idea that wealth equals God’s favor. Now the disciples, whose bank accounts aren’t exactly overflowing, may have laughed at all the absurd image and at all those people with all that money who are doomed.

But then, one by one, they began to think. We’ll I’m not totally poor. I own a fishing boat, I own some robes and don’t go hungry, I have a house… Maybe I’m not rich by some standards, but at least I’m middle class. Does this mean me getting into heaven, would be more like a dog or a cat, instead of a camel, getting through an eye of a needle? I still don’t stand a chance. Their minds run wild. What kind of animal can get through the eye of a needle? Well, what about a worm or even an ant. But there’s two problems here. First, unless it’s a very small worm or ant, they’re not going to be getting through the eye of a needle. And secondly, is Jesus saying I must be so small that I can only be a microscopic worm or ant? Where does that put me?[4]

          The laughter begins to subside as they realize their predicament. They’re doomed. Frustrated, they ask Jesus, “Just who can be saved?” Jesus responds, telling them it’s impossible for humans, but nothing is impossible for God. Jesus uses humor to make this point, but we often have a hard time accepting it which is why people have tried to reinterpret this passage such as suggesting that Jesus wasn’t referring to a needle used for sewing, but that it was the name of a narrow gate through the city’s walls. I’ve heard that interpretation in sermons and think it displays our fear of the truth—that we’re not in control.[5]

        When you push an idea to the absurd, you get humor. Mark Twain knew this. He once wrote a letter from Virginia City, Nevada to his mother, telling on his brother for stealing some stamps from a local mill. According to Twain, his brother had slipped these into his pocket. Twain thought it was a perfect joke. His mom would get on his brother’s case, for she had no idea that the “stamps” in a stamp mill weigh 100s of pounds and were used to crush rock.[6] It’s absurd, which makes it funny and no way it could be factually true.

Bill Bryson is another humorous writer who is a master at expanding a truth to the point that it’s humorous. In his book, A Walk in the Woods, about hiking the Appalachian Trail, he does this with bears. Anyone who hikes a significant portion of the trail will probably see a bear, but Bryson makes it sound like bears are a constant threat and regularly snack on hikers. He did the same thing in his book, In a Sunburned Country, about his travels in Australia. Reading it, you’d wonder if most people in the land Down Under die from being bitten by snakes and spiders or eaten by crocodiles and sharks. He makes it sound like the country is trying to kill you, which some might think is true with their recent fires.

           Using exaggeration to be funny is a way of saying, “Lighten Up.” We don’t need to be so uptight about everything. No, we can’t save ourselves. But the good news is that with God all is possible. Where do we point our trust? In our stuff (which won’t fit through the needle’s eye) or in God? Of course, it’s easy for us to miss the joke. That’s partly because jokes don’t always translate across cultures. Furthermore, jokes are best told and not read.[7]

        Another humorous writer I enjoy is the late Patrick McManus. He’s published a dozen or so books and wrote humorous columns for Outdoor Life and Field and Stream. While McManus used exaggeration for humor, he often reported on his own silliness and mistakes. The best jokes are those we make about ourselves and not others. The mess he found himself in while hunting or fishing can be chuckling, because many of us have been in similar situations. As he aged, McManus lamented how things change. The trails have become steeper and the oxygen in the mountains have decreased since his youth. We’ve experienced that, haven’t we?[8]

          One of the problems the church has in the world is that other people see us as taking ourselves too seriously. We carry heavy burdens and don’t trust God’s Spirit enough, it’s easy to get down and depressed. And then we don’t do a good job of reflecting Jesus’ face to the world.

In my blog, I recently posted a humorous piece about Communion. I was a little nervous about how it might be accepted but was comforted by the comments. One suggested that if such humor was used more often, they’d be more people in the pews on Sunday. Another woman, from Australia, who confessed to not having been raised religious, said the humor helped her understand.[9]

Jesus doesn’t want us to be uptight. Jesus wants us to have abundant life, beginning now, and that means we need to be joyous and to laugh more. Humor is good for us. It can be holy! We should, at the very least, be able to laugh at ourselves. It keeps us humbled. The great mid-20th Century Theologian Karl Barth once said that “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”[10]



Think about children and how they laugh. They laugh at the silliest of things. We adults think we must be more serious. I wonder if, when Jesus said that if we want to enter the kingdom of God we must come like a child, he meant that we must come laughing like a child?[11] It’s something to ponder.


         Laughter is also good for us. Do you remember the movie, Patch Adams, where Robin Williams played a doctor who used laughter in treating patients? Do you recall how he got a children’s ward filled with kids suffering from cancer to laugh? And how the head nurse was mortified and ordered him out of the ward and told the kids to get back in the bed? The movie showed how we adults are too serious and that the world needs to lighten up and enjoy things.

          Laughter relaxes us. According to some studies it can heal us by boosting our immune system. In addition to lightening our hearts and reducing anger, laughter helps us to burn a few extra calories. It lowers our stress. And it makes us more pleasant to be around![12]


        So, this week I want you to take time to laugh. Read the comics or pick up a humorous book. Take an opportunity to laugh at yourself. If you come across a great joke, drop it in an email to me or to a friend. We all need laughter and we’d be a lot better off if we could laugh at ourselves, for our follies makes us realize how much we depend on God.

Let me close with a part of a poem titled, “The Rowing Endeth,” by Anne Sexton. She describes being in a rowboat making for the Island of God. I’ll begin reading as she steps ashore:


“On with it!” He says and thus
we squat on the rocks by the sea
and play—can it be true—
a game of poker.
He calls me.
I win because I hold a royal straight flush.
He wins because He holds five aces.
A wild card had been announced
but I had not heard it
being in such a state of awe
when He took out the cards and dealt.
As he plucks down His five aces
and I sit grinning at my royal flush,
He starts to laugh,
the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth
and into mine,
and such laughter that He doubles right over me
laughing a Rejoice-Chorus at our two triumphs.
Then I laugh, the fish dock laughs,
the sea laughs. The Island laughs.
The Absurd laughs.[13]





[1] This is an old preaching joke that I’ve heard attributed to Billy Sunday, among others.

[2] Genesis 18:9-15.


[4] Jesus is challenging a false sense of security here.  See William L. Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament:  Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 369.

[5] As for debunking the theory of enlarging the eye of a needle to a gate, see Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Hendrickson Publishing 2nd Ed, 1997: London, A & C Black, 1991), 243.  

[6] I’m pretty sure I am remembering this from when I read Twain’s published correspondence from Virginia City, NV. Twain often made fun of his brother, once saying his brother was “as happy as a martyr when the fire won’t burn.”  See Philip Ashley Fanning, Mark Twain and Orion Clemens: Brothers, Partners, Strangers (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 151.

[7] See John L. Bell’s essay “Giggling for God” in 10 Things They Never Told Me About Jesus (Chicago: GIA Publishing, 2009), 126.

[8] Patrick F. McManus, Kerplunk (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 104.



[11] See Mark 10:14.  See also Matthew 19:14 and Luke 18:16.

[12] See

[13] Anne Sexton, The Awful Rowing Toward God (Boston: Houghton Mufflin, 1975) 85-86.


A Lighthearted Yet Serious Look at the Lord’s Supper from a Protestant Perspective

When I was in seminary, there was a debate at how often communion should be served in Chapel. This essay, which I recently came across, has it’s roots in that debate which occurred 30-some years ago. It displays my somewhat skeptic side:

Not exactly a communion photo. This is me giving a blessing taken from the movie “Its a Wonderful Life:” “Bread! That this house may never know hunger. Salt! That life may always have flavor. And wine! That joy and prosperity may reign forever.”


The highlight of Christian worship is the Lord’s Supper. We break bread and share wine together, uniting ourselves through a very ordinary act with all the saints who have gone before us and to Christ himself. It’s a mysterious feast, especially for the stomach that often leaves the meal hungry.

Standing in front of the table, the minister repeats Jesus’ words. “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics fought over the meaning of these words—whether or not the bread was really Jesus’ body. Protestant Reformers could smugly point out that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. After all, he also said he was a door and nobody believes he is a literal door, wooden or otherwise. However, from the small portions used, you would think that all churches believed that it was Jesus’ actual body and they must hoard some for future generations. Of course, Protestants like me do not believe the bread is the literal body of Christ, but a sign to remind us of our unity with Christ in his death and resurrection.

The second part of the service involves drinking wine or, as most Protestants prefer, grape juice. The words of Jesus are again spoken. “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In the Middle Ages, only priests were allowed to drink the wine because of a fear the common people might actually spill some. Only Jesus was allowed to shed his blood, they reasoned. In some churches, everyone drinks from the same cup, a nice gesture that demonstrate how we all share in Christ. However, the majority of American Protestant Churches understanding that such sharing involves germs; therefore, they use small individual cups about the size of a thimble. Since the women’s movement, most of these churches have begun using disposal plastic cups because no one is volunteering to wash the glass ones.  Ecologically minded Christians are bothered by this, but until they sign up for cup washing, the trend toward plastic cups will continue.

Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper in a variety of ways. Versions of the fast food method are generally preferred. In most Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, everyone goes up to the front of the sanctuary and kneels or stands, awaiting their turn to receive the bread and cup. The most common way in Baptist and Presbyterian churches is the drive-in method. You sit in your pews and the elements are brought to you. A take-out plan is generally available for those unable to attend services.

Another method that has become more common is intinction. Each worshiper breaks off a piece of bread and dips it into the cup. This method rapidly facilitates the distribution of the elements, however the Biblical foundation for such a technique is weak. Even the most liberal exegete would have a hard time interpreting Jesus’ words, “take and eat” with “take and dunk.” More problematic for those sharing this method is that the only example we have of a disciple eating dipped bread at the Last Supper being Judas Iscariot.

A hundred or so years ago, it was common for American Protestants to actually sit around a real table and share a feast with others. This method, which had its roots in the Scottish Church, was the formal dining plan. To be allowed a seat at the table, a member had to produce a communion token that he or she earned by being good, paying one’s tithe, not breaking the commandments, and attending a preparatory lecture. As the worshiper approached the table, he or she was greeted by the maître’ d, a role played by an elder of the congregation. Those not tipping with the appropriate token were escorted to the door by the same elder who was also a bouncer. Once the worshipers were seated at the table, they were served a hunk of bread and a cup of wine. This was done rapidly in order to accommodate the next seating. Unfortunately, for all its appeal, formal dining has gone the way of fine china and finger bowls. Few churches bother.

As Christians, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in order to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do this obediently and solemnly. Nobody talks; everyone bows their head. Most believe we are conducting the service in the same manner as Jesus, having forgotten that Jesus instituted this sacrament at the Passover meal in which four cups of wine was served. Unlike the Passover, a modern communion service lasts just a few minutes, after which everyone is still able to drive home.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper also serves as a foretaste of the kingdom to come. At the heavenly banquet, we will all sit at table with Christ at the head. The Bible doesn’t give us the menu, but considering that four of the disciples were fisherman, maybe it will be a seafood banquet. Or maybe it will be lamb supplied by the good shepherd at the head table. Whatever the menu, the heavenly banquet promises to be livelier than the somber communion services. This is a good thing. Mark Twain noted that if heaven is just sitting around singing hymns, he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go there. Likewise, if the heavenly banquet is only as exciting as its earthly counterpart, no one will RSVP.

After communion, the minister pronounces the benediction. Like the flagman at Indianapolis, it signals the beginning of a race. Some parishioners rush out to a restaurant. In good Christian competition, they attempt to beat those from other churches to the restaurant. Others head home where the television is the first order of business. After finding the game of the week, one family pulls a roast from the oven while another grills burgers out back. Those without ambition order pizza. Such hearty food is served and, as long as the right team is winning, we laugh and love joyfully. After having fed us at his table, Jesus wonders why he’s not included.

Soothe a Savage

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Psalm 40:1-11
January 12, 2020


Between Christmas and Lent, we’re exploring Spiritual Affective Disorder. Many people during winter, when the days are short, suffer for a Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s due to the lack of natural light. When we don’t receive the light that comes from God, our spirits can also be troubled. Each week, I’ll suggest strategies we might use to break the cycle of despair. One way to get us out of the doldrums is music. As I read from the first eleven verses of Psalm 40, listen for what the Psalmist has to say about music. Read Psalm 40:1-11.

       There is something about music that can take us to a place and time in the past. Those in the advertising world have known this for a long time which is why they often use popular music in the background to help sell products. Movie producers are no different as they use music to put us into the mood they are trying to convey. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sadness, yet hopefulness, brought about from watching the movie, “Platoon.” These feelings were intensified by Samuel Barber’s haunting score, “Adagio in Strings.” Or, on a more positive note, think of the upbeat tunes used in the Charlie Brown movies. How does those tunes make you feel?

          Music has a power to draw us back to specific places in time, which is why it’s often used in therapy for those battling Alzheimer’s or brain injuries.  From my own life, there are songs that can take me back just by listening to them. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky” takes me to my childhood bedroom, in a late December evening in 1968. I was listening to the radio I received for Christmas that year. Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” takes me back to a wet night camping at Fort Fisher. A friend and I listened to the radio while trying to endure wet sleeping bags. The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” takes me to another rainy night, when I was in college. With kayaks strapped to the top of my car, my brother and I drove to the North Carolina Mountains to paddle in rain swollen rivers. I had no idea then that I’d hear that song so many times over the next few decades that I would become sick of it. Every time I hear haunting voice of Enya, the Irish singer, I am taken back to a drive over Sonora Pass in the Sierras at sunset. I’m sure you have such experiences, too.

        The same can be said about church and music. Maybe there was a special Christmas Eve service in which you sang, “What Child is This? and are taken back to that time. Sometimes we’re taken back to sad memories such as a song sung at a funeral. “He Leadeth Me,” was a favorite hymn of my great-grandfather McKenzie. I don’t remember him singing it as I was only 12 when he died. But I do recall the pastor officiating at his service sharing this insight. Now, whenever I hear that hymn, I am reminded of my great-grandfather and that great cloud of witnesses that have led us to his place.[1] Or maybe it’s a funny memory. I love the majesty of God presented in the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but every time I sing it, I also am reminded of my Grandfather Garrison, boldly singing this hymn, that has been referred to as the Presbyterian National Anthem, off-key.[2] And if I could tell he was off-key, you can be assured he was far off. But Granddaddy sang with gusto! I shudder when I think of the hymns that will remind my kids of me.

         Music has ancient roots. Archaeologists learned to discover cave art when exploring in France by singing. They discovered that caves with the most resonance for singing were also the places where they were more likely to discover cave paintings. Many anthropologists believe that music was first used as a way to strengthen community bonds, maybe even going back to the prehistoric cavemen.[3] Anecdotally, this idea of music strengthening communities seems true for if you talk to people about music: those of different generations will tend to gravitate to what was popular when they were teenagers or young adults. Music helps form our bonds.

        And music seems to exist beyond the human experience. There have been a lot of talk about coyotes on our island lately, but have you ever heard a pack of coyotes sing? It’s haunting yet beautiful. Each coyote has a slight variation to the song.[4] Have you heard recordings made of whales singing? Certainly, we’ve all heard songbirds sing. One of the memories I’ll always have about Michigan is how, in early March, I’d realize the birds were back as they start singing when it was still dark, before dawn. It was as if they were challenging winter, reminding us it wouldn’t be long before it was over. In a way, all creation sings so it’s natural for those of us who are humans to join in songs of cosmic praise.

          Melody can change our disposition. Depending on the tune, it can make us sad or happy, reflective or energetic.[5] All of these are valid experiences and hopefully in our music on Sunday, we experience most of them. We may not experience all emotions every Sunday, but over a collection of Sundays, music should speak to all our moods. God is so big. God is God of our joys and our sadness, so it takes a wide repertoire to even begin to cover the vastness of God’s presence. Another thing, not everyone prefers the same music. Therefore, we need to be open to what others like, along with being willing to expand our own repertoire. We’re all in different places and have different backgrounds and what speaks to one might not speak to another. And, what speaks to us one day might, on another day, become weary, like hearing “Hotel California” for the millionth time.

          Now, what does all this have to do with Psalm 40? Our text for this morning, the first half of this Psalm, is an offering of thanksgiving to God. The Psalmist, this one is attributed to David, begins by recalling how he waited patiently for God to hear his cry. In the second and third verses, we hear how God pulled him up from the muck, put him back on firm footing, and taught him a new song. The Psalmist is humble, acknowledging everything that has been done for him is a gift from a benevolent God.[6]

          But let’s consider a moment the thought of God giving the Psalmist a new song. I like this idea: God as the great choirmaster, teaching us new music. In our early reading from Revelation, we heard about all the singing in heavenly courts.[7] Music may have had a long history within humanity, but it goes back even further, to creation, shortly after birds are introduced. And, from what we read, music is going to be around for a long time as we praise God in eternity. God will teach us the song, if we are just open to listening and hearing and rejoicing.

         Starting with verse four, the Psalmist calls on all who have experienced God’s grace and mercy to join him. He invites others to turn away from false gods, to turn away from that which is worship in the world, and to focus on God’s wondrous deeds. So not only is the Psalmist given a new song, he now uses this song to witness to others, showing what God has done in the world. The Psalmist does what the redeemed are supposed to do, give credit to God for our salvation.[8] God doesn’t show mercy as a way to receive sacrifices, the Psalmist says in verse 6, but to have us follow him and to delight in the word, the law, which God places in our heart.

          There are three important movements in this Psalm. The crying out and waiting on God to act, the new song that God provides, and our willingness to witness to God’s faithfulness. This is what the Christian life is to be about. We confess our hopelessness and helplessness to the one who can help. God hears our plea and responds gracefully. And then we tell (or better yet sing) of God’s good deeds as we witness of God’s goodness to a lost world.

What can we take from all this? When you are feeling down, like the Psalmist, call out to God, trusting in the Almighty to hear. But also, be willing to listen and to sing, to praise God for what he has done in the past which gives us hope for the future. Make a playlist of songs you can listen to when you are down that will help lift your spirits. Today, such a list can be easily assembled using apps like Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music. If you’re technical at all, you can then have the music with you always (even on your phone), to help you overcome despair and embrace the beautiful world in which we live. I also encourage you to share with your church family music that has special meaning for you—you can do this either on our communication cards or email them to me and I’ll keep a running list which we can later publish.

       Let’s all be willing to sing new songs, songs that glorify and praise God, songs that lifts our hearts and prepare us to soar with joy. Amen



[1] Hebrews 12:1

[2] At an evangelism conference in the early 1990s, the pastor of Mt. Harmon Church of God in Atlanta jokingly called Holy, Holy, Holy the Presbyterian National Anthem and since I grew up in a church that sang it every Sunday at the beginning of Sunday School, it seemed right.

[3] Robert Jourdain, Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy as quoted and referred to by Marcia McFee, PhD., Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages (Truckee, CA: Trokay Prs, 2016), 127-128.

[4] For a discussion of coyote singing, see John Lane’s prologue “Redemption Song” in his book, Coyote Settles the South (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2016).

[5] This is my variation on Marcia McPhee’s list of patterns: thrust, shape, swing, and hang.  See McFee, 136-139.

[6] Artur Weisner,   The Psalms, translated by Herbert Hartwell, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 335.

[7] Revelation 5:6-14.

[8] James L. Mays, Psalms, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 168.

Reviews of Three Very Different Books

Patrick F. McManus, Kerplunk! (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 227 pages.


There is a favorite used bookstore in Wilmington, North Carolina that I often stop in when I’m home. This time I was looking to pick up another copy of Guy Owen’s The Ballard of the Flim-Flam Man to give to a cousin, along with any books by Archibald Rutledge (both Southern writers). I didn’t have any luck, but I came across a book by Patrick McManus that I had not read. I promptly purchased the book and read half of the stories that evening. All these stories had previously seen ink in Outdoor Life. They are funny and many have a good moral lesson, too. McManus has always been a bit of a curmudgeon. He longs for the days of old, when mountain trails weren’t so steep and there was more oxygen in air. He recalls hunting 80-acre section of land where the deer were seldom seen, but when he visited recently his old hunting ground, he sees that it’s not been developed into a gated community and the deer are plentiful, snacking on the shrubbery. The deer earing shrubs hit home! In these stories there are also good safety lessons, such as the purpose of hooking the safety chains on a trailer, because having your boat pass you on the highway us “one of the least pleasant sights you may encounter during your lifetime.” And McManus is also a master as self- deprecation, such as the time fishing for steelhead, his friend already had one on the line while he, having made a half-dozen casts, he hadn’t yet gotten his line in the water.  As for “Kerplunk”, you’ll have to read the book to find out. I do recommend McManus’ books!


David McCullough, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019), 331 pages, a few illustrations.


I have enjoyed many of McCullough’s books (John Adams, The Wright Brothers, The Johnstown Flood) and while I enjoyed this book, it’s not one of McCullough’s best.  While the book is about the opening up of the Northwest Territory (which included the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin), McCullough spends the first part of this book discussing how the territory came to be in the early days of the Republic. As the nation was broke, this territory allowed the country to pay the soldiers in the Continental Army with land. Of course, these former soldiers had to clear the land and fight for it, as the native tribes were not agreeable to giving away their land. One of the promoters of the territory was Manasseh Culter, a Congregational Pastor. He spent time in Philadelphia lobbying for the territory and would later travel westward into Ohio but would not move there. It was through Cutler’s eyes that McCullough tells of the passing of the Northwest Territory Act. After discussion of the passing of the act that opened the territory, McCullough focuses on those who establish the town of Marietta (which is located just north of the Ohio River, where Interstate 77 crosses). McCullough does a wonderful job telling the story of how the settlement was established, overcame the hardships of the early years, and became a permanent town.  I think he should have stopped there.

Where McCullough’s book fails is that he tries to tie his story through the middle of the 19th Century, which leaves many gaps in the story. By focusing only on Marietta and towns along the Ohio River, the reader is only given insight into one strand of settlers who poured into the territory. That said, I still enjoyed reading this book which my men’s book club read for its December selection.


James Clavell, Tai-Pan  (1966, Blackstone Publishing, 2019), 885 pages (~34 hours on Audible).


Tai-Pan is a fictional account of the founding of the British Colony “Hong-Kong.” This is a long book. I listened to all the book and read some sections (as this is our January book selection for my book group).  While Clavell tells a good story, he seems to excel at foreshadowing, which means that when things happen there is little surprise. An example was when the Chinese lover of the Tai-pan was bitten by a mosquito, I knew she’d be coming down with malaria. Thankfully, Clavell doesn’t make a direct connection as, at the time (1842), it was thought that malaria came from “night vapors.” Clavell also seems to spend too much time in what goes on in the heads of various characters. People act or seem one way, but often have different ideas, which is especially true for the Chinese and their secret societies that even place mistresses so they can know what the British are up to. Clavell seems to embellish certain “kinky” sexual fantasies, from playful spankings of a lover to more harsh beatings and torture (he especially seems drawn to thumbscrews). I also felt he had a love for the sound of “reefed” sails. In his wonderful descriptions of sailing, he almost always has something to say about them being reefed (sails shortened due to excessive wind).


However, I did like how he worked in principles of economics, the advantage of free trade, the world views that tied together or put in conflict the interest of a variety of nations (from Britain, to Russia, and the America), and a main character (Dirk Sturan, a Scotsman) who is open and interested in what he and the English can learn from the Chinese. Staran is the “Tai-pan” or the leader of the strongest trading group in China. He has a number of other challengers including his arch-enemy, Tyler Brock. Staran is planning on leaving Asia and turning the operation of this company over to his son, Culum, which happens to be in love with Brock’s daughter.


The dream of the traders is to have a safe harbor where they are free to trade in China without Chinese control, and their fleets (the British navy and merchant ships of many nations) can survive storms. The book ends with a terrible typhoon (foreshadowed by the constant checking of the barometer), that destroys much of Hong Kong. But the fleet is spared. The trade will continue and Hong Kong will rebuild. Upon the death of his father, Culum assumes the role of the new Tai-pan while this half-brother (half Chinese and half Scot from Staran’s mistress plots to control the city.


While Clavell’s story does try to give value to the Chinese (their customs and their medicine), it is very much written from a Western point-of-view. I found myself wondering, while reading, how the book would be received in today’s more culturally sensitive and “Me-too” climate. While I’m glad I read the book, I won’t recommend it to anyone else (but I might make you a good deal on a used copy of the book 😊).

Flip the Switch

Jeff Garrison 

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 60:1-7
January 5, 2020

Tomorrow is Epiphany, a word that means a manifestation. Think of it as an “a-ha” moment. It’s the 12th Day of Christmas, but in the Western World, Christmas Day has overtaken his feast day in which we recall the coming of the Magi or the Wisemen. The Wisemen followed the star to Bethlehem. Their coming to the manager is important because it fulfills, as we’ll hear from Isaiah, the light shining in the darkness that draws people from all nations to experience what God has done. Jesus was not born for just Mary and Joseph to cherish. His birth was not just a way to relieve the boredom of a few shepherds. His birth was to offer hope to the entire world. His birth shows that God is not done with us. Let’s listen to Isaiah as I read from the Message version of Scripture. Read Isaiah 60:1-7.


         I was blessed as a child to spend many days camping on an undeveloped beach, generally in the fall of the year when the bluefish were running. We’d crawl out of our sleeping bags while it was still dark and start a small fire on the beach to drive away the chill. You could only make out everyone’s shadows created by the light of the fire or lantern. Before the stars began to disappear and the sky lightened, we’d have a line in the water, baited with cut mullet. You’d cast the line out beyond the surf, hoping you were in a good spot. Gradually, the shades of black and gray would be replaced by color as we shivered in the chill and held our rods high, an index finger touching the line waiting for the signature bump of a fish.

When darkness began to fade, birds would take to the air. It was often then, right before the sun rose, that the bluefish would begin feeding. They’d take the bait and we’d feel the bumping of the line. We’d yank the rod to set the hook, and began to haul them in, trying to keep our feet out of the breaking surf. (as a young-one, I didn’t have any waders). Soon, we’d see a fish flapping in the receding waves and not long thereafter, a few of the fish would be roasting over the coals of the morning fire. But as busy as we were catching fish, we’d pause to watch the sun come up as a bright orange ball. It was a few minutes of amazement. Afterwards, as the sun rose even higher, and its orb seem to shrink (it doesn’t, that’s an optical illusion), we’d begin shedding jackets and no longer needing the fire to stay warm. Now that we could see where we were casting, we’d change from cut bait to a lure or spoon, casting out toward the birds which hovered over the feeding fish.

There’s something magical about the sunrise. The new day is filled with possibilities. With the rising of the sun, there’s hope. It’s a time to give thanks for the day God has given us and, on these mornings, for the fish destined for the freezer.

         You know, the Prophet Isaiah had a lot of depressing things to say. He wrote about the fall of Israel and the coming exile for Jerusalem. War and destruction is at the forefront of his message, but occasionally Isaiah breaks out of the darkness. In Chapter 9, he writes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,”[1] a text read often during the Advent and Christmas seasons. In Chapter 42, Isaiah recalls Lord’s promises by reminding the Hebrew people that God is turning darkness into light.[2] And as his book moves toward its conclusion, he again brings up the coming of light. “It’s time to rise and shine.”

This passage reminds me of that old camp song, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.” Isaiah is reminding his readers that it’s time for God’s people to be “the light to the nations.”[3] Isaiah’s viewpoint is that the world is in darkness, but God is bringing about a change and it will be up to God’s people to help light shine in the world. As God’s people, it’s as if we’re given flashlights. We’re not to hoard our light, but to share it share with others as we draw them to the beach to watch the greatest son-rise of all (that’s son with an “O”), the coming of God in the flesh.

         As Christians, we read these passages through the lens of Jesus, the light coming into the world as proclaimed in John’s gospel.[4] Furthermore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be a light to the world.”[5] Think of it this way. Jesus is the light of the world, but he calls us to also be lights of the world. Maybe we’re not as bright as his light, maybe we’re more like the moon than the sun, reflecting the light of the true light. But that’s okay. Remember it doesn’t take much light to offer hope. It was mere star that drew the wise men from the East. On a dark night, a few small red and green navigation lights show us the channel. It doesn’t take much to provide hope and guidance, and if we’ve seen the light, we can also be that light, that hope, for someone else.

         Years ago I had the opportunity to spend a few days spelunking (or caving) in eastern West Virginia. It was an incredible experience. When you are below ground like that, there is no light at all. Turn off your light and you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. At one point, we gathered in a huge underground room. Our guide had us place our cameras on tripods and to open the shutters, then had us go around the room popping flashes. Each splash of light would illuminate a section of the wall and ceiling, which we didn’t see until after the film was processed (these were the old days, long before digital). By bringing light into this cave, we got to experience on film the incredible beauty of this huge underground chamber that was dotted with crystals.

         This is what we as Christians are to be doing, bringing light into the world. Yes, there are problems. There are evil people who do terrible things, like the Iranian general who was just killed. There are hateful people who want to wipe others off the face of the earth. There are dishonest people who will lie and cheat to get ahead. There are misguided people who create chaos and whom try to profit at the expense of others. We live with partisan hatred in our own country and under the threat of terrorist attacks, both domestic and foreign. The possibility of war is always on the horizon. But despite all that, as believers in the one who came into a troubled world as a child, the one who was willing to die for our sin, the one for whom the grave could not hold, we have hope. There is much that’s good and beautiful in the world which, like that wall inside a cave, only needs a little light to shine upon it. That’s our job, to point people to all that’s good in the world and to what God is doing through his son, Jesus Christ.

        As we enter a New Year, flip the switch and be the light of the world. Hold tight to the faith we have and share the hope that in Jesus Christ, God has things under control. The good news is that we’re not alone as this New Year begins. Remember the truth of the Psalmist, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.[6] Amen.


[1] Isaiah 9:2.

[2] Isaiah 42:16.

[3] Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6.

[4] John 1:1-5.

[5] Matthew 5:14.

[6] Psalm 30:5.