Pentecost 2020

Decked out in red with my Snoopy tie for the morning service

Our worship services are available at our church’s YouTube page. This link will take you to this service. The sermon begins at 16:00 minutes and is over at 36:10. You can fast forward to the sermon. 






Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Acts 2:1-14
Pentecost, May 31, 2020



2020 is turning out to be a year we’ll not forget. Everything seems out of control. A virus has killed over 100,000 Americans topped off by an economy in a free-fall. We’ve witnessed the murders of innocent and unarmed black men in Brunswick and in Minneapolis, and the resulting riots threatening to unravel our nation. It’s scary. But the world has often been a scary place. For Christians, the world of the first century was scary. Jesus was essentially lynched and many more would also die a martyr’s death.[1] But out of that death came the church.

Something happened on this day nearly 2000 years ago. God’s Spirit poured down on the few believers and they began a movement. As I read this passage, think about what God did in Jerusalem, and what God might be doing in the world today.  Read Acts 2:1-14.

        There was an elderly woman who came home from a Bible study one evening and discovered a burglar in her home. In the darken house, she yelled at the intruder, “Stop, Acts 2:38.” The thief turned and she yelled again, “Stop, Acts 2:38.” He froze. He raised his hands as she calmly called the police. After the officer had handcuffed the man, he asked why he’d surrendered to a woman shouting out a Bible verse. “A Bible verse? I thought she had an axe and two 38s”.

        Peter, after his great sermon, that follows the account we’ve just read, called on those within his hearing to “Repent, be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38.

Too often, we think we need force to back up our words, or as in the joke, the possibility of force. But Scripture constantly reminds us our hope is not in what we do or what we have, but in what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ. We see this with Pentecost, when those flames of the Spirit poured out on a motley group. God takes the initiative. Without God, our efforts are in vain.

As dawn broke on this day in which the church came into being, there were only 120 or so believers. From this small beginning, the Christian faith now claims approximately 1/3 of the world’s population. These “tongues of flames” fell upon the timid group of believers. Filled with God’s Spirit, they set the world on fire. When the morning began, they were like a car with no gas. They had a purpose, but no energy. So, they waited, knowing Jesus promised his Spirit.

        These men and women are not the type of people you’d think could change the world. They’re marginalized. And, to be honest, they don’t change the world. That’s part of the point of the story. God’s the primary actor. Without God’s intervention, nothing would have happened. And the same is true in our lives. God can use us; we don’t have to be sophisticated or multi-talented. The disciples were not great leaders or thinkers, government officials or military heroes. What God needs are people who are faithful. These believers displayed their faithfulness. Many of them were faithful even unto death. With God, all things are possible.

The second aspect of Pentecost for us to consider is the linkage between the Old and New Covenant. Those who’d gathered on this morning, on the day of Pentecost, gathered to celebrate a Jewish holiday. The name Pentecost is derived from the festival held on the fiftieth day following Passover. The festival was also known as the Feast of the Weeks, the Feast of the Harvest, or the Day of the First Fruits. Originally it was when the grain harvest was formally dedicated, but over time the festival came to represent the giving of the law on Sinai, which, according to tradition, occurred fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt.

The two flames on our Presbyterian cross represent the two covenants—the Old and the New. The same is true for the two candles on our communion table. The flame of the Old Testament is the giving of the law on Sinai. The other flame represents the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost when the Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled. God wrote the law onto the hearts of believers.[2]

To have the fullness of God’s word, to know God to the best of our limited human abilities, we must draw upon all of Scripture. The two covenants remind us of the mysterious nature of our God. What we know about God has been revealed to us by the Almighty, first in the Hebrew Scriptures and then, the final revelation, in the life of Jesus Christ. Again, God is the actor; God is the one engaging the world.

        The final aspect of Pentecost for us to consider is how this event serves as a model for God’s intention for the world. Consider the group who’d gathered on this morning. They were all Palestinian Jews. First century Judaism was more multi-cultural than they were. They gather, a homogeneous lot, without an idea as to what will happen. Soon a violent wind destroys the morning calm. Luke describes the coming of the Spirit as a gale blowing into the house. Picture the curtains blowing, as they used to do in the days before air conditioning when a storm was rising. It was frightening. “What’s happening,” they wonder?  Luke goes on to say that the wind was like tongues of fire; like a wildfire that gains momentum consuming all that’s around. And those who had gathered begin to speak, in all different kinds of languages.

In addition to celebrating the giving of the law, the Pentecost holiday was special for another reason. Passover was considered the “high holy day” for the first century Jewish faithful. But because it was such a long trip, many would stay through Pentecost and would have caught wind of what’s happening at this time.[3] We need to remember that by the first century, Jewish settlements had been established throughout the known world. This explains why there were so many different people in Jerusalem for this festival. They’d come to worship; they’d come with expectation. And here, as they’ve gathered in their ancestral homeland, people who were no longer fluent in Hebrew, begin to hear the gospel in their native languages.

Again, God is the one who is acting. The early disciples and believers who’d gathered weren’t sitting around scheming, trying to create a strategic plan of how the church would grow.  And if they had been, you can bet they wouldn’t have even considered reaching such a diverse group of people as they did that day. After all, these people had a tradition of interacting only with those who looked and sounded and acted like they did.  God is doing the work here. God’s vision is much larger than they could imagine. God is calling all people to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

         Friends, we live in an uncertain time. We must place our faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and live humbly and compassionately, showing the world a different way to live with one another. Violence isn’t the answer. Love is. God loves this world and calls on his church to love the world. When we marginalize others, when we turn our heads at injustice, we fail to live up to our calling.

    Let me tell you a story. I was in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia and was walking with other tourists in the business section of the city. Across a four-lane road, coming toward us, was a man and woman. They were arguing. Then the man pulled back and hit the woman with his fist to her head, knocking her down. In shock, we looked at each other. Others had seen it, too, but no one except us-a group of English-speaking tourist-seemed fazed. We were outraged, yet never felt so helpless. If it had been an English-speaking country, we’d all been on the phone with the police. But here, few knew English and we couldn’t speak Mongolian. We needed those tongues of fire!

         Pentecost shows us that not only does God show up, God gives us the tools needed to do the work for which we’re called. That motley group of disciples are able to preach in the languages of those gathered in Jerusalem. Today, we no longer have to wait for God to show up. God’s Spirit’s with us. Unlike Mongolia, in our country, in our neighborhood, most people understand us. We have no excuse. We must be compassionate toward those suffering from COVID-19. We should grieve the deaths of over 100,000 of our citizens, we need to do our part to keep the virus from spreading further, and we need to speak out against racial injustice. At Pentecost, God gave us a vision of the nations and people being brought together. It’s now our turn. We must help make the vision a reality. Amen.



[1] For a link between the cross and lynching, see James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis Books, 2011).

[2] Jeremiah 31:33.

[3] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 74-75

Peter’s Commissioning

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 21:15-25
May 24, 2020

This service can be watched in it’s entirety on the church’s YouTube channel. If you want to just see the sermon, go to 13:00. Go to

We’re finishing up our look at Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters this week with the ending to the passage we began studying last week. As I indicated on several occasions throughout this series, the post-resurrection encounters generally had a mission component. We’ll this today. The disciples were sent out to do something-Mary at the tomb was sent to tell the Apostles, and the disciples what we know as the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives Peter a mission.

Again, I’m using a classical painting to illustrate our text. Today, the painting is by Raphael, an artist who painted just before and at the beginning of the Reformation. To put this in perspective, this tapestry was finished the year before Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis and is titled, “Christ Charge to St. Peter.”[1] I like the painting because it shows the sea (and glimpses the bow of a boat) along with a flock of sheep. Peter, a fisherman, is being commissioned to tend to Jesus’ sheep. The other ten disciples (remember Judas is no longer with them) look on. However in John’s gospel, we’re told that there were only seven disciples present. Hear God’s word for today. Read John 21:15-25.

        Some of you may know the Reverend Proctor Chambless. He’s a retired minister member of the Savannah Presbytery, and has served a number of congregations within our presbytery and across the South. When I came to this presbytery, Proctor was serving an interim position in another presbytery upstate. He wasn’t here. During the first person examined for ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament at Presbytery, someone stood up and said that since Proctor wasn’t present, he was going to ask Proctor’s question. The question: “Do you love Jesus?” The presbytery, as a body, snickered. I realized I wasn’t in on the joke. I asked someone about this and was told that Proctor always asked that question. When Proctor returned, I figured out who he was before I met him. We had another candidate to examine and Proctor stood and asked this question. It’s kind of a fun thing. The rest of us are thinking probing questions to prod the examinee on the fine points of Reformed Theology, as Proctor, with his deep southern drawl, asks the essential question. “Do you love Jesus?” That’s the question Jesus asks Peter three times. And it’s a question we’re all to ask ourselves. Furthermore, as we’re going to see when we delve into this text, there is one way of knowing that we love Jesus. Do we care for others?

Let’s look at the text. Throughout this chapter, Peter is in the forefront. He’s the one who decides to go fishing. The other six disciples tag along. He’s the one, when he learns it’s Jesus on the shore, jumps into the water and swims to Jesus, letting the six others fight with a full net of fish. Now that breakfast is over, Jesus questions Peter in a way that almost seems as if he’s being commissioned or ordained for his task once Jesus has ascended to heaven. We’re not told this, but I image Jesus drawing Peter away from the rest of the disciples and putting his hand on this shoulder, saying “Simon, son of John.”

       Jesus uses his full legal name. “Simon, son of John.” Did any of you have parents, or maybe a teacher, who when you were in trouble, would use your full name? “Charles Jeffrey!” I would hear that and immediately knew I had done something wrong. Was Peter in trouble? I don’t think so. But Jesus emphasizes the importance of his questioning. When someone uses your full name, it grabs your attention. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than these. We can assume Jesus is pointing over toward the other disciples. We’re told that Peter, in two of the gospels, brags at the Last Supper about how much more he loves Jesus than the others, so much so that he’ll never abandon Jesus.[2] Of course, pride comes before the fall, and later that night Peter denies Jesus three times.

        Now, after everything that has happened—the betrayal, the crucifixion, the resurrection—Jesus asks if Peter really does love him and, of course, Peter responds positively. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus then tells Peter to feed his lambs. This questioning goes on for three times, with just slight variations.[3] After the second question and answer, Jesus says to tend his sheep and after the third, feed my sheep.[4] Jesus gives Peter the mission to care for those whom Jesus brings into his church. But Jesus repeatedly asking Peter if he loves him gets on Peter’s nerves. It bothers him, he’s hurt, yet Peter continues to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Maybe Jesus asks this three times to undo the triple betrayal Peter committed after Jesus’ arrest. Jesus wants to make sure that Peter understands he’s forgiven and that he’s ready to take over his responsibility of the church.

Peter is then informed of what kind of death he will endure. Peter, this wild and free man who so full of passion, will end up a prisoner hauled off to be executed. Peter earlier had boasted that he was willing to die for Jesus. It’s now seen as prophetic. Jesus ends this discourse with the words he first used to call Peter while there at the seashore, “Follow me.”[5]

        We’re not given a sense of just how this prediction of Peter’s death was received, but Peter must have pondered it, for he asks about another of the disciples. Jesus tells Peter a great truth. “Don’t worry about him and his death.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “You have enough troubles. Don’t worry about what God seems to give someone else to worry over.” In other words, accept God’s gift as grace and be thankful.

         Here we are, fifty or so generations Peter.[6] This is a time of turmoil and fear, of pandemic and economic uncertainty. We’re all a little on the edge. What can we learn from this text?  Well, we’ll all have our own burdens. Hopefully, we won’t have Peter’s burden of a crucifixion. Also, we learn that some seemed more blessed in one area of life than another. Some get the virus and don’t even know it. Others get it and struggle to breathe and their bodies break down. Some die. Why? This text suggests that’s a futile question. Instead, we’re shown what we, like Peter, should be doing. We’re to follow Jesus, whose path led at one point to the nourishing waters of the Jordan and at another point to that hill name Golgotha, the place of death. And along the way, we do what we can to care for those whom Jesus calls. We’re not told here to save the world. In fact, Peter isn’t even told to save anyone. Jesus is the Savior. Peter, who is being retrained from having been a fisherman to being a sheepherder, is to care for those Jesus sends his way. And that’s the role of the church, to care for those whom Jesus sends our way.

          During these trying times, when we are hiding out in our homes, we might wonder how we can help anyone. There are ways. The Session, at the request of the Mission and Benevolence Committee, has called for a special offering to help care for the homeless in our community. Do what you can to help. The homeless ministries of Savannah are struggling to meet the needs of those who live under the bridges and on the streets.

Or maybe your gift is crafts and sewing. With plenty of time, you can help make masks, as my daughter and a neighbor of David and Linda Denhard has done. See my selfie on the slide? That’s an example of my daughter’s handiwork. Masks can be shared with nursing homes and for our own use when we are in public. When we start gathering back together for worship, masks will be encouraged. Wearing a mask not only protects us. If we’re asymptomatic, masks will protect others. Wearing a mask can be a gentle way of caring for Jesus’ sheep.

And if you’re not crafty, why not make some phone calls and write some letters. There are people who need to feel connected, especially to those who live alone. As Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “encourage one another, build up each other.”[7]

This week, I want to encourage everyone to reach out to someone and offer hope. For we who believe, are not to despair. We are to have hope and share that hope that we have in a loving Savior. When we do this, we are living up to the calling that was first given to Peter: “feed my lambs, care for my sheep.” Amen.






Sources Consulted:


Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (          Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970

Bruner, Frederick Dale, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids:      Eerdmans, 2012).

Michaels, J. Ramsey, : John: Good News Commentary (Harper & Row, 1983.

Sloyan, Gerald, John: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988).

[1] The tapestry is also known as  “Christ’s Handing the Keys to St. Peter.” Raphael combines the story of Peter receiving the keys (Matthew 16:18-19) and Peter after the breakfast on the beach (John 21:15-17) to create this work. For more information see

[2] Matthew 26:33, Mark 14:29.

[3] Much has been made about Jesus use of the word love. The first two times, Jesus uses the Greek word “Agape.” Peter responds with the Greek word “Phila” (from which we get Philadelphia which means “city of brotherly love.”) The third time, Jesus uses “Phila” instead of “Agape.” These two terms are closely related and in English both are translated as “Love.”

[4] Lambs could be those new to the faith (those being initiated) while sheep could refer to those more mature in their faith.

[5] See Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17. In John’s retelling, Simon comes to Jesus through his brother Andrew and at their first meeting, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. See John 1:40-42.

[6] A Biblical generation is generally considered 40 years.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life

Nancy Koester,  Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 371 pages, B&W photos, notes.

Harriet Beecher Stowe is best known for her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel’s popularity fueled the anti-slavery movement in the North and helped change the narrative of the American Civil War from an attempt to restore the Union to a crusade to rid the nation of slavery. The novel is often criticized for being overly sentimental. It has been ridiculed even in the African American community. The term, “Uncle Tom,” is used for members within the community who were unwilling to fight back against white supremacy. In the novel, Tom is a Christ-figure, who accepts his death after a severe whipping for not being willing to whip other slaves to force them to work harder. Malcom X called Martin Luther King an “Uncle Tom,” although that’s not surprising considering Malcom was not a Christian and would not understand the sacrificial position of Uncle Tom or Jesus Christ. Despite these criticisms, the book was a best seller in the 19th Century America and Great Britain. The book not only encouraged the American abolitionist movement, it’s popularity in the United Kingdom help keep Britain from coming into the war on the South’s side.

Stowe was more than just the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  She was the daughter of Lyman Beecher, a well-known Calvinistic preacher whose large family produced many major public figures during the middle of the 19th Century including Henry Ward Beecher, who is often considered the greatest preacher of the century. Henry was close to his sister Harriet, and together they worked against slavery. Lyman’s other children were also accomplished in their fields.

Harriet Beecher married Calvin Stowe, a widower without children. Calvin was also a theology professor at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, where her father was President. It was a struggling school that was made even more challenging sitting across the river from Kentucky, a slave state. While in Cincinnati, Harriet began to publish articles in various papers. After the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she would be the primary breadwinner of the family. Later, Calvin moved his family east to take a position in Maine and then to Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. This had an added advantage of Harriet being closer to her publishers (she often would visit them in New York while staying with her brother Henry in Brooklyn).

With Harriet’s success, the Stowes made three long trips to Europe, building relationships with British abolitionists. Harriet, like many of her siblings, moved away from her father’s stricter Calvinistic views. She questioned eternal damnation and the idea of predestination. In her travels to Europe, she began to appreciate the Catholic Church and, after her husband’s retirement, became an Episcopalian. She also dabbled in spiritualism and seeking to connect to those who had died, especially after the death of her son. While this was more than just curiosity, she always maintained that a Medium could not offer the comfort of Jesus. She may have left behind much of her father’s theology (and she blamed Jonathan Edwards for what she was as problematic with New England Calvinism), she remained firm in her commitment to her Savior.

In the Civil War, her son would lead a company of freed blacks.  Racial reconciliation remained important to Harriet, but she also worked on other social reforms of the day. Although she saw her primary role as a wife to her husband, she was also supportive of the women’s right movement and knew many of the early founders.

Harriet had a strong sense of what was right and wrong. On her European travels, she had met Lady Bryon, the estranged wife of the poet Lord Byron. Harriet had been told of Lord Bryon’s affairs and even incidences of incest. After both of their deaths, Lord Bryon’s last mistress wrote a book about her life with Bryon and attacked his wife as cold and unloving. Harriet felt she needed to set the record straight and wrote an article (and later a book) pointing out the poet’s failures and comparing him to Satan, who used his charm for seduction instead of for God’s glory.  For this, Stowe was criticized, but it was something she knew how to handle after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the book was popular in the North, she was despised and criticized in some corners in the North and across the South. Stowe’s critique of Lord Bryon provided inside into the control of a patriarchal society and while the book was published a few years before the “Me Too” movement, it appears Stowe would have been sympathetic.

Harriet and Calvin’s life had many tragedies. One was the loss of a son by drowning a few years before the Civil War. Another son, Fred, was wounded in the ear during the war was in constant pain afterwards. His parents purchased him a farm in Florida with the hope he could start a farm that gave work to freed blacks. Fred eventually left the farm and took to the sea, and never again saw his parents. Fred Florida adventure did introduce the Stowes to the state and they began to spend their winters there. She would write two books that help popularize the Florida to those in the north. A half century before Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ writings help bring an end to the practice, Harriet attacked the widespread killing of birds for the use of their feathers in women’s hats. Her training in the Westminster Catechism could also be seen in her satirical writings about hunters in Florida who think the “chief end of man is to shoot something.” She wasn’t opposed to hunting, just killing for sport. In a way, Stowe was an early environmentalist. The only son of the Stowe’s who took up their father and grandfather’s position in the pulpit was Charles. But this, too, became a concern when he flirted with Unitarianism.  However, he stayed within the Congregational Church. She was also bothered by the charge of adultery against her brother, Henry. He would be vindicated (even though he was probably guilty), but Harriet remained his defender.

This book provides insight into a complex woman along with her family who were major figures in 19th Century America. Koester’s writing is easy to read and comprehend. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Harriet Beecher Stowe and the era.

Jesus Shows the Disciples How to Fish

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 21:1-14
May 17, 2020

This worship service can be found at on YouTube at To listen just to the sermon, go to 12 minutes into the service. The sermon ends at 36:40. 

Today and next Sunday, we are going to explore Jesus’ last post-resurrection account in John’s gospel.[1] Two weeks ago, when I preached last, we discussed Jesus eating left-over fish for dinner.[2] Today, the disciples eat fish and bread for breakfast on the lakeshore.

As we’ve done throughout this series, we have a classical painting, this one from the 15th Century, to help us get into the story. This artist, I doubt, ever saw the Holy Lands. He images Jesus and the disciples on a European stream. But he gets some things right. There are seven disciples in the picture, Jesus is showing them how to fish, and Peter is so excited he’s swimming to shore to be with Jesus. But more importantly, he shows Jesus coming to the disciples! Place yourself into the painting, just downstream. Think about all this. You have this landlubber giving instructions to the men in the boat who haven’t caught a fish all night. Suddenly, there’s more fish than they know what to do with? Is it a miracle or a lucky guess? What do we make of this story? What can we learn?  Listen as I read from John 21, reading from The Message translation.

        The best fish are fresh from the water. Even greasy bluefish make a great breakfast when grilled over a charcoal fire on the beach. I was probably 10 or 11 when I first had such a treat. We were fishing on Masonboro Island. It was in the fall, when the bluefish run. We got up when it was still pitch dark and chilly. My dad started a charcoal fire, which helped us stay warm. But instead of sitting around the fire, we soon had lines in the dark water, casting out into surf. In darkness, we fished with bait. On the end of the line, we had a rig with a weight and two hooks, each containing a strip of mullet. When the fish hit, we’d yank the rod to set the hook, then reel hard. Soon, if lucky, a flapping fish could be made out from the distant light of the lantern. We’d have to bring the fish into the light in order to safely get out the hook.

         Leaving our fish on sand, we rebait our hooks and again cast out into the surf. Slowly, the sky changes. The stars began to extinguish themselves. A ribbon of light appears on the horizon, and it gradually growed. We began to be able to make out the beach and could see where the waves were breaking. Soon afterwards, the sun would slowly rise, its rays seemingly racing across the water toward me, as if they whose rays were destined just for me.

         When there was a lull in the action, we’d stop and clean a few fish, washing them off in the surf, and then lay them on a grill over the coals. In a few minutes, we’d be “eatin’ good.” Afterwards, we’d change the rigging on our rods to plugs and spoons and head back to the water’s edge. Good memories of good times.


         Perhaps it was because I grew up in a home where fishing ranked just below church attendance in priority that Peter’s statement, “I’m going fishing” seems normal. And to the six disciples with him, it sounds like a plan. They head to the water and fished the night. They had terrible luck. That happens. Some mornings there are no bluefish for breakfast.

These men, before becoming disciples, had been fishermen. But this isn’t a story about fishing, even though surprisingly we’re told exactly how many fish they caught. Instead, it’s a post-resurrection story, about Jesus coming to the disciples.

         As I’ve emphasized in these sermons on Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples learn a true lesson. They are not in control. Jesus is in control. We often have this image of going to Jesus, but in truth, Jesus first comes to us. In today’s story, Jesus knows where many of his disciples are. They’re by the lakeshore, fishing, because that’s what they know how to do. So, like when he first called them, he returns to call them again. Next week, we’ll look at how Jesus sends out Peter with a mission, but before we go there, I want us to spend some time in this story.

Imagine, having spent the night fishing with nothing in the bucket. Then along comes someone on shore, 100 yards or so away, far enough away you don’t recognize him. This someone greets you and asks that question that fishermen despise on a bad day. “Have you caught anything?” A loaded question. If you out on a pier and ask that question to a fisherman, his response will probably depend on how well the fish are biting. If there’s only one pinfish in the bucket, you’ll get a grumbled answer that essentially tells you to keep moving. But if the fishing has been good, the fisherman may open the cooler and let you look with awe on his catch.

        On this night, the fishing hadn’t been good. Jesus then does something else that goes against fishermen etiquette. “Why don’t you fish from the other side?” That’s like suggesting a different lure or fly. “Take off that spinner and put on a jitterbug; or get rid of that wooly bugger and put on a popping bug.” But Jesus’ advice pays off as they catch so many fish the net is about to break. Only then does the Beloved Disciple realizes it’s Jesus. Before he can act, Peter throws on some clothes, jumps in and swims toward shore.

Peter, whose nickname was “the Rock,” obviously had learned to swim since that earlier occasion when he tried to walk on water and sank—like a rock.[3] The disciples struggle to pull in the net and when they get to the beach they realize Jesus has already prepared breakfast. But Jesus doesn’t just let those good fish go to waste. He encourages the disciples to bring some of them over and add them to the fire. Jesus uses what we offer to make the banquet table even larger—there’s a message here.

        Like the other post-resurrection appearances, there’s also bit of mystery. Why do we even have verse twelve? After Jesus calls them in for breakfast, we’re told that no one dared to ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was Jesus, but the text leaves us wondering what’s going on. Furthermore, they don’t recognize Jesus right off. It’s only when they follow his suggestion that they encounter him. There’s probably a lesson in that, too. When we listen to Jesus and do what he says, our relationship grows.

         There are three things that happen to the disciples in this passage that we should take to heart. First, Jesus comes to us. Jesus shows up at the most unexpected places. In these stories, he doesn’t show up at church or the synagogue or the temple. Instead, it’s at work, after or before visiting hours. Think about the post-resurrection appearances. Except for meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus always shows up on the shoulders of the day (at daybreak and in the evening). In this case, Jesus arrives as the disciples are finishing up their night shift at a job that wasn’t going to be paying much this day. As followers of Jesus, we must be ready for whenever our Savior decides to pop by. Jesus is not just Lord over Sunday or over religion, he is Lord of all, and can meet us wherever we find ourselves. This is good news in a time that many of us find ourselves prisoners in our own homes! Yes, Jesus can show up even there, you’ll just have to let him in.

A second thing we learn is that Jesus doesn’t just give us all we need. Yes, Jesus had the fire going with fish and bread being prepared, but notice he doesn’t say to the disciples: “We don’t need those 153 fish, throw ‘em back.” That would have belittled their efforts. Jesus doesn’t even take credit for helping with the catch. Instead, Jesus invites the disciples to bring some of what they caught and to place them over the coals. Jesus uses what we have and expands it.

          Let me tell you a story to illustrate this. Many of the photos I’ve using today came from a 2008 trip into the Quetico Wilderness in Western Ontario. The guy at the camp stove you see now is Doc Spindler. One morning, he was talking about having pancakes and so proud of himself for prepacking everything he needed. To be helpful, Jim Bruce (who visited us here at SIPC in February and seen in the picture with the full plate) and I went out early that morning, braving the bears as we picked a quart of so of blueberries. We brought them back and Doc was so happy to have blueberries to mix into pancakes. You use what you’re given. Doc knows this. Although a great guy, however, Doc isn’t Jesus. Instead of the baggie with pancake mix, he used a package of meal for frying fish and the blueberry pancakes ended up coming out like goulash. But with a little syrup and butter and an empty stomach, it was still good.

Jesus takes our gifts, our talents, and employs them in manners beyond what we ever imagined. We just need to be willing to share our blessings. What have we’ve been blessed with that we could offer Jesus for his use in the building of his kingdom?

         Finally, Jesus feeds us. In this case, he fed the disciples a hearty breakfast of fish and bread. But Jesus, who calls all who are weary to accept his yoke, will restore our tired souls and feed our minds and bodies with his presence and comfort.[4] We know, that with him, we have nothing to worry about, for his love is greater than death. When we’re burdened, and let’s face it, we’re all burdened these days as we worry about what’s going to happen, we should call on and depend upon Jesus. He’ll stand by us when no one else will. Amen.



Commentaries Consulted:

Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (          Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970

Bruner, Frederick Dale, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids:      Eerdmans, 2012).

Sloyan, Gerald, John: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988).



[1] Next Sunday, we’ll look at the last half of John 21.

[2] Luke 24:36-49.

[3] Matthew 14:28-30

[4] Matthew 11:30.

Walking Around Austin

Austin, from Zikler Park

The other day I was telling someone about going to Austin in early March. He told me of all the places he lived, that he liked Austin the best, that it was a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup (that’s a political joke, you’ll have to figure it out).

Was it only two months ago that I was in Austin? This is a weird time we’re living. In early March, two days before I flew down for a seminar by the Foundation for Reformed Theology on the writings of John Leith, a Presbyterian theologian of the second half of the twentieth century, South by Southwest was cancelled. I didn’t realize just how large of a music event this was, which may have explained why there were so few rental cars available. But I flew down in flights that, once they called up standbys, were full. This was only two months ago.

The 7 11’s where I grew up never had signs like that! Was it formerly a bar or tavern? Photo taken on a walk around town.

My flight options into Austin from Savannah were not great. Since I had to be at Austin Theological Seminary on Monday at nine in the morning, I considered preaching on Sunday and then flying down. But by waiting until the afternoon, the earliest I could get to Austin was 10:30 PM, which would have put me exhausted. Instead, I decided to fly down early on Saturday. This would leave me a day and a half to explore the city, before engaging in discussions.  It was a good choice. On March 7th, I took an early flight to Atlanta and then on to Austin, arriving in the city at 11 AM. I’d decided to forgo renting a car, so I took a bus (that seemed to be waiting on me) into town. I got off just north of University of Texas’ campus and two blocks south of the seminary.  It was a few minutes after noon when I arrived.

The guy at the guest counter was accommodating for my early arrival. I dropped my bags in my room. While they normally don’t have food service during the weekend, this day there was a multi-cultural seminar going on and some of the faculty, who were talking behind me as I asked the person at the desk where to go for lunch, invited me to join them. I had wonderful homemade tamales and other Mexican and Native American food. It was made even better as I got to talk over lunch with a number of the students at the seminar.

Near the LBJ museum

Then I headed out. As I have been reading Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of the first President I can really remember, Lyndon Johnson, I head over to his library and museum on the east side of UT’s campus.  I was curious of the spin they’d put on this complex man. I thought the library looked like an oversized mausoleum.  As I came into the museum, a docent greeted me. I was told that it was a free day, which surprised me, but I didn’t complain.  We talked a few minutes and I had to tell him the first joke I can remember, which probably came from an old Boy’s Life magazine around 1965:

What do you get when you up your finger in the President’s ear?
Johnson’s wax.

I was sure he had heard it, but it turns out he had not and had me tell it to a few others working in the museum. While the museum was honest about some of LBJ’s struggles and failures, it avoided dealing with some of his childhood and education issues and the extramarital affairs he had. Caro tells of LBJ’s affair with the wife of one of his big financial supporters. Forget morality, that took nerve (and a lot of risk)!  One of the neat displays had a wax figure of Johnson telling jokes. LBJ was known for his jokes and stories (and getting into people’s faces).

Large prehistorical Texas bird

It was around 4:30 when I left the library. I headed over to the Texas Memorial museum. By the time I got there, I only had 20 minutes, but since I was told the day was free, I decided to see what I could. I also asked why things were free and learned that this day, at the beginning of the South-by-Southwest festival, is the traditional day for upcoming freshmen to visit the University of Texas. So, they made things free. The orientation day had been canceled, but they kept the museums free.  The Memorial Museum focuses on natural history and has a huge skeleton of a prehistoric bird that practically fills the main room on the first floor. Texas does like to show off how big things are there.

After my rush tour through the Natural History Museum, I walked over to Pho Thai Son, a Vietnamese restaurant I’d seen along Guadalupe Street, on the far side of the campus.  I enjoyed an evening meal of Pork and Lemon Grass on a salad base. I then walked back to my room at the Seminary and went to bed early.

I found this a little sad… there must be some lonely rivers somewhere.

I’d decided to attend church at Central Presbyterian, which was about a mile and a half walk from the seminary.  It was the day we changed to daylight saving time, but since I was an hour off from my usual time, I didn’t notice losing the hour. Since there was no meal service at the seminary on the weekends, I left early hoping that I could find something to eat along the way. Walking through the campus on the “Speedway,” I came upon a unique sculpture. I often wondered what happened to all those old aluminum canoes from the 70s. Now I know, they are welded into a canoe tree that stands to the side of the speedway (which is really a walkway). Getting to church early, without passing anyplace to eat, I find Bidemans Deli, a block to the west.  I had breakfast and read till a few minutes before church was to begin at 10 AM. At church, they started with an announcement about the closing of South-by-Southwest. This church was a site for many of the musical venues, but without the event, they were out of a lot of money. I was impressed that the church included all types of people. There were homeless (which they feed afterwards) and those in suits. I was casually dressed as I planned to make the most of my day.  Most of the congregation was on the younger side, but I learned that many of their regulars who were older were not there out of the fear of the virus. There was a guest preacher this day. He was articulate, and I enjoyed listening to him even if he spent a little too much time talking about himself and his family.

Reflection of the Catholic Cathedral

After church was over, I backtracked and attended the sermon part of the mass at the Catholic Cathedral.  There, the priest must have been Vietnamese or from somewhere in Southeast Asia. His homily was packed with information, but he read the sermon and never made eye contact. I found myself wondering if he had even written the sermon, or if he was just reading someone else’s. However, unlike the Presbyterian Church where people were already staying away due to virus fears, the Catholic Church was packed. I listened to the homily and then left, heading to the capitol as my first stop as a tourist.

The Texas capitol looks a lot like the United States capitol, only dirty. It is also a few feet taller, something Texans are proud of and I have no idea how many people bragged about this to me. Not wanting to start a war, I did not tell them I thought their capitol looked dirty. I wanted to make it safely out of the state. The “dirty look” comes from the reddish colored marble. Originally, they were going to use limestone, but found that Texas limestone discolors. The contractor suggested importing white marble from Indiana, but that flew over about as well as a block of marble. Instead, they found a Texas quarry that could mine this reddish-brown marble and used it. Texas tried to build its capitol on the cheap (using convict labor). The miners in the quarry decided to strike instead of teaching the convicts how to do their job, which meant that the marble cost more than planned. But they saved on all other aspects of the building.

One of many water features in the Botanical Gardens

After touring the inside of the capitol, I walked around looking at the monuments dotting the grounds, then headed South. I had wanted to go see Ladybird Johnson’s wildflowers, but learned that was two miles beyond bus service. So instead, I headed to Zikler Botanical Garden. Walking south, I crossed the Colorado River on the Congress Avenue Bridge, known for its large colony of bats during the summer (they are not normally seen until April). Then I headed up Barton Springs Road, stopping for an ice cream cone to tide me over till dinner time. Along the way, I passed Terry Black’s Barbecue. They had five huge cookers going, using split hardwood. I talked with one of the pit workers and knew where I was going to go for dinner.  I head on to the Botanical Gardens, which sit up on a hill overlooking Austin. I enjoy the view and the scenery, especially the Japanese garden. There were many lovely water features that started at the top of the hill and created cascading creeks flowing down the sides.

After a few hours of walking through the gardens and some time to write and read, I began my walk back along the river, watching several rowing crews practice on the water. Then I cut back over to Barton Springs Road, where I’m shocked at the line at Terry Black’s. I was told it was a 45-minute wait. If folks are waiting that long it must be good, I thought, and joined the line. It was.  I had some of their pork and a brisket, both which were good. The banana pudding was passable.

The sun was setting by the time I was fed. I continued back toward the campus several miles away, crossing the river on the Lamar Street bridge.  I walked fast through a mostly empty city, arriving back at the campus around 8:30 PM. Several of those in the seminar had arrived and we talked a bit. They had not eaten and decide to go out for dinner while I read a bit before turning in early.  It had been a good day and I figured I’d walked at least 15 miles.

Chapel at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (The trees were just beginning to bud out)

The rest of the week rushed by. We meet for three hours each morning and another three hours in the afternoon, followed by dinner. The first night was at La Mancha, a Tex-Mex establishment. On Tuesday night, we had barbecue at “The County Line,” which had a wonderful view of a stream that look so inviting for fishing. Wednesday, we ate “Hoovers,” a well known Southern cuisine establishment that’s been featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” All were excellent restaurants. While we were involved in talking and making presentations, we kept an eye on the stock market and on the news of the country shutting down due to COVID-19. The market was taking some huge drops, would regain a bit, then drop again. There was a weird feeling in the air. In the seminary’s lunchroom, they were wiping the tables and putting up safety signs.

On Wednesday evening, I worked on a letter to go out to the congregation. With staff, we sent drafts back and forth, ironing out safety procedures for worshipping during a pandemic. After several revisions and phone calls, they sent the letter (which I posted here) out on Thursday in an email blast.

“The Bible”

Our last day was Thursday. John, another participant, and I had half a day, so we skipped the airport shuttle and walked over to the Harry Reason Center at UT’s campus. This building holds collections of interesting historical artifacts and papers. We both took pictures standing behind an original Gutenberg Bible. They had an exhibit of David Forster Wallace and Gabriel García Márquez, both of whom the Center holds many of their papers. Both exhibits were interesting. We then headed back to the seminary, picked up our bags and took the bus to the airport. It was March 12, and a completely different attitude could be felt. The place was not very crowded. We flew through security and after a final dinner, we were on our way home in half-filled airplanes. The world had changed.

I was always a little nervous walking around this tower on UT’s campus

When I went into the office on Friday, exhausted from the travels, things were seriously shutting down. While we decided not to shut-down worship on Sunday, we sent another email out to the congregation, encouraging them to stay home and to watch our service via live-stream. All but one other of the churches on the island had closed. We only had around 35 in worship on March 15. It was the last week of any kind of regular service. Ever since, a skeleton crew of 6 or 7 have put together a live-streamed worship service. Our draft pandemic procedures were quickly made obsolete.

It now seems as if it was two years ago that I was walking around Austin.

Cuppy and Stew (and a moon-rise)

Eric Goodman, Cuppy and Stew: The Bombing of Flight 629, A Love Story (San Francisco: IF SF Publishing, 2020), 220 pages with a few photographs.

The narrator is Susan, the youngest daughter of Cuppy and Stew, who died in the crash of United 629 in 1955. She and her sister, Sherry, are orphaned and sent to Canada, where their parents are from, even though they were born in South Africa and were living in the United States. The book nicely divides in half, with the first part providing us the background of their parent’s steamy romance. This led their father accepting a position as a mining engineer in South Africa. Then came the Second World War. Stuck in South Africa, they had two kids. After the war, they move to the United States and are living near Chicago. With the father having been estranged from his family (I won’t give it away, you will have to read the book to learn why), the girls maternal grandmother stays with them while their parents travel by plane to the West Coast. They change planes in Denver, at which time their lives unknowingly intersect a disturbed young man who had stashed a dynamite bomb in his mother’s suitcase. The man then purchased insurance on his mother. The plane, which should have been high over the mountains when the dynamite exploded, had been delayed and was only ten minutes into the flight. Everyone died, but because the crash was over farmland, it was quickly discovered how the plane crashed and who had done the deed. The bomber’s pending execution hangs over the two girls.

After the crash, the girl’s adolescent years in Canada are horrible. They first live with the grandmother who has many problems of her own. Then there are other relatives and foster families and a boarding school. The girls face abuse-emotional, physical and sexual. Susan, the narrator, is able to escape (she goes to Northwestern for college), while Sherry is trapped and unable to escape the dysfunctional situation she and her sister found themselves in as younger girls. The book is both hopeful and sad. There are adults whom the reader will want to slap upside the head and ask why they have to be such a monster or so cruel. And there are others who do what they can to look out for the girls. Children should never be pawns. Sadly, however, too many are pawns in an impersonal world, as show in this story.

This is a very personal book for Goodman. While it is book of fiction, it is based on his wife’s and sister-in-law’s story. Their parents died on United 629. The book reads well and quickly. This is the second book I’ve read by Goodman. Two years ago, in preparation to taking a writing class from him at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, I read and reviewed his book, Days of Awe.

High tide last night was at 9 PM. I went out around 8 PM, catching the last of the sunset and then watching the moonrise, paddling around Pigeon Island (approximately 5 miles). The tide was very high and I could easily go through the marsh. Here’s a poor quality photo taken with a smart phone from a kayak that was slightly rocking from the gentle waves. The photo doesn’t do the view justice. It was an incredible sight and the paddle was delightful


Leftovers for a Risen King

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Luke 24:36-49
May 3, 2020

The worship service can be watched on YouTube. The sermon starts at 15:01 and is over at 36:06, in case you would like to fast forward to just catch the sermon (or watch all but the sermon). Just click here to be taken to YouTube. 

We are continuing our look at the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. As I said last week, Luke provides three vignettes of Jesus on that first Easter. The first is with the women at the empty tomb, then Jesus meets up with the disciples along the road to Emmaus. Somewhere, too, this day, we’re told Jesus encountered Simon Peter, but we’re not give a first-hand account of that meeting, just an after-the-fact mention.[1] The final meeting on this first Easter is similar to the Easter Evening description in John’s gospel, but there are some differences we should explore. In Luke, the disciples are confused and wonder if Jesus is a ghost. Jesus points to himself and his “flesh and bones” as an indication that it is really him. Then, Jesus asks if there is something to eat. After all, ghosts (according to their belief) didn’t eat. Jesus is given some leftovers from dinner.

I don’t have a classic photo to show you of this encounter. Artists seem more interested in painting the Emmaus story or the story of Thomas sticking his hand in Jesus’ wounds. So, let’s think for a minute about leftovers. Leftovers doesn’t seem suitable fare for a risen king, does it? Cold fish? But Jesus surprises us. Just as he was born a king, but in a manger and not a castle, upon his resurrection, Jesus doesn’t expect a fancy banquet. Just a piece of broiled fish. Simple food, the food of the masses.

Jesus isn’t pretentious. With Jesus, it’s never about having the best stuff. Instead, it’s about relationships and being connected to God the Father. Sometimes his followers forget this. We build fancy cathedrals in his honor. But for a man who lived most of his life on the road, one should ask if this is where Jesus would feel at home? For this reason, those of us in the Presbyterian and Reformed Tradition have tended to shun that which is flashy.[2] Our buildings tend to be simple and functional. Our Scottish ancestors saw to it that even clergy dress is simple. Most of us wear Geneva gowns, more akin to the academy than to the high church. We’re simple folk, which brings us back to leftovers. It’s the perfect meal. Don’t waste things; make the best of what God has given you, and be thankful.

For those of us who are living in this strange time of pandemic, this is a good reminder that we should be thankful for what we have, even leftovers. Read Luke 24:36-49.

         One of the common characteristics of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus is that no one is looking for him, and no one “finds him.” Instead, Jesus just shows up. The disciples are hearing from the women about Jesus not being in the tomb, reports of him being in Emmaus, and from Simon Peter. But they don’t send out a search party to find Jesus. They’re scared. They lock themselves into a room while discussing what they consider as rumors. And when Jesus mysteriously shows up, they freak out. “It’s a ghost!”

          One of the lessons we should learn from the resurrection stories is that Jesus controls both his and our destinies. It’s not about us going out looking for God, it’s about God looking for us. There are no barriers that we can put up to avoid God. The disciples discovered this when Jesus pops in. This is good news for those of us sheltering and avoiding contact with others in order to stay healthy during this pandemic. While we might not be able to go to church on Sunday mornings, God can invade the privacy of our homes. We can’t keep God out. As Jesus shows us, God is in control. That’s good, because we can screw things up, so we’re a lot better off depending upon the God who surprises us, than depending on our own inability to bring us back into a relationship with the Almighty. This is what the Presbyterian doctrine of election or predestination is all about.

          But before the disciples can understand this, they must realize who this is that has invaded their meeting. In their mind, Jesus is dead. You don’t come back to this life once grasp the idea that he is risen. First, he asks for a bite to eat. It’s been a while since his last supper. It’s important that they see food going in his mouth (see food, seafood, get it?). Jesus then points to his flesh and bones. Luke wants to assure us that Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after his death isn’t just wishful thinking on their part.[3] The disciples expect Jesus to be dead and his appearance strikes fear in them. Jesus assures them what is happening by eating and showing his body. Still, his presence in the resurrection state creates questions for us such as how just how he got through the walls and locked doors.[4] Because Jesus is also God, there are mysteries we can never comprehend.

          The second thing Jesus does, which is like what he did with those in Emmaus, is to help the disciples understand the scriptures. Jesus wants them to grasp the idea that his suffering, death, and resurrection has been God’s plan.[5] The Law of Moses (or what the Jews call the Torah or the first five books of our Old Testament), along with the prophets and Psalms, all point to Jesus Christ. God is working out history with humans, which means there is much in the Scriptures that’s messy. We had this discussion yesterday in the men’s Bible study. We are reading Genesis. As humans, we have a hard time understanding stories like that of Tamar playing the role of a prostitute, yet finding a place in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.[6] God has a way of redeeming us and working through us to bring about his purposes. We might screw things up, but God can make it right. Again, that’s the doctrine of election or predestination at work.

This brings me to the last point I want to make on this passage. Jesus doesn’t open their eyes only so they can understand what had happened that weekend which began on that terrible (yet good) Friday. Jesus is preparing these misfits, who denied and abandoned him, to continue with his ministry and to take it to the ends of the world. Throughout these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is a call to mission. The disciples are to be Jesus’ witnesses.[7]

         Of course, because this is God’s doing, not the disciples’, they will need to be given the strength and ability to carry this mission out. Jesus, in his commission to the disciples in Luke’s gospel, is looking forward to the: coming of the Holy Spirit, to Pentecost, after which the disciples will take Jesus’ message to the end of the world.[8] As I insisted over and over again when preaching through Luke’s second book known of as “the Acts of the Apostles,” it should have been called, “The Acts of God through the Apostles.” For it wasn’t the Apostles that made the difference, it was God working through them. With God, all is possible. Without God, nothing is possible.[9]

So, what can we take away from this passage as we sit, isolated, in our homes? First, while we keep others at a distance (and for a good reason as we are striving to stop this virus), we can’t keep Jesus out. You never know where he might show up. But don’t worry if you’re in your pajamas or an old sweat suit. That doesn’t bother Jesus, just as he won’t be offended if you offered him leftovers from the fridge. But understand this. Jesus doesn’t just show to make us feel better. He shows up because he has a job for us to do. He shows up to encourage us to trust in God and to be his ambassadors, starting where we are at and then to the ends of the world. Jesus shows up to call us to be gracious and thankful even during a pandemic.

          Jesus shows up and calls us because, sooner or later, we are no longer going to be hiding in our home. Life will open back up and when that happens, we need to be ready (just as the disciples were ready on Pentecost) to go into the world and make a difference. Think of this time we’re in as a Sabbath. Like the disciples, we rest today. In a short while, there will be plenty for us to do. As followers of Jesus, we’re to change the world, to make it a kinder more generous and gracious, home. May we catch that vision and live into it. Amen.



[1] Luke 24:34

[2] See Book of Order F-2.05 and Westminster Larger Catechism Question 141.

[3] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 729.

[4] While Luke doesn’t mention locked doors, it is still apparent that Jesus suddenly appearing in the midst of the disciples is miraculous and unexplained. See John 20:19.

[5] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Preaching and Teaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 291.

[6] Genesis 38 (especially verses 14-19) and Matthew 1;3.

[7] In Matthew 28, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are sent to tell the disciples, then the disciples are sent to tell the world. In Mark 16:15, the disciples are to go tell the world. In John, Mary Magdalene is sent to tell the disciples (John 20:17); the disciples are sent into the world to forgive sin (John 20:21-22); and Peter is sent to tend and love Jesus’ “sheep.” (John 21:15-23). In the cases where there is not implicit instruction, the disciples seem to know that they are to go tell about Jesus’ resurrection as in the case with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff).

[8] Edwards, 735.

[9] Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27.