To the glory of God…

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
2 Corinthians 4:5-18

September 27, 2020

          It’s hard to know what to say on my last Sunday in this pulpit. I appreciate the privilege of having been able to proclaim God’s word to you in sermons, in the classes I’ve taught, in addition to the conversations I’ve had with many of you over the past six plus years. It’s always a pleasure to attempt to open up a bit about what God might be doing in the world. God is active even now in our midst. We are a people who live by faith in a God whose glory often remains hidden, but we trust the Lord because of what we know about God through Jesus Christ.

          I went back yesterday and looked at the first sermon I preached from this pulpit. My text was Revelation 1:4-8. Yes, I started at the end of the book, it’s a bad habit of mine. I recalled a sermon Sam Henderson, your interim pastor, had preached a few weeks early. Sam claimed there was no perfect pastor. I thanked Sam for lowering the bar. But you know, he’s right. None of us are perfect. Nor is it about us, me, or whoever is standing in this pulpit. It’s all about the glory of God as revealed in the truth of Jesus Christ. Our purpose is to proclaim that truth.

          Today, I’m using a passage from Second Corinthians. Of the letters we have in the New Testament, Paul wrote more to the Corinthians than to any other church. He also spent a year and a half in Corinth, ministering to the people there. He wrote at least three letters, although only two survive, both of which are in the Canon of Scripture.[1]

          Paul has been held in high esteem over the centuries. He’s responsible for much of the New Testament. But if you read his letters you get the sense that not everyone appreciated him during his lifetime. We joke about Paul putting people asleep during his sermons, but then I’m sure most of you would be asleep if I tried to preach through the night and into the early morning hours.[2] But Paul was also questioned over his authority. While he was called by Jesus on the Damascus Road,[3] Paul was not one of the disciples who was personally with Jesus during his ministry. There were tensions between Jewish believers and Paul,[4] who was called to the Gentiles, as well as tensions between Paul and other missionaries.[5]   

There were also other unknown conflicts Paul had, including one in Corinth, which must have been painful both to Paul and to some within the church.[6] In this letter, Paul encourages the church to forgive this individual, while defending his role as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

          For Paul, such things are not to be taken personally, for in doing so could diminish God’s glory. Everything is to be done with God in mind. This is why Paul makes such a strong case for depending on God’s strength. As humans, we’re limited. We are frail. We fail. Like Paul realized in his own situation, there may have been things I said and done that have offended some of you. For that, I’m sorry. It’s not an excuse, but I also realize it’s a part of who we are as creatures. We’re not perfect, which is why we are not to be boastful about what we’ve done, only about what God has done and is doing through us. Humility must rule in the life of a Christian.

          In the seventh verse, Paul speaks of treasure in clay pots. In Paul’s day, clay pots along with baskets were the main thing people had to store stuff in. Today, we have cardboard boxes—right now in my office and home, there are a hundred or more such boxes. Like the clay pots of Paul’s day, cardboard boxes are not valuable. They’re cheap and expendable (but I hope you recycle them). Cardboard boxes protect that which is inside, which may be valuable—my books and the china.

          Paul uses clay pots (and we could use cardboard boxes) as a metaphor for flesh. Boxes and pots can be easily broken and destroyed, just like our bodies. But there is one thing important about our bodies, it’s in the body that we experience God’s grace and glory. Just as it was in the flesh that Jesus came to us. As frail as we may be, and as flawed as we may be, God sees something of value within us and works through us. The treasure that Paul speaks of is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.[7]

          Anything that we do that’s worthwhile isn’t because of our own power and strength, knowledge and wisdom. It’s because our Creator has given us such abilities. Paul’s point is that anyone looking at him would not think he was capable of being the world’s greatest missionary, and they’re right. He was not capable, but with God working through him Paul was able to do incredible things.[8]

          After speaking of clay pots, Paul moves into a powerful set of contradictions in verses 8 and 9:

  • afflicted, but not crushed,
  • perplexed but not driven to despair,
  • persecuted but not forsaken,
  • struck down, but not destroyed.

Paul leaves no doubt that any success he’s enjoyed did not come from him, but from God! Paul may have said this because other teachers have come along and claimed to be superior or to have better gifts than Paul. But Paul isn’t having any of that. He can do what he can do, because of God working through him.[9]

          This long section of the letter, which began back in chapter 2 with Paul saying he forgave whoever it was that had abused him, now comes back to the idea of God and God’s mission of which Paul, like us, is just a vessel. My purpose here, as it has been at every congregation I’ve served as a pastor, is not to proclaim greatness, but to humble myself before you and God and point to God as revealed in Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death.[10]

          In verse 16, Paul moves from his defense of himself, to include everyone when he says, “So we do not lose heart.” Paul’s not just be writing about himself here, he’s writing about us all. And he reminds us that our hope isn’t in this life, which is temporary, but in the life to come, a life with God who is redeeming heaven and earth. Paul would never say that our work here is not important. It is, because we are working with God to redeem a fallen world. And it’s not our abilities that make our work important, but our Creator, the one who has redeemed us and who works through us to spread this message.

          So friends, my message to you today hasn’t changed any since I first preached here over six years ago. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Be a light and a beacon for him. May your actions be worthy of him and your words be uplifting and loving. Yes, we live in a mixed-up world with lots of trouble, but that’s no excuse for bad behavior, for while we live in this world, we live for the world to come. Love everyone, extend grace to all, be quick to forgive, and humble yourselves before the God who has created you, who redeems you, and who sustains you. Amen.


[1] See 1 Corinthians 5:9 for the reference to an earlier letter (before 1 & 2 Corinthians).

[2] Acts 20:7-12.

[3] Acts 9:1-18.

[4] See Acts 15.

[5] For an example, see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

[6] See 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.

[7] Paul Barnett, NICNT: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 229.

[8] Charles Barrett, HNTC: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983), 138.

[9] Barnet, 231.

[10] See the Presbyterian Church, Book of Confessions, Heidelberg Catechism, question 1.

The Great Influenza


John M. Barry, The Great Influenza:  The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (2004, Penguin Books, New York, 2018), 548 pages, some photos, index and notes.


This is an impressive book that does more than just provide a history of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Barry provides a history of medicine especially in the United States, of the science around disease’s transmission, and of how all this came to play in the pandemic that struck the world at the end of World War I. He even suggests that the disease may have shortened the war and may have led to its disaster the followed in which set the stage for the Second World War. The war ended after German’s last great offensive was unable to be continued because too many German troops were ill and unable to sustain German’s advance. In the negotiations afterwards, it appears that many (including Woodrow Wilson) may have battle with influenza (which may have played a role in his stoke). Wilson’s absence and lack of focus toward the end of the negotiations certainly hindered his ability to keep the French imposing punitive measures on Germany.

In an addition to providing background history to the medical profession and the science of disease (which sometimes became confusing to me as a layperson in this area), Barry also describe the transmission of the disease from birds to humans and other animals (especially swine).  One it’s in the body, he describes our natural immune response. Interesting (and frightening) is that this strain was so dangerous in younger patients whose immune systems often overreacted and caused a faster death. He also pointed out that most of the deaths weren’t directly from the flu, but because the flu opened up pathways for other infections, especially pneumonia. (This is something that is enlightening in the current COVID-19 debate, as there are some who say that only those who died of COVID only should be counted as a COVID death. Most influenza deaths were not from the flu but from pneumonia).

No one knows for sure where the pandemic began. Although it became known as the Spanish flu, it is certain that the flu didn’t begin there. Spain was relatively late in being attacked by the flu, however since Spain wasn’t at war (unlike the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy), there was no censorship of the press in Spain, so people often associate the flu with the country reporting the flu. The other countries in war censored the information about the flu to keep information from their enemies even though all armies (and countries) were battling it at the same time.

One theory is that the flu began in Kansas, which had a similar illness in pigs. As those from the area were drafted into the army, they brought the illness into induction centers. Early on, the army was battling the flu. The army, as it began to mobilize after the United States entered the war, began to move personnel around the United States and to Europe. Interestingly, all medical personnel with the military knew the danger of illness being spread by armies (and early on sought to minimize the danger of measles).  The disease also travelled in waves, starting in the spring of 1918. The peak was in the fall of 1918, but it kept moving and slightly changing. There were people who caught it more than once, although most who survived an early attack had protection against later attacks. It is also thought that the virus became less lethal in each wave.

Another reason this outbreak was so deadly is that the army sucked up the best doctors and nurses in the country, which left older and ineffective physicians treating civilian populations. The military (and others) passed the disease off as “just influenza” and wasn’t willing to stop the movement of personnel as a way to prevent the disease spread. However, late in the war, they did postpone drafts because the military was having a harder time trying to care for their own ill and were incapable of processing new recruits.

Just as in the current COVID crisis, many places in which influenza was rampant shut down gathering places, including restaurants, bars, churches, and theaters.  The lack of knowledge was especially daunting (caused by censorship that kept anything that might slow the war effort down). This led to panic and in many places, people refused to help those in need out of fear of catching the disease. The deaths numbers in some places (especially parts of the world without much natural immunity to influenza viruses) were horrific. Fifty million and perhaps as many as a 100 million worldwide died at a time when the world’s population was 1/3 of what it is today.

I recommend this book, especially now, when we are dealing with another pandemic. The parallels are frightening, and this book could help clear up a lot of the misinformation that abounds today.


Living in Exile

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
September 20, 2020
Jeremiah 29:4-14

To watch this service on YouTube go to If you just want to catch the sermon, go to 18:40, where I began with the scripture reading.

If you know Old Testament history, you’ll recall there was a period in which Jerusalem was a vassal state of Babylon. In 597 BC, the Babylonians took large numbers of leaders from Jerusalem, along with skilled craftsman, into exile to Babylon. It was an attempt by this world power to keep Jerusalem in line by making connections between the two nations. But the Hebrews kept revolting against Babylon and in 586 BC the city was destroyed, the temple burned and those who survived the slaughter were either led into exile in Babylon or fled to Egypt.

This passage takes the form of a letter Jeremiah writes to those already in exile in Babylon. It was written sometime between 597 and 586 BC, between the first great exile and the last.[1]  At this time, in Jerusalem, there is a lot of nationalist talk. The people are sure God will protect his temple and nothing serious would happen to them.[2] Unlike Jeremiah, I’m sure others wrote subversive letters to those in exile, encouraging them to do what they could to destroy Babylon’s ability to make war.[3] But that’s not Jeremiah’s message. Instead, he tells those in exile to make the best of the situation. That if Babylon prospers, so will they. That’s not what people want to hear. Many think Jeremiah is a traitor, that he’s aiding the enemy.

You know, like those in Babylon, we’re now living in a time of exile. Things that we took for granted back in February and early March have been snatched away. We want Good News, we want to know when this nightmare is going to end. But is that the right question to be asking? Maybe we should be listening to the advice of Jeremiah and make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves?

I was reading a blog post this week in which the author, the president of the Barna Group, a religious think tank that also does polling, wrote about ways the pandemic is negatively impacting people. Barna’s polling had shown that relationships in America were in trouble before the pandemic. After five months of living in lock-down, it’s worse and creating a mental health crisis. Loneliness is a problem, not just for older people who live alone. Surprisingly, its worse for those younger. Two out of three millennials say they are lonely at least once a week. Relationships are straining under the pressure we’re facing, and addictions are growing.[4]

At a time like this, we want to hear that the pandemic will soon be over, that things will be returning to normal, or that it’s really not as bad as we’re making it out to be.[5] And there are those who tout such messages, but are they any different than the prophets of Jeremiah’s day who suggested things are going to be okay? Time will tell, but the message of Jeremiah still applies. We are to make the best out of our present situation. Time goes on. We can’t stop making a life for ourselves which Jeremiah describes as building houses, planting gardens, marrying off children, starting families, and working for the wellbeing of the city in which they live. In other words, while we take care of their own needs, we’re also to help care for others, even those who believe differently than us.

This all leads up to the 11th verse, which is a favorite of many people. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not harm, to give you a future with hope.” Many people will copy this verse in cards sent to grandchildren and I’ve even heard graduation speeches built around these words which assure us that God wants what is best for us. God promises his children a hopeful future.

As comforting as this verse sounds, we must place it in context. In verse 10, just words before these, those in exile are reminded that they are going to be there for some time… 70 years! That must have hit like a bombshell. Those in exile are sad and missing their families and their community and the temple, the symbol of their God. They want to go home. In this sadness, Jeremiah encourages them to seek the welfare of the city in which they will find themselves, a place that they hate. It’s good advice, but in some ways it’s tough love.

As I’ve said, the purpose behind this exile, for the Babylonians, was to take enough of the leadership, including many of the young promising leaders like Ezekiel and Daniel, to ensure that Judah wouldn’t revolt. In a way, although they did not know it at this point in time, those who were first taken away had it easier than those who stayed behind. Those still in Jerusalem experienced the hunger and the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem a decade later.

This was not a good time in Israel’s history and in a way it’s not a good time in our history. As a nation, Israel was being torn apart and the same can be said to be happening to us. Back then, people were afraid. Today, we’re afraid. Back then, famine, suffering, more death and more destruction were on the horizon. We don’t know what’s on the horizon, but the dying from COVID is not over and our society seems to be splintering into factions. But as people of faith, we are to have a positive outlook for we know that God is in control and while God’s timing often doesn’t correlate with our desires, God does work things out.

Faulkner, the southern writer from Mississippi, once said that while it’s hard to believe, “disaster seems to be good for people.” When entering a period of exile, like we’re in, much of what is superfluous is stripped away and we learn what really matters. What matters is that we seek God and trust in God’s promises.[6]

Consider this passage. Even as darkness was descending on Israel, God speaking through Jeremiah offers a word of hope. To know that even though things are bad, God has our back and in the long-run our best interest at heart can help us endure great challenges. The people of Israel had to learn over and over again to be patient. We need to remember that and trust God.

Yes, we are in trying times. But this is not the first time God’s people have faced challenges. The good news is that when we endure and remain faithful, our faith is strengthened. As Paul captures so elegantly in the fifth chapter of Romans:

We boast in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.[7]

May our lives be filled with love and hope despite what we experience in life. Amen.



[1] J. A. Thompson makes the case that this letter was written around 594, after some of the exiles created disturbance in Babylon that lead to at least the execution of two exile members of the Hebrew community there.  See J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 544.

[2] The Prophet Ezekiel, who was a part of the early exiles, had a vision in Babylon of God leaving the temple which helped prepare those there for the temple’s destruction. See Ezekiel 10.

[3] A hint of this can be seen in the rest of this chapter which concerns a letter from Shemaiah in Babylon telling the high priest in Jerusalem to silence Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s prophecy is not what they want to hear. See Jeremiah 29:24-32.

[4] See

[5] An example from the past: In the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, many kept saying “it’s only influenza” while more people died (in sheer numbers, not in percentage of population) from the illness at any other time in history.  See John M. Barry, The Great Influenza:  The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (2004, Penguin Books, New York, 2018).

[6] Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best (Dowers Grove, IL: IVP, 1983), 156.  Peterson’s Faulkner quote comes from Lion in the Garden, Interviews edited by James B. Merriweather and Michael Millgate (NY: Random House, 1968), 108.

[7] Romans 5:3-5.

Sailing: The Low Country Hook Ocean Race

Grand Cru approaching the mark just ahead of us

The finish was exciting. An offshore breeze was blowing steadily toward the land and many of the boats still in the race were all convening on the R2W buoy two miles off Wassaw Island at the same time. There was only one boat left in our class, Todd’s Grand Cru.  While we had opted to stay further offshore in the hope of finding wind, Todd and crew hugged the shore. So, the end of the race had us approaching the mark on a reach, while Todd, who had to tack back toward the mark, was close-hauled, a sail position that gave him more speed. However, he also had more distance to cover. We’d thought we were easily going to make the mark first, but as we both moved closer to the mark, we could tell that Todd was really moving. We checked the sail trim and did everything possible to increase speed, but they beat us, rounding the mark a couple boat lengths ahead. But it didn’t matter. We still won when they factored in the boat’s handicap. Grand Cru is a 33-foot boat and has a much higher handicap than our 24 foot boat. He’d have to finished 20 minutes before us to have won the race.

We crossed the mark at 6:02 PM. It had been a long day and we still had seven miles to go to reach the marina. That was where the final mark was supposed to be but since there had been so little wind and race rules stated that everyone had to finish by 7 PM, which would have meant that no one would have finished, the shortened the race late in the afternoon. The race committee had even headed end, leaving each boat with the instructions to cross the buoy to starboard, turn north and when you pass the buoy, to call in the time. Most of the spinnaker boats (we sailed in the non-spinnaker class) still in the race finished around the same time.  None of the cruising class boats finished the race, all having opted to abort earlier in the afternoon.

Steve setting a course with Doug P at the helm as we sail to Hilton Head

Our race weekend started on Friday, when Doug P., Steve and I took our boat, Bonnie Blue, out to sea and up to Hilton Head’s Harbour Town. We left Landings Harbor Marina at 9:45 AM. The forecast called for light wind and we were thinking we might have to motor most of the way up, but as we got the boat out of the marina, the winds picked up and we were able to sail on a reach (wind coming off the beam or 90 degrees to the boat’s direction), without ever changing tack, all the way out of the Wilmington River and Wassaw Sound. Once we were in the ocean, the winds continue from behind, allowing us to run wing-to-wing (the mainsail and the jib on opposite sides of the boat to catch the wind from behind) all the way north, pass Little Tybee and Tybee Island while sailing down waves that were moving favorably in our direction. Once we crossed the shipping channel to the Savannah Ports, we turned inland toward Daufuskie Island (the setting for Pat Conroy’s memoir, The Water is Wide), sailing across Calibouge Sound until we picked up the channel markers that led us behind Hilton Head Island. The wind died about the time we made it behind Hilton Head and, for the first time since motoring out of the harbor, we engaged the motor and found our slip at the Harbour Town marina.  On Hilton Head, the fourth member of our team, Doug B, who’d been spending a few days with his family on Hilton Head, met us and drove us back to Skidaway.

Leaving Harbour Town

Saturday morning began early as we all gathered before daybreak to drive back up to Hilton Head. The sun was rising as we crossed over the Savannah River bridge. By 8:30 AM, we had the boat ready and motored out to the start line between Daufaskie and Hilton Head. The first class, the cruisers, were to begin at 10 AM.  By then, all boats were in the area and they began the countdown sequence. The tide was running in, strong, and what winds there were came from behind, make it a downwind start (you generally start upwind, as you can make faster speeds).

Cruiser class approaching the mark

At four minutes before the starts, all the boat were required to kill their motors. They did, then then wind died, and the cruisers (there were only three) were pulled further and further from the starting line.  A minute before the start, they cancelled and waited a few minutes before going again into the six-minute sequence. The same thing happened.  The race chairperson then suggested that the boats motor to out beyond the starting line and let the tied pull them back inside it before the start. On the third attempt, they had a start.  As the cruising boats tend to be slower, they were given ten minutes or so headway before they began the second flight, those of us not racing with spinnakers.

Thankfully, our start went off without a hitch and by 10:45 AM, we were racing, but without a lot of speed. We tried everything, from going wing-on-wing to tacking and running on a reach. It was slow going, but within a few hundred yards of the start line we had passed the cruising class boats.  Soon, the spinnaker class boats started and we were all bobbing around in Calibogue Sound, waiting for a puff to move us a little closer to our destination. It seemed to take forever. We kept looking at the same houses on Daufuskie and the marks in the Savannah River were so far ahead. We watched several container ships make their way out of the harbor and then others make their way into the harbor. Thankfully, without wind, the sky remained gray, reducing the sun and the heat.

a distant ship leaving Savannah

Around noon, we had a short burst of air that allowed us to make our way out of the sound and point eastward, toward the G5 buoy at Tybee Roads. We weren’t making great time, but at least we were moving, which continued until we made the turn south, toward Wassaw Sound. Then the wind died again. It seemed to take forever for us to cross the shipping channel. We had seen many ships in the morning, but thankfully while we were bobbing around in the channel, there were none.  Finally, we reached the port side marks, putting us safely out of the channel and began to make our way south.  Doug B pulled out his fancy binoculars, which allowed us to see well ships that were coming into port, but not strong enough to make out those bathing on Tybee, some two miles to the east. For what seemed to be days, but was only four hours or so, we keep the Tybee Lighthouse directly off our beam. Occasionally, they’d be a puff and we’d make some forward progress (to where the slough that runs between Tybee Island and Little Tybee was parallel to beam), dropping the lighthouse toward our stern. Then the wind would die and we’d drift back. Pretty soon the lighthouse would be off our beam. We talked about all kinds of things, but the only thing I remember being said was by Steve when he announced: “It’s a flat as a millpond out here.”

Waiting on wind (Steve holds boom out to catch every bit of wind while I do the same on the pole on the genoa, Doug B looking at sail shapes while Doug P either is looking at his sail app on his phone or is praying…

The chatter on the radio was slim. Occasionally a boat would announce they were giving up the race. Then, around four, there was some discussion over moving the end of the race to the R2W buoy. Since not everyone was within radio contact, such instructions had to be relayed to those behind us. Then, as it got closer to five, the wind slowly began to build. Tybee lighthouse dropped off our stern and we began to pass Little Tybee. The wind picked up and slowly the miles to the buoy began to drop (which we could measure thanks to navigation apps). By five, the wind filled in and we were quickly making out way toward the mark, which could first be seen as just a dot in the distance and slowly became more visible as we saw Todd’s boat coming toward us off starboard. After a day of bobbing, we finally felt like we were racing.



Heading home (Wassaw to port)

After making the mark, the wind continued as we made our way toward Wassaw Sound. By now, the tide had turned and was coming in, giving us an extra boost. Once we cross the north end of Wassaw, the wind died again. No longer racing, we started our motor and began to putt in, supported by the tide. The inland waters were like a mirror and while we putted, we flaked the mainsail on the boom and secured it with the sail cover. Then we rolled and bagged the geona (foresail or jib) and stowed it away. We got the boat ready so that we when we arrived at the marina, we could tie it up and leave.  It was a bit after 8, when we came into the marina. We tied up and found that the party which had been planned in the grassy area by the marina, but had broken up, had left us some snacks and beers. I enjoyed a bag of chips and a beer. It was dark when I arrived at the marina that morning to carpool to Hilton Head and it was dark when I left the marina to head home.

Next Weekend with more wind (that’s me on the helm with Tito)


This was the first race since the St. Paddy’s Day race on March 14!  While I’ve been sailing, all the other races and regattas had been cancelled due to Covid. The next Saturday was the Wassaw Cup, in which our crew wasn’t able to sail, so I sailed on another boat, with high winds, we were blown away. There’s one more race, at the end of the month, before I move to the mountains.



Boats gathering at the start of the Wassaw Cup

Restoration of a Sinner

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
September 6, 2020
Matthew 18:15-20

Click this link to watch the service which begins at the 6 minutes into the table. The sermon starts at 18:20 minutes into the service. 

Also, it seems I wasn’t the only one to come down hard on gossip this week. Even the Pope joined the chorus in his Sunday address. Click here for the AP article.

At the Beginning of Worship:

             Technology has brought a lot of changes to our world, good and bad. On the positive side, it allows us to continue holding worship services during a pandemic, something that wasn’t available during the 1918 pandemic. But it also means everything is now more public, out in the open. Even things we might have hoped to do privately gets posted across social media for the world to see.

The downside of technology includes social media being filled with folks ready to attack anyone who might not agree with them. We’ve always had such people, but they used to easy to avoid. It’s amazing how people will attack others publicly, be it their food choices, their politics, or their use of grammar. Those who engaged in this manner think they’re doing something righteous when they blast an opponent. They think they look good and have power.

But is this how a Christian should act? Not according to the Scripture text we’re examining today. In fact, even when someone else is in the wrong, we need to go the extra mile to protect their identity, to show love, and to act with humility.


After the Scripture:

             I always admire those folks who can take bucket of rust and, with hard work, restore the car to where it looks like it just rolled off the assembly lane. It takes time, patience, expertise, and a willingness to get one’s hands dirty. But what beauty can come out of such efforts.

Today’s sermon is about restoration. Not of cars, but of people. As Christians, we are not only to be about making ourselves betters, but also others.

Our passage from the 18th Chapter of Matthew speaks of correcting the sins of our brothers and sisters in the faith. Let me warn you, this is an easy passage to abuse. If we’re to be correcting sin, we need to first remember we’re all sinners. Second, we are dishonest if we only correct those sins we find most grievous or only the sins committed by those we dislike, while ignoring the sins of those we like. Remember, Jesus said something about us getting the log out our eyes before removing a speck from someone else’s.[1]

            Pointing out the sins of others is something few of us want to do. That’s probably good. In the book The Peacemaker, which is mostly based on this passage, Ken Sande suggests those eager to go out and correct others are probably not the ones needing to perform such tasks.[2] The person who sets out to correct another needs to be humble and desiring both to restore the other person back into a relationship with Christ as well as to keep the publicity down. We’re not to try to make ourselves look better while making others look bad. That’s not Christ-like.

Like restoring an automobile, restoring relationships is hard work. It requires wisdom, love, gratitude, and humility. Without such gifts, one is liable to make a mess of things, just as having the wrong tools could ruin a car’s restoration. Without humility, we can make a mess of a relationship.

Now look at this passage. It starts with a difficult verse. Verse 15 is generally translated “if your brother sins against you…” The New Revised Standard Version translates it more to the intent of the original when it says if “another member of the church sins against you.” Matthew uses the word brother to imply all who are a part of the Christian fellowship, not just siblings or just men. The question that arises is whether we have the right to go correct others in sin.

If you take this passage as translated, the text implies that you go talk only to those who sin against you. Yet, almost all translations will have a footnote here, informing us that many of the older text omit the “against you.”[3] In such cases, it sounds as if we have a license to go correcting anyone who is in violation of God’s law. Since we’re all sinful at one point or another, the field is ripe for a harvest.

I’m going to do something maybe a little unorthodox and take both positions. If your brother or sister in the faith does something wrong against you, you are supposed to go to him or her. In other words, the harmed or the innocence party is supposed to make the effort to reconcile. Image that! My tendency, and this is probably true for most of us, is to avoid people who harm me, but that’s not what we’re being told here. And the object of the visit is not to beat up the offending party, but to restore them. We can also look at this verse from the angle of church discipline. Taking this verse to read: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone,” as the New Jerusalem Bible translates it, we’re told to confront those whose sins are so bad that they are harming the church of giving God a black eye.

Regardless of whether you think this passage applies only to sins committed personally against you as an individual or to sins in general, we’re not given a license to become intolerant moral police officers. Look at the context of this teaching. Right before here, in verses 10-14, Jesus gives the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The focus there, as in this passage, isn’t confrontation. It’s reconciliation, bringing the lost back into the fold. Then he follows this passage with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Remember that passage is about judgment upon those who act harshly and are judgmental toward others. Having these two passages as bookends reminds us that Jesus is primarily interested in restoration of the sinner and that if we’re involved in bringing about such restoration, we’re to be humble and gracious.

We need to ask ourselves if the offense is great enough to risk ruining a relationship. Sometimes, having a little thicker skin will do wonders and further the peace.

If, however, the situation requires action, we’re to go to the other person and confront them face to face; we’re not to be talking about it to others, starting up the gossip mill. Today, thanks to social media, starting a rumor is easier than ever. But before we announce to the world the wrong someone has done, we’re to go talk to them. We’re to listen to what they say, for they may have a different interpretation or understanding.

Listening is important. We might have missed understood. Furthermore, if Jesus were teaching today, I think he’d insist that we listen and gather the facts before we march off into a crusade. As for social media, he would probably suggest that before we share something online, we make sure what we say is supported by facts and are not just emotional responses that demonstrate our own confirmation bias.[4]

After having confronted the person face to face, if they are not willing to work things out or if they are going to continue sinful activities, we’re still not to start gossiping. We’re to maintain confidentiality as we attempt to come to an understanding with two or three others, who are trusted and will also keep confidentiality. In Sande’s book, he recommends that if we’re in a conflict with someone else, we tell them at the end of that first meeting that we’re going to seek the council of others—for if they know they’re in the wrong they may be willing to go ahead and work things out with us.

These two or three witnesses serve two functions.  First, they are observers. Judgment in Scripture always required two witnesses.[5] In this case, they are there to make sure that things are fair. They might listen and think we’re the one that is in the wrong and, in that case, we have to be willing to accept their advice.

After this second visit, if we still don’t resolve the problem, then we can take our complaint back to the church. In keeping with the process, this doesn’t mean that we stand up during joys and concerns and broadcast the complaint to everyone. Instead, we take it to the leadership, to those in charge, and let them be the judge. Only after this intervention fails, does the church have a right to exclude the offending party from the community of faith. Matthew says that then they’ll be like “pagans and tax collectors.”

What are our responsible toward correcting a member of the community who sins, remembering that we all sin? This was debated heatedly during the Reformation. John Calvin, one of the founders of our branch of Christendom, supported Church discipline for three reasons.[6] First, was to honor God. The church should act against those who are in open revolt against God. But Calvin did not suggest we start inquisitions. He never argued for a “pure church” because he believed that was impossible. Church discipline was taken only against those who openly refused to stop and repent of their blasphemous activities. The second aim was to keep the good within the church from being corrupted, and the third aim was to bring the guilty party into repentance.[7] Discipline was always carried out in hopes of restoring the contrite into the fellowship of the church. In other words, discipline was done pastorally out of concern for the accused soul.

When we take these verses out of their setting, they sound harsh. After all, Christ gives those of us in the community the power to banish someone from our midst.[8] He even tells us that decisions we make here have eternal ramifications. But our purpose isn’t to be the enforcer; instead our goal is to restore the sinner. And if we’re going to be convincing, we got to remember that we’re all sinners, which means we better be humble in any endeavor we undertake.[9] We don’t try to correct others as a way to prove our rightness, but out of love and concern. Like restoring a car, it’s hard work. Amen.


[1] Matthew 7:5.

[2] Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004).

[3] There is debate over the inclusion of this phrase.  See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Society, 1985), 45 and Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew: Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992), 213.  Robert Gundry argues for its inclusion in Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 1982), 367; while Frederick Dale Bruner omits the phrase.  See The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 225.

[4] Confirmation bias is agreeing with something because it “fits” our world view without verification. In other words, we decide something is right because it fits our existing beliefs.

[5] Deuteronomy 19:15.

[6] Although Calvin supported and participated in church discipline, unlike some Reformers such as John Knox, Calvin did not see discipline as one of the marks of a “true church.”  To him the marks of a true church was the proclamation of the gospel and the rightful administration of the sacraments.  For a discussion of Calvin and discipline, see Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin (Louisville: W/JKP, 2008), 270-271.

[7] The three purposes of discipline of John Calvin are in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.12.5..

[8] While this is seen in this passage (Matthew 18:18), it also appears in Matthew 16:19.

[9] Heimlich Bullinger, another reformer and author of the Second Helvetic Confession tempers his talk on discipline with a reminder that Jesus said not to pull the weeds up because you risk pulling up the wheat.  See Presbyterian Church (USA), Book of Confession. 5:165.

Would You Wear a Yellow Tux?

Jesse Cole, Find Your Yellow Tux: How to be Successful by Standing Out (Lioncrest Publishing, 2018), 303 pages, some photos.

The Back Story:  One of the most amazing things I’ve seen while living in the Savannah area is the development of a summer league baseball team for college players, the Savannah Bananas. Before the Bananas arrived, there had been a Single-A minor league team, the Savannah Sand Gnats. I went to one of their games the first full summer I was here with my staff. We pretty much had a whole section of the stands to ourselves. It is hard to think that I cheered for any Sand Gnat. As is often said around here, that nasty bug and the humidity are what keeps house prices affordable along the Georgia Coast. The Sand Gnats tried to get the city to build them a new stadium (Grayson Stadium is old but classic—even Babe Ruth played there). Failing to blackmail the community into a new stadium, they moved to Columbia, South Carolina, but sadly left the gnats behind. It wasn’t looking good for baseball in Savannah until this young man from Gastonia, NC comes along with some crazy ideas. He creates a ball team of college players and tops it all off with entertainment and fifteen buck tickets that include all you can eat burgers and hotdogs. It’s a great deal and fun. The first summer, about forty people from our church attended a game. I took a photo of a dude wearing a yellow tux and posted it to Facebook, asking what would happen if I wore a yellow tux in the pulpit. One of my elders responded (jokingly, I think) that they might have to establish a new Pastor Nominating Committee. I still think it would have been a fun idea.

Jesse Cole at a ballgame in 2016

My review:  The dude I saw in at that baseball game back in 2016 was the author of this book in which he lays out his ideas about business and life. It’s all about having fun and doing what you can to stand out in the world. Cole’s idea is to do crazy things to draw attention and to build a fan following. It works. While the Sand Gnats never sold out, the Savannah Bananas sold out the stadium their first three years. This book is part business manual and part memoir. We learn about Cole’s life, which is almost like a novel (I know of several novels where someone hoped to play professional ball and throws their arm out in college). Cole finds a way to stay with the game, first in Gastonia, N.C. and now in Savannah. The book draws on many others who gave Cole inspiration: Walt Disney, P. T. Barnum, Mike Veeck, Richard Branson, the movie “Jerry Maguire” among others. Cole is not only an avid reader; he is able to put what he learns into action. He also encourages those who work with him to read and to produce ideas.  Some of his ideas are a new spin on an old idea. Cole uses an old fashion “idea box.” But what he does with those ideas are unique. “Brainstorming” is called Ideapaloozas. Cole points out the lack of excitement with “professionalism” and encourages everyone to be crazy, doing the opposite of normal. He insists that their only focus is on their fans. While Cole never mentions investments, his idea of doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing sounds like the contrarian investment strategy (See Dreman, Contrarian Investment Strategies). His goal is to be successful while having fun and putting his fans first (Fans First Entertainment is the name of Cole’s business).

When I started reading this book, I thought it should be read by everyone in leadership at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church. By the time I was done with it, I thought it should be read by everyone. I recommend you read it and start having fun while you find success by helping others.