Advent 1: Hope

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 29, 2020
Genesis 15:1-5, 21:1-3

Today’s sermon (taped on Saturday, November 27, 2020)
Setting the state at the beginning of worship

For Advent, this year, we’re going to look at passages in scripture to help us understand the themes of each week. This week, the theme is hope. In future weeks, it’s joy, love, and peace. 

Perhaps no one in history had the hope of Abram, who’d latter be known as Abraham. He’s the one with whom God planted a seed. That seed bore fruit nearly two millennials later, with the birth of the Christ child. 

It all started in a desert. Abram was getting up in years, a lot like most of us. He was well past social security age, yet his best years were still ahead! That’s the kind of hope for which we should strive. 

The best is always ahead because the future is in God’s hands! 

After the reading of Scripture:

I love the view from our house in Laurel Fork. We sit up on a ridge with a small pasture dropping to the north. We have incredible morning views of the Buffalo, as some of you have seen from Facebook posts. But I’m really blown away on clear nights. 

From our ridge, we have an unobstructed view of the north sky. I can easily make out Polaris, the North Star, at the handle end of the Little Dipper. Like a clock wrapped around Polaris, there’s the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia and her husband Cepheus. Snaked between them is Draco the Dragon, whose stars weave around the pole. I can also see a tinge of the Milky Way with its millions of stars 

Because of our latitude, and with an open view to the north, I’ll be able to see these stars year around. I’ve never had such a dark view to the north. The other night, I took the dog out and gazed up on the dipper and Cassiopeia on the opposite side of Polaris. Then, about 6:30 AM, I took the trash can down to the highway. The constellations were reversed, having traveled around the Polaris. 

The role of stars in the Biblical story

The stars played a more important role when there were no mass printed calendars, like the ones they hand out at Mayberry Trading Post. Our ancient parents mostly lived outdoors. Without electric lights to spoil the view, they knew the night sky well. 

As you know, stars play a major role in the Christmas story. A star drew the Magi to Bethlehem. But long before that, God appeared to Abram in a vision. This vision instilled Abram with hope.

Exploring the text

God’s opening line is familiar. We hear it anytime a heavenly being approaches a mortal. “Do not be afraid.” Common sense demands that the appearance of God should be enough to make you shake in your boots. We should immediately, as the Christmas Carol goes, “fall on our knees.”[1]

In Abram’s case, there’s an ironic twist. He’s just done the impossible. In Chapter 14, he defeated a much larger force on the battlefield. He’s not just a wandering sheepherder; he’s a warrior.[2] Yet, God tells Abram, “Don’t be afraid.” 

Then God continues, “I’m your shield.” Maybe God doesn’t want Abram to let this commando stuff, of leading a group of men who rout a much larger army, go to his head. It’s as if God says: “Don’t depend on your military skill, don’t depend on your equipment; don’t depend on your men; depend on me.” And then God promises that his reward will be great. 

Abram shows boldness by complaining. “O, Great,” he says to God. “I’m an old man without an heir, what’s good is this reward to me?  

In those days, those without a male heir would adopt a male slave. The slave, as an adopted son, would then be in charge of seeing to it that the man and woman of the house are cared for in their old age. Upon their deaths, the slave receives freedom and his adopted father’s property.[3]

Abram may have had this in mind when he mentions Eliezer as his heir. But God isn’t finished with Abram. God invites him to step outside the tent. God directs Abram’s eyes to the night sky and promises his descendants will be more numerous than the stars.

 In the desert, at night, the sky is brilliant. The stars are even brighter than they are on Briar Hill. “Abram,” God asks, “Can you count the stars? If so, you can count your descendants!  

Of course, Abram couldn’t count the stars. Four thousand years later, we’re still discovering new stars and galaxies filled with thousands of starts.

God’s presence and promises

I like the night sky. I never feel alone when I can see the sky. God’s presence is felt, not only with me but throughout the cosmos. The God who invited Abram to look into the sky and to consider the possibilities is with me. And God can do incredible things. We need to have faith. Our hope is in what God is doing even if we don’t understand.

I skipped over six chapters of Abraham and Sarah’s story to get to where Isaac was born. Those six chapters aren’t easy.[4] There are lots of bumps in the road. And they’ll be many more for it’ll be another 20 centuries or so before Jesus. 

The hope we have in the Almighty isn’t necessarily something that happens overnight. Too often, in our culture, we are caught up in instant gratification. We’re impatient. We don’t like waiting. But Advent reminds us that while we have hope, we also have to wait. But as we wait, we need to hold on to the dreams we have.

Reality Checks

Do you know what a reality check is? It’s a two-word concept often used to kill great dreams. Some of these dreams may have been realized if only attempted. A reality-check is often akin to sticking a needle into a balloon. Just when great ideas are generated, someone comes along and tells you why it can’t be done. You lose faith. Sure enough, the naysayer is proven right. 

Abram didn’t need a reality-check. He’d done that himself, I’m sure. Anyone could have told him he was washed up. He was old, way too old for a baby. Abram didn’t need so-called friends to tell him this. He knew it. 

Instead of a “reality-check,” Abram really needed a “God-check.” We also need those kinds of checks. God directs Abram’s eyes to the skies and says, “Count ‘em, if you can.” Like Abram, we sometimes need our horizons expanded. Certainly, the God of creation, who set the stars in the universe, is more powerful than us.  

You know, we worship and serve an awesome God.  Yet, we tend to put everything on our own shoulders, thinking we must carry the burden. We have a hard time trusting God, but when we step out of our comfort zones and decide to follow a hunch, God can surprise us. 

A few years ago, before COVID, Craig Barnes wrote about the “anxiety” in the church. All over, he said, people are worried. Folks are anxious. What will will happen to the church. Are we going out of business?

But listen to what Barnes wrote:

When I was working through my way through a graduate program in the history of Christianity, I became convinced that there is no rational explanation for the church’s survival… [but] there are many compelling political, intellectual, and social reasons for it to have gone out of business… And none of those threats were ever as dangerous to the church as it was to itself. We’ve always been our own worst enemy when we fail to live out of the gospel we proclaim. But still the church perseveres. The only possible explanation for the church’s survival is that Jesus Christ chose to use it to continue his mission of bringing the kingdom of God to earth.[5]

It’s not about us; it’s about God. When we trust God and ignore the “it can’t be done” voices surrounding us, incredible things happen!

A personal story

Let me tell you a story. Ken Tracy served as executive presbytery when I first went to Utah. A compassionate man, he helped match me to that congregation. They were small and struggling but had great dreams. After I was there about two years, we came to presbytery with our proposal for a new church campus. Ken called for a reality check. “You’ll never do it,” he said. “It’s beyond the ability of that congregation.” 

Luckily (it really wasn’t luck, it was providence), we prevailed. We were able to sell the presbytery on the idea. Shortly after that, Ken moved to Alaska. But his father was in St. George, a town that shared a daily newspaper with Cedar City. His father sent Ken a frontpage clipping of our opening. Ken called me to congratulate us. He said he was happy to acknowledge he’d been wrong.  

Understand this, it wasn’t because of any great thing I did. Nor was it about anything anyone in the congregation did. Yes, everyone made a gallant effort. But God wanted that church built. God gave us hope and saw to it that we had the resources. Yes, at times we had to struggle; at times we worried about running out of money and having to put the project on hold. Our new church home wasn’t presented on a silver platter. But we held to the vision and, despite the naysayers (and Ken wasn’t the only one), built the building. And the congregation continues to flourish.  

Interestingly, Abram believed, even though his promise was off in the future. God takes time to fulfill everything. There will be periods when his descendants would be slaves. The fulfillment of the promise won’t necessarily be easy.

Lessons from this passage

We should remember a few things from this passage. First of all, we have a God in change and in control of the future. We can give up our attempts at being in control and trust God to take care of those things over which we have no control. If we are willing to trust God’s providential care, we will be happier and less anxious. 

Second, with God, our abilities do not restrain possibilities. God is not bound by human limitation. 

Third, our hope is not for an immediate answer to our problem. The answer, as it was with Christ, may take many generations. 

Finally, just because God is with us, we will not necessarily have an easy time. At times, things will be rough. We’ll have challenges. But the rewards are great.  

Let me close by asking you some questions to ponder this week. What things have gone undone because we have failed to trust God? Are there dreams we killed with our reality checks? What could we do, if we trusted God and grasped at the possibilities? Look up to the stars and dream. For our hope is grounded in an awesome God, who came to us as a child. Amen.

[1] From “O Holy Night.”

[2] Genesis 14 tells the story of Abram as a warrior, defeating the five kings and rescuing Lot and his family.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), 143.

[4] In these chapters, Abram becomes Abraham and Sara becomes Sarah. 

[5] Craig Barnes is now the President of Princeton Theological Seminary. I think this quote came from Christianity Century.

What I’ve been reading lately: 3 Reviews

Billy Beasley, The Girl in the River: The Grief of a Widower, The Hope of a Child (Abbeville, SC: Moonshine Publishing, 2020), 226 pages.  

Billy Beasley tells a great story. Several of the characters in his first novel, set in the late 1960s, reappear here. We learn what happens to them fifty years later, as they play a supporting role to Clint Hurley, the protagonist of this book. A simple man, Clint finds himself wooed by Allie, a younger woman. They marry, have a family, and a near perfect relationship. Then Allie dies. Clint, who always assumed he’d be the first to go, finds himself alone except for his dog. He moves to a cabin on the Northeast Cape Fear River where, on the first Christmas after Allie’s death, he and his dog rescue a girl who’d fallen out of her kayak into the river. The girl had run away from her foster parents. As the cliché goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Soon Clint finds himself charged with child abuse and his dog, Josie, fights for her life. But everything works out. The closing epilogue, written thirteen years later by Jasmin, the girl who rescued from the river, tells of Clint and his dog’s death. They are both old and die together.


In a way, the story fits into the old ars moriendi (art of dying) genre. Clint shows his family and friends (and readers) how to have a “good death.” In another fashion, the story reads like a Hallmark Christmas movie.  We have a log cabin, snow, special Christmas memories, and fires in the hearth and firepits out back. Christmas is an important theme as it is on Christmas that Allie dies. A year later, on Christmas, Jasmin floats into Clint’s life and saves him. For those who love dog stories, this book is also for you. The book also deals with race relations, another topic that Billy addressed in his first novel. 

This book is a fast read. Billy writes about things he loves. Sports (especially Duke basketball), dogs (especially Australian Cattle Dogs), the Bible, and church. The book shows the possibility of love and reconciliation, something the world needs desperately these days.  

Personal Connection to Author

Billy often puts into his stories people he knows. The doctor, who treated Clint’s heart attack, was Nicky Pipkin. This doctor shares a name with a friend of both of us, Nicky was a heart surgeon. In 2018, I officiate at Nicky’s funeral, just a few days before Christmas. I met Billy and Nicky at the beginning of the fourth grade at Bradley Creek Elementary School, shortly after my family moved to the Wilmington area. 


M. Craig Barnes, Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2020), 235.

Written as a weekly diary, the novel begins in July as the pastor decides to retire the following June. While fictionalized, there is little doubt that many of these stories came from Barnes life and the lives of other pastors. In this book, one gets to see into a soul of a pastor. You see how much of ministry is mundane. However, there are also those special times when parishioners invite ministers into special times of their lives.

In this book you will see: 

  • The pastor’s struggle within his own family as well as confessions of things that didn’t work out as planned.
  • Wrestling with what to tell to a congregation, including informing them on his prostate cancer.
  • The difficult decisions about staff and how sometimes the pastor finds themselves in a no-win situation. 
  • The hurt felt by betrayal of members of a congregation who move elsewhere, often give false reasons for the move. 
  • The pain pastors feel over the death of parishioners.
  • How parishioners attempt to pull pastors into awkward situations, such as attempting to use the pastor to encourage a son to go to a particular college. 

At the end of the year, it’s over. There is a retirement party and its time to move on. Not everything wraps up neatly. 


This is a very honest novel. I recommend it for anyone wanting to know what it is like to be in ministry. I have read most of Barnes book and have enjoyed them all. His book, When God Interrupts, is my favorite. I have probably handed out numerous copies of this book to those battling cancer over the years. When God Interrupts was written shortly after Barnes survived a bout with cancer. All his books contain significant theological and pastoral insights. 


Aaron McAlexander, Shine on Mayberry Moon (Columbia, SC: Stonebridge Press, 2018), 221 pages. 

McAlexander grew up in Mayberry. While he found his way off the mountain and into the halls of academia (spending his working years as a physics professor), he always considered Mayberry his home. In addition to some physics texts, he has written many books set in this area, several of which have gone through multiple printings. 

Shine on Mayberry Moon is about moonshine. There used to be a lot of moonshine made in this area (there was even legal distilleries in the area before prohibition). McAlexander provides the reader with a history of moonshine, along with many humorous stories. We learn about all kinds of things that might go into the mash. Of course, corn is essential (especially sprouted corn to help the fermentation). But if you want to speed up the fermentation, you add sugar which in times (like during the Second World War) could be hard to get. Sometimes moonshiners, who tended to be practical folk, found other means to make their mash. Cow, hog, and chicken feed were often added to the mix.  And you can also use things like apples, which are abundant in the fall of the year. 

In these stories we see how people reacted to the manufacture and (limited) trade in illegal spirits. Some looked the other way, while others were teetotalers who despised the practice. While this area has often been poor, there are times it has experienced an economic boon, such as during the Depression with two government projects: a dam for Danville, VA and the Blue Ridge Parkway. With many workers moving into the area, the local entrepreneurs found ways to satisfy needs. One story tells about a wife discovered there is a house of ill repute operating near the dam construction site. Taking matters into her own hands, she gathers up some dry brush and set the building ablaze. Customers and working women in various stage of dress flee.

McAlexander has a chapter on running moonshine. This wasn’t done much from Mayberry as the ‘shine distilled for local consumption. Sheriffs and revenuers didn’t mess as much with small-scale operators as long as they weren’t marketing it to a large area and made a product that didn’t cause anyone to get sick.  He suggests that some of the legend of running moonshine, which was supposedly a training ground for stock car drivers, was probably just a legend. Of course, some illegal liquors were transported out of the area. It was that most wasn’t hauled in fast cars. McAlexander comments on “Thunder Road,” the movie which helped promote this legend.” While I’ve not seen the movie, the directors undoubtedly didn’t think enough of the audience’s wisdom. They kept changing the year of the car used in the chase scenes. While he suggests it’s not a good movie, I’m curious about it. However, I don’t think I could tell the difference between a 1950 and a 51 or 52 Ford. 

The author suggests there are few if any stills burning in these hills today. Why would someone take the legal risk when you buy cheap liquor for less than it would cost you to make. 


This book will give the reader some insight into mountain life in the early and mid-20th Century. The stories are entertaining and often humorous. I recommend it. When I move into an area, I always try to read and learn as much as I can about the local community and culture. It’s for that reason I picked up this book, written by one of the members of the Mayberry Church which I serve as a pastor. 


Thanksgiving, Joy, & Gratitude

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 22, 2020
Psalm 100

The sermon taped on Friday in a practice session.
Setting the stage:

         One of my favorite Georgian authors is Ferrol Sams. A physician by trade, he began writing later in his life. I’d read most of his books before moving to Georgia and highly recommend his three-volume memoir. 

In volume two, which is about his college years in the late 1930s, he writes about one of his professors. This professor asked his class how long it takes someone to go from the whining question, “Why me, Lord?” to the mature question, “Why not me, Lord? Both maintain the accent on the word me. But the one negative syllable separates two entirely different philosophies.”[1]

This is a good question. How long does it take to shift our focus from ourselves to God? The intent of the 100th Psalm, which we’ll look at today, is to encourage such a shift. 

After the Scripture Reading:

Joy is essential to the Christian life. It’s a gift from God. It’s not the pursuit of happiness we in Americans so cherish. What we consider as “happiness” is transitory and fragile. Happiness often depends on external circumstances. For me, it might be the Pirates winning the pennant. If that’s the case, I haven’t been happy in a long time. 

You see, happiness is contradictory. Hope rises on the sound of a well hit ball. The crowd holds its collective breath as the ball sails deep. The centerfielder runs and leaps high with his glove extended as he crashes into the wall. He falls to the ground. Then he stands. A grin comes across his face as he pulls the ball from his glove. The home crowd moans. The batter, who for a moment thought he was a hero, kicks the dust and heads toward the dugout. Some win, others lose. Some celebrate, others mope…

The Pirates might be a long shot for the World Series, but this might be the year the Steeler’s take it all. A virtual Superbowl party, anyone? Enough about sports.

Joy in an unshakable and unchanging God

A friend of mine commenting on this passage wrote, “This Psalm tells us that the joy we find in God is unshaken and unchanging because it is based on something lasting and unchanging.”[2]Get that? Something lasting! Yes, there will be plenty of disappointments in life to weight us down, such as homeruns stolen by a talented centerfielder, but true joy has another foundation. 

True joy, of the everlasting variety, is found in God. To quote the prophet Isaiah, “the flower withers, the grass fades, but the word of God will stand forever.”[3] In other words, all we cherish and love in this life will come to an end. Flowers are beautiful only for a few days or maybe a week. Youth lasts but for a few seasons. Friends and loved ones die. If we are looking for eternal happiness in our lives here on earth, we’ll always be disappointed.

Focus on God, on that which is eternal, and we’ll be ready to join the chorus marching into heaven making a joyful noise. “Worship,” as the late Eugene Peterson once said, “is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.”[4]

We should want to worship God, to offer prayers of thanksgiving, to shout praises. Focus on God. True joy is knowing God and that we are loved by our Creator. We are claimed by our maker. 

Psalm 100 is about the joy in God which “is the motive power of faith.” Our joy in God will lift our hearts.[5]

A Psalm of Worship

This a Psalm of worship. It was probably originally sung by the Hebrew people as they gathered in the Jerusalem temple. The first two verses serve as a call to worship. 

Imagine the chief priest standing at the temple’s gate. He’s in his finest robe. Suddenly trumpets blast, quieting the crowd. Then, in a loud voice, the priest summons the multitude: “Make a joyful noise, worship the Lord with gladness, and come into his presence with singing.” The crowd responds, breaking into a round of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” If it’s November, they might sing “Now Thank We All Our God.”

“Know that the Lord is God, that he made us,” the third verse reads. “We are his, the sheep of his pasture.”  We’re reminded why we’ve gathered. Our one purpose is to worship the Almighty. 

God is king, but also a caring shepherd. Those gathered in front of the temple, preparing to enter, recognize they are to put away thoughts of grandeur for themselves. Furthermore, they are to put away petty differences between one another. This is not the place or time for selfishness or bickering. All who have come are to be together, in unity, in worship. 

The same is true for us. We are to leave our petty differences at the door of the sanctuary. Worship isn’t about us; it’s about our God.

The message of Psalm 100

This may be a short Psalm, but it has a wonderful message for those of us who gather Sunday after Sunday to worship. “Psalm 100 initiates worship and sets forth a theology of worship,” according to one commentator.[6] The focus of the Psalm, as we learn in the fourth verse is God. As the final verse indicates, we worship because God is good, loving and faithful.


 A key to being a Christian is gratitude. I don’t know how one can be a Christian and not feel it. Gratitude grows when we have our priorities right. Gratitude is not only good for our souls, it’s good for bodies. 

A few years ago, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that spoke on what we might do to benefit from this feeling: 

“Gratitude is good for us in many ways. Studies have shown it strengthens our immune systems, helps us sleep better, reduces stress and depression and opens the door to more relationships. But to reap those rewards, we need to do more than feel grateful. ‘The word ‘thanksgiving’ means giving of thanks.’ says Dr. Emmons (a psychologist at University of California at Davis). ‘It is an action word. Gratitude requires action.’”[7]

Did you catch that? Gratitude requires action. We can’t just receive all the goodness God has given us without sharing. This is the meaning behind the secular holiday we celebrate this week. Thanksgiving is to be a time of sharing. The mythology of the holiday, whether or not it happened this way, captures a truth of gratitude. Pilgrims and Natives sharing a meal around the table in an expression of gratitude. 

True gratitude leads to generosity. It’s a personal issue, one that we each need to struggle with and decide for ourselves. Are we generous? Are our lives gracious? Do we love God, our Creator, and want to praise him in thought, word, and deed? 

The Psalm calls us to worship, but our worshipful attitude should be more than just what we do on Sunday morning. Likewise, we should be thankful more than just this Thursday. 

Our thankfulness, our worship, should flow forth from our lives, from our hearts. It’s what should be most evident when others see us. Last night I saw a meme on Facebook in which someone asked an Amish man if he was a Christian. His answer was shocking. “Ask my neighbor,” was his response. Do others see us as Christians? 

This Thanksgiving

In closing, let me say a little bit about this Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the Center for Disease Control and many physicians are recommending that we not do much sharing around the table this year. Face it, sharing COVID would be a Thanksgiving downer. So maybe we need to revision just how we might share gratitude this year. 

Maybe, instead of stuffing ourselves on turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce, we should spend this Thanksgiving a little quieter. We could spend a few minutes alone with God, reading Psalms of Thanksgiving.[8] We could also make a phone call or two. We could write a letter to a family member we miss seeing or to a long-lost friend. We could support Thanksgiving offerings where the money goes to those in need. 

As we take these actions, remember to give thanks to God for the blessings we have. And let others see your gratitude. Amen.

[1] Ferrol Sams, The Whisper of the River (NY: Penguin Books, 1986), 498. 

[2] Laura Smit, “Come, Let Us Worship and Bow Down,” Reformed Worship, #52 (June 1999), 14.

[3] Isaiah 40:7.

[4] Eugene Peterson was the translator of The Message (a Bible translation) and author of over 30 books on ministry and faith. This quote came from a tweet. (@PetersonDaily, November 12, 2017). 

[5] Artur Weiser, The Psalms, Herbert Hartwell translator, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 645.

[6] James L. Mays, Psalms (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 321

[7] Clare Ansberry, “Cultivating a Life of Gratitude, The Wall Street Journal (November 14, 2017), A15. 

[8] Some additional suggestions of “Thanksgiving Psalms” from Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 125-139:  Psalms 30, 40, 138, 34,65, 66, and 124.

A Windy Walk to Clear My Mind

The sun burns brightly in the blue sky. What warmth it provides is swept away by a strong breeze. The move, the death of my mother, settling into a new church, and dealing with the new house has taken a lot out of me. I need a break. I take Tuesday off and spend the afternoon hiking around Rocky Knob, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, east of Floyd, Virginia.

One of the surprises in the move came in our new house. I fell in love the view of “the Buffalo.” Perhaps that’s why I didn’t notice the large number of air freshers in the house. I’m not sure how, but when I first toured the house the day after it went on the market, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The former owners (children of the man who owned it) had the ceilings painted and aired it out. They may have even used an ozone machine to mask the smell of smoke.

The inside is prepared for paint. The picture in the bottom left is an early morning view of “The Buffalo”

I realize from the first time I saw the house, there are things to be done. With the house being smaller than the one in Georgia, I need to finish the walkout basement. I also envisioned adding a deck around the back to be able to fully enjoy the view of the Buffalo. Then there’s landscaping and what to do with five acres of pasture. I put all those things on hold. While moving in, entering the house after it had been closed up for six weeks, we realized the former occupants were smokers. Heavy smokers. Currently, we’re staying in a farmhouse of friends while painters are working hard to seal in the walls. When we move back in this weekend (or early next week), it will be very nice. For now, it’s an inconvenience.

I can imagine coming into this cabin and warming up at the fireplace.

I take Tuesday afternoon off. Driving to the Rocky Knob ranger station, I park my car and head off on the Black Ridge Trail. I take the loop which leads me to the West side of the ridge. The path drops into a hollow. I’m sheltered from the wind. After a few minutes of hiking, I come upon an old chimney. The craftsmanship is amazing. While there is no evidence of a house, the chimney appears to be in perfect working order. From there, I cross a small creek, as the trail heads back up toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just before reaching the Parkway, the trail heads south, with pasture to my right and the parkway high above me to the left.

When the trail climbed up and over the Parkway, as I left the hollow, the north wind became intense. I was now on the Black Ridge, which hangs high above Rock Castle Gorge, where I had hiked last August. Vegetation is thick in the canyon with tall trees reaching to the edge of the ridge. On top, the trees are short, gnarled by the wind. The grass remains green, even this late in the year. Granite boulders stick up in the midst of the meadow, creating a tombstone-like appearance. As with the old chimney, ghosts abound in these hills. I find a large enough boulder to block the wind and provide a back rest. For a few minutes, I write in my journal. Afterwards, I pull out Billy Beasley’s new book, The Girl in the River and read a few chapters. I’ll review the book in my blog next week.

Looking east. Rock Castle Gorge is to the bottom right.

I enjoy the chilly walk along the ridge, frequently stopping to look to the east. Passing a woman with two dogs, I say hello. One of the dogs is trying to get to me, but she says he’s in training. I smile and say I’ll continue on, in order not to entice the dog to run after me. When I reach my car, I check the time. It’s not yet 4 PM, I’ve been gone for less than two hours. Much of that time I spent reading. Not ready to head home, I set out to find another trail.

It’s interesting how the wind “designs” the trees along the ridge

Woe or Whoa?

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 15, 2020
Matthew 23:13-38

This is a video of a “practice run” of the sermon, recorded on Friday, November 13.
Note: The video is missing the woe/whoa joke that I added later!

At the beginning of worship:

            I warned you last week; we’re spending two weeks in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew. It’s a difficult chapter. Jesus deliverers a pulpit-pounding sermon. In the middle of this sermon are seven woes. For each, Jesus lifts up particular actions of the seemingly religious folks. He then condemns their hypocrisy.

The passage ends with a mournful lament for Jerusalem. This city stoned the prophets and will, in a few days, crucify the Messiah. Jesus’ lament demonstrates his great love for these misguided people. He longs to hug and care for them, but they won’t listen.

In this chapter, we see Jesus’ anger at prideful behavior and his heartbreak over the consequences of such actions. As the old cliché goes, God hates the sin and loves the sinner. 

After the Scripture Reading:

There are a lot of woes in this passage and Jesus isn’t riding a horse.[1] What’s he trying to say?

Let’s look at a few of his examples. He speaks of those who are seemingly religious going beyond what is required by the law.

Let me say this. Setting the bar higher or trying to do more than the letter of the law demands in and of itself isn’t bad. It can be commendable. Especially if we move from a strictly legalistic understanding of the law to one that captures the intent of the law.

Jesus himself does this in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. If you try to destroy a person’s reputation by calling them a fool, you’re guilty. The same is true with adultery. You don’t have to actually do the deed. Lustful thoughts make you guilty.[2]

Understand this, Jesus isn’t upset with folks going beyond what is required by the law. One example he refers to is offering a 10th of one’s garden herbs. The tithe was only expected on grain crops, oil, and wine.

What upsets Jesus is that these people make a deal out of these little things while ignoring what’s important.[3] They take pride in their good deeds, thinking it makes them better.

Jesus takes the double-love commandment, which we looked at a few weeks ago (to love God and to love your neighbor[4]) and applies it here. “Woe to you who tithe mint and dill and cumin and neglect the weightier matters of the law—justice and mercy and faith.”

Justice and mercy link to our call to love our neighbor. Faith reminds us that we’re to love the Lord.[5] Tithing, the giving a tenth of our income, although important, shouldn’t be the focus of our faith. If we elevate its importance, we risk forgetting that tithing is to be done with an attitude of thanksgiving for what God has done. We shouldn’t tithe to earn God’s favor. Nor should we make a big deal about it, like those who gave extra tithes (as if we’re in a game of spiritual one-upmanship). Jesus condemns attempts to bribe God or to put our piety on display.

A personal example:

Let me give you an example of this from my early teen years. My mother had said she wanted a particular kind of brush. I was with my dad in J. C. Fields one day and saw it. It wasn’t very expensive, a dollar or two (remember, this was nearly 50 years ago). Having mowed some neighbor’s lawns, I had money and I brought it for her. She was pleased. A day or two later as she was getting on me for something I’d done, I reminded her of my gift. She made it very clear that if the gift was a way to bribe her, I could take it back.

Intentions are important. We’re not to do good to show off for others, or to bribe God. We’re to live in gratitude for what God has done for us.

More Woes:

In the next woe, Jesus draws upon the analogy of a cup and the absurd concept that if the outside was clean, so must the inside be clean. Such people have their priorities reversed, as it’s more important to have the inside clean than the outside.

Now, before we go any further, I must confess that I may have descended from the Pharisees. Often, I overload the dishwasher and when I unload it, I’m guilty of grabbing a handful of cups or bowls and not looking inside. They get stacked in the cabinet and, on occasion, what looked to be clean on the outside isn’t so on the inside. When someone else gets one of those cups or bowls… Well, let’s just I hear about it.

Of course, that’s not exactly what Jesus is talking about here. Instead, this is similar to his expansion of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus equates lust and ill-placed passion with adultery. Here, Jesus refers to an uncontrolled appetite, a desire to have our cups “runneth over.”[6]

Jesus attacks the lack of self-control, along with our lusting and unhealthy desires for things. Things are not bad; in moderation most things can be good. But in excess, even good things can be bad for us.

Jesus further warns that while we might look good on the outside, our drive to over-indulge will create filth on the inside.

Jesus expands on this theme of appearing clean on the outside but being dirty on the inside with his next woe. Here, where Jesus speaks of whitewashed tombs, he’s probably drawing from a practice of covering graves and tombs with white chalk once a year, in a belief it would keep the priests from becoming unclean by accidental contact. Jesus equates these glistening white tombs to hypocrites who look nice on the outside, but inside are dead and rotting. These are harsh words for Jesus accuses those seen as “the great defenders of the law as being the main rebels against it.”[7]

Jesus’ final woe is directed at those who glorify their heritage and traditions and mistakenly believe that tradition is the same as truth. Those who are teachers of Scripture, who also kept the graves of the prophets and the righteous in top shape, believe that because they’re a part of this tradition, they too are righteous.

They believed that if they had been living in the past, they’d been the brave ones who would have stood up for what is right. They’d keep Jeremiah from being dropped in a well or stop the stoning of other prophets.

“Be careful,” Jesus warns, “what makes you think you’re so good?”

Do we think we’re better than the Pharisees?

You know, today, almost everyone in America honors Martin Luther King, but that wasn’t the case when he was alive. The establishment, our government, even the FBI, tried to find every reason they could to attack him. Admittedly, he wasn’t a perfect man (no one is), but he did a lot of good for his people.

Consider the Jews in Nazi Germany. We might think we would have stood up to such an atrocity, but would we?

How about in our own country? Would we stand up against injustices? Against slavery? Against the atrocities at Sand Creek or Wounded Knee? Against the lynching of African Americans?

To think we’d act differently than those in the past is often to give ourselves too much credit. We should instead realize we’re a part of a fallen world. We often do what is easiest and expedient and not what is right and just.

Jesus brings his sermon to a close, following his last woe, with an indictment of Israel. The religious leaders say they’d treat the prophets of old better, and they’re going to get a chance to do just that. In a few days, more righteous blood will be spilled.[8]

Jesus’ love and grief

After these harsh words, Jesus tenderly looks over the holy city and grieves. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I long to gather your children together like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you didn’t want me.” Jesus wants things to turn out differently and his heart is heavy as his ministry wraps up.

Good News:

I remember being told in seminary to always have good news somewhere in your sermon. It’s a challenge on a text like this. But, believe it or not, there’s good news here.

First of all, there is a bright side to the woes. If we listen and clean up our act, we’ll not have to keep up a facade. We can be freed to live.

Sharon Fawcett, in a book titled Hope for Wholeness: The Spiritual Path to Freedom from Depression, writes about this struggle. She tells about keeping up appearances (which is what hypocrisy is all about). “I considered it my responsibility to look like a winner, maintain the image, and try to make my life appear problem-free.” She wanted to be “a walking billboard advertising a perfect, painless life” that came from her relationship with Christ.”[9]

For Fawcett, judgment came through a bout of depression which kept her from keeping up this façade. After lots of treatment, having worked through it, she found freedom from such burdens. God is good and can work through the bad to bring about good for us.

A second source of good news here is the love we experience from Jesus. Our Savior loves us and wants us to love him and one another. He wants us to be ourselves, not to pretend to be something that we are not. He doesn’t want to burden us or make our lives harder. He wants us to be free to accept his grace and forgiveness.

Because he loves us, as well as those around us, there are times he needs to correct and redirect our focus. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be a veneer, to be a façade. He wants to cleanse and liberate us so we can live free from the bondage of sin. That’s good news!

This week look back over these seven woes and re-examine your life considering what Jesus says. Is he speaking to us? Amen  

[1] A silly joke using the homophone woe verses whoa.

[2] Matthew 5:21-28

[3] For agricultural tithes see Leviticus 27:30 and Deuteronomy 14:22-23. Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Mathew 13-28 (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004), 447.

[4] Matthew 22:36-40

[5] Bruner, 449.

[6] Bruner, 451, examines the Greek word akrasia, which literally means lack of self-control.

[7] Bruner, 452.

[8] This sermon was in Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, just before his crucifixion.

[9] Sharon Fawcett, Hope for Wholeness: The Spiritual Path to Freedom from Depression (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 45.

Matthew 23:1-12

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 8, 2020
Matthew 23:1-12

A practice run of the sermon shot on Friday. There may be variations from the text below.
At the beginning of the service:

            Today we’re moving into the 23rd chapter of Matthew. Some commentators think this is one of the more difficult chapters in Scripture. I’m don’t think that’s true. This text is not that hard for us to understand, but it makes us quite uncomfortable. 

Mark Twain claimed it wasn’t the parts of Scripture he didn’t understand that bothered him. It was the parts he understood. This might be one of those chapters. 

Jesus attacks hypocrisy. Much of this teaching is directed at leaders within the religious community, but there are other parts of it applicable to all of us. Hypocrisy is often a problem and the reason many people shy away from church. If our words and actions go together, the church would be much more effective at offering hope to a hurting world.[1]

This is the last chapter in Matthew where Jesus publicly speaks to a multitude. Jesus is probably speaking at the temple, for he leaves there with the disciples shortly afterwards.[2]

I’m splitting this chapter into two parts. Today, we’ll look at what Jesus teaches about humility and service. Jesus teaches us what’s important in God’s economy, a place where the last becomes first, and the first last. 

After the Scripture Reading:


Saturday, a week ago, was Halloween. It was also Reformation Day! On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. This is seen as the beginning of what we know as the Protestant Reformation. 

The Protestant experience has led to widespread changes in the world. This includes fostering in democratic ideals.[3]

One of the key concepts of Protestantism is the “Priesthood of All Believers.” This means all of us have the ability to take our sins to God, through Jesus Christ, for forgiveness. We have access to God and can interpret God’s word for ourselves. 

The impact of this doctrine is greater than the notion of us not having to confess through a priest. It levels the playing field, emphasizing equality. The concept impacts more than the church. It helped promote the view that all citizens are equal. It encouraged the idea of one person/one vote. We could even credit it with bringing us the election we had this week. 

Of course, many of you, like me, became sick of the campaigning and then the counting. It seemed to go on forever. Now, maybe, it’s over and our prayer need to be for the transition to new leadership. 

But before we get too far away from the election, I have a modest proposal for the next one. All politicians should have to read this chapter of Matthew’s gospel and be asked about it. These words should give them, and us, something to ponder. 

Our Savior addresses pride and humility. He condemns how we tend to say one thing and do another. He reminds us not to be concerned with what looks good, but to do what is right and just. 

A good leader is humble and a servant, realizing that they are accountable not only to their constituents, but ultimately to God. A good leader needs to know that there are worse things that can happen than being voted out of office. A leader is always responsible to God!  

But this passage isn’t just directed toward those in authority; it’s also directed toward the rest of us. Sooner or later, we’re all in a leadership position. Whether it is as a parent, on a job, or just as a witness letting our light shine.[4]But a leader isn’t a dictator. 

Jesus says that we should not set people up over us when it comes to our relationship to God. Ultimately, our citizenship isn’t here on earth or in America. We’re called to be citizens of that new kingdom, the one in which Jesus rules supreme.   

Of course, while this text applies, Jesus wasn’t speaking of to the political arena when he gave this talk. He’d made his “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” speech earlier, as we looked at two weeks ago.[5] But his teachings still apply to those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. At the time Jesus gave these teachings, he was preparing his followers for the covenant life of the church.

And, as a pastor, this is a hard passage to swallow. “Practice what you teach,” Jesus says. I know, if I am to be honest, there are times I fail to live up to the standard Jesus sets. This is true for all of us, but it’s especially dangerous situation for those of us in leadership roles. In a way, Jesus addresses the Elmer Gantry’s of the Pharisees. He criticizes the one who can incite a crowd against sin while doing what was condemned and walking away with a pocket full of money. 

Applying the Text:

The key to Jesus’ teachings is humility. Pride leads to a fall, we read in Proverbs.[6] While we will all fail to uphold God’s expectations for us,[7] humility will cover a lot of our sins.[8] Jesus doesn’t condemn the Pharisees’ teachings. Jesus’ condemns how they are so rigid in their treatment of others while they exempt themselves from such behavior. 

Some of you may remember Sam Ervin. He was a senator from North Carolina in my youth and became best known for chairing the Watergate Hearings. He came from a family of Presbyterians, serving the church as an Elder. After retiring from the Senate, Sam collected his favorite stories into a book. One of the stories he tells is about a leading Southern Presbyterian theologian of the 19th Century, Robert Lewis Dabney.  

In the Civil War, Dabney, signed on as chaplain for Stonewall Jackson. He was given the rank of Major. Dabney often preached about predestination. This doctrine teaches that God is in control and has things worked out. He told the men this meant if they were predestined to be killed, there was nothing they could do to stop that Yankee bullet. Consequently, if they were predestined to live, there was no way a Yankee could harm them. 

In a way, Dabney used this doctrine, which is supposed to be about our hope in Jesus Christ, to encourage bravery on the battlefield. I’m pretty sure Augustine or Calvin, the Church’s two great teachers on this doctrine, would not have agreed with Dabney’s application. 

One day, according to Ervin’s story, Dabney was out visiting the men along the line. Suddenly, they were under attack. Yankee bullets buzzed through the air. Dabney ran hard. He dove behind the largest tree around, landing on top of a private who’d already claimed that safe spot. The private, seeing the chaplain on top of him, said, “Major Dabney, you don’t practice what you preach!”

“What do you mean, son?” Dabney asked.

“You’re always telling us that everything is going to happen as it has been planned and predestined by the Almighty and we can’t escape our fate,” the young soldier said. “For that reason, you say we should be calm in battle. I noticed, however, that when those Yankee bullets began to fly and kick up dust, you forgot about predestination.”

“Son,” Dabney responded, “you overlooked two important facts. This tree was predestined to be here, and I was predestined to jump behind it.”[9]

You know, what we do is often more important than what we say. That private understood. 

As I said, Jesus points out in this passage that much of the Pharisees say is right. After all, they teach what Moses taught and you can’t go wrong with that. But they don’t do what they teach. In fact, they often made the law more difficult that it has to be. Then, after raising the bar, they don’t follow it themselves. Such teachers use the law to burden down others. 

If we’re going to be in a leadership position in the church, we have to remember our purpose. We’re here to serve and not to make life more difficult for others. We are not to give others burdens that we’re not willing to accept. This has often been a critique of American missionary efforts. Especially in the 19th and early 20th Century, we tried to make converts be more like us instead of having them focus on Christ. 

Jesus goes on to note that as a Christian leader, we don’t need to have the best seat in the house or the finest and fanciest clothes. We don’t need to bask in honors and shouldn’t be accepting fancy titles. We should be content to be who we are. We should know our salvation isn’t in what we have done. Salvation is found in what Jesus has done for us. For this reason, we respond to him in joy and are his willing servants. 

The late Doug Hare was one of my New Testament professors when I was in seminary. Unlike other professors who insisted that they be called Dr. or Professor, Doug insisted we use his first name. On our first day in his classroom, citing this passage, he said we were all equal. He saw himself as just another Christian, no different from the rest of us. Of course, that wasn’t quite true. Differences did show after grades were issued. Although fair, he was a tough professor. 

You know, being an effective leader requires work. If you are a leader, more is asked of you. You’re often the first to arrive and the last to leave. You’re the one that gets to pick up the slack when others don’t fulfill their obligations. It’s hard work—whether you’re a pastor, an elder, or a leader of a Bible Study. And for our lives outside the church, we might serve on as a county commissioner, a mayor, or a volunteer fire chief. If you’re younger, you might find yourself as a captain of a ball team, a member of the student counsel, or, if in Scouting, a patrol leader. 


As a Christian, we should hold our leaders accountable. Furthermore, whenever we find ourselves in a leadership position, we must remember that we aren’t there for glory and honor. Instead, we’re to serve others honestly and fairly. We’re to always remember that our ultimate allegiance belongs to our one true teacher, our true leader, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  


[1] I would argue that hypocrisy is a problem in all human endeavors (due to our sinful nature). But the church should strive to limit it and should also confess to the world that it’s a problem with which we struggle. 

[2] See Matthew 24:1.

[3] Dee Steven Ozment, Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution (New York: Doubleday, 1993).

[4] See Matthew 5:16

[5] Matthew 22:21

[6] Proverbs 16:18.

[7] Romans 3:23.

[8] Jesus provides an example of this at another point in his life. See Luke 18:13-14. 

[9] Sam J. Ervin, Jr. Humor of a Country Lawyer, (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1983), 82-83.

Reading as Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope

Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2020), 198 pages including a discussion guide, bibliography, scriptural index and index.

McCaulley provides an interesting insight into the struggles facing African American theologians today. Coming from an evangelical tradition, he quickly notes the failure of evangelicalism for those of his race. He acknowledges that most black churches accept the four pillars of evangelicalism (a born-again experience, missionary efforts, high regard for Scripture, and emphasis on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus). But, he notes, there are two unwritten pillars among most evangelicals. One is to downplay injustices of the American past. The other is to remain silent on issues of racism and systemic injustice. (10-11)

He also has a problem with progressive Christianity. He sees this movement “weaponizing” African American theologians to support their own positions. Both sides, he believes, “tokenize” Black theologians. He criticizes the evangelical movement use of black evangelical theologians to attack black progressives. While disingenuous, it keeps the evangelical movement from being labeled as racist.

McCaulley argues for an authentic African American theological voice that takes Scripture seriously while addressing the need of community. Citing examples, he notes how slaves first heard the gospel tempered and misused. They were encouraged to be happy with their lot in life. But instead, the Bible’s overarching story of a God who frees people couldn’t be tempered. From this background, African Americans developed their own churches and theological traditions.

McCaulley focuses on the teachings of Paul. Some may suggest that Paul never challenged the slave culture that existed in his time. However, McCaulley cites many places where Paul does challenge the culture even though he (or the early church) was in no position to change it. McCaulley also draws heavily on the Old Testament, especially laws concerning slavery, and the Exodus.

Five of the chapters of the book lay out ideas for a more comprehensive African American theology. One is a theology of policing. McCaulley admits the need for policing but also for it to be done in a manner that supports and not destroy the community. He tells his own story of being stopped by police in high school. He and his friends were forced out of his car and searched for no reason. Such experience is truer for those in his community than in mine. In this chapter, especially as he deals with Romans 13, he balances the way his community and the police need to deal with the fear they both feel for the other.

In another chapter, he looks at how the New Testament supports the need for protests. Blacks are not just to be submissive. They need to work for a vision that is set in the Exodus and Prophetic traditions of the Old Testament and taught by Jesus (and Paul). This is followed up with a chapter on justice.

In a chapter that critiques of many in the African American community who have abandon Christianity (seeing it as a white/European religion), McCaulley makes the case for an African American witness in Scripture. Such tradition continued in the early church which found a stronghold on the African continent. Then, in a final chapter focusing on the need of his community, he explores rage and what should be done with it.

McCaulley finds solace in Scripture. Like his ancestors, he senses that God is on the side of the oppressed. God’s desire is for freedom (real slavery as well as bondage to sin). This is the hope his community needs to move forward. It is the author’s hope that other members of his community will step up as they offer their witness to hope of the gospel. Such a witness doesn’t have to depend on white interpretations but can draw from Scripture and the experiences of his race.

This is a book that needs to be read. I image it will be helpful for those within the African American community. However, even those of us who are of others races should read it to better understand the rage felt by African Americans. Perhaps we can catch a part of their vision of a theology that encompasses all of us.

Who is our Savior?

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 1, 2020
Psalm 110, Matthew 22:41-46

The video above was recorded on Friday, October 30, 2020 and may be a little different from the text below.

At the Beginning of Worship

We’re going to complete the 22nd Chapter of Matthew’s gospel this morning. Two weeks ago, we began the chapter with Jesus’ parable of the wedding guest. His story didn’t sit well with the religious leaders of the day, which set up the events we dug into last week. 

There we saw Jesus tag-teamed by a group of religious and secular scholars. They kept coming at Jesus with questions and Jesus stunned them with his answers. They were so speechless that Matthew tells us they were “muzzled.” 

Now it’s Jesus’ turn to ask a question. On the surface, it appears to be a simple and not very interesting one. But it’s the most important question.[1] Jesus asks about their understanding of the Messiah. Those who challenge Jesus have trouble understanding who could save them. Do we? In whom do we place our trust? That’s a question for us to ponder this week.  

After the Reading of Scripture

Do you remember the movie Pale Rider? I always liked the movie. It takes me back to a familiar place. The filming took place just outside a church camp I ran in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho in the late 1980s. 

The movie stars Clint Eastwood. He’s a mysterious outsider, who’s only called “Preacher.” He comes into a mining town of LaHood, California. The townsfolk are being run off their claims by bad men hired by Coy LaHood, a mining tycoon longing to control the valley. Even Preacher is abused. He’s encouraged to move on by the corporation’s henchmen. He accepts the abuse, not fighting back, but he encourages the townsfolk to resist. 

We get a sense that this preacher has a past. Thing comes to a head when an innocent man is killed. Fighting breaks out. Eastwood did not defend or take revenge for the wrong done to him. However, when an innocent man is dead, he claims his guns from a safe deposit vault. 

The move ends predictable. Vengeance is metered out and the town saved by this former gunslinging preacher. In the closing scene, with the town secure, the mysterious preacher rides off into the sunset.[2]

The Preacher was the town’s savior. Pale Rider is a classical western, with a twist or two. An outsider comes in and saves the town who are made up of good people incapable of defending themselves. You quickly know, in such movies, who are the good and bad guys. Once the oppressed have been saved, and the bad buried, the outsider moves on. There is no need for a savior anymore. All is right in the world. 

When things are down, wouldn’t it would be nice to have a savior come in and set things right. It could be an answer to our dreams, or our deepest desire. Of course, so would living in a world where the bad guys are always someone else and we’re always innocent. It makes a good movie, but the world is not that simple. 

Into the Text

Yes, we need to be saved. Sometimes from others. Sometimes from ourselves. And that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. We need a savior. We need a Messiah. The problem is, who is our savior? Too often, we want the savior on our own terms. But then, we risk idolatry, worshipping something less than God. Our morning text goes to the heart of this. 

Last week we looked at the three questions the Jewish leadership asked Jesus. Each question was designed to trick or trip him up. They wanted to expose Jesus as a fraud or heretic. In doing so, they could maintain their control over everyone within the faith. Now, after being bombarded by questions, it’s Jesus’ turn. He asks just one question, which he modifies with a couple more clarifying ones. 

Jesus asks his question to the Pharisees, even though there were other leaders present.[3] Remember, the Pharisees are most like Jesus with their belief in a resurrection. Jesus asks what they think about the Messiah. It’s a simple question. Then he pushes the question further, asking whose son he is. The last question is a tricky one. 

The Pharisee respond that the Messiah is the “son of David.” This is not a bad answer. All we have to do is to go to the very first verse of Matthew’s gospel: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David…” 

The Davidic sonship of Jesus is taken for granted throughout the New Testament. You see it not only in Matthew Gospel, but in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.[4] Paul speaks of Jesus as the Son of David.[5] We even find such a title in the Book of Revelation.[6] While the title Son of David is important, Jesus drives at something deeper. 

Jesus then asks, how can David call the Messiah, Lord? For you see, a “son” implies a hierarchical relationship. A son always shows deference to the father. Such an attitude goes back to the Ten Commandments, “honor thy father and mother.”[7] Jesus backs up his question with a quote from Psalm 110, a Psalm of David, which we heard earlier. 

The Pharisee’s hope is in a Messiah who would be a conquering king like David. They are looking for someone who will be willing to defeat their enemies and to restore the honor of the nation. They’re like the residents of LaHood in the movie Pale Rider

At the very least, the Pharisees want a Messiah who will do those things outlined in the last verses of Psalm 110. They want him to bring vengeance on their enemies. They want to see their persecutors turned into corpses, stacked like cordwood. 

Yes, Jesus desires justice. Yes, some of those things may happen at the final judgment. But there’s more to Jesus. As one commentator wrote: “If Jesus is seen only from David’s side, glorious but only human, he is mis-seen.” Jesus has to be seen from “God’s side—the very Son of God”[8]

Another way of thinking about this is as Son of David, Jesus is a Messiah for the Jewish people. But he’s more than that. In Matthew, the title “Son of David,” is always subordinate to the title “Son of God.”[9]

Twice in Matthew’s Gospel, God claims Jesus as his Son. At his baptism, the skies open and a voice cries out: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.”[10] Again, at the Transfiguration, we hear the same voice.[11]

As Psalm 110 reminds us, the Messiah sits at God’s right hand. Jesus as the Son of God is the Messiah for the world. “For God so loved the world,” John’s gospel tells us.[12] Jesus’ mission is to set up the foundation of the church so that it can continue his work in the world until he comes again and calls his people home.  

Applying the Text

So now, we need to ask ourselves the question Jesus asked. What do we think of the Messiah? 

Often, we look for salvation in the wrong places. We think that if we can just have this or that, we’d be satisfied. But the Messiah isn’t an object or a thing. Nor can our true savior be just another person. Sometimes we think, if we just marry the right spouse or if we just had the perfect job, but again those things by themselves can’t fulfill us. 

Perhaps even more dangerous is the belief of a political savior. We’re faced with a choice this week, during the elections. I will never tell you who to vote for. I firmly believe in two foundational principles of the Presbyterian Church. First, God alone is Lord of our conscience. Second, good people see things differently.[13] So, I won’t say who to vote for. 

However, let me state this clearly: If you think you can vote for a Savior, you’re mistaken. If we believe that any of the candidates can fulfill all our needs and desires, and do everything in a godly manner, we are delusional. 

Yes, political leaders can be a force for good, but they are still mere humans. They are still sinful. Scripture is clear. Even David sinned. Certainly, for Uriah, David was no savior.[14] Mortals, whether family members, spouses, friends, bosses, or politicians cannot fulfill our deepest needs. 

This is why the Son of David was a short-sighted answer. Mortals are always limited in what they can do. But as one who came from God, the one who is God, Jesus has the power to save. He is the only Savior we need. Anyone and anything else will eventually disappoint and led us into idolatry.  Amen.  


[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 421,

[2] Pale Rider, 1985. Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood. I simplified the story line here. The name comes from the Revelation 6:8, where death is seen as riding a pale horse. The movie begins when a young girl’s dog is shot by the Coy LaHood’s men. She prays for a miracle. Of course, Eastwood’s character is not “pure.” He has a past as shown by bullet wounds in his back and by his flirting and suggestive “shacking up” with one of the towns eligible women. 

[3] In the previous passage, Herodians and Sadducees joined the Pharisees in questioning Jesus. 

[4] Mark 10:4-48, Luke 3:31. 

[5] Romans 1:3.

[6] Revelation 3:7, 5:5, 22:16.

[7] Exodus 20 :12 and Deuteronomy 5:16.

[8] Bruner, 426. 

[9] Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew: Interpretation, a Commentary for Preaching and Teaching, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 262-263.

[10] Matthew 3:17.

[11] Matthew 17:5.

[12] John 3:16.

[13] Presbyterian Church (USA), Book of Order

[14] 2 Samuel 11.