Jesus, the High Priest

As we are expecting bad weather tomorrow, with snow overnight topped by freezing rain early in the morning, worship services at Bluemont and Mayberry Churches are cancelled. I have included copies of the bulletins and announcements from each church at the bottom. Stay safe!

Sermon recorded on January 29 at Mayberry Church

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
January 31, 2021
Hebrews 4:14-5:10 

At the beginning of Worship

We’re continuing our study of the Book of Hebrews today. As I have reinforced each week we’ve been in this book, its central theme is the superiority of Christ. Today, we will read that Christ is our high priest, but this is just a way to say that Jesus is superior to the priests of the temple during Jesus’ day. Priests served as the link between a holy God and a sinful people. But as the High Priest, Jesus replaces the need for other priest and opens the door that we all might be in fellowship with the divine. To say this another way as we’ve seen in Hebrews, Jesus adopts us into God’s extended family. 

Let me say give you another tidbit about how Hebrews is constructed. I’ve talked before about how the author builds on what’s already covered to make his case. Another trick the author uses is to drop hits as to where he’s going. While this section is about the role of Jesus as a high priest, he’s already mentioned this role of Jesus twice before.[1]Furthermore, in this section, with Melchizedek, the author drops hints about where he’s heading. He’ll come back to him in the 7th chapter. 

After the reading of the Scripture

Let me start with an interesting footnote on this section of scripture that I just read. I’ve pointed out before that chapters and verses were not originally a part of the scriptures, that they were added centuries after the text were written as a way to help us find things. Because of this, verses and chapters can be somewhat arbitrary. This section, which begins with the 14th verse of the 4th chapter is such a case. Some older translations including Tyndale’s English translation and Luther’s German translation began Chapter 5 with verse 14.[2]  This is a reminder that the new chapters don’t always mean new thoughts, as we see here. 

A True Story

Let me tell you a true story. When I was sixteen, four months after passing the driver’s test and getting my license, I was in an accident. It was early Sunday afternoon. My father was working this day, so mother took us kids to church. On the way home, she let me drive. I felt so big. It was also a blessing that mom was with me, right beside me in the front seat. This mean she knew I wasn’t to blame for the accident. Had she not been there, I’m sure it would have somehow been my fault. 

We were driving down Shipyard Boulevard, which had three lanes heading east. I was in the far-right lane as my turn was only a few streets ahead. Suddenly, a car in the far-left lane made an immediate right-hand turn. The woman driving must have realized she was about to miss her turn. She cut across two lanes of traffic. 

I slammed on the brakes and T-boned her car in the front quarter-panel. This was in 1973. I was driving a car built in 1969, before cars came with shoulder straps. I remember flying through the air, then the waist belt caught me. I was then thrown forward and hit my head on the steering wheel hard enough to crack it. See, I now have an excuse. Any mental challenges I can blame on that accident. 

I was knocked out. A policeman and an ambulance came. I was whisked away to the emergency room. With me gone, our neighbors who were leaving their church, happened to drive by. They gave my mother and siblings a ride home. My mother called my father where he was working. He came to the hospital to check on me. As we were leaving, the police officer came to the hospital with a citation. He charged me with “following too close.” I was furious. I told the cop he was crazy. My father immediately grabbed me and told me to be quiet. 

Dad then asked the officer about the accident and the position of the cars. After explaining that I hit her car in the front passenger quarter panel, my father, very calmly said, “Jeff’s right. There’s no way he could have been following too close.” The officer said, “Well, that’s my findings.” My father response was, “We’ll see you in court.” 

The Neighbor to the rescue 

Now, remember the neighbors who picked up my mother and siblings. The father just happened to be a State highway patrolman. When he heard I was charged with the accident, I think he was even more incensed than my father. That afternoon, he took my father and me to the scene and we measured everything off and took pictures. Then we went to where they’d towed the cars and took more pictures. Then he drew up on a large sheet of paper the accident and wrote up his findings. Because he worked for a different agency, he did not feel he could take this information to the police department. Instead, he told my dad to give to an attorney. And he said if the attorney had any questions, to call him. 

Now, I was a bit upset over the reason he told my dad to obtain an attorney. “You don’t want a sixteen-year-old on the witness stand by himself,” he said. “The DA and the officer could get him (that’s me) confused and the trial might not go well.” So, my father hired an attorney. We met with him for maybe 15 minutes. He took all the drawings and photos and said, “I think I can take care of this.” I didn’t even have to appear in court. Her insurance paid for the accident and the citation was thrown out. 

The Need for an Advocate

While I was a cocky 16-year-old, who didn’t think I needed an attorney, there’s something good about having an advocate, one who can help plea your case. This goes both in a courtroom and before God. That’s why, in the Old Testament, you had a high priest. This dude was to take the petitions and our confessions of the people to God. The high priest was to seek mercy on our behalf.  

Last week, we learned that the Book of Hebrews encourages us to “take a break.” We have the Sabbath which serves as a foretaste of paradise, an eternal rest. We can rest because God is active in our lives and world. Where this activity is best seen is in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Not only can we trust ourselves to take a break because Jesus watches over us, but Jesus has us eternally in his hands. 

What is our confession? 

Because of whom Jesus is and what Jesus has done, the author/preacher of Hebrews calls on us in the first verse of our reading to hold fast to our confession. Now, when we think of our confession, we might think of the Apostles’ Creed, or the even older Nicene Creed. While these creeds flesh out our knowledge about Christ, especially our understanding of the incarnation (God with us) and the Trinity, there’s an even older creed that we see in the writings of Paul. “Jesus is Lord” is perhaps the first basic Christian Creed.[3] Such a creed fits right into Hebrews emphasis on the superiority of Jesus Christ. 

By affirming this creed, that Jesus is Lord, or Jesus is superior, we acknowledge our relationship to Jesus, but we are also acknowledging that Jesus does something for us no one else can do. We get into this special work of Jesus as we look at the work of the High Priest. 

Jesus as the High Priest

There are a number of essential characteristics of the High Priest that’s outlined in the first ten verses of Chapter 5.[4] Such a priest must sympathize with our weakness. This highlights the importance of the incarnation. Jesus had to become one of us, in order for him to understand what we must endure in this life. The High Priest must be a mortal. Jesus, by becoming human, fulfills this. But unlike the High Priests of the temple, who had to do special sacrifices to purify himself before he could offer the sacrifices for the people’s sin, Jesus sinless state allows him to make that sacrifice for us. The author will go into more detail about the sacrifice later in the book. 

Another characteristic is that High Priest position isn’t something for which one can strive. It is a position that must be chosen by God. The Preacher of Hebrews highlights this with two quotes from the Psalms. The first quote, from Psalm 2:7, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” We’re already heard this quote in the opening paragraph of Hebrews and the opening of this quote is similar to what was heard from heaven when Jesus was baptized by John.[5] In the second quote, from Psalms we’re told that Jesus is a priest forever and we’re reintroduced to this guy from way back at the time of Abraham, Melchizedek.[6] The author of Hebrews doesn’t make a big deal out of Melchizedek at this point. Instead, he’s drops a teaser. We’ll learn more about Melchizedek later, but for now we are shown that Jesus’ role as High Priest was bestowed on him by God the Father. 

Our Need for a High Priest 

The important thing we learn from this passage is not how Jesus became high priest or his qualifications for the assignment. For us, the important thing is that we have a high priest. We have someone who has been where we are in life and knows what we endure, someone who empathizes with our struggles. Because Jesus is our high priest, we can approach him honestly in our prayers, laying our burdens and concerns out before him. We can be assured that Jesus will listen to us and represent us before God the Father. But unlike an earthly advocate, like that attorney my father hired for me, Jesus doesn’t just make sure our side is told. As we dig deeper into this book, we’ll see that Jesus covers us with his own righteousness and pays any penalty we own for our transgressions. 

As a high priest, Jesus offers us more than any earthly priest. Jesus is Lord. That’s our confession. Believe in him. Follow him. Love and worship him.  Amen. 

[1] See Hebrews 2:17 and 3:1

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 84 n. 1.  

[3] Romans 10:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:3. 

[4] Different scholars outline these characteristics differently. Bruce, 94, splits it into two: 1. Divine appointment and 2. Ability to sympathize with His people.  Johnson breaks it down into 12 parts: 1. Taken from among humans, 2. Behalf of humans, 3. In matters pertaining to God, 4. To offer gifts and sacrifices, 5. For sins. The High Priest must also 6. Deal gently with ignorant and wandering people, 7. Share their weakness, 8. Offer gifts for himself, 9. As well as the people. The High Priest must also 10. not chose himself, 11. But be chosen by God, 12. As was Aaron.  See. Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 2006)), 137.  

[5] Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13. At the baptism, the word from heaven is “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  

[6] Genesis 14:18. Melchizedek was this mysterious “King of Salem” to whom Abraham offered a tithe to. 

Bluemont Announcements

  • Starting Monday, February 1, the pastor will be holding a “Zoom” Bible study looking at the previous week’s sermon along with the upcoming week’s scripture readings. The study will begin at 1 p.m. and last up to an hour.  It will only be available virtually. To attend, please send an email to the pastor at  On Monday mornings, you will receive an email with an invite for the Bible Study.  
  • The Souper Bowl offering for the Carroll County Social Services for medicine and fuel for the elderly will be taken on Sunday, February 7.  Envelopes will be provided.                               

If you have a need to contact Rev. Dr. Jeff Garrison, you may reach him on his cell number 269-804-9793 or email him at  His mailing address is    P. O. Box 140, Laurel Fork VA  24352.   Visit Pastor Jeff’s blog at . 

Mayberry Announcements

This Morning – “Two Cents-A-Meal” Offering 

Mayberry’s monthly hunger offering (which addresses hunger right here in the mountains of southwest Virginia) will be received this morning.  Based on Mayberry’s grant applications, the Meadows of Dan Back Pack Program, and Harris Chapel’s Food Distribution ministry have previously received grants from the Presbytery’s “Two Cents” hunger program.  Gifts may be placed in the offering plate using the envelopes found in today’s bulletin.    

Monday (2/1) – Zoom Bible Study – 1:00-2:00 pm  

Something Brand New … Tomorrow, for the first time, Pastor Jeff will be holding a “Zoom” Bible Study looking at the previous week’s sermon … and … the upcoming week’s scripture readings. The study will begin at 1:00 pm and last up to an hour.  

It will only be available virtually. To sign up … please send an email to the pastor at  Then each Monday morning, participants will receive an email from Jeff with the “invite” for that afternoon’s Bible Study.  

Monday (2/1)  Addiction Recovery Support Group 7:00 pm

Persons fighting addictions gather on Monday evenings for prayer and mutual support to strengthen their use of the AA’s 12-step discipline.  Somebody you care about may be fighting an addiction that is limiting the blessings their life with the Lord will bring them.  Call Deborah Reynolds, at 276-251-1389, for more information. 

Thursday (2/4) – Ruritan Meeting – Via Zoom – 7:00 pm   

February’s Calendar – Ash Wednesday – Lent – Easter, etc.   

February’s Calendar is included in this morning’s bulletin.  The Lenten Season begins on the 1st Sunday in Lent (2/14) … Ash Wednesday follows on (2/17) … Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week on (3/28) … and Easter Sunday on April 4th.  The Session has not yet mapped out our full set of plans for 2021’s Lenten/Easter Season – it is considering how Covid will impact our Easter celebrations.  For example, do Covid restrictions prevent our normal Imposition of Ashes service on Ash Wednesday?  Can we add an Easter Sunrise Service to our Easter Sunday celebrations?  Stay tuned … decisions are on the way!   

Meadows of Dan’s January 27th Blood Drive Results 

A nice turnout at this past Wednesday’s Blood Drive produced 34 units of Blood.  We’re told by the Red Cross that those donations will have a lifesaving impact on 102 persons needing medical care.  The Red Cross also tells us that they have received nearly 300,000 fewer donations since Covid infections surfaced last March.  Our next blood drive will be March 24th.  We hope you will join us that day.  More important we hope you will call 

1-800-RED-CROS and schedule your time for donation.  You can do that beginning as early as March 1st.  

Bulletin Outline for Both Churches

Maps, Old and New (and a book review)

A Brief Personal Essay on Maps

I have a love affair with maps. It started in childhood when we lived in Petersburg, Virginia for a few years. As a third grader, I studied the maps of my home area during the Civil War. A couple years later, as a Boy Scout and living near the coast of North Carolina, I began to draw maps. I drew woods behind our home along with favorite camping areas. There were also the creeks and the islands around me. Gradually, I moved into larger maps and imagined trips to far flung places in the world. I have boxes of maps covering highways, railroads, topographical and geological maps. 

While it doesn’t compare to traveling and exploring, I spend hours poring over maps. They tell us a lot about our world. I prefer that maps that cover a wide view of the landscape instead of strip maps, which just show the area traveling.

A set up shot showing strip trail maps (including elevations) along with my compass and a guidebook

Most of the maps used when I hiked the Appalachian Trail were strips. I often found myself wanting to know what was just off the map. At night, I might look at distant cities lights below and wonder what city, but it was off your map. 

The same is true with the old American Automobile Association’s TripTik maps. They were fine for showing you what was on the roads you intended travel. But what if you decided to take a detour? Of course, they also had state maps that provided such detail. 

My favorite maps are the old 7.5- and 15-minute quadrangle topographical maps. When hiking out West, I often used such maps. Standing on one peak, I could pick out the other peaks. With such maps and a good view of the terrain, I would orient myself without even pulling out a compass. 

The sad future for maps

Sadly, maps are going out of style. We now navigate more and more by GPS and google or Apple maps. The electronic version, seen on a 3 inch screen, makes the old TripTiks seem full of detail. I also find it much harder to dream using an electronic gadget. The linear strips of maps focus us just on where we are at and where we are going. We fail to see ourselves in the world. These medieval maps remind us that world is complex when we add the spiritual realm. I ordered the book. When it arrived, I skipped over other books on my TBR pile to delved into Deam’s medieval world. 

Lisa Deam, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps 

(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 142 pages including notes, drawings and photos.

Lisa Deam has a PhD in art history. Torn between the study of art and religion, she found a way to blend the two with medieval maps. These old maps are not the equivalent of the gas station maps I grew up studying. Such maps were works of art. Most of these maps centered the world by placing Jerusalem, the locale of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, in the middle. Everything else in the world flowed there, including the three known continents of the pre-enlightened world. 

Some of these ancient maps also had Christ behind the world, with his hands and feet holding the world up. Often the edges of the maps contained monsters and were scary places. But with Christ’s hands and feet the medieval travelers were reminded they were not alone when travelling. God’s protection was present. 

These maps also contained a lot of information. Of course, some of the monsters were fantastical, but the map contained bits of history beyond what happened in Jerusalem. Interestingly, one of the themes were the conquests of Alexander the Great. Of course, one studying such a map in the 1300s would have no idea or first-hand knowledge of these places where Alexander or even Jesus walked. 

The Hereford Map, produced around the year 1300, receives the most attention from Dean. This four-foot map resides in the cathedral has great detail. She also spends time with the Ebstorf Map and a small “Psalter Map.” Unlike the other two, the Psalter map was designed for private devotion. 


Dean does not set out to write a history of cartography. Instead, we’re taken into the world of the era and invited to think of how their worldview and beliefs were seen through these maps. In addition, questions at the end of each chapter invites us to contemplate about our own lives and worldview in relation to God. While the book contains much new knowledge of maps in the 13th and 14th Centuries, it’s really written as a devotional guide.

I enjoyed reading this book. I only wish it included a 4-foot square copy of the Hereford Map that I could have spent lots of time poring over as I read the book. It does include a small version of the map and a few large, detailed sections of the map for the reader to see with their own eyes what the author is describing. I recommend this book.

Burns’ Night

Today is Robert Burns Birthday, the poet from Scotland. It’s also Virginia Woolf’s birthday, but for some reason Burns draws more interest. It’s probably the whisky. After all, Woolf is English and who’d want to drink gin when you can have the water of life. In honor of Burns, I’m pulling this post from my old blog, which is a talk I gave back in 2018.

I gave this Burns Night talk to the St. Andrew’s Society of the City of Savannah on January 26, 2018

Addressing the Haggis

       Wow!  In our program tonight I am identified as a Rector. I’m not sure how to take this. Should I be honored? After all, the word comes from an old English meaning “to rule.” Or perhaps, because I’m in a crowd of Scots, I should be afraid. As you know, Scots are independently minded. I can assure you that you will not find a minister within the Church of Scotland, the mother church of all Presbyterians, referred to as Rector. You may find the headmaster of a school referred to in that way, but as for the Kirk, that’s way too English, way too Anglican.

       Let me take this moment to share with you a bit of history. In the 17thCentury, following the Scottish Reformation, the people of Scotland signed the National Covenant, which adopted a Calvinist theology and a Presbyterian form of government. This placed Scotland not only in opposition to the Roman Church, but also to the Episcopal form of government as advanced by the Anglicans. 

       There were a number of battles over these issues. The Scots don’t like being told what to do. They didn’t like being told that had to pray in a particular manner so they resisted the Anglican prayer book. The clergy didn’t like being told they had to dress all fancy when leading worship which led to the adoption of the Geneva robe. And the Scots had a problem Bishops and clergy vested with lots of power, so they adopted a system of government that shares between the clergy and lay elders.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well with the crown. They liked the idea of having loyal bishops who could help it control the Kirk. The church fought back and eventually a compromise was achieved. The Crown would be Anglican when they were in England, and when in Scotland, they’d be Presbyterian. In Scotland, the Queen has no Bishops to do her bidding and there are no rectors within the Kirk.

       Now on to matters at hand—our remembrance of Mr. Burns. Sadly, I never studied him while in school. In college, the only poets of interest to me were musicians. Steely Dan was a favorite. They had some immortal lines back in the seventies and eighties, one of which comes to mind this evening. It’s from their hit song, “Deacon Blue,” and you may know it. “Drink Scotch Whisky all night long and die behind the wheel.” A great line, but please, don’t try to live it out. We could say the same for he same for many of Burn’s ideas and examples.

        I was in Scotland this summer. As you’ve heard, I scheduled a couple days around Edinburgh with a friend of mine, Ewan. He’d taken time off to be with me, but as it happens in our calling, people are not always considerate as to when they die. On our second day together, I could go to a funeral for a woman I didn’t know or spend the day tramping around Edinburgh on my own. After that hospital visit, I chose the latter.[1]  

       I started out my morning by the castle which dominates Edinburgh’s skyline. Having toured it before, I wanted something without long lines. In the shadow of the castle, I’d learned of a Writer’s Museum and, fancying myself as a wannabe writer, decided to visit. Besides, the admission is free which warmed my Scottish blood.

But the museum is hard to find. I had to humble myself and ask for directions. Not only did I have to do this once, but several times as it appears not many people know of the museum. Finally, someone pointed me to a small alley and said I’d find it up there. There were no signs, but the alley opened up into a square and there was the museum. It’s housed in a very old but unique home with wonderful wooden spiral stairways. There are large exhibits on Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and the man of the night, Robbie Burns.  As a kid, I’d read Treasure Island, so I spent most of the time in the Stevenson’s section, while quickly running through the other parts. Had I known that I was going to be expected to talk about Burns, I would have lingered a little longer… 

       Leaving the museum, I worked my way across the city.  One stop you’ll have to make is the Scott Monument, named for the author not the people.  If you’re not claustrophobic or afraid of heights, I recommend you climb it. From the top is the most incredible views of Edinburgh. I think it’s even more striking than the views from Arthur’s Throne. So the next time you’re in Edinburgh, if you are in reasonably good shape, have five pounds to spare and a few more to lose to exertion, and enjoy the snugness that comes from being confined in a straightjacket (as the stairwells are smug), check it out.

       Don’t worry, I’m getting closer to Burns…  By mid-afternoon I’d made my way to Canonsgate Church. It’s the burial site for Adam Smith and I wanted to pay my respect and do a Facebook selfie to dispel any rumors that I have socialist leanings. While there, chatting with a guide, I asked if there were others buried in the church yard that I might be interested in. “Oh yes,” she said, “On the other side of the church is the grave of Robert Burn’s lover, Clarinda.” 

       I’ve told you that I’m not a Burn’s scholar, right?  But I knew enough about the man to know that he had more than a few lovers across Scotland. “I’m sure you’re not the only church in Scotland claiming a grave of a Burn’s lover,” I said. She took offense at my sarcasm and reminded me that Clarinda was special.  What does that make his other lovers? 

       In Garrison Keillor’s novel, Wobegon Boy, the protagonist writes a poem for his wife as a wedding gift. Reading it she embraces him and it suddenly dawns on him why men have been writing poems all these centuries: “to impress a woman with the hopes she will sleep with you.”

       Our friend Robbie wrote many such poems for Clarinda. The two of them lured each other with their poetry and correspondence even though they likely never consummated, in a physical manner, their relationship. But their letters and poems are to be cherish. Clarinda is the reason we have “Ae Fond Kiss” and “Clarinda, Mistress of My Soul.”  

       Of course, Clarinda wasn’t her real name.  That was Agnes, but everybody called her Nancy. That is everyone but Burns, who gave her this beautiful nickname that is much softer sounding than Agnes and less common than Nancy. And, with this secret name, it was a safer way for Burns to correspond with a married woman.

       We can speculate as to why Clarinda maintained her purity while Burn’s promised to conquer her “by storm and not siege.” Their relationship got off to a slow start because after first meeting, Burns had to cancel their next due to an accident that put him on crutches and in bed.  But there were other reasons.

Clarinda was pious and religious and even though her husband had run out on her, she wasn’t going to do the same. She would later travel to Jamaica in an attempt to win him back. And then there were a few other details. At the time they were flirting with each other, Robbie had already planted his seed with Jean Armour. When Clarinda resisted Burn’s advances, the poet set his eyes on her servant, Jenny Clow. Ms. Clow would also give birth to the poet’s child. Only a fool would be lured into his bed with the thought she’d have a long-lasting relationship with the man whose seed was germinating all over Scotland. Clarinda was no fool. 

       Clarinda and Burns were attracted to the others use of language. Both were gifted, and Clarinda was nearly Burn’s equal with the pen as these few lines illustrate:

Go on, sweet bird, and soothe my care,
Thy cheerful notes will hush despair;
Thy tuneful warbling, void of art,
Thrill sweetly through my aching heart.
Now choose thy mate, and fondly love.

       Although Clarinda probably never allowed Robert to take her to bed, the words the two of them exchanged were certainly intimate and salacious. As an old woman, she looked back fondly on their relationship and said she hoped to meet him in heaven. Of course, that’s assuming Burns made it… The Rev. John Kemp, Clarinda’s pastor, certainly had his doubt as to Burns eternal destination. Maybe he and Burns share eternity together. Later, the Good Reverend was discovered to have three wives at the same time! Had Burns’ lived, he would have enjoyed the satirical wit that situation offered.  

       Clarinda, Jenny, Jean (not to mention Mary and a few others)… What would be Burns’ fate if he lived in today’s “Me Too” climate?  I mentioned Garrison Keillor and we know what happened to him, along with a long line of other popular folk whose sexual indiscretions have come back to haunt them. I don’t know how this would affect Burns. It may not have had any impact. In his day, more than one minister chided Burns for his behavior. He didn’t seem to let their scolding’s worry him.

       Poets are often great lovers. Their command of language is such that they can take words and draw our minds into new places and possibilities.  Think of King David, a poet from the Bible. Many of the Psalms are attributed to him and, we’re told, he was a man after the heart of God.  And like Burns, he wasn’t always honorable. This is speculation, but can you image the love note he sent down to Bathsheba?  Of course, we know the pain that little affair caused. Poor Uriah. But we remember David, with his frailties, because we all have had our own shortcomings. David gives us hope and shows us the wideness of God’s mercy.  

    Burns may not have had the same desires for God as David, but we still appreciate him. In his day, he brought humor to a serious society and pointed out social inequalities and hypocrisy. And today, he us still reminding us to look for beauty. Furthermore, Burn’s collection of poems and songs in the Scottish dialect provide identity to those of us whose ancestors left those rocky shores. Our hearts are still warmed by the beauty of heather blooming in the crags. And, even better, we can easily plagiarizer his poems when we court our sweethearts.  

       I did visit Clarinda’s grave that afternoon. It was covered with flowers—fresh flowers. She’s buried next to her cousin, Lord Craig. His grave looks like it was last attended to during the Boer War. It’s been nearly two centuries years since her death and there are people who not only remember her, yet think highly enough of her to regularly place flowers on her grave. That’s quite an honor.  Here’s to you, Clarinda.  

       Thank you.  

Feb. 1, 2021: I recently came across this article on Burns: The Scotsman

Sources Consulted:

_________, Robert Burns in Your Pocket (Glasgow: Waverley Books,          2009). 

Brauer, Jerald C., editor, The Westminster Dictionary of Church History       (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971).

Dawson, Jane, John Knox (New Haven: Yale, 2015).

Douglas, Hugh, Robert Burns: The Tinder Heart (Gloucestershire, UK: Alan          Sutton Publishing, 1996). 

Herman, Arthur, How the Scots Invented the Modern World (New York:       Random House, 2001).

MacCulloch, Diarmaid, The Reformation: A History (New York: VikingPenguin,   2005). 

[1] I had this story used in my introduction (The story came from the Chic Murray Facebook site and was “adapted” for this occasion:

This past summer, our speaker was visiting the Rev. Ewan Aitken, a friend of his in Scotland.  Ewan asked if it was okay for him to run in and see someone at Edinburgh General Hospital. 

 “No problem,” Jeff said, and asked if it was okay if he went in, too.”  

“Come on.” Ewan said.  While Ewan was making his pastoral visit, Jeff decided to see what he could do to cheer up some of the patients. He stepped into a ward and went up to a bed and said hello.

The man looked up and said, “Far far yer honest sonsie face great chieftens o the puddin race a boon them aw you tak..

Oh for goodness sake, Jeff said and moved on to the next bed

“WEE courin timid beastie wad caused this panic in tha breastie…..” the patient mumbled.

Shaking his head, Jeff moved to the next bed.

“Some hae meat and canna eat and some hae nane and want it…” 

At this time, Ewan was ready to leave and came over to Jeff who asked if this was the insane ward.  

“Oh no,” Ewan, said, “this is the SERIOUS BURNS UNIT.”

Hebrews 4:1-14: Let’s Take a Break

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Hebrews 4:1-14
January 23, 2021

Sermon recorded on January 22 at Bluemont Church

Thoughts at the Beginning of Worship

Earlier this week, Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, posted a photo of his vaccine record on Twitter. Keller, who I think is around 70, recently retired to battle cancer. He has a compromised immune system. 

I was shocked by many of the comments to his tweet. One woman questioned his faith, telling him (and the world) that only Jesus can save. She went on to say she can’t believe so many so-called Christians are putting their trust in a vaccine. Jesus never told us to be vaccinated. I was tempted to respond with sarcasm, noting that Jesus never told us to use Twitter or the internet, either. I refrained, but her comment bothered me.[1] As Christians, we need to show grace to others, even those with whom we disagree.

If someone doesn’t want to get vaccinated, it’s their decision. But they also have to bear the consequences, as we do for all our actions. It will mean there are places they’ll be excluded. At some point, we need to learn to trust others as well as God. We have been endowed in God’s image and we share with God the ability to build and to create, including things that help us overcome illness and disease. We’re called to live in community, to share the earth we inhabit, which means we must not only look out for ourselves, but for one another.

Is COVID a time to learn rest? 

Having said that, I wonder if COVID is a time we should use to learn how to rest. I will not assign this as a reason why God allowed COVID to run amuck in the world.  I believe, with Abraham Lincoln, that the “Almighty has his own purposes.”[2] Often, God’s purposes are a mystery to us.

The sin of wanting to be like God

To attempt to describe God’s reasons is to commit the first sin all over again. Remember why Eve took that bite out of the fruit? It was because the serpent told her she could know as God knows. Wanting to be like God led to Adam and Eve’s fall and expulsion from the garden.[3]

That expulsion came with a curse. From then on, we had to work and struggle and sweat.[4] But God is faithful and provides us with rest.[5]

Perhaps we, as humans, who are unable to do all we use to do before during the pandemic, should give thanks for the break we’re given. Sometimes it’s a manner of looking at things from a new perspective. 

I saw a meme this week with lobsters. The text pointed out that the lobsters in the kitchen on the Titanic experienced the ship’s sinking as a blessing. Ever thought of that? Perhaps this is a time for the church and for us as individuals to catch our breath and learn to trust God. Such trust is not shown by avoiding vaccines, but by knowing we’re in God’s hands. 

4th Chapter of Hebrews: Rest

Today, we’re moving into the 4th chapter of Hebrews. Throughout this letter, we have a sense that its original recipients were exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. In the 3rd chapter, the preacher of this letter/sermon reminds them that they are a part of God’s household. In the 4th chapter, we learn of one benefit of being a part of God’s house is a time of rest. That’s our theme for today, “rest.” 

After Scripture Reading

Those who first heard this letter/sermon are exhausted. And that’s often true for those of us who make up God’s church on earth. We’re tried. Yet we place heavy burdens on ourselves, believing that it will help bring about God’s kingdom. But will it? 

You know, this sense of burden we bear leads us to be testy when others don’t carry their weight. It also causes us to challenge those who are not on the same page as us. Much of this comes from us rushing around thinking it’s all up to us to do stuff. We think it’s up to us to save the world.

C. S. Lewis: The distractions of church  

I highly recommend, if you haven’t already read it, C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. It’s a fictional book of letters from an older and wiser demon named Screwtape, who is mentoring Wormwood. In one of the letters, Screwtape suggests that the church on earth can be an ally. We might think that’s nonsense. Why would the devil want anyone in church? But the old demon is on to something. He writes:

I do not mean the church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners… But fortunately, it is invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is a half-finished sham…

Screwtape goes on to encourage the younger demon to have his patient reflect on lofty words like “the body of Christ,” and then spend time considering his neighbors. He’s to think especially hard on those who sing out of tune, have squeaky boots, a double chin, or odd clothes. In other words, anything that helps distract Wormwood’s patient from God is useful to the enemy![6] Think about it! When we’re tired, it is easy for us to be distracted by trivia.

God’s cure for our exhaustion 

But God has a cure for such exhausted feelings: Rest. We were first introduced to rest in the last chapter where we learn that the Hebrews who revolted in the wilderness were not able to enter it. We may think that this is only about heaven or paradise or what happens at the end of our lives. But this rest that is promised is more than that. In the fourth chapter, we learn it’s also about the Sabbath, which should serve as a foretaste of paradise. 

This should be a reminder that we’re not waiting for heaven’s benefits at the end of life. We can begin to enjoy them, to experience the kingdom, here and now. 

Rest and the Sabbath

Let’s talk about rest and the Sabbath. There is a classic book titled The Sabbath by the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, an American rabbi. Heschel notes the different understanding of rest between the Bible and Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Aristotle saw rest as something good for it allows us to work harder. If you’re an athletic, you know this. But the Biblical concept of rest is that it’s the climax of life that’s blessed and hallowed by God.[7] We don’t rest just so we can work harder. 

Jewish evening prayers during the week include a petition that God will “guard our coming out and our coming in.” In other words, protect our busyness. But on the Sabbath, the prayer is for God to “embrace us with a tent of God’s peace.”[8] Do you sense the promise of the Sabbath? The first prayer is a necessity, the latter seeks a taste of paradise. 

Rest and judgment 

While rest is the subject of our text this morning, there is also a considerable amount of discussion about judgment and failure to do what God expects from us. But it’s not just doing good God is after, it’s living a life by faith. It’s trusting that God is also working things out, which means that we, as Christians, don’t have to bear the burden for the world’s salvation on our shoulders. The failure of those in the wilderness, those who were led first by Moses and later by Joshua was a lack of faith. They failed to trust God.

Hebrews is a book on faith

Hebrews is a book that builds on the idea of faith. As the author comes to the pinnacle of his case for the superiority of Christ, he’ll return to the idea of faith, as has been seen in the past starting with Abel.[9] But here, he encourages us to live by faith, which means that we can find rest, not just at the end of our lives, but now, in the present. For God has things under control, even when it doesn’t appear that way to us. 

This passage ends with a warning that God’s word exposes our sin and there is no way we can avoid God knowing of our misdeeds. Again, we got to live by faith. If we think we can work ourselves out of the mess we’re in, we’ve got it all wrong. Only by faith, can we live and trust and find rest in God. 

The World is Not Ours to Save

As I was thinking about the sermon, I pulled out a book I read back in 2014 titled The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good. Listen to this quote: 

“There is nothing God needs us to do so badly that it warrants neglecting some aspect of Christlikeness in our lives. It is in and through Jesus Christ, and him alone, that God has saved and is saving the world.”[10]

As with those who first heard the message of Hebrews, we need to learn to rest and to trust God. We need to experience the Sabbath in this way, as a time created for us to foretaste paradise. Doing so, we honor and show our faith in God. But if we don’t think we have time to take a break, we show our lack of faith, for God is alive and well even when we rest and sleep. 

So, don’t work too hard. Have faith. Enjoy life, creation, and God. It’s all a part of the Almighty’s intention. Amen. 

[1] See  This was posted on Jan 17 and I saw the comment later that day. When I went back and looked, it appears the comment has been taken down, but there were still plenty of others that suggested this as the mark of the beast, etc. There were also plenty of comments defending Keller and probably a dozen that had been removed. 

[2] From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address given on March 20, 1865. 

[3] Genesis 3:1-6.

[4] Genesis 3:17-19.

[5] Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

[6] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York: MacMillan, 1982 edition), 12-14.

[7] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (1951, reprinted 1998), 14. 

[8] Hershel, 23. 

[9] See Hebrews 11. 

[10] Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2013), 40. 

Pastoral Prayer   (Psalm 92:1-5)

As the Psalmist proclaims, it is good for us to give thanks to our Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night. For you, O Lord, have made us glad by the works of your hands. We sing with joy, recalling how great are your works, O Lord. Your thoughts are deep, and we cannot fully comprehend them. You, O Lord, are upright. You are our rock, and our hope is in you. 

Continue, O God, to hold us close and to give us the energy we need to do your work, the knowledge to see good and evil and the wisdom to choose the right path. As we live in faith, may we be a beacon for others. Use our witness, along with the prodding of the heart by your Holy Spirit, to reach those who do not know you. Help us to be gracious in our lives as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. 

We give you thanks for our world, as troubled as it may be. We pray for our new president and his administration, asking that his leadership might help us get a hold on the COVID virus that is killing so many people around the world. We long for a time when we can meet and be close to one another, but until then, help us use this time as a Sabbath, as a period of time when we can rest and be restored as we trust what we cannot do to you. We pray for the members of Congress and the awesome task before them, asking that you might guide their conscience so they can rule in a just manner that will benefit all people, not just the elite or the members of their party. 

We pray this weekend for the people of Russia who seek relief from the heavy-handed repression of their government, and we lift up people everywhere who long to be free. Yet, we know true freedom can only be found in Jesus Christ. Help us to trust in him and not in our own abilities. 

Remember those who are struggling in life. The poor, the sick, those in jails and prisons. Help us to be compassionate to all, and to love people with the love of Jesus Christ. This we pray in his name as we say together the prayer he taught: OUR FATHER…. 

Hebrews 3: “Reach Up”

Jeff Garrison 
Beaumont and Mayberry Churches

January 17, 2021
Hebrews 3

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, January 15, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of Worship

       Today we’re exploring the third chapter of Hebrews. At the beginning of this series, I spoke about how this book draws on Greek rhetorical arguments and Old Testament quotes. Throughout the book, the author flows back and forth from discourse to exhortation. And each section of the book depends on the previous.


       Remember that chapters and verses were added to scripture centuries after the text were written. Despite this, almost half of the chapters in Hebrews begin with a “therefore.”[1] Those who added the chapter and verse numbers realized a new thought was coming, so they made a break at this point. However, therefore means that we have to look back to see what the author has said in order to understand how he comes to his conclusions. Out text today, like last week, begins with a “therefore.” 

This means we’re not starting anew but must keep in mind what has already been covered. Last week, we learned of Jesus’ salvation journey, from heaven to being like us, a little lower than the angels. Once he atones for our sins, he’s exalted. While Jesus was human, he lived a perfect life that puts him in more honor than anyone. Today, we’ll see this includes the greats of the Hebrew faith, even Moses.   

After the reading of the Scriptures

We have no written account of what Jesus did between his visit to the temple when he was 12 and the beginning of his ministry. But it’s often assumed Jesus followed in the trade of his father, as a carpenter. Building things, whether houses or furniture, is noble work. Those of us who are not as handy depend on those who are! 

The Nobility of a Construction Worker

The author of Hebrews acknowledges the nobility in building. After all, as Creator, God is the master builder. The author also credits Jesus as the builder of the house, but what does this mean?

House of… 

       Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were often called “the House of Israel.” House, here, is used in a metaphorical manner. The “house of” was a common way of referring to those under the head of the house, the one in authority. In the Old Testament, we also find reference to the “house of Pharaoh.”[2] Pharaoh was the top dog in Egypt and those in his house were subject to him. We also read about the House of Eli.[3] Eli’s sons, who disappointed the prophet greatly, were subjected to their prophet father. 

But the House of Israel carries extra weight. The term refers to all of God’s people. What the author of Hebrews wants his hearers to understand is that the church is now the household of God. 

As I’ve said over the past two weeks (and I’m sure I’ll say again, many times, before this series is done), the audience of this book appears to be on the verge of leaving behind their faith in Jesus Christ. They’re thinking of returning to their old ways of worship. Perhaps they think they have it all wrong and are no longer in God’s house, but the Preacher of Hebrews assures them they are still within God’s house. 

In addition to referring to Jesus as the builder of this metaphorical house of God, the author compares Jesus to Moses. 

Comparing ourselves to others

I want you to think about this for a second. If we want to look really good, to whom do we compare ourselves. When I was a kid, trying to justify my behavior or my grades to my mom, I never compared myself to Nicky Pipkin. He was the brain in the class. I don’t ever remember him getting in trouble. Instead, I’d say, “I’m not as bad as Billy or Mark, Bobby or Stacy…” And my mother would respond with a sermon about how it’s always easier to find someone worse than you, and how I was still responsible for my behavior. 

The argument that we’re better than someone else has the unfortunate consequence of accelerating the race to the bottom. Don’t ever accept a defense of someone’s behavior who says they’re not to be as bad as so-in-so.

By the way, this argument is used way too often in politics. It drives me nuts. Always be aware when someone tries to look good by tarnishing the looks of others. 

Reach up

We’re to reach up, not down. Let’s compare ourselves with those who cause us to reach higher. If I had strove to be like Nicky, I may never had become as smart as him. After all, he became a heart surgeon. But I would have probably done better in school and gotten in far less trouble. Even if we don’t obtain the status of the other, we’ll certainly improve our status by reaching up.  

The author of Hebrews picks out the stellar example from Israel’s past, Moses, for his comparison with Jesus. His audience would have known about Moses and how God used him to rescue the Hebrew people from slavery. When it comes to the leaders of the past, Moses ranks up at the top. He’s used as a comparison to Jesus, not to denigrate Moses, but to elevate Jesus. 

Yes, Moses was a great servant in God’s house, we’re told. But he’s only that, a servant. He’s like us. His special skill was his faithfulness, not his ability. God provided what he needed to do the task he was assigned. As the Psalmist reminds us, “It’s better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in the tents of the wicked.[4]

Jesus more than a servant

Jesus surpasses all servants. He’s the builder of the house. If we want to compare ourselves to anyone, we need to compare ourselves to Jesus.

A warning against harden hearts

This text continues with an exhortation that we must not harden our hearts. After introducing Moses into the discourse, the preacher recalls the behavior of Moses’ contemporaries. I’m sure you remember the story. Those led out bondage in Egypt, through the parting of the water, were nourished by manna in the desert. But it was never enough. They always complained. They blamed God for a bland diet and for bringing them into the desert to die. They kept forgetting the mercies they enjoyed. Don’t be like that, the Preacher warns. You’ll miss out on God’s rest. 

Encourage one another

Instead, what the Preacher encourages the congregation to do is for each of them to encourage one another not to forget such mercies. For they, as a part of God’s house (God’s family), need to be encouraged and to encourage others. We gotta believe. The text tells us so. Part of the benefit of being in a family is that when we’re down, another can lift us up. That’s what the Preacher is suggesting here. 

First takeaway

Two things you need to take away from this passage today. First of all, if you want to compare yourself to someone else, reach high. Compare yourself to Jesus. Sure, you’ll going to come up short, but that’s okay. You’ll be a lot better off than if you compare yourself to Jessie James or Jack the Ripper. It’s easy to go low, but don’t. Reach up! We follow Jesus.

Second takeaway

Our second takeaway is to remember that our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ, not from our actions and doings. And we need to encourage one another to believe. It’s easy to be discouraged, but a family should promote one another to hold fast to Jesus. Furthermore, we’re to open our hearts to what he’s doing in the world. We’re to trust him as we move into a future that may contain surprises. While our life on earth will be uncertain, we can be certain of God’s rest promised through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[1] This depends on the translation. In the NRSV, chapters 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 begin with “therefore.”  Therefore is also used 15 other times within the chapters

[2] See Exodus 8:24, 1 Samuel 2:27. 

[3] I Samuel 3:14. 

[4] Psalm 84:10.

Where Goodness Still Grows


Amy Peterson, Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), 197 pages including notes.

Fifteen years ago, I read Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by Paul Woodruff. Since then, I’ve read it several times and have spent considerable energy thinking about virtues. Perhaps this itch drew me to this book. In this age when truth seems so elusive, we need to have a conversation about virtue and how to ground society in that which is good.  

In her Introduction, Peterson writes about growing up in an evangelical Christian home in the later part of the 20th Century. As a teenager, she watched as church leaders lambasted President Clinton as unfit for office. As a child, she was nurtured with stories of virtue collected by William Bennett. Later, she served a missionary stint in Southeast Asia. But she began questioning what she had been taught. The watershed moment was the election of Donald Trump and the flipflop of evangelical leaders who accepted or willingly forgave Trump’s behavior. She began to question if those who claimed to be virtuous in the 90s were only doing so as a way to “preserve power and keep everyone in place.” This soul-searching led Peterson to “reimage” a world built on Biblical virtues.  And, it appears, her faith has become stronger and grounded more firmly in the Biblical tradition.

What a virtuous world might look like:


Where Goodness Still Grows is Peterson’s attempt to outline what a virtuous world might look like. She explores nine spheres, as she tells her own story as well as digging deep into the Biblical story and the story of others. Lament is the first area explored. Having been steeped in “praise services,” lament becomes a useful tool for crying out to God for what is wrong in our world.


The second area explore is kindness. She breaks apart the word that has evolved from an Old English concept of maintaining one’s position along the economic ladder. This leads her to come to an uncomfortable understanding about how her parents and grandparent’s “kindness” provided her with a status not enjoyed by many within minority groups. Her Biblical understanding of kindness requires her to see God’s image in everyone and may possibly require a redistribution wealth. 


Peterson explores includes hospitality, where she questions how evangelicals can be so against immigration. 

Purity and Modesty

She challenges the evangelical church’s link to purity and modesty only to sexuality. She finds no support for this within scripture. the Bible ties purity to the Temple. Modesty is often about not flaunting wealth. By linking modesty to how women dress, is to miss the Biblical view and also to create a low standard for men who need to have women dress themselves in a modest manner to keep their “animal instincts’ in check. 


Peterson recalls her desire to be authentic. Within the church she grew up in, praying spontaneously was viewed as authentic. Rote prayers were inauthentic. As she matured (and later found a home within the Episcopal Church), she understood a different view of authenticity. Writing about authenticity, she comes back to the evangelical support of Trump. She believes his ability to be spontaneous and having fresh ideas drew evangelicals. Instead, Peterson ties Biblical authenticity to being a disciple of Christ, clothed with the virtues of Colossians 3:12. However, this does not mean that one can’t be authentic if one isn’t a believer.God’s image allows us the ability to be authentic. At the end of the chapter, she makes the case that spontaneity shouldn’t be tied to authenticity within the church. “Authentic Christians” practice daily the role given. We are sinners, “saved by and growing in grace.” 

Love and Hope

Another areas Peterson explores is love. She finds love often contradicted in evangelism training that tended, in her experience, to objectify others. Another area is discernment. We cannot logically prove everything. There must be room for mystery. Finally, she investigates hope through an extended metaphor of raising chickens, which gives her a whole new understanding on Jesus’ lament on how he’d like to be a mother hen and protect Jerusalem under his wings. As a mother, this image is powerful for Peterson. Her chickens and other “homesteading” projects helps her understand our humanity. There is hope in being “gathered like children under a mother’s wing.”

My recommendation

In her introduction, Peterson suggests that her work isn’t the “definitive answer about virtue.” But she hopes it will raise questions. This she does. Peterson also leaves those of us who have never brought into a more simplistic view of the world as presented by fundamentalist Christianity with a little more hope. Hopefully, her book will encourage Christians to think about truth and what God wants for our world. If you read this book, I’m curious as to your take on it.

Reviews of other good books on similar topics:

Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies
John Kasich, It’s Up to Us
P. M. Forni, The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude

Hebrews 2: Christ’s Work of Salvation

Jeff Garrison
Beaumont and Mayberry Churches

January 10, 2021
Hebrews 2

Today’s sermon as it was taped on Friday, January 8, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of Worship

A lot has changed in our world since last Sunday when I announced we’d be exploring the book of Hebrews for the next few months. After the events in our nation on Wednesday, this is still a good book for us to explore. 

I suggested last week the overarching message in this book is that it’s all about Jesus. As a Christian, our allegiance is to him alone. Jesus trumps Presidents, political positions, and even your favorite sports team. If Jesus is foremost in our lives, it makes a difference in how we act. I will come back to this in my sermon, but I want to state up front that its blasphemy to suggest that Jesus is with you if you’re willfully breaking the law, destroying property, and endangering lives.

Last week we explored the first chapter of Hebrews, where the author informs us that God is speaking in a new manner, through a Son. Then, the author makes the case that Jesus is superior to all the angels. It was important for Christ’s relationship with the angels to be established so that the author could make his next point, which we will get to in today’s passage. 

Insights into Hebrews

Let me say a bit more about the Book of Hebrews. It’s a mystery. We don’t know who wrote it nor do we know its intended audience. A traditional letter would have given us such insights. Instead, from what can be induced from the text, it appears it was written to a congregation of Jewish Christians who are discouraged and may be considering returning to their former religious practices. In other words, they’re drifting away. 

In the second and third century, it was suggested that Paul was the author, but even then, there were those who said that he couldn’t have been author.[1] However, the author of Hebrews, or the Preacher as I’ll refer to him, was familiar with Pauline theology.[2]

Parabola of Salvation[3]

Both Paul and Hebrews outlines a parabola of salvation. You see this most clearly in the second chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he cites the “Christ Hymn.” To summarize: Christ being the very nature of God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be used for his advantage. He humbles himself, taking on the role of a servant, becoming obedient even unto death, and for this reason he is now exalted and given the name above all names. 

Hebrews has a similar outline. Christ starts in heaven (he was at creation as we saw last week). He lowers himself to our level (lower than the angels) and now because of his faithfulness, he is at the right hand of God the Father and is to be worshipped above all. 

After the reading of the Scriptures

I have known several families who have adopted children from overseas: from China, Russia, and Vietnam. Today, there is less such activity, but back in the 90s, a lot of people were adding to their family through such adoptions. The parents would have to leave the United States and travel overseas. In many cases, they had to stay in the country for several weeks. There was paperwork. They had to be investigated. They had to demonstrate their abilities to support and care for the child. Only then were they able to take the child home with them, where they raised the child as their own.  

Our adoption

While I would never suggest you think of these parents as Jesus, even though the ones I know are believers, I tell you this story as an analogy to the flow that the preacher in Hebrews uses to show the salvific work of Jesus Christ. He comes from heaven, from the throne of God, and assumes a position lower than the angels. Psalm 8 is quoted here, where we’re reminded that we’re created a little lower than angels.[4]  

Like these parents who made the trip to adopt a child, Jesus makes the descent from heaven to earth to adopt us (the descendants of Abraham). He destroys the power of death and breaks the power of the devil. Now he can serve as our “high priest,” (which is a recurring them within this book[5]).

Because Jesus knows the troubles we face; he can help us in our trials and tribulations.

Now, if we look back to the beginning of this chapter, we’re reminded of the task at hand for the Preacher of Hebrews. He tells his audience not to drift away, but to pay attention. It’s all about Jesus. Our only hope is in the work God is doing in the world. 

A Peek at the Work of the Trinity 

In the first four verses, the Preacher references the activity of all three persons of the Trinity. While he’s talking about what Jesus has done through the incarnation, by coming in the flesh, he links this to God the Father, who sends the Son. Following the Son’s work, the Holy Spirit steps up to provide us with the gifts we need. While it doesn’t say so here at the beginning, later in the book, we’ll see that the purpose of our calling is to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world.[6]

Jesus’ work

But to be able to do our work in the world, Jesus has to first do his work. And Jesus’ work is to save. But we should ask “save us from what?” The end of this chapter tells us that Jesus saves us from the fear of death and the bondage of the devil.[7]

Furthermore, it’s telling what we’re not saved from. We’re never told that Jesus saves us from hardship or pain or disappointment. Instead, because Jesus experienced all those things, he’s in a position to help us. 

You know, if you were lost out in the woods, who would you want as your companion? Would you want the smartest person in the world or one who has lived in the wild? I think most of us would pick the later. We’d want firsthand knowledge. Jesus is like that; he knows what we’re facing.

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

There is a wonderful spiritual titled Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen… It’s slave music. The lyrics cry the blues. There’s troubles and sorrows and pains. The singer longs for glory in heaven. That’s where he or she finds hope. But there is one line in the fourth verse of Mahaila Jackson’s arrangement of this spiritual that I want you to hear…  It goes, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Well, no, nobody knows but Jesus.” 

Nobody knows, but Jesus. He knows our troubles. He knows what we endure because he’s also endured it. 

The Events at our Capitol on Wednesday

Now let me say something about the idea of Jesus’ saving. As it was with many of you, Wednesday afternoon, I was sad watching the invasion of our national Capitol. But I was even more offended by a few who carried signs invoking Jesus’ name and at least one person waving a Christian flag.  

One of the signs read “Jesus Saves.” I found myself wondering what such a statement means in riot. And furthermore, I wondered what such a sign said to those watching the event? If a non-Christian witnessed that event, would they see the sign and think, “Oh gee, I got to get right with Jesus.” I don’t think so. Instead, it probably helped inoculate them against the faith. “I don’t want to be one of them!” they’d think. 

Jesus and Insurrections 

We need to remember that in his earthly ministry, Jesus refused to take part in an insurrection. He told Peter to put away his sword. He didn’t call on the angels to take him off the cross. He was willing to endure everything we might endure, this passage suggests, so he could have empathy with our situation. 

As Christians, we do not get to co-opt Jesus to our side. To suggest Jesus is only on our side of an issue is to commit blasphemy.  When it comes down to it, what is important is not that Jesus is on our side but that we’re on Jesus’ side.  We don’t get to pick Jesus, we can only be chosen by Jesus. 

Where Goodness Still Grows

This week I finished reading a good book. Where Goodness Still Grows, by Amy Peterson, is a critique of how parts of the evangelical church have shifted away from a Biblical foundation. Having grown up in such a setting, she draws on her life’s experiences. One of the stories she tells is an attempt by her and her husband to help a troubled young woman whom they allowed to live in their home for a year. She was disappointed that this woman only attended church with them once or twice. She writes: 

“Again and again I had to confess to God how much I wanted to save her—to make everything right for her. Again and again God reminded me that saving people was God’s job. My job was to open the doors of my home and my heart.[8]

This part of the book of Hebrews is steeped in theology. But the Preacher of this sermon, that we know as the Book of Hebrews, will later bring his argument back to what we should be doing because of what God through Jesus Christ has done for us.[9] Yes, Jesus saves. We do not save! However, our lives must be lived in a manner that points to Jesus and helps people to understand what God has done in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. 

If you’re like those to whom this message was originally addressed, drifting away from the faith, you need to catch, once again the vision God has for us and for our world. For there is only one way, as is pointed out in verses two and three, to keep from having to the pay the penalty of our transgressions and disobedience. That way is through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Pastoral Prayer

God of the ages, you have watched nations and empires rise and fall. You have witnessed our attempts to do what we think is right and good, only to fail and to hurt others and dishonor you. We want to be in charge. We fail to realize that history is in your hands. 

Those of us who claim to follow Jesus are outraged by the violent attacks on nation’s Capitol, along with many of our state Capitols. Yet, we know there have been times we’ve failed to live up to your standard. Forgive us and help us to avoid hateful and inciteful rhetoric in our speech. Give us the understanding to seek the truth in all things, the boldness to stand for justice, and the humility to be gracious to those with whom we disagree. 

We are concerned for the well-being of those who serve in Congress as well as members of their staff, and the police officers who are charged with keeping them safe. We pray for our nation as we move through this rocky transfer of power. We ask that the violence stop, that rational minds prevail, and that those who hold political offices might use their position of authority to offer hope during this dark time in which there is so much distrust and fear. 

Amidst the trouble we’re facing is the pandemic. The numbers of those who have died and those who are in the hospital are no longer forefront in our eyes as we focus on our nation’s political trouble. But the numbers continue to rise, even in our community. We pray, O God, for this to end, for the vaccine to become available more quickly, and for all of us to do what we can to protect others. Comfort the many who grieve over the death of love-ones. Bring healing to those who suffer from this disease and all other illnesses. Give solace to our stressed and overworked health-care workers. Keep those on the front lines of this pandemic safe.

With all the uncertainty, our economy continues to suffer. After months of job growth, we lost jobs last month as more industries suffer from the effects of the pandemic. Be with those who are struggling economically and help us all, Lord, to compassionately do what we can to help our neighbors in need. 

Yet, despite the troubles we face, we are grateful for your love and for the beauty that surrounds us. We have been blessed this week with incredible sunrises and sunsets. We give you thanks for friends and family and for Jesus, who adopts us into his family. We are blessed by the church. Help us, O God, to count our blessings and to live gratefully and graciously. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ… Amen. 

[1] While the letter was accepted into the canon as Pauline, there were those from an early date, such as Origen, who accepted the letter into the canon, but didn’t think Paul was the author. See Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 2006), 3-4. 

[2] The idea of referring to the author of the book belongs to Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Louisville, KY, JKP, 1997). 

[3] Long, 26-28. 

[4] While the author of Hebrews only says, “someone testified somewhere”, the quote is from Psalm 8:4-6.

[5] Starting with Hebrews 4:14 and continuing for the next six chapters, the author discusses the role of the high priest. 

[6] See especially Hebrews 13. 

[7] Hebrews 2:14.

[8] Amy Peterson, Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), 61. 

[9] Chapter 12 and 13 focuses on following Jesus’ example and serving in a manner that is pleasing to God. Throughout the book, the author mentions the need of us to persevere in the faith.  See 2:1-4, 6:1-12, 10:19-39.

My thoughts on Wednesday’s riot at the Capitol

I’m in shock over this week’s events at our nation’s Capitol. If you are a praying person, will you join me praying for our country.

We need to open ourselves to God, asking for insight in how what we might do as individuals and in the groups we’re a part of to being healing to our nation. 

There will be a lot said about yesterday’s events in the days and weeks (and months) ahead. I am sure there are those I will agree with and those with whom I will disagree. However, we should remember one of the founding principles of the Presbyterian Church. “There are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ, “our Book of Order states. In these things, it is the “duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” How we relate to those who think and believe differently from us is a telltale sign of the trust we have in God.  

That said, as a follower of Jesus and a pastor, these are some things that weigh heavy on my heart. 

Words matter

First, our political rhetoric has gotten out of hand. It seems people on all sides think that if the government doesn’t do what they want, or if the vote at the ballot box doesn’t go their way, it is a personal affront and they have a right to take things into their own hands. While the right to peacefully protest is a hallmark of our nation, we do not have the right to incite violence or to intimidate others. If this doesn’t stop, we’re going to destroy ourselves and our nation.  

The problem of white privilege

Next, as many of my African American friends have pointed out, if those who attacked our Capitol were people of color, there likely would have been more bloodshed. White privilege is real. You can see this with the supposedly Q-anon leader stomping though the Capitol with bull horns, dressed like Hagar the Horrible. Had he been a person of color, instead of roaming around like a pagan Viking, his blood would likely be flowing across the marble floors. 

The misuse of Jesus’ name

Finally, as I posted on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, I was offended to see people on the porticoes of the Capitol with signs and flags bearing Jesus’ name. These were not law-abiding protestors. They had already pushed past the barricades set up for those protesting. The above photo I snapped from my TV screen. The sign says, “Jesus Saves.” I doubt such a sign will convince non-believers that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Would the Jesus, whom we know through the Gospel stories, be seen taking part in such a demonstration? 

No, Jesus, the one who had the power to call down angels to save himself, refused to take part in any insurrection. He also stopped his followers from going down such a path, telling Peter to put away his sword. My advice for those who carried such signs and symbols yesterday is to leave Jesus out of whatever devious plans they concoct. If they really believe in Jesus, they should immediately drop to their knees and beg forgiveness. Such signs are a violation of the commandments. It’s blasphemy.  

Let’s pray

We all need to be praying and confessing. We need to confess our failure to live up to our ideals as we seek a better way forward. I offer this simple prayer: 

 Lord, what we witnessed this week was humbling and scary. We are blessed to live in a nation rich with opportunity. We are grateful. Yet, we realize our hands and our hearts are not clean.  Forgive us when we did not speak up for justice, when we did not support those being demonized, and when we didn’t challenge false and dangerous ideas. Show us, Lord, how you might use us to build bridges with others who have also been created in your image. Use us, in the words of Francis of Assisi, to be an instrument in your peace. Lord, what can I do to further your kingdom?  Amen.  

Wrapping Up 2020 (my reading summary for the year)

The “Christmas Puzzle” at the house which was completed a little over an hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve

2020 has come to an end. It was a year that we’ll not forget. Personally, it didn’t rise up to the trauma of 2016 (when I ruptured my quad-tendon, was in the hospital with sepsis following a prostate biopsy, and dealt with a tropical storm and later Hurricane Matthew), but it was still a terrible year. Stuck at home with a pandemic and unable to escape from the political rhetoric made for some long days. Vacations were cancelled. I still haven’t been to Fenway Park (which was scheduled for mid-June). And we enter 2021 with much of the same going on. The pandemic is raging and the political rhetoric hasn’t tone down. Maybe the best thing to do is to escape into a puzzle or a good book.

The puzzle above was done in our house between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It is of Shakespeare’s London and you can see snippets from 16 or so plays within the puzzle, along with others from his era (Queen Elizabeth I, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake). It wasn’t the easiest puzzle but a icy rain on Christmas Eve that turned into snow meant there was no reason to get out, so time was put into finding the pieces.

2020 Reading Summary:

Number of books: 53 of which 37 were reviewed in my blog
Categories: History, Biography and Memoir: 18; Bible, Theology, Church: 11, Poetry: 7; Fiction: 6

A few insights into my reading:

-I have now read the first four volumes of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson. Like a lot of others who are interested in this man and this period of history, I am impatiently waiting for his fifth volume (the fourth just got us through John’s first year in the White House after Kennedy’s death).
-Four of the authors I’ve read are good friends and I have met another six of the authors.
-With the racial troubles our country faces, I found myself reading several African American theologians and a new history of the 1898 Wilmington (NC) racial troubles (or atrocity). One of the books on my TBR pile deals with the Tulsa race war.
-I am spending more and more time with poetry (and I alway read books of poetry at least twice).
-It appears I need to read more fiction!

My favorite books:

In my opinion the best book I read during the year was Andy Rooney’s My War, followed by S. C. Gwynne’s biography of Stonewall Jackson. This is my second book by Gwynne (I read his biography of Quanah Parker, Empire of the Summer Moon, in 2017). If God is willing, I’ll read whatever else he publishes. My favorite fiction book was Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, which is a historical fiction account of the Battle of Thermopylae. If you don’t remember that battle, don’t worry. Ii occurred a few years before our time…

Here’s My listing of books read (posted by the order I finished the book), along with links to those I reviewed:

James Clavell, Tai-Pan
Patrick McManus, Kerplunk!
David Swift, Swift: New and Collected Poems
David Sedaris, Theft by Findings: Diaries
Chad Faries, Drive Me Out of My Mind
Marcia McFee, Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages
Daniel Okrent, The Guarded Gates: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law that Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other Europeans Out of America
W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking, Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media
Andy Rooney, My War
John Leith, From Generation to Generation
John Leith, Introduction to the Reformed Faith (2nd read, first read in 1989)
John Leith, The Reformed Imperative (2nd read, first read in 1993)
S. C. Gwynne, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson
David Hallerstan, Summer of ‘49
Laura Davenport, Dear Vulcan: Poems
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture
P. M. Formi, The Civility Solution: What to Do when People are Rude
David Foster Wallace, This is Water
Eric Goodman, Cuppy and Stew: The Bombing of Flight 629, A Love Story 
Paul Willis, Rosing from the Dead: Poems
Nancy Koster, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life
Harlan Hanbright, The Idiat and the Odd-yssey
Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire: The Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
Dave Moyer, Life and Life Only
Rick Wilson, Running Against the Devil
Michael P. Cohen, Granite and Grace: Seeking the Heart of Yosemite
Alice Outwater, Water: A Natural History
Richard Davids, The Man Who Moved a Mountain
Gary Snyder, Rip Rap and Cold Mountain Poems
Nancy Duante, Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
Nancy Bevilaqua, The Gospel of the Throw Away Daughter: Poems
David Zucchino, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy  
James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson: The Passage of Power
Myrlene Hamilton, All I Need to Know About Ministry I Learned from Fly Fishing
Chrys Frey, Tsunami Crimes
David Lee, Mine Tailings: Poems
John Barry, The Great Influenza
Jesse Cole, Find Your Yellow Tux
Ralph Wood, Contending for the Faith: The Church’s Engagement with Culture
Craig Barnes, Diary of a Pastor’s Soul
Tim Conroy, Theologies of Terrain (Poems)  
Joseph Klaits, Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunt
Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent
Esau McCaulley,  Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope
Nancy Bevilaqua, A Rough Deliverance: Collected Poems 1863-2013
Aaron McAlexander, Shine on Mayberry Moon
Billy Beasley, The Girl in the River
Alyce McKenzie, Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons 
Gary Schmidt, Orbiting Jupiter
Aaron McAlexander, The Last One Leaving Mayberry
Jim Casada, editor, Carolina Christmas: Archibald Rutledge Enduring Holiday Tales

Hebrews 1: Why Jesus Came

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
Hebrews 1
January 3, 2021

Sermon recorded on January 2, 2021

At the beginning of worship, in preparation: 

Today, I’m beginning a series of sermons on the Book of Hebrews. My plan is to preach through this book, with a break around Easter, and complete the study in April or May. I enjoy preaching through longer sections of scripture, for each sermon builds on the previous one. We can dig deeper into scriptures and to catch passages ignored by the lectionary.[1]

Role of Hebrews 

 Hebrews is an important book within the New Testament cannon. Sadly, in over 35 years, I have only preached from a half a dozen of its passages. Yet, this book grounds our Christological, our understanding of Jesus Christ. While the writing seems somewhat complicated, the message is simple. It’s all about Jesus Christ. Through him, God is doing something new and wonderful in the world. Prophets and priest and angels played an important role in how God communicated in the past, but now God has spoken in a new way, though his Son.

 It is essential for us, as Christians, to understand that if we have Christ, we don’t need to have anyone or anything else. Too often, even the faithful succumb to the temptation of looking for a savior in all the wrong places: a political figure or party, a spouse, a friend, a job, or even a hobby. The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is all we need. Any other want-a-be saviors will result in disappointment. 

Importance of Christology 

As Christians and as the church, if we long to be faithful, we must have a solid Christology. We must be grounded in an understanding of what God has and is doing in Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll enjoy this journey through his interesting book.   

After the reading of Scripture 

A Story of Christmas

This is the second Sunday of Christmas, there’s time for another Christmas story. 

There was a farmer who was a good man, but he had a hard time accepting the faith. That’s okay, you don’t have to have faith to be good. This man allowed his wife to attend church with the kids. He enjoyed his Sunday mornings at home, putting around the barn.

One Christmas Eve, his wife tried to get him to attend church with her and the kids, but he refused. I’ll just sit and read a book and wait for you to return, he said. When she insisted and wanted to know why he wouldn’t attend, he said it is because the story is nonsense. “Why would God lower himself to come to earth as a man?” he asked.

The family left, disappointed, as he began to read his book. Outside it snowing and cold. The light was draining from the gray sky. Immersed in his book, he was shaken when he heard a thump. Then another thump. He looked out the window and saw a flock of birds around the house and realized they were flying into the window in an attempt to escape the cold. 

“They must have been migrating,” he thought, “and got caught in the storm.”  

He worried about the birds. Finally, he had an idea.  Pulling on his boots and putting on his coat and hat, he went into the storm that was becoming a blizzard. He made his way over to the barn and opened the door thinking that the birds could seek shelter there. But none of them would fly in that direction. He tried to shoo them into the barn, but they scattered. He went back inside and grabbed some bread and crumbed it up and sprinkled it on the ground. The birds began to eat, so he made a path toward the barn, but they stopped short.

There must be another way, he thought. 

“Do you want to just sit out here and freeze to death,” he asked the birds in desperation. “Why don’t you follow me?”  Of course, the birds didn’t answer. They sat in the snow, their feathers puffed out for warmth, picking at whatever crumbs were left. 

“If only I was a bird,” he thought. “I could come among them and guide them into the barn.”

The story’s conclusion: knowing why Jesus came

            As soon as he said this to himself, the distant church bell began to ring. He could hear it faintly above the wind, but it was clear enough that he recalled how he questioned why God would come to us in the flesh. Suddenly he understood what Christmas was about; why Christ had to come.[2]

            It would be a mistake to see ourselves as the farmer in this story; we start out as one of the birds. We need a savior, like us, to come and show us the way into the barn. 

Jesus is God’s revelation 

Jesus is the complete revelation of God. He came to show and display divine love. He came to help us understand who God is and who we are in relationship to God.  Jesus came to cleanse us from sin so that we might come into God’s presence without fear. Jesus came, as the Gospel of John reminds us, to show us the way to the Father.[3]

The “Letter” to the Hebrews

This passage is from the “Letter to the Hebrews.” But this isn’t a letter or an epistle like others in the New Testament. The writings of Paul and Peter, James and John, have the hallmarks of letters. Hebrews is different. Some suggest it may have originally been a sermon,[4] for instead of beginning with the greeting and niceties of a letter, the author starts with the one premise that makes all the difference in the world: God has spoken! 

The author of this sermon reminds his readers that God had been speaking to their ancestors all along, through prophets. But now God has spoken in an even better way, through a Son. God realizes, like that farmer, that the way to reach people is to come as one of them. This is the purpose of Jesus coming.

Superiority of Christ

One of the themes of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus Christ to both human servants of God (prophets) and divine servants or messages of God (angels). While Jesus is a messenger, showing us the way, he’s more than that!   

Historically, the church has spoken of Christ holding three offices: prophet, priest and king. In all three, Christ surpasses human prophets, human priests, and human kings.[5] Throughout this book, the author goes into great detail to show Christ’s preeminence which he proclaims here at the beginning with a sevenfold confirmation of Jesus superiority: 

1. He is appointed heir of all, 
2. The is the creator of the world,
3. He is the refection of God’s glory, 
4. He is the exact imprint of God, 
5. He upholds all things by his power, 
6. He purifies our sin and 
7. He sits at God’s right hand.[6]

Revealing the Divine Nature

God, by coming to us in Jesus Christ, reveals the nature of the divine in a way we can understand. That’s why Jesus name is more excellent than all other names, as we’re told in verse 4. Jesus Christ, our prophet, our priest and our king, came to show us God’s glory. Christ also forgives and frees us to be God’s agents in the world.  

The role of angels 

After this elegant opening of this book, the preacher begins the first of his polemics. The Son, Jesus Christ, is superior to angels. Now, we hear a lot about angels during the Christmas season. They inform Mary and Joseph of the plans, they call the shepherds to the stable, they warn the wisemen to avoid Herod. So just what is an angel? In the biblical sense, angels are messengers, nothing more.

In a sermon about the angel who met the women at Jesus’ tomb, Alyce McKenzie, a professor at Perkin’s School of Theology, relates the angels in Matthew’s gospel to her UPS man. They’re both focused on their job: delivering a package or delivering a message. Think of your UPS driver. He’s not there to be your buddies, or to sell you something, or open your package. He hands you the package and, if needed, obtains a signature, thanks you, and goes on his way. Angels are like that. They give their message and then it’s up to us.[7]

Jesus’ superiority to angels

Now, any message from God is important, but we are not to make angels out to be the end-all. The preacher’s first task in Hebrews is to make this clear. Jesus, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is superior to the angels. He’s worshipped by angels. The son is eternal. Everything else (and we can infer this includes angels) are created beings. Angels weren’t there at the beginning, they have no status over our savior, and they won’t have that cherished seat at the right hand of the Father. 

However, angels have an important role to play in God’s plan of salvation. As the last verse indicates, God uses them to lead the chosen into salvation.

So, while God may speak to us through an angel (and the preacher later admits that sometimes we entertain angels without knowing it[8]), they themselves are not nearly as important as the message they bring.   

Knowing God

So how do we know God? While angels may give us insight into what God wants us to do, or point us in the right direction, their message is limited. The way we know God, as pointed out in the beginning of this book, is through God’s divine revelation in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the more excellent way, is how God makes himself known. 

During the Christmas season, which is coming to an end, we celebrate what happened at the stable in Bethlehem so long ago. God came into the world and through Jesus showed the world his love. 

Knowing God means…

But the story doesn’t end in Bethlehem or at the cross or even at the empty tomb. With Jesus now in our hearts, we are to be the ones reflecting his love to the world so that all people might experience the joy of salvation and have hope.

I will end with a poem by Howard Thurman, titled, “The Work of Christmas.”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart. [9]. Amen.


[1] As an example, the lection links the first four verses of Hebrews with the opening of the second chapter and omits the section (1:5-12) on angels. 

[2] I’m not sure where I first heard this story.

[3] John 14:6.

[4] See Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 33 and Thomas G. Long, Hebrews(Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 2-3. Another thory is that it was written as a letter to be read to congregations. See Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews (Louisville: WJKP, 2006), 10, 33. .

[5] See the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7 and the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 152-155.

[6] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 3-8.

[7] Alyce M. McKenzie, Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons (Louisville: WJK, 2010), 137-138. 

[8] Hebrews 13:2.

[9] Poem published in The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, published by Friends United Press. I found the poem at