John 1:1-18

From my morning walk….

I am on Skidaway Island, in Georgia, to officiate at a funeral for a good friend. This sermon was to be preached by one of my elders at Bluemont and Mayberry Churches, but because of the winter storm, the Sessions of the two churches have decided to cancel the service for tomorrow (January 30). I do not have a video of this sermon, which I preached at First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, MI on January 9, 2004.

Jeff Garrison
John 1:1-18

As you know, the gospel of John is different from the other gospels.  In a way, John gives us a philosophical biography of Jesus Christ.  Yet, he begins like a traditional biography, with Christ’s beginning.  But he doesn’t start out in a stable in Bethlehem.  Instead, he talks about the eternal Christ, who is present with the Father at the beginning of creation.  John centers Christ’s activity in the cosmos long before the events of the first century, when Christ entered human history and was born of Mary. Of all the four gospel writers, John places the most emphasis on divinity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is divine; he is God; he is as John records in the 14th chapter, “the way and the truth and the life.”

         John, toward the end of his gospel, says that he wrote his book so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the Son of God, and that through believing in Him, we may have life in Jesus’ name.[1]  Yet, as John notes, his book is not a complete testimony.  There were many other things Jesus did that didn’t get recorded.  And John says he supposed that if all of them were written down the world could not contain the number of books it would take.[2]  So, instead of John trying to make his book out to be a traditional biography of Jesus Christ, he resorts to philosophical language talking about the nature of Christ.  Today, we’ll look at the opening or the prologue section of John’s Gospel, focusing primarily on the first five verses.  This section sets the tone for the rest of his book.  READ JOHN 1:1-18

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John’s gospel doesn’t give us the standard eyewitness account of the birth of our Savior.  John isn’t interested in mangers, stars, shepherds, angels, or wise men.  John begins his gospel with a theological or, more correctly, a Christological statement.  His words draw our minds back to Genesis, back to the beginning of creation.  Jesus Christ, the word of God, was present at the beginning.  Jesus Christ is responsible for life, and that life emits light to a darkened world.  

Think back to Genesis 1, the story of the world’s creation.  Interestingly, the first act of creation was light.  On the first day, God brought light into the chaos and then separated light and darkness.  If you’ve studied that story, it’s interesting that the sun, that great heavenly body that gives us light during the daytime, is primarily reduced to a clock.  The sun and the heavenly bodies aren’t created until the fourth day!  Genesis, like John’s gospel, opens with a theological statement, reminding us that life and light is from God – not from the sun.

This is exciting, but there is also a problem.  There’s darkness in the world.  Even though Jesus came into the world, and even though the world came into being through Him, the world does not know Him.  Through this darkness, the world is not even sure of its own origins.  The world is lost.  Yet, piercing the darkness is the light of Christ.  And those who come to this light can be reborn a child of God, as John discusses more succinctly in the third chapter.    

By linking Jesus to the eternal word, John emphasizes the co-existence of Christ and the Father, a unity responsible for creation and life.  As to the details of how all this came about or works, we’re not privy. Genesis points to God as the creator, and John picks up that theme. The problem that has occurred between Genesis and John’s gospel is that sin has established itself in the world, thereby keeping people from seeing God as the creator. Sin creates the darkness that engulfs the world.  

         To put John’s esoteric language into equally esoteric theological language, we can no longer know the saving grace of God through Natural Theology. Natural Theology teaches us what we can know about God without appealing to faith or revelation, in other words what we can know about God from reason and experience. John Calvin, early in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, has a discussion of this; he calls it natural endowment. Calvin understands that although there are some things we can know about God, we can’t discover the saving grace of God on our own.[3] That knowledge is only available through revelation and Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. Because the world has been corrupted, our ability to know God from our surroundings has been diminished, and we must wait for God to reveal himself to us, which is what he does through Jesus Christ.

One of the exciting things for me about Christmas is putting up the electric train that goes under our tree. Let me warn you, I’m in a bit of withdrawal. Since our tree disappeared on Friday, I know the train will follow in just a few days.  Christmas is the only time of year I take the train out and I enjoy lying there next to the Christmas tree, running the train and serving as President and engineer of my own railroad, one where featherbedding is encouraged. [4] Thinking about this I recall a story about a home in which Santa had brought a train for Christmas. On that Christmas morning this house looked like a disaster had struck. Tossed across the floor were boxes and wrapping paper and bows, ribbons, and of course new toys.  In this house the most exciting toy was the train. This boy loved racing the train round and round, as fast as it would go, but in the confusion, a discarded box got on the track, and the train derailed.

         Bending down over the train, this young budding engineer kept trying to get it back on the tracks, but he couldn’t get the wheels to seat properly. Finally, his father realized what was happening. “You know, you can’t do that standing up above it,” he said. “You have to get down beside it.” The father then laid down beside the tracks and his son and proceeded to help him put the train back on the tracks.

         That’s one way we can think about the incarnation, the coming of God, how God comes to us as a child. Sin has derailed humanity. We need to be put back on the right track in life.  It just couldn’t be done from up above – God must come down beside us to put us back on track. And that’s what God does in Jesus Christ.

         It all seems so harmless: God loving the world and coming into it to save it.  It seems like we should just rejoice and receive Christ with open arms and be like the shepherds or wise men. Yet, even there with the wise men, we learn of the opposition from Herod.[5] Here in John’s gospel, as we’ve seen, this opposition manifest itself as darkness. We know, looking back on the story from our perspective, that the opposition will eventually lead to the crucifixion of the Messiah.

         The world that we live in is in rebellion. Our world doesn’t want to hear the message, which is why it was so easy to crucify Christ. This hasn’t changed in the centuries and millenniums since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. For some reason, we find the light of Christ painful. For some strange reason we prefer darkness. Sin has such a shaming effect on us, that we avoid light, lest we be shown for who we really are. We prefer to live with lies rather than in the truth. We forget we can only find true freedom in the light, allowing God through Jesus Christ to point out our shortcomings, so that we might confess and repent. We should rejoice and be thankful that God hasn’t give up on us, that our God continues to reach out into a world that rebels against its Creator.

         Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the better-known Christian martyrs of the 20th Century, was killed by the Nazi’s at the end of World War II. Bonhoeffer spent most of his final two years in a Nazi prison, during which time some of his writings were smuggled out, including a poem titled “Christians and Pagans.” Let me read it; there are three short sections:

         Men go to God when they are sore bestead,

         Pray to him for succor, for his peace, for bread,

         For mercy for them sick, sinning, or dead;

         All men do so, Christian and unbelieving.

         Men go to God when he is sore bestead,

         Find him poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,

         Whelmed under weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead;

         Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.

         God goes to every man when sore bestead,

         Feeds body and spirit with his bread;

         For Christians, pagans alike he hangs dead,

         And both alike forgiving.[6]

I like the way Bonhoeffer structures this poem. Christians are the ones who are willing to stand by God in his hour of need. That’s good, that’s what we’re suppose to do. But the heart of the poem is in the final verse, God comes to us when we are suffering. Bonhoeffer makes it clear that God died for all, and I’m sure when he refers to the Pagans he has in mind members of the Nazi party. Bonhoeffer like John, accepts the fact that God through Christ came to save a lost world. 

         Ask yourselves what difference does it make that God entered human history? What difference does it make? God’s coming gives meaning to life.  Without God, life itself would have no meaning and philosophically, we’d all be nihilists.[7] But there is something inside of us, that which Calvin called Natural Endowment, that suggests to us there is something beyond us. There is something beyond us that demands our worship and reverence. And we have this desire to reach out and grasp it, which gets us into trouble because we can’t be God. We tried, that’s the meaning of eating the forbidden fruit. We wanted to be like God, and as a result found ourselves even further away from the divine. But all is not lost, because although we can’t fully grasp the glory and majesty of God, our Creator made it easy for us by coming to us in a way that we’d understand.  

What difference does it make? If you believe, it makes all the difference in the world, for it means that we have a God who cares and loves us. And, as we come into God’s light, we too are called to care and love the world. Life is not meaningless, for we are loved and we are to love. Life is not hopeless for we have a God whose majesty engulfs the world, yet who understands the trials and tribulations we face daily because he’s been here. Life does not have to be lonely, for we can know God and through God know who we are created to be. Amen.  

[1] John 20:31.

[2] John 21:25.

[3] See John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.III.1 and 1.IV.1-4.

[4] Featherbedding is a requirement of having more employees than needed to do a job, a practice common on the railroads as they switched from steam to diesel.  

[5] Matthew 2:1-18.

[6] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Prayers from Prison (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1978), 26.

[7] A philosophical belief that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded, and that existence is senseless and useless.  It denies objective truth.  Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

Jeff Garrison

A view from the marsh tower on my walk on Skidaway Island this morning

Butting Heads and History

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
January 23, 2022
Daniel 8

At the beginning of worship

It’s good to be with you this weekend. Last Sunday, we were facing a storm. Early in the morning I was worried if we’d done the right thing in cancelling the service. It hadn’t started to snow at sunrise. But by 9 AM, things changed. The snow was heavy and the wind blowing. I knew we had done the right thing. When such weather happens, remember that you can catch the message online! 

Similarity between Daniel 7 and 8

I hope many of you either read the sermon in my blog or watched it on YouTube last week. If you haven’t, I encourage you to go back and watch or read it, as our text last week from Daniel 7[1]is related to our text today. As a prophecy of the future, the two messages both involve kingdoms in the region between the fall of Babylon and the rise of Rome. But there’s also a difference, as the pervious chapter was a dream of weird beasts. In today’s reading the weirdness has to do with goats. 

Gentle and Lowly

But before getting to that reading, let me tell you about a book I’m reading by Dane Ortlund titled, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.[2] By the way, we’re all either or both a sinner and a sufferer. Drawing on Puritan writers and their insight into Scripture, Ortlund has us consider not what Christ has done for us (which is important) but what the heart of Christ is like. 

Too often we think of God being distant and away and all powerful, more like Zeus on Olympus, ready to crash lightning bolts in the direction of sinners. We’ll even get a sense of this in our text today, as the fierce horn takes on God and is, after a period of time, broken. And while God is holy and won’t be mocked, God as we see in Jesus, has a heart that reaches out to us in love. God reaches out to the sinner, the one suffering, the one troubled. We can’t forget this aspect of God even while we are considering the power of God to control history. 

Let’s now God to Scripture and read this long chapter. Listen for God’s word as I read from Daniel 8. 

Read Daniel 8

After the reading of Scripture

A frightful encounter with a butting goat

I spent my first three years of elementary school in Petersburg, Virginia. During this time, my father was a member of a hunting club on the Nottaway River. As a part of this club, he took his turn feeding the deer dogs. The dogs were penned way out in the woods, a mile or two off the payment, down across a two-track dirt road. Often, when tending the dogs, dad would take me along. 

On this day that I am recalling, the pump where they drew water for the dogs wasn’t working. I’m not sure what was wrong with it, but there were some five-gallon army-surplus containers there. We loaded them into the car and drove further back into the woods to where a family lived. 

The family’s homestead was eye-opening. I had never seen such poverty. It was an African American family and the shack in which they lived had gaps between the boards. Nothing about the shack was level. There were chickens running around and a few dogs and several kids. 

My dad, who had either been here before or had been told what to do, took the containers to the man of the house and they began to draw water from a hand pump. When done, my dad paid with a couple of dollar bills. While he was doing this, I walked around looking at things. 

Suddenly, I turned as a goat charged, his head down, appearing to have the power of a locomotive. I froze, knowing that in an instant I was going to be butted over the car and maybe into the next county. I couldn’t yell. I was speechless. Frozen in fear, I stood as things moved in slow motion. The goat moved closer. My time on earth was up. 

Then it happened. Just before the goat’s horns impaled my stomach, he came to the end of his chain. The goat did a summersault, falling over on his back. I had been saved. 

I was probably 7 or 8 years old when this happened. Since then, not only have understood that there are people incredibly poor in our world, I also have had no problem with the parable of the sheep and the goats.[3] Goats can be evil. I didn’t have to read the book of Daniel to understand this. 

Another goat story

A few years later, when I was in Jr. High, I was with my father and my brother in a small jon boat. Between these two events, we’d left Virginia and returned to North Carolina. We lived near the coast. The three of us poled the boat into the shallow marshy creeks on the backside of Masonboro Island on a pitch-black night. In the shallow water, we sought flounder. One of us stood in the front, like Queequeg, the harpooner in Moby Dick. Two lights were mounted underneath the bow, shinned onto the sandy bottom. This allowed you to spot a flounder laying in the sand so you could gig it. 

We had a cooler nearly full this evening, when we heard a weird sound coming from the bank, just 20 or 30 feet away. My dad shinned a flashlight over and there were two male goats butting heads. They would back away from each other, then crash at such speed that both had to be suffering from a headache. They paid us no attention. Obviously, their sexual drive was enough for them to keep at it and to ignore everything else. What other beasts, other than a stubborn goat, would be like that?  

Goats are interesting animals. The ancestors of these goats on Masonboro Island may have been there for centuries, as sailors of old released goats and hogs on such islands. This made sure there’d be some meat in their stew the next time they travelled that way.[4] Goat in the wild were especially adaptable. As you know they’ll eat anything. 

Another goat story

In our reading today, we met two of the beasts. Daniel, we’re told, has a vision. Two years have gone by since his dream of chapter seven. In this vision, he’s in Susa. While we’re not told why he was there or how he got there, it appears he may have remained in Babylon, but saw a vision set in the other city. It’s almost as if he’s watching himself. He stands by a river, reminding us of the the beginning of Ezekiel’s first vision, which was also by a river.[5]

The vision begins with a ram with two horns running around, kind of like the ones I experienced as a kid, looking for something to butt. But it was so powerful, other beasts fled in terror. Then came a male-goat (I’m not sure why it was not called a ram), which challenges and defeats the first ram. It had four horns and grew more and more powerful. From the four horns, grew another horn that was arrogant and powerful, and who does terrible things in the sanctuary where sacrifices to God were to be made.

Daniel’s inability to interpret the vision

Daniel, the one who had interpreted dreams and signs in Babylon, fails to understand the meaning of this vision. So, one of the Archangels, Gabriel, is summoned to help. 

Comparisons and contrasts between chapter 7 and 8

The vision in chapter 8 is often overlooked by the dream in chapter 7. It’s been pointed out that the whole structure of this vision lacks the poetry of the previous dream, possibility because in the original language, we’re back into Hebrew.[6] The previous chapter was written in Aramaic. One thought is that even this chapter was originally composed in Aramaic, then translated into Hebrew, but that doesn’t really matter to us. 

Both chapters involve the same storyline, at least to a point. They both point to the rise of the Medes and Persians (represented by the two horns) who ruled that part of the world after the fall of Babylon. The Persians were powerful, until an upstart Greek king known as Alexander, comes upon the scene. 

Alexander the Great

I recently listened to Anthony Everitt’s biography of Alexander the Great. He was an impressive man. Like many who become great, he also had many flaws. After the death of his father, Philip, Alexander began to unify the Greek states so that he could fulfill his father’s dream of taking revenge over the heathers. Greeks considered the Persians heathens. The revenge was for a Persian invasion of Greece, more than a century earlier. 

Alexander combined the powers of the Greek city states. He proved to be a brilliant military commander. In his thirty-two years, he conquered not only the Persian empire but well into India, a part of the world unknown at the time. He eventually had to stop conquering, not because of defeat, but because his men had had enough. They wanted to return home. 

While in Babylon, after the India campaigns, he became mysteriously ill and died. Some think he was murdered. Even Aristotle, his old tutor who was horrified at Alexander’s growing ego, has been suggested as a possible plotter. But Everitt suggests that Alexander’s death came probably from a mosquito. God can work in mysterious ways. His death sounds like a deadly type of malaria.[7]

Alexander, as he continued to win and to conquer, he sought to distance himself from his father’s memory. He promoted a story that his real father was Zeus, the Greek God of Mount Olympus thunderbolts. Of course, not everyone bought into this mythology, but it shows his arrogant attitude to the world. After his death, his empire fractured, as represented by the four horns for his generals that took over various parts of the empire. 

The little horn represents Antiochus, the ruler of Syria who desecrated the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC. 


There is a minor point at the end of this vision that I want us to ponder for a moment. I think it has a lot to do with the message of Daniel. In verse 25, we’re told that he shall be broken but not by human hands. God is still God and will not be mocked.[8] The desecration of the temple, the holy place in Jerusalem, sets forth his downfall. God has the future under control. As we saw in the seventh chapter, kingdoms will rise and fall. This will continue to happen, even now. Only when God’s time is reached, will we enjoy the peaceful kingdom that will exist without end. But we can take comfort in that those who bring evil upon the world have a limited time for God controls the future, not them. 

While we might not, by ourselves, be capable of defeating one like Antiochus IV, or the many other evil rulers of the world, the book of Daniel reminds us that what is important is to remain true to God. As we’ve seen, it’s a theme reiterated repeatedly in Daniel.

If you set out to butt heads, you’ll eventually butt heads with God and it won’t end well. It may not sound like good news to the one butting, but it is to everyone everyone who has to endure the bullying. Amen. 


[2] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossways, 2020).

[3] Matthew 25:32ff.

[4] I learned this from Amy Leach in “Goats and Bygone Goats,” Things That Are: Essays (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2012), 13-19. 

[5] Ezekiel 1:1. Like Daniel, Ezekiel also provides a date for his vision. Daniel is in the third year of Belshazza; Ezekiel is in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin. 

[6] Robert Anderson, Signs and Wonders: Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 91. 

[7] Anthony Everitt, Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (Audible books, 2019), Narrated by John Lee. 

[8] W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 126. 

The backside of Masonboro Island

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr

As today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day (and a day of digging out of a heavy snow that had a layer of ice on top), I thought I would repost a review from a former blog of mine. This is a good biography of the first nine years of Dr. King’s professional life.

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988)

This book is an enormous undertaking, for both the author and the reader. The author provides the reader a biography of the Reverend Martin Luther King’s work through 1963, a view into the early years of the Civil Rights movement, as well as showing how the movement was affected by national and international events. This is the first of three massive volumes by Taylor Branch that spans the years of King’s ministry, from his ordination in 1954 to his death in 1968. This volume also provides some detail about King’s family history and his earlier life through graduate school at Boston University. I decided to read this book after hearing Branch speak in Birmingham AL in June (2006). It’s like reading a Russian novel with a multitude of characters and over 900 pages of text. However, it was worth the effort as I got an inside look as to what was going on in the world during the first six years of my life.

Branch does not bestow sainthood nor does he throw stones. The greatness of Martin Luther King comes through as well as his shortcomings. He demonstrates King’s brilliance in the Montgomery Bus Campaign as well as in Birmingham. He also shows the times King struggled: his battles within his denomination, the National Baptist; King’s struggles with the NAACP; as well as his infidelities. The FBI also had mixed review. Agents are credited in standing up to Southern law enforcement officers, insisting that the rights of African Americans be protected. They often warned Civil Rights leaders of threats and dangers they faced. However, once King refused to heed the FBI’s warnings that two of his associates were communists, the agency at Hoover’s insistence, set out to break King. Hoover is shown as inflexible, a man who reprimanded an agent for suggesting that King’s associates are not communists. The Kennedy’s (John and Robert) also have mixed reviews. John Kennedy’s Civil Right’s Speech (and on the night that Medgar Evers would be killed in Mississippi) is brilliant. Kennedy drew upon Biblical themes, labeling Civil Rights struggle a moral issue “as old as the Scriptures.” Yet the Kennedy brothers appear to base most of their decisions based on political reasons and not moral ones. This allows King to sometimes push Kennedy at his weakness, hinting that he has or can get the support of Nelson Rockefeller (a Republican). Although we think today of the Democrat Party being the party of African Americans, this wasn’t necessarily the case in the 50s and early 60s. Many black leaders, especially within the National Baptist Convention leadership, identified themselves as Republicans, with Lincoln’s party.

Another interesting aspect in this book is the role many of the black entertainers played in the movement. King was regularly in contact with Harry Belafonte, but also gains connections to Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Jackie Robinson, James Baldwin and others. The author also goes to great lengths to put the Civil Rights movement into context based on the Cold War politics. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy found themselves in embarrassing positions as they spoke out for democracy overseas while blacks within the United States were being denied rights.

The book ends in 1963, a watershed year for Civil Rights. King leads the massive and peaceful March on Washington. Medgar Evans and John Kennedy are both assassinated. And before the year is out, King has an hour long chat with the President, Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, who would see to it that the Voting Rights Acts become law. 

As a white boy from the South, this book was eye opening. I found myself laughing that the same people who today bemoan the lack of prayer in the public sphere were arresting blacks for praying on the courthouse steps. The treatment of peaceful protesters was often horrible. There were obvious constitutional violations such as Wallace and the Alabama legislature raising the minimum bail for minor crimes in Birmingham 10 fold (to $2500) as a way to punish those marching for Civil Rights. I was also pleasantly surprised at behind the scenes connections between King and Billy Graham. Graham’s staff even provided logistical suggestions for King. King’s commitment to non-violence and his dependence upon the methods of Gandhi are evident. Finally, I found myself wondering if the segregationists like Bull O’Conner of Birmingham shouldn’t be partly responsible for the rise in crime among African American youth. They relished throwing those fighting for basic rights into jail, breaking a fear and taboo of jail. The taboo of being in jail has long kept youth from getting into trouble and was something the movement had to overcome to get mass arrest in order to challenge the system. In doing so, jail no longer was an experience to be ashamed off and with Pandora’s Box open, jail was no longer a determent to other criminal behavior. 

I recommend this book if you have a commitment to digging deep into the Civil Rights movement. Branch is a wonderful researcher and his use of FBI tapes and other sources give us a behind the scene look at both what was happening within the Civil Rights movement as well as at the White House. However, there are so many details. For those wanting just an overview of the Civil Right’s movement, this book may be a bit much.

Daniel dreams of the future

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
January 16, 2022
Daniel 7 

Because of the winter storm in our area, neither church will be worshipping in person this morning. To help you in your worship times at home, I have added the bulletin and prayers for today after the sermon. The announcements for both churches are below the bulletin. Be safe in this cold and wintry weather!

At the Beginning of the Service:

Today, we’re back in the book of Daniel, working our way through the last half of the prophet’s book. As you remember from the fall, the first half of Daniel tells a series of stories about faithful Jews who were living in exile in Babylon. These stories demonstrate the possibility of remaining faithful to God even when everyone around you worships differently. 

You know, it would be easy to throw up your hands and go along with the crowd. But what if you believe your God reigns above all other gods, created the world and the universe, and sustains all life? Of course, it’s harder to believe this if your God’s temple has been destroyed along with the holy city. Many from Israel, I’m sure, gave in. But a few continued to hold tight to the God of their childhood, the God of their ancestors, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Daniel described through the study of economics

Now, let me suggest a new way at looking at Daniel. I’m taking this concept from economics. If you studied economics in college, you had two basic classes that set the foundation. You took a class in micro-economics, which focuses on economic behavior of individuals and firms dealing with limited recourses. Then there was a class in macroeconomics, which looked at the larger economy and how things work on a national and international level

In first six chapters of Daniel is like microeconomics. We look at how individuals live out their faith when challenged with obstacles. In the second half, we take a step back and look at nations and how they relate to one another under God’s watchful eyes. A simple idea immediately comes to mind. Nations and societies, which is where we live out our faith, are always corrupt. Yes, some are worse than others, but then, as Paul says in Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[1]

There is another different between the first and second half of Daniel. The first is based on stories. The second half moves into the apocalyptic, an entirely new genre. This is the world of strange beings, that represent kingdoms. These beasts are not individual sinners, but an example of how individuals can come together and create evil greater than would be possible by one person.[2]

I am not going to read the entire 7th Chapter today. It’s a bit long. But I will read enough for you to understand what’s said. As you watch this at home, you could pause your computer long enough to read the entirety of the chapter. This chapter involves three sections, all of which are encapsulated into a dream. First, there is a terrifying vision of beasts, then a vision of divine judgement. The dream concludes with Daniel asking an attendant of the court to interpret what the meaning of it all. When Daniel wakes up, he’s terrified.

Read Daniel 7:1-15, 23-28.  

After the reading of Scripture

My Dream

I still remember the dream 10 years later. At the time there was a small group in the church I served that wasn’t happy. I found myself, as pastors often do, in a conflict. There were several sides to it all. Most supported me, but a few didn’t. 

In a dream I had during this time. I was with one of those who wasn’t supportive of me. We’d had exchanged some harsh words. In the dream, we were down south in a backyard, where there was a woodpile. This man discovered a copperhead, a poisonous snake often found in woodpiles. By the way, I was in bed in Michigan, outside the snake’s geographic range for this dream. I supposed was why the dream was set in the South, where copperheads live. 

Daniel’s Dream

In the dream, this man grabbed the snake by its tail. Then he called my name and as I turned toward him, he slung the snake at me. While shocked, I remained calm. I caught the snake, quickly grabbed its head so it wouldn’t be able to bite, calmed it down for a minute, and walked into the woods behind the woodpile, where I released it.  

Obviously, at this point, I woke. Strangely, I felt everything would be okay. As troubling as the dream could have been, it wasn’t a nightmare. As I laid in bed, I was comforted in the realization I would be okay, that this guy couldn’t harm me.  

That said, I’m not sure why Daniel was so trouble by his dream, or perhaps dreams, as it sounds in verse 26 as if the dream or vision occurred in two parts, in the evening and in the morning. While the beasts sound terrifying, there is also good news here.

In this chapter, Daniel takes on a new role. In the opening part of the book, he’s been the one who interprets dreams and strange phenomenon. In the fifth chapter with Belshazzar, he’s even drawn out of retirement to interpret the strange events happening at a royal party.[3] But in Chapter 7, Daniel is the one dreaming and he must rely on others to help him understand the meaning. 

Daniel’s dream occurs by a trouble sea. The winds are whipping in all directions, whipping up the waters. And if that’s not frightening enough, beasts are rising out of the sea. These are not animals that exist… A lion with the wings of an eagle, a bear with tusks, a four headed leopard with wings, and a fourth with iron teeth and ten horns.

Then, his dream shifts to a judgment scene. The Ancient One, obviously a reference to God, sits on his throne, ready to pronounce judgment. But one of the horns in the last beast is so arrogant that receives an immediate verdict, assigning it to burning death. The other beast loses their dominions. But not their life. Their judgment is postponed. At this point, we see one coming as a man in the clouds. Dominion and kingship are conferred upon him. His kingdom shall never be destroyed.     

Interpretation of the Beasts in Daniel’s Dream

Lots of stuff has been made of the meaning of these beasts and what is going on Daniel’s dream. Of course, the vision stuns Daniel, as it would us. Daniel asks for an interpretation. Like it was with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the second chapter, these beasts represent different kingdoms coming upon the earth.[4] And while everyone agrees that the beasts represent different kingdoms, there are a number of interpretations of which kingdoms they represent. Most everyone agrees that the first beast represents Babylon. Beyond that, there’s wild speculation.

The one interpretation that, in my opinion, has the most validity, has the kingdoms lining up like this: Babylon, Medes, Persians, and the Greeks.[5] The ten horns that come from the last beast are those who assumed leadership over sections of the Greek empire after the early death of Alexander. And the one little horn that speaks so arrogantly that it quickly brings down God’s wrath is Antiochus IV, who ruthlessly ruled Syria and created a nightmare in Jerusalem when he desecrated the temple.[6]

What I think is important to understand from this dream isn’t necessary which beast goes with which kingdom, but the idea that all kingdoms built by humans are sinful. However, some are better than others. Perhaps this is why judgment was immediate upon the arrogant horn, and other horns were allowed to continue longer. My point is to remind you that the importance of each beast isn’t to provide us with a historical or future map. Again, as I reminded you last week, God’s word should not be used as a roadmap to the future. The Bible helps us live in the present.[7]

The problem with kings (and those with power)

Think back into the early history of Israel. The people demand a king. God didn’t want them to have a king and warned Israel about the dangers of a king. Desiring a king was a rejection of God[8] Of course, eventually Israel was given a king. Even the best of their kings was flawed.[9]

The seventh chapter of Daniel reminds us of human sinfulness and how our hope can only be in a kingdom that is divinely constituted. Again, this doesn’t mean that some kingdoms won’t be better than others.[10]Some kingdoms are better, just as our depraved state doesn’t mean we’re so bad that we can’t get worse. We can always become more wicked, especially when we collectively gather to further a particular idea that becomes as sacred as an idol. As Paul in our reading from Romans reminds us, when left to our own devices, we’re on a path to ruin.[11]

We should take from Daniel’s dream a healthy dose of cynicism, or at least suspicion, when it comes to politicians and governments. While I believe it is true that God can work through anyone, even those who are evil, none of them are worthy of our worship. First, our worship belongs only to God. Second, when we too heavily invest in human endeavors, we either set ourselves up to be disappointed, or we blind ourselves from reality. 

I came across a quote this week, that when I read it, I stopped and wrote it down. It goes: 

“It is always dangerous to be too devoted to a narrative. It can lead one to abandon reason in favor of the cause. I’ve seen it result in terribly wrong actions from partisans of both the right and left.”[12] 

What the seventh chapter tells us is that human institutions will, sooner or later, fail us. This doesn’t mean we don’t try to do things better. After all, in the first six chapters of Daniel, we’re given a glimpse into faithful Jews who were working for the well-being of those in the Babylonian empire. The key, however, is that they always placed God first. And that’s what is required of us. 

The hope in Daniel 7

Until that new world promised in verse 14 comes about, we should remember that we live in a sinful world. If we’re to have any hope, we must always place God foremost in our lives. Amen. 

[1] Romans 3:23. Of course, Paul is not referring to Jesus Christ here. 

[2] See Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 196. 

[3] For my sermon on Daniel 5, go to

[4] For my sermon on Daniel 2, go to

[5] Other lists have them as Babylon, Persian (including the Medes), Greek, and Romans. Some even have the final beast at the end of time and the 10 horns representing modern nations. 

[6] See Robert A. Anderson, Signs and Wonders: Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 78-81.  

[7] For last week’s sermon, go to

[8] See 1 Samuel 8, especially verse 7.

[9] The great king, David, who desired God’s heart, also had a man killed to cover up his adultery. Solomon took many wives, some of whom brought in their foreign gods. Josiah, the best of the kings in 1st and 2nd Kings; however, Jeremiah treats him in a more reserved manner. For Josiah, see Robert Althann, “Josiah,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume III (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1016-1017.

[10] This was the thesis of Reinhold Niebuhr’s, Moral Man and Immoral Society. As people come together, we can bring about even more evil. 

[11] Romans 3:9-18, especially verse 16. 


Mayberry Church in the winter of 2021

 20220116 Rough Bulletin 

The red sections would not appear in the bulletin but are for the liturgy 

Individual sinners are harmful, sometimes deeply. But sinners bound together behind a group cause can cause great devastation. Nationalism, racism, sexism, denominationalism, factionalism—great evil can arise when sinners come together with a common purpose against someone outside of the group, the “other.” We can depersonalize the other; they aren’t quite human, and so to harm the other is not quite the same as hurting on of our own.”
-Tremper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (reflecting on Daniel 7)


Welcome, Announcements, & Introductions

Call to Worship  (Psalm 104: 1-4, 31-35)

Pastor: Bless the Lord, O my soul.
People: O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment.
Pastor: You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your[a] chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

People: May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
Pastor: I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
People: May our meditation be pleasing to God, for we rejoice in the Lord.
Pastor: Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.
People: Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Pastor: Praise the Lord! Let us pray. 

Prayer of Adoration 

God of light and truth, you are beyond our grasp or conceiving. Before the brightness of your presence the angels veil their faces. With lowly reverence and adoring love, we acclaim your glory and sing your praise, for you have shown us your truth and love in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen

*Opening Hymn #

Call to Confession  (referring to Daniel 7:10)

In the 7th Chapter of Daniel, we hear of the heavenly court in judgment, with the books open. Before then, we need to confess and sin and depend on the mercy shown us in Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Confession 

Gracious God, you have given us the law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus to direct our way of life. You offer us your Holy Spirit so that we can be born to new life as your children. Yet, O God, we confess that the ways of death have a strong attraction and that we often succumb to their lure. Give us the vision and courage to choose and nurture life, that we might receive your blessings. Hear now our personal confessions as we pray silently… 

Silent Prayer of Confession

*Assurance of Pardon  (1 Peter 2:24)

Jesus himself bore our sin in his body on the cross so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed. Amen.

New Testament Reading                  Romans 3:9-20

Presentation of our Gifts
Prayer of Dedication

Gracious God, we give our best, lest in gaining the world we lose life itself. As a covenant people, we seek to witness to your will and way. Help us to know more clearly what you would have us do with the wealth entrusted to our care. As we contribute to the needs of your people, we present ourselves as living sacrifices. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen. 

Sharing of Joys and Concerns 

Pastoral Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer 


Sermon                       The Failure of Human Desire and our Hope in God

Daniel 7

*Affirmation of Faith           Apostles’ Creed



Announcements for Bluemont

¬ Sunday School is held every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall. (obviously cancelled)

Please remember to bring paper towels, toilet paper, and laundry detergent pods to church today, and January 23 and 30.   We are collecting these items for the Joy Ranch Children’s Home. Collection boxes will be in the narthex.

¬The Monday Pastor’s Bible Studies will be held on January 17 and 24 via Zoom at 1 p.m. If you are not on the email list, and would like to be, let our pastor know ( and he will add you to the list. On the day of the study, he will send a Zoom link along with an outline of the study.

¬The Thursday Bible Study will be held on January 27 at 10:00 a.m. in Fellowship Hall.

¬Join us for a new women’s group meeting on Tuesday, January 25, at 10:00 a.m. in Fellowship Hall to discuss strategic and meaningful ways to better our church and our community.

¬We ask that everyone wear a mask and continue to socially distance with seating in both the Sanctuary and Fellowship. Hall. Be safe and watch out not just for yourself, but also for your family, friends, and neighbors. Thank you.

Announcements for Mayberry

THIS MORNING (Weather permitting)

Worship – 9:00 am … Today is the second Sunday after Epiphany. 

Fellowship – 9:45 am … Spend a few minutes in fellowship with your fellow believers in Christ enjoying each other and homemade casseroles, pastries, fruit, coffee, and tea!  


Monday – Pastor’s “Zoom” Bible Study – 1:00 pm … Chat about today’s sermon then discuss the scripture on which next Sunday’s will be based. To join in email Jeff at On Monday morning, he will email your Zoom link and “food for thought” questions that will drive the conversation.

Monday – Addictions Recovery Support Group – 7:00 pm …(weather permitting) Meetings are held in Mayberry’s Outreach Center.  For information, call the group’s leader, Deborah Reynolds, at 276-251-1389.  She’ll be glad to help! 

Tuesday – Presbyterian Men – Mayberry – 9:00 am.  

Tuesday – Fitness – 5:00 pm … Aerobic and light hand weight exercises (geared for folks of our ages), plus shared friendships, prayer concerns, and a brief devotion led by our “certified” fitness trainer, Mandy Nester. 

Thursday – Bible Study – Mayberry – 10:00 am.


Saturday – Ruritan Breakfast – 7:00 – 12:00 am… Meadows of Dan Community Center

Saturday– Free Clothing Closet – 11:00 – 1:00 –Meadows of Dan Community Center     

Reading summary for 2021

Below is a list to books I read in 2021, along with links to books which I reviewed (Often, I reviewed several books in the same post, so you may have to look down to find the book in question). In 2021, I read 54 books. 41 were non-fiction, 8 were fiction, and 5 were books of poetry. 20 of the books I listed to on audible, the rest were read on paper. I reviewed 30 of the books. That’s one more book than 2020, and seven less reviews. To see my 2020 reading list, click here.

Last year I said I need to read more fiction and I read one more than 2020. Interestingly, when I looked at books by month, fiction often came out on top.

Here’s a breakdown of my non-fiction reading (Some books appear in more than one category).

History (Including Biographies). 13
Theology (Including devotions and commentaries). 16
Essays and Short Stories 8
Humor (I need to read more!) 4
Nature 6
Politics 3
Memoir 10
The Art of Writing 2

My reading list by month (with a photo of the book that I found most intriguing for each month):


Ronald W. Hall, The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy (History)
Charles Simic, The Book of God and Devils: Poems (Poetry)
Lisa Deam, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps (Theology, History)
Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (Theology, Politics, History, Audible)
David Sedaris, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls 
(Essays, Humor, Audible)
Amy Peterson, Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy (Theology)

Hard to decide between Lopez and Nguyen!


Barry Lopez, About this Life (Memoir (Audible)
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (Fiction, Audible)
Anne Melyn Cassabaum, Down Along the Haw: The History of a North Carolina River (History, Geography) 
Charles Simic, The Book of Gods and Devils (poetry)
Sarah Arthur, Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany  (Devotion)


Lisa Deam, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a way of Life for Spiritual Seekers (Theology, History)
Tilar J. Mazzero, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. (History, Creative Non-Fiction, Audible)
Nick Offerman, Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemaker  (Essays, “History,” Audible)
Thomas Long, Hebrews (Biblical Commentary)
Ron Rash, Among the Believers: Poems (Poetry)
Cormac McCarthy, Suttree (Fiction, Audible) 
Karen Cecil Smith: Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife (History) 
Julie Salamon, Rambar’s Ladder: A Mediation on Generosity and Why It is Necessary to Give (theology)


Robin Wall Kimmer, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (Nature, Memoir, Audible) 
Sarah Arthur, complier, Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide (Devotion)
Barry Dickson, Maybe Today: Poems  (Poetry)
Garrison Keillor: That Time of the Year: A Minnesota Life (Memoir)


Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North  (Fiction, Audible)

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible (Fiction, Audible)


Aaron McAlexander, Greasy Bend: Ode to a Mountain Road  (History, Essays)
Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here  (Fiction, Politics, Audible)
Luke Timothy Johnson: Hebrews: A Commentary (Biblical Commentary) 


Gregory Orr, A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry (Writing)
Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot  (Nature, Essays, Audible) 
Erik Larson: Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (History, Audible) 
John Ketchmer, Sailing a Serious Ocean; Sailboats, Storms, Stories and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea (Memoir, Audible) 
Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Theology, Race)
Casey Tygrett, As I Recall: Discovering the Place of Memories in our Spiritual Life (Writing)
Carl Hiassen, Tourist Season (Fiction, Humor, Audible) 
Robert Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders, International Theological Commentary (Biblical Commentary)
Chet Raymo, The Soul of Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage (Nature, Essays) 


Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer (Non-fiction, Baseball, Biographies, Audible)
Christiane Tietz, Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict (Biography, theology)
Admiral Eugene Fluckey, Thunder Below:  The USS Barb Revolutionizes Submarine Warfare (History, Memoir, Audible)
Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery (Memoir) 
Alistair Begg, Brave by Faith: God -sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World (Biblical Commentary) 


Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn (Fiction, Audible) 
George Saunders, Civil War Land in Bad Decline (Essays, Humor, Audible)


Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2 The Doctrine of Reconciliation  (Theology) 

Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks (Memoir, Nature, Audible) 


Anton Chekhov, The Complete Stories of Anton Chekhov, 1882-1885 (Short Stories, Audible)

Peter Wehner, The Death of Politics (Non-fiction, Political)

Philip Yancey, Where the Light Fell (Faith, Memoir, Audible) 

John Hassell Yeatts, A Long and Winding Road (History, Memoir, Stories)

Gregory Orr, River Inside the River: Poems (Poetry) 


Makoto Fujimura, Art of Faith: A Theology of Making (Theology).

Philip Conner, A Song for the River (Memoir, Nature, Audible) 

Anthony Everitt, Alexander the Great: His lLfe and His Mysterious Death (History, Audible) 

I have two of these books on my reading list again, for 2022. I listened to Jesus and John Wayne, but I have the paper copy and I would like to read it and then write a review. I also want to reread and then write a review of Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited.

What books did you read in 2021? What are your reading plans for 2022?


Remain at your post. Stay Awake!

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
Mark 13:24-37 (1 Samuel 28:3-16)
January 9, 2022

Comments at the beginning of worship:

I didn’t stay up to midnight on New Years Eve. I was in bed by 10:30. I woke briefly at midnight when some in my father’s neighborhood shot off fireworks, but quickly fell back asleep. Up before sunrise, I headed to the beach, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather before the sun’s arrival. 

Watching the sunrise over the ocean seemed a good way to start a new year. The sun was scheduled to rise at 7:17 AM. But as the skies lightened, a deep fog bank appeared offshore. A fair number of folks came out to witness the first sunrise of the year, some with fancy cameras on tripods, in the hope they’d capture the moment. But all we saw was fog. 

“That’s not a good omen for 2022,” I quipped sarcastically. The night before a friend remarked on Twitter that after the last two years, his expectation for 2022 was so low that as long as the zombie apocalypse doesn’t happen, he’s good. 

But there’s another way of looking at that morning’s fog. We can’t see through the fog, nor can we see what will happen in the new year. As Paul reminds the Corinthians, “we walk by faith and not by sight.”[1]Living by faith means we’re not given a road map for the future. Today, I want you to come away from this time of worship, understanding that there is much about the future we won’t know. We walk into it, trusting our Savior and accepting each day as a gift. 

A return to Daniel

Next week, I will resume my preaching from the Daniel. We’ll start with the seventh chapter, which begins the more apocalyptic section of the prophet. Many people attempt to use this part of Daniel to interpret the events leading to Christ’s return. Jesus makes it clear that’s beyond our understanding. Scripture teaches us that the future belongs, not to us, but to God. When attempting to understand Daniel, we need to interpret his prophecy through the lens of the rest of scripture. We don’t have a roadmap to the future, we only know that in the end, God will be victorious, and we will share in such victory.

Before the Old Testament Reading

Our Old Testament reading may seem strange for today’s focus in worship. But I picked it for a reason. Let me explain. We learn that Saul, Israel’s first king, worries about the future and so visits a medium or a witch (this text is often known as “the Witch of Endor”) to learn of his fate. And it’s not good. Living by faith and accepting God’s providence is hard. Saul wants to see if there is some way to understand events so that he can take some control. 

We’re told that Saul had removed the wizards and mediums in the land. God’s law is clear. One should not consult with witches, mediums, or practice sorcery.[2] One should not attempt to control the future, for it belongs to God. Later prophets would condemn Israel and her kings when they practiced divination.[3] Such practices become tied to evil spirits as we see with Paul in Philippi. If you remember, Paul got himself in trouble for castings out the demons from a slave girl. The girl was freed, but the demon allowed her owner to make money from her by telling people’s fortunes.[4]

What King Saul did was wrong. He knows it. Saul is a desperate politician, who will now try anything to stay in power.[5] Like too many politicians (along with the rest of us), he touts one thing and does another. Read 1 Samuel 28:3-16

Before the Gospel reading:

On the first Sunday of Advent, I preached from the parallel to this passage in Luke’s gospel. Both gospels tell of Jesus and the disciples being together on the temple grounds. Jesus points out the widow giving her mite, then he begins to talk about the future. First, Jesus covers things that will happen soon, such as the destruction of the temple. But then he continues, discussing the distant future, at the end of history, when he will return. While Jesus speaks of things happening, he emphasizes the futility of attempting to know the time of his return. Again, we’re not to know the future, we’re to live each day in faith, trusting that God has things under control.

Read Mark 13:24-37

After reading the gospel: Keep Awake

Keep awake… As a child, staying awake was hard. Sermons were the worse. My eyes grew heavy. School wasn’t much better, especially in a warm classroom in the days before air-conditioned schools. Keeping awake was hard, except for on Christmas Eve, when you were told to go to sleep. It was harder to fall asleep on Christmas Eve than it was when I planted a baby tooth under the pillow! You knew something magical was happening. The anticipation was high; too much was happening while we were asleep. I’d roll and roll and when my parents looked in on us, pretend to be asleep. The clocked ticked away.  

Keep awake, you don’t know when this is all going to happen and when the Son of Man might appear. It’s been almost 2000 years since Christ left—that must be the reason there’s a lot of insomnia going around. But we’re weary of waiting. It’s not something we’re good at doing. We fret when we are in the doctor’s office for too long. We stew when we get behind a slow driver. We brood if a waitress or waiter in a restaurant is inefficient. Waiting makes us feel out of control, unimportant, unwanted, and helpless. Yet, we must wait all the time. And the more we wait, the more our blood pressure rises. When is it going to all happen? 

Knowledge that exceeds what we can know

Sadly, Jesus doesn’t provide a road map. Mark 13 begins with the disciples asking for a sign. While Jesus gives some “signs,” he ends this discourse with a mystery. Knowledge about the end exceeds what we can know. It even exceeds what the angels and the Son of Man knows. The end isn’t something we prepare for, such as going on a trip. Instead, the only thing we can do is to watch and to remain faithful.[6] So we wait…

However, most people probably don’t mind waiting for Christ’s return. After all, we put off the important things in life, such as getting right with God, for another time. But that’s risky. Jesus is telling us that’s a gamble we shouldn’t take.

Losing our map

Our passage begins with a description of terrible days. The sun and moon will darken, and stars will be fall out of the sky… 

Have you read Cormac McCarty’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road? The setting for the story is a horrible world, filled with smoke from a war long over. A nightmare has descended. A boy and his father try to make the way through this world without stars or a moon or even the sun, as they are all shielded from earth. Imagine, a sky without the sun or moon or stars… 

In the ancient world people believed that stars foretold things would happen (some people still believe this), so without the stars in the sky, they’re lost.[7] It’s as if their road map of the future has been destroyed.

A spotlight on the final drama of history

Perhaps we need to look at this passage in a less literal way. What’s happening is that the lights need to be lowered so that all light can be focused on the one coming—Jesus Christ. The removal of distractions helps everyone pay attention to what’s happening. The scene is scary and wonderful at the same time. It’s God’s great and final drama in history. 

Think about being in a theater. At the beginning of a play or concert, the house lights are dimmed so the audience can only see the performance. You’re not distracted by the guy to your left picking his nose or the teenagers making out two rows in front. Here, the lights are dimmed so that everyone will be focused on Christ. 

This return involves the gathering of the elect, the faithful, those chosen by God through Christ. The faithful are brought into Christ’s presence. 

The fig tree

Jesus then returns to the question that started this discourse, about when these things (such as the destruction of the temple) will occur. He uses a fig tree as a lesson. Just a day or two beforehand, Jesus had cursed a fig tree that was not providing fruit, and the tree shriveled up and died.[8]The fig tree was often used by the Prophets as a symbol of Israel.[9]

Now, instead of a fig tree withering, he speaks of when it blooms, which is later that most trees, in early summer. The budding of the fig tree is a sign of when this is happening, probably refers to Jesus the Messiah rising into prominence as the temple, which will soon be no more, fades from history. 

In the future, God will not be represented by the temple, With the temple gone, where does it leave God?  Of course, we know that in the world to come, as described in Revelation, there will be no temple. The temple isn’t needed, for God is present.[10] The one we trust in this world even though we do not see, will be present so that faith gives way to love.[11]We we’ll live in God’s visual presence. 

Parable of the Waiting Slaves

Our passage moves on to the final section where Jesus insists that what’s important isn’t that we know when all this will take place (much of which took place before the end of the first century). Yet, we are still waiting for his return. What’s important is that we are ready. “Keep awake,” this chapter ends, or as The Message translates the ending verse, “Stay at your post. Keep watch.”  As one commentator on this passage writes, “vigilance, not calculation, is required.”[12]

The use of the story about the slaves or servants waiting on the master implies that they have assignments and must be willing to fulfill their calling while the Master is away. Interestingly, with this section in Mark’s gospel, relating to the Master’s return, there are no signs given. The slaves don’t know, so they must continue with their tasks… Likewise, each member of the church has work to do. By the way, all of us have a calling. There’s something each of us need to be doing for the kingdom. This is how we fulfill our obligation to “watch.”[13]


Christ has come, Christ will come again. But until he does, we are his hands and feet in the world, taking care of one another while telling his story so that others will catch a glimpse of the hope the world has in Jesus Christ and be ready. As The Message translation reminds us, “Stay at your post. Keep watch!” There is no map. We walk into 2022 by faith, not foresight.  Amen. 

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:7. 

[2] Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, Deuteronomy 18:10, 19:26.

[3] See Jeremiah 27:9, 50:36; Micah 5:12, 2 Chronicles 33:6.

[4] Acts 16:16.

[5] See Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, First and Second Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 192-193. 

[6]  James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark: The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 406.

[7] Edwards, 403.

[8] Mark 11:12-14, 20-21.  Morna D. Hooker, Black’s New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to Saint Mark (London: A. C. Black Limited, 1991), 320. 

[9] See Jeremiah 8:13, Hosea 9:10, Joel 1:7, Micah 7:1.  See footnotes for Mark 11:12-14 in The New Interpreters Study Bible (Abingdon Press, 2003). 

[10] See Revelation 21:22ff. 

[11] 1 Corinthians 13:13.

[12] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 482.

[13] Hooker 322. See also Lane, 484.

Kure Beach, North Carolina. New Year’s Day, 2022

I’ve been away (a mostly photo essay)

Two days after Christmas, I headed to Southeastern North Carolina. The 29th was my father’s 85th birthday, and my sister had planned a party that I didn’t want to miss.

My sister presents her carrot cake to my father for his birthday

The weather for the first five days were incredible. On New Year’s Eve, my dad and I paddled from Trail’s End to the south end of Masonboro Island. My brother brought everyone else along in his boat, so that we might have lunch on the island. My daughter was introducing Apple, her new dog to the ocean (I even gave Apple a ride in the kayak).

Apple trying out the water (It’s hard to believe that it was warm enough to be in the water on New Year’s Eve!)

Not my typical paddling style. The high brace was to keep from hitting the dog in my lap.

After an early night on New Year’s Eve, Donna and I headed out to the beach for a New Year’s Sunrise before she and Caroline headed back to the mountains (I was going to stay through January 5). The idea was to watch the first sunrise of the new year, but a fog bank offshore disappointed those waiting for the sunrise along the beach.

Sunrise at the Kure Beach pier

On New Year’s Day, the wind picked up, so Dad and I headed inland and did a black water paddle on Rice’s Creek. We paddled upstream several miles, to where the creek becomes just wider than a kayak. I left my sea kayak at home and used a boat of a friend of my dad (that was 12 feet long instead of 18 feet, making it easier to navigate).

Paddling on Rice’s Creek

A poem written on Rice’s Creek (I’m not sure who’s the one with dark eyes)

The whole world appears in the reflection of the dark waters:
Cypress, tupelo, clumps of mistletoe, puffy clouds and blue sky.
Yet, I cannot see the long just underneath the water,
just as your dark eyes reflect the world while hiding much.

I had planned to either go to Cape Lookout or Masonboro Island to camp for a night or two, but the weather turned rough. We had winds approaching fifty miles an hour on Monday, so we stayed home and I read. On Tuesday, my brother and I went down to scout out an area on the Waccamaw River that he wanted to see about paddling. The weather had turned cold and was freezing, but we dressed warm and covered about 13 miles of the river, starting at Conway, South Carolina to Peachtree Landing. When I lived in Whiteville, in the early 1980s, I had paddled on the Waccamaw several times, between Lake Waccamaw and Pireway. I’d never been on the river in South Carolina.

Running along the lower Waccamaw
Conway now has a nice waterfront
An old log hauler (designed to run on light rail track)
I think these are Ibis in this tree (Kingfishers were the most common birds seen along Rice’s Creek and the Waccamaw)

I came back to the mountains on Wednesday, between two winter storms (one was on Monday and the second on Thursday).

Back home, having missed the first snow of the season in the mountains