Catching up and two book reviews


Enjoying refreshments along the river

I’ve been on vacation this past week, which is why I didn’t post a sermon on Sunday. Instead, I spent five days at Montreat, a Presbyterian conference and retreat center in the mountains of North Carolina. While there, I caught up with an old friend from the time when we both lived in Hickory, NC in the early/mid 1980s. I haven’t seen Bill since the late 80s. Back in the day, we did several backpacking trips together as well as some water skiing. Oddly, as we’re both big paddlers, I don’t remember but paddling together but once before, on the Henry River. 

a delightful rapid on the Tuckaseegee

Bill now lives north of Asheville, and we sent the day paddling the Tuckaseegee River near Dillsboro, NC. It was a delightful river with numerous class 1 and 2 rapids. I haven’t paddled any white water in a canoe in probably 20 years. Most of my paddling lately hasn’t been white water, and is generally in a kayak. But it was fun to be in a tandem canoe. I also got to meet a friend of Bill’s who lives on the river, Bob Lantz, who was a co-inventor the Blue Hole canoe, a white-water boat that was popular back in the 70s and 80s. Bob has a cabin on the river and we enjoyed a beer while talking to him out on his porch. 

from the Graybeard Trail

In addition to enjoying some down time and a few lectures and seminars, I hiked to Lookout Point and the Graybeard Trail (the latter seems rather personal). Getting a late start on the Graybeard Trail, I got back into Montreat after dark! But it was a good hike and while I didn’t see any rattlesnakes, two different groups on the trail told me of their encounters. As the sightings were at different places, they would have been different snakes, but none wanted to show their faces to me. 

The Assembly Inn (where I stayed) from Lookout Mountain

Natural Tunnel State Park

Tracks through the Natural Tunnel

This weekend, after getting back from Montreat, we went over to Natural Tunnel State Park in the far western part of Virginia. This natural tunnel is over 800 feet long and since the late 1880s, has included railroad tracks. The track is now owned by Norfolk and Western. I was hoping to get a photo of a train coming through the tunnel, but there was only one that passed through while there, and I wasn’t anywhere near the tunnel. The area has some nice hiking, too. 

I have a bunch of books to review on philosophy, poetry, history, and fiction… I’ll get to them in later posts. Here are two reviews. The second one perhaps prepared me for hiking the last leg of the Graybeard Trail in the dark. 🙂


Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our “Correct” Beliefs

 (2016, HarpersCollins Paperback, 2017), 230 pages including notes and scripture references. 

What does it mean to have faith? Peter Enns makes the case that our faith is grounded in trust in God. And this God is greater than we can imagine. However, too many people (and the author had been one of them) equates faith with correct thinking and right beliefs. We often are concerned with “getting the Bible right,” (it’s the Protestant DNA). We think when we fully understand the scriptures, we will find an answer to all our problems. Enns challenges such thinking.  

In this book, Enns encourages the reader to explore the scriptures as he shows that faith and belief isn’t about correct thinking of God. It’s about trusting a God who draws us closer. After all, as he points out, believing in God is easy. Even demons believe. Our faith isn’t about what we know, it’s about who we know.

Enns draws continually on the Bible to make his point. While he uses the whole of scripture, he pays special attention to parts often overlooked such as the Psalms of Lament and the Ecclesiastes. We grow in our ability to trust God not when things go well, but when things go wrong. Quoting Samuel Rutherford, “grace grows best in winter.” (71)

While many Christians may disagree with parts of this book, Enns’s thesis need to be heard. For skeptics and for those who have struggled with holding a “correct belief” in God, his words offer hope and a new way to engage the God of scripture. This book is easy to read. I encourage others to check it out.

Quotes from The Sin of Certainty:

“A faith that promises to provide firm answers and relieve our doubt is a faith that will not hold up to the challenges and tragedies of life. Only deep trust can hold up.” (120)

“Wanting clarity is seeking some sort of control….”  Darkness takes away control…”. “if anyone tells you Christianity is a crutch, you should take one of those crutches and beat him over the head with it (in Christian love, of course, making sure to tell them you will be praying for a quick recovery).” (170)

“When faith has no room for the benefit of doubt, then we are just left with religion, something that takes its place in our lives along with other things—like a job and a hobby…. Doubt is God’s way of helping us not go there, thought the road may be very hard and long.” (172)


Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep

 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 199 pages including notes and study questions. 

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. 
 -“The Compline,” from the Book of Common Prayer 

My review:

The Compline is a prayer that is offered as night falls. Darkness is a metaphor for evil. Bad things can happen at night. We don’t know what lurks in the shadows. Yet, according to Genesis, God also created darkness even though in Scripture, we’re promised that in the end, “night will be no more.” 

Warren begins her book with a tale of tragedy, the night she experienced a miscarriage. During this troubling time, she found comfort in praying The Compline. 

In this book, she carefully exegetes each line in the prayer. She draws from Scripture, especially the Psalms, as well as a host of other sources. She quotes theologians, authors, philosophers, even those who are critical of the faith. In addition to writing about trusting God, she also expounds upon various aspects of theology, from death to bodies, to work and our dependence on others as well as God. 

I found this book a delight and recommend it to those who want to deepen their prayer life. 

Quotes from Prayer in the Night:

“Faith, I’ve come to believe, is more craft than feeling. And prayer is our chief practice in the craft.” (8)

“Grace is the first and last word of the Christian life, and all of us are desperately in need of mercy and are deeply loved.” (8)

“Compline speaks to God in the dark. And that’s what I had to learn to do—to pray in the darkness of anxiety and vulnerability, in doubt and disillusionment. It was Compline that gave words to my anxiety and grief and allowed me to reencounter the doctrines of the church not as tidy little antidotes for pain, but as a light in darkness, as good news.” (19)

“Mysteriously, God does not take away our vulnerability. He enters into it.” (29)

“The Christian story proclaims that our ultimate hope doesn’t lie in our lifetime, in making life work for us on this side of the grave. We watch and wait for ‘the resurrection of the dead and the life to come.” (57)

“Just as our pupils dilate to let in more light, to see more than we first thought we could, prayer adjusts our eyes to see God in the darkness.” (61)

“God is not a masochist who delights in our pain or weakness, but a cultivator whose grace is found even in the burn unit… I can believe that God is good because God himself chose a way of suffering that none of us would have every choose—and he walked this way in a human body, as a creature of dust.” (99)

“To be a Christian is to sit, however uncomfortably, in mystery, in something we can never quite nail down or name.”  (111)

“We weep because we can lament to one who cares about our sorrow. We watch because we believe that Love will not abandon us. We work because God is restoring the world in love. We can sleep because God governs the cosmos out of love. Every sickness can be transformed by love. When we’re weary, we are given rest because we are loved. Love meets us even in death, bearing blessing…” (165)

We don’t pray to convince God to see our needs. He asks us to pray, to tell him what we most long for, because he loves us deeply and devastatingly.” (166)

“In the end, darkness is not explained; it is defeated. Night is not justified or solved; it is endured until light overcomes it and it is no more.” 

Additional Reading Suggestions:

Last Summer, I posted a review of two other books that deal with darkness. Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, is another religious look at darkness. Chet Raymo’s The Soul of Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage was one of the best books I read last year. While Raymo is writing more from a scientific point-of-view, his writings convey a sense of awe and mystery, which is where science and religion go together. Click here to read my reviews on these two books. 

God Knows Best

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 21, 2022
Luke 9:37-45

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, September 19, 2022. This Sunday is the “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans” service at Mayberry which is why I’m wearing a kilt. Click here to learn more about a Kirkin’ service.

At the Beginning of Worship:

What is the most faithful way to pray? Do we tell God what we want and need? Or do we turn to God with open arms and allow God to do what is best?

I supposed most people tell God what they want or need. I’m guilty. But when you think about it, it’s a bit arrogant to think we know better than the almighty. I’ve used this quote attributed to C. S. Lewis many times. “We’ll spend the first half of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered.” God knows best. Perhaps our best prayers are those we turn ourselves over to God saying, “Thy will be done.” 

Before reading the scripture:

Last week we looked at the Transfiguration in Luke’s gospel. Interestingly, Luke gives us more insight into the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah than the other gospels. But even here, we are provided only a glimpse of what was said. They talked about what was going to happen in Jerusalem. Afterwards, Jesus and the disciples come down the mountain and are immediately surrounded by crowds including a desperate father. Here, unlike Matthew and Mark, we’re given a brief account of the story. Having just witnessed Jesus’ glory, we now learn of the disciples’ limitations. But we also learn that despite their inability to help this man, Jesus still comes through.

In preparation for hearing the scriptures, I will pray a prayer the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, used before worship:    

O God of all power, Who hast called from death the great Pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, comfort and defend the flock which He hath redeemed by the blood of the eternal testament; increase the number of true preachers; mitigate and lighten the hearts of the lost; relieve the pains of the afflicted, especially those that suffer for the testimony of the Truth, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.[1]  

Read Luke 9:37-45

Raphael’s Transfiguration
Raphael, “Transfiguration” 1516-1520,
The Vatican, image in public domain

The last artwork by the great renaissance painter, Raphael, was of the Transfiguration. We explored that story last week. But the artist includes in his depiction not only the wonderous and glorious events on the mountain, but also the inability of the nine disciples left behind to help the man whose boy was demonically possessed. The contrast with the glory above and the struggle and defeat below are striking. Jesus dazzles in the center of the canvas, while all is dark and foreboding below.[2] On our own, our abilities are limited, something Raphael captures on canvas. 

Similarity to the Gerasene Demonic story

Our story today has some resemblance to the story we examined a month of so ago, just after Jesus calmed the storm on the lake. If you remember, a demonic man met Jesus on the other side.[3]The man was a terror to everyone. Filled with demons, they tried to kill him. Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs who ran off a cliff into the water and drown. Evil does that. Destruction is its goal. But once the man was freed from the demons, he became a disciple. He went on to tell everyone what Jesus did for him.  

Setting for Today’s Story

In today’s story, Jesus has just come down from the mountain. He’s met by a crowd, including a man who only one child, a boy, who had issues. Luke appears to have a special heart for parents with only one child, as this is the third such encounter in his gospel.[4]

It sounds like this boy may have some form epilepsy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone with such seizures. They lose control. 

Ken, a friend from Japan who was in my seminary class, had epilepsy. He once had a seizure in chapel. Thankfully, several of us knew what was happening. There was not much to do but try to keep him safe and to put a wallet in his mouth to keep him from biting himself or swallowing his tongue as we waited for paramedics. 

But back in the first century, epilepsy was blamed on demonic possession.[5] So, instead of making speculations or a medical guess as to the boy’s problems, we’ll stick to how the story is told. The boy goes off into fits. His father can’t control him. You can imagine the chaos in their home. As it is with evil, whenever it takes over this boy, it tries to harm him. The disciples, whom Jesus had given power to heal,[6] can’t help the boy.  

When Jesus hears the boy hasn’t been helped, he goes off on a triad about this perverse generation. He sounds like an Old Testament prophet. However, in Luke, Jesus doesn’t blame the disciples for their inability to help.[7] “Human doubts and disbelief are not the last word,” one commentator writes. “Nor do they determine Jesus’ willingness or ability to act.”[8]

Jesus takes pity on the boy and his father. He calls for the boy to be brought to him. Just as the man by the lake went berserk upon seeing Jesus, the boy immediately goes into convulsions.

The demon’s reaction to Jesus (and the good)

Imagine my dog going to the veterinarian. It’s for her good, but she’ll throw a fit before I can drag her out of the car. I suppose I’m like that with dentists. It may be for my own good, but that doesn’t mean I like it (although I don’t generally throw a fit). In a similar way, the demon fears encountering good and tries to harm the boy one last time. So, the boy convulsions before Jesus. 

But Jesus’ power is greater. He heals the boy, and then hands the boy back to his father. This amazes the crowds. They praise God’s greatness and what Jesus has been doing. 

Jesus’ changes subjects

Then Jesus changes subject. Luke tells us that Jesus prepared his remarks by telling people to “let these words sink in.” Their excitement over his healing the boy focuses their attention on Jesus’ acts and not his words. 

Luke gives us three possible reasons for this. They don’t comprehend what Jesus means when he speaks of being betrayed. Or, as the next verse implies, the meaning was concealed from them (kind of like pharaoh’s heart being hardened[9]).  Or they didn’t want to hear such negative news at such a joyous time, so no one asked any questions.[10] In other words, why ruin a good party with bad news. Why rain on a parade.

Today’s truths:

What does our text say to us today? There are at least two truths we should understand. First, we should trust God to do what is right. The boy’s father didn’t tell Jesus to cast out the demon. He just begged for Jesus to look at his son. The man trusted Jesus’ goodness. He knew Jesus would see the boy needed help and so respond. 

When we are sick, do we go to the hospital and then direct the physicians on how to treat us? In most cases, that’s not a good idea. Instead, we trust they have our best interest in heart. In addition, we trust their knowledge. Likewise, we trust God wants what is best for us. It’s like the father character played by Robert Young in the 1950s classic sitcom, “Father Knows Best.” We trust God the Father. Faith is having trust!

Second, which builds on the first, we are reminded that we can’t see or understand everything. We’re not God. Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement that we are unable to see what’s around the corner. Or we don’t want to see, especially when we know its bad. Again, it comes down to trust in God. 


Jesus knew his mission. As we saw last week with the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus talks about his Jerusalem mission with Elijah and Moses. Jesus was preparing himself for what’s ahead. And it was going to be hard to accept and understand, but in the long run, what Jesus did was for us. And because of his atoning death, our future is much brighter. We are loved. We can find forgiveness and be adopted into God’s family. And that’s good news! 

Don’t make demands upon God in your prayers. Instead, trust God, know that you are loved, and have faith. Amen. 


[1] Howard L. Rice & Lamar Williamson, Jr., A Book of Reformed Prayers (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 21. 

[2] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983), 284. For more information on the painting along with a reproduction of it, see v

[3] Luke 26-39. See my sermon at

[4] James r. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 286.  See Luke 7:12 & 8:41-2.

[5] Edwards, 286. See also Matthew 17:15, 18-19 for insight into the linking of epilepsy and demon possession.

[6] Luke 9:1-2.

[7] In the other gospel accounts, the disciples ask Jesus why they failed, and he uses it as a lesson for faith and prayer. See Matthew 17:14-21 and Mark 9:14-29.

[8] Edwards, 286.

[9] Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 7:13-14, etc. 

[10] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 136. Craddock suggests that the voices of praise of the crowd over Jesus’ power makes it hard for the disciples to see Jesus both in power and, in Jerusalem, in powerlessness. 

Early morning

Matt, Virginia City, 1988

That’s me, standing before the church built in 1866-7

Recently I have posted memoir pieces of my years in seminary:

I took the school year 1988-89 off in order to be a student pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City, Nevada. Over the years since, I devoted much time researching and writing the history of that congregation on the Comstock Lode. This is a short memoir piece of my time there.


“Matt, why do you want to join this church?” I asked as I slipped tea. 

We had just finished eating and were sitting on the floor on mats, like Jesus and the disciples at the last supper. A low table stood between us. On it was a Chinese hot pot, a ceramic teapot, a bowl of rice, plates, cups, and chop sticks. It had been an interesting meal. Matt told me he once had a Chinese girlfriend who taught him how to cook. I wondered if she used frozen vegetables. There was no crunch to the vegetables in the stir fry. The dish was soggy. It wasn’t terrible, just not very appealing. I kept my thoughts to myself. I was curious as to his interest in joining a church that was a 30 minute drive away. 

Matt had been waiting for the question. He pulled a Bible off a bookcase behind him. I took the Bible to be a good sign. Then he opened it and read a passage from 24th Chapter of Matthew’s gospel, about stars falling from the sky. Now I wasn’t so sure the Bible was a good sign. I had no idea where this was going. Setting the Good Book down on the table, Matt began telling me how the earth was going to soon shift on its axis. This would make it appear as if the stars are falling from the heavens.

My mind was spinning. This was not anything I had been taught in seminary. When he paused to catch his breath, I asked, “What does this have to do with you joining our church?” 

“I’ll get there,” he assured me.

I poured myself another cup of tea as Matt continued his discourse. 

Taylor St., looking down toward C St

“You know, the Carson Valley used to be under the ocean. There are places you can find shells embedded in rock.” He pulled a fossilized rock from his bookcase to show me.

“Yeah, it may have once been under the sea,” I quipped, “but that was a few years before our time.” 

“It’s going to happen again,” he said. 

“What’s going to happen?”

“This is going to be the ocean again.”

Matt went on explain how, when the earth shifts 15 degrees on its axis, the sea would rise. The coastlines would be wiped out with tsunamis. The valley would fill with water.  

As he continued on with his monologue, I looked out the window. The Sierras were silhouetted by the setting sun. Looking at those magnificent mountains while listening to Matt ramble on, I visualized what he was saying. It could have been a scene from a bad horror movie. A large tidal wave, at least nine thousand feet high, breaking over the top of those peaks. The thought of it was ludicrous. I had to bite my bottom lip to keep from laughing. But then, I understood.

“I get it! You’re telling me that you want to join our church because Virginia City is soon going to be an island amidst a vast inland sea.” 

“Yes,” he said, smiling as if he had finally broken through. “Carson City will be under a thousand feet of water.” He started giving me the layout of areas of the country that would be above water or below it.  It didn’t seem to make sense that places like Carson City, at an elevation of 4000 feet would be below water and other places a lot lower would remain dry, but none of this made sense.  

Yet, in a smug way, I was glad to know I’d be safe in Virginia City. Come summer, I could sun myself out by the mine tailings, as waves lapped at my feet. There might be still a few nice days this fall. Would I have time to pick up some sunscreen on my way home, I thought to myself, in case I don’t make it back to Carson City before the flood. I began to make a mental list of things I’d need: a lounge chair, beer, flip-flops, some more beer…  

I had to force myself to focus back on what Matt was telling me. 

“Where did you get all these ideas?” I asked.

“The Bible.”


“Mostly, but also Nostradamus and from talking to a friend.” 

I didn’t want to meet this friend.

Next, he pulled a book of Nostradamus from the shelf behind him, turned to a marked page and handed it to me to read. Whoever thought Revelation was hard to understand had obviously not read Nostradamus.

Unable to make any sense out of what Matt was saying, my mind began to drift into survival mood. I needed a strategy to escape from this apartment. I wanted to be back in the real world. Into what time warp had I moved? I’ve yet to been in Nevada a month and discovered it to be a state where people think it’s a good idea to put rabid bat in a pitcher of beer and then drink it. And there was the woman at K-Mart who believes Ronald Reagan is the Antichrist. According to the news, the bubonic plague is making a comeback.  And now there are those (or at least two of them), who think the earth is going to tilt in a new direction. 

Matt had first worshipped with us the previous Sunday. He came into church a little late. My first impression was that he’s middle-aged, a little overweigh, a little disheveled, but a nice guy. After worship, when all were enjoying coffee and catching up with one another, Matt stayed back from the crowd. I went over to introduce myself. He told me his name and said he wanted to join the church. It seemed a little strange, this being a small church, to learn he wanted to join the fellowship in the same breath that I learned his name.

“Great,” I said, “let’s get some coffee and meet some people.” I introduced him to several members. He was polite, but standoffish and appeared uncomfortable. It was when I suggested we get together and talk about the church membership that he invited me to dinner

Matt was a special case. But then, Virginia City had plenty of special cases. He did join the church, although he never moved to town. Nor did the impending flood occur. Everyone in the congregation thought his ideas were a little weird, but welcomed him. For the rest of my time on the Comstock, Matt taught me an important lesson: “there are those who need the church more than the church needs them.”  

Combination Mine Shaft overlooking Virginia City, Summer 2008

Listen to Jesus

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont & Mayberry Churches
August 14, 2022
Luke 9:28-36

Sermon recorded under the picnic shelter at Bluemont Church on Friday, August 12, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

What do you think of doubt? Do you think of it as the opposite of faith? Can doubt be a means God uses to draw us closer and help us trust more? 

I recently read a book based on the later position. I’ve shared several quotes from the book, The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. Here’s another:

“When faith has no room for the benefit of doubt, then we are just left with religion, something that takes its place in our lives along with other things—like a job and a hobby. Doubt is God’s way of helping us not go there, though the road may be very hard and long.”[1]

If everything is certain there would be no need for faith. God wants us, first foremost, to trust in God’s Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. We’ll talk about this today.

Before reading the scriptures:

Last week, we looked at Peter’s Confession followed by Jesus teaching his followers some hard truths about discipleship. A couple of things I hope you got out of the sermon. Discipleship must be grounded in prayer, and we must trust Jesus and be willing to give up everything for him. 

Today, in our text, we see it’s about eight days after that encountered between Jesus and the disciples. Again, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. This time, he only takes his core leadership team: Peter, James, and John. And what happens up on that mountain is so bizarre the three disciples don’t tell anyone until later, after an even greater miracle, the resurrection.  

Read Luke 9:28-36 in the Message translation

Was the Transfiguration for the disciples?

For whom was the Transfiguration, as this story is known, to benefit?[2] Was this event for the disciples? If so, why were nine missing? And besides, the three on the mountain missed most of it as they napped. This was like how they missed out on Jesus’ prayer in the garden just before his arrest.[3] Jesus wants them nearby, awake and praying, and they snore. 

Our story begins with Jesus taking a few of the disciples up on the mountain to prayer. A wonderous thing happens. But the disciples can’t keep their eyes open. And when they fully wake, Peter makes a fool of himself. Poor Peter, he feels he must say something when there is nothing to be said. Instead, he should have looked on with awe and been pleased for the opportunity to witness such an event. We should learn from Peter’s bumbling that when we experience something wonderful, awe is an appropriate response. We don’t need to try to add to the experience.

Was the Transfiguration for Jesus?

Perhaps the Transfiguration was meant for Jesus. He’s heading down that long road toward Jerusalem. What’s going to happen weighs heavy on him. This event strengthens him, just as the angels ministered to Jesus in his prayer in the garden before his betrayal.[4]

But even if Jesus was the primary recipient of the benefits, it doesn’t mean this event was unimportant for the disciples. After all, we find the story in three of the four gospels.[5]  

Perhaps this story should also remind us that even experiencing supernatural events does not guarantee one’s continually faithfulness. We know that Peter will go on to deny Jesus.[6]Again, as this passage shows us in the end, we ground our faith in Jesus Christ, not in what we do.  

Keeping quiet about the event

We’re told the three disciples kept quiet about the event after it happened. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells them not to say anything about it until after he’s been raised from the dead, but there it appears the disciples at the time didn’t understand Jesus. Instead, they go off on a tangent about Elijah.[7] In Luke’s gospel, we’re given no reason for the disciples to keep silent. 

We could assume some things are best left unsaid. After all, the rest of the disciples would have no context to understand what happened up on the mountain. Discussing it might open the three to ridicule. So only much later, after the experience of the marvelous resurrection, do they share what had happened. 

We have only the bare details

The text only provides us with bare details. Jesus becomes dazzling white and has a conversation with Elijah and Moses. Maybe the three disciples, seeing this, thought they were already having a dream as they nod off instead of listening in on the conversation. I know with me, sometimes when I am in the in-between state between being awake and asleep, I can dream and then wake up startled, unsure what’s real and what’s a dream. 

Maybe they thought this was a dream, and it’s only when they are fully awake do they become aware of what’s happening. But before we go there, let’s consider the presence of Moses and Elijah. 

Moses and Elijah

It is often assumed that Moses represents the law (even though Moses is also known as a prophet) and Elijah represents the prophets. Since we are not privy as to what was said between them and Jesus, this is only speculation. But it may be right. We’re only told the conversation had something to do with Jesus’ work in Jerusalem. Back in verse 21, Jesus revealed to the disciples his upcoming rejection by the elders and chief priests and scribes. The priests imply the rejection will take place in Jerusalem, for they worked at the temple there. 

Did Moses and Elijah encourage Jesus as he made his final trek to Jerusalem? Maybe, it seems logical, but we cannot be certain. 

Peter’s half-baked ideas

As the two men take their leave, Peter must have realized that this wasn’t a dream after all, He’s amazed, although we don’t know how he knew it was Moses and Elijah. Peter quickly jumps up and begins running his mouth. “It’s great for us all to be here,” he said. He offers to make three dwellings, so they can all sit around and enjoy this experience.

The word translated as memorials in the Message translation, or dwellings or booths in other translations, is the same as the word translated as “tabernacle.”[8] The tabernacle was a tent that served as a portable temple for the “holy of holies” during the Exodus. Does Peter see these three as divine? Probably not, but because of their presence, he knows the Almighty has something to do with their presence. 

Luke makes sure his readers understand Peter’s suggestions were not thought out well. “He blurted it out without thinking,… while babbling on like this…” we read. Sometimes we just need to be content and stand in awe. 

While Peter talks, God acts. Sending a cloud over the mountain, the mist envelopes everyone there.[9] God provides a heavenly tabernacle and suddenly they are all aware of God’s presence. Then, they hear a voice, the voice of God, speaking out of the cloud. “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.” 

That voice must have rolled like thunder and lingered for a while. And when the voice was no longer heard, the three disciples find themselves in the presence of just Jesus. Everything is back to normal.

Focus on Jesus

While this experience may have been primarily for the human Jesus, to prepare him for Jerusalem, there is also a message for the disciples who were present (and for us). They and we are to listen to Jesus. Don’t be just holding on to the past, to the law and to the words of the prophets. Pay attention to Jesus, listen to him, learn from him. God works through Jesus to show us the way forward.

This event illustrations us what John’s gospel teaches.  Jesus is God’s word.[10]  Because of this, we are to trust and obey, follow and abide by him. 

Our desire for certainty and control

I expect if we were present with Peter, James, and John, we wouldn’t have acted much different. Peter’s suggestion of erecting memorials was an attempt to hold on things. We like certainty and in that moment on the mountain, Peter had it. 

There was Jesus and the two greatest Hebrew leaders in all their glory. Peter wants to enjoy their presence. He’s like Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ resurrection, grabbing on to Jesus. But Jesus told her not to hold on to him.[11]

We can’t control God

We can’t contain or control God. If we could, whatever it is that we are containing or controlling would not be divine. Instead, we trust, follow, listen and learn. That’s our calling as disciples. Amen. 

[1] Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our ‘Correct’ Beliefs (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 172. 

[2] The idea of the differences of the experiences between the Jesus and disciples comes from reading Chelsey Harmon’s commentary on the text:

[3] Luke 22:39-46. 

[4] Luke 22:43-44. These verses do not appear in all ancient text, but they show an anguished Jesus as he faces what’s ahead. 

[5] See Matthew 17:1-9 and Mark 9:2-8. Peter refers to the experience in 2 Peter 1:16-18. 

[6] Luke 22:54-62. This story is told in all four of the gospels. See Matthew 25:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, and John 18:15-18, 25-27. 

[7] Matthew 17:9-13

[8] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 283-284.

[9] Edwards, 284-285

[10] John 1:1-5. 

[11] John 20:17. 

Keeping focused! A photo from several years ago: Sailing in Wassaw Sound

The Great Seminary Hoax of 1986

Two weeks ago, in a sermon, I told about the “duck parties” held at seminary. Today, I am posting a story about some nonsense that occurred during my first term at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Other recent posts include memories of Professor von Waldow and Dean Mauser and his secretary. Good memories.


My only experience in dorm-living was my first year in seminary. I boarded on the third floor of Fisher Hall. I stayed in the dorm to save expenses as I still had a house and mortgage payments when I left for seminary (I sold the house soon afterwards).

Across from my room was Ken, a student from Japan. A language whiz, Ken spoke several Slavic languages but needed work on his English. We did our best to help, but who among us will forget the day he asked a visiting professor from Prague a question. Unable to get his question across in English, he switched to Russia or Czech or something strange and the professor answered him in an equally strange tongue. The rest of us sat around witnessing a firsthand example of glossolalia. 

The view behind the seminary from 3rd Floor Fisher, January 1987

Down the hall, to the north, was Keith. A United Methodist student, Keith also managed the school’s hockey rink. When not in use, the hockey rink served as the hallway for third floor Fisher.  Being from the South, hockey was something new to me and I did my best to avoid the games.


In the room next to mine, to the south, was Jim. Unfortunately, he dropped out before the two of us could finish what would have been a best seller: “A Theological Drinking Guide to Pittsburgh.” Having been used to living in a house, and with nightly hockey matches going on outside my door, getting out to the local bars around Pittsburgh (many within walking distance) was an escape and a way to maintain sanity.

There were many others on the floor, but the four of us played a prominent role in the “perfect storm” that just about got me booted back to the piney woods of North Carolina. 

The room to my north, between mine and Keith’s, was empty. Keith read an article on Christian sexuality written by Rodney Clapp. Being a careful reader, what caught Keith’s attention was the author’s name. It seemed fitting a man whose last name was slang for a venereal disease would write on sexuality. Keith decided Clapp needed to be a classmate. He made up a nameplate for the empty room. “That’s Clapp’s room,” we’d tell people, he’s an esteemed alumnus from Pittsburgh and maintains a room here. A week or so later, Clapp’s pretend presence on campus took a strange twist. 

Ken, who’d just arrived in American, became fascinated with a certain group of American newspapers generally found in the check-out lines at the supermarket. He read these papers religiously, trying to improve his English and learn about this strange country in which he was living. One day, at the local Giant Eagle Supermarket, he picked up a copy of the National Enquirer, or maybe one of the other tabloids. The lead article featured the story of an unnamed hell-fire preacher who spontaneously combusted in the pulpit. After his particularly fiery sermon, all that was left was ashes. It must be true. It was in print. Such an event should have certainly been studied in homiletics, but I don’t recall it being mentioned.

As no one had seen Clapp recently, it was logically assumed he was the unnamed preacher. Ken posted the article on Clapp’s door. Over the next week, letters from all around the world started appearing, in different languages, offering condolences to Rodney’s family and friends. Clapp’s deeds and misdeeds were recalled. 

Around this time, for reasons I still don’t understand, had chapel duty. Normally first-year students were exempt, but for some reason I said I’d do it. I thought daily chapel would be the perfect setting for a “Rodney Clapp Memorial Service.” Somehow, word got out to the powers-that-be what was being planning. Dr. Oman, the homiletics professor, called me into his office and informed me there would be no faux funeral in chapel.

Disappointed at being unable to involve the entire community, we planned our own funeral. Although not a Protestant tradition, we included a wake. We could be ecumenical if it meant a good party. On December 2, 1986, after an evening of basketball (after all, we did have our priorities), a crowd of us gathered in the Fisher lounge for Clapp’s wake and funeral. In the center of the room, laid out like a casket, was the door from Clapp’s room. It was covered with letters of condolences and tokens of our love and adoration for him. Sitting on the top of the door was a plastic container holding some ashes someone obtained.

We gathered around Clapp’s remains and said our goodbyes. We read scripture. Chosen passages alluded to fire. Nonsensical tales about our experiences with Clapp were shared. Taking great liberty with the funeral liturgy, we replaced hymns with more appropriate music such as the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Afterwards, as Clapp’s ashes floated out the window and across the lawn, we had a final toast. 

Mourners paying respect at Clapp’s Memorial Service, Dec. 2, 1986

With the funeral out of my way, I still had to do my duty in chapel. A day or two later I stood before the crowd of students and professors and delivered one of those boring first year seminary student sermons. The best part of it were a few lines of poetry I quoted from John Beecher, whom I felt deserved an introduction.  

The service was dreadfully serious until I was about halfway through my message. Before the service, Jim came into the chapel and took two fire extinguishers off the walls by the doors. Unbeknownst to everyone, he placed the extinguishers on the chancel, one on each side of the pulpit. As I was trying to make a serious point which I’m sure expressed some eternal consequence, someone in the row of students from Fisher Hall noticed the fire extinguishers. He began to laugh while pointing it out to the person next to him. Slowly, like a wave moving across the chapel, each student poked the guy next to him and pointed to the fire extinguishers. The laughter spread. Soon, among a crowd of somber Presbyterians, one pew laughed hysterically. I smirked, bit my tongue, and looked down at my notes. I knew if I looked out upon the gathered congregation, all would be lost. 

I’m sure most of those in chapel that day, unaware of the joke that had been building for a month, felt those of us from Fisher Hall were downright rude. And they were right. 

I’m not sure who I was trying to impress in a suit. I’m on the left with three classmates (Roger, Vivian, and Doug) as we prepared to head back to Pittsburgh from the 1988 General Assembly in St. Louis. The rest were dressed causal for the trip. This may be the last photo of me without a beard. I grew one in the summer of 1987, but shaved it off early in the fall. After this meeting, I headed West for an intern year and grew my beard back. I haven’t been clean shaven since. As for my hair, well, I’m not sure what happen.

Professing Jesus as the Messiah

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 7, 2022
Luke 9:18-28

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, August 5, 2022

At the beginning of worship

What are the two natures of Christ? 

From the early church, the belief has been held that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures: Divine and Human. Or God and Man. It’s a mystery how they go together, but it explains a lot of what we’ve seen over the past couple months as we worked through the middle section of Luke’s gospel as Jesus, a man, does God-like things.  

What the Confessions tell us

Jesus’ dual nature is professed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. Both speak of Christ, who is one with the Father, becoming human through the incarnation by the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Mary. For a more technical definition, The Westminster Larger Catechism explains it this way:

“It was requisite that the Mediator should be God that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death….” And then in the next paragraph: “It was requisite that the Mediator should be man; that he might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer and make intercession for us from our nature, have a fellow feeling of our infirmities; that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with the boldness unto the throne of grace.” Going on, the Confession says: “It was requisite that the Mediator who was both God and man, and this in one person; that the proper works for each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on us, as the works of the whole person.”[1]

-Westminster Confession of Faith

Today, I’ll talk some about the dual nature of Christ. As God, Christ gives us access to the divine. As a human being, he can identify with our struggles. We need both and together, it’s good news. 

Before reading the Scriptures:

Two weeks ago, we ended our scripture reading with Herod essentially asking, “Just who is this guy doing the healing and teaching out in the villages?” As I pointed out last week, Luke often let’s such questions linger a while. Instead of giving an immediate answer, he gave another example of Jesus’ power with the feeding of the 5,000. Today, we’ll see that Jesus and the disciples have finally escaped the crowds, which allows Jesus to ask the disciples about who the crowds understand him to be.

Good leadership

A good leader wants to know what others think and understand. Sometimes they may not like what they hear. Knowing what others think, may or may not change what a leader does. But if the leader doesn’t know how others understand their message, they could be moving into a minefield. So today, Jesus asks the disciples what people say about him. And he receives essentially the same answer Herod received. But Jesus pushes deeper, which leads to Peter’s confession and a chance for Jesus to begin some in depth teaching with the disciples. 

This story in Matthew in Mark

This story also appears in Matthew and Mark, where we’re given more details. Unlike Luke, in those accounts, we’re told it was in Caesarea Philippi,[2] which would be an area away from Galilee. Luke, instead of telling us where this occurs, just says it was in private, after prayer. All three gospels may be correct, but Luke’s holds out special significance. Jesus first prays!  We can learn from this. 

Read Luke 9:18-28

Quick summary of text

We learn a lot from this passage about prayer, the nature of Jesus, the need for trust, and living in God’s kingdom. Let’s look at what this text teaches.

Role of prayer in Jesus’ life

Luke has already shown us the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life. Jesus has been known to slip away in private to pray.[3] He heads up on the mountain to pray before naming the 12.[4] Luke later tells us about Jesus’ harsh criticism about prayer done for public display and admiration. Jesus condemns the Pharisee who makes a show of his prayer in the temple but elevates the tax collecting sinner who humbly begs for forgiveness.[5] Jesus isn’t against public prayer. He defends the temple as a house of prayer while condemning the impropriate use of the space.[6]

Importance of prayer

Luke shows the importance of humble, private, and sincere prayer. Prayer is not to be an occasion to grandstand. We can only image what Jesus would say about praying on the 50th yard line after a high school football game. Prayer is personal, as Jesus shows by slipping off into the hills. It is between us and God. As Jesus shows in the Lord’s Prayer, prayer focuses on God’s will, not our desires.[7]

Some see prayer as the answer to problems. When we can do nothing, we say, “I’ll pray for you.” Sometimes that sounds insincere. Certainly, if we can do something to change or help, we should. 

Others have blamed the failure of our schools on the lack of prayer. But the lack of prayer is not the problem. There has always been prayer in school. It’s mostly private prayer when students (and I was one) pray for a test for which we hadn’t prepared. Such prayers weren’t often answered, or at least not in the way I’d hoped. 

The problem arises when we think of prayer as providing God a shopping list of things to correct without working with God to make things better. 

Prayer as an intimate conversation with God

Prayer, as we see here, is intimate conversation with God. While there is a place for public prayer, most prayer needs to be done alone. It’s especially important for us to pray privately. This fall, I plan a six-sermon series on prayer, but before then think about your prayers in the light of how Jesus prayed. Do you get away to talk to God privately? It’s an important part of our discipleship. 

Jesus’ question

We don’t know what caused Jesus to ask the question to the disciples, only that it came out of prayer. When finished praying, Jesus went to the disciples and asked, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Their answer parallel’s the answer given to Herod as to who it was out in the countryside doing this work: a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.[8] This answer shows that Jesus’ message is getting traction and that people are taking him seriously. Except for John the Baptist, whose death at the hands of Herod was only recent, the others have been gone for centuries. 

Jesus then turns to the disciples and asks them point blank, “Who do you say that I am.” It’s not how others identify Jesus that is ultimately important. It’s the role Jesus plays in our lives. 

Peter’s confession

Hearing this question, Peter jumps up and says, “You’re the Messiah of God.” Good work, Peter. Of course, knowing this doesn’t mean that Peter will always be faithful. We know he’ll deny Jesus. But for now, Peter is the man of the hour. He gets who Jesus is, but like us he will struggle the rest of his life to follow Jesus in a worthy manner. 

The hard truth of God’s Messiah

The disciples now understanding Jesus’ nature, that he’s not just a man; he’s also God’s Messiah. Then Jesus seemingly pours cold water on their heads as he informs them of the difficulties ahead. The Son of Man will be rejected and killed yet rise on the third day. 

I’m sure the disciples didn’t see this coming. This wasn’t their idea of the Messiah.

Expectations of disciples

Jesus continues, teaching not just about what will happen to him but his expectation from his disciples. A disciple must deny him or herself and follow Jesus down this hard road. We live within a paradox. Discipleship can be counter intuitive. If we want to save our lives, we must be willing to lose our lives. We can’t be a disciple for ourselves. As a disciple, we belong to Jesus, alone. He goes on to warn us of being ashamed of him. 

We know the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame in the Roman world, yet Jesus glorifies the cross. The disciples, then and now, may suffer. But will we stand with Jesus at the cross or will we hold on to worldly values and turn away in shame? 

Seeing the Kingdom

Finally, Jesus ends his teachings by letting people know there are those who will not taste death before they experience the kingdom of God. This last saying has created confusion over the years because way too many people try to interpret it through end time scenarios. By the time Luke wrote his gospel, according to what Jesus says, the kingdom was already here. The kingdom begins with the resurrection.[9] Of course, it may not have come in its fulness and we still long for heaven, but those who follow Jesus are called to into the kingdom in the present. 

These reverse values which Jesus presents, such as gaining life by losing it, begins now. Our total allegiance and our devotion are to God’s kingdom. We live and trust in Jesus. And Jesus is not some distant God. Because Jesus has been here, and lived a life like us, he knows what we’re going through. The dual nature of Jesus allows him to sympathize with our weakness and encourage us in our temptations. He understands our prayers. 


I saw a sign the other day that read, “Prepare to meet thy God.” And while we should prepare to meet God, we shouldn’t do it in fear. If we’re following Jesus and have a regular and honest prayer life, there is no need to fear. For we already know God.[10] We’ve already met God. Instead of worrying about meeting God, we can look forward to that face-to-face meeting with joy and anticipation. Until then, keep praying and keep your eyes on Jesus. Amen. 

[1] Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions, The Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 38-40 (or 7.148-150) 

[2] Matthew 16:13-23 and Mark 8:27-33. 

[3] Luke 5:16. 

[4] Luke 6:12.

[5] Luke 18:9-14. 

[6][6] Luke 19:45-46.

[7] Luke 11:1-4, especially verse 2, “Your kingdom come.”

[8] See Luke 9.   Also see my sermon on this section:

[9] I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke: New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 379.

[10] John 14:8-14.

Watch and listen to a few seconds of this morning

The garden, summer projects, & the killing of al Qaeda

Below I am reposting something I wrote in early May 2011, upon learning the death of Osama Bin Laden. At the time, I posted it on Facebook and in a church newsletter. Facebook discontinued showing posted “notes,” so I am posting it here. After the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s successor this week in Kabul, along with the carnage in Ukraine, it seems we need to be reminded again of the value of life and the tragedy of a life lived in hatred and evil. But before we go there, let me tell you about my garden. It is a more pleasant topic.

The Garden

The garden coming along nicely. Over the past week, I have enjoyed daily tomato sandwiches. The tomatoes are just beginning to come in. I grew 7 varieties from seeds and have 21 plants. Most of the tomatoes will be canned or frozen for sauce, soup and salsa.

The cucumbers are fantastic (I have 5 varieties), but they are beginning to fade out. So far, I have put up 8 quarts of lime pickles (and have another 8 quarts soaking as I write), along with 6 quarts of sweet salad cube pickles. Last summer, I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when the bulk of cucumbers came in and only put up one batch of pickles. I shouldn’t have to buy any this year!

In the middle of the garden (The hay is way too high and too brown, but we’ve had so much rain the farmer who cuts it just finished it this week)

I have eaten plenty of summer squash (yellow and zucchini) and have given a few away and some have ended up being recycled in my compost bin. Swiss chard is also doing well. The lettuce I finally turned over and will replant later this month.

This year, I am also growing winter squash and it appears the harvest of butternut squash will be incredible. There is no better soup than butternut squash soup, in my opinion. Acorn squash is also good to bake. Both tend to hold better than the summer squash. If you don’t eat the yellow squash in a few days, it goes soft.

My other summer project: The basement

bathroom tile

In addition to my garden, I have been working in the basement. Last week I finally finished tiling the bathroom. Next week I hope to get in the tub and toilet and be done with the bathroom A lot of the remaining work is finishing up with door trim and painting and putting in baseboard moulding. What have you been up to this summer?

The Death of Bin Laden

As an American, I went to bed happy last night after learning of the death of Osama Bin Laden. The man was capable of great evil and brought much suffering into the world. Yet I felt a tinge of guilt at the jubilation I and others were feeling. I spent much of the past 18 hours wondering about what an appropriate Christian response to Bin Laden’s death should be. How should those of us who follow the man from Galilee, who teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors, handle the death of an enemy who has been responsible for so much evil in the world? Should we rally and jump for joy, or should we be more subdued and ponder the deeper mysteries of life and death? I think the latter is more appropriate.

In the Book of Proverbs, we’re advised not to gloat over the demise of our enemies. Such behavior is not pleasing to our God (Proverbs 24:17-18). King David had an opportunity to gloat over the death of his enemy, King Saul, whose death opened the way for David to assume the throne. But David grieved for Saul and his sons (2 Samuel 1). Death should always remind us of our humanity. Although God has created us with remarkable abilities, we are not God, and once life is gone, we cannot restore it. At the time of death, we should be humbled. Bin Laden was obviously endowed by his Creator with great talents which could have been used in ways to have alleviated suffering in the world. Instead of using his talents in such a manner, Bin Laden used his talents to build a network of hate and evil. We should grieve over a life wasted and which caused such much pain. But we should also remember that Bin Laden, although an evil man, is not the author of evil. Just because he is dead doesn’t mean that the world is going to suddenly become a harmonious place. Evil is still present. We will still face temptations and, until this age ends, we will deal with evil people. And although few of us are capable of the evil of a man like Bin Laden, none of us are completely sinless. 

At a time such as this, we should humble ourselves before God and one another, confessing our own sins and the sins of the human race. We should thank God for those who were brave enough to carry out this mission, but we should not celebrate over their accomplishment. Instead, we should continue to pray, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, for God’s will to be done and God’s kingdom to come. And finally, we should challenge evil, not just with the sword, but with acts of charity and kindness, demonstrating the grace that our Savior has shown us.       

–Jeff Garrison
May 4, 2011