I’m traveling for a few weeks

Waiting for the sun (on a day that turned out stormy)

Did you miss my sermon on Sunday? Well, I ran away last week. And through this week I will have limited internet. My technology dry spell continues through the weekend. Next week, I’ll be at Calvin University and Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But right now I am in a beautiful part of God’s creation, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m staying in DeTour Village, watching the freighters sail by. I am also doing a lot of reading and planning. Many of the books I brought with me I read years ago, but I’m reviewing them for a seminar group I meet with next week. Others are new books to me, which I’m reading for the first time.

Can you guess which books I’ve read before? And which are new to me?
Hint, I’ve read 7 of the 13 books in the photo.

Last weekend, I was blessed with a visit from Robert and Donna, friends of mine from my Utah days. They, along with Robert’s sister (who took the photo below before church on Sunday) are on a cross-country trip and spent three days with me. While Robert and I come from different theological traditions, talking theology with him is always enlightening and I much appreciate his insights. On Saturday, we made a trip up to the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie.

Do you like my Jerry Garcia designed tie?
Robert watching a 700+ foot freighter move through the Poe Locks
A freighter passing by last Friday, before the weather went south….

I’ve learned something new this week. That’s always good, to learn something new… In the yard by the house where I’m staying there are two apple trees overflowing with fruit… The fruit that drops from these trees are being eaten by sea gulls. I never knew gulls would eat apples. I also expect I’ll have to find a car wash when I leave this place!

God’s Call and Church Unity

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Church
September 18, 2022
Galatians 1:11-2:10

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, September 16, 2022.

At the beginning of worship

Why do we tell our stories? What purpose do they serve?

Well, they can be entertaining, which is important. I like to laugh. It’s good for the soul.

But there are more important purposes to our stories. I have heard about the early days of Mayberry Church, when one of the jobs of the handful of boys in the community was to get up early on Sunday mornings and head down to the church to light the fire in the old potbelly stove. I’m sure at the time, the boys didn’t think much of their assignments. But it made enough of an impression that it’s still told long after their deaths and the church converted to central heat and air. 

The late William Zinsser, a dean of creative writing, says this about writing on places and institutions, be it a school, church, business, or so forth. 

Institutions and places have no life of their own. You must bring them to life with men and women and children… Look for the human connection as you make your journey. Connect us to the people who connected with you.[1]

Stories help us understand and to connect with one another. It is through our stories, especially if we approach them truthfully and with eyes of faith, that we see God working in our lives. Stories help us come to faith. They can also help us share our faith. 

Before reading the scriptures

Early this year I preached through Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but I left out a part.[2] You’ve probably forgotten, but as we began working through the letter, I told you I wanted to come back and catch up on the part I skipped. This section straddles the end of the first and beginning of the second chapters of the letter.

If you remember back to those sermons on this letter, Paul was concerned about what was going on within the church there in Asia Minor, a part of the world now a part of the country of Turkey.  In Galatia, Paul has become aware that some are leaving the church for a different gospel. This troubles Paul for he doesn’t know of any other gospel, at least not one that leads to eternal life. So, he writes this letter to encourage the Galatians to remain truth to the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

After stating the problem in the Galatian church,[3] Paul sets out to establish his credentials. After all, what makes Paul so special? Why is he any more reliable than other preachers who suggest another way? Paul’s story, as we will see in this text, help him establish credibility.  

Read Galatians 1:11-2:10

What does it take to become a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, the official title of ordained clergy, within the Presbyterian Church? 

First, there must be a calling from God. An individual may sense such a calling and be drawn toward ministry. For some of us, this process occurred over years. For others, it was a surprise. I know one minister who started out on a scientific track in college. His family didn’t attend church. He was unaware of Jesus. But after taking a required class in college, he became interested in the faith and ended up a Presbyterian minister.[4] This calling from God is quite personal and unique for every person.

My story

For some unknown reason, even for me, I told Grandma I was going to be a Presbyterian minister when I was ten years old. I can still remember having that conversation on the deck of a beach house on Topsoil Island. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I wondered where that idea came from. 

Almost two decades later, I found myself wrestling with the possibility of seminary. On a winter backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountains, I told God I’d go. It felt as if someone lifted my pack off my back. Later, as I questioned my plans for seminary, I heard a voice in dream saying I should go. Don’t ask me how, but I knew that voice to be God.

But it wasn’t just God who affirmed this call. There were others. Ministers with whom I’d known through my work with the Boy Scouts of America who encouraged me. Some were Presbyterian, but at least two other significant ones were Lutherans. Then there was the late Bob Ratchford, one of my pastors who, when I called him after that backpacking trip, asked why it had taken me so long to come to this decision. I was shocked as we had never discussed ministry before. 

Several weeks ago, when I was at Montreat Presbyterian Conference Center, I ran into David McKee. He and Bob served as co-pastors of the church I was a member of at the time.  We spent an hour discussing my decision to go to seminary. What an affirming talk as I learned that he and Bob had discussed me going to seminary even before I made that call. 

The Presbyterian Call System

In the Presbyterian system, feeling that one has a call from God to become in a minister isn’t enough. One must have the support of the Session of a church and of the Presbytery. One must prepare through study. And finally, before ordination, one must have been confirmed to a call by a congregation that’ll have you as a minister. 

There are a lot of checks and balances in the system. For you see, the call which comes from God needs to be confirmed by others. Even Paul mentions doing this in chapter 2, verse 2. Otherwise, we may deceive ourselves. As we know too well, people can have some crazy ideas about what God wants them to do. On the extreme, we end up with mass murder and suicide in places like Jonestown and the World Trade Center. If you think God wants you to do something, especially something outrageous, always check God’s Word and with others. 

What we learn from today’s text

In today’s passage Paul attempts to do three thing things: He wants to convince the Galatians that he is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He is concerned for church unity. Third, he illustrates the division of labor the Jerusalem Church has set up. Paul will reach out to the gentiles while others are assigned to carry on the church’s Jewish mission.

Paul’s Apostleship

Let’s look at the three of these points. As for Paul’s Apostleship, Paul insists his call is from God, but he also goes into detail to show how his call has been confirmed by the “mother church” in Jerusalem. Paul has made two trips there. His details vary some with the story we have of Paul’s calling in Acts, which probably has more to do with what Paul is trying to do by telling his story.[5]

Paul wants the Galatians to know that he’s the real thing. Yes, his call comes from God, and no one can take that away from him. Yet, it’s still important for Paul to point out he has the support of the Jerusalem Church. They confirm his call to take the message to the Gentile world. 

Instead of talking about the Damascus Road experience here, Paul just says that his call came directly from a revelation of Jesus Christ. This call changed Paul from a persecutor of the church to its biggest missionary. On the other hand, in Acts, we hear nothing of Paul’s journey into Arabia. This, I suggest, is a difference of perspective. 

In Acts, Luke is more interested in telling Paul’s story in relationship to tell the story of the expanding missionary activity in Europe. Paul, on the other hand, attempts to establish with the Galatians a legitimacy for his teachings. 

Church unity

Second, Paul has a concern for church unity. While he sees his call from God and not Jerusalem, he still understands the importance of the church in Jerusalem. When they ask him for help with the poor, Paul goes all out. You see this especially in his second letter to the Corinthians.[6] He wants the gentile church to help the Jewish church in Jerusalem, a church 100s of miles away. 

Division of labor

And finally, Paul sees the importance of a division of labor. Last week, if you remember, we heard Jesus talk about the harvest being reading and the workers being few. Paul is content to let Peter, James, and John reach out to the Jews while he and others such as Barnabas and Titus, reach out into the Gentile world. If the church is to be worldwide, it means different people will have different tasks. We all work for the same Lord, but each with a different focus. Together, our combined efforts make up the church.

Today’s applications

How can we apply Paul’s letter to our lives? First, think about Paul who was so convinced that his persecution of the church was right and noble. But when he meets Christ, he’s changed. He still serves the same God, but now better understands God’s mission. God reaches beyond Paul’s myopic vision. Might we also have our eyes opened and see that what God is doing in the world. And might we want to answer God’s call to be a part of such a vision. Changing our mind when it comes to God work in the world is noble, as we see with Paul. 

Second, we see the importance of unity despite the different focus when it comes to our ministry. One ministry is not superior to the other. All are important in helping to fulfill God’s plan. While we may be called to a different task within the kingdom, our calling is no better or worse than someone else’s call. 

Third, despite our different focus, we’re to be concern for the poor. That was a uniting task in the first century and should remain a uniting task for the church today. 

So, what story do you have to tell and how does it show God’s activity in your life?  Amen. 

[1] William Zinsser, Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past (New York: Marlowe and Company, 2004), 22-23. 

[2] These sermons were between April 24 and May 29.   Here is the link to the first sermon: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/04/5673/ and here is the link to the last: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/05/5759/

[3] See Galatians 1:6-9.

[4] Joseph Small told this story in a talk at a Theology Matters Conference in Hilton Head, SC in October 2021.

[5] See Acts 9:1-30. At first, Paul went by his Hebrew name, Saul. 

[6] 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. 

Commentary consulted: Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988).

This morning’s view at 6:40 AM

Catching up on my reading

I am trying to catch up on reading reviews. Below are four reviews that contain fiction, poetry, philosophy, and history. I will start with the lighter books and move on to the more heavy ones. There’s something here for everyone!

Aaron McAlexander, This Old Store 

(Stonebridge Press, 2014), 95 pages including photos and maps. 

There really is a place called Mayberry. It’s located along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwestern Virginia, twenty-some miles from Mt. Airy, NC. There was never much of a town here, just a few businesses and some farmers. Until the 1930s, there was a Post Office here. The store, where the Post Office resides, is still in business. The other reminder of the community that once existed is Mayberry Presbyterian Church. Aaron McAlexander, along with his late uncle, John Hassell Yeatts, have done their best to preserve the stories of this community. This is the fourth book I’ve read by McAlexander. It’s an easy read and a joy.

Throughout the countryside in these parts, there are lots of old boarded up stories. Many were two story stores, like Mayberry Trading Post. Most have been closed for decades. The Mayberry Store, which was built in 1892, remains open mainly because it is adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Today the store sells snacks, crafts, and souvenirs, along with jars of canned local treats from jams to chowchow.  

This was once a community center. People picked up their mail in this old building, in addition to obtaining kerosene for their lanterns and later gasoline for their car or tractor. Hardware and tools along with that which they couldn’t produce themselves could be purchased at the store. The store would also trade for locally produced goods, from apples to chestnuts, which the storekeeper hauled to Mt. Airy or Stuart, Virginia to sell. While the storekeeper never sold alcoholic drinks, there would often be a bootlegger around who would have a bottle or two hidden nearby so those who wanted a nip could be satisfied. On slow days, checkers would be played. 

Over the years, the store has changed hands many time (it’s been for sale for the last few years and from the scuttlebutt I recently heard, may be about ready to be sold again). McAlexander outlines these changes along with recalling stories from his mother and grandparents to his own stories of growing up in the area in the 1940s and 50s. 

Other reviews of McAlexander books I’ve read: The Last One to Leave MayberryShine On Mayberry MoonGreasy Bend: Ode to a Mountain Road.


Ivan Doig, The Bartender’s Tale

Narrated by David Aaron Baker, 14 hours, 47 minutes; (2012, audiobooks, 2013)

It has been a while since I read Doig. Almost a quarter century ago, when I was living in the Great Basin of the American West, I discovered Doig and read two of his memoirs: House in Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind and Heart Earth. Living in an area where there were still sheepherders, Doig’s writings felt familiar. This is the first fiction I’ve read (actually listened to) by him and, God willing, it won’t be the last.

The book is told through the eyes of a child. This allows the author to lead us, in Rusty’s mind, down some wrong paths as a boy’s mind will often do. Is she my mother? What will happen if my father falls in love?  You’ll have to read the book to learn the answers to those question and others that I ask.

The story begins in the early 1950s, when Rusty was six years old and being raised by an aunt with a couple of older boys in Arizona. He’s looking forward to school just so he can have time away from these taunting nephews. Then, like a good western, an outsider rides into town to save him. He is reunited with his father, Tom Harry, whom he had only seen occasionally. His father lives in Gros Ventre, Montana, where he runs the Medicine Lodge Saloon.  

The novel then jumps ahead to the summer of 1960. Rusty is now twelve years old.  This is a summer of discovery. Rusty meets Zoe, a new girl in town whose parents have purchased the Top Spot, the local diner. The two of them make quite a pair spying on everyone and trying out new characters as if they’re in theater.  Throughout the summer, as everyone wonders if Kennedy will be the new President, there is a string of characters that make their way into town. One is Delano, an oral historian who wants to learn about the Fort Peck Dam project from Tom, who ran a bar there during the Great Depression. Delano is also interested in language patterns, which helps provide insight into the catchy phrases often thrown around by those visiting the bar. Also swinging into the Medicine Bar is Proxy, a former dancer in Fort Peck. In tow is her trouble daughter, Francine. Is Francine Rusty’s half-sister? Or his sister? Can Francine run one of the best-known saloons in Montana? 

There is a lot packed into that summer of 1960, as Doig slowly fills in the details of Rusty’s inquisitive mind. Doig captures the western dialect, which helps create a delightful come-of-age story. He captures the life of the sheepherders along with working into the story a Class D League baseball team which he describes as being one step up from a picnic softball game. There is also some fishing. Doig captures the beauty of place as he describes Montana and the Medicine Bar. 

Quote from their road trip from Arizona to Montana:

“My father always said, when stopping on a road trip in a place to pee, “nice joint you have here, even if it was as gloomy as a funeral parlor. I supposed I learned something of professional courtesy from these stops.” 


Raymond Carver, All of Us: The Collected Poems 

(1996, New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000), 386 pages including index, appendixes, plus Introduction and Editor’s Preface

I have only recently become acquainted with the writings of Raymond Carver who died at the age of 50 in 1988. He’s perhaps best known for his short stories, but I decided to sample a collection of his poetry. This collection was gathered and published after his death. While I was familiar with the poetry of Tess Gallagher before reading his volume, I did not know that she was Carver’s last wife. She provides both the Introduction to this work along with an extensive essay in the appendixes that served as an introduction to the last collection of Carver’s poetry. 

The book begins with earlier poems which are often raw and sometimes vulgar. Some reflect the views of an alcoholic and of loss relationships. Other poems in this section come from the author’s travels, especially in Europe. Often, in these poems, he weaves in history with his own experiences. Other travels take him into the wilderness of the American West, and on fishing trips. One poem that stood out to me was “To My Daughter,” where he warns her that alcoholism runs in the family and warning her not to drink like she’d seen her parents do. 

I found the poems in the last half of the book, written after he had quit drinking, to be more filled with wonder and gratitude. Here there are even more poems set around the Pacific Northwest. Fishing often comes up. Mixed into this section are many poems by Anton Chekhov. Sprinkled throughout the book are quotes and poems from other authors. Carver also brings other authors into his poetry such as Franz Kafka in “The Moon, The Train.” As the reader comes to the “first” end of the collection, the author knows he’s living on borrowed time. I had a sense of grace reading these poems. 

But just because I reached the end of the collection didn’t mean I was out of poems to read, as the first appendix contained a group of “uncollected poems” from No Heroics, Please. His wife’s essay at the end is also worth reading as it sheds much light onto their life together and the last group of poems in this collection. 

This is a large collection of poems. I spent a month and a half reading through them, often before bed, sometimes reading a poem several times. For those interested in poetry, this volume appears to me to be a “must read.”  Yes, some of the poems especially in the first part of the book can be quite raw, but so is life for many people. As one continues to read, one will also find grace and hope and beauty. 


Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Artistole and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization 

(New York: Random House, 2014), 676 pages including notes, bibliography and index, or 25 hours and 26 minutes on Audible. 

I started listening to this book on Audible but became so engrossed into Herman’s survey of Western thought that I ended up buying the book so I could go back and read and study sections of it. This is a massive undertaking. Herman begins by describing Raphael’s painting, “The School of Athens” which is in the Vatican. Over the next few hundred pages, he will expand upon the various philosophers in the painting. He’s concentrates primarily on Plato and Aristotle, who are depicted in two camps on the canvas. On Plato’s side is Socrates, Pythagoras, Speusippus, Zenocrates, Plotinus, Epicurus, the Arab scholar, Avernoes, and Heraclitus. In Aristotle’s camp are Eudemus, Theophrastus, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Stabo. From these two camps come a creative tension between the idealist Plato and the more practical Aristotle that has driven Western thought for the past 2500 years. 

Herman takes the reader on a journey that begins in Greece and moves on to Alexander and across Europe.  He discusses the influence of each of the philosophers on the Roman world, medieval Christianity, into the renaissance, reformation, enlightenments and on into the 19th and 20th Century. He discusses how these two schools of thought shaped not only philosophy and religion, but physical and biological science, government, and economics. I compare reading this book to retaking the year of Western Civilization required in college when I was a student in the late 1970s. 

However, the book does not read like a textbook. Herman often draws on illustrations from art and for popular culture to make a point. And a few times, his writing seems to become “creative” as when he writes as to draw us back into a particular situation such as Michelangelo’s  stroll to the Sistine Chapel to paint, a cart rumbling down a cobbled road to the guillotine during the French Revolution, or Alexander von Humboldt encounter with a jaguar in the South American jungles.  

Herman’s thesis is that for a society to do well, it needs the creative tension that comes from Platonic idealism and Aristotelian materialism. When one side is over-emphasized, bad things happen. Plato leads to tyranny and Aristotle to stagnation. But when the two are in competition, society flourishes. While Herman could be critical of Hegel, there is a certain Hegelian logic in his thesis. 

I really enjoyed this book even though at times I felt he had to stretch things to keep everything lined up between Plato and Aristotle. I wish he had spent more time with Scottish Common-sense philosophy and with the work of Edmund Burke, but when you are trying to pack 2500 years into one volume, you can’t have everything. 

This is the second book I read by Arthur Herman. Several years ago, I read and enjoyed How the Scots Built the Modern World.


Subsistence Discipleship

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
September 11, 2022
Luke 10:1-20

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, September 9, 2022

At the beginning of worship

Do you ever want to do something big for God? 

You know, when we try to impress someone, we often try to do something that’s over the top. We buy our sweetheart the largest and best decorated heart filled with chocolate for Valentine’s Day. We buy gifts for our kids. 

For some people, this idea of doing something big goes for God. After all, we’re called to love and glorify God and we, the church, are to be the “bride of Christ.”[1] But what if I tell you, that’s not the way God works? 

Pleasing God 

God doesn’t need us to do something big for him. God can do everything for himself. What pleases God isn’t the size of our effort, but our hearts. Do we love God? Do we trust God?  Are we faithful?

You know, when you’re a kid, you do things for your parents that doesn’t really make their lives better. But they’re pleased with whatever craft item we create for Mother’s or Father’s Day. It’s like that with God. The size of our efforts isn’t what pleases God; it’s what’s in our hearts. Are we faithful to the calling of Jesus? Do we trust in God? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. 

Before the reading of scripture:

Last week we saw that Jesus expects humility and cooperation from his disciples. Today’s text will build on those concepts. 

Remember, too, that for Luke, the disciples were more than just the 12. The 12 created kind of an intergroup. This week, we see that Jesus sends out a larger group of disciples for a chance to put into action their humility and cooperation. Jesus sends out this group to tell and show that the kingdom of God has come near. 

70 or 72?

Most of our Bibles will tell us that Jesus sent out 70 

disciples, two-by-two. But if you have any kind of study Bible, you’ll see there’s a footnote indicating some ancient texts says it was 72 disciples. While it really doesn’t make much difference, the discrepancy provides insight into its meaning. 

70 probably points to us to the number of nations descended from Noah and listed in Genesis 10. In the Hebrew text, it’s 70 nations, but in the Greek Old Testament, translated a couple of centuries before Jesus, it was 72. The actual number isn’t that important. 70 or 72 just indicates a large number. And with this link to the list of nations, there may be a subtle hint of where Luke is going with his story. As we know, Luke continues with Acts which tells of the church moving out into the nations of the world.[2]

Today, I’m going to read this text from The Message translation. It’s a fresh way of hearing the gospel and you might compare it to the translation in your Bible or the one in the bulletin. 

70 or 72?

Read Luke 10:1-20

A few weeks ago, in my e-news, I mentioned the death of Fredrick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and popular author. One of the early books I read by him on the Appalachian Trail was Treasure Hunt. This book is part of his fictional series about a character named Bebb. While I don’t remember a lot about the book, and I lost it before finishing it, I do remember Bebb’s desire to do something big for God. Longing and struggle fill his life. His struggles are often of his own making. Looking back with a tinge of disappointment, he wonders if the best work he did for God was when he was a student and sold Bible’s door-to-door.[3]

Does God want us to do something big?

While there is nobility in wanting to do something big for God, I suggest it puts too much focus on us and not enough on God. After all, what can we really do for God by ourselves? Our God, who can call on the stones to praise him, is self-sufficient.[4] God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything, instead God desires our hearts, our trust, and for us to do our part.

“The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.” Jesus must have looked at my tomato garden, where I’m having a hard time getting them all canned and frozen for the winter. However, this saying implies that the job ahead requires a lot of people. It’s not up to just one or two disciples. The disciples are encouraged to humbly do their parts while praying for more laborers.  

Subsistence spirituality

In a newsletter I read this week, the author tells of hearing Barbara Brown Taylor speak of subsistence spirituality.[5] I like that term. She links it to the idea of being lean enough to survive a trek in the metaphorical wildernesses in which we live. We are empty, but we survive on the goodness of others and the gracefulness of our Savior. And that’s what the 70 or so disciples are called to do in today’s story. 

Comparison to Jesus sending out the 12

If you remember back about almost two months ago, when I began our exploration of Luke 9, we looked at Jesus sending out the twelve disciples.[6] Like this group, Jesus sent out his core group of disciples without much, for the purpose of building relationships. In Luke, when Jesus refers to disciples, he’s often talking about a lot more than the 12 that we often think of. Luke points out that there are many, including women, who are following Jesus around.[7] And now he’s putting them into action by sending them out, like he did the 12, to spread his message. 

Expectations Jesus places on the disciples

Interesting, however, Jesus sends out this large group even more unprepared than he sent the 12. While the 12 were not to carry a purchase or staff or bag or bread, at least it appears they could wear shoes or sandals. But the 70 are sent out barefooted. They get to feel every rock along the road and must be extremely careful they do not step on a cactus. So, they are sent out without anything but the clothes on their backs and the blessings and instructions of our Savior. 

Furthermore, they are to avoid conversations along the road. This sounds harsh, although maybe the pairs were allowed to talk to entertain themselves while on the highways. But why wouldn’t Jesus want them to share his message along the way? It appears, Jesus wants his message to be brought into homes, on a one-on-one encounter.[8]

Focus on in-home ministry

Jesus doesn’t send out his disciples to create large rallies, crusades, or revivals. Instead, the focus is on the individual and the family in the most intimate place for a 1st Century Jew, around their kitchen table. There, they are to accept the food that is placed before them. Again, bringing out this point, Luke may be foreshadowing the work of Jesus’ followers as they took the message out into a gentile world, which was far different than the kosher world of 1st Century Galilee.[9]

Handling rejection

Furthermore, when the evangelists are not welcomed, they are to leave. Yes, by shaking off their feet, they make a statement about the community in which they’ve visited, but they don’t leave without reminding the people that the kingdom of God has come near. 

Curse upon the Galilean town

While those Jesus sent out were traveling, Luke shifts his focus to Jesus who prophecies against several towns in Galilee. This region, which he’ll soon leave for Jerusalem, plays a prominent role in his ministry. Bethsaida is home for three of the disciples: Peter, Andrew, and Philip. These cities are warned. Even though they have seen and heard from Jesus firsthand and have produced disciples, they have rejected Jesus’ message. 

We know that not long after Jesus’ ascension, there was little church activity in Galilee. The early church began to focus on Jerusalem and later into Gentile lands. One of the interesting dynamics of the early history of the church is the shift from the agrarian Galilean hills to the urban centers of the world at that time.[10] The warning here can apply to us, too. If we have had a chance to witness Jesus’ grace and power and then deny him, judgment will be more severe than those who never heard of Jesus.

The result of the disciples’ missionary activity 

We’re not given any details of individual encounters, of which they must have been many as there were 35 or so pairs of disciples spreading the message. Their accomplishments are great for Jesus recalls seeing Satan cast from the heavens. The returning disciples are joyous. Jesus then ends this section with a warning to those returning. They are not to rejoice in their newfound power from Jesus. Again, as we saw last week, Jesus is ready to nip pride in the bud. Instead of rejoicing over their accomplishments, they are to be content that they have a reservation in heaven.

Wars won by many small actions

Jesus’ witness of Satan’s fall comes, not after any big battle that the disciples won, but by a lot of small actions that together make a real difference for God’s kingdom. It’s like a war. Winning a big battle may not result in ultimate victory. Again, our role as followers of Jesus is to carry out these small actions—showing the world that God’s kingdom is near and that it makes a difference in our lives. Furthermore, we should show the world that we trust in God. The disciples went out with nothing, but because God was with them, they accomplished much. 


Earlier, I used the term subsistence spirituality.” Such a spirituality is built on trust, on knowing that God is enough. The disciples experience this, going out barehanded to do the work of the Master. When it comes to building the kingdom, it’s not going to happen because we work hard. It’s going to happen because God works through us. So, keep following Jesus, and trust in God. Amen. 

[1] Revelation 21:1-2.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 302-305; I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 414-415; and Norval Geldenhuys, The International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984 reprint), 303-304. 

[3] Fredrick Buechner, Treasure Hunt (1977).

[4] Luke 19:40

[5] MaryAnn McKibben Dana quoting Barbara Brown Taylor. See https://mailchi.mp/49fd14c9f901/sabbatical-was-not-restorative?e=c107924306  Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and college lecturer has been considered one of the most effective preachers in America. 

[6] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/building-relationships/

[7] Luke 8:1-3. 

[8] Edwards, 307.

[9] Ibid. Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 145. 

[10] See James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2021)

Yesterday morning, before the rain

Dave, Blue Hole Canoes, Bill, Bob, and a book review 

Dave and my introduction to Blue Hole Canoes

In the winter of 1976, I was a freshman at University of North Carolina at Wilmington. One night, I attended the local Sierra Club meeting. The hot topic at the time was the protection of the New River, a river I’d paddled and felt I should become involved. I don’t remember much of the program, but I did meet Dave Benny that evening. Dave was close to twice my age, and an engineer at Dupont. He had recently purchased a Blue Hole canoe. Learning I also had a canoe (It was my first major purchase when I was sixteen), and had paddled several rivers in Southeast North Carolina, David picked my brain. Over the next six or seven years, until I left that part of the state, Dave or I would lead many of the canoe trips offered by the Wilmington chapter of the Sierra Club.  

The Unique Blue Hole Canoe

Dave’s Blue Hole was a unique canoe. I don’t remember why he decided to purchase a boat built for white water to run in the black water rivers in the eastern half of the state. But I was impressed how well it handled in narrow winding streams where there were lots of logs just under the surface. Those unseen logs would often catch the keel of my Grumman canoe. The Blue Hole had a flat bottom which helped it float them. Its design also allowed the paddler to quickly turn and to move easily across a fast current, a benefit when paddling in a swampy area during high water where the water flow wants to pull your boat out of the channel and into the swamps. 

A faded photo from the early 80s that I recently found. At Crusoe Island, Columbus County, NC, on a paddle down the Waccamaw River. I think Dave’s Blue Hole is the canoe to the right. The photo of me and the boats were either taken by Dave or another friend, Phil Morgan, who paddled with me one of the trips I made down the Waccamaw River.

However, when the river widens and the wind picked up, the flat bottom made the Blue Holes less desirable. One had to paddle harder to keep the boat tracking properly. Many of our trips would begin on smaller creeks and then end up on larger rivers, where Dave and whoever was paddling in his bow had to work harder than the rest of us. 

The Blue Hole was made of a new substance called Rolex ABS. It was much stronger than fiberglass and a lot quieter than aluminum, like the Grummans. In my boat, any bump on a submerged log or a drop of a paddle or water bottle into the boat would be announced to everyone. Dave’s boat was much quieter. 

Dave and the finer things in life

Dave and I didn’t paddle together much. We were generally in our own canoes, with each of us having another participant in our bow. But on occasion, the two of us would go out together to scout a new river or creek. Then, we’d often take Dave’s canoe. Dave seemed to have all the cool toys. As a middle-aged single man, he could afford such things. In addition to his canoe, he was the first person I knew with a Leica, a German camera known for its superior optics. He also purchased a Sea Gull 1.2 horsepower outboard motor. This British designed motor, I would later learn, was popular among sailors to power dinghies and rafts to and from a mooring. 

Dave obtained the Sea Gull motor so we could take a canoe upstream to check out new streams. After motoring upstream, we’d paddle back down to our vehicle. One such stream was Colly Creek, which flows into the Black River. That little motor pushed us upstream easily. But there were lots of weeds in the stream, which kept tangling up the prop and causing the sheer pin to snap. Dave, however, came prepared. We became very proficient at replacing sheer pins that day and when we had no more pins, we were in sight of a bridge we could use to launch from. It was time to turn around. We paddled with the current to our waiting vehicle at a bridge just downstream of the confluence with the Black River. Colly Creek became a favorite paddling stream, and I must have run that creek a dozen times. 

Leaving Eastern North Carolina and acquiring a Royalex Canoe

I left Eastern North Carolina early in 1984 and lost contact with Dave. In one of our last trips together, he had invited a woman along. I heard they later married. For a few years, I would occasionally hear about him from my brother who was also an engineer with Dupont, but in another factory. But then he retired and that was many years ago. 

My Mad River at a campsite along the Missinaibi River, Northern Ontario, 1992

As for my old Grumman Canoe, it was stolen in 1985. I would replace it with a Mad River Explorer. Like the Blue Hole, it’s also an ABS Royalex boat. However, instead of a totally flat bottom like the Blue Hole, it has a rocker bottom which allows it to track better downstream and on lakes. I still have that boat. I have paddled it in rivers in nine states as well as northern Ontario where I paddled to the James Bay. I have replaced the wooden gunnels twice, and it’s still a good paddling canoe. I must continue caring for that boat for they no longer make ABS Royalex.

Paddling with Bill in one of his Blue Holes
Bill and me

Two weeks ago, when I was at Montreat, a Presbyterian Conference Center in Western North Carolina, I met up with another old friend. Bill and I had been a part of the team who ran the youth program at First Presbyterian Church in Hickory NC. We both paddled a lot, but only once made one trip together, that I recall, on the Henry River (where parts of the Hunger Games would be filmed decades later). Bill, who has lived in Asheville for over 30 years, suggested we paddle the Tuckaseegee River. Bill’s canoes have multiplied. He now owns a trailer full and they’re mostly Blue Holes. On this day, he brought along a tandem boat which we paddled together. 

Meeting Bob Lantz
Bob Lantz on the deck of his cabin

We made our way down the river, through rapids named the 1st Hole, the 2nd Hole, the Slingshot. A short bit after running the Double Drop rapid, Bill suggested we drop in and see a friend of his. We found Bob Lantz at his cabin on the river and spent some time sitting out on his porch drinking a beer and talking. Bob was one of two designers for the Blue Hole canoe. After talking to him that day on the river, I decided that I needed to read his book. Doing so, I realized that Dave’s canoe would have been one of the earlier boats built by the company, only a few years after its founding. 

Sadly, Bob no longer paddles. He’s had a couple of knee replacement surgeries and cannot kneel in a canoe. But he does get to enjoy being on a beautiful river and watching canoes, kayaks, and rafts float by. 

Bill’s Blue Hole at the Take-out on the Tuckaseegee River


Bob Lantz, Lean Downstream!! The Whole History from Beginning to End of the Blue Hole Canoe Company 

(Bob Lantz, 1979), 231 pages with many photos and diagrams. 

This book contains many moving parts. It’s part memoir but includes engineering and business details of canoe construction along with bits about how to paddle and work to save rivers in Tennessee. Combining these elements, the reader learns much about the growth of canoeing as a recreation activity in the 1970s and 1980s. The author appears upfront with his honesty, admitting when he made mistakes. And his mistakes include a superior attitude of how to paddle before being taught proper techniques as well as business and personnel blunders while running a company. 

The book jump around a lot. However, the author warns the reader about this at the beginning. Lantz takes a thread and runs with it (such as the business of building canoes) then backtracks to fill in his personal details. He also tends to blatantly “foreshadow” what will happen in his writing by telling his readers he’ll get to it. However, the book is easily read. Lantz writes in a conversational style, not the technical style one expects from engineers. This less formal style seems to work well and serves the author’s purposes. 

The author claims this is the “whole history” of the Blue Hole Company. However, I couldn’t help but assume some things are left out. But such is the nature of any writing as we can’t cover or report on everything. I would suggest the book is a history of the company through the eyes of one of its major players.

This book is also a history of the personal life of the author. I must admit, I felt sorry for him. Lantz was suddenly single and middle aged, sitting by his wood stove on winter nights in an old Tennessee farmhouse. When I visited his cabin on the Tuckasseegee, I admired his stove. He seemed appreciative and said it was his second Jotul wood stove. His first one eventually burned out the sidewalls trying to heat his house on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. Reading the book, I realized the stove is a minor character in Lantz’s story. 

That said, I was impressed with what Bob, a former aerospace engineer, and friends were able to do. They developed a company that radically changed the sport of white-water canoeing. From the idea to build canoes out of Royalex, to their design and develop of aluminum gunnels (purposely using low-tempered aluminum) and thwarts, Blue Hole was a pioneer in the canoe industry. The company lasted for fifteen years (1973-1988). Sadly, internal struggles seemed to sink the company. When friction between partners increased, the bank called the loan and the company liquidated. 

I recommend this book to those interested in the development of canoeing in this country. Even if you don’t read it all, the book has great photos. As a warning, I doubt those uninterested in canoeing and rivers would find much enjoyment from the book. I am also grateful to the role the author and the company played in protecting several rivers in the Southeast. 

Called to Service, Not to Privilege

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
September 4, 2022
Luke 9:46-50

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, September 2, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Supposedly, the great 19th Century “Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, was met at the doors of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle one Sunday by an older woman. Greeting the preacher, she bragged that she had been very careful all week and hadn’t sinned at all. Taking this in, Spurgeon responded, “Well Madam, that must make you very proud.” “Yes, it does,” she responded, not realizing she’d stepped into a trap. 

Our salvation isn’t based upon what we do, but upon the mercy and grace of God as shown through Jesus Christ. While we are to avoid sin, our hope is not in avoiding it, but from trusting in God. When we think too highly about ourselves (or any groups to which we belong), we skate on thin ice. We risk becoming arrogant, and we trust ourselves instead of depending upon God’s grace.

Problems with pride

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” according to the book of Proverbs.[1] As followers of Jesus, we are called to be humble. Paul instructs the Corinthians, “if we boast, it should only be in the Lord.”[2]

Today, we’re going to consider two requirements of discipleship. Jesus expects us to be humble and willing to cooperate. These Christ-like values counter our pride, our yearning to be the best, and our willingness to exclude others. 

Before reading the scripture passage:

This is my sixth sermon on the 9th Chapter of Luke’s gospel. This section of the gospel focuses on discipleship as we see the disciples taking over the hands-on work from Jesus. We’re learned that discipleship is about building relationships, trusting God to multiple our effortsprofessing Jesus as the Messiahlistening to Jesus, and trusting that God knows best. Today, we’re going to see that discipleship also involves humility and cooperation. There is no place for pride and jealously. Next week, I’m skipping over the last section in Luke 9, which I preached onearlier in the year. Seven sermons on one chapter seems enough for one year! Then, next week, I will have one last sermon from the tenth chapter, before I move away from Luke’s gospel. When I return from vacation and study leave in mid-October, I plan to spend the period before Advent exploring Jesus’ prayer. But let’s now look at this last lesson to the disciples:  

Read Luke 9:46-50

Failure of the prideful

At the beginning of the 8th Grade, our church’s Jr. High Youth Group resumed meeting after taking the summer off. The first order of business was to elect officers. There were many of us in the 8th grade. We were ready to take over. One of classmates, Brian, wanted to be the president of the group. He’d talked about this to everyone in Sunday School. We all liked Brian and most of us assumed he’d make a good president. 

But then, as we gathered that Sunday evening, something happened. Our leaders asked for a volunteer to pray. Normally, getting a volunteer among Jr. High students to pray was like finding a volunteer for a root canal. Generally, either a leader would end up praying, or they would twist one of our arms half off, until we volunteer. But not this evening. When they asked for a volunteer, Brian’s hand shot up. We bowed our heads in reverence. 

In my 13 years, I’d never heard such blasphemy. Brian prayed for God to see to it that he was elected president. We must have all been offended. There are those prayers God doesn’t answer in the way we’d like, and this was one of them. As the ballots were collected, Brian failed to win. 

Pride is dangerous

Pride is dangerous. Jesus wants to nip pride in the bud when it rears its ugly head amongst the disciples. He knows pride can create division. It divides people into a “us and them” mentality that runs counter to the gospel of our Lord.  

Our text follows one of Jesus’ reminders that he was going to be betrayed. Think about that. Jesus just said he was going to endure a most humbling act—betrayal. But the disciples, as we saw two weeks ago, don’t understand. Jesus heads to the cross and the disciples’ debate who will be king of the hill. 

Of course, this wasn’t done openly, in front of Jesus. Perhaps the disciples knew better than that. Jesus, however, Jesus understands what they’re thinking. Jesus also knows that such competition among the disciples will destroy the unity he desires to build amongst them.[3] Instead of coming right out and reprimanding them, he calls over a child.

Children in the ancient world

This is one of those passages that is easy to read our values into the text. We see children as precious, and they are. That’s why we dote on them and spoil them. But in more ancient societies, where infant and childhood death was frequently a reality and families were much larger, people didn’t spoil their kids. They didn’t have the time or resources to spoil them. Instead, a child was just another mouth to feed until they were old enough to help in the fields or in the family trade. 

Ancient societies didn’t have the ability to be sentimental about children. Kids were seen, to use Jesus’ words, as one of the “least of these.”[4] Now, I’m not saying that parents didn’t love their kids back then, they did. But in a subsistent society, the child’s value grew once they could contribute to the family economy.[5]  

Jesus doesn’t respond with words here. Instead, he teaches with an example.[6] By pulling a child over to him, Jesus enacts the truth. This child represents the type of people the disciples must embrace and bring into the fellowship. Jesus isn’t saying here that we must be like a child.[7] Instead, he wants the disciples to be like him and to welcome the child (and to welcome the child-like).[8]

The church is not to be a place just for able body individuals, those who can help further the kingdom. Instead, the true church opens to everyone and must show hospitality even to those shunned elsewhere. 

Jesus: gentle and lowly in heart

In Matthew, Jesus says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”[9]  Jesus, whom we learn in Philippians 2, left heaven, and humble himself to come to us.[10] He does so to make himself accessible to everyone. 

We don’t (and can’t) do anything to make ourselves more open to Jesus other than opening our own hearts to him. We bring our burdens to Jesus; he invites us to do this in. Think of it this way. Our burdens qualify us to come to Jesus.[11] The verse in Matthew before the one I just quoted reads, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”[12]

The heart of Jesus

The heart of Jesus invites all to come to him. As a disciple of Jesus, we are also to be open and welcoming to everyone, including the “least of these.” Jesus displays humility through the practice of hospitality. Often, we are eager to show hospitality to those equal or even above us in status, but if we want to be Christ-like, we must be willing to show hospitality even to those, like a child in the ancient world, who have no status.[13]

Need for cooperation

Luke follows up Jesus’ teaching on humility with another story that illustrates the need for cooperation and not competition. John, who was a part of Jesus’ inner core, one of the three who witnessed the Transfiguration, tells his Master about how he and some of the other disciples helped protect Jesus’ reputation by rebuking someone who wasn’t a part of their team, but who cast out demons using Jesus’ name. 

I’m sure John thought Jesus would praise him for his diligence. “Way to go, John. Keep up the good work.” But that’s not what happens. It appears John thinks his position as a disciple comes with entitlements and privileges. He’s still having dreams of greatness. John must have forgotten what Jesus has said about service.[14]  


Jesus warns us against pride, exclusion, and competition. Instead, he wants us to be humble and to cooperate with others to help build a better society and to promote the kingdom, a kingdom in which all people are valued. Think about Jesus’ teaching here. What one thing can you do this week to humbly show God’s grace that would not bring attention to yourself, but to our Savior? It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be done privately, not for your glory but out of a desire to become more like Jesus. May we all have such a desire. Amen. 

[1] Proverbs 16:18

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:31, slightly paraphrased. 

[3] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 137.

[4] Jesus uses this term in the parable of the judgment of the nations. See Matthew 25:40. 

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 290-291. 

[6] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983 reprint), 287.

[7] In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does say that the disciples must become like a child, although Jesus encourages the disciples to welcome those like the child in both passages as well as in Mark’s gospel. See Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 9:33-37. 

[8] Edwards, ibid. 

[9] Matthew 11:29.

[10] Philippians 2:6-8.

[11] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 20.

[12] Matthew 11:28. 

[13] Craddock, 137.

[14] Edwards, 291-292. 

Good morning (view from my window at 6:30 AM)