Psalm 23: A Declaration of Confidence

Titled Slide "Psalm 23: A Declaration of Confidence" with a picture of the sunrise

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Church
April 30, 2023
Psalm 23

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, April 28, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

What do we really need? As you know, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he didn’t teach them to pray for abundance. Instead, as I talked about in the fall when I preached on the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus had them to pray for their daily bread.[1]Life, at least the abundant life we can have in Jesus, is not about accumulation but about trusting God. We need God in our lives more than anything else.

Before reading the Scriptures:

The 23rd Psalm is the best known of all the Psalms, at least for Christians. While it’s also in the Jewish Scriptures, it doesn’t have the same meaning. This is probably because of Jesus’ use of the image of the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John. 

However, we must be careful with the idyll feelings we bring to this passage. As one commentator on the passage notes, the Psalm is often seen as a picture of a cheerful, ideal relationship to God, but that’s not entirely accurate. Certainly, this doesn’t fit with other images of a shepherd’s work in the scriptures. He goes on to note that the aim of the Psalm is not to create a picture of a shepherd or even a little lamb. Instead, it places these actions side by side: the provisions a shepherd provides his flock, and the provisions God makes for those who trusts Him.” 

The shepherd is an example or a metaphor for God. It’s because the David has such trust in God that he can make this “declaration of confidence,” which makes it possible for him to compare a shepherd to God.[2]

This is such a familiar Psalm. Close your eyes and try to listen to it as I read the Psalm once again. 

Read Psalm 23

Augustine of Hippo, the great fourth century Christian theologian, answered the question I asked at the beginning of worship while reflecting on the 23rd Psalm. “Since my shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ, I shall not lack anything.”[3]

I think he’s right. After all, this Psalm has something for us all. Whatever we need, we can find it here. When things go well for us, we appreciate the nurturing implied by the green grass and still waters. When things are not going so well, it’s nice to be comforted and not left alone when traveling through dangerous and deadly valleys. Augustine relates the waters in Psalm 23, to baptism, a place where the broken and weak gain new life.[4]

3 parts to the Psalm

I am going to parse this Psalm into three sections. The first deals with that which we need in this life. We need food and water. We also need protection, guidance, and when we’re beat, restoration. 

The Lord as shepherd provides this to his sheep. He leads them to places where they can get a drink of water. He takes them to new pastures. Sheep will eat the grass down to the nub and sooner or later they will not be anything to eat. So, they must move on to new pastures. This allows the sheep to continue to eat while the grass in the previous pasture is restored. And in their travels, the shepherd gives the sheep time to rest and to restore their bodies for what’s ahead. 

An individual within a herd

While this is an individual Psalm, no shepherd takes care of an individual lamb. A shepherd has charge of a herd of lambs. When I lived in Utah, where the sheep business still thrives, I once listened in on a discussion as to whether a group of sheep should be called a herd or a flock. The Bible and Christmas carols seems to be on the side of flocks.[5] But an old resident of the desert southwest ended the debate. “I’ve seen plenty of sheepherders in this country,” he said. “Now, I want you to show me as sheep flocker.”  

I have no desire to settle that debate between herds and flocks today.[6] But I want us to acknowledge that this is an individual Psalm. It is attributed to David, shepherd as a boy, he sought after God and felt cared for by the Almighty. But this does not mean he saw this close relationship exclusively between him and God. It was something all who seek out the Lord can experience. 

Perhaps, the Psalmist who wrote this Psalm as an individual knew what it was like to be the lost sheep whom the shepherd leaves the herd behind to find.[7] While we’re in a community, we are also important to God as an individual. 

Shepherds and leadership

And while the sheep business was considered a dirty business even in the ancient world, the idea of a good leader was also metaphorically understood as a shepherd. The idea of a shepherd implied royalty and the shepherd’s crook was often used as a symbol of leadership. As one commentator on this passage notes, the metaphor of the Lord as a shepherd refers to what the Lord (and kings) should do.[8] And the same should also apply to pastors and leaders in church. Of course, humans never live up to God’s ideal.

The second part of the Psalm begins with a shift in language. Now David, the Psalmist, speaks directly to God, drawing the Lord even closer.[9] “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU are with me.” Those praying this psalm knows the shepherd’s presence. 

The rod and staff

We acknowledge that not all the paths we trod will be grassy or by still waters. There will be times we must be led through narrow canyons and along steep ledges, but the shepherd with his crook can guide us safely. The shepherd’s rod and staff are the same thing, it just depends on how they are used. As a staff, it can be used to catch a stray or falling animal by the neck and drag it to safety. But as a rod, it can be used beat off wolves attacking the sheep. 

Of course, the rod can also be used to chastise the sheep and keep them in line. The Hebrew scriptures speak of the rod for punishment.[10] Perhaps, because of this, Origen, another of the earlier theologians of the church, saw the rod as a warning filled with hope. “If you have sinned and see the rod of God threatening you, know that the mercy of God will not be far from you.”[11] The good shepherd wants to keep us together, less we stray and really get into trouble. 

The banquet

Then the Psalm slips from metaphor of the shepherd to one hosting a banquet. While the milk of the ewe is enough for a lamb, as they grow, they need more sustainable food. Likewise, as we mature as Christians, our diet changes. God strengthens us for what we must endure. [12]

Furthermore, the Psalm acknowledges that we have enemies in this world. There are those who would like to do us harm, but when we follow the shepherd, he watches over us. We are safe, feasting even when in danger. The oil pour out on our heads is an anointing, reminding us of God’s promises. Likewise, the cup overflowing reminds us of God’s abundance.

God in the Psalms and our enemies

An interesting insight into the Psalms is that they most often speak of weakening our enemies instead of fortifying us for battle![13] In other words, God does not prepare us to take over and be our own shepherd. We must always realize our dependence on our Lord. 

Part 3 ends the Psalm with hope, not just in the present but in the future. If God gives us life, we will experience goodness and mercy. This would have been David’s and the people of the Old Testament’s understanding of the Psalm. But because of Jesus, we have hope not just for life in this world, but in the world to come. 

For Christians reading the Psalm

For Christians, we cannot understand Psalm 23 without seeing the Lord as Jesus Christ, the good shepherd as we learn from the tenth chapter of John. There, we see that the true shepherd is one known by the sheep, unlike rustlers who attempt to drive the sheep away. If we hang close to the Good Shepherd, we’re promised everlasting life. Jesus also promises to lay his life down for those who follow him, which he did on the cross.

The Incarnation: Jesus as shepherd and sheep

Interestingly, Jesus is not just a shepherd.[14] The doctrine of the incarnation teaches us that Jesus is God and human. Likewise, Jesus is not just the Good Shepherd, he was also a faithful sheep, who came and gave his life for others. John the Baptist points this out before Jesus began his ministry, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”[15] In the book of Revelation, we find the lamb of God slain,[16] but also the resurrected lamb on the throne.[17]Having experienced both sides, Jesus knows what we endure in the world, even as he leads home to God the Father.[18]


When we pray the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm should be used regularly. In this short Psalm, we’re reminded of God’s abiding love. We are never alone in this world. That should give us courage and hope. May we always listen to and follow the Good Shepherd until that day when we are brought together under his rule in the life to come. Amen. 

[1] See

[2] Claus Westermann, The Living Psalms, J. R. Porter, translator (1984, English translation: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 134.

[3] Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms, quote from in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament VII, Psalm 1-50 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 178

[4] Augustine, 179.  

[5] Luke 2:8. See also Nahum Tate’s carol, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

[6] Maybe it has to do with the number of animals. A dozen ewes could be a flock, 1000 ewes (and most herds around Cedar City, UT had even more ewes) could be a herd.

[7] Luke 15:3-7.

[8] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 117.

[9] Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, Herbert Hartwell, translator (1959 German translation, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 229.

[10] Proverbs 13:24. 

[11] Origen, “Selections from the Psalms 23:4, quote from in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament VII, Psalm 1-50 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 180

[12] Augustine, 180.

[13] For this insight, I am indebted to a tweet by @CAHutch1990. “Has anyone done a count in the Psalms of how many verses are about God disarming the violent verses the strengthening the military might of his own people? Repeatedly, there are promises of God bringing justice, not by violence, but by the suppression of violence. 

[14] Scott Hoezee outlines this thought in his commentary on the passage. See  

[15] John 1:29, 36.

[16] Revelation 5:6, 7:17, 13:8

[17] The ending of Revelation begins with the “Marriage of the Lamb” and his rule. See Revelation 19:9; 21:22; and 22:1, 13, and 23.

[18] John 14:6.

Sunrise in the Blue Ridge Mountains, April 27, 2022
Sunrise, April 27, 2023

Review of Martin Clark’s “The Substitution Order” and other books

Author Clark title cover with his books

Years ago, I read several books by Martin Clark and reviewed them in an old blog. Clark, a retired judge, just down the mountain from me in Stuart, Virginia. I meet him in person about a year ago. I’ve finally have read and now reviewed his most recent book. Much of his recent book takes place around where I live and serve in ministry.

A note about my reading: We’re 1/3 of the way through 2023. When I reviewed my readings from 2020, I noted that I needed to read more fiction and books by women authors. So far, I have exceed my 2022 totals for both categories.

Martin Clark, The Substitution Order

book cover for The Substitution Order


(2019, New York Vintage Books, 2020), 338 pages.

A substitution order is a legal term for when an attorney turns over a case to another attorney and a judge has to sign off on the exchange. This is just one of a string of events Protagonist Kevin Moore secretly arranges to obtain revenge on those who had scammed and helped ruin his life even more than he had already done. On his own, attorney Kevin Moore quickly developed a cocaine habit after trying it at a law conference. The urge to get high led to his quick downfall, ending in an arrest, the loss of his law license, and his divorce. While he confesses his mistake, he didn’t need someone trying to scam him from legal malpractice. But that happened. 

With his life in ruins, Moore lives in a cousin’s house in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Disbarred, he leaves his legal career and now spreads mayonnaise on sandwiches at the SUBstitution, a Subway knock-off in Stuart, Virginia. Substitution orders and orders at SUBstitution, Clark is a master at double-entendres.  While working at the restaurant, Moore saves a puppy from a dumpster. He names the dog Nelson, and he becomes a part of Moore’s life.  A stranger offers him an opportunity to benefit on a scam. Moore who (except for three months) appears to have lived the life of a Sunday School superintendent, declines. The stranger who offers Moore the chance also threatens him if he doesn’t participate with them. 

It appears Moore’s life couldn’t get worse, but it does. A crooked probation officer plants dirty urine in his drug test as well as a gun and bags of drugs in his car. Moore finds himself in real trouble. 

In the middle of his problems, Moore has a stroke. Thankfully, a farmer who was renting farmland from Moore’s cousin, happened to be driving by and see’s Moore collapse. As a member of the local rescue squad and fire department, he rushes in. Seeing the obvious symptoms, he takes Moore in his truck down the mountain to the hospital. Moore slowly gets better and falls for a home health nurse. 

While he is getting better, he must deal with a legal malpractice scam. His insurance company is willing to settle, but Moore has an idea of what’s happening. To everyone else, Moore’s theory seems farfetched, and he must take things in his own hands. But everyone is skeptical. 

It looks like Moore is going to attempt to run from the law. But there are some twists in the plot. Despite a somewhat happy ending, Moore spends time behind bar. He also would prefer everything would not have happened and that he would have never tried cocaine. 

I enjoyed this book and surprised by the ending. My copy of the book came from a gift without an expectation of a review.

Martin Clark, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living

Book cover for "The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living"

( )

This is one crazy book. My life has been crazy for the past few weeks and it has been a pleasure to occasionally retreat into Evers Wheeling’s world. Wheeling, a young district court judge in Norton, North Carolina is bored and ready for adventure. It arrives one day when the beautiful Ruth Esther English, one of the top car sales associates in the Southeast, seeks his help with her brother’s trial. She must get her brother Artis out of jail to help her recover money and a letter left by her father. Wheeling refuses to do anything illegal to help Artis, but when his case comes up, the police have screwed up the evidence so that he has no choice but to free him.

Soon everyone, including Evan’s brother Pascal, are off on a trip to recover the hidden money in Salt Lake City. Pascal, like Evers, had inherited a small fortune from their parents. Unlike Evers, Pascal lived as the Prodigal (except there was no father to come home to), and after blowing much of his inheritance, spends his days living in a double wide, smoking pot. Evers also has a fondness for the weed and seems to get most of his caloric intact in the form of distilled spirits.

When I reviewed Clark’s other novel, Plain Heathen Mischief, I noted that it had more twist and turns than Lombard Street, San Francisco. The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living has more twist and turns than the highway out of Owen’s Valley and into Yosemite via Tioga Pass.

There are many characters and more than a few deaths and a lot of “who-done-it” questions. Those who die include Evers’ non-live-in wife (she refused to live in Norton). After Evers discovers her in bed with a “cow farmer,” they are locked in a divorce battle. Although her death seemed to be a suicide, it was also suspicious. At first, Evers seems a likely suspect, but then Pascal confesses although he later recants. Due to the many problems with his confession, he is offered a plea bargain that nets him only a couple of months in jail.

Of course, there’s more to the story but to tell it all would be to ruin the story. Read it and laugh. And don’t get too hung up on all the characters, because some just disappear without explanation and not all questions that are raised by the story get answered. The book may not be neat and tidy in that way, but such is life in a double-wide inhabited by a bunch of lazy pot smokers.

There are also many characters in the book. Paulette is a sharp dressed African American attorney from Charleston, West Virginia. Paulette represents Ruth Ester and later defends Pascal. Ruth Esther’s brother Artis is short and African American and obviously not blood related to his stately “white” sister. There are also boozing doctor and a handful of good ole boy cops. And then there are some mysteriously white tears. A hint of mysticism is found in the pages of the novel and at one point, I wondered if I was reading a legal thriller or fantasy. The mix-mash of characters create lots of humorous moments—such as when Judge Wheeling does a double take when he’s introduced to Artis, Ruth Esther’s brother, realizing there is no way they’re real siblings.

There are a few things in this book that I will have to blog about later. The first is the town of Climax, NC (yes, there is a town and when I was a high school debater, we often drove through it going to tournaments in the High Point, Greensboro, and Winston Salem area).

Next is William Jennings Bryan. The letter that Ruth Esther wanted was written by Bryan to a “teenage” lover of his, a letter which is real would have tarnished Bryan’s Puritan image. When I was in college, I did a paper on Bryan and discovered that I wasn’t at all interested in the Scopes Monkey Trial (for which he is remembered) but as him being a populist (probably in reality a socialist) candidate for President in 1896. He carried much of the nation. Although many in the religious right revere Bryan for being the prosecutor in the Scopes Trial, they would be horrified to realize that his political philosophy wasn’t anywhere near theirs.

The final thing I should blog about sometime is Salt Lake City. I’ve spent a lot of time in that city when I lived in Utah. Two corrections that I might suggest to Clark, you don’t need a cab to get from the Hilton to Temple Square (if I remember correctly, the Hilton is only two blocks west). Secondly, Mormons don’t’ wear crosses.

Martin Clark, Plain Heathen Mischief

Book cover for Plain Heathen Mischief

 (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2004), 398 pages. Reviewed in 2007

The Reverend Joel Clark has lost everything. The pastor of Roanoke’s First Baptist Church pleads guilty to having sex with Christy, a 17-year-old parishioner. He’s sent to jail for six months. When released, his wife serves him with divorce papers. He’s also issued a lawsuit from Christy. She hopes to receive five million for her emotional damages. With his world crumbling, he left with only one loyal friend, Edmond, who picks him up when he’s released and takes him to his sister’s house in Missoula, Montana.

On the way, they stop to see Sa’ad X Sa’ad, Edmond’s Las Vegas lawyer friend (Las Vegas, Edmond assures Joel, is just a little detour on the way from Virginia to Montana). Both guys are flim-flam men. They offer Joel a stake in an insurance scam. The disgraced preacher at first rejects the temptation, but when he’s unable to secure a job and he finds himself with a crook for a probation officer, he accepts the offer to make some quick cash so that he might help his sister and his former church (Good motives, bad ideas). As soon as he agrees to participate in the scam, Joel’s luck changes and he lands two jobs, one as a dishwasher and the other as a weekend fishing guide on Montana’s rivers.

Plain Heathen Mischief has more twist and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco. Every time I thought I had the plot figured out, Clark threw another twist. This book was anything but predictable; making it both enjoyable to read while keeping me from doing other things because I was unable to put it down. I will not spoil the ending of the book by giving additional details of the plot except to say that Joel’s interpretation of “having sex” is a lot broader than our former President’s interpretation.

Through the misfortunes of Joel, many which he brings upon himself, Martin Clark explores ethics and morality. By seemingly resigning himself to the notion that he must do something, and the end justifies the means, Joel finds himself deeper and deeper in trouble. Although he preached grace, Joel appears to have little of it for himself. He seems to think it’s up to him to keep his former congregation and his sister afloat. Such a burden almost drowns him. The book also demonstrates how wrong we can often be about other people and their motives. Although Joel is an educated man with a master’s degree, he is naïve, which provides many comic scenes throughout the book.

I wonder about Martin Clark positioning Joel as a Baptist minister. In many ways, he seems Baptist in name only. I don’t know too many Baptist ministers (or any or ministers for that matter) who keeps Aquinas’ Summa on the nightstand. Joel also reads Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr and Barth. Although Joel doesn’t drink, he doesn’t have a problem being with those who do, as we learn when he enjoys a night in Vegas, accompanied by Edmond and Sa’ad and three beautiful women.

My favorite characters in the book are Sophie (his sister) and Dixon (his boss at the outfitting service). Like Joel, Sophie’s life crumbled when her well-off doctor husband left her and took off for France in the hopes to make it as an artist. Although she has problems with organized religion, she comes off as a good person who refuses to cut corners or to do anything that’s morally questionable. Likewise, Dixon is a person who tries to do right. I love his comparing churchgoing to the blues.

Churchgoin’ to me is a lot like blues music. Everybody always talks it up, says great things about it, and you know its supposed to boost your soul, but when you actually do it, when you go sit in a smoky club for two hours hearing some old brother with a bum leg an a pair of Ray-Bands play the same slow, self-indulgent, strung-out three notes and squeeze his eyes shut, you start thinking, man, his crap ain’t so hot. Truth is, you’d rather be down at the Holiday Inn lounge tossin’ back dollar shooters, pawing the strange women and dancing to disco… (page 263)

My only complaint is that the book is a bit long. The story could be tightened up a bit, which I think might make the book funnier. However, I’m really shouldn’t complain. Not only did I enjoyed the book, I didn’t want it to end. I’m looking forward to reading Clark’s other book, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living. Martin Clark is a circuit court judge who lives in Stuart, Virginia. 

Martin Clark, The Legal Limit 

Book cover of "The Legal Limit"

(New York: Alfred Knopf, 2008), 356 pages

Mason Hunt, the Commonwealth Attorney, has come a long way from his horrific childhood with an abusive father. Respected in the community, he’s married to a devoted and sexy wife. They have a beautiful daughter and live on a gentleman’s farm. He also has a dark secret, one that can destroy him. And then, fate turns against him. His wife is killed in a tragic car accident and his convict brother, with whom he shared the secret, decides he’s going to use the secret to get himself out of jail. Life unravels.

Gates Hunt, Mason’s older brother, took the blunt of his father’s blows, often protecting his younger sibling. Gates was a promising football player, but couldn’t hold it together and as a young adult, slipped into the world of drugs and crime. Mason graduates from college and goes on to law school. Home one weekend, Mason and Gates are riding together when they have a run-in with Wayne Thompson, Gates’ girlfriend’s ex. They were on a remote road, no one was around. Threatened, Gates pulled out a pistol, shoots and kills Wayne. The two of them flee. Mason creates alibis, which they rehearse over and over. He also takes his brother’s pistol and disposes of it. The crime goes unsolved.

Twenty years later, Mason has come back to his hometown as the prosecutor. His brother, having shunned a plea bargain and demanded a jury trial for a drug bust, is serving a long sentence in the state penitentiary. As a single parent after his wife’s death, Mason finds himself struggling to raise a teenage daughter. He also finds himself being wooed into supporting a business opportunity for the country, an opportunity which promises short-term jobs and is funded with money from the state’s tobacco settlement. Then, to get out of prison early, his brother fingers him in the unsolved murder of Wayne Thompson.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it suffices to say that Mason’s troubles are never truly over. The book demonstrates how secrets come back and haunt us. We also see howitzers are nearly unredeemable. Finally, we see how we get caught in our lies. Except for his youthful mistake, helping his brother beat a murder rap, Mason is a good man. In fact, his honesty and integrity (in all but this one area of his life) causes his downfall (he wasn’t about to let an innocent man take the fall for his brother’s crime).

This book raises many questions for the reader to ponder. What role does fate play? Why was Gates the older brother? Why does one’s wife die in an accident? It also raises questions about the evil intentions of some people (Gates, prosecutors, those in law enforcement, and those involved in schemes to spend tobacco money on a questionable development which only promise that they’ll be financially rewarded). Another question is about loyalty to family (Mason to Gates, Mason’s mother relationship to Gates, Mason to Curtis, his colleague who also have secrets, and Mason to his daughter). And finally, as the reader I pondered the question of justice. Was justice done in the case? Not really. We’re reminded of the Thompson family and their questions. A better question might be, “Could justice be done in this case?”

I enjoyed this book. The Legal Limit is not as funny as Clark’s other two novels, but in many ways, this is a more serious and tightly constructed work. I’m still pondering the ending of the book. Although I think I understand what Clark is driving at, I also feel that the ending is the weakest link in Clark’s cleverly told story. 

Psalm 116: Giving God Thanks

Title slide "Psalm 116: Giving God Thanks

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
April 23, 2023
Psalms 116

At the beginning of worship

You’ve heard it said before, I’m sure, that “no one gets out of here alive.” Sooner or later, our ride on Planet Earth ends. It’s a paradox of our faith.[1] We believe God will save us. But we also know our ultimate salvation will not be in this life but in the life to come.[2]

We must trust God. We believe that when we take our last breath on earth, there’s something more ahead. We are unable to go there by ourselves. We depend on God’s help. The hope we have in the resurrection to life everlasting isn’t anything we can prove or completely understand. We accept it on faith. Only God can call us forth from this life to the next. 

Before reading the Scripture

Our text today will be the 116th Psalm. The Psalm has often been recited at the Jewish Passover meal as well as the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Passover reminded the Jewish people of their freedom from Egyptian bondage.[3] Our Lord’s Supper reminds us of the freedom we enjoy from our sins which was purchased by Jesus’ death and the hope we have in his resurrection.[4]

This is a psalm from an individual who offers thanksgiving to God for having been saved from some predicament. We don’t know the nature of his troubles. Perhaps enemies closed in on him or maybe it was illness. Whatever his concern, the Psalmist was near death when he cries out to God and God acts. Saved from death, he now lives in God’s debt. For this reason, he comes before the people to pay the vow he made to God as he praises the Almighty. 

Read Psalm 116

“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” The Psalmist asks in verse 12. Having just acknowledged that he cannot trust people (“they’re all liars,” he says), he knows he can trust God because of his past experiences. 

Like Psalm 16, which we looked at last week, things are going well for the one who wrote this psalm. Of course, he has had troubles. Perhaps an illness had him close to death, or maybe he was attacked and surrounded by enemies who were out for blood. “The snares of death encompass me,” he informs us. 

Bargaining with God

Whatever the actual nature of his trouble, we don’t know. But it was real; he thought he might die. But that was in the past. The Psalmist cries out to God. He may have even done some bargaining with God. Do you ever do this? “God, if you can just help me get through this, I will go to your temple and praise your name and offer all kinds of sacrifices,” might have been his prayer. “God, if you help me this one time, I’ll be in church every Sunday,” we might pray. But do we follow through?

Not every request is granted

God is gracious and, in this case, God answered his prayer. Now, we should acknowledge that not every prayer gets answered in the way we’d like or hope. There are those who become sick and never recover. There are those whose enemies slay them. And don’t think we live in a more peaceful time than the Psalmist.

We live in a violent world

Sadly, the shootings we’ve seen this past week demonstrate this. An innocent mistake as person knocks on the wrong door and a shot ring out. Or a group of kids turn up the wrong driveway and from a distance porch someone fires a rifle at the car. Or the cheerleaders who mistake someone else’s car for their own and there’s a shot.[5] Or a basketball rolls into a disgruntled neighbor’s yard, and a kid is shot.[6] Sadly, we live in a world where people often act before they think. Or, in these cases, they grab their guns before their victims had time to explain or even cry out a prayer to God. Heaven help us!

We have a problem in our nation. That’s not the subject of this Psalm, but it’s worth pointing out. We need to understand it’s not just about our individual rights, but that all of us have rights and they overlap. God has created us all and for that reason alone, we are all precious, even the most flawed among us. That’s why community is most important. We need to treat everyone in a godly manner. Now back to the Psalm. 

Trusting God first

Even with terminal sickness or in the middle of a violent situation, we’re called on to do what is right and to trust God. We hold to the truth, as proclaimed by Paul, that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[7]

As I talked about earlier, for whatever reason, God saved the Psalmist. We should clarify this. God saved the Psalmist this time. This is important. Obviously, death caught up with him sooner or later. It does with all of us. Although we are not told of his death, we can assume Lazarus, who was raised by Jesus himself from the grave, returned to the world of the dead.[8] After all, no one has seen him run around Bethany since the first century. Sooner or later, this life comes to an end. But that’s getting ahead of our story.

The importance of giving thanks

Having experienced God’s grace in his (temporary) salvation, the Psalmist feels he must respond. You know, as my mother taught me, when you are given a gift, you should write a thank you note. It’s the proper thing to do. But the gift the Psalmist received was so great, a thank you note wouldn’t suffice. 

A friend notes how when someone gives us five bucks to buy a slice of pizza at a food court, we should acknowledge it. We might say, “Thanks, Dude,” and maybe even give a slap on the back. But what if you were dying of a kidney disease and that friend gave you their extra kidney? “Thanks, Dude,” doesn’t cut it. Does it? We would be indebted to this person for the rest of our lives. From that point on, every breath we take can be credited to the gift of a kidney.[9]

This is the position the Psalmist finds himself in. The grace he’s experienced is so great. He must respond in a way that’s grander than lying in bed and saying, “Thank you, God,” as he falls asleep for the night. So, he heads to God’s holy city, Jerusalem. There in the presence of all God’s people, probably in the temple even though it’s not mentioned in this Psalm, he makes his sacrifice and praises God. 

The importance of community

It’s important for him to be in community. In our faith, community is important for believers, even in prayer. Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

The assumption that prayer is what we do when we are alone—the solitary soul before God—is an egregious, and distressingly persistent, error. We imagine a lonely shepherd on the hills composing lyrics to the glory of God. We image a beleaguered soul sinking in a swamp of trouble calling for help. But our imaginations betray us. We are part of something before we are anything, and never more so that when we pray. Prayer begins in community.[10]

So, our Psalmist goes before the community of faithful. In verse 16, he humbles himself, acknowledging that he’s a servant of God. Then he points out that this isn’t something he came up on his own. His mother was also a servant. In other words, his faith was passed down to him. 

But while he learned his faith from his parents and family members, it was this experience that really sealed his faith. And for this reason, he offers thanksgiving and sacrifices to God in public. He wants others to see what God has done for him, so that they might also place their hope in the Lord. 


Psalm 116 reminds us that our prayers should not just be offered in private. We’re to witness to the world what God is doing in our lives. As Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, we’re to let our light shine.[11] May we always praise God and give God thanks for the blessings we have experienced. Amen. 

[1] I came across this term from Scott Hoezee. See

[2] See 1 Corinthians 15

[3] Psalms 115-118 are known as the “Egyptian Hallel” and associated with the fourth cup in the Passover. James L> Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 371.

[4][4] May, 372. 



[7] Romans 8:38-39.

[8] See John 11. 

[9] Scott Hoezee used this illustration. 

[10] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 84.

[11] Matthew 5:16.

Lower dam on the Dan River with fire catcher (red star-like flower) in foreground
Lower Dam below Mayberry with fire catcher in bloom

Three Reviews: History and Theology

Photos of three books reviewed in this post

Bill Bryson, One Summer: America 1927 

(Random House Audio, 2013) 17 hours and 3 minutes.

book cover of One Summer,  America 1927

I can’t say I have given much thought of what happened in the summer of 1927, but Bryson is able to make the year come alive. It was a time when America was on top of the world in most areas except for aviation. Partly due to the Great War and the invocations made before our entrance into the war, Europe held the lead. By 1927, commercial passenger flights were flown between London and Paris. While few American cities had airports, most cities in Europe did. Against this background was the “race” to fly non-stop from the United States to Paris. Most people thought larger planes with a crew to handle the flying and the navigation were required. Many of the top contenders were Europeans. Then Charles Lindberg comes on the scene, flying solo in plane without even a front window. Lindberg had barnstormed and flew across country for the postal service. He would surprise the world as he flew across the Atlantic and landed in Paris.  Afterwards, New York City gave Lindberg the largest ticker tape parade seen up to this point in history. He would tour the country receiving parade after parade. 

Other things also happened in America in 1927. This included Babe Ruth hitting a season homerun record that stood until the early 1960s.  It was also a great year for another support, boxing. 

In the political world, President Calvin Coolidge, not known for many words, made a sparse announcement. He was on vacation in South Dakota, where he informed gathered reporters that he would not seek his party’s nomination for the Presidency in 1928. Also in South Dakota, workers started carving on Mt. Rushmore. Others feared archaists and the summer would include the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, two suspected archaists. America feared communists and radicals led to restricted immigration. Others took an interest in eugenics, a pseud-science that sought to create a better humanity by discouraging births of those supposedly of those of an inferior race.  The Klux Ku Klan also enjoyed a national revival with their anti-black, Jewish, and Catholic views.

Ford Motor Company shut down its production of the Model T during the summer as it retooled for the Model A. Henry Ford, himself, who had shown his antisemitic strips in his newspapers, would cease making such statements. In Hollywood, motion pictures began to shift toward the “talkies.” A private meeting between the top bankers from the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany were held. Their decisions would guide the world toward the Great Depression. 

Bryson ties together these stories and more in a readable and sometimes even in a humorous manner. At the conclusion of the book, he looks ahead to the troubles of the Great Depression and the rise of fascism which led to Lindberg’s downfall from the public eye. America’s beloved aviator had befriended many in Nazi Germany and encouraged the United States to remain neutral as war clouds began to gather. 

As I have enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Byson (especially A Walk in the Woods and Thunderbolt Kid, this book was a delight. I recommend it as a look back at our country almost a century ago.  

Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter 

(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 360 pages plus copies of historical artwork depicting Jesus’ passion and resurrection appearances and notes.

Book cover of "The Undoing of Death"

These 42 sermons begin on Palm Sunday and continue through Easter Week, with most falling on Good Friday. The cross is central to Rutledge’s theology. She develops her theology of God reaching out to humanity through the cross. She defends the cross from distractors who either ignore or downplay its role in salvation history. Most of these sermons were not preached on Sunday morning. Rutledge often humorously builds up her audience by congratulating them on their faithfulness for showing up at worship. 

These sermons are faithful to scripture. Rutledge not only builds her message from the text supplied. She also draws on other passages from the Bible to support her message. Her sermons reflect on issues going on in the larger world. Sometimes, she mocks the Jesus Seminar and others who like to “publish” scandalous ideas about the faith around Holy Week. She also makes it clear in many sermons that all of us are responsible for Jesus’ death, that it is not something to be pinned on the Jews. 

This is a classic series of sermons and I’ll return to this resource during holy week. While I have known of Rutledge’s work and have read her articles and sermons in magazines, this is only the second book of hers that I read. During the last Season of Advent I read her book, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. Like her Advent book, I recommend this collection of sermons. 

Caroline Grego, Hurricane Jim Crow: How the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893 Shaped the Lowcountry South

Read by Diane Blue (University of North Carolina Press, Tantor Audio, 2022), 12 hours and 35 minutes.

Book cover of Hurricane Jim Crow

A late August 1893, a hurricane struck Hilton Head and the South Carolina lowcountry. The death toll included an untold number of African Americans who lived and worked in the region. The storm brought environmental destruction. Most of the crops died on the vine while salt water inundated many of the wells. Thousands of homes were unlivable, and the main industry (phosphate mining and fertilizer production) was ruined. The storm along with the rise of white supremacy would greatly change the region forever. 

The 1893 storm occurred in the aftermath of the Reconstruction and as Jim Crow laws were enacted in the South. This created even more hardship for the former slaves in the low country. Grego explores the development of the region with its crops of sea island cotton and rice cultivation. Because the climate and disease, most of the whites who controlled the region abandon it during the summer months. The slaves in the low country developed a certain autonomy. Early in the Civil War, the Union captured parts of the low country. This allowed them places to refuel and supply ships setting up the blockade of the southern ports. And while the slaves were not immediately freed, this allowed them to live without the oppressive oversight of their owners. After the war, former slaves were able to own much of the land. Beaufort even had a black sheriff during this era. Most of the African Americans owned small farms that raised some cash crop along with subsistence food. 

The storm was so destructive that it set in force a series of events that decreased the African American hold on the region. The Red Cross responded to the storm. They found themselves torn between those wanting white control of the region and the needs of the former slaves. Some white organizations within the state responded to a mistaken belief the Red Cross gave preferential treatment to blacks by creating a white-only relief organization. Grego explains how the white controlled governments surrounding the low country along with the state worked to encourage black migration. Theysought to bring this region into the Jim Crow era. Such events continued even into recent history as the region was “rediscovered” and many of the islands are converted to gated communities. 

Of course, it was not only the storm that helped create an unfavorable environment that forced many of the blacks within the low country to move or to lose their land. Grego acknowledges the role of technology and cheaper production methods. Rice in the low country died out. This was because of fewer workers and cheaper methods of growing it in the Mississippi delta. The same is true with cotton, which also suffered from the boll weevil. 

At the end of the book, Grego speaks of the “rediscovery” of the region. As it becomes a more popular destination, property prices and taxes go up, which continue to force out those whose families have lived on this land for centuries. 

MY interest in the book and recommendations

I have been interested in this book since I first learned of it. From 2013 to 2020, I lived on Skidaway Island, in the low country of Georgia. This island was settled by former slaves after the Civil War. They abandoned the island after a later storm in the 1890s, I was curious as to the parallels. Grego mentions the other storms that destroyed communities along the coast and set up new communities on the mainland like “Pinpoint.” The residents of Pinpoint were known for seafood, especially oysters. Sadly, they lost their income in the 1960s when a causeway was built between the mainland and Skidaway Island. The causeway changed the salinity of the water and much of the area no longer produced oysters. 

Grego mentions white “Red Shirts” who terrorized the black population in the later part of the 19th Century. I am curious about this group. A similar group also known as Red Shirts existed at the time in Wilmington North Carolina. In 1898, they brought terror on the black population of Wilmington and led a violent coup against the local government. 

I wish I had read instead of listened to this book. The book is academic. While the woman who reads the book is clear and easy to understand, I found it choppy. By increasing the speed, I was able to mitigate this to some extent. As a warning, I am sure that many people might consider this book within the genre of “Critical Race Theory.”  However, it’s history and we need to deal with it. I am glad to have read learned more about a region I called home for over six years.  

Praying when things are going well

Title slide with photo of redbuds in bloom

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
April 16, 2023
Psalm 16

Sermon taped at Bluemont on Friday, April 14, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

How do we learn to pray? How do we learn to talk to God? Last fall, I spent six weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer, which is one way we can learn the patterns of prayer. But another tool we have from scripture to teach us to pray are the Psalms. I will spend the next sixth Sundays that make up the Easter season looking at six different Psalms. 

Eugene Peterson in his helpful book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayers, reminds us that while prayer is a human tool, it’s not a tool for “doing or getting, but for being and becoming… God uses prayer to work his will in our bodies and souls. Prayers are also the tools we use to collaborate in God’s work with us.”[1] And it’s in the Psalms, which touch on all human experiences and emotions, that we learn how to go deeper in our prayer life. 

Before reading the Scripture:

As this is the second week of Easter, I’ll begin our exploration of the Psalms with the 16th. In the early church, this was an important Psalm. Both Peter and Paul use it in their sermons as a reference to the resurrection found in the Old Testament.[2] The Psalm is attributed to David. Now I am not going into the details of whether David was the actual author, or his name was just attached to the Psalm. We can’t prove either. I will refer to the author as either David or the Psalmist. 

In the title, we’re told this Psalm is a Miktam of David.[3] The problem is that one knows what “Miktam” means. The Reformer Martin Luther suggests it may mean “a golden jewel.”[4] Whether or not Luther is right about the translation of this word, he is right about this psalm. It’s a golden jewel.”

Read Psalm 16

This Psalm can be divided into three parts, and we might use this breakdown in our prayers. 

Part 1:

First, the Psalm begins with a petition for God’s protection. Unlike many of the Psalms, we don’t know if something threatens the Psalmist. In Psalm 17, also attributed to David, informs us of the wicked who despoil him and the enemies who surround him. But here in the 16th Psalm, we’re not provided any indication David is surrounded by enemies or threatened in any way. Instead, he takes comfort in God, because of his relationship to God and what God has done for him. 

You know, we don’t have to be threatened to call out to God in prayer. Of course, God wants us to bring our concerns to him. When endangered, we may cry out, “Help me, God.” That’s okay. Jesus prayed intently in Gethsemane when troubled.[5] But we can, and should, also pray to God, confessing our trust in the Almighty. On this Sunday after Easter, we may feel like things are going well for us and instead of ignoring God, we should give thanks.

The Psalmist not only takes refuge in God, but also acknowledges a good Calvinist view of life. “I have no good apart from God.” God, as Calvin often noted, is the fountain of all goodness.[6]

The Psalmist, in verse 3, also finds hope and delight in the “holy ones” or the others who trust God in his community. He’s not like Elijah, crying out to God saying I’m the only one left.[7] He has friends. Our faith is nurtured within a community, and it appears the Psalmists has benefited from such a group of people. Verse 2 in the Message translation reads this way, “And these God-chosen lives all around—what splendid friends they make!” 

By the way, this is to be a goal of the church, to help people grow in their trust in God. We’re to encourage one another, as the Psalmist has been encouraged.

Of course, not everyone has the faith of the Psalmist. In verse 4, we learn there are those who have chosen another god (that’s god with a lower case “g”). They multiply their sorrows, and the Psalmist reaffirms his faith as he insists on avoiding their sacrifices. This Psalm comes from the Hebrew community, a people who were always surrounded by other nations that worshipped and sacrificed to other gods. But the Psalmists testifies that he will hold fast to the God of Israel and not chase after other gods who seem, at the time, to hold more promise. 

Part 2

After seeking God’s protection and declaring his faith, the Psalmist moves into the second part of this Psalm where he speaks of why he is confident of God’s trust. To put this in the vernacular, he knows who butters his toast, or the hand that feeds him. God provides his substance and the land upon which he lives. As a good steward, he credits God for all he enjoys in life. He acknowledges he has a goodly heritage. 

But God does more for the Psalmist than giving him a chuck of the Promised Land and food. He is attuned to what’s going on enough to know that God communicates with him through his conscience. For his part, the Psalmist always keeps God in front of him. Interesting, the Psalmist doesn’t mention obeying God’s law. His trust in God isn’t out of a fear of what God might do to him if he failed. Instead, he has a much more intimate connection with the Almighty. He must know that his hope isn’t in his actions, but in God’s. 

I always pray before I fall asleep for the night. And during this time of prayer, I try to think back over the day and to see where I have experienced God and where I have struggled. Doing this and bringing my thanks and concerns to God right before sleep, puts me into a frame of mind that I might more easily hear God. It is amazing how many times I have woken up, sometimes at 4 AM, with a clearer view of what’s going on. But we must be open to the Almighty for us to experience such truths, as the Psalmist does. 

Part 3

Our third section begins with verse 9. Having asked God’s protection and acknowledged God’s presence, the Psalmists rejoices in his hope discovered in a faithful life. His heart is glad, his soul rejoices, and he can rest secure. I suggest this is another reason to pray before bed. We fall asleep feeling secure in the God who neither slumber nor sleeps. God stays with us, day and night, Psalm 121 reminds us.[8]  

Eugene Peterson reminds us that the end of prayer is praise.[9]Interestingly, the Book of Psalms ends with a series of “halleluiah Psalms.” Psalm 145 through 150 all begin with “Praise the Lord.” And here, at the end of Psalm 16, we find David praising the Almighty. Knowing God hears our prayers should be reason enough to pray.

Ironically, the Psalmist even finds comfort in the face of death. For the Psalmist, death isn’t just the opposite of life. Death implies we’re totally cut off from God, which is a reason to fear it. Being tossed in the pit, being forgotten, is scary. But the Psalmists knows God won’t abandon him. His hope is found in the promised presence of God. Life and joy go together.[10] God shows the Psalmist and us the path of life. 

The God of the Psalmist

The God of the Psalmists is not the wrathful angry God we often think of from the Old Testament. No, this God is more like the shepherd leading us by the still waters and protecting us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.[11] But to experience such a God, we must try to know and to trust God. God sends Jesus to show us the way and then raised him from the grave, to give us hope, not just for joy in this life, but in the life to come. 


So, what can you take from this Psalm? A reminder that even when things are going well, we should acknowledge that we trust, not ourselves, but God. Secondly, like the Psalmist, we should all strive to improve our communication with God. And finally, we should delight in God so that even at the grave we can sing “Alleluia.”[12]  May it be so. Amen. 

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God; The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 2.

[2] Acts 2:31(25-31) and 13:35. 

[3] Miktam psalms are all related to David. See Psalms 56-59. Leonard VanderZee, “Psalm 26 Commentary.”  

[4]  Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, translated by Herbert Hartwell (1958 (German publication), Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 172, n.1

[5] Matthew 26:36ff.

[6] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.2.1.

[7] I Kings 19:10.

[8] Psalm 121:4-5.

[9] Peterson, 121.

[10] James Luther Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 88. 

[11] Psalm 23:3-4.

[12] One of the sayings that I use in the commendation in a funeral or at the grave uses this line, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” See Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Common Worship, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2018), 793

Redbuds in bloom

Saving Damsels: a memoir

12 years earlier, at the beach (and obviously going to church) with my grandparents and my uncle. I must have been about one and have no memory of this trip..

From the time I was twelve till I started working at the age of sixteen, I spent at least two weeks every summer with my grandparents. These lazy summer days were spent doing odd chores around their house and yard, racing bicycles with the kids next door, and occasional going with my grandmother to visit relatives, dead and alive. Some were living and others were dead. She felt I should know where all my ancestors were buried. 

Every afternoon, my granddad would come home a little after five. Getting out of his truck, he’d yell, “Ready to go fishing?” Grandma had dinner ready. As soon as we finished, the two of us could take off to a lake, a beaver dam, or some farm pond where we’d fish till either a cloud blew up or the light had drained from the sky. Then we’d head home. Out back, under the floodlights by the porch, we’d clean our catch. Often, the next day, my grandma would fry up a mess of them for our dinner. 

It was wonderful to fish with my granddad, but he wasn’t much of a talker when fishing. Instead, he allowed me to have a bit of independence and freedom, as he’d go one direction and send me off the other. I valued the freedom, but now wonder if the real reason was my granddad’s belief that fish could hear you talking. To fish, one needed to be quiet.  

On this one evening, we fished in a rather large pond downhill from a house that belonged to people my granddaddy knew. They were not home. We drove around the house and my granddad parked his truck by the dam. With his fly rod, which is now one of my prize possessions, he fished one side of the lake. I crossed the dam and fished the other. I used a spinning rod and a Rebel, a top floating lure that when pulled fast would dive to about a foot under the surface and wiggle in a way that sometimes drove bass crazy. 

After a few minutes of casting and coming up without a strike, I heard the muffled cry of a woman calling for help. I looked, but didn’t see anyone. The voice seemed to come from behind my grandfather, yet he didn’t seem fazed. When the cry came again, I shouted at my grandfather.  He waved, said it was okay and that I was disturbing the fish. Well, it certainly didn’t sound okay and if someone was in peril, that should take precedence over fishing. When the cry came a third time, I knew someone was in trouble.

I dropped my rod. Checking to make sure my Kabar knife was safely stowed in its sheath on my belt, as I ran as fast as I could around the dam and up the hill. I kept yelling for my grandfather to join me., I couldn’t believe his hearing had gotten so bad, yet granddad didn’t budge. Instead, he yelled, “Come back here.” But I kept running. In my mind I had an image of saving some beautiful damsel in distress. I topped the hill, near the house, and started looking around frantically. 

There was no woman in peril. Instead, there was peacock. Its feathers were displayed like the NBC logo. I didn’t think much about it, except that it was strange. Peacocks are not native to the Sandhills of North Carolina. After a few minutes of looking around and seeing nothing, I walked back down the hill toward my granddad. About halfway down, the cry came again. I turned and saw the peacock up on top of the hill emitting that high pitched cry and heard my granddad laugh behind me. Feeling a bit foolish, I went back to my fishing. 

It’d have to wait for another day before I could make my debut as the new Lone Ranger.

Click here for another memoir piece of fishing with my grandfather.

Easter Sunday 2023

photo of dogwood in bloom in front of Bluemont Church

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches

Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023
Matthew 28:1-15

At the beginning of worship:

The resurrection happened on the first of the week. It did not happen on the Sabbath, the holy day, but on what in the first century was a workday. Something new occurs. The Sabbath ends at sunset and before the sun rises, the women head to the tomb. God, in Jesus Christ, is resurrected and as Christians, we now hollow this day, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection.[1]

Before reading the Scripture:

We’re reading this morning from Matthew. We might think of this as the story of the resurrection, but that’s not right. None of the gospels tell us about the resurrection itself. Instead, we’re told of the encounters the women and disciples had with the resurrected Christ. The resurrection remains shrouded in mystery, for when the two Marys arrived at the tomb, Jesus was no longer there. Matthew always reminds us that from the beginning there was an effort to cover up what had happened. Listen.

Read Matthew 28:1-15

Once there was a man with a pet lamb. He fed it by hand and played with it every day. When hard times came, he was forced to take his pet lamb to the market to sell. Now there were three thieves who heard of the man’s plan and plotted to take it away from him in a clever way.

Early in the morning the man rose and put the lamb on his shoulder and began the journey to the market. As he traveled down the road, the first thief approached him and asked, “Why are you carrying that dog on your shoulder?” The man laughed, “This is not a dog, it’s my pet lamb and I am taking him to market.

After he walked a little farther the second thief crossed his path and said, “What a fine dog you have there. Where are you taking it?” Puzzled, the man took the lamb off his shoulders and looked carefully at it. “This is not a dog,” he said slowly. “It is a lamb, and I am taking it to market.”

Shortly before he reached the market the third thief met the man and said, “Sir, I don’t think they will allow you to take your dog into the market.” Completely confused, the man took his lamb off his shoulders and sat it on the ground. “If three people say that this is a dog, then surely it must be a dog,” he thought. He left the lamb behind and walked to the market. If he had bothered to look back, he would have seen the thieves picking up his lamb and running off with it.[2]

Are we like the man and the lamb?

Those of us who make up the Christian Church are often like the man with the lamb. We lose our focus by allowing other people’s opinions to shape our vision. To appease the world, some try to conform the gospel to science and popular opinion and end up not knowing what we believe.    

The gospel truth

The truth of the Christian faith is that God raised Jesus from the dead. It is not something we can prove. Paul himself, in the first century, admitted that it makes no sense outside of faith, that to non-believers it’s mere foolishness.[3] Our belief in the resurrection cannot be based on empirical evidence. The resurrection is about God’s power, but the story itself must be accepted on faith.  

Do people really know what we celebrate today? For some, the idea that Jesus laid in a tomb deader than a doornail and then raised from the dead is a scandal. It’s easier for them to believe the disciples stole the body. Or perhaps, today, it’s easier to believe in some silly bunny, a rabbit who should be the patron saint of dentists, bringing chocolates to the kids. 

What are we celebrating?

Or maybe Easter is about the rite of spring. As a child, we brought out our spring clothes on Easter. We took pictures of the family, generally in front of an azalea which bloomed in Eastern North Carolina this time of year. 

On Easter, girls once again could wear white shoes. They were allowed them to till Labor Day. Guys could wear lighter colored jackets. I’m not sure who the fashion police were back then, but many mothers lived in fear of them. 

Easter has become a holiday whom marketers embrace to sell candy, flowers, hams, and clothes. So, is it any wonder, according to a Gallup poll I heard many years ago, 25% of people in church on Easter Sunday don’t know what they were celebrating?  

Forgiveness and Hope: The Church’s gift to the world

Have we, followers of Jesus and members of his church become so lackadaisical that we no longer know what we are all about? Jesus Christ has given the Church two primary things to offer the world which no other organization has: FORGIVENESS AND HOPE. Forgiveness centers around the events on Good Friday, on Jesus’ death for our sin. As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die from sin and live for righteousness.”[4]

Hope is based on the events of Easter morning itself, of the tomb being empty. It was there in those early morning hours the women and the disciples learned that God’s power is greater than all the powers of evil combined. God’s power extends over the grave. As Christ’s Church, we offer forgiveness and hope to the world, telling the gospel story repeatedly to each new generation.

The Two mary’s and the tomb

According to Matthew, the two Marys went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week. It was not yet dawn, but the Sabbath was over. But it was still dark. Anxiety, uncertainty, and fear lurk in the darkness. 

Did the women know what to expect at sunrise? It’s doubtful. Two of the other gospels tell us they planned to prepare Jesus’ body for its eternal rest, a required task.[5] Besides, psychologically, this ritual would help them put the death of Jesus behind them and allow them to get on with their lives.

Things happened quickly that morning. There’s an earthquake, then there’s an angel rolling back the stone. Ironically, the guards froze, as if they were dead. Matthew has fun here; the guards that are alive are as if they are dead, while the one who was supposed to be dead in the tomb is out and walking around.

The Earthquake and the coming of the end

Furthermore, the earthquake symbolizes the end of the old order. In Chapter 24, Jesus told the disciples there would be earthquakes before the end and we’ve now witnessed two earthquakes in three days![6] The end is upon us, having begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s kingdom replaces the older order.. We’re in the last days.[7]

The women are shocked with fear with not only the earthquake, but an angel descending from above and rolling away the stone covering the tomb. Notice, however, this isn’t the resurrection. The angel reassures them that Jesus has already risen and orders them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee. Think about this, the resurrection has already occurred. The stone rolled away just opens the tomb, its emptiness serving as evidence of the resurrection. 

Suddenly, the women’s lives are changed. They run and tell disciples, only to be surprised when Jesus appears to them. Jesus calls out to them, using a Greek word translated in most Bibles as “Greetings,” but a better translation might be “Rejoice!”[8] “Rejoice” conveys more feeling and power than “greetings” which is just a simple hello. Jesus’ words shock the women, and in awe, they kneel at his feet and worship him.

He gives the women the same instructions as the angel, with only one slight, but very important difference. “Do not be afraid,” he says, “go and tell my brothers that I will see them in Galilee.” No longer are Jesus’ followers just disciples, they are now his brothers.

Go! Run! Tell!

GO! TELL! RUN! These verbs used by Matthew create sense of movement and urgency to get the message out, to let the disciples know that God has raised Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus had gone to bed on the Sabbath thinking that it was all over. Their friend Jesus had met his end on the cross. But on Easter morning, an open tomb shadows the cross and because of God’s love and action, the followers of Jesus once again have hope. 

GO! TELL! RUN! It’s imperative that the message gets out and is spread across the world. Jesus Christ is risen, today!

we accept the resurrection on faith

As I’ve indicated, we accept the resurrection on faith, not on empirical evidence. Obviously, Matthew is not interested in “proving” the resurrection. He tells the story from the eyes of two women, and you may remember that women in 1st century Palestine did not even have the right to testify in court. They would not have been considered creditable witnesses. The disciples were called to believe by faith. By faith they had left their former trades and followed Jesus and by faith they set out for Galilee to see the resurrected Lord. 

Like the disciples, we too are called to believe by faith. If we believe by faith, Jesus promises his presence and we will witness his glory.  

That first Easter began somewhat obscurely during the coolness of an early morning on the first day of the week. A few women, a disciple or two, and a few guards were all who experienced it and knew that something special had happened. 

Most everyone else in Jerusalem, as in the rest of the world, continue with their lives as if nothing happened. But soon the message spread. We are not told how the resurrection happens; only that it changed the disciples. It also has the power to change us.

GO! RUN! TELL! The urgency of those words still applies to you and me. Our troubled world needs to hear about God’s love and power. We may be hopeless like the disciples on that Holy Saturday. But because of God’s power, things can change. God is in control, and we see evidence of this when life is the darkest. Don’t believe the naysayers. Place your trust in a God who has power over the grave. It’s our only hope. Amen. 

[1]Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28), (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 779-780.

[2] William R. White, Stories for the Journey (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988) 26-7.

[3] See I Corinthians 1:18-31.

[4] 1 Peter 2:24.                        

[5] The other gospels also include different women attending the grave, but they all include Mary Magdalene. Mark says they were to anoint the body (Mark 16:1; Luke says they came with prepared spices (Luke 24:1), John doesn’t mention spices and has Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb by herself.  

[6] Matthew 24:7. The first earthquake occurred during the crucifixion. See Matthew 27:51.

[7] See Bruner, 781-782.

[8] Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew (Louisville: John Knox’s, 1993) p. 330.

Bluemont Church with blooming dogwood

HopeWord’s Writer’s Conference 2023

Katherine Paterson speaking at the HopeWords Writer's Conference

I enjoyed HopeWords Writer’s Conference so much last year, that I attended it again last week. It’s amazing the conference can draw such talent and so many attendees to Bluefield, West Virginia. The city which grew up around a railroad hub to serve the coal mines in Southern West Virginia isn’t an easy place to access. There are few flights to the city, there is no longer passenger train service, and even the main interstate bypassed the city by nearly a dozen miles to the north. But this year, the conference sold out of in-person tickets and brought in an incredible line up of authors. 

A tour of Bluefield and the surrounding area


This year they offered something new, a tour of the Bluefield area before the conference began, which took us around the city and to Bramwell, a city at the end of the Pocahontas coalfields. In our bus tour we saw some incredible scenery as well as examples of poverty of the region. After driving around Bluefield, our first stop was Bramwell, a town located west of the city.  In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Bramwell was where the bigwigs who managed the Pocahontas mines lived and many of their mansions have been restored. During this time, the miners lived in shacks in small communities close to the mines. Today, Bramwell is famous for those wanting to four-wheel through mud. While touring this town, we were treated with the best milkshake in West Virginia at a restaurant in the old pharmacy. Our tour also took us east of Bluefield, up the winding highway 58, to overlook the city. This was the way you traveled through the mountains before the interstate with its mile-long tunnels was completed forty years ago.

Highway 52 overlook of Bluefield

The Conference 

Miroslav Volf

The conference began with the keynote speaker, Miroslav Volf, a professor of theology at Yale.  I reviewed his book,  A Public Faith earlier this year. Volf spoke with sadness on how the university has given up on helping students understand how to have a meaningful life. Instead, starting in the 70s, the shift has been more on the means to a good life with the emphasis on students to “follow their dreams.” As he points out, when we follow our dreams, we pursue our means. The means then become our goals. A second challenge is that the old order in western philosophy has been replaced by a more pluralistic idea. In response to this shift, while acknowledging that we live in a pluralistic world, Volf began at Yale a program to have students explore what a good life looks like in different traditions around the world. As each tradition have claims on the truth, his goal was to have students seriously consider each claim by asking thoughtful questions about the good life and to whom we are responsible. 

The question about to whom we are responsible led Volf into a discussion of his own faith in Jesus Christ and on how the myth that we are individuals disturb our world. We are not just individuals, but individuals who depend on one another and share a common vision. With Christians, this includes not just the living but also the dead (the community of saints). 

Volf left us with two questions that disciples (and all people) need to ask themselves. 

1. How do we want to make the world better, and 

2. To whom are we responsible.

Volf on Saturday afternoon

Saturday, after lunch, Volf reappeared on stage with a discussion led by HopeWords’ founder, Travis Lowe.  Here are some highlights:

  • “The story of the Bible is that God decided to make home among us.”
  • “I never write with the idea of audience in mind, instead when I write, I wrestle with ideas I’m interested in.”
  • “The chief virtue of a theologian is to be humble. We want to say something true about God.”
  • “We hope in God which means the future we hope for might be different than what we now think.”
  • Quoting N. T. Wright: “The future is not for us to be raptured, but for the earth to be restored.”

After Volf left the stage on Friday evening, we were treated with a concert by a bluegrass band, “Chosen Road.” We were also served delicious deserts made by members of local churches.

Saturday morning’s marathon session

Saturday morning was a marathon session with four back-to-back speakers. 

Ann Voskamp

First up was Ann Voskamp. I have read some of her online writings but while I was interested in hearing what she had to say, her presence wasn’t what drew me to the conference. However, her talk, for me, was the highlight of the two day event. Voskamp began with the Biblical concept of the scribe (Judges 5:14, Ezra 7:6, Matthew 8:19, etc). She encouraged us to be scribes and to tell our stories within God’s larger story. Drawing on quotes from Martin Luther (“Satan hates the use of pens.”), T. S. Eliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others, she offered inspiration for us to explore the gritty parts of our lives. “Jesus’ choses the small and the slow,” she reminds us, “so he can be glorified.”

She shared three ways to handle the pen:

  • Immerse yourself in the Word (read, understand, & live the Word).
  • Realize the power in a parable.
  • Trust that something happens beneath our pens.

And four ideas of stories

  • What is this book/story a theology of (suffering, creativity, community, etc).  Dig into the truth
  • What is this book a psychology of (trauma, grief, love, etc). How do we understand, what are our felt needs.
  • What is this book a story of? Story is what moves us through a book.
  • What is this book an activity of? What is we want people to do after reading our books/stories?

Closing quote: “Shame dies when stories are told in sacred places.” 

Esau McCaulley

Next on the agenda was Esau McCaulley. Having read his book  Reading While Black several years ago, I was glad when it was announced that he would be one of the presenters. McCaulley, an African American evangelical scholar who studied under N. T. Wright, has found himself in a unique position as he critiques both the white evangelical tradition as progressive Christians.

McCaulley began his presentation by proclaiming that he never dreamed of becoming a writer. His plan, from his childhood, was to be a preacher within the black community. But after writing a few opinion columns, he found the Washington Post and New York Times reaching out to him. Pointing out that most writers speak of the need to find their voice, McCaulley said that for him it was finding his place. Coming from the black church in northern Alabama, going to an evangelical college in the Midwest, then doing doctoral work in Scotland allowed him to learn about place. 

He spoke about culture which relates to our places in the world. Culture involves both God’s glory and human failure. 

Drawing on 1 John “I am writing to make your joy complete” McCaulley outlined three insights into his writing:

  1. It must come from me.
  2. It must involve culture making (adding beauty and tearing down that which is wrong).
  3. It must involve courage and joy.
Hannah Anderson

Last year, Hannah Anderson told her story, which is mostly outlined in her book, Humble Roots, which I read after last year’s conference. This year, she used her 45 minutes as an introduction for our last speaker, Katherine Paterson, to whom she insisted on referring to as “Mrs. Paterson.” 

Anderson pointed out the changes that have come to writing as we live in a social media age. The goal of a writer is not to reveal everything, she suggests. Instead, we are to create characters or to reveal parts of our selves. There are stories we may not want to tell and that’s okay. She points to. Mrs. Paterson as a writer who tells “true” stories through fiction and reminded us of the truth of the Velveteen Rabbit, that real is what happens to you. She ended with a quote from Paterson’s first book, a primer on the Christian faith that was published in 1964, in which she reminds us that “grace tells you that you are not a commodity,” but that God wants to make you real.   

In a way, Anderson provided an introduction for the President of Bluefield College to come out and present Katherine Paterson an honorary doctorate. 

Katherine Paterson

Paterson began with a quip. “One of the advantages of being old is that you can’t hear praise. Because if you did, you might believe it.” I looked her up on my phone and learned that she is 90 years old!  Paterson used the theme of the spies being sent into the promised land and suggested that writers need to be like Joshua and Caleb, who offer hope. She also pointed out that Jesus was a storyteller. Quoting Barbara Brown Taylor, she reminds us that stories need “pockets of silence,” or spaces where we can lay down our defenses and not be demanded for a decision. Instead, story is a place where transformation begins. Jesus does this by letting us decide who to identify within the parables. 

Katherine Paterson speaking in the beautiful Granda Theater
Bridge to Terabithia

Years ago, I read Paterson’s book, Bridge to Terabithia, but I didn’t know the backstory of this book, which is her most famous one and won the Newberry Prize. She told about how, when her son was eight, his best friend was a neighbor girl who was struck by lightning while at the beach. Her son felt he had done something bad for her to have died. She struggled with this because she didn’t have a satisfactory answer why the world is a “dark land where bad things happen to good people.” Because we deal with a God of justice and mercy, we must struggle with such situations. Otherwise, we could just pass it off as random event. She wrote Bridgefor herself, as she tried to understand both the girl’s death and her son’s reaction to it.  She also noted how there were those who criticized the book and acknowledged that any story that has power also has the power to offend. Then she offered several examples of people who had read the book as a child and reached out to her later in their lives, telling her how the book helped them through dark periods. 

Drawing on an analogy of a waiting room for a children’s ICU, she suggested there are two kinds of parents who sit there. One is the Psalm 23 parents who see themselves and their child walking with God through the darkness. The other parents are the Psalm 22 ones who cry out to God in anger. 


“We who work with words are loaded with dynamite, but can bring hope and healing to the world. 

The most important thing is for the word to become flesh. 

Afternoon session

The afternoon session included a discussion with Volf (see above) and a presentation by S. D. Smith and Lewis Brodgan. Because of another commitment, I had to leave before Brogdan spoke, but this year I came away with one of his books which I look forward to read. Last year I found him to be an engaging and thoughtful speaker.

S. D. Smith

Smith, along with Anderson and Lewis, is one of the original founders of HopeWords. He is a fantasy author, which is a genre I seldom read. As a speaker, he’s funny and began by making fun of himself and his lack of awards. His message warned the church that we often push the “creative types” into the enemy’s camp, but that we need such people in the church to help us make sense of the world. 

While he doesn’t have an MFA, he used the letters in a different way to illustrate his discussion on writing.

M is for modesty (we write from our own center)

F is for fidelity (we are to be faithful to Christ and his church).
“If our writing is not doxological, it will be diabolical.” 

A is for audaciously (we are to be bold). 

Smith also reminded us that in the big picture, we are between redemption and restoration (R&R, but it doesn’t feel so relaxing and restful).  We are to live “until our death scene.” 

HopeWords 2024

Part of next year’s lineup has already been set. The keynote speaker will be Daniel Nayeri, who is an Iranian-American Christian writer and author of Everything Sad is Untrue.  Here is the link: I hope I can attend again, but I am also hoping to once again attend the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. God willing, I plan to attend one of these two events.

The train tracks cut Bluefield into two halves

Palm Sunday, 2023

title slide, photo of trees blowing in wind

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
April 2, 2023
Matthew 21:1-12

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on March 31, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

Who is Jesus? And what does it mean to follow him? How would you answer these questions? What difference does the first question, who’s Jesus, make in our lives? How does it guide our attempts at following him? Ponder these questions as we worship. They were questions that was being asked the first Palm Sunday, too. 

Before the reading of Scripture

Last week, we’ve finished working through Peter’s first epistle. This week, as today is Palm Sunday, we’re looking into the gospel of Matthew. In the 19th Chapter, we’re told that Jesus leaves Galilee, heading to Jerusalem. A large crowd follows him.[1] He now arrives. All four of the gospels tell of Jesus’ entry into the city and each provides different insights. We refer to this day as Palm Sunday, but only one of the gospels, John’s, tells us the crowd waved palm branches.[2] Matthew just says they cut branches and spread them on the road. It appears to have been a joyful party, but as we know the joy of the day will quickly fade as the week wears on. 

Read Matthew 21:1-11

One Summer: America 1927

I have been listening to a book by Bill Bryson, titled One Summer: America 1927. It was an amazing summer in our nation. Babe Ruth was knocking the ball out of the park. He set a home run record for a season that stood until Roger Maris came along. President Calvin Coolidge, not known as a man of many words, made a sparse announcement when on vacation in South Dakota. He would not seek his party’s nomination for the Presidency in 1928. Also in South Dakota, workers were carving out the faces of Presidents on Mount Rushmore. Ford Motor Company shut down the manufacturing of Model Ts and retooled for the Model A. 

But probably the most exciting thing to happen in the summer of 1927 was the race to fly a plane from New York to Paris. The excitement focused on large planes with crews, but in came a lone pilot with backing from some businesses in St. Louis. Charles Lindberg, flying the Spirit of St. Louis, he won the prize. When he returned to America, he received, up to this point in history, the largest ticket-tape parade in New York City. Tons of paper was thrown out the windows along the parade route.[3]

Of course, looking back at 1927, it seemed so idyllic. As a nation, America was on the top of the world. Few people were aware that just around the corner the Great Depression would descend. And after that, there would be war unlike the world had ever seen.[4]We might draw a similar analogy to this day in Jerusalem in roughly 30 AD. Excited people shouted “Hosanna.” Everyone was excited. But darkness would descend and a few days later some of those same people would shout, “Crucify.”

Our text begins with Jesus and the crowd approaching the Holy City. Around the Mount of Olives, Jesus sends a couple of his disciples into a village ahead to procure an animal for him to ride into the city. We’re not told Jesus had all this worked out in advance. There’s a mystery here. How did Jesus know that there would be a donkey and a colt waiting? Was he somehow able to work it out in advance, without anyone knowing? In the days of walking, that seems unlikely. After all, he couldn’t call ahead. 

Or did Jesus employ his divine powers? We’re not told. The same goes with the response Jesus gives the disciples if they’re challenged for taking the animals. Tell them the master needs it. What farmer would lend out their beasts of burdens without collateral and with just the promise that this unseen master would return it?

If I’d been one of the disciples, I might have resisted. Why go into the unknown when you could return to a place you already been? Why take part in what feels like petty larceny? Of course, there were no Avis donkey rentals back then. But still, it seems strange. I’d prefer Jesus to tell me to go back to that place where we saw a donkey waiting by the road and where they knew the owner. But Jesus always calls us into an unknown future.[5]

I had this conversation with a parishioner this week about no knowing what’s next in our lives. It’s often scary if we pause long enough to think about our situations. We’re called to go forward, into new territory, trusting that Jesus, the good shepherd, travels with us. 

Matthew tells us that what happened fulfilled prophecy and then quotes from the Prophet Zechariah a passage about our king coming, humbled, and riding on a donkey.[6] The disciples are told in Matthew to bring two animals, a donkey and a colt. This has created some confusion. Did Jesus ride both animals, balancing up on the backs of each like some kind of circus performance? Maybe he even held the reigns in his teeth as he waved to the crowd? Probably not. Matthew also emphasizes the humility of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and that would be showing off.[7] More likely, Jesus rode the donkey while the colt, perhaps not even weaned, tailed behind, staying close to his mom.[8]

We’re told the disciples put their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to ride it. Donkeys are not normally ridden straddled, like a horse. Instead, the rider sits to the side of the beast. Other cloaks were spread on the path, along with tree branches. The crowd began together as they approached the city walls. As they are pilgrims coming for the Passover, they cry out the words from Psalm 118, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.”

Psalm 118 celebrates victory. God has given victory to the one coming into the city who then returns thanks for God’s steadfast love. God has taken the stone discarded by the builders and made it the cornerstone.[9] The Psalm captures the hope of the people that there be a new king on David’s throne, but in a way this Psalm seems out of place. While the Psalm celebrates victory,[10] Jesus heads to his death. And while his followers at this point don’t understand, Jesus knows.[11] The weight of this knowledge must have weighed heavy on his heart. They cheer Jesus on, a truth that should hang over us on Palm Sunday, for the crowd will soon turn on Jesus and demand he be crucified. 

But before that, they wonder, “Who is this?” This little parade seems to have really shaken Jerusalem. Our translation, in verse 10, said the whole city was in turmoil, but the word used in Greek for turmoil, is the Greek word from where get the word seismic. In other words, the city was shaken to the core, as if in an earthquake.[12]

This word is used only in three places in Matthew’s gospel. The first is when the Magi come to Jerusalem asking about the birth of the Messiah.[13] The people in the city were bothered. Why did they need a king when they had Herod. The second time is here. The word will be used once more, on the day we recall this Friday, during the crucifixion. That was when a real, not metaphorical seismic event happened. There was a real earthquake. At that time the temple curtain ripped into two halves while graves opened.[14]

So, the crowds ask who this Jesus is. I assume those with Jesus pointed out that he is a prophet from Nazareth. But, of course, Jesus is more than a prophet. In the week ahead, we’ll see that he’s also the Chief Priest, and the sacrifice. And then, we’ll learn of his defeat of death and that he is a king that is above all kings. But that’s to come. 

We’re left this Sunday with the question of the crowd. Who is this man we call Jesus? And if we believe he is the King as well as the Prophet and Priest, then how do we respond to him? Are we willing to go into the future where we have no control but can only trust him. For that’s what we’re called to do. Amen.  

[1] Matthew 19:1-2.

[2] John 12:13.

[3] Bill Bryson, One Summer: America 1927 (Random House, 2013).

[4] Bryson discusses a secret meeting by the head of the Federal Reserve along with banks in Great Britain, France, and Germany, whose decisions have been partly to blame for the worldwide Depression. 

[5] This idea came from MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s sermon on this passage on the website, “A Sermon for Every Sunday.   

[6] Zechariah 9:9.

[7] Mathew leaves out a piece of what Zechariah said. The prophet said, “triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey…” The “triumphant” part is missing in Matthew, as he emphasizes the humility of Jesus. See Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 355.

[8]See Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 238-239. 

[9] Psalm 118:22.

[10] Everything said in the Psalm “portrays the celebrant’s deliverance as the work of the Lord.” James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 377. 

[11] According to Matthew, at this point, Jesus has referred to his upcoming death three times, the last being in Matthew 20:17-19.

[12] Chelsey Harmon, “Matthew 21:1-11 Commentary. See  See also Bruner, 357. 

[13] Matthew 2:4.

[14] Matthew 27:51-52.

trees lining a road
The wind has blown hard for the past 24 hours.
Yesterday, the branches were waving as if they lined the parade route.