Doing what is right, because it is right

title page with storm clouds

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
July 30, 2023
2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, July 28, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

Does the end ever justify the means? It’s an ethical problem that can be improperly applied to the Christian life. If we believe the purpose of the gospel is to save people from burning in hell, we might assume whatever we do, including coercion, is acceptable. After all, who wouldn’t want to keep people from experiencing such a horrendous fate.[1]

But such an assumption is wrong. First, the gospel is about the glory of God. Jesus never told anyone to believe in him order to avoid hell. In fact, when Jesus discussed hell, he tended to address the self-righteous and hypocritical religious leaders, not unbelievers. Second, while God has called us to be messengers of the good news, we must understand God is in control. Not us. We live out the gospel trying to glorify God in our lives. That’s what we’re to be about, the glory of God. So, we must be careful of compromising our morals to achieve some goal we make up for ourselves. We must be honest in all our dealings, as Paul outlines in the text we’ll deal with this morning. 

Before the reading of the Scripture:

Three Sundays ago, preaching from the third chapter of Second Corinthians which is essentially about election. We saw how Paul contrasted his ministry with that of Moses. The law given to Moses has condemned humanity. But in Jesus Christ, God offers us a new covenant, one based on grace, the covenant Paul proclaims to the gentiles.[2]  In our reading today, Paul continues to refute those who have discredited him, reminding the Corinthians of the purpose behind his ministry, one to which he’s been called by God. 

Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Playing Good Samaritan

One hot summer day when I was working for the Boy Scouts in eastern North Carolina, I was driving between Chadbourn and Fair Bluff. I had a lunch meeting with some Scout leaders there. On the way, I came upon a large snapping turtle sitting in the middle of Highway 76. Obviously traumatized, the turtle snapped at passing cars and trucks. Soon, if it didn’t get off that hot asphalt, it would be flattened or cooked. This turtle was a big boy, 3 feet long and two feet wide. 

Thinking I’d be the Good Samaritan, I pulled over. When there was a break in traffic, I walked up to the back end of the turtle. The turtle retreated inside his shell. Then I began to push. You’d think the turtle would appreciate my efforts, wouldn’t you? But no. As I pushed, suddenly his head lunged out and behind, snapping within inches of my arm. I had no idea he had that long of neck and began rethinking my good deed. His bite would have done some serious damage to my arm. 

About this time, a man in a pickup stopped and out of the bed of the truck pulled out a long 2×6. We each took an end and dragged the turtle safety off the highway. The huge brute quickly made his way down into the ditch and disappeared. 

Punished for doing Good

Have you ever done something good for someone only to be snapped at? Of course, the turtle snapping at my arm didn’t know any better. But when we try to help others and they turn on us, it’s painful. This is especially true for people, who, unlike the turtle, should know better. But such an experience is common in ministry.[3]

A congregation financially helps a parishioner going through tough times and afterwards he or she finds another church and criticize their former home. I’ve seen that happen many times. But just because it happens, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help. It’s the risk we take. 

Or you go out of your way stand by someone in their troubles, being present with them in court and visiting them in prison, only to have them accuse you of being indifferent and spread lies about you. Again, it happened, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have attempted to help or be a presence in their troubles.  

Ministry is about God, not us

Anyone who has been in ministry for any time will have a basket full of such stories to share. It’s enough to make me wonder why we even bother. Of course, the answer is that I, and others in the Christian life, aren’t in it for ourselves. The ministry of the church is not about us. It’s about God, the God who showed us mercy, and who called us into ministry. Therefore, as Paul says, “we do not lose heart.” And let me add, we do what we can and trust God to take care of the rest. 

Paul’s Troubles

You know, Paul also had his problems. As I’ve said many times in the sermons on this letter, we only hear one side of the story.  We hear Paul’s response, but if read carefully, you get the sense Paul suffers from how others have responded to him in Corinth. Perhaps they charged him with being unhanded or falsifying God’s word as he pointed to Jesus and not to the Law. Or maybe they deceived people by twisting the gospel, and then pointed to Paul as the one in the wrong. But Paul is unfazed. He is not working for the praise of people, but for the glory of God. 

3 couplets

Our passage can be divided into three couplets. The first, verses 1 and 2, I just covered. The second, verses 3 and 4, Paul reflects on what he said in the previous chapter where he spoke about Moses’ veil. Now the veil is over those who have been blinded by the god (with a small g) of the world. This is Satan, the one in opposition to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan doesn’t want us to see the glory of Christ. 

But just because he faces opposition, Paul doesn’t give up. He believes in his message. Jesus Christ, raised from the death, is establishing his dominion over all things. In the end, God will work things out for his glory.[4] Until then, Paul will continue to do his job of spreading the message.

In the third couplet, that begins in verse 5, Paul returns to theme that it’s not about Paul, but about Jesus Christ. Paul, by the charges leveled against him, has been forced to defend himself. To do this, he had to talk about himself. But that’s not his message. As one commentor wrote, “Paul again affirms the essence of the gospel: Jesus Christ is Lord.”[5]

Paul was saved by God’s mercy as shown in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, Paul finds himself in ministry. Because of this, it’s not about Paul, but about the God who brings light into the world through Jesus. Paul may not always be successful in what he does, but he doesn’t give up. He keeps his eyes on Jesus and doesn’t lose heart. 

the Christian Life is not about winning

We, too, are called to live in such a manner. It’s not about winning, for Christ has already won the battle. Through the cross and resurrection, Jesus overcome death and evil. Instead, we’re called to be faithful. The end is not in our hands. God has it under control. We’re to be honest and loving as we trust in God. In living in this manner, we live out the gospel. 

Yes, it’s easy to become discouraged when we are disappointed. But think about how disappointed God can become with us. We abandon God and look to ourselves and others for our salvation. Yet, God doesn’t give up on us and we shouldn’t give up on others.  Amen. 

[1] For more discussion on this topic, see Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 173.

[2] See

[3] See Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretations, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987), 37. He writes: “Nothing disheartens us more than the accusations of those we set out to help.”

[4] Romans 8:28-29

[5] Best, 38-39. 

Storm clouds, late yesterday afternoon

Returning to Pittsburgh

In front of the seminary, looking toward East Liberty Presbyterian Church

Have you noticed that I’ve been absent the past two weeks?

I’ve walked North Highland Avenue many times, but it’s been over 3 decades since I last made this trek. I pass the old homes lining the avenue, which have changed little since the 80s. At the corner of Bryant, I stop at Tazza D’Oro, a coffee shop, for breakfast. This wasn’t here before. The cafeteria at the seminary, where I am staying, is closed during the summer. Coffee and a breakfast sandwich cost me $16. Spending a few minutes reading Karl Barth while eating. I notice the crowd seems different. The people are much younger than those I remember being around these parts. No do I remember having such a meager breakfast at such a price.

The coffee shop is just around the corner from Dinos, a dive bar I frequented. In 1986, I could get a 12-ounce glass of IC Light (pronounced Icy Light in Pittsburghese). Their top shelf liquors were only $2, but sadly the establishment closed after the death of the bartender in 1989. Today, the storefront host the Kyoto Restaurant, an upscale looking Japanese establishment which won’t open until much later in the day.

I continue walking north on Euclid Avenue, passing the ironic Azimuth Way, as I head toward Highland Park. The entrance is neat and clean with flowers blooming in the beds surrounding foundations. In the grass to the side, a yoga class is being held. I climb the steps leading to the walkway around the reservoir, a walk I took hundreds of time before. With a fast clip, I walk around the reservoir as I am meeting friends for lunch and need to shower as I have worked up a sweat thanks to the humidity. I head back to the seminary, having walked a little over 3 miles. 

Entrance to Highland Park

After cleaning up, I drive the same route I just walked, and then work my way around the park and zoo to the Highland Park Bridge, where I cross the Allegheny River. The bridge is being worked on, which isn’t anything new. When my parents first visited me in Pittsburgh, the bridge had holes in which you could look down into the river. I took my parents over the bridge to Aspinwall for dinner and my mother insisted we not drive back across that bridge again. She also ordered me not to drive across it, which became a mute request for soon they’d closed the bridge in order to rebuild it.  

I’m meeting for lunch two of my professors (Charles Partee and Don Gowan) and the former seminary’s Director of Placement, Jean Henderson. The three of them, who have all lost their spouses and are in their 80s and 90s, live in a large continuing care facility in Cranberry Township. 

After lunch, I return to the seminary and in the late afternoon take a walk south of the Seminary, around East Liberty (pronounced s’berty in Pittsburghese). Back in the 80s, I used to occasionally help feed the homeless men at the shelter housed by the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It was eye opening, as many of the men would come in and pour hydroperoxide on the needle marks on their arms to keep them from becoming infected. I seldom walked this direction by myself at night, and when I did, I left my wallet in my apartment and only took a few dollars as it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be mugged.

Today, East Liberty is undergoing renovation. The high-rise low-income apartments have been torn down and replaced by more appealing apartment-like buildings. The old Sears and the buildings around it have been razed and a new Home Depot now sits in the area. The old Giant Eagle, a grocery store, is now a Senior Center. I wonder where the young men who used to hang out around the pay phone, waiting to receive a call for a lift. While this was frowned on, especially by the taxi companies, in the age before cell phones and Uber, it was efficient and met a need within the community. I’m not sure what other services beyond transportation they supplied, but they hustled.   

There’s a lot of work being done on the roads around East Liberty. I walk pass Eastminster and East Liberty Presbyterian. Both are grand churches. Eastminster has wonderful Tiffany windows, while East Liberty is the closest thing we Presbyterians have to a cathedral. There was an older church at the site that was torn down so this one could be rebuilt. It was funded by Richard Mellon, from the prominent Mellon family of Pittsburgh, who in addition to working at the family bank with his brother Andrew, headed Alcoa and was involved in other business in the region. His hope was to create jobs during the Depression, and he has left an amazing structure. Inside, he and his wife’s remains are parked in a small prayer chapel off the main nave. As the sanctuary is massive, the seminary uses it for graduation. I continue to walk South, across the sunken railroad tracks and the bus way which allows buses to take you downtown without traffic in minutes. Then I cross over into the Shadyside neighborhood. Only a few things seem familiar. 

For dinner, I drive back across the Allegheny River, looking for another favorite dive bar where, in the 80s, one could get a plate of eight whole chicken wings (not the cut up kind) for three bucks. They were so hot that you also ate the celery with ranch dressing along with several beers to down it all. It’s not there and I end up eating at a new Thai Restaurant at Waterworks. I’m back in my room at the seminary before dark and spend the rest of the evening preparing for the week’s seminar. 

The next morning, I head out to an old Eat’n Park in Etna, where I often ate breakfast on Sunday mornings as I north headed to Butler and the church where I worked at from 1986 to 1988. I’m sure most of the waitresses weren’t even born when I lived here. I found myself wondering what ever happened to Lydia, one of the regular waitresses in the 80s.

Then I head downtown. I’m meeting two former classmates at the Willie Stargel statue by the ballpark on the north side. Back in the day, I would walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the first of the “Three Sisters” (identical yellow bridges that cross the Allegheny). As the Clemente Bridge is closed for reconstruction, I take an option that wasn’t available in the 80s. The subway has now been extended to the Northside. It travels under the Allegheny River and drops you off right beside the stadium. Of course, the stadium is also new and is much nicer than the old Three River Colosseum, where I saw many Pirate and a few Steeler games.

Me, Lee, and Lea

We meet at 11:30, buy tickets for seats up above the third base line. It’s a beautiful day, a little warm, but not terrible. The game is competitive and at the end of nine is tied. We go into an extra inning, but the Giants blow out the Pirates in the 10th. Afterwards, we plan to go to dinner with another classmate (who had to preach this morning and was unable to make the game). We meet at Bakery Square, which is near the seminary. In the 1980s, it was a large Nabisco Bakery, but today consists of restaurants, offices, apartment flats, and a fitness center. I would eat here three more times over the next four days, as I meet with a theology group from Monday through Thursday.

Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. This is a magnificent ballpark!

By the end of my second full day in Pittsburgh, I realize that most everything I knew about the city has changed, except for the work on the Highland Park Bridge and the Pirates losing.  Our group would also go to a night game at PNC Park. The Pirates lost again, this time to the Cleveland Guardians. 

Night. Game

God Opens the Door through a New Covenant

Title slide showing a picture of a chicory in bloom

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 9, 2023
2 Corinthians 3 

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Thursday, July 6, 2023

At the beginning of worship: 

We don’t like to talk about election, do we? When I say thist, many of you agree. We’re tired of our nation’s election cycles. Right? They seem to go on continually, no breaks. But as important as our elections are, I’m talking about the other kind of election. This is the only one that matters for eternity. God voting for us!

I’ve been rereading Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. It’s been in preparation for a presentation next week in Pittsburgh at a Foundation for Reformed Theology seminar group of which I’m a partAfter spending forty years as a missionary in India, Newbegin came back to the United Kingdom where he critiqued the western church. Near the middle of book, steeped in theology and philosophy, he writes about election. Let me quote a short piece: 

The doctrine of election is central to any true exposition of the Bible. From the very beginning God chooses, calls, and sends particular people. God is always the initiator. The words of Jesus to his disciples, “You did not choose me; I chose you,” are in line with everything in the Bible from beginning to end.[1]

We can’t forget that God is in charge. And because of God’s love for the world, we should rejoice, be at peace, and do what we can to aid God’s mission in the world. 

Before the reading of Scripture:

I chose our Old Testament readings this morning because Paul essentially uses both in his reflections from the third chapter of Second Corinthians.[2] Paul uses the Jeremiah prophecy of God writing his law in our hearts in the first half of this chapter. Then Paul reflects on Moses coming off the mountain, establishing the Old Covenant. Paul may have used one of his old synagogue sermons in this part of the letter, some suggests. [3] Of course, Paul flips its meaning to emphasize the New Covenant.  

Here, as in other places, Paul is clear about the two covenants, the covenant of the law which leads to death (because we can’t keep the law), and the covenant of grace, the new covenant, established in the ministry of Jesus Christ, which offers us life. 

Paul continues along the same personal theme as we heard last week.[4] Some in Corinth appear unhappy with Paul. They question Paul’s credentials. Paul defends himself, but mostly deflects such attacks by pointing out that he’s doing God’s work. God, through Christ, has instituted a new covenant of grace. 

Read 2 Corinthians 3

A 22-year-old in Japan

When I was a senior in college, my parents along with my younger brother moved to Japan. Unable to attend my graduation, they gave me a trip to Japan. This was my first time out of the country. I spent nearly 3 weeks in the land of the rising sun. While most of the time I stayed with my parents, I took a trip without them to the historic and beautiful city of Kyoto. A neighbor of my parents, Mr. Nakamora, who owned several travel agencies, arranged the trip.  

I was excited. It was a chance to ride the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, which covered the 300 miles in less than 3 hours and that included a few stops. I also got to see one of the few cities not destroyed during the war. Kyoto is an ancient capital city, so there were lots of interesting temples and palaces to explore. 

I packed light and when I arrived, made my way from the station to the Hotel Kyoto, where I checked in for the night. I was surprised to find a letter waiting for me at the desk. Who knew I was even going to be in Kyoto. I opened the letter. It was from the hotel manager, welcoming me to his city and expressing disappointment that he was away on business, but hoped we could meet when he returned. That’s nice, I thought and didn’t think anything more about it. I assumed all guests received such a note. 

A letter of recommendation

The next day, I left the hotel early and came back after dinner. There’s a lot to see. When I stepped into the lobby, one of the receptionists ran over and handed me another note. It, too, was from the manager, inviting me to dinner. Of course, it was well after dinner. I now realized this wasn’t normal, I was being singled out.

The attendant called the manager. We arranged to meet the next morning at breakfast. This was something that never happened to me in the States. We had a pleasant breakfast. He was very curious as to what I thought of the hotel, which was probably the nicest hotel I’d stayed in up to this point in my life. And afterwards he insisted on hiring a cab for me. My plan was to see the Kyoto Castle, before taking the train back to my parents, and it was only a mile walk. But at his insistence, I rode in a cab.

Was this the treatment every 22-year-old American received in Kyoto? Not hardly. The reason the manager of this large hotel reached out to me was because my parent’s neighbor. Mr. Nakamara, who was in the travel business, had sent him a note introducing me and encouraging him to reach out.  

Opening doors

A letter of recommendation can open doors (or in my case, buy a breakfast and cab ride). Paul knows the importance of recommendations. Obviously, there were some in Corinth who wondered about Paul. He was not above claiming his credentials,[5] but not to the Corinthians. After all, they know him. They have seen his work and its fruit. He shouldn’t need a recommendation.

You know, a letter of recommendation will open doors. But that’s it. It’s kind of like a diploma. It might get you a job, but then you must prove yourself. In Paul’s case, he doesn’t need to be introduced to the Corinthian congregation. They know him. They have seen his work. He introduced them to Jesus. They are qualified enough that they could write Paul a letter of recommendation. In Paul’s eyes, such paper isn’t important. What’s important, is what’s in our hearts and the fruits of our labor. 

A one-sided conversatio

As I’ve mentioned throughout my sermons on this epistle, we only hear one side of a conversation. This letter is one of several Paul sent to the Corinthians. These letters were often in response to the news Paul received about what was going on in the city. Perhaps Paul’s detractors in Corinth had recommendations which caused Paul to bring this up. So, Paul appeals to the work he’s already done with the Corinthians. 

Whose work is it?

Notice, it’s not really Paul’s work, but the work God has done through him. In fact, Paul’s credentials ultimately come from God who freely reached out and chose him for his mission. It wasn’t Paul’s idea to become a missionary. He’d had a much easier life if he had settled down and sewed tents for herders and awnings for storefronts. But God has other ideas for his life. 

God’s letter written on our hearts

In this opening part of the chapter, Paul draws on the Prophet Jeremiah, who speaks of the day when instead of God writing laws on a tablet, God will write his word in our hearts. Essentially, Paul says this prophecy has been fulfilled. A new covenant has been established by God that continues beyond the covenant with the Jews. This covenant is with the entire human race. Paul is one of the main missionaries, spreading the good news to the gentiles. 

The two covenants

The second half of our reading contrasts the new covenant with the old. The covenant God established with Moses on Sinai, is one of death. We, as a race of people, are unable to keep the terms of the covenant. As Paul explains, our hearts are hardened. While Paul is proud of his Jewish heritage, he also understands the limitations of the law. “All have sinned,” Paul tells the Romans.[6] The old covenant required a veil to hide the glory that quickly faded, but that veil was removed by Jesus who allows us to see the face of God.[7] And we, as Paul says in verse 18, are to be transformed by the Spirit into that glory.

The work of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

In this chapter, Paul gives us an understanding into God’s work which began in Jesus and continues with the work of the Spirit in us. Paul, as an ambassador for Jesus to the gentiles, has nothing of which to be ashamed. He’s doing the work for which he’s been called.

While it is nice to have a letter of recommendation, Paul knows what’s important isn’t what others think of us, but God knowing us. If God knows you, that’s all that matters. And in this new covenant, God is reaching out to the world in open arms, inviting us into his presence. It’s up to us to accept the invitation and to step forward, allowing God to sanctify your life. It may not make our lives any easier here on earth, but you’ll be on the right side of history.  And eternally, that’s all that matters.  Amen. 

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 80.

[2] Exodus 34:29-34 and Jeremiah 31:31-35.

[3] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1973), 110.


[5] See Paul’s defense speech in Acts 22 (especially verse 3). 

[6] Romans 3:23. 

[7] Jesus removing the veil is seen at his crucifixion when the temple curtain ripped in half, Matthew 27:51. Also see John 14:9

Blue flowers of Chicory
Chicory growing at the edge of a field

A Solo Paddle to the North End of Cumberland Island

Title page for article showing a kayak pointed toward land
Sunset from Cumberland Island
Sunset from campsite on Brick Kiln River

A soft light glows outside in the darkness. It could be a dying street light, except there are no streetlights on this island. I check the time. It’s a little before 6 AM. Time to get up if I’m going to beat the tide change. I pull on my pants and crawl out of the hammock. Sliding into flip-flops, I stand and turn around to a beautiful view of the nearly full moon setting across the marsh to the west. Its light reflects off the ripples on the waters of the Brickhill River. I look at the shoreline. The tide is coming in strong. I’ll need to be on the water soon if I’m to make the fourteen miles back to the landing at Crooked River State Park without fighting the current. 

Heading back to the mainland

In the dark with only the moonlight guiding me, I stuff my sleeping bag and hammock into their sacks and stow both into the holds of the kayak. I pack my stove and percolator. With not enough time for coffee, I skip it figuring I can pick up some later on my drive home. Dropping the food bag that’s hung from a branch, to keep it safe from raccoons, I take out a couple of granola bars and a pear for breakfast. I eat one of the bars while watching the moon set. What little light I enjoyed is gone with sunrise still 45 minutes away. Taking out a flashlight, I stow everything in the kayak and make a last tour of my campsite. Then I slide the kayak down the bank and into the water, crawl into the cockpit, and begin paddling. 

Paddling toward the St. Mary's Submarine base
Distant sub base in morning light

In less than 30 minutes I’ve passed Table Point. When I paddled here two days earlier, the tide had turned by the time I arrived here and it took me 90 minutes of hard paddling to make it to the campsite. I’m making good time. I look behind me and catch the opening rays of the sun as it rises over Cumberland Island. I take out the pear and eat it, enjoying the splendor. When I resume paddling, I notice the large covered submarine dry-dock at the Kings Bay Naval Station. In the low light, it looks remarkably similar to Noah’s Ark, floating beyond the marsh grass that separates the Brickhill River from the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s ironic, I muse to myself, that each submarine carries almost as much destructive power as that ancient flood.  

Travels to Cumberland

I have spent the last two nights camping on Cumberland Island National Seashore. This is my second trip to the island. The first trip, two years earlier, was to Sea Camp on the south end of the island. That site is served by a ferry from St. Mary’s. It’s close to the beach and has potable water, flush toilets and hot showers. We spent a lot of time soaking up rays on the beach, swimming in the surf, as well as exploring the ruins of Dungeness, a grand home built by Thomas Carnegie. It burned in the 1950s.

The Carnegie Influence on the Island

In the late 19th Century, Thomas Carnegie, the brother of Andrew, purchased much of the island and had a massive winter home built at the site of an earlier Dungeness mansion. Thomas Carnegie died as his mansion was being completed, but it was occupied by his wife Lucy. In time, as each of their children married, Lucy granted them land on the island and a stipend to build homes of their own. 

Kayak beached at Brick Kiln River campsite
My kayak shortly after arriving at Brick Kiln River wilderness campsite

My campsite for the weekend was on a bluff along the Brickhill River. The wilderness site can hold six groups, but there are only three other campers the first night. These guys, students at Georgia Tech, had come over on the ferry and peddled bikes the ten miles along sandy two-track dirt roads to camp here. We chat for a bit and I learn they are planning on leaving early on Sunday in order to catch the 10:30 AM ferry to St. Marys. 

The Paddle over and Plum Orchard
Inside Plum Orchard showing den with fireplace
inside Plum Orchard

On Saturday, as I left Crooked River, paddling in the rain, my first stop was at Plum Orchard, one of these magnificent homes. Thankfully, by the time I arrived, the rain had stopped. This home, built by George and Margaret Thaw Carnegie, was the first of the island mansions constructed by the Carnegie children. The 24,000 square foot home was seasonally occupied until the 1960s with Thomas and Margaret’s granddaughter and husband being the last occupants. Today, the home is a part of Cumberland Island National Seashore and the National Park service offers tours. After eating lunch, I stuck around for a tour. It was well worth it, even if it meant the tide turned and my paddle to the campsite was more difficult. The home features a grand entryway, a formal dining room, modern bathrooms, an indoor squash tennis court, a women’s parlor and a men’s gun room that displays trophy heads of various animals bagged by the Carnegies. It is magnificent. 

Plum Orchard
Plum Orchard
First Night

Fires are not allowed at this site, so after setting up my camp, I fire up my gas stove and use it to prepare chicken and rice for dinner. I watch the setting of the sun, sipping on bourbon, then retreat from the bugs into the security of my hammock where I read for an hour with the use of a flashlight. Then I turn it off and go to sleep.   

As it was still warm in the evening, I left the fly off my hammock in order to receive the best breeze. But at 3 AM I wake to the rustling of palm leaves and distant thunder. The moon and stars are no longer visible. I quickly get up and position my fly over my hammock. The rain comes as I put in the last of the stakes into the ground. I crawl back into the hammock and fall asleep to the sound of rain.  

I sleep in till nearly 7:00 AM on Sunday morning. Getting up in the dawn light, I perk coffee and boil hot water for oatmeal. I notice my neighbors have already left. 

two track road on Cumberland Island
The two track that runs the length of the island
Sunday Morning Exploring

After breakfast, I set off on a hike to the old settlement on the northern end of the island, about four miles away. It’s warm and muggy, and I’m serenaded by insects, songbirds and a distant woodpecker providing the bass. About half way to the settlement, a shower passes by cooling me off. When I arrive at Terrapin Point, I stop for a few minutes on the high bluff overlooking what used to be the Cumberland Wharf. A large pod of dolphins feed in the shallows as a barge makes its way south along the Intracoastal Waterway. In the distance, I can see the Sidney Lanier Bridge from Brunswick to Jekyll Island. 

inside of First African Baptist Church
Inside the church

My hope was to be at the old First African Baptist Church by 10 AM, but I am a few minutes late. The cornerstone indicates that it was built in 1893, but I later learn that was when the first church was constructed out of logs. It was rebuilt out of timber in 1937. I step into the old building. It’s small, with only eight short pews. Taking out my smartphone, I am pleased to have a signal. I log into the streaming service of Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church in time to catch an excellent sermon by our Associate, Deanie Strength. As I listen, I think about those who in years past worshipped here and that it is good the gospel is again heard in these walls.

HIstory of the settlement

The residents of the Settlement were former slaves. They lived where they did to work for the hotel that used to sit on the north end of the island, as well as to work for the Carnegies who turned much of the island into their private winter playground. The community dwindled after the hotel closed, with a few people hanging on to work as servants in some of the islands homes. Today, the church and one home remains open by the National Park Service. 

African American Baptist Church on Cumberland Island
The church and a home left from when this was a community who worked in the homes and hotel on the island

In 1996, a hundred and three years after the church was first built on this site, it became the setting for the late John Kennedy Jr’s and Carolyn Bessette’s private wedding ceremony. Tragically, two years after their marriage, both were killed in a plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard.

After listening to church, I eat lunch and then hike back to the camp, taking the Terrapin Point and Brickhill Bluff trails. At times, from high bluffs, I’m afforded wonderful views of the marsh. Other parts of the trail move deeply into the woods of this maritime forest. I am amazed at the size of some of the longleaf pines. In addition to pines and live oaks, the most abundant trees, hickory and magnolias are also common. I scare up a few feral hogs that grunt as they run away, along with a wild turkey and an armadillo that makes all kinds of racket as it rushes through dense growth of saw palmetto. 

A restful afternoon

It’s about two o’clock when I arrive back in my campsite. I rest for a few minutes, reading David Gressner’s Return of the Osprey. As I read, I notice an osprey hunting out over the Brickhill River. For the longest time, the bird never dives for a fish, but when it finally does, he misses. The bird comes up out of the water flapping, nothing in its talons. It shakes its wings as if to shake off his missed lunch. In reading this book I learn that mature birds generally catch their prey fifty percent or more of the time. That’s a pretty high percentage. Either my bird was having a bad day or it was young and just learning to dive for fish.  

Beach scene with sea oats
Beach scene

After resting, I take my chair, book, and some snacks, and hike the two miles out to the beach. Along the way, I pass several fresh water ponds. In one an alligator is sunning and as I walk by I catch sight of the tail of a large snake slithering down into the water.  I spend nearly two hours on the beach enjoying the sound of the waves as I read and nap. At 5:30, I start back, wanting to be able to fix dinner and prepare for the evening before dark.  Knowing it’s going to be a long paddle in the morning, I am in my hammock sleeping shortly after watching an amazing sunset.  

Front page of a magazine article

This slightly edited post originally appeared in The Skinnie, a magazine published on Skidaway Island, Georgia. The opening page of the article is to the right. When I wrote this article, I was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Skidaway.

For another kayak adventure of mine on Cape Lookout, click here.

Planning a trip to Cumberland Island

To visit Cumberland Island, camping sites (both in developed sites and wilderness locations) must be reserved through the National Park Service. Check out the Cumberland Island website at or call (912) 882-4336. Cumberland Island Ferry has the concessions for ferry transportation to and from the south end of the island. Their schedule varies depending on the season. Boats (motored and kayaks) can be launched from St. Mary’s or Crooked River State Park. If paddling, know the tides especially in the Crooked River where the tide currents can be faster than most people can paddle! There is also a rather pricy lodging available at the Greyfield Inn, a former Carnegie mansion. To stay there, the Inn arranges a shuttle from Amelia Island, Florida.  

Sunrise on Cumberland Island
Sunrise, 2016, near Sea Camp

Willingness to Forgive Others

Title slide with photo of Lenten processional in Antigua, Guatemala

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 2, 2023
2 Corinthians 2:5-17

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, June 30, 2023

In his book, What’s So Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey makes a bold accusation about the church. [Jesus] “gained the reputation as a lover of sinners, a reputation that his followers are in danger of losing.” He then quotes Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker among the poor in the early 20th Century, who said, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”[1]

Who do you love the least? What sins really turn your stomach? Why? How can we, as followers of Jesus, regain a reputation for being a lover of sinners. As I have noted in the first two sermons from Second Corinthians, we need grace and not just from God but from one another. 

Would we want to live in a world without grace?

Yancey, in that same book, makes another bold statement, “the strongest argument in favor of grace is the alternative, a world of ungrace. The strongest argument for forgiveness is the alternative, a permanent state of unforgiveness… Where unforgiveness reigns… a Newtonian law comes into play: For every atrocity there must be an equal and opposite atrocity.”[2] Not the kind of place I’d want to live. Would you?

If the church wants to be serious about changing the world for the better, we must learn to forgive and to show grace even to those from whom we despise. It doesn’t me we downplay sin. But it does mean that we value all people as having been created in God’s image and worthy of our love. 

Before reading the Scripture

So far, in our look at Second Corinthians, we’ve seen the trouble Paul faced in Asia[3] and Corinth.[4] We don’t know all the issues or reasons behind the trouble. We’re only hearing one side of the conversation. We also know that Paul sent other letters to Corinth in addition to First Corinthians.[5] These missing letters could help explain what is going on, but sadly they’ve been lost to history. We must make our best effort with what we know and depend on God’s Spirit to help us interpret the opening chapters of this letter. 

In today’s reading, we’ll see that there was one person in Corinth who Paul may have called to be punished. Some assumed this was the man in an incestuous relationship with his stepmom, mentioned in Paul’s first letter.[6] For that, Paul chastised the Corinthians, telling them that even the pagan Romans didn’t allow such behavior. However, most scholars now question such a linkage. It sounds like the person Paul has in mind had had an encounter or at least his actions impacted Paul. Interestingly, Paul is now ready to forgive and move on and that’s part of the message here. 

Read 2 Corinthians 2:5-17

Our text last week ended with a beautiful statement of the love Paul has for the Corinthian followers of Jesus.[7] Now Paul wants them to demonstrate their love as they forgive someone whom Paul has already forgiven. Love is perhaps best demonstrated in our willingness to forgive, just as God’s love for us in shown in God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. 


The first part of our reading has to do with the forgiveness of this unknown individual whom the Corinthian Church had punished. We don’t know the crime or what this individual did. One of the early Church fathers pastorally suggests Paul doesn’t mention the deed because he’s ready to forgive.[8]

Here we get insight into Paul’s thinking. Punishment is not for vengeance. In writing to the Romans, Paul reminds them that vengeance belongs to God, not us.[9] Punishment is only to be used to encourage people to get their lives back on track.

When someone repents of a wrong, Christians are called forgive. Paul realizes that harsh punishments, those which go beyond correction and the protection of the community, will only overwhelm the sinner. In their grief, there will be an opening for Satan to enter and to cause even more destruction to the one being punished. So, when repentance occurs, the community should immediately welcome the individual back into the fold and let bygones be bygones. 

Welfare of the individual and the community

While I think Paul is mostly concerned for the eternal welfare of the individual who committed the sin, his rational also applies to the community who punished the individual. It is easy in our self-righteousness, to hate evil more than we love good. If you’ve ever read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, you’ll see how the Devil can use such righteousness to his own benefit. When we hate more than love, Satan wins.


Love must exist at the heart of all who follow Jesus. We want to draw in more people to love and follow Jesus. If we’re only good at hating things, even sinful things, it eradicates our love. So, for the good of the Corinthians as well as the individual, they should forgive. And so should we. Letting go of grudges and forgetting about retaliation are marks of a true believer and a follower of Jesus.

Paul’s pastoral concern

Paul’s concern is pastoral. John Chrysostom, writing in the 4thCentury, notes that Paul is no longer speaking as a teacher here but as an equal. He places the Corinthians on the judgment seat as he acts as the advocate for the convicted man.[10] In a similar manner, Jesus will be our advocate before the judgement throne.

Paul’s “harsh letter”

In the next section of our reading, we have another glimpse at the struggles Paul faced in his journeys. As I pointed out earlier, there were more than two letters from Paul to the Corinthians. It is thought that between First and Second Corinthians, there was a third “harsh letter.”[11]

This letter may have dealt with the problems of the individual mentioned above. Maybe the person in question was a threat to the safety of the church. Perhaps his teachings were divisive, which is another problem Paul addressed in his previous letter.[12] Maybe Paul came down hard on the need to punish the individual, as he did with the man involved in an incestuous affair in First Corinthians. Whatever the reason, Paul finds himself concerned over the welfare of the church in Corinth and anxious for news.

Paul’s second visit to Troas

I also find it interesting that Paul, in Troas once again, finds the door open to his preaching. If you remember, Paul earlier visited Troas and found all the doors closed. Then, in a dream, he was called across the sea from Troas to Macedonia and onto the European continent.[13] But now, as he finds doors open to preach, Paul’s anxiety keeps him from taking advantage of this opportunity. 

Paul again heads to Macedonia in search of Titus and news of the Corinthians. Sadly, the citizens of Troas lose the opportunity to hear Paul, but we are reminded that the God has entrusted the good news to frail human beings like Paul and us. And yes, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, the good news spreads even despite us.

The victory parade of the gospel

We learn of this spread in the last section of today’s reading, beginning in Verse 14. Paul describes it as a victory parade, in which the victors are seen in glory, spreading fragrance. Of course, such parades in Paul’s day would have included the defeated, the captured enemies, seen in their humility also being paraded through the city.[14] Paul uses this metaphor to remind us that the victory of the gospel doesn’t belong to us, but to God. 

Antigua, Guatemala

A few years ago, I was on a mission trip to Guatemala. After our stint was over, conducting medical surveys in rural villages, I stayed a few days in Antiqua, an ancient city on the flanks of a volcano. This was during Lent. On Sunday afternoon, many of the streets were cordoned off. Local artists using flower petals and colored caulk, created murals along the street. 

Then came the procession, which occurred every Sunday during Lent. Floats with depictions of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the disciples, and finally a statue of Jesus himself made its way into the city toward the Cathedral. In the front of the floats were priests, swinging their censers of incense that spilled out among the crowds. 

Reading about Christ’s triumphal procession reminds me of that experience, although I must admit the incense drove my sinuses crazy and I ended up with a terrible infection. But what’s important is that victory belongs to God, and we are those called by God to do our small part in telling Jesus’ story to the world. We help spread God’s love, which is a fragrance smell to those being saved.


You know, if it was not for Christ, we’d all be lost. We’re all sinful, and only in Jesus can we find forgiveness. Because of our past failures and God’s acceptance, we are called to build a community that welcomes others. And because we have been forgiven, we need to forgive others. Instead of dividing people into “Us” and “Them”, the church is called to show the world a better way of welcoming each and every person as a sinner in need of God’s grace. Are we up to the task? The health of our community and world depends on it. Amen. 

[1]  Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 158.

[2] Yancey, 114. 



[5] Paul Barnett, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 28-31.

[6] 1 Corinthians 5:1-8.  See Barnett, 124-125.

[7] 2 Corinthians 2:4. See

[8] Chrysostom, Homilies of Paul to the Corinthians, inAncient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, Vol. VII (Dower’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 206. 

[9] Romans 12:19.

[10] Chrysostom, 207. 

[11] Barnett, 128-129.

[12] 1 Corinthians 3.

[13] Acts 16:8-10.

[14] Barnett, 146-150. 

Lenten processional in Antigua

Photo of Lenten processional in Antigua