My First Job, Part 3

Title slide showing items from Wilsons Supermarket and cigarette ads

Bert called me into work early one day in 1974. Coming into the store, tying my tie as I walk over to the time clock, I saw Bert talking with Ed. He was one of the two brothers who owned the chain of stores. They called me over and told me I need to take a lie detector test. I was shell-shocked and didn’t have time to object before we were in the office where a stranger sat by a machine. They had me to sit down and the man, whom I’d never seen, explained how the machine worked and said he’d ask me questions. I immediately begin to recall eating a few bananas or grapes that were never paid for while moping the store at night. 

Bert and Ed left the room. The man put clips on my shaking fingers, much like oxygen sensors used in a doctor’s office. A cuff, like one used for blood pressure, was applied to one of my arms. He started off with a bunch of easy questions, most of them personal, like name and age and hobbies and such. Then came the big one. 

“Have you ever stolen anything from the store?”

Knowing my goose was cooked, I admitted eating a few grapes and a banana or two while there late at night mopping. I tried to rationalize saying there was no one to pay and pointed out that other times I weighed the fruit and left the money on a cash register. The man asked more questions about stealing money or about taking things out of the store. Finally, he got to cigarettes and spent some time asking if I or if I knew of anyone who’d stole cigarettes. My answers were honest. I knew of no one who’d stolen money or merchandise. 

I was sweating like a pig when he finally finished. Thinking I was in trouble for my petty thief, I asked him how I did. “I’ll make a report, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” he said. “But what about the bananas and grapes?” “Don’t worry,” he said laughing. “That’s not what this is about.” 

That night, while closing, Bert called me aside to tell me what this had been about.

In one of the other stores, they’d discovered a regular criminal ring. Another high school student, like me, who handled the tobacco products was stealing them blind. He would order more cases than needed. As this was back before barcode scanners, the only way to know how much product one sold was by how many items were missing from the shelves. According to Bert, the guy stashed the extra cases behind a dumpster. At night, when no one was looking, he’d stash the cases in his car. He’d been stealing five or so cases a week. Each case held 30 cartons. He sold the cases to someone who took the cases up north, where cigarette taxes were higher, to resale on the black market. 

When the Wilson brothers discovered the ring, they brought in a lie detector detective. All all key employees (those who handled lots of money such as the managers, the cashier supervisors, as well as those who handled tobacco products) take a lie detector test. Even Bert and John had to take the test. I had no idea whether it was legal. but I was glad to have survived and to know that I wasn’t going to be fired for being the great grape thief. 

About six months after I started working at Wilson’s, the guy who’d handled the cigarettes went off to college. Bert asked me if I’d be interested. I’m sure he was hoping he’d have me for several years in the position, which turned out to be the case. Furthermore, I was a good candidate because I didn’t smoke.

At this time, it was legal to smoke in North Carolina when you were fifteen, but the store’s policy was to use non-smokers to handle tobacco products. This was in the fall of 1973 and at that time, in North Carolina, a carton of regular cigarettes (ten packs) sold for $1.89. Do the math. Today, a pack of cigarettes will cost you more twice what a cartoon cost in 1973. Back then, if you wanted the longer cigarettes, you had to pony up a dime more for a carton. By the time I left the store in the summer of 1976, cigarettes had jumped to $2.39 and $2.49 a carton.

Every day I worked, I spent about half an hour filling the shelves with tobacco products. This also meant that I had to work more days to keep the shelves stocked. On Wednesday, it took me several hours as I first helped unload the truck. Then I rotated the shelves of product and fill the depleted ones. I would straighten up the tobacco room in the back and make a report on how many cartons of each cigarette we had in stock. Using that information, I made the order for the next week. I found it fun to project how many I felt we would sell. I knew people could become grumpy when we didn’t have their favorite bands. 

We sold lots of Winstons and Salems and Marlboros. If my memory doesn’t fail me, it seems I generally ordered 30 cases of each of those brands a week. We also sold a fair number of Camels as well as Virginia Slims, the choice cigarette for women. I often had to set up displays by the various Cigarettes. Marboros featured cowboys while Virginia Slims featured sexy women and the logo, “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” Having grown up with three grandparents who smoked heavily, I felt there was nothing sexy or macho about cigarettes. 

In the summer, we sold more as tourists would stock up before heading back north. There were a few smaller brands that we might only sell a carton or two a week. As you wanted to keep your product fresh, we’d only have five or six cartons in the store at any one time. Occasionally a tourist would come in looking for some old brand, like a Chesterfield, and buy us out. Then, when the regular purchaser of that brand came in, they would be disappointed that we didn’t have any. 

Another job that I assumed after about a year at the store was price changes. I was provided a printout of new prices and had a grocery cart with a bread rack tied to the top. In the part of the cart where the kids sat, I would stash the tools of the trade. A razor scraper, nail polish remover, rags, black magic markers, and a label machine. On my belt hung a price stamping machine. 

I would go to each product, remove the old price. It the item was cans or glass jars with a metal top, the prices were generally stamped in ink. I’d put the cans on top of the bread tray shelf, pour nail polish removal on the rag and wipe off the products. If there were a lot of such cans to change, I’d get a little high from the smell. Next, I stamped the new price onto the top and placed the product back on the shelf. If it was boxes or frozen items, I would have to ink out the price with a magic marker and then place a label over it.  Sometimes I would use a razor to scrape off a label.

When I first assumed this job in late 1973, after someone else had left for college or another job, I thought it was easy. I made the changes in prices in a hour or two each week. But if you remember the mid-70s, inflation began to skyrocket. By late 1974, it was taking me a full day and sometimes two to make all the changes. Instead of having a page printout, I began to have reams of papers. Some of the products that didn’t move off the shelf fast would have several changes on top. I found myself dreading certain changes, such a baby food. You can image how many jars of baby food a grocery shelf holds and to know that all the prices are going up by a cent or two. It’d take me hours. 

In the summer of 1976, between my freshman and sophomore year in college, I accepted a job at the bakery. Bert asked if I’d like to stay on and continue to do the cigarettes. I agreed. I trained Tom to do the price changes. At the time I left, I thought I’d be back at the store in the fall, when school resumed. Bert and Ed discussed with me about becoming what was known as “the third man,” in a new store being built at Monkey Junction. When the manager and assistant manager were off, I’d be in charge and would be required to close the store a few nights a week. 

The possibility of this new job as the third man sounded good to a college kid. But I finished my summer position at the bakery, the Production manager, called me into his office one day. Don told me he knew I was about to go back to school and wanted to see if there was a way for them to keep me employed. He suggested that I could have a second shift position and continue to go to school in the morning. He offered me a machine operator position and hinted that there might be a chance for me to become a supervisor. As they paid more than the grocery store was offering, I decided to stay with the bakery. I trained my friend Tom to take over the cigarette business at Wilsons. Two years later, I became a supervisor at the bakery.

Grocery Store Stories

My first job

My first job, Part 2

November 1976 and Tom

Bakery Stories 

Coming of Age at the Bakery

A College Boy in the Bakery

Harvey and Ernest

Frank and Roosevelt

The Perils of Working on the Christian Sabbath

Christ the King

Sermon title slide with a photo of my dog, Mia

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches  

November 26, 2023
Ezekiel 34:11-24[1]

Sermon recorded on Friday, November 24, 2023. I laughed at the way the sun coming into the window made it look at is I had a white glove on my right hand.

Hugh Latimer, a Calvinist, served as Bishop of Worcester in the 16thCentury during Henry VIII’s reign. He was a leader in the English Reformation. King Henry VIII, until he couldn’t obtain a divorce, aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. One Sunday as Latimer prepared to enter the pulpit, he looked out and saw Henry sitting in the pews. 

“Latimer, be careful of what you say today. King Henry is here,” he heard whispered. But then, as he entered the pulpit, he whispered to himself, “Latimer, be careful of what you say today; the King of Kings is here.”[2] Latimer later suffer martyrdom at the hands of Bloody Mary.[3]

Today we’re reminded that like Latimer, we live out our lives in the presence of the true King, Jesus Christ. It’s Christ the King Sunday. That may not mean much to those of us who grew up in non-liturgical churches. After all, Christ should be our king 365 days a year. Make that 366 days next year—it’s a leap year. 

Before reading the scriptures:

As we heard in our New Testament reading,[4] as a king, Christ surprises us. He comes disguised as the poor, the needy, the sick, or one in prison.[5] We also think of Christ as the good shepherd, a common metaphor used for kings in scripture as in the ancient world.[6]  

As a day on the church calendar, Christ the King is relatively new. It was added roughly 100 years ago by Pope Pius XI. Protestants originally shunned the day as too sectarian.[7] In time, however, many Protestant churches adopted the day which falls on the last Sunday of the church’s year. Next week, with Advent, we begin a new cycle in the church’s calendar.

When he introduced Christ the King, Pius XI was concerned how the church should respond to the world. Mussolini ruled Italy and atheistic Communism threatened from Russia. Both demanded the worship of the state. A few years later, as fascism spread in Europe, a handful of Protestants took their turn at speaking out. A group of Reformed and Lutheran Church leaders in Germany published the Theological Declaration of Barmen in 1933. We’ll read from this Declaration as we profess our faith this morning after the sermon. For Christians, Christ is Lord and demands our ultimate allegiance.  

Now, proclaiming Christ as King isn’t a new concept. Scripture proclaims Christ as king. [8] Our Confessions lift his kingly role as one of the three offices of Christ, the other two being prophet and priest.[9]

My sermon this morning comes from a prophecy given to the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel addresses the Israelites in exile in Babylon and lifts a vision of a new order. God will become the “shepherd” of his people. Of course, we who live on this side of the resurrection know the “Good Shepherd.” Read Ezekiel 34:11-24


Do you remember Calvin and Hobbes? There was one strip where Calvin was swinging on the playground at school. The bully Moe, who looks to be twice Calvin’s age and as one who may have repeated more grades than he’d passed, calls Calvin a “Twinkie,” saying “get off my swing.” Brave Calvin responds, “Forget it, Moe, wait your turn.” Moe responds with a right punch that knocks Calvin out of the swing and onto the ground. Pulling himself together, Calvin mumbles, “It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.”[10]

I expect the Israelites in exile felt the same. Where was their God when the Babylonians stormed the walls of Jerusalem? Some lost their faith. But others remained hopeful. Ezekiel speaks to them with a promise. No longer will those in power lead; no longer will those who abuse others continue their terror. Instead, God will lead as a shepherd. As a true shepherd God will protect Israel. This passage contains both judgment and promise!

To fully understand this passage, we should look at the 34th chapter in its entirety. (Your homework assignment for today is to read the chapter in its entirety this afternoon.) The chapter revolves around the “shepherd allegory.” Kings were often called shepherds in the ancient world.[11] The shepherd image for a king implied one who cared and nurtured his subjects. Ezekiel uses this metaphor to highlight the hypocrisy of Israel’s kings, shepherds who “enrich themselves at the expense of the flock.”[12]

A perfect example of Ezekiel’s “bad shepherd king” would be the Czars of Russia. (Putin, Russia’s current leader, just follows their footsteps). Not only did the Czars rule ruthlessly, but they also became the richest monarchs in Europe. They did this while ruling over the poorest country of the continent.

Several years ago, I visited the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia. A home for the Czars, the place is incredible. It’d take a week to really appreciate all the collected artwork. But as I thought while viewing the treasures, “it’s no wonder the people revolted.” 

A good king is not one who lives high on the hog while his subjects starve. Rather, a good king is like a shepherd, one who helps protect his subjects from danger and leads in a way that they’re provided with fresh fields (or food) and running streams (or clean water). A shepherd is an appropriate name for such a leader.

Unfortunately, Israel didn’t have too many kings like this.  Surely, there were some who did a better job than others. But most looked out for themselves and for their friends, while allowing abuse of their citizens. This chapter begins with a condemnation of such wicked rulers, the “shepherds who have eaten of the fat and clothed themselves with the wool of their flocks yet have not fed the sheep.” 

This is what God promises beginning in the 11th verse. “I, myself,” God proclaims, “will search for my sheep.” God will be the shepherd. God will bring the people, who had been scattered at Jerusalem’s fall, back together. There will be a reversal of their misfortune. God will provide good pasture; God will strengthen the weak; God will heal the sick; God will bind the injured; God will seek the lost. By the beginning of the 16th verse, there seemed to be a balance between judgment and promise, but then there was a shift and God again speaks of judgment.

“The fat and the strong I will destroy,” says God. Notice the shift; God no longer talks to the shepherds, or the rulers. God now addresses the “sheep and goats,” members of the flock. We heard the same thing in our reading earlier from Matthew 25. Obviously, it’s not just the leaders who are abusing their power, but there are some “sheep and goats” who abuse others.

Have you ever watched animals eat and notice how the strong push aside the weak? Eternally, I should be concerned for my dog, Mia. Often when Caroline’s dog, Apple, needs a drink, Mia will decide she, too, needs a drink. Mia is much larger than Apple and will butt the smaller dog away and then drain the bowl. We feed them in separate rooms. Sheep, and other animals, are no different. 

Sheepherders spend a lot of time with the weaker animals trying to strengthen them. If an ewe gives birth to more lambs that she can nurse, the ewe will push away the weakest lamb. The shepherd will have to take that lamb and find another ewe, perhaps one with only a single lamb, to nurse. The sheepherder encourages an “adoptive bond.”[13] Otherwise, the rejected lamb will die. 

Without a shepherd, strong animals take advantage of the weaker animals. And we see such behavior even among humans. Without a good teacher, bullies in the classroom intimidate other students. Without good leaders, those with economic or political clout take advantage and oppress those without.  

Now that God has judged both the shepherds who have ignored the needs of their flocks and the sheep who, in the absence of the shepherds, abused the weaker ones, God returns to the future promise of a new shepherd. God and his servant David will rule and guide the flock. David, the former shepherd who became a king, will return to be God’s prince. The return of God’s king becomes the Messianic Promise spoken to Hebrews living in exile hundreds of miles from their home. God will gather the faithful together and lead them back home, and a king like David will return and rule justly.  

Have these promises of God been fulfilled?  Yes, some of them. And they continue to be fulfilled! A new shepherd, the good shepherd, was born in the city of David—the one you and I proclaim as Savior. We’ll celebrate his birth in five weeks! Yet, as we wait, we’re reminded over we still wait and long for the day proclaimed in scripture when Jesus Christ will return and rule. On that day, wars will cease, and every knee will bow and proclaim Christ as King. Until then, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

Here’s a couple of things to take from this passage.  First, be reminded that bad people exist, as do bad shepherds. There are those who rule ruthlessly and those who use their power to exclude others. As followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t do that, nor do we owe such people allegiance. 

Next, there is a new day coming, one that will bring justice and hope. Ezekiel tells us that God will bring the bad shepherds and the bullies within the flocks to justice. Eternally, we have no need to fear those who abuse, for our eternal hope doesn’t rest in their hands, but in the hands of our loving Savior. 

Finally, as Christians, we long for that day when Christ returns, and his kingship becomes visible. We’re to proclaim this vision to a longing world.

If our allegiance really belongs to Jesus, if Christ really is our king, then we should be like Bishop Latimer and not fear the King Henry XIIIs who sit in our midst. Nor should we fear any other person who might be pushing us to ignore Christ and follow them. Nor should we fear the crowd who may mock our decisions. Instead, we place our hope in our King, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[1] I preached this sermon, in a slightly different form, on November 20, 2011 and November 26, 2017.

[2] Robert F. Sims, “The Shepherd King,” in Under the Wings of the Almighty in “

[3] Mary 1, was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She is also known as Mary Tudor and Bloody Mary, because of the number of Protestant leaders she had executed during her attempt to return England to Catholicism. 

[4] Matthew 25:31-46.

[5] From a sermon by Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church in Richmond, VA in 2017. See

[6] Meg Jenista, “Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 26, 2023, Ezekiel 34:1-16, 20-24. See For scriptural references see Psalm 23, 95, and 100. 

[7] David I. Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini (New York: Random House, 2014), 84.

[8] Matthew 27:11; John 1:49:1 Timothy 1:17, 6:15; Revelations 15:3, 1:9

[9] “The Westminster Larger Catechism” Questions 43-45.

[10] Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes (November 8, 1990).

[11] Jenista,

[12] Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 432.

[13] When birthing lambs, a sheepherder will often smear the placenta from the lamb born of a ewe in order to entice her to accept a second lamb to nurse and feed.

photo of Mia in a sweatshirt
Mia in my Bluemont Study

November 1976 and Tom

Title slide with a view of UNCW and a Ford for President campaign button

On the second of November, Election Day, Tom and I met in the cafeteria at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Normally I rushed from school to the bakery for the second shift, but since it was Tuesday, I was off. At the bakery, those in production worked Sundays and Mondays, then Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. In my spare time that fall, between classes and work, I had volunteered for the Ford Campaign for President. Tom, whom I knew since 1973, when we both starting to work at Wilson’s Supermarket on the same day, also volunteered. Often on Tuesdays, we would be working a phone bank or putting up signs. But now Election Day was here. It was time to rest. 

We talked about the election. While I had worked for Ford, I wasn’t opposed to Carter being President. I had even heard him speak on campus during my freshman year in college. There’s not been many election since that I could say that I admired both candidates. Although in different precincts, both Tom and I voted early that morning. It was our first time going to the polls, and sadly, for Tom, his last. 

While eating, Tom shared with me that he was going back to the eye doctor that afternoon. His eyes had been bothering him, and they couldn’t seem to get his thick glasses adjusted. I had no idea this would be the last time I would see him alive. After all, I no longer worked with him at Wilson’s Supermarket, nor did we have classes together. 

Tom, however, had a class with my fiancé. She had complained to me a few weeks earlier about Tom, how he often sat by her and tried to talk to her in a psychology class. Thinking he was weird, with his thick glasses, the red splotches on his skin, and the way he often twitched his head when talking, she felt he made it hard for her to make friends within her field of psychology. She wanted me to tell him to leave her alone. I refused. We had a bad argument. I started to break up with her. Had I done so, it would have saved me much heartache a few years later. But I didn’t. Before the topic came up again, Tom was struggling to live. 

A few days after that lunch, I received a call from Billy, another friend, who told me that Tom was in the hospital and had a brain tumor. His eye doctor realized something else was wrong and sent him to another physician. Billy and I went to see him at the hospital, but were not allowed in. I later learned they performed the surgery, and the physicians realized it was more complicated than expected. They closed him up and brought in a team from Duke to help with the surgery, but Tom didn’t survive. 

Several of us who had worked with Tom at Wilsons attended the funeral. The service was held at the Catholic Church on Wrightsville Beach.  It seemed odd, but this was the second time I had been in a Catholic Church. Both times had been for a funeral and at the same church. The first funeral was three years earlier, for an another high school friend. In an odd sort of way, Tom was the glue that held several of us together. After we said our goodbyes that afternoon, I would never see the two of them again. 

Wilsons grocery bag

Tom and I started at Wilson’s Supermarket on the same day. Being the new kids in the store, we became friends. And during my time there, Tom generally followed me. When I became the leader of the Saturday night mop crew and had an opening, I invited Tom. He would later take my place running the mop crew. I taught him how to use a cash register, how to handle price changes, and to order cigarettes. Billy started working at Wilsons a few months after us, and he was the first to leave as he graduated in 1974. 

While Tom went to a different school than Billy and me, we often hung out and got into mischief after work.

One night, Tom was riding with Billy, and I was following. We headed south on South College. When we got to where the road split off with Shipyard Boulevard, across from Hoggard High School, we took the right as the road became a four lane. I gunned it and moved to pass Billy. We were on a curve with a medium between us and the opposing traffic. The curve limited my sight. Soon, a car in the wrong lane was coming straight toward me. I swung over, trusting I was ahead of Billy. I barely missed the approaching car. Thankfully Billy, sensing the danger, hit his brakes. Billy later said that Thomas screamed something about me dying and grabbed his arms while he was trying to slow down and move onto the shoulder to give me room. Certainly, had I hit this car head-on, I probably wouldn’t have walked away.

I remember going with Tom to a meeting for Ford volunteers that fall. The county chairperson, some big-shot doctor in town, kept calling on Thomas thinking he had a question whenever he twitched his head. Finally, the doctor asked him what was wrong. Tom said he was okay, but I knew the question hurt him. When I told my mother about this exchange, she was furious. “That man is a doctor; he should have know that Tom has a medical condition and not have shamed him.” Sadly, at the time, none of us knew the severity of his condition.  

I don’t know if Tom ever got his driver licenses. He either rode his bicycle or his older brothers gave him a lift. The two of us discussed taking our bikes up to the Outer Banks and riding and camping along the beach, but sadly we never got around to it. Leaving his funeral, I felt a tinge of guilt for not working harder to have made it happen. 

After the funeral, one of his brothers confided in me that Tom’s twitches were a part of his condition which led to his brain tumor. He knew that anytime such a tumor, such as the one that claimed his life, was a possibility. But Tom never sought pity; he just wanted to be included as one of us. I look back over these 47 years and think of all that he missed, and yet I’m glad to have had a few years of friendship with him. 


Sadly, I have no photos of Tom. One day I will check out New Hanover High School yearbooks for 1974-1976 and see if I can find a photo.

The Administration building at UNCW
University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Examine Yourself

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 19, 2023
2 Corinthians 13

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, November 17, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

When I was in school, I hated tests. I wasn’t alone, was I? But being tested allows us to see our progress and can help us do better. I prefer the tests we grade ourselves, for it showed where I need to work harder. But I also know, when taking such a test, that sooner or later, there’ll be a big test. That’s the one that counts toward the final grade.

While we, as Christians, are saved by God through Jesus Christ, we are also called to test ourselves to ensure that we’re becoming more Christ-like in our lives. And while such tests help us improve, the real goal is to be ready when we stand for the big test, the final judgment. 

We’re going to talk about testing ourselves today. And when the day arrives, hopefully we’ll all be ready. After all, we have Jesus on our side. 

Before reading the Scripture: 

Our text last week ended with Paul concerned about his upcoming visit to Corinth. He fretted over the prospect of having to confront the Corinthians on sins they tolerate. Some of these sins were social, involving the church at large, such as quarrelling, jealously and gossip. We tend to forget that such sins are dangerous, don’t we. But they destroy relationships, which is what the church is about. Other sins were more individualist such as sexual immortality. 

In today’s reading, as Paul comes to the end of this letter, he acknowledges his willingness to handle this situation. However, he would prefer the Corinthians to take care of the situation themselves and not involve him, an outsider. Paul then closes the letter with one of his most beautiful benedictions among those in his letters. 

Read 2 Corinthians 13

Our reading this morning begins with Paul on a serious note. It’s the equivalent of my mom saying, “You just wait till your dad gets home.” As I’ve said all along, this letter was to prepare for Paul’s visit to Corinth. This chapter begins with Paul repeating the idea of his third visit to Corinth.[1]

Paul quickly follows his travel information with a reminder of the Hebrew requirement for witnesses. To accuse someone was serious business. Capital punishment required at least two and perhaps three witnesses. And if the witnesses falsely brought charges, they stood under the same punishment as the accused.[2]

On a side note, I dislike the idea of the death penalty. However, those who call for capital punishment based on a Biblical precedent, I find it odd how they seem to forget the seriousness of perjury was in the Old Testament. If a witness (or a prosecutor or police officer) withheld or fabricated facts to obtain a conviction, according to the Bible, they’d stand under the same sentence as the accused. 

But Paul, here, isn’t dealing with capital sins. Those types of punishment aren’t even in question. After all, the church didn’t have such power to carry out such punishment. That power only belonged to Rome. Instead, Paul uses the idea of witnesses in a different manner. He’s given the Corinthians three warnings (from his previous letters and visits). If they haven’t cleaned up their act by the time he arrives, he’s not going to go easy on the church in Corinth. 

As he has done throughout this letter, Paul finds himself on defense. The Corinthians seem to desire proof that Christ speaks through him. Paul reminds them that while Christ works in weakness, as seen at the cross, Christ now lives in power. This is a power Christ has inferred on the church. Paul might appear weak, but he has the power of God.  

In verse 5, Paul switches from the Corinthians quest to see if Paul speaks for Christ, to them searching out themselves for Christ’s presence. “Examine yourself,” he commands, “to see if you are living in the faith.” Paul challenges the Corinthians to make sure they pass the test. Interestingly, in verse 7, Paul appears to take some responsibility if they fail. 

We’ve seen all along, Paul’s personally investment in the Corinthian church. He wants them to succeed and would personally accept some of the blame if they fail. By encouraging such an examination of their life in Christ, Paul sets them up to be restored in Christ. Paul hopes that before he visits, the Corinthians will be on track, and he won’t have to “be severe” in using the authority that the Lord has given him. Again, as we’ve heard earlier, Paul again repeats his desire is to build up and not tear down.[3]

Paul then brings his letter to a close. “Finally,” he says. We can almost sense Paul taking a deep breath and mumbling, “I’m done.” After all, 2nd Corinthians is his third longest work, behind Romans and 1st Corinthians. Paul continues. “Be restored, listen to my appeal; agree with one another; live in peace; and the God of peace will be with you.”

This part expresses Paul’s hope for the Corinthians and their life together.

He continues, encouraging them to greet one another with a “holy kiss.” Our culture tends to reserve kissing for romantic settings or between parents and babies. But in much of the world, including the Mediterranean region, kissing was a common way to greet one another. This would be a kiss on the cheek or the shoulder, not on the lips. Such a kiss indicated there was a bond between the two. It was a way to acknowledge kindship and familiarity. And Paul see’s it as fitting for the Corinthians to greet one another in this matter. It shows they, in Christ, are a part of the same family.

Finally, Paul ends with a trinitarian benediction. While the doctrine of the Trinity, as we know it, came later, Paul certainly understands the necessity for all the persons of the Trinity—God’s Son our Lord, God the Father and Creator, and the Holy Spirit—to be present in our Christian lives.

What happened during Paul’s third visit to the Corinthians? We don’t know. Luke tells us in Acts, that on Paul’s final visit to Greece, he spent three months there before moving on to Macedonia.[4] We can assume that at least some if not most of this time was spent in Corinth.  We also know the Corinthians participated in the offering for the Jerusalem saints, which Paul focused on in the 8th and 9th chapters.[5] So it appears this letter was at least partially successful. But that’s in the past. What impact does Paul’s 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians have on us? 

Over the past 20 sermons, we have observed Paul’s struggles along with the hope he has in Jesus Christ. We have seen Paul’s seriousness and (as with the “Fools Speech”) his playfulness. Paul actions reminds us that there are times for correction and times for grace. We have learned about gratitude and knowing who truly owns the world. And we have observed how he places his trust in Jesus Christ. I have enjoyed spending much time in the study of this letter, and I hope you have benefited from my work. 

Paul wraps up his letter with this last section. We should take seriously Paul’s command for the Corinthians to examine themselves. Examination is a part of being a Christian. Last Fall and Spring, those who participated in Stan Ott’s workshops learned a way for us to examine ourselves at the end of the day, as we pray. We look back over our day and recall places where we could have done better and confess our sin. We also are reminded of times God showed up or we had a new experience with the divine, along with other blessings. For these, we give thanks. 

Being a Christian, following Jesus, isn’t just a prayer and you’re done. It’s constantly striving to live more like Jesus in our lives. And even the best of the saints, like Paul, struggle. So, examine yourself and give thanks for God’s grace. Amen. 

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

[1] Paul had just said this in 2 Corinthians 12:14. 

[2] Deuteronomy 19:15-19. 

[3] 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 12:9. 

[4] Acts 20:2-3. 

[5] See Romans 15:26, where Paul speaks of the gifts from Achaia, of which Corinth was the leading city. 

Sunset photo taken last week
The end of the day is the perfect time to examine oneself…

Two Book by C. Lee McKenzie

Title Slide with book covers

C. Lee McKenzie, Rattlesnake

Book cover for Rattlesnake

(I read an advance PDF copy) 

Allie and Jonah, a brother and sister from New Hampshire, along with their aunt, find themselves in Rattlesnake, Nevada. It’s an old mining town. Having inherited a house and mine from an uncle, they move with the hopes of rebuilding their lives. Allie and Jonah, whose mother died, and father has disappeared, struggle in their new school. Their aunt attempts to find employment while working on the inhabitable house which also appears to be haunted. The town itself seems to conspire against them. Jonah falls for a girl named Juliet. Unfortunately, she is attached to a bully named Snake. Another boy named Galvin befriends Jonah and the two make the basketball team. Galvin is also interested in Allie. 

As Jonah attempts to get revenge on Snake, something goes wrong. Allie and Jonah find themselves transported back into time, where they meet Catherine, the ghost in their home. She, too, is from a family without a mom. Her father is accused of murder and hanged. To save her father’s name and reputation, she needs Jonah’s help. Without giving away the details, things work out. 

While I am never been drawn to ghost stories, I enjoyed this book. Of course, I couldn’t help to draw parallels between Jonah and Allie’s new home in Rattlesnake and my own experience in Virginia City, Nevada. A few things were too similar. Rattlesnake had a Bucket of Venom Saloon while Virginia City has a Bucket of Blood. Both communities in history had Chinese sections which provided firewood and vegetables among other things.

Allie and Jonah move into Rattlesnake toward the end of summer, the same time I moved to Virginia City. McKenzie capture many of the experiences I had, such as the sun slipping behind the mountain earlier and the coming cold weather that happens in the desert mountains. Although I didn’t have a ghost muse named Catherine to draw me into an interest in history, I became obsessed with the community. In my last few months in Virginia City, about once a week I’d spent an afternoon in the Nevada Historical Society achieves at the University of Nevada, Reno. Later, I would write a dissertation on the community. 

I recommend this book to middle school and high school age young adults. The book points out the danger of bullying, and of not speaking up for what is right. Hopefully, the reader will learn there are noble things we should do, if we can, to make things right.

The author provided me a copy of the book before publication for an honest review. This is the fourth book I’ve read by McKenzie. I appreciate how she addresses issues faced by our youth. However, this is the first “ghost story” I’ve read by her. In this blog, I reviewed Not Guilty and Shattered.

Links to my own posts about my time in Virginia City: 

Sunday afternoon drive to Gerlach 

Arriving in Virginia City 

David Henry Palmer arrives in Virginia City, 1863

Doug and Elvira

Matt and Virginia City

Riding in the cab of a locomotive on the V&T

Christmas Eve, 1988

C. Lee McKenzie, Sliding on the Edge 

Book cover for "Sliding on the Edge"

(Westside Books, 2009).  I read this on my iPad using a Kindle app.

Shawna is a tough sixteen-year-old, at least on the outside. She can survive the streets of Las Vegas and the abusive boyfriends of her narcissistic mother. When her mother flees town with her newest lover, on the day the rent is due, Shawna wakes to a bus ticket, a $100 bill, and a note to go to her grandmother’s home in Central California. There, she will be where her mother can find her when she gets her life back together. 

Having never met her grandmother, Shawna reluctantly decides to take the trip. Having been disappointed all her life, Shawna has developed a protective façade that pushes others away. In a similar way, her grandmother Kay also has a habit of pushing people away. The two leading characters in the story have sad memories that each must deal with. But Shawna issues are deeper. Having pushed everyone away, she deals with her deep pain by giving into the “Monster” and cutting herself with a razor blade.  Shawna and Kay need the other.  Kay, by taking care of Shawna, can finally put aside the tragedies of her past as Shawna, with the help of her grandmother and an old horse, learns to trust. The book is told from the point-of-view of both characters: Kay and Shawna.  

I found myself deeply pained by the events of Shawna’s past. No child should ever have to deal with a mother who used her daughter in her schemes to obtain what she wanted in life. As we read the stories, we learn the two had worked together as petty criminals on the streets of Vegas. Moving to Central California, where she surprises her grandmother, Shawna finds herself in a strange new world. This is the world of horse farms and high schools where girls have sleepovers. It takes a lot of patience but by the end of the book, after she realizes she doesn’t want to go back to her mother, things are looking up for Shawna.  

I have often enjoyed the young adult works, especially the works of Gary Paulsen and Gary Schmidt. However, they write stories about teenage boys. Reading about a teenage girl, in a book written for girls is a little different. I was curious to learn what goes on in someone’s mind that causes them to cut themselves. As a book of fiction, this is not a handbook about the practice and how to stop it. But I can see how one can come so jaded about life that they resort to such drastic measures to battle the pain. 

This review appeared in another blog of mine in 2016. 

Planning for a reunion

Title slide showing a tree at sunset

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 11, 2023
2 Corinthians 12:14-21

At the beginning of the service:

In a blog post in this week’s Reformed Journal, James Schaap, a retired professor of English at Dordt College writes about his parents and World War 2.[1] His father was in the Coast Guard and spent much of the war on a tugboat in the South Pacific. He left for war with a young daughter. His second daughter was born while he was in basic training. In his father’s Bible, which he carried through the war, was a picture of his mother and his daughters on a beach along Lake Michigan. Knowing his father carried this photo and his Bible through the war brought good memories to the author, who wasn’t yet born. 

Schaap tells the story from his mother’s recollection. She was to meet her husband at the train station, with a hoard of other families greeting loved ones coming back from the war. Fretting over how to make the homecoming perfect, she worried if her husband would grab his oldest child, the one he remembered, or the younger child, And then she worried if she might be jealous if he hugged them before he hugged her. She pondered what to do. When the day came, she left the children with a sitter and went alone to the station. 

I hope those of you who are veterans had a wonderful day yesterday, and that your homecomings from your time in the military were perfect. In today’s sermon, we’ll explore this desire to make reunions and homecomings special, along with our fears they may not go the way we would like. I think Schaap’s mother understood such a challenge.

Before reading the scripture:

We’ll finish our tour through 2nd Corinthians next week. Last week, we looked at the end of Paul’s “fools’ speech.” That interlude provided a little humor. Today we’ll see Paul returning to a more serious dialogue as he prepares for his third visit to Corinth. For a change, I am going to read the passage from The Message translation. I invite you to read along in your own Bibles and have them ready to follow along in the sermon.

Read 2 Corinthians 12:14-21

An upcoming reunion can cause mixed feelings. We may have high expectations. If a high school or college reunion, we might be curious about a former girlfriend or boyfriend. Are they the same as we remembered? Or, to quote Barbara Streisand in her hit song in the movie, “The Way We Were,” “has time re-written every line?”[2] Or, will our old nemesis show up and harsh feelings we had long forgotten rise in our guts.

The same can be true of family gatherings. Will a crazy uncle go off about politics. Or will a cousin express weird conspiracies theories that throws a wet blanket on the gathering? Or will a sibling bring up dark secrets we’d like to keep buried?  

Probably one of the reasons reunions are hard is that memories of the past cannot live up to our expectations or desires. We remember the good times and, again to quote Barbara Streisand, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply to choose to forget.” 

We’re coming up on the season of family gatherings with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I pray your gatherings will be delightful, and later in the sermon I’ll offer some advice about getting through such times. 

But first, let’s look at Paul and his plans for a reunion with the Corinthians. 

If you remember back to the early chapters of this epistle, Paul has visited Corinth twice. The first time was a long visit of a year and a half where he gathered the church. Luke tells us about that visit in his story of the church, The Acts of the Apostles.[3]

Paul later came back on a second visit that didn’t go so well. We learned about this visit earlier in this letter.[4] It was a surprise visit. Paul had high hopes for it, thinking he could see the Corinthians twice, once on his way to visit the churches in Macedonia, and again on his return. But it didn’t work out that way. He stayed a short period of time and quickly left. Some didn’t like the fact that he came unannounced. Others felt he left too early and were hurt when Paul decided not to visit again on his return from Macedonia. Paul couldn’t win. In a way, 2ndCorinthians is preparation for Paul to visit his beloved church in Corinth one last time. 

In today’s passage, Paul returns to his plans for a visit… And he has three concerns on his mind, which he lays out. First, Paul doesn’t want to be a burden. He considers the Corinthians as his children, whom he must show care. He’s the type of guest who doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor. 

Paul reminds me of a missionary friend of mine, Cody, who called me a year or two ago. He’d been at a Mission Conference up north and was driving back to his home in Birmingham, Alabama. He wanted a place to crash for the night. I was in the middle of fixing up the basement. The bathroom was only partly finished and the study I’d built for myself, and to use as an extra guest room, didn’t have the flooring down. I was a little embarrassed, but when I offered it, Cody said, “this is great.” And he meant it. 

Of course, Cody spent several years working in Dhaka, Bangladesh and wouldn’t have had a problem sleeping on pallets in my barn. 

All along, with Paul’s work in Corinth, he tries to avoid being a burden. He provided for his expenses by working with other Christians in a tentmaking business, and by being supported by the churches in Macedonia.[5] Of course, as we have seen, Paul’s supporting himself has also caused a rift in Corinth.[6] The Corinthians must have brought into the argument that you get what you pay for, which is in contradiction to a gospel freely offered. 

In our reading today, we see Paul concern goes beyond not charging the Corinthians for his services. He infers in verses 16 through 18 that some in Corinth think he may be a clever grifter. This is Paul’s second concern. While not charging or accepting payment from the Corinthians, they assume he skims off what has been given to the Jerusalem mission and uses this for his own expenses. Such charges hurt Paul, for he has only wanted to build up the Corinthians. Through a series of rhetorical questions about his intent, along with the intention of others like Titus, Paul defends his reputation. “Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building up.”[7]

But beyond building up, Paul insists his judge is not the Corinthians, but God. That’s because ultimately, everything he does is for building God’s kingdom, just as everything he (and we) have belongs to God. 

Paul’s final concern has to do with what he’ll find once he arrives in Corinth. Ever go to a reunion wondering how it might go? Will it become a drunken bash? Will there be arguments and fights? Well, Paul had similar concerns.

Paul’s concerns are in two realms. Internal sins within the church which include quarreling and jealousy, anger and selfishness, slander and gossip, conceit and disorder. In other words, things inside the first century church are not much different than what goes on inside churches in the 21st century. If you dig into any church body today, you’ll find some if not all these sins. That doesn’t make it right. We need to continually confess how our lives—individually and corporately—fail to live up to the standards set by Jesus. And we need to strive, like Paul, to build up one another and not to tear down.

Paul’s second area of focus includes external sins. The formerly pagan Christians in Corinth wouldn’t have had much of a problem with such sins as Paul acknowledges in verse 21. Impurity, sexual immorality, and debauchery were things they may have formerly practiced. Such sins should be repented of and ended. We see this clearly in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Some of the church’s members have brought these former practices into the church. Paul desires for those in the church to enter a new life centered in Christ, but he has his concerns…

At least some of Paul’s situation reflect our concerns when reunited with friends or family after an extended absence. What should we learn from Paul’s teachings? Going into such a reunion, we should, like Paul, focus on building up others. Instead of fretting over our own feelings, let’s make sure those around us are comfortable. By focusing on others, we help lower the tension and the unease and hopefully all will have a better time.  

I came across a poem titled “A Kinder World,” from a Canadian poet this week. In closing, let me share a few of her lines: 

Everyone I meet 
is fighting battles 
I know nothing about
and I am fighting 
battles they know
nothing about.
So I will be kind to 
those who cross my 
path and hope for 
the same kindness 
in return.
For life is full of battles 
that all of us face. 
So I will be careful with 
my words.
I will care about others.
I will speak words that 
help and I will speak 
words that heal,
because life is hard. 
Yet kindness makes it 
easier to get through.[8]  



[2] Barbara Streisand, “The Way We Were,” 1974. 

[3] Acts 18:1-17. 

[4] 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4. See

[5] Acts 18:2-3 and 2 Corinthians 11:9.

[6] 2 Corinthians 11:7-11. See

[7] 2 Corinthians 12:19 NRSV

[8] Melanie Korach, “A Kinder World.” Posted on Twitter:

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Henrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and 
Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

Tree behind Nester's Cemetery
A favorite tree, that I’ve photographed many times at sunset over the past three years

Virginia City’s Mucker’s presents Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”

program for "Our Town"

The year before I left my job with the Boy Scouts and headed to seminary, I wrote out five-year goals. One goal was to be act in a play. I have always enjoyed the theater and wanted to experience acting firsthand. I got my chance when I moved to Virginia City in September 1988. A week or two after arriving on the Comstock, I saw an advertisement for tryouts for a play which would include students and adults. 

I asked some of the church folks about the Mucker’s Theater Group and received mixed feelings. For years, they had used the church for their performances. But there had been some bad blood between the two organizations. They were supposed to clean up the church on Saturday nigh, returning the sanctuary to a state where worship could be held the next day. A few years before, when the theater group left the church chancel looking like a bar after a fright on Sunday morning, the church threw the group out. 

In the hope of removing some of the bad blood between the theater and the church, as well as meeting a personal goals, I showed up at the tryouts. I was offered the role of Joe Stoddard, the town’s undertaker. My presence in the play brought many of the church members back to the theater. 

Tommy, the “Stage Manager”

We began practicing in September. It was still warm and daylight when practice began, but as they continued, the weather became cooler, and daylight decreased. Our production ran from Thursday through Saturday evenings, November 10-12. By then, the zephyrs blew and we experienced a few snow flurries.

For a town with only 700 residents, we played to pack houses. Almost everyone attended, not just from the town but from down in the valley. By the third night, we were feeling pretty good about the attendance and the play itself. This set the scene for one of my favorite memories of my time in Virginia City which occurred on the last night of the play. 

“You know, we’re missing the Flapper tonight,” I confided to Penny and Christy as we waited backstage for the curtain to rise for the closing night.”  I hoped someone might be interested after the play and cast party. Since this play had a cast that included elementary school students, the planned party only involved cake and punch. 

“We don’t have to miss it,” Christy said as she lowered her voice. “Let’s slip out after our scene in Act 1. We don’t have to be back until the 3rd Act.

“Should we?” Penny asked.

Christy and I smiled.

The three of us had minor parts in the play that involved the entire community. With a high school that fourteen graduates in its senior class, everyone had to be involved. Penny and Christy were both teachers. The school janitor had the leading role as the stage manager. Emily and George Gibbs, two other leading characters, were high school students. Bill, the director was a halftime teacher and a halftime state employee for the purpose of fostering the arts in rural parts of the state.

Twenty minutes after the play began, we slipped out from behind the gym that also served as the auditorium for the Virginia City School on D Street. The night was cold. As we climbed the steep steps up to C Street, we giggled as we began to breathe heavily. Our warm breath appeared as smoke that filled the air. We crossed an abandoned C Street on the south end of the business district this time at night, and headed north up the boardwalk. After we crossed Dayton Street, where there were still bars opened, a few cars were parked along the road. When we arrived at the Silver Stope, the bar which hosted the party, Christy took hold of one of my arms, Penny grabbed the other.  

“We’ve come all the way from Grover’s Corner,” we shouted, making a grand entrance. All three of us had minor parts in the play, but we enjoyed hamming it up for the bar patrons. Most of the patrons dressed as if they were visiting a New York Speakeasy during the 1920s. Almost all of them had seen the play earlier in the week warmly welcomed us to the party.  

Of course, we weren’t dressed as flappers. New Englanders didn’t have time for such nonsense. Christy and Penny played the wives of farmers and wore calico dresses. As Joe Stoddard, the town undertaker, I sported black jacket and a stovepipe hat, which had probably been left-over from some school play about Abraham Lincoln. With my costume, I could have just as easily played the role of a well-to-do 19th Century Mormon polygamist taking my wives out for a drink. 

While most of the bar’s patrons dressed like flappers, one person stood out. Murray Mack was on the piano, wearing his usual evening attire for a night on the Comstock, a rather loud 1970s era polyester leisure suit. Murray, who repaired glass during the daytime, would dress up at night and was well-known for his gift of pounding out ragtime on the piano. Tonight, he had moved up a decade to play jazz. 

On the floor in the middle of the bar sat an antique claw-footed bathtub filled with a pink liquid. We were handed three clear-glass cups which must have come from someone’s punch bowl set and were encouraged to imbibe. We all scooped a cupful of the concoction. It was awful. I didn’t ask for the recipe, but I assumed it consisted of 190 proof Everclear, or maybe it was kerosene, mixed with powdered Kool-Aid. After my first sip, I looked to find a place to ditch my drink. Seeing no plants in need of watering, I excused myself and took my cup into the bathroom.

Moments later, I returned with an empty cup. The bartender came from behind the bar to snap of photo of us with a Polaroid camera. This photo enshrined us on the bulletin board by the door. Having just emptied my cup, I felt bad dipping it back into the drink. But they insisted I have some of the so-called gin in my cup, so I reluctantly dipped it back into the tub. It was more of the thought of dipping a used cup into the juice that bothered me for that tub contained enough alcohol to have killed any depictable germ residing on my cup. 

With my cup nearly pouring over, the three of us stood behind the tub and raised our cups for a toast to the Virginia City Mucker’s production of “Our Town.” He snapped a photo. We asked the bartender if he would snap another, so we could present the director evidence of what some of his adult cast were doing between their scenes. He did. After visiting with folks for a few minutes, we placed our cups on the bar and headed back to the high school. I noticed, like me, neither Penny nor Christy had finished their drinks. 

We were back in time for the final act. As undertaker, I had to see to it that Emily Gibbs was buried one final time. Penny, who played her mother, sobbed throughout the scene. Christy, ignoring her blocking instructions and her lines, stepped in front of Penny to console her grieving friend.  

“It’ll be okay,” Christy whispered, patting Penny on the back. “We can go to my house afterwards and have a decent drink.”

This was the Mucker’s second time producing “Our Town.” The first production was 31 years earlier, in 1957, in which Bob Del Carlo, who was sheriff for Storey County when I was on the Comstock, played the lead as the Stage Manager.

For much of the church’s history, the theater and the saloon would have been off-limits for Presbyterian ministers serving the Comstock. In the 19th Century, the church was often at odds with the theater and alcohol was a terrible social problem. Church members were discouraged from frequenting the theater or inbibing. Yet, the theater and saloon thrived during the days of bonanza. 

Other writings of my time in Virginia City:

Sunday afternoon drive to Gerlach

Arriving in Virginia City 

David Henry Palmer arrives in Virginia City, 1863

Doug and Elvira

Matt and Virginia City

Riding in the cab of a locomotive on the V&T

Christmas Eve

waiting around during practice

The Fools Speech, Part 3

Title slide for sermon. Photo of angel statue during the fall from a cemetery

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 5, 2023
2 Corinthians 12:1-13

Before worship: 
In her 1995 alternative hit album, Jagged Little Pill, Anlanis Morissett had a hit titled “Ironic.” We hear of an old man who turns 98 and wins the lottery and dies the next day. And of the death row inmate whose pardon arrives two minutes too late. Rain falls one’s wedding day, while the ride’s free but you’ve already paid… “Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you,” the song goes, ‘When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right… it blows up in your face.”

I wonder if this is what Paul experiences in our passage today… Today we’ll see him follows an “out-of-the world experience” with a struggle from pain and suffering… Life is made up of the good and bad. How do we respond to all of it? 

Before reading the scriptures:
Today we come to the end of Paul’s “Fool’s Speech” in 2ndCorinthians.[1] As I have said over the past two weeks, we title for this section from Paul repeatedly referring to himself as a fool. Of course, he’s also displaying the foolishness of both the Corinthians and the missionaries who followed him. These so-called missionaries are troubling for Paul. They speak eloquently and boast about their endeavors. Paul feels they must be challenged for they are not teaching the true gospel. Yet Paul doesn’t like to boast about his doing. So, he plays the fool. 

In a way, I’m afraid not everything comes across from translation and cultures. I think this section was probably considered quite humorous in Paul’s day. After all, he employs satire and parody to make his point. 

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-13

I had a dream this past week. It started out at a rummage sale held by the women in the church I served in Utah. I was visiting and catching up with folks I had not seen in sometime. And while we were talking, something caught my eye. It was my brother’s Cub Scout badges. Don’t ask me how I knew these were his badges, but I did. I grabbed them and paid the asking price of 50 cents. 

At this point, I became creative. I designed some stationary mimicking Boy Scout letterhead. I looked up the name of the chief scout executive at the organization’s headquarters in Irving, Texas. I then, using this stationary, wrote a letter from the Chief Scout Executive to my brother. 

Dear Warren, the letter began. I am terribly sorry we as an organization lost your Cub Scout badges. I just hope that this mistake of ours didn’t haunt you, or cause you pain, over the years. Better late than never, here are your badges. We’re just 55 years behind, but want you to have them as you’ve earned them… 

Next, in the dream, I was in the kitchen of my childhood home. My brother was there, talking about this weird letter he received which included a bobcat, wolf, and bear Cub Scout badges. The odd thing, he said, he doesn’t remember not receiving them. My mother, who was alive in my dream, was flabbergasted that the chief scout executive took the time to write her son a personal note. 

I was leaning up against the refrigerator about to bust a gut. In my dream, they both looked up and stared at me. I confessed my involvement in the mysterious letter. My mother told me I should be ashamed of myself, but she was also smiling.

I have no idea what this dream was about. However, it was good to hear my mom’s voice. Maybe, in my subconsciousness, I recalled a shenanigan I pull off in the 8th or 9th grade. One Sunday afternoon, I saw an ad for old age insurance in Parade,the Sunday magazine that came in the newspaper. It was designed for those over 65 years old (which no longer seems old). But for those this age who wanted to give their families peace of mind and help with the funeral expenses could do so with a cheap insurance policy. I thought my brother, who’s a year younger than me, might benefit from such insurance. I filled out card on his behalf and dropped it in the mailbox. 

I then forgot about it. But one day, a few weeks later, I came home from school and my mother was upset at my brother. While we were in school, an insurance salesman stopped by asking for Warren. The man seemed perplexed when my mom told him that Warren was in school. She asked what he wanted and learned about the insurance. Of course, Warren had no idea what she was talking about, but I began to laugh, and mom then knew what was up. 

My mom laid it on thick. She described to me how the man drove a car that was hitting on about three cylinders, had bald tires, and was held together with bailing wire. Then she told me about how you could almost see through his threadbare suit. She was sure he really needed this lead to pan out so he could provide dinner for his family that night… My mother was a good Southern mom, she knew how to dish out guilt. I went from thinking I’ve pulled off a great prank to feeling guilty. 

Paul, in today’s passage, moves from a great height to a deep depth. He starts off discussing being drawn up into the third heaven. The Jewish belief at this time was that the heavens had multiple stages and the third heaven expressed being taken up into the very top of it—into paradise, we might say. 

Why does Paul bring this up? Especially since he leaves a lot of specifics out. He only recalls the experience with the briefest of details while acknowledging that as a mortal, he’s not allowed to speak about it. This whole section known as the “Fool’s Speech” is directed at the so-called “Super-Apostles” who followed Paul into Corinth. We might assume they had conveyed their own mystical experiences. This would not have been uncommon in the ancient world. Even Plato, in the Republic, speaks of such experiences.[2] Paul, wanting to protect his reputation and not to be seen as less mystical, shares his own experiences.

It’s interesting Paul doesn’t say that he experienced it, but only that he knew of the person who was drawn up into the heavens. But it seems clear Paul refers to himself. Even the ancient church leaders assumed that Paul was speaking about himself and not someone else.[3] For a man who didn’t like to boast, referring to an anonymous source protects Paul’s pride. 

But as soon as Paul tells of visiting Paradise, he returns to a more familiar theme, his humility. He has this thorn in the side thanks to a messenger of Satan. It torments him and he’s asked God to remove it three times, but his request had been denied. Don’t think that all our prayers are answered in the way we’d like. Paul realizes that this problem of his (and no one thinks it’s an actual thorn that could be pulled out, but probably some kind of ailment or handicap) keeps him humble.

While Paul doesn’t find relief from the pain, Christ assures him that his grace is sufficient. Again, that theme we find repeatedly in the gospels and in Paul’s letters returns. When we depend on and trust God, we discover strength in our weakness. The last can become first. The servant can become a master. And the weak can display strength.[4] This happens because we are not alone. God is with us so Paul can proclaim in verse 10 that in he is content even in his weakness despite the insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities he endures for Christ.  “Whenever I am weak,” Paul proclaims, then I am strong!” 

Our passage concludes with the end of his “fool’s speech.” As he’s insisted all along, he was forced into playing the fool. He contrasts himself to the so called “super-Apostles,” reminding them of how he has been faithful to the Corinthians. Again, he brings it up how he didn’t even burden them for contributions for his own support. We’ve seen this several times in this letter, so it must have bothered the Apostle. Paul then ends this part of his speech in sarcasm relating to his lack of asking for support. “Forgive me for this wrong.” 

For the sarcasm, think of someone giving you something that comes with a price. But they don’t charge you for the item. Imagine a shop keeper giving you a piece of candy and instead of charging you, he asks your forgiveness for not having the privilege of paying. The gospel is that way. Instead of purchasing it through our hard work, it’s offered freely. We’re to just acknowledge the gift. 

While Paul plays the fool, he demonstrates two truths. The first one, life should be fun. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, there is room in life for play and humor. The second is the truth of the Christian gospel. In our weakness we find strength in Christ. So, while there may be ups and downs in our lives, from the verge of Paradise to the pain of illness, we should remember that God is with us and will supply the strength needed.  

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Henrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and 
Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

[1] The “Fool’s Speech” starts in 2 Corinthians 11: 1 and goes through 12:13. See and

[2] Plato, The Republic 10:614-21.

[3] See Ambrosiaster, “Commentary on Paul’s Epistle; Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians;” Pelagius, “Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians;” and Gregory Nazianzen, “Oration 28, on the Doctrine of God.” In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VII, 1-2 Corinthians (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 302. 

[4] See Matthew 19:30, 20:8, 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; Luke 13:30.

Angel statue in cemetery with fall colored leaves in background
Angel in Nester’s Cemetery (before the leaves fell)

Baseball and Theology

title page with covers of the two books

The World Series will soon be over. If you’re like me and you don’t have dog in the hunt (even though I would like to see the Diamondbacks win, but that seems very unlikely with them down 3-1 in the Series and down a run in the 7th inning of the fifth game. Yes, I have watched parts of all but one of the games.

For those of you going into baseball withdrawal, here are a few reviews of books that discuss baseball and our Christian faith. For another review mine on a similar book by John Sexton, president of New York University, titled “Baseball as a Road to God, click here.

James S. Currie, The Kingdom of God is Like… Baseball: A Metaphor for Jesus’s Kingdom Parables 

(Eugene Oregon, Cascade Books, 2011), 114 pages. 

I know the author’s brother, Tom Currie. In the acknowledgements, James acknowledges Tom as a better baseball player and a more “perspicacious theologian.” I’ve not seen Tom play but have been blessed to be in the presence of  his keen theological mind. I have also heard him speak of his love of the game. I even attended a night game with him in Pittsburgh this summer. When he mentioned this book, I decided to pick it up. And now we’re in a World Series where I’m not really excited by either team, I picked up this book to read and I hope to get this review out before the Series is over!  

Each chapter appears they could have been sermons. The author explores Jesus’ kingdom parables using baseball stories. TThe first chapter digs into the theme of failure and freedom in which we hear stories of great games by mediocre ballplayers and how you are more likely to be out than to get a hit… From there, he explores themes like joys, hope, community, hard work, unexpected heroes, reflecting society, communion of saints, and home. If you count them up, there are nine major chapters in this book just like there are nine innings in a baseball. And, as it sometimes happens, there is one last chapter for the extra innings. 

This book is a joy. The baseball fan will be reminded of many stories, some well-known and others less so. The Biblical scholar may come away with a new way of approaching Jesus’ kingdom parables. 

Marc A. Jolley, Safe at Home: A Memoir of God, Baseball, and Family (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005), 139 pages, a few photos.

This is a delightful book in which Jolley recalls childhood memories with his father on up to the time he became a father himself. Jolley links these life transitions together with his love of baseball and his growing faith. Like baseball with more strikeouts than home runs, Jolley’s story contains sadness along with joy. There’s the time he failed to make his high school team. Then there are the casualties experienced by those, like Jolley, on the sideline during a political battles between fundamentalists and more moderate members of his denomination (Southern Baptist). These were tough times to be in seminary as Jolley completes his MDiv and PhD.  Jolley also deals with depression. Through it all, Jolley’s parents and wife support him. In the end, Jolley discovers family to be the medicine needed to help keep his depression under control.  

As a white Southerner, I have never understood fellow Southerners who root for the Yankees. As a child, it was always St. Louis and then Atlanta, when the Braves moved there. The Yankees were despised.  I recently learned this was also true of many African-Americans in the South (at least in the 50s).  I would have thought they would have seen the Yankees as liberators (a good thing), but the New York Yankees was one of the last teams to integrate.  Instead, African-Americans supported the Dodgers, who brought up Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in baseball.[1] 

That said, Jolley and his father were Yankee fans.  He describes entering Yankee Stadium with his son to watch their first game with the details of an architect entering a cathedral. Reading about this trip, I was excited for him.  I was almost as excited as I was three years ago when I saw my first game at Yankee Stadium.  Like his son, a Diamondback fan who rooted against the Yankees, I attended a Yankee-Detroit cheering on the Tiger’s.  Baseball has a way of bringing people together and providing a good time even though in my game it rained and the Tiger’s lost by 12 runs.

Jolley’s father’s love for the Yankees’ was tested when they pick up Reggie Jackson as a free agent. His father couldn’t stand Jackson saying he had no respect for one who bragged about himself and talked bad about others. But Jackson, Mr. October, backed up his loud mouth with homeruns. Sadly, Jolley was never able to attend a game at Yankee Stadium with his father.  When he was able to take his own son, his father was in a nursing home. But his smiled and enjoyed the stories when he heard about the trip Jolley took with his son.

I also appreciated how Jolley wove in many of my favorite authors into his narrative. Will Campbell’s Glad River makes an appearance as he reflects on his father’s faith (even though he was never baptized). He quotes William Styron and credits him with getting through depression.  Dante’s Divine Comedy makes an appearance as does W. P. Kinsella.’s classic, Shoeless Joe” upon which the movie “Field of Dreams was based.”

This is an enjoyable read and I highly recommend it. As Jolley points out in the quote below, there things baseball does better than the church in the disciple-making business: 

I never learned to respect enemies at church. I learned a lot about hate and divisiveness at church. I learned nothing about a common goal, or a purpose. Not until much later did I ever figure church out.  Playing baseball that year, I got a head start on what church was supposed to be.”  (Page 60)

I read and reviewed this book in 2017 in a blog that’s no longer available. The author confided in me afterwards that he and his first wife divorced and he has remarried. That said, the book is still a good read.

[1] On race and team loyalty in at least one corner of the south, see Melton A. McLaurin, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South (1987, Athens: UGA Press, 1998), 142-145,