Because of Jesus, we look at the world differently

Title slide showing mountain sunrise with fog in valley

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Church 
August 20, 2023
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

At the beginning of worship:   

A dozen years ago, John Ortberg published a book titled the me I want to be: becoming God’s best version of you”[1] The title turned me off. It sounded as if went against my theology of focusing more on God and not ourselves. But I read the book. While a catchy title, the book goes deeper than I had expected and has some good insights. 

God created a diverse world. We’re all different. Looks, shapes, the hue of our skin and hair, our abilities. We’re all unique. The goal of the church shouldn’t be to create a cookie-cutter version of a Christian. If that was even possible, we would create a boring organization. And we wouldn’t be effective! God calls us for a purpose. If we all looked, talked, and acted the same, if we all liked the same things, we would alienate ourselves from the rest of the world. 

But that’s not what God’s wants. God created us as irreplaceable individuals. Consider Jesus’ original disciples. They were all unique: you had fishermen and tax collectors, a physician and a revolutionary, devoted followers and skeptics. We’re all unique and beautiful. We’ve been created by the Master Artist who designed us with a purpose and a vision for the future. 

Before reading the scripture

Last week, we saw how Paul ended the section with a reminder that all of us, including himself, will face judgment for what we’ve done in our bodies. As we continue with 2nd Corinthians, in today’s reading, Paul moves to an appeal for the reason he shares the gospel and focuses on God and not himself. 

Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Because of our focus as believers of Christ, Paul teaches four truths here. 

  • We can have life in Christ.
  • We should look at other people through Jesus’ eyes.
  • We work as companions with Christ in God’s mission of reconciling himself to the world.
  • And, in Christ, we can become more righteous. 

I recently listened to the book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70sThe 70s brought great change to baseball. Players began to look like the rest of America with long hair. AstroTurf took over ballparks. The designated hitter became a reality. But it was also a good decade for baseball if you were a Pirate’s fan. They were almost always in contention and won the World Series in ‘71 and ‘79.  

The ‘79 series featured Willie Stargell, a great ball player. A few years later, when I would sit in the cheap seats in the upper deck of Three River Stadium, there would be stars marking where he smacked home runs. Stargell was the spark for that team, but he always insisted on giving credit to the rest of the players. Yet, his teammates always gave the credit back to him. 

“He taught us how to take what comes and then come back,” Dave Parker, another player on the team said. “He taught us how to strike out and walk away calmly, lay the bat down gently, then get up the next time and hit a home run. From him we learned not to get too high on the good days or too low on the bad days, because there are plenty of both in this game…” 

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Paul would have been a fan of the ’79 Pirates. At least he’d like their attitude. Don’t boost about yourself, Paul insists. Others can boost about you. And the only ones that really matters is God, who knows all, as well as our own conscience. We should ask ourselves, “Are we doing our best?” 

For Paul, the focus is always on Christ, the one who died for us, so that we might have life in him. And for Paul, this life is not just in the world to come, but in the present. Because Christ gave his life, we are to live not for ourselves, but for him. 

Because we live for Christ, we are to look at the world differently. We don’t look at one another from a strictly human point of view. We must see others as Christ sees us, overlooking their flaws and seeing their God-given potential. This means we don’t look at others with envy or disdain, but with compassion and love.

“Comparison kills spirituality, John Ortberg wrote in the book I mentioned earlier.[2] If we compare ourselves to one another, whether we look up to or down on them, we’re doomed. For God didn’t create me to be you or you to be me. God creates us unique and the only comparison that we’re to make is to compare ourselves to our Savior, a mirror in which we will all see our shortcomings. 

But thankfully, we will also all experience the accepting and loving smile of a forgiving Savior. Yes, he wants us to improve our lives, but doesn’t want us to be burdened with guilt or to make us into something we’re not.  

So, Paul suggests we not evaluate people from a human point of view or, as translated in The Message “by what they have or how they look.” But you know, that’s not an easy lesson to learn.

One of the wonders of Facebook is that it has allows us to renew old friendships of people we’ve not seen or talked to in decades. For me, some of these people became good friends even though we weren’t close when we were younger. We knew each other but didn’t hang out a lot. Yet, now we’re all older, we find things we have in common. 

Joseph was one such guy I got to know better, who sadly died four years ago. When visiting my parents, we’d often together for coffee or over a beer and talk. I confessed to him once that when we were in Junior High, I was envious of him and his friends in the band. He couldn’t believe it and went on to say, to my shock, how he was envious of me and me and those I ran around with. Truth be known, we’d both been better off if we hadn’t worried about others and just been ourselves. But that’s a hard lesson when you’re a teenager. But as we mature as disciples, it is a lesson we must learn. For we must see people as Jesus sees them.

Paul’s second point also needs to be considered. Not only are we not to judge others by human standards, but we’re also to realize that we’re not who we should be.  That’s the purpose of comparing ourselves with Christ; for in Christ, we see our shortcomings and our need for both mercy and change. Looking at Christ, we see the need for conversion, to change into something new. 

There must be a new creation, something we can’t do ourselves. Only God has such power to wash us clean and to change us. It’s important we see the tie Paul makes here between Christ and a new creation for we can’t recreate ourselves. I can change clothes or find a hair piece, but that’s not what Paul means. We must be recreated in Christ!  

We can’t recreate ourselves; we need God’s help if we’re going to find new life in Christ. In Christ, we’re made new because we are reconciled with God. Our sins are not held against us because Christ takes them on himself. 

In coming to Christ, we are made right with God, but it doesn’t end there.  Remember, there is a purpose in all this… We’re made right with God, not just to get into heaven. Surely, that’s important, but it’s not the primary purpose. We’re made right with God first, then we’re to go out and reconcile others to ourselves. We become an extension in God’s work of reconciliation; it starts with Jesus and then flows through us into the world. God wants us to join in his work. That’s our call as Christians.

In verse twenty, we learn we’re Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador is a good description, for an ambassador doesn’t represent his or her own interest; but the interest of his or her country. When the President appoints an ambassador to another country, they are not told to go and do what they think is best. They’re to represent our interest and our values to a foreign country. Likewise, as followers of Jesus, we represent not ourselves, but his kingdom! We are to show a foreign world the values of the heavenly kingdom to which we belong. 

This means that our work as Christ’s disciples isn’t limited to what we do here, on Sunday morning. Our work is to be about showing godly values—in our families, our places of work, at the marketplace, or with our neighbors. Wherever we find ourselves, we are to be a living example of what it means to be a new creation in Christ.

And finally, in our last verse, Paul suggests all of this—our new lives in Christ, our seeing others in Christ’s eyes, our work of reconciliation—is a part a greater plan of us becoming more righteous. As we focus on Christ, we become more like him. That’s what the gospel is about. 

“To Jesus Christ, who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priest of his God and Father, to him be the glory and dominion forever and ever.[“3] Amen.  

[1] John Ortberg, the me I want to be: becoming God’s best version of you (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[2]Ortberg, 25.

[3] Revelation 1:5-6.

Dutch Oven Cooking and Lime Pickles

Title slide showing cooking in Dutch ovens and pickles in jars

I have been asked recently for recipes for my pickles and my Dutch oven feast of which I did two this summer, one in June and the other in August. Here’s a how-to. All you need are a half dozen Dutch-ovens, an ice cream maker, a bunch of cucumbers, a few other things, and a fair bit of time on your hands (and let’s hope your hands are clean!)….

Dutch Oven Dinner

Chicken cooked in a dutch oven

10 pounds chicken legs and thighs
Bread crumbs
Fine bread crumbs
12 inch Dutch Oven pot

Wash and cut off excess fat on the chicken. If the thighs are still attached to the legs, cut them into two pieces (so they can pack better in the oven).

On griddle or in a cast iron skillet (I use a large camp stove with a griddle over the burner), heat oil. Dip chicken in milk, then roll in breadcrumbs and brown on the griddle in batches.

As you finish browning the chicken, pack the pieces tightly into a Dutch Oven. 

Place a dozen or more coals under the oven, and another dozen on the top (use more if it is windy!) 

Cook for 45-50 minutes (I use a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken is well over 175 degrees) 

If it is windy or to get a quicker start, heat the Dutch Oven on the gas grill before placing it on the coals. Once the cast iron is hot, it’ll be easier to keep hot. 

Barbecue Ribs

6 -8 pounds of spare ribs
Sauce (I make my own using mostly vinegar, hot sauce, pepper, salt, lemon squeezing. If you like it sweeter, add some ketchup).

Pack ribs in oven and pour sauce on top. Place of top of chicken and add another dozen or so coals on top. Cook 45 minutes to an hour. Test meat with the thermometer to make sure it’s north of 165 degrees. 

Dutch Oven cooking
Showing off the ribs
Western-styled Dutch Oven Potatoes
Serving dinner

8 pounds of potatoes
4 pounds of onions
Pound of bacon
spices of choice (basil, oregano, salt, pepper, chopped chives, etc)

Wash potatoes well (I leave the skins on) and then slice into ¼ thick slices

Slice onions into thin slices

Lay out ½ of the bacon on the bottom of a Dutch oven (I generally use a 12 inch deep one)

Place a layer of potatoes, onions, then sprinkle spices. Continue layers until the over is so full, you must push down on the ingredients to close. Then add the rest of the potatoes in strips. 

Cook about 45 minutes with coals above and below, until you can easily push a folk through ingredients.  

Sweet Potatoes

5 pounds of sweet potatoes
2 sticks of butter
Cup of brown sugar
¼ flour
Cup or more of chopped pecans
2 eggs
Deep 10-inch or a  regular 12-inch Dutch Oven

Cook potatoes in oven until they are well done. Take the pulp out of the skins and place in a bowl. Add whisked eggs, ½ cup brown sugar, cinnamon, a tablespoon of vanilla, and ¾ stick of butter. Mix well. Take ¼ stick of butter and coat the oven. Then add the potato mix.

Mix flour, pecans, ½ cup of brown sugar and butter (that’s been chopped into small pieces). Add to the top of the potatoes. Bake with a dozen coals under and above for 30-45 minutes. The potato mixture should bubble up into the nut topping. 


 (I’ve done a lot of cobblers over the years. This is the easiest, but my favorite is a cherry chocolate, but it’s too much if you’re also making ice cream). 

4-15 ounce cans of cherry pie filling
Box of yellow cake mix
2 sticks of butter 
12 inch shallow oven

Coat bottom of over with butter. Pour on the cans of pie filling. Sprinkle the yellow cake mix on top. Take a stick of butter and cut it into small pads and place them around the top. Bake for approximately 30 minutes (the pie filling will rise and give moisture to cake mix. 

Crowd ready to eat
The early crowd at Mayberry’s dinner in June (we ended up with around 38 people in attendance, but these folks were early so they could be first in line)
Homemade Ice Cream (Philly style—6 quart freezer) 

3 quarts half and half
1 pint whole cream
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons Vanilla 
2 cups sugar 
20 pounds of ice
1/3 box of ice cream salt 

Mix all the ingredients together, making sure the sugar is dissolved. Pour into chilled freezer container. Turn on motor and make sure it’s running before you start to add ice around the freezer container. Add ice about 1/3 up, then a cup or so of salt. Do this again and again until the container is covered with ice.  Keep adding ice until container stops. If you have freezer room, I take the container out and put it in freezer. If not, pack ice around it and let it sit for an hour or so to harden.  Enjoy as it is so good. 

Eating under a picnic shelter
Enjoying the food at Bluemont in early August

Lime Pickles 

two cucumbers
Dasher II & Slicing Cakes

10 quart or 20 pint canning jars and rings and new lids
2 food grade plastic containers (4.5 gallon containers that look like what drywall mud comes in, but I would buy the food grade variety and not try to clean out a construction bucket) 
Cucumbers (I like them to be 1-2 inches thick. My garden includes Japanese Climbing, Slicing, and Dasher II Cucumbers)
2 cups pickling lime (not the green fruit, but the powdery kind that goes everywhere if not careful)
Pickling spices (either make your own or use Ms. Wagers, I’ve done both)
Cloves (I add more than are in the spices)
Non-ionized salt
1 1/2 Gallons of Vinegar
20 cups sugar Sugar

Cucumbers in a lime bath

Day 1: Wash and slice a half bushel of cucumbers. If you use a food processor, be careful to cut them as thick as possible-up to ¼ inch thick-or they may turn into mush!  Add two gallons of water to each plastic container along with a cup of line to each. Mix well and add pickles. Let sit for at least 12 hours (I normally let them sit for 24 hours).

Day 2:  Drain the cucumbers (I do this outside as I don’t want lime clogging my drain lines). Rise 3 times, pouring water outside. Then add ice water and let them sit for 3 hours. 

Mix up 2 gallons of vinegar with 16 cups of sugar and two tablespoons of salt. Drain cucumbers and add sugar vinegar to cucumbers. Let sit overnight. 

Day 3: Bring large canning pot of water to boil.  Put jars into pot, wash the rings and the lids in warm soapy water, making sure they are well rinsed. 

Drain sugar vinegar into a large pan. Add in cheesecloth pickling spices and a tablespoon of cloves and bring to a boil. Turn down and boil lightly for 30 minutes. 

Pack cucumbers tightly into hot jars. Add enough vinegar mixture that so that you have 3/8-to-1/2-inch gap from the top of the lid. Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean paper towel. Place lids into rings and screw a ring tightly onto each jar. Place jar in boiling canning water and process (15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts) 

Remove from bath and let sit undisturbed for 24 hours. When ready to eat, refrigerate to chill and enjoy. 


The author of this blog is not responsible for ingredients forgotten or left out. Nor his he responsible for your dirty hands contaminating the food. Nor is he responsible for any food you burn. And finally, he’s just not very responsible. 😉

Cooks showing off Dutch Oven cooking
Scott the fire keeper and me showing off what’s for dinner

Finding Confidence

title slide, background showing a hickory tree with clouds at sunset

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
August 13, 2023

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, August 11, 2023

At the beginning of worship

Where do we find confidence? Where do we get the strength to continue with life? Some may think they can dig deep inside themselves and find strength, but what happens when that fails? The confidence we need is best described in the opening of the Heidelberg Catechism. Our only comfort in life and death is that “I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”[1]

Jesus gives us confidence to live each day to the fulness of our abilities. As we’ll see today, Paul offers similar thoughts to the Corinthians. We do what we can in this life to bring God glory, knowing that in the life to come God will clothe us in eternity. 

Before reading the Scriptures: 

Last week in our scripture and sermon, we were reminded of the troubles Paul faced.[2] In 2 Corinthians 5:8-9, he recites a litany of troubles: afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Paul is counter cultural. These are not the kind of things one would generally advertise if you hoped to gain converts to the Christian faith. But through them all, Paul prevails. Paul’s hope, his confidence, is in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Even when facing death, Paul doesn’t worry. He knows that in his Savior has something greater in store for him, which gives him the confidence he needs to continue in his ministry despite suffering for his beliefs.  

Our passage today is one that is frequently read during funerals. I hear echoes within these verses of Paul’s words to the Romans: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”[3]

Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

What is this passage about?  Faith? Hope? Confidence? Judgment? Death? The life to come? Discipleship? The glory of God?  You could make the case that each of these themes are present in these dozen verses of scripture, which is perhaps why one commentator refers to this passage as “notoriously difficulty.”[4] But let’s explore these verses and see what we might learn.

Paul begins this section with a refrain he used at the beginning of the fourth chapter, “We do not lose heart.”[5] When he first wrote this refrain, he discussed the trials he endured as a missionary. Now, he does what he often does in this epistle, he goes off on a tangent that touches on death and resurrection, hope, and judgment. Paul, in his previous epistle to the Corinthians, dedicated a long chapter to the resurrection, the most detailed account of this doctrine found in Scripture.[6] Now Paul gives another detailed account. 

Of course, Paul doesn’t describe or anywhere, in detail the life to come. Instead, he speaks of the hope and the confidence we have in a future with God. 

Inner and outer nature

Paul begins this section discussing our outer and inner nature. While our outer nature wastes away, our inner nature is being renewed. Here, Paul perhaps is trying to make his point understood by Greeks, especially non-Christians, who were more familiar with such philosophical concepts advanced by Plato and his disciples.[7]

While Paul isn’t saying the outer body is bad and we need to escape from it to some idealistic plane, he places our confidence in God working through our inner nature. While we live our lives in faith in this body, our ultimate hope is in the eternal future God has planned for us. 

We will see clearly in the life to come

As he wrote in 1st Corinthians, where Paul spoke of us looking through a mirror dimly,[8] he now reminds his readers that we can’t see our hope. We live by faith in that which cannot be seen. This life, in which we live in faith, is temporary. The life to come, when we see God face to face, is permanent. 

Three metaphors: Tent, House, Clothes

Paul then continues this thread as he uses three different metaphors: a tent, a house, and clothes. The tent would have reminded the Jewish readers of the tabernacle, that tent which reminded them of God’s presence during the Exodus, when their ancestors traveled through the wilderness.[9] But later, once settled in the promised land, they built a temple, a house for God, that was more permanent.[10]

Likewise, we are now on a journey, so we live in metaphorical tents. But in the life to come, God will provide us a permanent home. In the present, we groan, knowing there is something better. Here again, we hear echoes of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he reminds us that all creation is groaning with us in labor pains as we await redemption.[11]

Next, Paul speaks of us being fully clothed. Again, the Jewish Christians who listened to Paul’s letter would have immediately realized he was speaking of a reversal of the fall and the curse. For when the man and woman in Eden broken God’s commandment, they realized they were naked. They tried to hide their nakedness, but God despite cursing them also took pity on them and provided clothes.[12]

Instead of envisioning going back to Eden, Paul looks forward to a future in which God clothes us in a manner that does more than hide our nakedness. Instead, we are totally remade with a new outfit. Furthermore, this life isn’t bad. After all, we’ve been given a “down payment” on the new life through God’s Spirit indwelling within us. 

God’s Spirit provides confidence

God’s Spirit provides confidence even while we are still in these frail mortal bodies. Paul returns to the topic he began, where we must walk by faith and not sight. In this body in which God has given us in this life, we are to have confidence in God’s future, knowing God is with us now and will be with us in the future. Again, as Paul has reminded his readers in this letter, he repeats that our aim in this life is to please God. But this time he adds a twist. In the end, we will all appear before the judgment throne. 


We don’t like to think about judgment, do we? Some may think that because we are saved in Jesus Christ, we avoid judgment. But Paul contradicts such an idea here.[13] All of us, Paul says, will appear before the judgment throne and will be judged based on what we’ve done with our life in this body, whether good or evil. Paul includes himself in this universal judgment. Paul isn’t worried about his eternal state. He has confidence in his Savior. But Paul expresses concerned that there may be things he’s done on earth that wasn’t as pleasing to God as he’d like.[14] His concern and ours, as Christians, should be if we live up to our calling? 


So, what is this passage about?  Faith? Hope? Confidence? Judgment? Death? The life to come? Discipleship? The glory of God?  It’s all here, and it’s all important. We must not lose hope. We must continue to be confident in our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul reminds us that we’ll stand before his throne of judgment. But don’t lose heart, for as he tells the Romans, not only does Jesus condemn us, but he also intercedes for us and that there is nothing that can separate us from his love.[15] Live in such grace. Amen. 

[1] “The Heidelberg Catechism Question 1,” Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions


[3] Romans 14:8. 

[4] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 150.

[5] 2 Corinthians 4:1. See

[6] 1 Corinthians 15. In 2019, I preached a series of sermons on this text. See and go back from there to read these sermons. 

[7] Barrett, 146.

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:12. 

[9] See Exodus 25-27. 

[10] For an understanding of the temple, see 2 Chronicles 2-7. 

[11] Romans 8:18-25, especially verse 22. 

[12] Genesis 3, especially verses 10, 21)

[13] See also 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, Romans 14:10-12. 

[14] Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: JKP, 1984), 48-49. 

[15] Romans 8:34-35. 

looking east at sunset with hickory tree I foreground and painted clouds at sunset following a storm
Photo taken late July, looking east toward my hickory tree at sunset (after a storm)

Our Value is from God

Title slide showing full moon rising over a cemetery

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
2 Corinthians 4:5-16
August 6, 2023

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, August 4, 2023

At the beginning of worship

Are we valuable? Somewhere I remember hearing that each of us contain about two and a half bucks of valuable minerals. It might be a bit more if you have silver or gold fillings or a titanium joint. Two and a half bucks isn’t bad. After all, the Bible tells says we’re dust.[1]

The body’s real value

Doesn’t sound like our bodies are very valuable, does it? If you think about the body in an economic way, you might decide it’s best to escape the body so that the soul might ascend to heaven.[2] Yet, the Creed reminds us of the resurrection of the body. So, the body is importance, not only in this life but in the life to come. 

The Bible also says that God created us as a body, from the dust of the ground and blew life into our nostrils.[3] The Divine getting down on his knees and taking the time to shape us into a body made in his image provides us value.[4] Think of yourself as artwork, created by the Master Artist. Furthermore, it is in these bodies God came among us in Jesus Christ. In the body, we also experience God. Thanks to the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into a valuable member of God’s family. When you are down and out, don’t think you’re not valuable. For all who trust and believe in Jesus are a member of the King’s family. 

Before reading the Scripture

Today, we’re continuing our work through Second Corinthians. It’s an overwhelming task, but we’ll finish before Advent. Of the letters we have in the New Testament, Paul wrote more to the Corinthians than to any other church. He also spent a year and a half in Corinth, ministering to the people there. 

Paul’s problem

Paul has been held in high esteem over the centuries. He’s responsible for much of the New Testament. But if you read his letters, you get the sense that not everyone appreciated him during his lifetime. We joke about Paul putting people asleep during his sermons, but then I’m sure most of you would be asleep if I tried to preach through the night and into the early morning hours.[5] There were others who questioned Paul’s authority. While he was called by Jesus on the Damascus Road,[6]Paul did not meet Jesus personally during our Savior’s ministry on earth. But he did meet him later. Of course, there were also tension between Jewish believers and Paul,[7] who was called to the Gentiles, as well as tensions between Paul and other missionaries.[8]   

We’ve seen evidence of the unknown conflicts which Paul faced over the past few sermons. These conflicts must have been painful to Paul and to some within the church.[9] But Paul’s main concern, as we saw in last week’s passage, is the glory of God. For Paul, we don’t take slights and attacks personally, for in doing so could diminish God’s glory. Everything is to be done with God in mind. This is why Paul makes such a strong case for depending on God’s strength. As humans, we’re limited. We are frail. We fail. 

None of us are perfect, including Paul

Like Paul realized in his own situation, there are times you say the wrong things. I’m sure I have said and done the wrong things to some of you… If so, I’m sorry. I say that not as an excuse, but as a realization it’s a part of who we are as creatures. We’re not perfect, which is why we are not to be boastful about what we’ve done, only about what God has done and is doing through us. Humility must be in the forefront of a Christian’s life. 

Now Paul continues, talking about his and our role in helping others experience the gospel.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

Clay jars are for storage

In the seventh verse, Paul speaks of treasure in clay jars. In Paul’s day, clay jars or pots along with baskets were the main thing people had to store stuff in. Today, we have cardboard boxes—I’m not sure how many cardboard boxes are in my basement nearly three years after moving. Like the clay vessels of Paul’s day, cardboard boxes are not valuable. They’re cheap and expendable (but let’s recycle them). Cardboard boxes protect that which is inside, which may be valuable: keepsakes, books, and the china.

A metaphor for the flesh

Paul uses clay jars (and we could use cardboard boxes) as a metaphor for the flesh. Boxes and pots, like our bodies, can be easily broken and destroyed. And by themselves, they’re not valuable—two and a half bucks or a little more… This doesn’t mean our bodies are not important or that Paul wants to escape his body and be united with Christ.[10]

God created our bodies in his own image. Second, it is in the body that we can experience God’s grace and glory. Just as it was in the flesh that Jesus came to us. As frail as we may be, and as flawed as we may be, God sees something of value within us and works through us. The treasure that Paul speaks of is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God that we’ve encountered through Jesus Christ.[11] This isn’t something that comes with the body, but through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. 

Value and ability from the Creator

Anything worthwhile we do, isn’t because of our own power and strength, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s because our Creator bestows us with such abilities. Paul’s point is that anyone looking at him would not think he was capable of being the world’s greatest missionary, and they’re right. He was not capable, but with God working through him Paul was able to do incredible things.[12]

Challenges overcome

After speaking of clay jars, Paul moves into a powerful set of contradictions in verses 8 and 9: 

  • afflicted, but not crushed, 
  • perplexed but not driven to despair, 
  • persecuted but not forsaken, 
  • struck down, but not destroyed.

Paul leaves no doubt that any success he’s enjoyed did not come from him, but from God! Paul may have said this because other teachers have come along and claimed to be superior or to have better gifts than Paul. But Paul isn’t having any of that. He can do what he can do, because of God working through him.[13]

The Christian life isn’t easy

Furthermore, from this list of comparison, Paul wants us to know that the Christian life isn’t a cakewalk. Pressures do not get Paul down because God’s power enables him to endure.[14] It’s a hard life, but because of God working through us, it’s a worthwhile life. 

Long section in the letter where Paul defends himself

This long section of the letter, which began back in chapter 2 with Paul saying he forgave whoever it was that had abused him, now comes back to the idea of God and God’s mission of which Paul, like us, is just a vessel. My purpose here, as it has been at every congregation I’ve served as a pastor, is not to proclaim my greatness. As a pastor, I’m humble myself before you and God and point to God as revealed in Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death.[15] And you’re to do the same in your life. We are to strive to glorify Christ. 

But Paul speaks for everyone

In verse 16, Paul moves from his defense of himself, to include everyone when he says, “So we do not lose heart.” Paul’s not just writing about himself here, he’s writing about us all. And he reminds us that our hope isn’t in this life, which is temporary, but in the life to come, a life with God who is redeeming heaven and earth. Paul would never say that our work here is not important. It is because we are working with God to redeem a fallen world. And it’s not our abilities that makes our work important, but our Creator, the one who has redeemed us and who works through us to spread this message. 


Keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Be a light and a beacon for him. May your actions be worthy of him, and your words be uplifting and loving. Yes, we live in a mixed-up world with lots of trouble, but that’s no excuse for bad behavior, for while we live in this world, we live for the world to come. Love everyone, extend grace to all, be quick to forgive, and humble yourselves before the God who has created you, who redeems you, and who sustains you. Amen.

[1] Genesis 3:19.

[2] This is the gnostic heresy, and also an idea from Platonic thought, where the ideal is beyond the body (and this life). 

[3] Genesis 2:7.

[4] Created in God’s image comes from the first creation account. Genesis 1:27.

[5] Acts 20:7-12.

[6] Acts 9:1-18.

[7] See Acts 15. 

[8] For an example, see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

[9] See 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.

[10] Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987), 42.

[11] Paul Barnett, NICNT: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 229. 

[12] Charles Barrett, HNTC: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983), 138. 

[13] Barnet, 231. 

[14] Best41. 

[15] See the Presbyterian Church, Book of Confessions, Heidelberg Catechism, question 1. 

moonrise behind Nester's Cemetery in Laurel Fork, VA
August 1, 2023. Moonrise behind Nester’s Cemetery in Laurel Fork

Three Books about the 70s

The 1970s was a pivotal decade for me. I became a teenager just two and a half weeks into the decade. By the time it ended, I had graduated from high school and college, began a short-lived marriage, and travelled halfway around the world. These three books describe a lot of what happened in the ‘70s. The first one, about baseball, I recently listened to while driving home from Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t become a fan of Pittsburgh until well into the 1980s, when I moved there to attend school. The other two books I read and wrote the reviews in 2008 and 2014 and are republishing them here.

Dan Epstein, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s 

Book cover for "Big Hair and Plastic Grass"

(2010, 2019 Blackstone Audible, read by the author), 12 hours and 54 minutes. 

There were lots of crazy things going on in the 70s and this included baseball. Throughout the 60s, baseball remained conservative. As hair grew longer, ball players stayed clean cut with no facial hair. Drugs were shunned. Politics avoided. Oddly, which I didn’t know, the Detroit Tigers played a game while riots were burning much of the city just blocks from the ballpark. In the 70s, baseball caught up with society. I began listening to this book in my drive back from Pittsburgh the other week. It was a good book to listen to, as I had just watched the Pirates drop two games. In the 70s, the Pirates were often in contention, and they bookended the decade with World Series wins (1971 and 1979). 

This book is probably not for everyone. The chapters deal with each season during the 70s, with chapters intersperse that deal with multi-year issues such as players hair, artificial grass, tight-fitting polyester uniforms, mascots, and promos that included cheap beer, wet t-shirts contests, and anti-disco events. It was a decade that saw a new dynasty rise and fall in Oakland. They will forever be remembered as the “mustache gang.” as they broke new barriers with facial hair. And then there were the Cincinnati Reds, who also set records with Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.

Baseball and Culture in the 70s

The 70s was a decade that saw many of the greats from the 50s and 60s retire as well as many long-term records broken such as Henry Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s homerun totals. While it was a decade that seemed to overcome many racial issues of the sport with the Pirates at one point having all nine players being of color. But there were still racial issues, especially as older ballplayers were looked over for coaching positions. It was the decade that saw George Steinberger enter the game as he purchased the New York Yankees. It also saw new teams emerge, including the first teams outside the United States as franchises began in Toronto and Montreal. And it was the decade in which players began to have more control over their livelihood and able to negotiate for better salaries and working conditions. 

For one with roots in the 70s, there are a lot of good stories that I had vague memories of, and others that I didn’t know, but enjoyed listening to them being told. While I remember Roberto Clemente, it was nice to be reminded of his incredible 1971 World Series (he would die in a plane crash three months later while on a rescue mission for those suffering from an earthquake in Nicaragua). By the late 70s, I was no longer keeping up with baseball (I’d start again during the 80s), but it was nice to learn about Willie Stargell’s bringing together the Pirates for their last World Series in 1979, with “We Are Family” playing in the background. 


Of course, because this is book about baseball, you have statistics. Every chapter, and most paragraphs, contain numbers. My ears began to gloss over them (or would have glossed over them if I had read the book instead of listening to it). Hits, home runs, stolen bases, earned run averages, wins and loss, the numbers just kept coming and became a bit of a distraction. After a certain point, the numbers began to run together. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and the walk down memory lane. While I always admired Clemente, I came to also appreciate Willie Stargell for more than the stars placed in the upper deck of the old Three Rivers Stadium, where he’d launched homeruns. 

My recommendation

Throughout the years of the 70s, there were many funny stories that today almost seem unbelievable. Such as 10 cent beer (what would go wrong with that?).  Or a wet t-shirt contest in Atlanta. And then there was Doc Ellis pitching for the Pirates. In 1971, he threw what will probably be the only no-hitter ever pitched while high on LDS. And finally, at the end of the decade, a promo offered a discount for turning in a disco record at the turnstile. Late in the game, the vinyls were blown up which destroyed part of the field and led to an inside the park riot. Baseball, which had become respectful in the middle of the century, was a different game in the ‘70s. 

A quote about Stargell

QUOTE ON THE 1979 WORLD SERIES: Stargell insisted on giving full credit to his teammates, but his teammates gave it all back to him. “He taught us how to take what comes and then come back,” Dave Parker said. “He taught us how to strike out and walk away calmly, lay the bad down gently, then get up the next time and hit a home run. From him we learned not to get too high on the good days or too low on the bad days, because there are plenty of both in this game…” 

Edward D. Berkowitz, Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies 

(New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 283 pages.

For Berkowitz, the 70s as an era ran from 1973 to Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. He cites ’73 as a beginning because so many things that helped define the era occurred that year: the end of American involvement in Vietnam, an Oil Embargo, and the crisis of a president that included the resignation of the Vice President (Nixon would resign a year later).

Berkowitz does a great job of describing the 70s. He reminded me of all the twist and turns we had in those turbulent years. We had a president who, by visiting China, changed the history of the world. I don’t think I realized how close we were to National Health Insurance in the early 70s. Sadly, this idea that died with Watergate and the economic downturn in ’74. And then we had a whole series of scandals. While it may have started Nixon and Agnew, they weren’t nearly as colorful as Wilbur Mills and his strippers. 

From optimism to pessimism

The sixties were an optimistic decade; the seventies were pessimistic. In the 70s, according to Bruce Schulman, America was “made over.” Our “economic outlook, political ideology, cultural assumption and fundamental arrangements changed.” It was an era of declining productivity and extreme inflation. It was the era when much of the United States industrial strength started to slip and countries like Japan made great strides in their own productivity.  

politics in the 70s

Politically, Berkowitz divides the seventies into political eras: the fall of Nixon, the Ford years, and the Carter years. Reading the book, I felt sorry for Carter. he inherited many problems. Berkowitz also points out Carter’s attempts at transparency made it harder for him to get things through Congress. Furthermore, Congress had new powers inherited from a weakened executive branch following Watergate. Carter was also the first post-World War II president not to have a period of economic growth. Then, just when it seemed his luck couldn’t get any worst, it did. His administration ended with Three Mile Island and the Iranian hostage crisis. Berkowitz notes that the problems Carter inherited and faced may have been beyond any politician ability to handle, but that Carter’s moralizing issues didn’t help and probably only made things worst. 

According to Berkowitz (and others like Thomas Wolfe, whom he likes to quote), the 70s was the decade that everyone else began to demand rights. Women’s rights were at the forefront. 1970 saw the release of a new brand of cigarettes that focused on women. Virginia Slims came packaged with the logo, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Much of the decade was also spent arguing over the ERA amendment. I hadn’t realized that the ERA passed Congress with the support not only of the left, but with right-winged senators like Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater. Berkowitz goes into detail on reasons why it failed. One reason was the economic downturn, which made people afraid of change. The other two major reasons were the political savvy of those against it, and the ERA debate framed around the abortion issue that moved to the forefront at the end of the decade.

Demanding of “rights”

In addition to women’s right, the 70s saw the rise of the gay movement, disability rights and rights of immigrants. In many ways, all the new groups demanding their rights paralleled a shift from the Civil Rights era, which spoke of doing what was good for all America, to a focus on more individual concerns. The 70s is seen as the “ME” decade, which helps explain the rise of Reagan in the 80s. 

Growing up in the South in the 70s, I was shocked that Berkowitz discussed the integration of Boston’s public schools and spent little time talking about the integration of the schools in the elsewhere. Interestingly, the ruling which started busing wasn’t in Boston but in North Carolina (Swan vs Charlotte Mecklenburg, 1971). Three years later, this ruling was applied in Boston. As a Southerner who’s lived much of his adult life up north, I am still shocked at how segregated schools remain in th north. It seems strange that in upscale neighborhoods around northern cities, one can still find school districts that are mostly white.

Cultural changes

Berkowitz does a better job on describing the political changes in the s70s than the culture changes. Culturally, he explores only movies and TV in depth. Although he acknowledges significant authors like John Updike, he does not explore the role they played in defining an era. In movies, he focuses mostly on “blockbusters,” a new way of marketing movies in an era that was seeing declines at the theater. As for TV, the 70s were the golden years as they didn’t have competition from cable and other forms of media. He discusses not only sitcoms, but also news programs and sports.

Outside of a few brief mentions, Berkowitz does not discuss the role of music. Maybe it was because I spent most of the decade as a teenager, that I think that music defined the era. It was the era when “album stations” bucked the top-40 trend and migrated to FM. There, the airways were filled with the likes Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and southern rock. The last years of the decade was also, sad to say, the era of disco. 

My recommendation

I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it; I just wished Berkowitz had gone further. He does a wonderful job discussing American politics. One final criticism, he overlooks lots of major world changes that were occurring, especially in Africa. Maybe the book should have been called a political history of the 70s in America

Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics

"The Seventies" book cover

 (Free Press, 2001), 352 pages. 

I have a confession to make. I may need to do some serious penance. Reading this book, I realize in the 70s, I might have been a chauvinistic, misogynistic, homophobic racist. At the time, I just thought I hated disco and liked rock-n-roll. Mr. Shulman points to the errors in my thinking, suggesting those of us who shunned disco were guilty of a host of society’s evil (73-75).  Or maybe I should revert to my redneck anti-elite ways and ask, “What do you expect from a professor in tweed from the Northeast?”  Sadly, this makes me sound like Richard Nixon who hated the Northeast elite (24). Bruce Shulman, a disco loving Yankee, teaches at Boston University. 

Despite what I said in my opening comment, I mostly enjoyed this book. I disagree with Shulman’s comments on disco and on how he looked disdainfully on the South. But if you can overlook his biases, he provides a good cultural and political history to the decade. 

The 70s is often seen as a lost decade, squeezed between the optimistic 60s and the opportunistic 80s. Interestingly, as Shulman recalls, the 60s began with the Kennedy Camelot and ended with the widowed queen of Camelot (Jackie) marrying a rich Greek tycoon, twice her age (4). Shulman strives to interpret several wide cultural shifts occurring between 1969 and 1984. In this work, he explores music, books, television, movies, economics, and politics. 

changes in the 70s

Several things happened during this decade. America lost a broad cultural consensus as the era of special interest groups gained prominence. Many of these groups were based on ethnic heritage. There a continual interest in African American culture held over from the 60s (the mini-series “Roots” premiered in the decade). Interest also included Hispanics, Italians, and Irish. The 70s also saw the rise of women’s interests with the ERA. As America began to gray, the elderly became a political force. Tip O’Neil, the Speaker of the House, was first referred to Social Security as the third rail in American politics. You touch it and die. Following up on the Stonewall Riots in the late ’60s, gay rights also gained ground.

In addition, there were shifts in regions. Shulman refers to the decade as the “Southernization of America” (256). Three were also religious shifts. Although religion became more important, it also became more personal and less able to lift a common vision for society. There were also changes in the American economy. The era gave rise to the “rustbelt” as factories in the northern part of the country closed. The inflation of the late 70s caused Americans to use more credit (why put off buying when it will cost more tomorrow).

Economic changes and the rise of the conservative movement

Also, due to regulation changes, Americans began to look at savings differently. Investing become more important than savings. Inflation ate up savings. And finally, the era saw the end of the old liberalism in American politics. No longer was the government seen as a force for the good with an obligation to help those unable to help themselves. Now, voices bemoaned any government involvement. Shulman discusses the tie between government involvement and civil rights in the 60s and how it took the decade for a new conservative collation to rise out of the old. Racial prejudices slid into the background as new conservatives found other issues to excite their causes. 

my recommandation

Although I took offense at Shulman’s comments on those who disliked disco (as evident by my sarcasm), there is a lot to ponder on the role changes in religion, region, and race made to America during the decade. However, the nature of this book requires a certain amount of subjectivism, and one could draw different conclusions. That said, this is a good book for a trip down memory lane. 

author paddling a canoe on the Black River in Eastern North Carolina in 1975
That’s me in 1975, paddling the Black River (photo by Donald McKenzie)

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