Sir, We Wish to See Jesus

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
April 10, 2022
John 12:12-26

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, April 8, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Palm Sunday. We begin Holy Week as we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Later, when I read the Scripture, I am using the account told in John’s gospel, which is often overlooked on Palm Sunday. But John has something important to tell us. John reminds us of the political nature of this date. The crowds are present at the beginning. They’re ready. They want to see Jesus because of what he’s done, especially raising of Lazarus from the dead. They wave palm branches, symbols the Jews used in their revolts against Rome. 

But Jesus downplays all this by coming into Jerusalem on a donkey.[1]In the ancient world, if a king came upon a city riding a stallion, it was a sign of war. But if he rode a donkey, it was a sign he was coming in peace. Our world today can use a little peace, don’t you think? 

Before the reading of the scripture:

Our reading this morning is from the 12th Chapter of John’s gospel, beginning with the 12th verse. This incident occurs shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, and a few days before his crucifixion. The situation in Jerusalem is tense. Paradoxically, we learn in John’s gospel, Lazarus’ life-giving miracle serves as the final straw for the Jewish leaders. In the previous chapter, we learn the leaders in Jerusalem fear Jesus will force the Romans to respond brutally. The decide to kill him. “It’s better to have one man die for the people than the whole nation destroyed,” the high priest said.[2] He had no idea the truth he proclaimed. Providing life for one, Lazarus, leads to the death of another, Jesus. We shouldn’t be surprised, that’s the gospel as Jesus gives his life for ours. 

READ JOHN 12:12-26

After reading the scripture:

Jesus comes into Jerusalem. John leaves off the story of the disciples borrowing a donkey and all that.[3] Instead, John gives us the basics. Jesus rides a donkey, and a crowd has already gathered to see him. They wave palm branches and shout out the from Psalm 118, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They also quote from the prophets, “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”[4]  

John tells us that even the disciples are dismay and unsure what to make of it all. Only after the resurrection do they understand. The Pharisees, however, are worried. From their perspective, Jesus appears to draw the entire world into his camp. Again, as with the high priest, John foreshadows what will happen. In the very next verse, some Greeks asks for Jesus. 

Who are these Greeks?

I like the question they ask Philip. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It’s a line often found inside the pulpit, a reminder to the preacher that his or her goal is to introduce the congregation to Jesus.[5] Hopefully, at times, we experience Jesus here, as well as in our lives. 

Greeks are outsiders. They are not ethnically Jews. A shift occurs. Jesus primarily worked with the Jews. Now, Greeks seek Jesus. There are disagreements among scholars if these “Greeks” were Greek-speaking Jews, Jewish proselytes, or straight-out Gentiles.[6] Since they’re in Jerusalem right before the Passover, it seems that they must be interested in Judaism. Maybe they are considering the adoption of Jewish practices and becoming a proselyte. But John doesn’t say. Regardless of their background, John uses them to foreshadow Jesus’ larger purpose—salvation for the entire world.  

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they ask. Jesus draws people to himself, which he still does today, but we’re not told if they ever saw Jesus. The question is asked of Philip—a disciple with a Greek name. Alexander the Great’s father was named Philip. This may be why they approached this disciple, thinking if his name is Philip, he’s one of them. Philip, it seems, can’t do anything by himself. Instead of answering, he runs off finds Andrew (the other disciple with a Greek name).[7] The two of them take the request to Jesus.[8] But John doesn’t tell us if Jesus granted them an audience. Instead, John notes Jesus’ shift in conversation, as he talks about what’s going to happen.  

Jesus takes the conversation in a different direction

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Now that John has shown that interest in Jesus extends beyond those from in Judah, Galilee and Samaria, Jesus focuses on what is about to unfold. 

Hearing that Jesus is to be glorified was probably sweet music to the disciples’ ears. They’ve been wondering when Jesus would usher in his kingdom. They’ve had visions of Jesus sitting up on David’s throne and them all around him in positions of power and glory. 

But Jesus doesn’t stop at the glory, he continues with a disturbing parable. “Unless the wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a kernel, but in dying it can grow into a plant which bears fruit.” Jesus isn’t just hinting around; he says clearly that he must die. The Pharisees and high priest will get their wish. As Jesus peaks in popularity, his life and ministry on earth comes to an end.

Parable of a seed

Let’s consider this parable. Farming was tough back in Jesus’ day. There were no Co-ops or Farm Supply Stores where you could buy seed. Instead, you kept a portion of your previous harvest as seed so you would have something to plant during the next season. This means that if you had a poor harvest and, as the winter continued, your supply of wheat would dwindle, and you’d have to make a hard decision. Do you eat all your wheat, or do you tighten up your belt and go with less so that you will have seed enough for another crop? Consider your thoughts as you, on an empty stomach, sowed the seeds into the ground. It took faith to be a farmer back then, just as it does today, to bury seeds knowing they’ll die but in the hopes they’ll sprout.

Some of the disciples listening to Jesus’ parable had probably experienced such situations. They knew the value of planting, of letting the seed die in the hopes that God would give it new life and an abundant harvest. Here Jesus talks about himself, about his death, but quickly shifts to talk not just about himself but also about his followers.

The lives of Jesus’ followers

“Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…” This idea of losing our lives or losing ourselves for Jesus isn’t too appealing, but there is something to it because variations of this saying by Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels.[9]

What should we take from this passage? Jesus wants to make sure his disciples, and his followers who come later, know that he came to die. Jesus’ death is counter intuitive. Through his death, through being lifted up (if you’d read ahead to verse 33), Jesus draws all people to himself. Like the seed that dies in the ground as it sprouts new growth, Jesus knows his sacrifice will reap an incredible harvest.  

Jesus like a parent protecting children

“I love you enough to die for you,” Jesus shows. Jesus is like a good parent who will do anything and everything to save the children. It is something instilled in mothers throughout the animal kingdom. I have seen it when paddling on a river and come near to the nests of ducks and one bird takes off, limping, as if to lead us from the nest. The bird keeps moving away from the nest until you are far away and then, flying normally, circles back.

I’ve also seen this behavior when hiking. A grouse will wobble away from the nest, acting hurt, staying just out-of-reach, until you are a safe distant from the nest. Then the bird flies off normally and circles back to the nest. Both birds make themselves vulnerable to save their young. 

I read about such people in the news this week. A Ukrainian couple who could have fled the Russian army, but instead stayed back to help those who weren’t able to flee. And they were killed as they sought out food for their elderly neighbors. 

Jesus’ sacrifice and our call

Jesus sacrifices for us, but he also calls on us to sacrifice for others. It is not just about Jesus’ sacrifice, but our willingness to work on behalf of others. If we follow Jesus, we must, as he said in another place, “Pick up our cross daily.”[10] The Spiritual life is about being in tune with the needs of others. We must be willing to sacrifice, to let go of things we hold dear which hinder our walk with Jesus. 

This passage confirms that following Jesus has cost. It may cost our own lives. Yet, our focus isn’t on what we’ll lose, but on what we will gain in the end.  

Anything worthwhile comes with a cost

We always must give up something to acquire something else, that’s a principle of economics. You can’t have it all. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. So, we make economic decision to sacrifice one thing for another. If you’re a kid and you have a dollar burning in your pocket, you decide if you’re going to spend it on an ice cream cone that’s been tempting you or save it, hoping one day you’ll have enough for a bike. One satisfies an immediate need, the other a long-term need. 

Unfortunately, in our society, immediate gratification generally wins. But not in the gospel! Long-term gratification always takes precedent. Consider Jesus’ words about storing up our treasures in heaven where we don’t have to fear thieves and where they will not rust.[11]

Where is Jesus calling us?

What is it that Jesus is calling us to give up for him? A lot of what is being taught in this passage has to do with death, but I hope you can see a linkage between this parable and Jesus’ teachings on stewardship. In the parable of the talents, in which those who were rewarded had invested all they had, the ones who were rewarded did not hedge their bets.[12] They had faith. 

Jesus calls us to be faithful and willing to invest in the building up of his kingdom. As an individual, that may mean being willing to give sacrificially to Christ’s work in our church and in his missions in the world. Or it may mean you give up a pleasurable vacation and volunteer to go on a mission trip. As a congregation it may mean us making uncomfortable changes in our music or time of worship in hopes of making new disciples. When we follow Jesus, we are forced out of our comfortable zone as we strive to help others. 


Let’s go back to the question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” How would we respond to such a request? Although we can’t take them physically to Jesus, we witness to our Lord through our lives and in the life of his community, the church. For we are his body in the world and when we follow him, he should be seen through our lives. As Jesus reminds us in the Parable of the Judgment of the Nations,[13] when we show kindness, we serve him. But you know what; Jesus doesn’t want us to wait for that question. Instead, he wants us to share him by showing his love to others. Are we willing to make such a sacrifice? Amen. 


[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 709-710

[2] John 11:49.

[3] See Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, and Luke 19:28-40.

[4] Psalm 118:26 and Zechariah 3;14 and Zephaniah 9:9

[5] Bruner, 712.

[6] Brown thinks they are Greek proselytes.  See Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 466.  Sloyan thinks they’re Greek speaking Jews living outside Israel’s borders.  Gerald Sloyan, John: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988),155.

[7] Bruner, 722.

[8] When Philip was called to follow Jesus, he went and got Nathanael to go with him.  John 1:43ff.

[9] See Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33.

[10] Luke 9:23

[11] Matthew 6:19-21.

[12] See Matthew 25:13-20

[13] Matthew 25:31-46.

March 30, 2022, Early Spring sunset

John 1:1-18

From my morning walk….

I am on Skidaway Island, in Georgia, to officiate at a funeral for a good friend. This sermon was to be preached by one of my elders at Bluemont and Mayberry Churches, but because of the winter storm, the Sessions of the two churches have decided to cancel the service for tomorrow (January 30). I do not have a video of this sermon, which I preached at First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, MI on January 9, 2004.

Jeff Garrison
John 1:1-18

As you know, the gospel of John is different from the other gospels.  In a way, John gives us a philosophical biography of Jesus Christ.  Yet, he begins like a traditional biography, with Christ’s beginning.  But he doesn’t start out in a stable in Bethlehem.  Instead, he talks about the eternal Christ, who is present with the Father at the beginning of creation.  John centers Christ’s activity in the cosmos long before the events of the first century, when Christ entered human history and was born of Mary. Of all the four gospel writers, John places the most emphasis on divinity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is divine; he is God; he is as John records in the 14th chapter, “the way and the truth and the life.”

         John, toward the end of his gospel, says that he wrote his book so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the Son of God, and that through believing in Him, we may have life in Jesus’ name.[1]  Yet, as John notes, his book is not a complete testimony.  There were many other things Jesus did that didn’t get recorded.  And John says he supposed that if all of them were written down the world could not contain the number of books it would take.[2]  So, instead of John trying to make his book out to be a traditional biography of Jesus Christ, he resorts to philosophical language talking about the nature of Christ.  Today, we’ll look at the opening or the prologue section of John’s Gospel, focusing primarily on the first five verses.  This section sets the tone for the rest of his book.  READ JOHN 1:1-18

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John’s gospel doesn’t give us the standard eyewitness account of the birth of our Savior.  John isn’t interested in mangers, stars, shepherds, angels, or wise men.  John begins his gospel with a theological or, more correctly, a Christological statement.  His words draw our minds back to Genesis, back to the beginning of creation.  Jesus Christ, the word of God, was present at the beginning.  Jesus Christ is responsible for life, and that life emits light to a darkened world.  

Think back to Genesis 1, the story of the world’s creation.  Interestingly, the first act of creation was light.  On the first day, God brought light into the chaos and then separated light and darkness.  If you’ve studied that story, it’s interesting that the sun, that great heavenly body that gives us light during the daytime, is primarily reduced to a clock.  The sun and the heavenly bodies aren’t created until the fourth day!  Genesis, like John’s gospel, opens with a theological statement, reminding us that life and light is from God – not from the sun.

This is exciting, but there is also a problem.  There’s darkness in the world.  Even though Jesus came into the world, and even though the world came into being through Him, the world does not know Him.  Through this darkness, the world is not even sure of its own origins.  The world is lost.  Yet, piercing the darkness is the light of Christ.  And those who come to this light can be reborn a child of God, as John discusses more succinctly in the third chapter.    

By linking Jesus to the eternal word, John emphasizes the co-existence of Christ and the Father, a unity responsible for creation and life.  As to the details of how all this came about or works, we’re not privy. Genesis points to God as the creator, and John picks up that theme. The problem that has occurred between Genesis and John’s gospel is that sin has established itself in the world, thereby keeping people from seeing God as the creator. Sin creates the darkness that engulfs the world.  

         To put John’s esoteric language into equally esoteric theological language, we can no longer know the saving grace of God through Natural Theology. Natural Theology teaches us what we can know about God without appealing to faith or revelation, in other words what we can know about God from reason and experience. John Calvin, early in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, has a discussion of this; he calls it natural endowment. Calvin understands that although there are some things we can know about God, we can’t discover the saving grace of God on our own.[3] That knowledge is only available through revelation and Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. Because the world has been corrupted, our ability to know God from our surroundings has been diminished, and we must wait for God to reveal himself to us, which is what he does through Jesus Christ.

One of the exciting things for me about Christmas is putting up the electric train that goes under our tree. Let me warn you, I’m in a bit of withdrawal. Since our tree disappeared on Friday, I know the train will follow in just a few days.  Christmas is the only time of year I take the train out and I enjoy lying there next to the Christmas tree, running the train and serving as President and engineer of my own railroad, one where featherbedding is encouraged. [4] Thinking about this I recall a story about a home in which Santa had brought a train for Christmas. On that Christmas morning this house looked like a disaster had struck. Tossed across the floor were boxes and wrapping paper and bows, ribbons, and of course new toys.  In this house the most exciting toy was the train. This boy loved racing the train round and round, as fast as it would go, but in the confusion, a discarded box got on the track, and the train derailed.

         Bending down over the train, this young budding engineer kept trying to get it back on the tracks, but he couldn’t get the wheels to seat properly. Finally, his father realized what was happening. “You know, you can’t do that standing up above it,” he said. “You have to get down beside it.” The father then laid down beside the tracks and his son and proceeded to help him put the train back on the tracks.

         That’s one way we can think about the incarnation, the coming of God, how God comes to us as a child. Sin has derailed humanity. We need to be put back on the right track in life.  It just couldn’t be done from up above – God must come down beside us to put us back on track. And that’s what God does in Jesus Christ.

         It all seems so harmless: God loving the world and coming into it to save it.  It seems like we should just rejoice and receive Christ with open arms and be like the shepherds or wise men. Yet, even there with the wise men, we learn of the opposition from Herod.[5] Here in John’s gospel, as we’ve seen, this opposition manifest itself as darkness. We know, looking back on the story from our perspective, that the opposition will eventually lead to the crucifixion of the Messiah.

         The world that we live in is in rebellion. Our world doesn’t want to hear the message, which is why it was so easy to crucify Christ. This hasn’t changed in the centuries and millenniums since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. For some reason, we find the light of Christ painful. For some strange reason we prefer darkness. Sin has such a shaming effect on us, that we avoid light, lest we be shown for who we really are. We prefer to live with lies rather than in the truth. We forget we can only find true freedom in the light, allowing God through Jesus Christ to point out our shortcomings, so that we might confess and repent. We should rejoice and be thankful that God hasn’t give up on us, that our God continues to reach out into a world that rebels against its Creator.

         Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the better-known Christian martyrs of the 20th Century, was killed by the Nazi’s at the end of World War II. Bonhoeffer spent most of his final two years in a Nazi prison, during which time some of his writings were smuggled out, including a poem titled “Christians and Pagans.” Let me read it; there are three short sections:

         Men go to God when they are sore bestead,

         Pray to him for succor, for his peace, for bread,

         For mercy for them sick, sinning, or dead;

         All men do so, Christian and unbelieving.

         Men go to God when he is sore bestead,

         Find him poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,

         Whelmed under weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead;

         Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.

         God goes to every man when sore bestead,

         Feeds body and spirit with his bread;

         For Christians, pagans alike he hangs dead,

         And both alike forgiving.[6]

I like the way Bonhoeffer structures this poem. Christians are the ones who are willing to stand by God in his hour of need. That’s good, that’s what we’re suppose to do. But the heart of the poem is in the final verse, God comes to us when we are suffering. Bonhoeffer makes it clear that God died for all, and I’m sure when he refers to the Pagans he has in mind members of the Nazi party. Bonhoeffer like John, accepts the fact that God through Christ came to save a lost world. 

         Ask yourselves what difference does it make that God entered human history? What difference does it make? God’s coming gives meaning to life.  Without God, life itself would have no meaning and philosophically, we’d all be nihilists.[7] But there is something inside of us, that which Calvin called Natural Endowment, that suggests to us there is something beyond us. There is something beyond us that demands our worship and reverence. And we have this desire to reach out and grasp it, which gets us into trouble because we can’t be God. We tried, that’s the meaning of eating the forbidden fruit. We wanted to be like God, and as a result found ourselves even further away from the divine. But all is not lost, because although we can’t fully grasp the glory and majesty of God, our Creator made it easy for us by coming to us in a way that we’d understand.  

What difference does it make? If you believe, it makes all the difference in the world, for it means that we have a God who cares and loves us. And, as we come into God’s light, we too are called to care and love the world. Life is not meaningless, for we are loved and we are to love. Life is not hopeless for we have a God whose majesty engulfs the world, yet who understands the trials and tribulations we face daily because he’s been here. Life does not have to be lonely, for we can know God and through God know who we are created to be. Amen.  

[1] John 20:31.

[2] John 21:25.

[3] See John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.III.1 and 1.IV.1-4.

[4] Featherbedding is a requirement of having more employees than needed to do a job, a practice common on the railroads as they switched from steam to diesel.  

[5] Matthew 2:1-18.

[6] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Prayers from Prison (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1978), 26.

[7] A philosophical belief that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded, and that existence is senseless and useless.  It denies objective truth.  Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

Jeff Garrison

A view from the marsh tower on my walk on Skidaway Island this morning

Jesus: The Bread of Life

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Church
August 1, 2021
John 6:25-40


Sermon recorded at Mayberry Presbyterian Church on Friday, July 30, 2021

At the beginning of worship:

      I want to thank Libby Wilcox and Mike Nyquist for preaching the last two weeks. The texts they used—from Matthew and John’s gospel, both spoke of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude. In John’s gospel, there is a follow up to this story. When word spreads about Jesus having free bread, crowds multiply. 

       Jesus wants to teach a deeper lesson. He equates bread with God’s word. This isn’t anything new. It’s in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy, we are reminded we live not by bread alone, but by the word of God. Lady Wisdom in Proverbs invites all to come and eat of her bread and drink of her wine. The prophet Amos speaks of a coming famine. But he’s not talking about a shortage of bread, but of the word of God.[1]

Bread is an appropriate symbol of God’s word. Bread made of grain sustains our bodies; bread as the word of God sustains our lives. Bread that is old becomes stale; it needs to be constantly refreshed. So does our faith, which is refreshed as we study God’s word.

Read John 6:25-40

After the scripture

Jesus wants to give the crowd so much more than a few crumbs which will soon be consumed or mold. But the crowd, some whom benefited from Jesus’ dramatic feeding of the multitude the day before, don’t get it. They want food. 

The climax of this passage comes in verses 34 and 35. Then the crowd asks Jesus to give them bread always and Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life.” These guys are talking to Jesus, God incarnate, and all they can think about are their stomachs. 

Coming down hard on the crowds

It’s easy to come down hard on the crowd. Yes, we know, they’re greedy. But then, are we any different? When I consider my prayer life, I know how I’m much more likely I am to pray when I am in need or trouble. “Lord, I just want…, Lord, I just need…” Am I any different than the crowd? Are you? If I’d been there, not only would I have wanted such bread, I’d wanted it hot and fresh and with a tad of butter and a bit of jam? Out taste buds draw us in. 

Jesus attempts to pound through their heads that bread, made of flour and water, isn’t what’s most important. Bread molds. Remember, Jesus’ advice about not worrying about storing up riches that rust or can be stolen?[2]  Ultimately, things aren’t important. Jesus is important. Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Jesus gives and sustains life. But the temptation to think otherwise is overwhelming! 

When you’re hungry and your stomach is gnawing, a loaf of bread looks pretty good. When you’re feeling blue, the idea of feasting on a rich meal or drowning your sorrows in well-aged bourbon or rich ice cream is tempting. We all suffer from a spiritual hunger and try to fill this void with stuff.[3] On TV we’re told, in not-so-subtle terms, that new cars and certain beverages will help us to enjoy life to the fullness. But it doesn’t work; we end up even hungrier.      

       Yes, it’s too easy to come down too hard on the crowd. Sure, they’re greedy. But we are no different!  It’s just that the economic scales have changed. We no longer crave simple bread; we’d want a croissant or at least raisin bread with a tad of peanut butter.  Think about it. Bread is such a basic food; we take it for granted. 

For us, bread is cheap

How many of you don’t eat the end pieces of a loaf? Let’s see hands. At best, I bet, we crumble them up and feed them to the birds. At worst, they end up in the landfill feeding the seagulls. And why should we eat the end pieces when we can run to the store and pick up a fresh loaf. 

Bread is cheap. Even someone making minimum wage earns enough to buy a loaf in 15 minutes.

       Now, I’m neither an economist nor an anthropologist, but I’d venture to guess those in the ancient world labored a lot more than a quarter of an hour for their daily bread. Think of all involved. The planting and harvesting of wheat, the grinding of the grain by hand, the mixing and kneading and shaping of the dough, and building of the fire in the oven, the proofing and baking. They couldn’t rush down to the store and buy a loaf using the spare change lying on their dashboard. Bread had value. They’d seen Jesus break a few loaves of bread and fed 5,000 folks. They’d feasted at Jesus’ table and wanted more!  

My bakery experience

       I worked in a wholesale bakery for five years. It started as a summer job between my first and second year in college. They liked me. When promised to work with my college schedule if I stayed on, I agreed. For the next three years, I went to school in the mornings and went to work in the afternoon. 

I still remember the first time I entered the plant and was overcome with the aroma. The smell of yeast bread baking seemed heavenly. It didn’t last. Pretty soon, I didn’t notice the smells anymore and the excitement of watching the loaves rise and bake waned. It became a job; I took it all for granted, kind of like the crowd taking Jesus’ miracles for granted.

       I quickly worked up the ranks and during my senior year of college, I was also a production supervisor. With seven employees and a lot of modern technology, I oversaw the production of 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of bread an hour. A lot of dough! 

If you figure a ½ pound of bread a person, technology has caught up with one of Jesus’ great miracles. Jesus and the disciples fed 5,000 people—we could have done the same in about twenty minutes. Of course, we needed a few ingredients like a rail car of flour, tank cars of sweetener and shortening, pallets of yeast and salt along with lots of electricity and natural gas. In Jesus’ day, it would have taken quite a production to produce that much bread which makes his miracle even greater!   

       One of my claims to fame as a baker was throwing away more bread than anyone else in the history of the plant. In one hot summer afternoon, we threw away 24,000 loaves of pound and half bread—that’s 36,000 pounds or 18 tons. 

The bread this day rose nicely in the proof box. But when it came onto the conveyor between the proofer and oven, it dropped flat as a pancake. By the time we realized we had a problem and checked everything, we had all the loaves for that batch in the system. The only thing to do was to bake the bread and then dump the loaves out of the pans, by hand, for they were too small to be picked up by the depanner. As the loaves accumulated on the floor, a forklift equipped with a scoop, picked it up and took it the loading dock. 

It was humbling to watch that much bread go to waste. This was especially true for me, the guy in charge. I had no idea what the problem might be. We tried everything. Finally, after nothing helped, we did something radical. We changed all our ingredients, going to new manufacturing lots. This meant hauling pallets of fresh ingredients from the warehouse and changing the silo from which we drew the flour. After six hours, the bread returned to normal. 

I could finally breathe a sigh of relief even though a cloud hung over my head. It took a few days, but after having a lab test our bread and the ingredients we were using, the mystery was solved. The enrichment, those vitamins and stuff you add to flour to replace that which is lost in the milling and bleaching process, had way too much iron. 

The extra iron was the problem. My neck was saved. Our ingredient supplier reimbursed us for the cost of the wasted bread—I suppose you could say he brought dinner for thousands of hogs in eastern North Carolina, as that’s how we disposed of most of the bread.[4]

We take bread for granted

Bread, for us, is not as special as it was for our ancestors. They couldn’t image throwing away that much bread! To the ancient ones, bread was considered a gift from God. It was to be used and not wasted. For some Jews, you don’t waste even a bite of bread. This custom has its roots in the wilderness experience where they had to depend daily upon God’s manna from heaven. 

In our modern world, we need to consider the work that goes into bread and cherish it as a gift. Like Jesus conversation about water in John 4, here he takes a common item and makes it holy. God is encounter through the ordinary!  

Encountering Jesus in the ordinary

Kathleen Norris has a little book titled The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work.” Quotidian is a sixty-four dollar word that means ordinary. In this book she brings out how the divine can be encountered through ordinary events of the day. Quoting another author, she recalls an “Ah-ha” moment: “I had never thought about the obvious fact that preparing a meal can be a sign of caring and loving communication because food just has never been an avenue of communication for me.”[5]

Jesus uses the bread to communicate a more sustaining truth about himself! Norris goes on to suggest that our daily ordinary tasks, if approached reverently, can save us from the trap that religion is merely an intellectual exercise of “right belief.”[6] Our God is Lord of all and therefore concerned with all aspects of our lives.

 Even though bread is so common for us that we take it for granted, we should not lose sight that it’s not that way for many people in the world. Bread, in the form of tortillas, is still the basic food of survival in many countries to the south of us. Watching women make tortillas in Honduras, a daily task, reminds us that we’re to pray for our daily bread.  Even though bread may represent only a fraction of our budgets, we need to consider its value and treat it with respect. 

Seeing bread as a valuable gift, we link the bread that sustains our bodies and the bread that sustains our lives. One loaf nourishes our bodies and the other our souls. Both are ultimately from God. Together they make us whole and for both we should give thanks

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we thought of Jesus throughout the day, whenever we encountered bread? At breakfast as we butter toast, we give thanks. At lunch, as we slather peanut butter and jelly between two slices of bread, we give thanks. At dinner, as we chew on freshly baked biscuits or yeasted rolls, we give thanks.

 If we could just pause a moment before consuming another slice of bread, and think about Jesus, we’d begin to appreciate bread and all the hands that go into making it. And we’d also begin to sense just how important Jesus is to our lives… Amen. 

Making tortillas in Guatamala 2018 Photo by Jeff Garrison

[1] Deuteronomy 8:3; Proverbs 9:5-6; Amos 8:11ff

[2] Matthew 6:19-20.

[3] Craig Barnes addresses this spiritual hunger in many of his books.  See especially Yearnings: Living Between How it is and How It Ought to Be (Dowers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1991) and Sacred Thirst (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

[4] I provide more details of this fiasco in this blog post:   

[5] Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work.”(New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 73.

[6] Norris, 77.

Peter’s Commissioning

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 21:15-25
May 24, 2020

This service can be watched in it’s entirety on the church’s YouTube channel. If you want to just see the sermon, go to 13:00. Go to

We’re finishing up our look at Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters this week with the ending to the passage we began studying last week. As I indicated on several occasions throughout this series, the post-resurrection encounters generally had a mission component. We’ll this today. The disciples were sent out to do something-Mary at the tomb was sent to tell the Apostles, and the disciples what we know as the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives Peter a mission.

Again, I’m using a classical painting to illustrate our text. Today, the painting is by Raphael, an artist who painted just before and at the beginning of the Reformation. To put this in perspective, this tapestry was finished the year before Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis and is titled, “Christ Charge to St. Peter.”[1] I like the painting because it shows the sea (and glimpses the bow of a boat) along with a flock of sheep. Peter, a fisherman, is being commissioned to tend to Jesus’ sheep. The other ten disciples (remember Judas is no longer with them) look on. However in John’s gospel, we’re told that there were only seven disciples present. Hear God’s word for today. Read John 21:15-25.

        Some of you may know the Reverend Proctor Chambless. He’s a retired minister member of the Savannah Presbytery, and has served a number of congregations within our presbytery and across the South. When I came to this presbytery, Proctor was serving an interim position in another presbytery upstate. He wasn’t here. During the first person examined for ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament at Presbytery, someone stood up and said that since Proctor wasn’t present, he was going to ask Proctor’s question. The question: “Do you love Jesus?” The presbytery, as a body, snickered. I realized I wasn’t in on the joke. I asked someone about this and was told that Proctor always asked that question. When Proctor returned, I figured out who he was before I met him. We had another candidate to examine and Proctor stood and asked this question. It’s kind of a fun thing. The rest of us are thinking probing questions to prod the examinee on the fine points of Reformed Theology, as Proctor, with his deep southern drawl, asks the essential question. “Do you love Jesus?” That’s the question Jesus asks Peter three times. And it’s a question we’re all to ask ourselves. Furthermore, as we’re going to see when we delve into this text, there is one way of knowing that we love Jesus. Do we care for others?

Let’s look at the text. Throughout this chapter, Peter is in the forefront. He’s the one who decides to go fishing. The other six disciples tag along. He’s the one, when he learns it’s Jesus on the shore, jumps into the water and swims to Jesus, letting the six others fight with a full net of fish. Now that breakfast is over, Jesus questions Peter in a way that almost seems as if he’s being commissioned or ordained for his task once Jesus has ascended to heaven. We’re not told this, but I image Jesus drawing Peter away from the rest of the disciples and putting his hand on this shoulder, saying “Simon, son of John.”

       Jesus uses his full legal name. “Simon, son of John.” Did any of you have parents, or maybe a teacher, who when you were in trouble, would use your full name? “Charles Jeffrey!” I would hear that and immediately knew I had done something wrong. Was Peter in trouble? I don’t think so. But Jesus emphasizes the importance of his questioning. When someone uses your full name, it grabs your attention. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than these. We can assume Jesus is pointing over toward the other disciples. We’re told that Peter, in two of the gospels, brags at the Last Supper about how much more he loves Jesus than the others, so much so that he’ll never abandon Jesus.[2] Of course, pride comes before the fall, and later that night Peter denies Jesus three times.

        Now, after everything that has happened—the betrayal, the crucifixion, the resurrection—Jesus asks if Peter really does love him and, of course, Peter responds positively. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus then tells Peter to feed his lambs. This questioning goes on for three times, with just slight variations.[3] After the second question and answer, Jesus says to tend his sheep and after the third, feed my sheep.[4] Jesus gives Peter the mission to care for those whom Jesus brings into his church. But Jesus repeatedly asking Peter if he loves him gets on Peter’s nerves. It bothers him, he’s hurt, yet Peter continues to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Maybe Jesus asks this three times to undo the triple betrayal Peter committed after Jesus’ arrest. Jesus wants to make sure that Peter understands he’s forgiven and that he’s ready to take over his responsibility of the church.

Peter is then informed of what kind of death he will endure. Peter, this wild and free man who so full of passion, will end up a prisoner hauled off to be executed. Peter earlier had boasted that he was willing to die for Jesus. It’s now seen as prophetic. Jesus ends this discourse with the words he first used to call Peter while there at the seashore, “Follow me.”[5]

        We’re not given a sense of just how this prediction of Peter’s death was received, but Peter must have pondered it, for he asks about another of the disciples. Jesus tells Peter a great truth. “Don’t worry about him and his death.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “You have enough troubles. Don’t worry about what God seems to give someone else to worry over.” In other words, accept God’s gift as grace and be thankful.

         Here we are, fifty or so generations Peter.[6] This is a time of turmoil and fear, of pandemic and economic uncertainty. We’re all a little on the edge. What can we learn from this text?  Well, we’ll all have our own burdens. Hopefully, we won’t have Peter’s burden of a crucifixion. Also, we learn that some seemed more blessed in one area of life than another. Some get the virus and don’t even know it. Others get it and struggle to breathe and their bodies break down. Some die. Why? This text suggests that’s a futile question. Instead, we’re shown what we, like Peter, should be doing. We’re to follow Jesus, whose path led at one point to the nourishing waters of the Jordan and at another point to that hill name Golgotha, the place of death. And along the way, we do what we can to care for those whom Jesus calls. We’re not told here to save the world. In fact, Peter isn’t even told to save anyone. Jesus is the Savior. Peter, who is being retrained from having been a fisherman to being a sheepherder, is to care for those Jesus sends his way. And that’s the role of the church, to care for those whom Jesus sends our way.

          During these trying times, when we are hiding out in our homes, we might wonder how we can help anyone. There are ways. The Session, at the request of the Mission and Benevolence Committee, has called for a special offering to help care for the homeless in our community. Do what you can to help. The homeless ministries of Savannah are struggling to meet the needs of those who live under the bridges and on the streets.

Or maybe your gift is crafts and sewing. With plenty of time, you can help make masks, as my daughter and a neighbor of David and Linda Denhard has done. See my selfie on the slide? That’s an example of my daughter’s handiwork. Masks can be shared with nursing homes and for our own use when we are in public. When we start gathering back together for worship, masks will be encouraged. Wearing a mask not only protects us. If we’re asymptomatic, masks will protect others. Wearing a mask can be a gentle way of caring for Jesus’ sheep.

And if you’re not crafty, why not make some phone calls and write some letters. There are people who need to feel connected, especially to those who live alone. As Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “encourage one another, build up each other.”[7]

This week, I want to encourage everyone to reach out to someone and offer hope. For we who believe, are not to despair. We are to have hope and share that hope that we have in a loving Savior. When we do this, we are living up to the calling that was first given to Peter: “feed my lambs, care for my sheep.” Amen.






Sources Consulted:


Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (          Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970

Bruner, Frederick Dale, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids:      Eerdmans, 2012).

Michaels, J. Ramsey, : John: Good News Commentary (Harper & Row, 1983.

Sloyan, Gerald, John: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988).

[1] The tapestry is also known as  “Christ’s Handing the Keys to St. Peter.” Raphael combines the story of Peter receiving the keys (Matthew 16:18-19) and Peter after the breakfast on the beach (John 21:15-17) to create this work. For more information see

[2] Matthew 26:33, Mark 14:29.

[3] Much has been made about Jesus use of the word love. The first two times, Jesus uses the Greek word “Agape.” Peter responds with the Greek word “Phila” (from which we get Philadelphia which means “city of brotherly love.”) The third time, Jesus uses “Phila” instead of “Agape.” These two terms are closely related and in English both are translated as “Love.”

[4] Lambs could be those new to the faith (those being initiated) while sheep could refer to those more mature in their faith.

[5] See Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17. In John’s retelling, Simon comes to Jesus through his brother Andrew and at their first meeting, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. See John 1:40-42.

[6] A Biblical generation is generally considered 40 years.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Jesus Shows the Disciples How to Fish

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 21:1-14
May 17, 2020

This worship service can be found at on YouTube at To listen just to the sermon, go to 12 minutes into the service. The sermon ends at 36:40. 

Today and next Sunday, we are going to explore Jesus’ last post-resurrection account in John’s gospel.[1] Two weeks ago, when I preached last, we discussed Jesus eating left-over fish for dinner.[2] Today, the disciples eat fish and bread for breakfast on the lakeshore.

As we’ve done throughout this series, we have a classical painting, this one from the 15th Century, to help us get into the story. This artist, I doubt, ever saw the Holy Lands. He images Jesus and the disciples on a European stream. But he gets some things right. There are seven disciples in the picture, Jesus is showing them how to fish, and Peter is so excited he’s swimming to shore to be with Jesus. But more importantly, he shows Jesus coming to the disciples! Place yourself into the painting, just downstream. Think about all this. You have this landlubber giving instructions to the men in the boat who haven’t caught a fish all night. Suddenly, there’s more fish than they know what to do with? Is it a miracle or a lucky guess? What do we make of this story? What can we learn?  Listen as I read from John 21, reading from The Message translation.

        The best fish are fresh from the water. Even greasy bluefish make a great breakfast when grilled over a charcoal fire on the beach. I was probably 10 or 11 when I first had such a treat. We were fishing on Masonboro Island. It was in the fall, when the bluefish run. We got up when it was still pitch dark and chilly. My dad started a charcoal fire, which helped us stay warm. But instead of sitting around the fire, we soon had lines in the dark water, casting out into surf. In darkness, we fished with bait. On the end of the line, we had a rig with a weight and two hooks, each containing a strip of mullet. When the fish hit, we’d yank the rod to set the hook, then reel hard. Soon, if lucky, a flapping fish could be made out from the distant light of the lantern. We’d have to bring the fish into the light in order to safely get out the hook.

         Leaving our fish on sand, we rebait our hooks and again cast out into the surf. Slowly, the sky changes. The stars began to extinguish themselves. A ribbon of light appears on the horizon, and it gradually growed. We began to be able to make out the beach and could see where the waves were breaking. Soon afterwards, the sun would slowly rise, its rays seemingly racing across the water toward me, as if they whose rays were destined just for me.

         When there was a lull in the action, we’d stop and clean a few fish, washing them off in the surf, and then lay them on a grill over the coals. In a few minutes, we’d be “eatin’ good.” Afterwards, we’d change the rigging on our rods to plugs and spoons and head back to the water’s edge. Good memories of good times.


         Perhaps it was because I grew up in a home where fishing ranked just below church attendance in priority that Peter’s statement, “I’m going fishing” seems normal. And to the six disciples with him, it sounds like a plan. They head to the water and fished the night. They had terrible luck. That happens. Some mornings there are no bluefish for breakfast.

These men, before becoming disciples, had been fishermen. But this isn’t a story about fishing, even though surprisingly we’re told exactly how many fish they caught. Instead, it’s a post-resurrection story, about Jesus coming to the disciples.

         As I’ve emphasized in these sermons on Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples learn a true lesson. They are not in control. Jesus is in control. We often have this image of going to Jesus, but in truth, Jesus first comes to us. In today’s story, Jesus knows where many of his disciples are. They’re by the lakeshore, fishing, because that’s what they know how to do. So, like when he first called them, he returns to call them again. Next week, we’ll look at how Jesus sends out Peter with a mission, but before we go there, I want us to spend some time in this story.

Imagine, having spent the night fishing with nothing in the bucket. Then along comes someone on shore, 100 yards or so away, far enough away you don’t recognize him. This someone greets you and asks that question that fishermen despise on a bad day. “Have you caught anything?” A loaded question. If you out on a pier and ask that question to a fisherman, his response will probably depend on how well the fish are biting. If there’s only one pinfish in the bucket, you’ll get a grumbled answer that essentially tells you to keep moving. But if the fishing has been good, the fisherman may open the cooler and let you look with awe on his catch.

        On this night, the fishing hadn’t been good. Jesus then does something else that goes against fishermen etiquette. “Why don’t you fish from the other side?” That’s like suggesting a different lure or fly. “Take off that spinner and put on a jitterbug; or get rid of that wooly bugger and put on a popping bug.” But Jesus’ advice pays off as they catch so many fish the net is about to break. Only then does the Beloved Disciple realizes it’s Jesus. Before he can act, Peter throws on some clothes, jumps in and swims toward shore.

Peter, whose nickname was “the Rock,” obviously had learned to swim since that earlier occasion when he tried to walk on water and sank—like a rock.[3] The disciples struggle to pull in the net and when they get to the beach they realize Jesus has already prepared breakfast. But Jesus doesn’t just let those good fish go to waste. He encourages the disciples to bring some of them over and add them to the fire. Jesus uses what we offer to make the banquet table even larger—there’s a message here.

        Like the other post-resurrection appearances, there’s also bit of mystery. Why do we even have verse twelve? After Jesus calls them in for breakfast, we’re told that no one dared to ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was Jesus, but the text leaves us wondering what’s going on. Furthermore, they don’t recognize Jesus right off. It’s only when they follow his suggestion that they encounter him. There’s probably a lesson in that, too. When we listen to Jesus and do what he says, our relationship grows.

         There are three things that happen to the disciples in this passage that we should take to heart. First, Jesus comes to us. Jesus shows up at the most unexpected places. In these stories, he doesn’t show up at church or the synagogue or the temple. Instead, it’s at work, after or before visiting hours. Think about the post-resurrection appearances. Except for meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus always shows up on the shoulders of the day (at daybreak and in the evening). In this case, Jesus arrives as the disciples are finishing up their night shift at a job that wasn’t going to be paying much this day. As followers of Jesus, we must be ready for whenever our Savior decides to pop by. Jesus is not just Lord over Sunday or over religion, he is Lord of all, and can meet us wherever we find ourselves. This is good news in a time that many of us find ourselves prisoners in our own homes! Yes, Jesus can show up even there, you’ll just have to let him in.

A second thing we learn is that Jesus doesn’t just give us all we need. Yes, Jesus had the fire going with fish and bread being prepared, but notice he doesn’t say to the disciples: “We don’t need those 153 fish, throw ‘em back.” That would have belittled their efforts. Jesus doesn’t even take credit for helping with the catch. Instead, Jesus invites the disciples to bring some of what they caught and to place them over the coals. Jesus uses what we have and expands it.

          Let me tell you a story to illustrate this. Many of the photos I’ve using today came from a 2008 trip into the Quetico Wilderness in Western Ontario. The guy at the camp stove you see now is Doc Spindler. One morning, he was talking about having pancakes and so proud of himself for prepacking everything he needed. To be helpful, Jim Bruce (who visited us here at SIPC in February and seen in the picture with the full plate) and I went out early that morning, braving the bears as we picked a quart of so of blueberries. We brought them back and Doc was so happy to have blueberries to mix into pancakes. You use what you’re given. Doc knows this. Although a great guy, however, Doc isn’t Jesus. Instead of the baggie with pancake mix, he used a package of meal for frying fish and the blueberry pancakes ended up coming out like goulash. But with a little syrup and butter and an empty stomach, it was still good.

Jesus takes our gifts, our talents, and employs them in manners beyond what we ever imagined. We just need to be willing to share our blessings. What have we’ve been blessed with that we could offer Jesus for his use in the building of his kingdom?

         Finally, Jesus feeds us. In this case, he fed the disciples a hearty breakfast of fish and bread. But Jesus, who calls all who are weary to accept his yoke, will restore our tired souls and feed our minds and bodies with his presence and comfort.[4] We know, that with him, we have nothing to worry about, for his love is greater than death. When we’re burdened, and let’s face it, we’re all burdened these days as we worry about what’s going to happen, we should call on and depend upon Jesus. He’ll stand by us when no one else will. Amen.



Commentaries Consulted:

Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (          Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970

Bruner, Frederick Dale, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids:      Eerdmans, 2012).

Sloyan, Gerald, John: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988).



[1] Next Sunday, we’ll look at the last half of John 21.

[2] Luke 24:36-49.

[3] Matthew 14:28-30

[4] Matthew 11:30.

The Resurrection, Parts 2 & 3

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
April 19, 2020
John 20:19-29


Throughout this Easter Season, we’re looking at post-resurrection stories of Jesus. We find these mostly in the gospels of Luke and John. As we left off last week, Jesus had risen and had appeared to Mary Magdalene. He sent her off on a mission to tell the disciples. Prior to her arrival, all they know is that Jesus’ tomb is open, and his body is gone. They are fearful, worrying that they may end up facing the same kind of death Jesus’ endured. But that changes.

What is this resurrection about? What does it mean for us, today? In Richard Rohr’s devotional this week, he quoted Franciscan sister and scientist Ilia Delio:

Christianity can help us realize that death and resurrection are part of the evolutionary path toward wholeness; letting go of isolated existence for the sake of deeper union. Something dies but something new is born—which is why the chaos of our times is, in a strange way, a sign of hope; something new is being born within.[1]

Is this a time of hope? In this time of pandemic, what do we need to let go of? How might we become more whole? How might we develop a deeper union with Christ? Our text provides some suggestions.

We’re continuing to look at art to help us get into the Scriptures. Today’s painting, of Thomas checking out Jesus’ wounds, is by Caravaggio, an Italian painter of the late 16th and early 17th Century. Let’s get into the head of the other disciple looking over Thomas in this depiction of the event. What do you think was going on in his mind?

Like Thomas, I also have doubts. I was just not willing to speak up. Can this really be Jesus? After all, his body was so broken when they pulled him off the cross. Yet, he’s now in front of us. Jesus insists that Thomas, who doubted when they said Jesus had risen from the dead, stick his finger into his wound. I’m watching. Thomas is reluctant, but Jesus grabs his wrist and pulls his hand toward the wound. Can this really be the same Jesus, that just a little over a week ago, hung on a cross?  And is he the same Jesus we followed throughout Galilee? Will people believe us when we tell what we’ve experienced? I no longer understand what is happening, but I know that nothing will ever be the same.

Let us read from the gospel of John, chapter 20, beginning with verse 19.


          What a week it. From the Parade to the cross and now on the evening of the first day of a new week, the disciples gather in secret. The doors are locked. Everyone is exhausted. Fright and fatigue show on their faces. After three years, they only have each other. And now there’s a rumor going around, started by Mary Magdalene, that Jesus is alive. Some think it possible, but others believe it’s just idle tale?”[2]

        And then suddenly, as the sun sinks in the West, Jesus appears. How did he get through the locked doors? But here he is, when he belongs, in the middle of the middle of the gathered disciples. Jesus was the one who unites the disciples. He’s always in the middle. He was even in the middle of those crucified on Friday. The middle is where Jesus belongs.[3] Remember that!

Holding up his hands, greeting his friends, Jesus says: “Peace be with you.” What a sight! The nail holes are evident. There’s a rip in his side where the Roman spear was thrust. The fatigue on their faces disappear, but the fright remains.

Again, Jesus says: “Peace be with you,” only this time he continues, telling them that just as he was sent by the Father, he’s sending them out into the world. The unique thing about the resurrection is that Jesus speaks to the disciples as if they are his equals and able to continue in his mission. Then, reminiscence of God blowing breath into the nostrils of the clay figure there in the Garden, giving life to Adam, Jesus blows upon the disciples.[4] Obviously, they weren’t worried about COVID-19.

A week later, the disciples are again in the house… Again, it’s the first day of the week, Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath, the day of resurrection, the primary day that most Christians worship.[5] Again, the doors are locked. The shades are pulled… So much for Jesus’ command to go out into the world… It’s been a week since they’ve seen the resurrected Christ, with his wounds still visible, yet they’re still hiding, still afraid for their lives, still afraid to go out into the world…  Then Jesus reappears. And, where is he? Standing there among the disciples—in the middle—where Jesus belongs.

Thomas, the empiricist who wants to see, sense, and touch Jesus before he commits himself to believing is also present. Knowing this, Jesus invites Thomas to place his finger in his wounds… Imagine Thomas reaching out his hand. And then he sees. In awe, Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”

         We could argue that this is the climax of John’s gospel. “My Lord and my God,” acknowledges that Jesus is more than the Messiah. We get a whiff of this in Matthew’s gospel where we’re told the women at the tomb worshipped Jesus.[6] We don’t worship a person; we worship God. Thomas takes this a step further and declares that Jesus is God. His confession has gone beyond all other confessions of the disciples up to this point.[7] A doubter at first, Thomas is the first disciple to recognize Jesus as more than a teacher. Jesus is God. Furthermore, Thomas’ proclamation is a political statement. Roman emperors were addressed as “Our lord and god.” Here, Thomas confesses who truly is Lord and God, and it’s not Caesar or anyone else to whom we might be lured into professing allegiance.[8] By calling Jesus Lord, Thomas asserts Jesus is worthy to obey. By calling Jesus God, Thomas declares that Jesus should be worshipped, as we’re doing today.

N. T. Wright suggests that Thomas serves as a parable for our need to both have the historical and scientific facts. He wanted to touch, to experience, and to see. But when he claims Jesus to be God, he transcends the historical and scientific realm into something “higher and richer.” We’re into a new creation.[9]

         What all this means to us, today, two millenniums after the resurrection? Jesus’ last words in this passage are interesting. It’s a blessing on us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus says.  Did you hear that?  He’s talking about you and me; he’s blessing those of us who have not had an opportunity to stick our fingers into his wounds. Instead of seeing, we believe due to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of others who have felt Jesus’ presence in their lives. And because we have faith in Jesus Christ, we’re to listen to his teachings and to live lives that strive to glorify him. That’s the challenge we have, as individuals, to listen to Jesus and to live faithful.

       Furthermore, as a community of believers, we’re able to offer forgive sins. That’s quite a task. You know, there are a lot of good things that the church does in the community that other groups can also do, and in some cases these groups can even do it better than the church. But there is one thing that no other group can do. The government can’t do it, civic clubs can’t do it, political parties can’t do it—and that’s forgive sins. As God, Jesus has this power and he grants it to his church. For this reason, the church is an essential business. But the church isn’t a building; the church is wherever God’s people are at, which now, hopefully, is in the safety of our homes.

There’s a lot of hope in this passage. We have a God who can do incredible things and I believe God is doing that right now. This pandemic is offering us a chance to pause and re-evaluate our lives and what is important. We have plenty of time as we sit around the house watching TV and reading novels. But just remember this, the church isn’t here in this building, it’s where you and all the other believers are located. And, more importantly, as it was in that first Easter, and the next Sunday, Jesus needs to be present, in the middle of us. It’s easy to be depress these days, but Jesus is here, ready to give us strength and hope and encouragement. While this pandemic might suggest that it’s not safe to invite people into our homes, the exception is Jesus. Invite him into your home. Spend time with him during these weeks of isolation, asking him what you might learn from this time. For Jesus is not in the grave, he’s descended to the Father, but he’s left behind his Spirit to guide and comfort us. And for that, we should be thankful.  Amen.



[2] Luke 24:11, “and these words seemed to be an idle tale.”  John’s gospel only tells about Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene prior to meeting his disciples later in the day.  See John 20:1-19.

[3] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 1162.

[4] See Genesis 2:7.

[5] Christians worship on the first day of the week because the Lord rose that Day (John 20) and the Holy Spirit descended upon the church on that day (Acts 2:1ff). See also 1 Corinthians 16:2.

[6] Matthew 28:9.

[7] As an example, the climax in Mark’s gospel comes with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, but Thomas makes a stronger Christological statement, proclaiming that Jesus is also God. See Mark 8:29.

[8] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 1047.

[9] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 60.

The Second Dinner

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 13:1-20
March 29, 2020



Before reading the scripture, I want us to take a look at our image for the day, which can help us get into the text. We’re looking at part of a mural by the late David Paynter titled, “Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.” The setting is along the Sri Lankan coastline. Zoom in on the guy on the left, a servant, who’s looking at what’s going on.[1] Let’s get into his head:

Jesus and the disciples have booked my master’s banquet hall. I have prepared everything according to their wishes and am ready with the water and basin as I always am. Years ago, my parents gave me to the owner as collateral for the debt they owed. But things did not go well for them, and the debt was never repaid. And so, I work to pay it off. Roman law says that someday I could be a freed person, but I will never again have the full rights in society. I’m marked as a slave for life. I keep my head down and do what the master asks because legally he has the right to punish me.

          So, here I am with the bowl, just waiting for the go-ahead. The honored guest will be first, of course, and I know which one he is by where he’s seated. This is protocol, everyone has a place according to status. When he shows up, I recognize him and remember the stories I have heard about this teacher. He says things that upset those invested in this system of status… things like “the last shall be first.” I just can’t imagine a world like he describes.

          And then he comes up to me. Smiling, he takes the basin of water from my hands. He takes my servant’s towel and wraps it around his own waist and kneels, inviting Peter to come sit. This is going to be no ordinary night. I realize my life, my view of myself and my station in life, is never going to be the same.

Enter the story
Enter the place you belong
Not just looking on
For this is your story
Enter the story

Enter the passion
Enter the place we belong
Not just looking on
For this is our passion
Enter the passion
Enter the story…
Enter the passion…

Enter his passion.[2]

Our Scripture this morning comes from the 13th Chapter of John’s gospel. Read John 13:1-20.

Last week we explored the first meal recorded during Jesus’ final week of earthly ministry. This is the dinner in Simon’s home interrupted by the woman with perfume anointing Jesus. Today, we’re looking at the second meal of this week. Of course, there weren’t just two meals eaten during these seven days. These are just the two recalled in the gospels. Both meals are rich with symbols. Last week, we could almost smell the expensive perfume being poured. This week, we have the bread and the wine, the foot washing, and the betrayal, all mixed in. We know this dinner as the “Last Supper” and there’s enough material here for two dozen sermons. I promise I won’t exhaust the passage.

All four of the gospels have these stories about Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. John’s gospel, unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, has a unique twist to it. Instead of it being the Passover, it’s the day before the Passover. You could say that in John’s gospel, they start partying early! Seriously, John wants us to think of Jesus as the Passover lamb, the one who was slain for our sins.[3] So the crucifixion occurs on Passover. The other thing John emphasizes is that there is evil lurking, but Jesus allows it to go on. It’s not like Jesus was dragged to the cross, as would have happened with most of those condemned to such a death, but that Jesus willingly gives up his life to fulfill a greater purpose. So, Jesus allows Judas to do his deed.

Interestingly, unlike the other gospels, John doesn’t recall Jesus reciting the words of the Lord’s Supper… There’s no, “This is my body broken for you…” or “This cup is the new covenant…” Instead, we’re told that as they enjoy the meal, Jesus does something strange. But before we get there, John tells us that Jesus loved the disciples to the end. Now, this can be taken that Jesus loved the disciples all along, up to this point, but there’s more here than that. It’s not merely a chronological statement, implying that up to this point in time Jesus has loved his disciples. Instead, it implies the fullness and completeness of his love. He will love them unto death, which will become clearer as the events of the night and next day unfolds.

Jesus then assumes the role of the servant. For those of us living on this side of the resurrection, we immediately think of Paul’s “Christ Hymn” in Philippians, where we’re told that “Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”[4] Like a servant, like the dude in the picture whose job this should have been, Jesus goes around the table with a basin and washes the disciples’ feet. This is an example of extreme humility and sets up the rest of our reading. There are two implications of Jesus’ action. The first, which is covered in verses 6 to 11, is theological. This deals with our relationship to God. The second, covered in verses 12-20 is ethical. It focuses on how we relate to others.[5] Let’s look at each.

Peter has a problem with what Jesus is doing. In his book, this is just not right. The Master shouldn’t wash the dirty feet of the disciples. But Jesus not only offers to do this, he insists that he must. In verse 8, Jesus says that if he doesn’t wash Peter’s feet, he’ll have no share in him. The Gospel is summarized in this short sentence. We must be open to Jesus taking on our sins, washing them away, if we want to be in fellowship with him. This is the theological part of this passage. If we think we are too good or to dirty for Jesus to wash our feet, we won’t be able to share in his free grace.[6] Jesus freely takes up the towel and basin, just as he freely takes up the cross, and we have to accept him. Theologically, if we are not open to God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves, we can’t experience grace.

The second implication of the foot washing is ethical. “I’ve done this for you,” Jesus says, “so you need to do it to one another.” Jesus has shown us how to live our lives. We are called to live in mutual service, showing submission to one another, being willing to forgive when we are wronged, and having patience. All these traits, Jesus demonstrated. We too must learn from the Master. We must be willing to follow his example.

So how do we live this way at a time when we’re called to keep our social distance for the sake of society? Obviously, Jesus wasn’t worried about COVID-19 when he washed the feet of his disciples, and these days we’re told, again and again, to be sure to wash our own hands. We are living in a unique time. After all, we been called to sit on the couch and watch TV as if that’s a sacrifice. But we got to do more. We are still the church deployed in the world.

Who wasn’t moved by the story of the priest in Italy whose parishioners purchased him a respirator? But the priest insisted the respirator be used on a child who was ill.[7] He died. That’s showing the extreme side of what Jesus is talking about here.

But there are other things we all need to be doing. Staying away from others and isolating ourselves will help slow this disease. With the marvels of technology, we can still be connected through the phone and over the internet. And don’t forget the U. S. mail. The Session and Pastors of this church have made a commitment to call every member every week through this crisis. If you don’t get a call, let me know. We’ll see to it that you are included. And you can join us in calling and checking in on one another. After all, we do have new directories that are well suited for this. There are those who live by themselves and are lonely. Let’s do what we can to stay connected. We can also uphold one another in our prayers. We can write letters of encouragement. We can still be supportive of organizations that are making sure the most vulnerable in our communities are safe and cared for during this scary time. Did you know that this congregation collected 190 pairs of socks on the last day we were able to meet in worship? This Monday, those socks will be taken to Union Mission to be distributed.

Finally, we’re living in a time when we should be extremely grateful for others. Think of the sacrifices others are making, as they assume the role of the servant. Those work in the hospital, whether they are doctors and surgeons or the cleaning staff, they’re on the front line for us. And how about those who work in the club here at the Landings, working hard to get for food and groceries to us. Those who pick up our trash. And don’t forget the grocery workers, those in the shipping industry, those making masks and gowns for the medical profession. At a time like this, we need to remember all these people we depend on and be thankful and grateful.

Jesus comes before us at the table, with a towel wrapped around his waist and a basin. He kneels. Do we let him wash our feet? And, if so, are we willing to humble ourselves and serve others in the manner that he has served us? These are questions we need to ask ourselves. Amen.



[1] A copy of this mural is in the “Art in the Christian Tradition” collection at Vanderbilt Divinity Library in Nashville, Tennessee. The original is in Trinity College.

[2] This edited monologue and song is from the Worship Design Series: “Entering the Passion of Jesus: Picturing Ourselves in the Story.” Subscription from

[3] This image of Jesus as the Passover lamb becomes clearer in John’s revelation.  See Revelation 5:12 and 6:1.

[4] Philippians 2:7.

[5] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MIhigan: Eerdmans,2012), 749.

[6] Bruner, 765.


Pentecost Sermon

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 14:8-17
June 9, 2019


Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, a day to wear red in remembrance of those tongues that appeared as flames announcing the arrival of the Spirit. But instead of preaching on the Pentecost passage in Acts, I want us to look at the gospel lectionary passage for the day. Here, Jesus first promises to send a special friend (an Advocate, a Helper, better known as the Spirit) into the Christian Community. In the gospel of John, Jesus reiterates this five times.[1] The sending of the Spirit is a big deal.

Our reading this morning from the 14th chapter of John’s gospel takes place around the table of the Last Supper. The part of this chapter before our reading involves our friend, Doubting Thomas. He asks Jesus how we can know the way to where he’s going if we don’t know where he’s going. In the 6th verse, Jesus gives his classic statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me.

But Thomas isn’t the only one asking questions this evening. In our reading, Philip chimes in with a statement that we could have all made. “Just show me, Jesus, and I’ll be satisfied.” Let’s listen to God’s word. Read John 14:7-17


        Over a period of a few weeks, a minister listened to a parishioners tell the same fish story many times.  Each time the fisherman told the story, the fish took on a different dimension. Sometimes he made the fish out to be a whale and other times it seemed to be just a lively bass. Finally, the minister felt he needed to confront this fisherman about his habitual lying… After worship one Sunday, he called the man aside and told him about hearing the same story told in different ways to different listeners… “Well you see,” the fisherman explained, “I have to be realistic. I never tell someone more than I think they will believe.”[2]

        You know, we can only understand and comprehend so much and it seems that in the passage I just read, Jesus overloads his disciples. He attempts to teach them about the unique relationship between him and God the Father, and our relationship to them though the Holy Spirit. From this passage we learn that our knowledge of God comes from our knowledge of Jesus Christ. Through the life of Jesus, we are able to see God. Furthermore, we learn that through prayer, obedience, and the Holy Spirit we are empowered to carry on Jesus’ work and can experience his peace. This is a passage that deals with the work of the Trinity: God as Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s a lot to comprehend, but Jesus knows his time is short and he needs to prepare the disciples for what’s ahead.

        This passage starts off with Philip begging, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” It’s a natural request. Philip’s descendants must have ended up in Missouri, the “Show Me State.” You know, Philip easily answered Jesus’ call at the beginning of his ministry, as John shows us in his first chapter.[3] But it appears he wasn’t sure why. Perhaps Philip feels he needs some kind of grand demonstration of God’s power, or an encounter like Moses had on Sinai. Such a presentation was not forth coming.

Think about Philip’s question. Don’t we all want to know more about Jesus? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more evidence?   Wouldn’t it be great to just see God and get it over with? Then everyone would believe…But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus tells his disciples that the way they, and everyone else, will encounter God is through him. The way God reveals himself to us is through the man named Jesus. Maybe instead of demanding more evidence like Philip, we need to accept what Jesus has to say.

It may seem a little strange, but after living with Jesus for three years, the disciples still don’t understand his unique relationship to the Father in heaven. We must admit, it’s difficult to imagine Jesus being a man and God. Our minds struggle with such a mystery. As a creature of God, we do not have the ability to understand God…  Before being able to understand anything about God, we must be willing to accept our human limitations. When we do, we can relate to God through another human being… Jesus Christ.

          Jesus asked his disciples to believe that he was in the Father and the Father was in him, and that his words were the words of the Father. The disciples, being normal logical people, had a hard time understanding how the Father and the Son could be the same. As they wondered, Jesus tells them to just believe, and if they couldn’t believe because of what he said, to believe because of the works that he performed. In other words, there are two ways for them to engage with Jesus’ special relationship with God. They can accept his word or be moved by his work.[4]

        Jesus covers his relationship to God the Father because he wants to get on to what’s going to happen after he departs. After all, this is a conversation around the dinner table the night before the crucifixion. Jesus is preparing the disciples for when he’s no longer going to be present with them.

Jesus makes the shift between focusing on his relationship to the Father and to his continuing relationship to humanity in verse 12. There Jesus promises something strange, telling his disciples those who believe in him would be able to do even greater works after he had gone to the Father. Of course Jesus gives some ground rules for these works… The greater works would be done to glorify God the Father and would be accomplished through prayer, obedience, and the Holy Spirit.

        If we pray to Jesus, asking the power to do something that glorifies God, then, he promises, our prayers will be answered. Jesus also promises that God’s Spirit will be with us forever. In other words, we are not abandoned. We are not alone. God is with us. And think about how this has been fulfilled over the centuries. Jesus and his band of disciples made an impact on a small corner of the ancient world, between Galilee and Judea. But within a generation, his followers were planting seeds—from India, to Ethiopia, and to Europe—that would make a significant difference. In 300 years the church would be established all over the region and from there go out into the rest of the world.

        In the 17th verse, Jesus tells his disciples that they’ll be accompanied by a true friend that only they will know. It’s the Spirit that abided with the disciples after Pentecost and now abides with us. In other words, just as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father, so we are in the Spirit and the Spirit in us. Knowing he’s not going to be around much longer, Jesus wants to assure the disciples (and us) that they (and we) will be taken care of. Through the Spirit he’ll continue to nourish our souls….

          Let me point out one interesting thing here. The Spirit, as spoken of in verse 17, isn’t to us as individuals. When Jesus says the Spirit abides in you, it’s plural, not singular. In other words, the access to the Spirit is found within the fellowship of the church. It’s within the fellowship that Jesus commands us to love one another, as we abide in God through the Spirit and abide in one another through love.[5] This passage doesn’t support an “individual” being caught up in the spirit. Such experiences occur within the community.

Jesus’ purpose in this discussion is to give comfort to the disciples who are going to miss him. Jesus encourages them with the promise of God’s continual presence through the Holy Spirit. Through this promise, he’s preparing them to go out and build a church, which they did because they knew two things: that Jesus and the Father are one and that he’s still with them in Spirit. Even though Jesus isn’t present in bodily form, he remains with the disciples (and us) by answering prayers and through the presence of the Spirit. The work of the Trinity involves the Father, Son, and Spirit, but through the Spirit, it also involves us.

         The early disciples found comfort in Jesus’ words, and we can too. Though Jesus we can know God, and more importantly, we can be forgiven and found to be righteous so that we can enter God’s kingdom. Furthermore, it is comforting to know God’s Spirit, which was first manifested on Pentecost Day so many years ago, is still with us today, ready to lead the church into the 21st century. As a church, our life must be grounded in the Spirit that abides in us. For this reason, the church always has hope. Despite persecution or indifference from the world in which we live, we have something the world doesn’t. We have God’s Spirit, and we need to trust this gift, because it is all that matters. If we abide in the Spirit, we’ll be okay.

         Rejoice, today is Pentecost. Be bold, for God is with us. Amen.



[1] John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26, 16:7-11 and 12-15.

[2] Snappy Steeple Stories, compiled by Oren Arnold, p. 43

[3] John 1:43.

[4] Gerald Sloyan, John: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Atlanta, JKP, 1808), 180.

[5] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 836