Title slide with a photo of a Christmas tree reflecting in a window

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont Church
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2023
Luke 1:26-45[1]

Sermon for December 24, 2023 at Bluemont Church.
Tonight there will be a candlelight service at Mayberry Church at 6 PM.

Our wait is almost over. It seems as if we should have another week before Christmas. After all, today is the 4th Sunday of Advent and tonight, we celebrate Christmas Eve with a candlelight service at Mayberry Church, celebrating the birth of our Savior. This year, the calendar tricks us!

Of course, our wait for Jesus’ return continues. I hope our celebrating Jesus’ first coming will be more than opening gifts. Not only should we give thanks for his birth, but with the excitement of a child looking for Santa’s sleigh in the night sky, we should long for his return. 

God’s timing is different than ours. Sometimes the wait is for generations and centuries. But God is good and faithful; his promises are fulfilled. We might think we waste time waiting. But during periods of waiting, God transforms his people. Being patient is a godly trait that we all need to work on. 

Today, we will be looking at two women, one old and the other young, both expecting their first child. Expectations filled their nine-month wait. Read Luke 1:26-45.


There was once a spoiled and rotten child… As Christmas approached, he produced a letter to Santa with a wish list that rivaled a Russian novel. And he expected to receive it all. “Christmas is not the season of entitlement,” his mother said in a scolding tone.[2] His parents, knowing they needed to nip his attitude in the bud, forced him to sit in front of the Nativity scene in the living room and contemplate the meaning of Christmas. Then he was to write a letter wishing Jesus a happy birthday. 

The boy stared intently at the manger, but he couldn’t get it out of his head that Christmas wasn’t just about him receiving gifts. He began to compose a letter. “Dear Jesus,” he wrote, “If you bring me all that I want, I’ll be good for the year.”  Then he thought about how hard that’d be. He tore up the letter and tossed it in the waste basket. 

He started over. “Dear Jesus, if you bring me all that I want, I’ll be good for a month. Again, the thought about how hard that would be, to be good for a month, for 30 days. He crumbled the letter and dropped it in the waste basket. 

He started again. “Dear Jesus, if you bring me all that I want, I’ll be good for a week.” Thinking further, he realized how futile such an effort would be. He tossed that letter into his rapid filling waste basket and resumed his contemplation of the Nativity.

Suddenly he spotted the figure of Mary, in the back, behind the manger, a beautiful young woman wrapped in a light blue shawl, her face shining as she gazed upon her newborn son. He snatched Mary out the Nativity, wrapped her in some tissue paper and hid her in the bottom drawer in his dresser. Then he went back to writing his letter. “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mom again…”

The first time I ever told this joke, it was at a Christmas service I preached at in a local prison. I never heard a crowd laugh so much. Perhaps they identified with the boy. But they also know something about waiting, and that’s the theme from this passage I want us to explore this morning. 

Parents, especially mothers know about waiting… Those nine months can be hectic as you learn about breathing techniques during delivery and how to care for a newborn. And then there is the necessity of preparing for a nursery—most of us are beyond repurposing a manger for a crib. Waiting means there’s anticipation and hope. You pray for your soon to be born child with the hope they won’t grow up to be the terror like the little boy in my opening story. But even if that happens, we’ll still look back on earlier innocent moments with a smile.         

I can’t imagine what must have gone through Mary’s mind as she is visited by Gabriel. Engaged to Joseph, she carries a special child. But she’s told to have no fear (easier for the angel to say than for Mary to do). Gabriel explains about how the child was conceived and his purpose in life. 

Gabriel also has another message, one about her relative, Elizabeth. After years of trying to conceive a child, she’d given up hope. Now that she’s old, she finds herself pregnant. It seems impossible, but Gabriel reminds Mary that nothing is impossible for God.

Mary heads down into the Judean hill country to visit Elizabeth. It used to be that way; a young woman not yet married, yet pregnant, goes to live with an aunt or a grandmother. With Zechariah struck silent for his disbelief,[3] the two women talked incessantly about their expectant babies. We’re told that when they greeted each other, Elizabeth’s child, who will become John the Baptist, jumps in her womb. The premature boys in the womb recognize each other. 

There is much excitement, for they understand God is doing something new. But they must wait. They must wait till their children are born, and then they must wait till they are grown. Jesus, we learn, doesn’t start his ministry till he’s thirty.[4] And poor John’s parents. I’m sure they hoped their son would lead worship in a fine synagogue in a respectable city. If they lived long enough, they got to see him preach knee deep in the muddy Jordan.[5] God works in mysterious and strange ways.

In a devotion based on this text, the late Henri Nouwen wrote: 

 I find the meeting of these two women very moving, because Elizabeth and Mary came together and enabled each other to wait.  Mary’s visit made Elizabeth aware of what she was waiting for. The child leaped in joy in her. Mary affirmed Elizabeth’s waiting…. These two women created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.”[6]

I like the idea of the two of them creating space for the other to wait. Our world encourages us to rush in and fix things right away. We don’t value waiting. We need to create space for us and for others to wait, trusting that God works within us as we wait. 

It is healthy for us to accept and understand that there are things in life we can’t control. We can’t control when God wants to act. Mary and Elizabeth, in our passage today, had no control over what was happening. 

If it had been in Elizabeth’s control, I’m sure that she’d given birth to John when she and Zechariah were young enough that their backs didn’t ache from picking up the boy. And Mary, I’m sure, imagined waiting on kids until she and Joseph married and had time for each other. Maybe taken a cruise or purchased a house. The idea of honeymooning in Egypt with a newborn, as a refugee on the run from the authorities, wasn’t any more romantic then than it would be today.  

Let me talk a bit about the church and waiting. I admit, I’m often frustrated at the pace the church moves.  It was worse when I was younger. Early in my ministry, I started comparing my attempts at changing the course of a church to that of a Captain of a battleship steering with a canoe paddle. Change comes slowly. Some people get upset with that (while others don’t want change at all). 

Looking at scripture, we seechange takes time. We should be more patient. God seems to wait till the timing is right, and only then does the speed of change accelerates. At the time of our text, God had been quiet for centuries. There had been no prophets in Israel. And then, suddenly, God acts. And the world changes forever. 

We might often wonder what God is up to. But we should remember that God’s will has a “what and when” component.[7]We can want things to go faster, but we must remember that its best if we go with God’s timing. Otherwise, we might make a mess of things.

The two women in our passage today, one who may have only been barely more than a child and the other who was up in years, remind us that whatever our age (or whatever our level of spiritual maturity may be) when we open to God, the Almighty can use us to do incredible things. We just must be open to the Lord and to wait on his timing. 

We live in a world where we expect instant gratification. But when it comes to our faith, such expectations may be unrealistic and even harmful. Having faith means we’re in God’s hands and open to his timing. We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we should anticipate it and be ready. In the meantime, like Mary and Elizabeth, we support one another.  Amen. 

[1] I preached a different version of this sermon on December 15, 2011 in Hastings, Michigan.

[2] My Adult Ministry coordinator, MaryMartha Melendy, when I served First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, Michigan, used this phrase.

[3] Luke 1:20

[4] Luke 3:23

[5] Matthew 3; Mark 1:1-9; Luke 3:1-21; John 3:22-24. John’s preaching included both the Jordan River and that that region.

[6] Henri Nouwen  “Waiting for God” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 35.

[7] Larry Osborne, Sticky Teams (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 179.

A Christmas tree reflecting in a window

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 16, 2022
“Lord, teach us to pray: The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1”
Luke 11:1-4

Thoughts at the beginning of worship

It’s good to be back with you this morning. While gone I did a lot of reading including Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson. Starting back in seminary, I began reading Peterson’s writings and have found them insightful. Peterson, who died a few years ago, is best known as the translator of The Messageversion of the Bible. Before that, he primarily wrote for pastors and his writings display a pastor’s heart. 

My preaching plan between now and Advent is to focus on the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is one of our primary responsibilities as disciples and we’ve been talking about discipleship a lot. Through prayer, we develop a relationship with the Almighty. The Lord’s Prayer is a logical place to start teaching prayer. In Collier’s biography of Peterson, I found myself encouraged in this task as Peterson envisioned two essentials for a pastor’s job description: teaching people to pray and to have a good death.[1] As you can image, I have more personal experience with the first. I do try to pray and haven’t yet died. But if any of you need to talk about a good death, I’ll be here for you. We can learn together. 

John Calvin on Prayer

Today and for the next six weeks, I’ll discuss what it means to pray? Some might ask if God knows all, who are we to pray and to tell God what we need? John Calvin dealt with this question. 

Calvin begins his discussion on prayer, which he calls the chief exercise of faith, with an acknowledgment that we don’t have all we need. In other words, we’re not self-sufficient. So, we are instructed by faith to realize that “whatever we need and lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in who the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide, so that we might draw from it as an overflowing spring.” “God “the master and bestower of all good things” invites us into prayer.[2]

Before the Reading of Scripture:

The prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer can be found two places in Scripture, in the gospels of Matthew and in Luke.[3]Both are short prayers, especially when compared to other known prayers of the time and from the Old Testament. In the Greek, Matthew’s prayer contains only 58 words. Luke, as we’re going to hear today, is even shorter at 38 words.[4] As a comparison, my pastoral prayers tend to run 300 to 400 words. Maybe I should be a bit more concise. After all, Jesus does condemn the long rambling prayers of the Scribes.[5]

However, we know Jesus’ prayers were often longer than the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus spent the night in prayer up on the mountain before he appointed the disciples.[6] He prayed long enough that the waiting disciples fell asleep.[7]

Prayer involves a relationship

So, it’s not about the length of prayer that’s important, it’s about us acknowledging our own insufficiency and trusting in God. Prayer draws us into that kind of relation, but it’s a relationship in which God has already spoken. While I won’t get into this today, prayer is not just us talking, it’s also involves listening.

Eugene Peterson says this about prayer: “At regular intervals we all need to quit our work and contemplate his, quit talking to each other and listen to him.[8] That’s what happens in prayer.

The traditional way of saying the Lord’s Prayer

While I am going to read the Lord’s Prayer today from Luke’s gospel, I will speak of the prayer as we say it. Traditionally, the Lord’s prayer has been divided into six petitions, three that deal with the praise of God and three that deal with our need. You only get all six in Matthew’s version of the prayer. In Luke’s gospel, we only find five of the petitions. However, since today I am going to stick to the first petition, which both versions share, we’ll be okay. 

Read Luke 11:1-4

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…. 

This rolls off our tongues so naturally, but do we ever stop to think what we are saying? 

Our Father

Consider how this prayer begins. Luke’s shorten version has “Father, hallowed be your name.” From Matthew’s gospel, we get “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” 

It’s important to know that we don’t say, “My Father,” but Out Father. Think of it this way. God is not a personal god, as if I could stash god in pocket as some good luck charm to pull out when I am in trouble. As the Apostles’ Creed proclaims, God is the creator of all: heaven and earth. God doesn’t belong to any of us. Instead, all of us belong to God, for he has created us in his image. To claim God as mine borders on idolatry. To say, “my God,” risks taking God’s name in vain. It’s as if we claim God to be on our side instead of us being on God’s side. So, we acknowledge from the beginning God as the Father of all who believe. 

Second, we can call God our Father not just because we’ve been created by God. God is our Father because through God’s son, Jesus Christ, we are cleaned up—justified and sanctified—so that we can be adopted into God’s family. By praying to God as Father, as Jesus’ teaches, we are invited into an intimate relationship with the divine…. So yes, we have a personal God, but only because God acts first to invite us into a relationship. 

But we also begin our prayer acknowledging our position in the pecking order of creation. Just as a child stands under his or her parents’ authority, we stand under God’s authority. 

In heaven

In Matthew’s gospel, God is given a place: “in heaven.” This doesn’t mean that God is out there and not here. After all, John foretold Jesus’ ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.[9] Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God coming near, which means essentially the same thing.[10] Jesus also promises the coming of God’s Spirit, which was poured out upon the disciples and believers at Pentecost.[11] Yes, God is near, but God also has a place to observe all that happens until heaven and earth are wedded together.[12] As the Psalmist reminds us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all humankind.
From where he sits enthroned he watches
    all the inhabitants of the earth.[13]

Praise and our role in creation

In this prayer, we acknowledge God and our relationship to the divine. But our role in creation is also important. We have been created to praise God. That’s what we do with the ascriptions of praise at the beginning of this prayer along with the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s now consider the first one: “hallowed be your name.” 

We’re to honor God alone

We could also say, “God alone is to be honored.” This petition relates to the Ten Commandments, especially the third one which says, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”[14] When we pray the way in which Jesus taught, we keep our priorities in line. We worship an awesome God whose glory we need to reflect in our lives.

One commentator on the Lord’s Prayer says: “this pray teaches us, in all that we do, to hallow the name of God and, in doing so, we discover our true being.”[15] In other words, when we pray the way Jesus taught, we don’t just go to God with a shopping list. Instead, we acknowledge God’s rightful place in the universe and in our lives.  

Through this prayer, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed. Yes, we have a God who already knows everything, but God wants to draw us into a relationship. So, we address God as Father, in a personal manner. We acknowledge God’s role over our lives, and we seek to praise God’s name. 

In writing about prayer in Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson, whom I spoke of earlier, equates prayer with intimacy. “Intimacy is no easy achievement. There is pain—longing, disappointment, and hurt. But if the costs are considerable, the rewards are magnificent.”[16]

Concluding suggestions

This week take time to pray. Prayer is not just for when you have a need. Begin your prayers in praise. Prayer helps nurture our relationship with God and forms our minds so that we live as God intended. And that’s a good thing. Amen. 

[1] Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2021), 268.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), III, xx, 1. 

[3] In addition to Scriptures, the prayer can also be found in the Apostolic Father’s Didache. However, this is essentially the same as in Matthew’s gospel.  James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 330.

[4] Edwards, 330. 

[5] Mark 12;38-40, Luke 12;38-40.

[6] Luke 6:12-13.

[7] Luke 22:39-46.

[8] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angels: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 57.

[9] Matthew 3:2. 

[10] Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9.

[11] John 16:5-15, Acts 2.

[12] Revelation 21.

[13] Psalms 33:13-14. 

[14] Exodus 20:7.

[15] William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: Th Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 44. 

[16] Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), 49.

Chestnut Creek (Behind the Blue Ridge Music Center)

Subsistence Discipleship

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
September 11, 2022
Luke 10:1-20

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, September 9, 2022

At the beginning of worship

Do you ever want to do something big for God? 

You know, when we try to impress someone, we often try to do something that’s over the top. We buy our sweetheart the largest and best decorated heart filled with chocolate for Valentine’s Day. We buy gifts for our kids. 

For some people, this idea of doing something big goes for God. After all, we’re called to love and glorify God and we, the church, are to be the “bride of Christ.”[1] But what if I tell you, that’s not the way God works? 

Pleasing God 

God doesn’t need us to do something big for him. God can do everything for himself. What pleases God isn’t the size of our effort, but our hearts. Do we love God? Do we trust God?  Are we faithful?

You know, when you’re a kid, you do things for your parents that doesn’t really make their lives better. But they’re pleased with whatever craft item we create for Mother’s or Father’s Day. It’s like that with God. The size of our efforts isn’t what pleases God; it’s what’s in our hearts. Are we faithful to the calling of Jesus? Do we trust in God? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. 

Before the reading of scripture:

Last week we saw that Jesus expects humility and cooperation from his disciples. Today’s text will build on those concepts. 

Remember, too, that for Luke, the disciples were more than just the 12. The 12 created kind of an intergroup. This week, we see that Jesus sends out a larger group of disciples for a chance to put into action their humility and cooperation. Jesus sends out this group to tell and show that the kingdom of God has come near. 

70 or 72?

Most of our Bibles will tell us that Jesus sent out 70 

disciples, two-by-two. But if you have any kind of study Bible, you’ll see there’s a footnote indicating some ancient texts says it was 72 disciples. While it really doesn’t make much difference, the discrepancy provides insight into its meaning. 

70 probably points to us to the number of nations descended from Noah and listed in Genesis 10. In the Hebrew text, it’s 70 nations, but in the Greek Old Testament, translated a couple of centuries before Jesus, it was 72. The actual number isn’t that important. 70 or 72 just indicates a large number. And with this link to the list of nations, there may be a subtle hint of where Luke is going with his story. As we know, Luke continues with Acts which tells of the church moving out into the nations of the world.[2]

Today, I’m going to read this text from The Message translation. It’s a fresh way of hearing the gospel and you might compare it to the translation in your Bible or the one in the bulletin. 

70 or 72?

Read Luke 10:1-20

A few weeks ago, in my e-news, I mentioned the death of Fredrick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and popular author. One of the early books I read by him on the Appalachian Trail was Treasure Hunt. This book is part of his fictional series about a character named Bebb. While I don’t remember a lot about the book, and I lost it before finishing it, I do remember Bebb’s desire to do something big for God. Longing and struggle fill his life. His struggles are often of his own making. Looking back with a tinge of disappointment, he wonders if the best work he did for God was when he was a student and sold Bible’s door-to-door.[3]

Does God want us to do something big?

While there is nobility in wanting to do something big for God, I suggest it puts too much focus on us and not enough on God. After all, what can we really do for God by ourselves? Our God, who can call on the stones to praise him, is self-sufficient.[4] God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything, instead God desires our hearts, our trust, and for us to do our part.

“The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.” Jesus must have looked at my tomato garden, where I’m having a hard time getting them all canned and frozen for the winter. However, this saying implies that the job ahead requires a lot of people. It’s not up to just one or two disciples. The disciples are encouraged to humbly do their parts while praying for more laborers.  

Subsistence spirituality

In a newsletter I read this week, the author tells of hearing Barbara Brown Taylor speak of subsistence spirituality.[5] I like that term. She links it to the idea of being lean enough to survive a trek in the metaphorical wildernesses in which we live. We are empty, but we survive on the goodness of others and the gracefulness of our Savior. And that’s what the 70 or so disciples are called to do in today’s story. 

Comparison to Jesus sending out the 12

If you remember back about almost two months ago, when I began our exploration of Luke 9, we looked at Jesus sending out the twelve disciples.[6] Like this group, Jesus sent out his core group of disciples without much, for the purpose of building relationships. In Luke, when Jesus refers to disciples, he’s often talking about a lot more than the 12 that we often think of. Luke points out that there are many, including women, who are following Jesus around.[7] And now he’s putting them into action by sending them out, like he did the 12, to spread his message. 

Expectations Jesus places on the disciples

Interesting, however, Jesus sends out this large group even more unprepared than he sent the 12. While the 12 were not to carry a purchase or staff or bag or bread, at least it appears they could wear shoes or sandals. But the 70 are sent out barefooted. They get to feel every rock along the road and must be extremely careful they do not step on a cactus. So, they are sent out without anything but the clothes on their backs and the blessings and instructions of our Savior. 

Furthermore, they are to avoid conversations along the road. This sounds harsh, although maybe the pairs were allowed to talk to entertain themselves while on the highways. But why wouldn’t Jesus want them to share his message along the way? It appears, Jesus wants his message to be brought into homes, on a one-on-one encounter.[8]

Focus on in-home ministry

Jesus doesn’t send out his disciples to create large rallies, crusades, or revivals. Instead, the focus is on the individual and the family in the most intimate place for a 1st Century Jew, around their kitchen table. There, they are to accept the food that is placed before them. Again, bringing out this point, Luke may be foreshadowing the work of Jesus’ followers as they took the message out into a gentile world, which was far different than the kosher world of 1st Century Galilee.[9]

Handling rejection

Furthermore, when the evangelists are not welcomed, they are to leave. Yes, by shaking off their feet, they make a statement about the community in which they’ve visited, but they don’t leave without reminding the people that the kingdom of God has come near. 

Curse upon the Galilean town

While those Jesus sent out were traveling, Luke shifts his focus to Jesus who prophecies against several towns in Galilee. This region, which he’ll soon leave for Jerusalem, plays a prominent role in his ministry. Bethsaida is home for three of the disciples: Peter, Andrew, and Philip. These cities are warned. Even though they have seen and heard from Jesus firsthand and have produced disciples, they have rejected Jesus’ message. 

We know that not long after Jesus’ ascension, there was little church activity in Galilee. The early church began to focus on Jerusalem and later into Gentile lands. One of the interesting dynamics of the early history of the church is the shift from the agrarian Galilean hills to the urban centers of the world at that time.[10] The warning here can apply to us, too. If we have had a chance to witness Jesus’ grace and power and then deny him, judgment will be more severe than those who never heard of Jesus.

The result of the disciples’ missionary activity 

We’re not given any details of individual encounters, of which they must have been many as there were 35 or so pairs of disciples spreading the message. Their accomplishments are great for Jesus recalls seeing Satan cast from the heavens. The returning disciples are joyous. Jesus then ends this section with a warning to those returning. They are not to rejoice in their newfound power from Jesus. Again, as we saw last week, Jesus is ready to nip pride in the bud. Instead of rejoicing over their accomplishments, they are to be content that they have a reservation in heaven.

Wars won by many small actions

Jesus’ witness of Satan’s fall comes, not after any big battle that the disciples won, but by a lot of small actions that together make a real difference for God’s kingdom. It’s like a war. Winning a big battle may not result in ultimate victory. Again, our role as followers of Jesus is to carry out these small actions—showing the world that God’s kingdom is near and that it makes a difference in our lives. Furthermore, we should show the world that we trust in God. The disciples went out with nothing, but because God was with them, they accomplished much. 


Earlier, I used the term subsistence spirituality.” Such a spirituality is built on trust, on knowing that God is enough. The disciples experience this, going out barehanded to do the work of the Master. When it comes to building the kingdom, it’s not going to happen because we work hard. It’s going to happen because God works through us. So, keep following Jesus, and trust in God. Amen. 

[1] Revelation 21:1-2.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 302-305; I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 414-415; and Norval Geldenhuys, The International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984 reprint), 303-304. 

[3] Fredrick Buechner, Treasure Hunt (1977).

[4] Luke 19:40

[5] MaryAnn McKibben Dana quoting Barbara Brown Taylor. See https://mailchi.mp/49fd14c9f901/sabbatical-was-not-restorative?e=c107924306  Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and college lecturer has been considered one of the most effective preachers in America. 

[6] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/building-relationships/

[7] Luke 8:1-3. 

[8] Edwards, 307.

[9] Ibid. Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 145. 

[10] See James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2021)

Yesterday morning, before the rain

Called to Service, Not to Privilege

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
September 4, 2022
Luke 9:46-50

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, September 2, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Supposedly, the great 19th Century “Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, was met at the doors of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle one Sunday by an older woman. Greeting the preacher, she bragged that she had been very careful all week and hadn’t sinned at all. Taking this in, Spurgeon responded, “Well Madam, that must make you very proud.” “Yes, it does,” she responded, not realizing she’d stepped into a trap. 

Our salvation isn’t based upon what we do, but upon the mercy and grace of God as shown through Jesus Christ. While we are to avoid sin, our hope is not in avoiding it, but from trusting in God. When we think too highly about ourselves (or any groups to which we belong), we skate on thin ice. We risk becoming arrogant, and we trust ourselves instead of depending upon God’s grace.

Problems with pride

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” according to the book of Proverbs.[1] As followers of Jesus, we are called to be humble. Paul instructs the Corinthians, “if we boast, it should only be in the Lord.”[2]

Today, we’re going to consider two requirements of discipleship. Jesus expects us to be humble and willing to cooperate. These Christ-like values counter our pride, our yearning to be the best, and our willingness to exclude others. 

Before reading the scripture passage:

This is my sixth sermon on the 9th Chapter of Luke’s gospel. This section of the gospel focuses on discipleship as we see the disciples taking over the hands-on work from Jesus. We’re learned that discipleship is about building relationships, trusting God to multiple our effortsprofessing Jesus as the Messiahlistening to Jesus, and trusting that God knows best. Today, we’re going to see that discipleship also involves humility and cooperation. There is no place for pride and jealously. Next week, I’m skipping over the last section in Luke 9, which I preached onearlier in the year. Seven sermons on one chapter seems enough for one year! Then, next week, I will have one last sermon from the tenth chapter, before I move away from Luke’s gospel. When I return from vacation and study leave in mid-October, I plan to spend the period before Advent exploring Jesus’ prayer. But let’s now look at this last lesson to the disciples:  

Read Luke 9:46-50

Failure of the prideful

At the beginning of the 8th Grade, our church’s Jr. High Youth Group resumed meeting after taking the summer off. The first order of business was to elect officers. There were many of us in the 8th grade. We were ready to take over. One of classmates, Brian, wanted to be the president of the group. He’d talked about this to everyone in Sunday School. We all liked Brian and most of us assumed he’d make a good president. 

But then, as we gathered that Sunday evening, something happened. Our leaders asked for a volunteer to pray. Normally, getting a volunteer among Jr. High students to pray was like finding a volunteer for a root canal. Generally, either a leader would end up praying, or they would twist one of our arms half off, until we volunteer. But not this evening. When they asked for a volunteer, Brian’s hand shot up. We bowed our heads in reverence. 

In my 13 years, I’d never heard such blasphemy. Brian prayed for God to see to it that he was elected president. We must have all been offended. There are those prayers God doesn’t answer in the way we’d like, and this was one of them. As the ballots were collected, Brian failed to win. 

Pride is dangerous

Pride is dangerous. Jesus wants to nip pride in the bud when it rears its ugly head amongst the disciples. He knows pride can create division. It divides people into a “us and them” mentality that runs counter to the gospel of our Lord.  

Our text follows one of Jesus’ reminders that he was going to be betrayed. Think about that. Jesus just said he was going to endure a most humbling act—betrayal. But the disciples, as we saw two weeks ago, don’t understand. Jesus heads to the cross and the disciples’ debate who will be king of the hill. 

Of course, this wasn’t done openly, in front of Jesus. Perhaps the disciples knew better than that. Jesus, however, Jesus understands what they’re thinking. Jesus also knows that such competition among the disciples will destroy the unity he desires to build amongst them.[3] Instead of coming right out and reprimanding them, he calls over a child.

Children in the ancient world

This is one of those passages that is easy to read our values into the text. We see children as precious, and they are. That’s why we dote on them and spoil them. But in more ancient societies, where infant and childhood death was frequently a reality and families were much larger, people didn’t spoil their kids. They didn’t have the time or resources to spoil them. Instead, a child was just another mouth to feed until they were old enough to help in the fields or in the family trade. 

Ancient societies didn’t have the ability to be sentimental about children. Kids were seen, to use Jesus’ words, as one of the “least of these.”[4] Now, I’m not saying that parents didn’t love their kids back then, they did. But in a subsistent society, the child’s value grew once they could contribute to the family economy.[5]  

Jesus doesn’t respond with words here. Instead, he teaches with an example.[6] By pulling a child over to him, Jesus enacts the truth. This child represents the type of people the disciples must embrace and bring into the fellowship. Jesus isn’t saying here that we must be like a child.[7] Instead, he wants the disciples to be like him and to welcome the child (and to welcome the child-like).[8]

The church is not to be a place just for able body individuals, those who can help further the kingdom. Instead, the true church opens to everyone and must show hospitality even to those shunned elsewhere. 

Jesus: gentle and lowly in heart

In Matthew, Jesus says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”[9]  Jesus, whom we learn in Philippians 2, left heaven, and humble himself to come to us.[10] He does so to make himself accessible to everyone. 

We don’t (and can’t) do anything to make ourselves more open to Jesus other than opening our own hearts to him. We bring our burdens to Jesus; he invites us to do this in. Think of it this way. Our burdens qualify us to come to Jesus.[11] The verse in Matthew before the one I just quoted reads, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”[12]

The heart of Jesus

The heart of Jesus invites all to come to him. As a disciple of Jesus, we are also to be open and welcoming to everyone, including the “least of these.” Jesus displays humility through the practice of hospitality. Often, we are eager to show hospitality to those equal or even above us in status, but if we want to be Christ-like, we must be willing to show hospitality even to those, like a child in the ancient world, who have no status.[13]

Need for cooperation

Luke follows up Jesus’ teaching on humility with another story that illustrates the need for cooperation and not competition. John, who was a part of Jesus’ inner core, one of the three who witnessed the Transfiguration, tells his Master about how he and some of the other disciples helped protect Jesus’ reputation by rebuking someone who wasn’t a part of their team, but who cast out demons using Jesus’ name. 

I’m sure John thought Jesus would praise him for his diligence. “Way to go, John. Keep up the good work.” But that’s not what happens. It appears John thinks his position as a disciple comes with entitlements and privileges. He’s still having dreams of greatness. John must have forgotten what Jesus has said about service.[14]  


Jesus warns us against pride, exclusion, and competition. Instead, he wants us to be humble and to cooperate with others to help build a better society and to promote the kingdom, a kingdom in which all people are valued. Think about Jesus’ teaching here. What one thing can you do this week to humbly show God’s grace that would not bring attention to yourself, but to our Savior? It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be done privately, not for your glory but out of a desire to become more like Jesus. May we all have such a desire. Amen. 

[1] Proverbs 16:18

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:31, slightly paraphrased. 

[3] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 137.

[4] Jesus uses this term in the parable of the judgment of the nations. See Matthew 25:40. 

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 290-291. 

[6] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983 reprint), 287.

[7] In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does say that the disciples must become like a child, although Jesus encourages the disciples to welcome those like the child in both passages as well as in Mark’s gospel. See Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 9:33-37. 

[8] Edwards, ibid. 

[9] Matthew 11:29.

[10] Philippians 2:6-8.

[11] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 20.

[12] Matthew 11:28. 

[13] Craddock, 137.

[14] Edwards, 291-292. 

Good morning (view from my window at 6:30 AM)

God Knows Best

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 21, 2022
Luke 9:37-45

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, September 19, 2022. This Sunday is the “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans” service at Mayberry which is why I’m wearing a kilt. Click here to learn more about a Kirkin’ service.

At the Beginning of Worship:

What is the most faithful way to pray? Do we tell God what we want and need? Or do we turn to God with open arms and allow God to do what is best?

I supposed most people tell God what they want or need. I’m guilty. But when you think about it, it’s a bit arrogant to think we know better than the almighty. I’ve used this quote attributed to C. S. Lewis many times. “We’ll spend the first half of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered.” God knows best. Perhaps our best prayers are those we turn ourselves over to God saying, “Thy will be done.” 

Before reading the scripture:

Last week we looked at the Transfiguration in Luke’s gospel. Interestingly, Luke gives us more insight into the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah than the other gospels. But even here, we are provided only a glimpse of what was said. They talked about what was going to happen in Jerusalem. Afterwards, Jesus and the disciples come down the mountain and are immediately surrounded by crowds including a desperate father. Here, unlike Matthew and Mark, we’re given a brief account of the story. Having just witnessed Jesus’ glory, we now learn of the disciples’ limitations. But we also learn that despite their inability to help this man, Jesus still comes through.

In preparation for hearing the scriptures, I will pray a prayer the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, used before worship:    

O God of all power, Who hast called from death the great Pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, comfort and defend the flock which He hath redeemed by the blood of the eternal testament; increase the number of true preachers; mitigate and lighten the hearts of the lost; relieve the pains of the afflicted, especially those that suffer for the testimony of the Truth, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.[1]  

Read Luke 9:37-45

Raphael’s Transfiguration
Raphael, “Transfiguration” 1516-1520,
The Vatican, image in public domain

The last artwork by the great renaissance painter, Raphael, was of the Transfiguration. We explored that story last week. But the artist includes in his depiction not only the wonderous and glorious events on the mountain, but also the inability of the nine disciples left behind to help the man whose boy was demonically possessed. The contrast with the glory above and the struggle and defeat below are striking. Jesus dazzles in the center of the canvas, while all is dark and foreboding below.[2] On our own, our abilities are limited, something Raphael captures on canvas. 

Similarity to the Gerasene Demonic story

Our story today has some resemblance to the story we examined a month of so ago, just after Jesus calmed the storm on the lake. If you remember, a demonic man met Jesus on the other side.[3]The man was a terror to everyone. Filled with demons, they tried to kill him. Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs who ran off a cliff into the water and drown. Evil does that. Destruction is its goal. But once the man was freed from the demons, he became a disciple. He went on to tell everyone what Jesus did for him.  

Setting for Today’s Story

In today’s story, Jesus has just come down from the mountain. He’s met by a crowd, including a man who only one child, a boy, who had issues. Luke appears to have a special heart for parents with only one child, as this is the third such encounter in his gospel.[4]

It sounds like this boy may have some form epilepsy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone with such seizures. They lose control. 

Ken, a friend from Japan who was in my seminary class, had epilepsy. He once had a seizure in chapel. Thankfully, several of us knew what was happening. There was not much to do but try to keep him safe and to put a wallet in his mouth to keep him from biting himself or swallowing his tongue as we waited for paramedics. 

But back in the first century, epilepsy was blamed on demonic possession.[5] So, instead of making speculations or a medical guess as to the boy’s problems, we’ll stick to how the story is told. The boy goes off into fits. His father can’t control him. You can imagine the chaos in their home. As it is with evil, whenever it takes over this boy, it tries to harm him. The disciples, whom Jesus had given power to heal,[6] can’t help the boy.  

When Jesus hears the boy hasn’t been helped, he goes off on a triad about this perverse generation. He sounds like an Old Testament prophet. However, in Luke, Jesus doesn’t blame the disciples for their inability to help.[7] “Human doubts and disbelief are not the last word,” one commentator writes. “Nor do they determine Jesus’ willingness or ability to act.”[8]

Jesus takes pity on the boy and his father. He calls for the boy to be brought to him. Just as the man by the lake went berserk upon seeing Jesus, the boy immediately goes into convulsions.

The demon’s reaction to Jesus (and the good)

Imagine my dog going to the veterinarian. It’s for her good, but she’ll throw a fit before I can drag her out of the car. I suppose I’m like that with dentists. It may be for my own good, but that doesn’t mean I like it (although I don’t generally throw a fit). In a similar way, the demon fears encountering good and tries to harm the boy one last time. So, the boy convulsions before Jesus. 

But Jesus’ power is greater. He heals the boy, and then hands the boy back to his father. This amazes the crowds. They praise God’s greatness and what Jesus has been doing. 

Jesus’ changes subjects

Then Jesus changes subject. Luke tells us that Jesus prepared his remarks by telling people to “let these words sink in.” Their excitement over his healing the boy focuses their attention on Jesus’ acts and not his words. 

Luke gives us three possible reasons for this. They don’t comprehend what Jesus means when he speaks of being betrayed. Or, as the next verse implies, the meaning was concealed from them (kind of like pharaoh’s heart being hardened[9]).  Or they didn’t want to hear such negative news at such a joyous time, so no one asked any questions.[10] In other words, why ruin a good party with bad news. Why rain on a parade.

Today’s truths:

What does our text say to us today? There are at least two truths we should understand. First, we should trust God to do what is right. The boy’s father didn’t tell Jesus to cast out the demon. He just begged for Jesus to look at his son. The man trusted Jesus’ goodness. He knew Jesus would see the boy needed help and so respond. 

When we are sick, do we go to the hospital and then direct the physicians on how to treat us? In most cases, that’s not a good idea. Instead, we trust they have our best interest in heart. In addition, we trust their knowledge. Likewise, we trust God wants what is best for us. It’s like the father character played by Robert Young in the 1950s classic sitcom, “Father Knows Best.” We trust God the Father. Faith is having trust!

Second, which builds on the first, we are reminded that we can’t see or understand everything. We’re not God. Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement that we are unable to see what’s around the corner. Or we don’t want to see, especially when we know its bad. Again, it comes down to trust in God. 


Jesus knew his mission. As we saw last week with the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus talks about his Jerusalem mission with Elijah and Moses. Jesus was preparing himself for what’s ahead. And it was going to be hard to accept and understand, but in the long run, what Jesus did was for us. And because of his atoning death, our future is much brighter. We are loved. We can find forgiveness and be adopted into God’s family. And that’s good news! 

Don’t make demands upon God in your prayers. Instead, trust God, know that you are loved, and have faith. Amen. 


[1] Howard L. Rice & Lamar Williamson, Jr., A Book of Reformed Prayers (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 21. 

[2] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983), 284. For more information on the painting along with a reproduction of it, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfiguration_(Raphael) v

[3] Luke 26-39. See my sermon at https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/from-demon-possessed-to-gentile-evangelist/

[4] James r. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 286.  See Luke 7:12 & 8:41-2.

[5] Edwards, 286. See also Matthew 17:15, 18-19 for insight into the linking of epilepsy and demon possession.

[6] Luke 9:1-2.

[7] In the other gospel accounts, the disciples ask Jesus why they failed, and he uses it as a lesson for faith and prayer. See Matthew 17:14-21 and Mark 9:14-29.

[8] Edwards, 286.

[9] Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 7:13-14, etc. 

[10] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 136. Craddock suggests that the voices of praise of the crowd over Jesus’ power makes it hard for the disciples to see Jesus both in power and, in Jerusalem, in powerlessness. 

Early morning

Listen to Jesus

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont & Mayberry Churches
August 14, 2022
Luke 9:28-36

Sermon recorded under the picnic shelter at Bluemont Church on Friday, August 12, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

What do you think of doubt? Do you think of it as the opposite of faith? Can doubt be a means God uses to draw us closer and help us trust more? 

I recently read a book based on the later position. I’ve shared several quotes from the book, The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. Here’s another:

“When faith has no room for the benefit of doubt, then we are just left with religion, something that takes its place in our lives along with other things—like a job and a hobby. Doubt is God’s way of helping us not go there, though the road may be very hard and long.”[1]

If everything is certain there would be no need for faith. God wants us, first foremost, to trust in God’s Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. We’ll talk about this today.

Before reading the scriptures:

Last week, we looked at Peter’s Confession followed by Jesus teaching his followers some hard truths about discipleship. A couple of things I hope you got out of the sermon. Discipleship must be grounded in prayer, and we must trust Jesus and be willing to give up everything for him. 

Today, in our text, we see it’s about eight days after that encountered between Jesus and the disciples. Again, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. This time, he only takes his core leadership team: Peter, James, and John. And what happens up on that mountain is so bizarre the three disciples don’t tell anyone until later, after an even greater miracle, the resurrection.  

Read Luke 9:28-36 in the Message translation

Was the Transfiguration for the disciples?

For whom was the Transfiguration, as this story is known, to benefit?[2] Was this event for the disciples? If so, why were nine missing? And besides, the three on the mountain missed most of it as they napped. This was like how they missed out on Jesus’ prayer in the garden just before his arrest.[3] Jesus wants them nearby, awake and praying, and they snore. 

Our story begins with Jesus taking a few of the disciples up on the mountain to prayer. A wonderous thing happens. But the disciples can’t keep their eyes open. And when they fully wake, Peter makes a fool of himself. Poor Peter, he feels he must say something when there is nothing to be said. Instead, he should have looked on with awe and been pleased for the opportunity to witness such an event. We should learn from Peter’s bumbling that when we experience something wonderful, awe is an appropriate response. We don’t need to try to add to the experience.

Was the Transfiguration for Jesus?

Perhaps the Transfiguration was meant for Jesus. He’s heading down that long road toward Jerusalem. What’s going to happen weighs heavy on him. This event strengthens him, just as the angels ministered to Jesus in his prayer in the garden before his betrayal.[4]

But even if Jesus was the primary recipient of the benefits, it doesn’t mean this event was unimportant for the disciples. After all, we find the story in three of the four gospels.[5]  

Perhaps this story should also remind us that even experiencing supernatural events does not guarantee one’s continually faithfulness. We know that Peter will go on to deny Jesus.[6]Again, as this passage shows us in the end, we ground our faith in Jesus Christ, not in what we do.  

Keeping quiet about the event

We’re told the three disciples kept quiet about the event after it happened. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells them not to say anything about it until after he’s been raised from the dead, but there it appears the disciples at the time didn’t understand Jesus. Instead, they go off on a tangent about Elijah.[7] In Luke’s gospel, we’re given no reason for the disciples to keep silent. 

We could assume some things are best left unsaid. After all, the rest of the disciples would have no context to understand what happened up on the mountain. Discussing it might open the three to ridicule. So only much later, after the experience of the marvelous resurrection, do they share what had happened. 

We have only the bare details

The text only provides us with bare details. Jesus becomes dazzling white and has a conversation with Elijah and Moses. Maybe the three disciples, seeing this, thought they were already having a dream as they nod off instead of listening in on the conversation. I know with me, sometimes when I am in the in-between state between being awake and asleep, I can dream and then wake up startled, unsure what’s real and what’s a dream. 

Maybe they thought this was a dream, and it’s only when they are fully awake do they become aware of what’s happening. But before we go there, let’s consider the presence of Moses and Elijah. 

Moses and Elijah

It is often assumed that Moses represents the law (even though Moses is also known as a prophet) and Elijah represents the prophets. Since we are not privy as to what was said between them and Jesus, this is only speculation. But it may be right. We’re only told the conversation had something to do with Jesus’ work in Jerusalem. Back in verse 21, Jesus revealed to the disciples his upcoming rejection by the elders and chief priests and scribes. The priests imply the rejection will take place in Jerusalem, for they worked at the temple there. 

Did Moses and Elijah encourage Jesus as he made his final trek to Jerusalem? Maybe, it seems logical, but we cannot be certain. 

Peter’s half-baked ideas

As the two men take their leave, Peter must have realized that this wasn’t a dream after all, He’s amazed, although we don’t know how he knew it was Moses and Elijah. Peter quickly jumps up and begins running his mouth. “It’s great for us all to be here,” he said. He offers to make three dwellings, so they can all sit around and enjoy this experience.

The word translated as memorials in the Message translation, or dwellings or booths in other translations, is the same as the word translated as “tabernacle.”[8] The tabernacle was a tent that served as a portable temple for the “holy of holies” during the Exodus. Does Peter see these three as divine? Probably not, but because of their presence, he knows the Almighty has something to do with their presence. 

Luke makes sure his readers understand Peter’s suggestions were not thought out well. “He blurted it out without thinking,… while babbling on like this…” we read. Sometimes we just need to be content and stand in awe. 

While Peter talks, God acts. Sending a cloud over the mountain, the mist envelopes everyone there.[9] God provides a heavenly tabernacle and suddenly they are all aware of God’s presence. Then, they hear a voice, the voice of God, speaking out of the cloud. “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.” 

That voice must have rolled like thunder and lingered for a while. And when the voice was no longer heard, the three disciples find themselves in the presence of just Jesus. Everything is back to normal.

Focus on Jesus

While this experience may have been primarily for the human Jesus, to prepare him for Jerusalem, there is also a message for the disciples who were present (and for us). They and we are to listen to Jesus. Don’t be just holding on to the past, to the law and to the words of the prophets. Pay attention to Jesus, listen to him, learn from him. God works through Jesus to show us the way forward.

This event illustrations us what John’s gospel teaches.  Jesus is God’s word.[10]  Because of this, we are to trust and obey, follow and abide by him. 

Our desire for certainty and control

I expect if we were present with Peter, James, and John, we wouldn’t have acted much different. Peter’s suggestion of erecting memorials was an attempt to hold on things. We like certainty and in that moment on the mountain, Peter had it. 

There was Jesus and the two greatest Hebrew leaders in all their glory. Peter wants to enjoy their presence. He’s like Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ resurrection, grabbing on to Jesus. But Jesus told her not to hold on to him.[11]

We can’t control God

We can’t contain or control God. If we could, whatever it is that we are containing or controlling would not be divine. Instead, we trust, follow, listen and learn. That’s our calling as disciples. Amen. 

[1] Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our ‘Correct’ Beliefs (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 172. 

[2] The idea of the differences of the experiences between the Jesus and disciples comes from reading Chelsey Harmon’s commentary on the text: https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2022-02-21/luke-928-36-3/

[3] Luke 22:39-46. 

[4] Luke 22:43-44. These verses do not appear in all ancient text, but they show an anguished Jesus as he faces what’s ahead. 

[5] See Matthew 17:1-9 and Mark 9:2-8. Peter refers to the experience in 2 Peter 1:16-18. 

[6] Luke 22:54-62. This story is told in all four of the gospels. See Matthew 25:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, and John 18:15-18, 25-27. 

[7] Matthew 17:9-13

[8] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 283-284.

[9] Edwards, 284-285

[10] John 1:1-5. 

[11] John 20:17. 

Keeping focused! A photo from several years ago: Sailing in Wassaw Sound

Professing Jesus as the Messiah

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 7, 2022
Luke 9:18-28

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, August 5, 2022

At the beginning of worship

What are the two natures of Christ? 

From the early church, the belief has been held that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures: Divine and Human. Or God and Man. It’s a mystery how they go together, but it explains a lot of what we’ve seen over the past couple months as we worked through the middle section of Luke’s gospel as Jesus, a man, does God-like things.  

What the Confessions tell us

Jesus’ dual nature is professed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. Both speak of Christ, who is one with the Father, becoming human through the incarnation by the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Mary. For a more technical definition, The Westminster Larger Catechism explains it this way:

“It was requisite that the Mediator should be God that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death….” And then in the next paragraph: “It was requisite that the Mediator should be man; that he might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer and make intercession for us from our nature, have a fellow feeling of our infirmities; that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with the boldness unto the throne of grace.” Going on, the Confession says: “It was requisite that the Mediator who was both God and man, and this in one person; that the proper works for each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on us, as the works of the whole person.”[1]

-Westminster Confession of Faith

Today, I’ll talk some about the dual nature of Christ. As God, Christ gives us access to the divine. As a human being, he can identify with our struggles. We need both and together, it’s good news. 

Before reading the Scriptures:

Two weeks ago, we ended our scripture reading with Herod essentially asking, “Just who is this guy doing the healing and teaching out in the villages?” As I pointed out last week, Luke often let’s such questions linger a while. Instead of giving an immediate answer, he gave another example of Jesus’ power with the feeding of the 5,000. Today, we’ll see that Jesus and the disciples have finally escaped the crowds, which allows Jesus to ask the disciples about who the crowds understand him to be.

Good leadership

A good leader wants to know what others think and understand. Sometimes they may not like what they hear. Knowing what others think, may or may not change what a leader does. But if the leader doesn’t know how others understand their message, they could be moving into a minefield. So today, Jesus asks the disciples what people say about him. And he receives essentially the same answer Herod received. But Jesus pushes deeper, which leads to Peter’s confession and a chance for Jesus to begin some in depth teaching with the disciples. 

This story in Matthew in Mark

This story also appears in Matthew and Mark, where we’re given more details. Unlike Luke, in those accounts, we’re told it was in Caesarea Philippi,[2] which would be an area away from Galilee. Luke, instead of telling us where this occurs, just says it was in private, after prayer. All three gospels may be correct, but Luke’s holds out special significance. Jesus first prays!  We can learn from this. 

Read Luke 9:18-28

Quick summary of text

We learn a lot from this passage about prayer, the nature of Jesus, the need for trust, and living in God’s kingdom. Let’s look at what this text teaches.

Role of prayer in Jesus’ life

Luke has already shown us the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life. Jesus has been known to slip away in private to pray.[3] He heads up on the mountain to pray before naming the 12.[4] Luke later tells us about Jesus’ harsh criticism about prayer done for public display and admiration. Jesus condemns the Pharisee who makes a show of his prayer in the temple but elevates the tax collecting sinner who humbly begs for forgiveness.[5] Jesus isn’t against public prayer. He defends the temple as a house of prayer while condemning the impropriate use of the space.[6]

Importance of prayer

Luke shows the importance of humble, private, and sincere prayer. Prayer is not to be an occasion to grandstand. We can only image what Jesus would say about praying on the 50th yard line after a high school football game. Prayer is personal, as Jesus shows by slipping off into the hills. It is between us and God. As Jesus shows in the Lord’s Prayer, prayer focuses on God’s will, not our desires.[7]

Some see prayer as the answer to problems. When we can do nothing, we say, “I’ll pray for you.” Sometimes that sounds insincere. Certainly, if we can do something to change or help, we should. 

Others have blamed the failure of our schools on the lack of prayer. But the lack of prayer is not the problem. There has always been prayer in school. It’s mostly private prayer when students (and I was one) pray for a test for which we hadn’t prepared. Such prayers weren’t often answered, or at least not in the way I’d hoped. 

The problem arises when we think of prayer as providing God a shopping list of things to correct without working with God to make things better. 

Prayer as an intimate conversation with God

Prayer, as we see here, is intimate conversation with God. While there is a place for public prayer, most prayer needs to be done alone. It’s especially important for us to pray privately. This fall, I plan a six-sermon series on prayer, but before then think about your prayers in the light of how Jesus prayed. Do you get away to talk to God privately? It’s an important part of our discipleship. 

Jesus’ question

We don’t know what caused Jesus to ask the question to the disciples, only that it came out of prayer. When finished praying, Jesus went to the disciples and asked, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Their answer parallel’s the answer given to Herod as to who it was out in the countryside doing this work: a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.[8] This answer shows that Jesus’ message is getting traction and that people are taking him seriously. Except for John the Baptist, whose death at the hands of Herod was only recent, the others have been gone for centuries. 

Jesus then turns to the disciples and asks them point blank, “Who do you say that I am.” It’s not how others identify Jesus that is ultimately important. It’s the role Jesus plays in our lives. 

Peter’s confession

Hearing this question, Peter jumps up and says, “You’re the Messiah of God.” Good work, Peter. Of course, knowing this doesn’t mean that Peter will always be faithful. We know he’ll deny Jesus. But for now, Peter is the man of the hour. He gets who Jesus is, but like us he will struggle the rest of his life to follow Jesus in a worthy manner. 

The hard truth of God’s Messiah

The disciples now understanding Jesus’ nature, that he’s not just a man; he’s also God’s Messiah. Then Jesus seemingly pours cold water on their heads as he informs them of the difficulties ahead. The Son of Man will be rejected and killed yet rise on the third day. 

I’m sure the disciples didn’t see this coming. This wasn’t their idea of the Messiah.

Expectations of disciples

Jesus continues, teaching not just about what will happen to him but his expectation from his disciples. A disciple must deny him or herself and follow Jesus down this hard road. We live within a paradox. Discipleship can be counter intuitive. If we want to save our lives, we must be willing to lose our lives. We can’t be a disciple for ourselves. As a disciple, we belong to Jesus, alone. He goes on to warn us of being ashamed of him. 

We know the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame in the Roman world, yet Jesus glorifies the cross. The disciples, then and now, may suffer. But will we stand with Jesus at the cross or will we hold on to worldly values and turn away in shame? 

Seeing the Kingdom

Finally, Jesus ends his teachings by letting people know there are those who will not taste death before they experience the kingdom of God. This last saying has created confusion over the years because way too many people try to interpret it through end time scenarios. By the time Luke wrote his gospel, according to what Jesus says, the kingdom was already here. The kingdom begins with the resurrection.[9] Of course, it may not have come in its fulness and we still long for heaven, but those who follow Jesus are called to into the kingdom in the present. 

These reverse values which Jesus presents, such as gaining life by losing it, begins now. Our total allegiance and our devotion are to God’s kingdom. We live and trust in Jesus. And Jesus is not some distant God. Because Jesus has been here, and lived a life like us, he knows what we’re going through. The dual nature of Jesus allows him to sympathize with our weakness and encourage us in our temptations. He understands our prayers. 


I saw a sign the other day that read, “Prepare to meet thy God.” And while we should prepare to meet God, we shouldn’t do it in fear. If we’re following Jesus and have a regular and honest prayer life, there is no need to fear. For we already know God.[10] We’ve already met God. Instead of worrying about meeting God, we can look forward to that face-to-face meeting with joy and anticipation. Until then, keep praying and keep your eyes on Jesus. Amen. 

[1] Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions, The Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 38-40 (or 7.148-150) 

[2] Matthew 16:13-23 and Mark 8:27-33. 

[3] Luke 5:16. 

[4] Luke 6:12.

[5] Luke 18:9-14. 

[6][6] Luke 19:45-46.

[7] Luke 11:1-4, especially verse 2, “Your kingdom come.”

[8] See Luke 9.   Also see my sermon on this section: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/building-relationships/

[9] I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke: New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 379.

[10] John 14:8-14.

Watch and listen to a few seconds of this morning

God can multiply our efforts

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 31, 2022
Luke 9:10-17

I’m not sure what happened to the title slide… Like my tie? It ties into the story. Sermon recorded under the picnic shelter at Bluemont Church.

At the beginning of worship:

Do any of you know what miracle is found in all four of the gospels? Let me give you a hint, it has to do with food.

Meals are important in Scripture. It’s with a meal the Jewish people recall the Exodus experience, when they were freed from bondage in Egypt. It’s with a meal Jesus has us to share with one another to recall his ministry along with his death and resurrection. Symbolically, heaven is described as a banquet or a wedding feast.[1]

Meals and feeding others are a part of what the church is to be about. It may be a hot dog roast or a potluck dinner for members, a soup kitchen or food pantry for those in need. We must eat and it’s best when we share food with others. 

Today we’re going to look at the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (plus) in Luke’s gospel. It’s the only miracle that can be found in all four gospels, so it’s a big deal.[2]

Before the reading of Scripture

For the past couple of months, we’ve been working our way through the middle part of Luke’s gospel as we consider how Jesus’ teachings and ministry might inform today’s church. Last week, we ended with Herod asking a question. “Just who is this guy doing all this stuff?”[3]

Luke likes to let questions linger and then have them answered in a later story. We saw this after the storm on Galilee. Jesus calmed the wind and waves, and the disciples ask each other, “who is this guy?”[4] We’re left hanging without an answer until they pull ashore. There, a demon-possessed man shouts the answer: “Jesus, Son of the Living God.”[5]

In today’s passage we’re not going to get a direct answer to this question. That’ll come next week. But we get an indirect answer. Once again, we see Jesus doing only what God can do. He performs a miracle that is every bit as incredible as manna that fed the Hebrew people in the desert.[6] He feeds a lot of people. 

Feeding 5,000 plus

We’re told there are 5,000 men there, but the word here is not the Greek word that’s often translated as men but means humankind.[7] This is a word that means male, which implies there are a lot more than 5,000 people present if we account for women. Of course, that’s a minor detail. It makes little difference if it’s 5 or 10 thousand if all you have are a few small loaves of bread and some fish. As a mere mortal, we’d be unable to feed everyone. Like it was in last week’s sermon, Jesus trains the disciples to depend upon God. 

Let’s listen to how Luke tells this story of our Savior: 

Read Luke 9:10-17

An unexpected gift

“Jeff Garrison.” On my first winter of seminary, while walking the hallway between classes, I was shocked to hear Sam Calian, the seminary president, call out my name. He wanted to see me in his office. I wondered what I’d done. I felt I was being called into the principal’s office, a place I got to know well in elementary and junior high.

When I stepped into his office, I was even more surprised by his question. “You’ve cooked duck, haven’t you?” 

“Yes,” I said. I had no idea where this conversation was going. I thought it best not to tell him that the two ducks I’d cooked, had been slathered with an orange liqueur sauce. This was an attempt to impress potential girlfriends. It worked on the first one, so I tried it again. 

“I’ll give you some ducks if you want to prepare them for some of the students,” he said. 

“Where did these ducks come from?” I asked.

“One of the board members gave them to me. He shoots them up in Canada. They’ve all been cleaned and packaged. I don’t plan to cook them, so they’re yours if you want.”

These were not going to be those plumb store brought ducks.

I began to understand. As a male Southerner, he assumed I hunted and prepared my own meat, probably over a fireplace in some run-down piney wood cabin. 

An impromptu party

Not sure what to expect, the next day he told me the ducks were in the freezer in the cafeteria. I went to look. The box held about twenty birds. There wasn’t anything else to do but to call for a party. And, in the pre-Google days, figure out how to cook these birds. 

I gathered up a group, made assignments for side dishes, and borrowed two large baking pans from the cafeteria. That Saturday, we had a heck of a party. The next year, we had even an even better party. These ducks, like the bread and fish in our story, were a gift that kept giving.

The setting of our reading:

As we continue along in the middle part of Luke’s gospel, we learn that 12 have returned from their missionary trip. They tell Jesus all that’s happened as they head to Bethsaida. The name of the town means, “The house of fishers.” Appropriate, as it’s the city of the fishermen: Peter, Philip, and Andrew.[8]

Our Savior tries to pull the 12 off by themselves, probably to debrief. Yet people still want to see Jesus. His popularity is probably helped in these parts by Peter and the other local boys who have done good. So now, thousands of people flock to Jesus. 

Jesus welcomes the crowd

And what does Jesus do? He welcomes them. Jesus tends to their needs. He heals the sick and teaches about the Kingdom of God. But as the sun drops closer to the horizon, the disciples worry. Where are they going to get enough food to feed all these people. So, they suggest that Jesus disperse the crowds so they can find food. It’s an honest suggestion. People must eat. Besides, to have thousands of hungry stomachs grumbling wouldn’t look good for the local boys. 

The disciples’ problem

Jesus tells them to feed the crowd. Now it’s their problem. Looking at what little they have available, five loaves and two fish, they ask if they should go into the towns and buy all the bread available. With so many, we can imagine the shelves of bakeries looking like the shelves of grocery stores the day before a forecasted blizzard. 

What we learn from the other Gospels

Now, at this point, other gospels provide different information. John’s gospel tells us the bread and fish came from a boy’s lunch. Mark depicts Jesus being more forceful with the disciples who appear to question his ability.[9] Luke has Jesus give orders and the disciples being obedient as they separate the crowd into manageable groups of fifty. Then Jesus looks to heaven as he blesses and breaks the bread. And miraculously, the disciples feed the crowd. 

Two words: “All” and “Filled”

We’re told that all ate and were filled. The words all and filled are both significant. The later would have reminded the disciples of Jesus second beatitude as recorded by Luke, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.[10] The word “all” is perhaps more significant. In Jewish society, the eating of food was highly regulated. One had to abide by laws over the type of food and utensils, how it is prepared and who is clean. The dining room table excluded those not clean. But here, the kosher requirements are overlooked. Everyone is welcomed.[11]

Not only that, but after everyone has been fed, there is an abundance of food. Each of the twelve haul away a basket full of scraps. 

Other feeding stories

This story harkens back to the story of the feeding of the Israelites in the desert, as well as looks forward to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which Jesus instituted on the night of his betrayal. The sharing of food is important for Christians. And not just among ourselves, but for anyone hungry. It’s not just the faithful, those who believed Jesus, that were feed that day. All were fed… 

First point: feeding people

The first point to realize that the church, which is called to exhibit God’s kingdom to the world, is to be generous. We are to do what it can to care for the needs of others. “Feed them,” Jesus said. At the end of John’s gospel, when Jesus talks with Peter, he insists three times that if Peter loves Jesus he should be feeding or tending his sheep. That’s the church’s role, then and now, to feed people. 

Monthly, we take up the two-cent a meal offering that goes to help fight hunger. We are to help those who are hungry with food. Furthermore, we help those who hunger for knowledge and understanding by sharing Jesus’ story. The church is about feeding the hungry, regardless of what they’re hungry for. 

Second point: God blesses our offerings

The second point to understand from this passage is that when we trust and give to God, God can bless and multiply our gifts. 

What would have happened if one or two of the disciples slipped away with the five loaves and two fish to satisfy their hunger? They could have had their own little party. But they shared even when it seemed they had only a drop in the bucket of what was needed. Don’t ever think you don’t have enough to make a difference. What little we have, when give to God, can be enough. 

As Paul tells the Corinthians, God uses what is weak and lowly to show his glory in the world.[12] Think about the widow giving her mite.[13] We are to be generous with what we have and trust God to make up the difference.


Food has a way to bring us together, as it did with the 100s of groups of 50 gathered around Jesus that afternoon. Like those duck dinners at seminary, sharing brings us closer. We all need to eat, and it’s good to eat with others. It’s even better to share with those who need, whether its physical nourishment or just companionship and encouragement. Let’s do it. Amen.

[1] This idea has its roots in Isaiah 25:6. The find the wedding concept in Revelation 21. Matthew 8:11 also describes a gathering of people from all around for a banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

[2] Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, John 6:1-14

[3] Luke 9:7-9.  See my sermon on the larger passage: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/building-relationships/

[4] Luke 8:22-25.  See my sermon on this passage: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/let-jesus-calm-our-hearts/

[5] Luke 8:28. See my sermon on this passage: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/from-demon-possessed-to-gentile-evangelist/

[6] Exodus 16.

[7] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 265. 

[8] Edwards, 265. 

[9] John 6:1-15, Mark 6:30-44.

[10] Luke 6:2.

[11] Edwards, 267. 

[12] 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. 

[13] Luke 21:1-4

Some of God’s gifts are slower in coming. Butternut squash on the vine.

Building Relationships

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 24, 2022
Luke 9:1-9

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, July 22, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Have you ever thought of yourself as a “Little Jesus?”  What if I suggest that’s what we are to be? As a part of Christ’s church, we become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. We carry on his mission of love and sharing his grace. This task was first given to the 12 disciples and has passed down through the centuries to us. We’re going to learn today about the first time Jesus sent out the disciples to do his work. 

Not in it to win it

We are called to make a difference in our world. As followers of Jesus, we live by different values than the world. As Andy Stanley, in his newest book proclaims, the church is not about winning. Jesus didn’t set out to win the world. Instead, he gave his life for the world, and calls us to also sacrifice for the good of others.[1] It’s not about winning, but about showing Jesus’ love in our lives and everyday encounters. 

Too often we use terms like “winning the world for Christ.” In the late 19th Century, the student volunteer movement for missions set its goal as “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” While a noble goal, it is too easy to think the burden is upon us. While God uses us to display a new way of relating in the world, or as the founding documents of the Presbyterian Church state, “to exhibit the kingdom of Heaven to the world,”[2] we’re not in a competition for victory. The victory belongs to Jesus already. Let us call ourselves to worship.

Before the reading of scripture

Since their calling in the 6th chapter of Luke,[3] we have seen how the twelve listened, learned, and observed Jesus. This was in preparation for the moment they would assume the work of Jesus on their own. At the beginning of the 9th Chapter of Luke, they’re given a trial run.

While our reading today focuses on the 12 disciples, Luke points out that there were more than 12 disciples, including some women.[4] However, the 12 take on special significance. These learn from watching Jesus as he teaches and ministers toward those in need. While they remain Jesus’ disciples, they are to begin to take on a more active role in sharing Jesus’ work in the world. Eventually, eleven of the twelve will become Apostles and responsible for taking Jesus’ teachings to the end of the world.[5]

Disciples in the Ancient World

The concept of disciples gathering around teachers was well-known in the ancient world. Centuries before Jesus, the Greeks had developed such a relationship between teachers and students. Plato was a disciple of Socrates and remained so even after his teacher died. He would always be a disciple of Socrates, even when he had his own disciples or students, who attended his Academy. 

Aristotle was one of Plato’s disciples, but he, too, developed disciples of his own and taught then in Athens’s Lyceum. Other Greek thinkers gathered their own disciples. A disciple is to learn from their teacher, their master, and then apply their learning in the world.[6] As we’re disciples of Jesus, we should be doing the same.

Read Luke 9:1-9

Backpacking: Traveling Light

One of the things I appreciate about backpacking is how such travels puts everyone on the same plane. Rich and poor, you’re all the same once you get a day’s walk into the woods. Ironically, the one who can get by with the least has a much richer experience than the one who tries to drag everything inside a backpack. Carrying a 70- or 80-pound pack, as I’ve seen some do, is absurd. It might be okay going to war, but if you’re out to enjoy God’s creation, such a pack will only slow you down, hold you back, and exhaust you. It is hard to enjoy the view of the mountains when you have that kind of burden. 

Grandma Gatewood

One of the legends to have hiked the Appalachian Trail is Emma Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood. She first hiked the entire trail in 1955 at the age of 67. She would hike it twice again.  Along the way, she carried a few clothes, supplies, and a little food. She took a shower curtain for when it rained. A denim bag served as her pack. She was the definitive an ultra-light backpacker. Because she took so little, she often depended on the generosity of strangers for food.[7]

The disciples traveling light

Jesus sends the twelve out across the landscape and has them travel very light. They don’t even have a staff, which is okay because they’re not taking anything extra with them. A staff is good when you need a third leg to help you balance, such as when you have a heavy pack.  Of course, a staff is also good to discourage angry dogs and to push snakes out of the path. For those, I suppose the twelve had to depend on God or a good neighbor.

Depending on God and Stranger

The twelve carry no food, no money, no extra clothes…. Jesus’ purpose is two-fold. He wants the disciples to learn how to depend on God and on the goodness of others. Furthermore, by having the disciples depend on the goodness of others, Jesus forces them to meet and encounter others along their way. What a better way to get to know someone than to share a meal. Jesus sets up the disciples to emphasize personal relationships and not to be burdened by stuff.[8]  

 No hedging of bets

Going out into the world with nothing, the disciples cannot hedge their bets or provide themselves a social safety net. Perhaps another reason Jesus has the disciples to go without money is another of our human traits. He knows if the disciples wait until they had enough money for their mission, it would be like us waiting to have enough money to have children. Few of us would ever get to the point where we felt we had enough. This is urgent business, and the disciples need to hit the road. 

Modern hobos

Several years ago, I picked up a book in a bargain warehouse about modern day hobos.[9] The book was written by this one hobo who often traveled without a ticket by rail. Sometimes he’d even fly to a distant city to ride a particular scenic line though the mountains. Occasionally, this guy and his friends would encounter real hobos, but they generally kept their distance. 

I wondered what the real hobos thought of them. After all, these were all successful and professional men. They used cell phones to communicate with each other about the best car to jump aboard or how to avoid the railroad police. 

Another thing separated them from real hobos. A real hobo might cook his stew in a tin can over a fire. When they got hungry, they’d jump off the train, pull out a credit card, and rent a room in a hotel. After cleaning up, they’d go out for a nice meal. Such abilities set them apart. 

Think about riding an open car over a particularly cold pass in the Rockies. Instead of continuing to freeze, they get to warm up in a hotel’s hot tub. When you travel like this, you don’t exactly open yourself up to make friends with the real hobos.

Taking the easy way out

As humans, we often take the easy way out. Knowing this, Jesus sends the disciples out in a manner that forces them to depend on God and others for their safety and comfort. 

Furthermore, Jesus wants the disciples to appreciate what is offered to them. When they come into a village and someone opens their home, they are to remain there until they move along. They’re not to accept a better offer, say from the owner of the villa upon the hill with the swimming pool. Accepting such an offer might offend their earlier host. Sent out in this manner, they to be grateful for what they’re offered. 

Biblical Hospitality

I should say something about the New Testament concept of hospitality.[10] It’s not throwing a nice party for friends.[11]Anyone can show hospitality to friends. But when such hospitality is shown to a stranger, that’s special. 

As the disciples learned from their master, they’re to now trust him as they participate in the expand his mission in the world. Their assignment is to utilize word and deed as they expand Jesus’ ministry. They have learned Jesus’ true nature, now they’re to share it with the world.[12]

The word spreads to Herod

Interestingly, Luke doesn’t tell us of their success, just that they went out preaching and teaching. Instead, he lets us know that Herod, the ruler, has his ears to the ground. He knows something is up and begins to ask questions. “It can’t be John,” Herod thinks. “I’ve beheaded him. Is it another prophet?” And how many of them? It’s no longer this one guy I’m hearing about, they are all over the place, in different villages at the same time. 

We’re told that Herod wants to see Jesus. This Herod is the son Herod the Great whom we’re told in Matthew’s gospel, killed a lot of babies to do away with Jesus.[13] Herod Jr. is neither as cruel nor as capable of a letter as his father.[14] He expresses an interest in seeing Jesus, which he will do, but only during Jesus’ trial. Herod only wants to see one of Jesus’ miracles, as if he’s a traveling magician. Jesus refuses and so Herod and his soldiers mock Jesus before sending him back to Pilate.[15]

In a small way, the disciples begin to build the foundation upon which the church would be built. The word gets out through their preaching and mercy. Not only do the masses hear about Jesus, so does the ruler in the land.[16]

The task of the 12 has now become ours. We are to share the good news. While we’re not always equipped to heal like the twelve, we are able to offer hope and encouragement as we walk with others on their journey toward healing. 

Doing our part

Think about how you might do your part. Who do you know that you might reach out and invite out for breakfast or a cup of coffee and spend some time seeing how they’re doing? Who might you offer to help, to show the agape love of a disciple? We make the world better one disciple at a time. Discipleship is more about one-on-one relationships than big crusades or campaigns.[17]With whom might you develop such a relationship? Who can you reach out to know? Invite them to church with you and to Sunday brunch afterwards. Build relationships!

Like the disciples, we’ll never be fully prepared. Instead, we step out in faith and trust God to give us what we need so that Jesus might make a difference in someone’s life. Trust God and build relationships with others. The twelve did it and so should we. Amen. 

6:29 AM this morning. Sunrise with fog in the valley

[1] Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022). For my review of Stanley’s book, Click here. https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/catching-up-on-my-reading/

[2] Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Order, F-1.0304.

[3] Jesus had called disciples earlier as in Luke 5:1-10, 27-31, but in Luke 6:12-16, he specifically calls “the Twelve.”  

[4] See Luke 8:1-3 or my sermon on the text at https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/06/were-called-to-be-farmers/   Luke also mentions the 70 whom Jesus later sends off 2 by 2. See Luke 10:1-12.

[5] The one missing of the 12, who did not become an Apostle, is Judas. 

[6] For an insight into the various discipleship schools of Greece, see the opening chapters of Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (New York: Random House Paperbacks, 2014). 

[7] See Ben Montgomery, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014). 

[8] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015), 262. 

[9] William T. Vollmann, Riding Toward Everywhere (HarperCollins, 2008). 

[10] Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1990), 121.  For one of my sermons on hospitality from Hebrews 13, see https://fromarockyhillside.com/2021/06/christians-should-be-outstanding-citizens/

[11] Jesus emphasizes this point in the Sermon on the Mount. “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 6:47. 

[12] Edwards, 260.

[13] Matthew 2:7-18

[14] Edwards, 666.

[15] Luke 23:7-12.

[16] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdman, 1983), 267-8.

[17] Edwards, 262.

Do you have faith or are you just a spectator?

Jeff Garrison  
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches  
Luke 8:40-56  
July 17, 2022

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, July 15, 2022

At the beginning of worship

The most important part of having a relationship with Jesus is the potential to restore life. 

  • Jesus provides us a reason to live. 
  • Jesus wants us to live abundantly. 
  • Jesus wants us to follow his lead and show compassion.

Restoring life isn’t just about eternal life, but a renewed life in the present, lived out within the church. This morning we’re looking at two stories where Jesus restores life. In one, he brings a child back from the dead. But the other is just as important. He restores life to an outcast. 

Of course, both will later die. That is part of the human experience. But imagine what these two did with their renewed life in the time they had left. Or think of the excitement of the parents of the little girl who died and the joy of the woman’s husband and family who had mom back. 

Jesus calls us to live knowing we are loved and cared for and watched over by God. We’re also to live this life within a church community who also watches over us. What does this mean for your life? 

Before reading the Scriptures

Last week we saw Jesus and the disciples on the West Bank of Galilee, where he dealt with the unclean. He was in a Gentile area, so the people themselves were seen as unclean. He healed a man who was seen as crazy and filled with demons, one who would have been shunned by Jews just as he was shunned by Gentiles. And he was in an area where they raised hogs, in large numbers, an animal according to Jewish law was unclean. 

Today, we see what happens when Jesus comes back to the East Bank. They must not have had bad weather on the return trip, or if they did, we’re not told. Now that he’s back in Jewish territory, do you think his run in with those unclean ends? Not a chance. Let’s see. 

Read Luke 8:40-56

Opening day 2007

Opening day of the college football season, 2007, featured the Appalachian State Mountaineers against one of the dominate teams throughout the history of college football, the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan was rated five in the national polls among the top colleges. Appalachian wasn’t even in the same division. 

At the time, I was in Hastings, Michigan. A few months before the game, my Uncle Larry called. I’ve always thought of Larry as an older brother. He’s a lot closer to my age than my dad’s, his brother. As a graduate of Appalachian State, Larry wanted to see this historic game. He was able to get tickets and planned to fly up, if I could provide a place for him to crash and drive him the 2 hours across the state to the Big House in Ann Arbor. 

Larry’s visit

He and his daughter, McKenzie, who was a couple of years older than Caroline, came up a day early. We toured some around West Michigan, but we made sure we got to bed early Friday night so we could get an early start on Saturday morning. Larry and McKenzie along with Caroline and I, got up early and after breakfast headed out across the state on Interstate 94. 

I could tell Larry was nervous. He kept returning to his hope that the game wouldn’t be a blow out. After all, Michigan was in a completely different division. They might have well been playing against an NFL team. In a sense Appalachian was offered as sacrificial meat to one the top programs in college football for their opening day triumph.

We arrived in Ann Arbor a little after 9 AM, for a game that didn’t start till 1. It was good to be early. Once we got off the exit, it took another hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic to park. It takes time to get 107,000 people into the stadium. After parking, we enjoyed the pregame, going to a tailgate party for Appalachian State alumni. A little after noon, we moved toward the Big House and found our seats. 

The Game

The game began. But it didn’t begin as expected as both teams quickly put points on the board. The Mountaineers dominated the second quarter, racking up 21 points and leading at half by 14. In the second half, Michigan slowly crawled back. With four seconds left in the game, they had the ball. They were on the Mountaineers ten- or twenty-yard line. They were down by just two points. All they needed was a field goal, a simple chip shot, and it would be over. 

The Mountaineers blocked the kick. The game was over. 

Driving back across Michigan, my uncle floated somewhere above the vehicle. He couldn’t believe it. Was Larry a spectator without faith? 

Of course, football is just a game. 

Do we have faith or are we just a spectator? 

When it comes to Jesus, let me ask this question. Do we have faith? Or are we just spectators? Think of our story this morning. We have two examples of faith: a concerned father and a sick woman. Both experienced an incredible miracle, while most people present in the crowd are just spectators.[1]

Our story picks up where we left off last week. Jesus and the disciples had just sailed back across Lake Galilee. A crowd waits for Jesus on the east bank. Jesus’ popularity has risen, everyone wants to see him. But how many of these fans of his really know what’s up about him? They’ve probably not yet heard the news of the demons and the pigs or the calming of the sea. And what’s happening next will blow their minds. 

Jesus is God

In the previous weeks, we’ve seen Jesus as God: forgiving sinscontrolling the weather, and freeing someone from evil. Now, Jesus not only heals; he restores life. 

As Jesus comes ashore, he’s met by Jairus, leader of a synagogue, a man of standing within the Jewish community. Jairus is desperate for his daughter is dying. He pleads for Jesus come to come and heal his daughter. Jesus agrees and they head off. They must push through the crowd to make their way forward. Everyone wants to see Jesus, and most probably have no idea that he’s on a life-saving mission. After all, in the first century, there were no ambulances and sirens and flashing lights to clear a path. 


Then, Luke takes the story another direction. As a literary device, it’s a clever interruption. There is a girl in need, but Jesus must first attend to something else. This helps built tension in our minds. We’re all with Jesus and Jairus and ready to run to his house. But Jesus pauses. 

Someone has touched his garments. Jesus wants to know who. Peter realizes the impossibility of such a question. Many people are pressing in on Jesus. Everyone is touching him. You can’t help it. Think about being on a Japanese subway if you ever experienced such travel at rush hour. If not, you’ve probably seen pictures of those stationed on the platform to push passengers into the railcars so the door can close. Everyone has been touching Jesus and now he wants to know who. He acknowledges that power had left him. 

Female issues

We’re told a woman, who wasn’t trying to hold up Jesus and in his important mission, had sought to touch him so that she might be healed. And that’s what happened. After twelve years, she’s well. She was suffering from what my mother used to call “female issues.” If a woman from church was in the hospital and we asked why and mom said, “female issues,” we knew not to ask any more questions.[2]

The problem for her is that such bleeding has gone on a dozen years. This also meant she was unclean. The Old Testament laws said so.[3] She wasn’t even supposed to be in the crowd. But now we learn that she has been made well. And when she identifies herself, Jesus pronounces such when he tenderly calls her “daughter,” and tells her it was her faith that made her well. It was her faith that led her to seek out Jesus. Healed and now able to be accepted back into society, Jesus sends her on her way in peace.

Now back to Jairus’ daughte

Way to go, Jesus. That’s a nice interlude. Good ministry. However, while dealing with the woman, Jairus’ daughter dies. Messengers arrive and inform Jairus it’s too late, not to bother Jesus anymore. From our experience, death is final. People don’t just pop up from the casket and ask if they can be first in line for the ham and funeral potatoes with a serving of Jell-O salad and a slice of Aunt Delilah’s coconut cake.

A corpse is unclean

Jesus, however, assures Jairus that if he trusts in God and doesn’t sink into despair, everything will be alright.[4] So, they continue to the house, where their lies and corpse that had been a 12-year-old girl. Like the bleeding woman, a corpse is also considered unclean.[5] But this doesn’t bother Jesus, who takes three of his closest disciples and goes into the room where the girl lays dead. He sends out the mourners. After all, they think he’s nuts. Then he addresses the girl. We’re told her spirit returned. 

Now back to Jairus’ daughter

God gives us life. Every breath we take is from God. The girl, like Adam in the garden, comes to life once the spirit, the breath from God, enters her.[6] God gives life. 

Realizing she’s been through trauma, Jesus has food brought to her and then, surprisingly, tells her parents not to tell anyone what happened. 

Role of Faith

Jesus acknowledges that the woman’s faith has made her well. For it was her faith that caused her to seek out Jesus, the great healer. He also told the father to have faith, and everything would work out. However, Jesus’ role is undoubtedly necessary here, for it wasn’t faith alone that generated these events. As one commentator noted, faith doesn’t generate these events, but healing does proceed from faith.[7]  

Perhaps we could best look at it this way. We’re to have faith, not in that healing will occur, but faith that we are loved and cared for by the Almighty in an intimate way, as shown by Jesus in today’s story. And Jesus’ example of caring for us, is to be our model, as we strive to care for a world that is often dead. We’re called to have faith because we know God is at work despite the evidence to the contrary.

We’re not to be spectators

We’re not called to be a spectator. Life is not a football game. We’re called to participate with Jesus in this world, by showing the concern he showed with others. Let us love as Jesus loved. Amen. 

[1]Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 120. 

[2] I was reminded of this reading Scott Hoezee’s commentary on the parallel to this passage in Mark 5:29-43. See https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2021-06-21/mark-521-43-3/  

[3] Leviticus 15:19, 25.

[4] James Edwards, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 257.

[5] Leviticus 22:4, Numbers 5:2. 

[6] Genesis 2:7.

[7] Craddock, 120. 

Today’s morning glory (taken at 6 AM)