Let Jesus Calm Our Hearts

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 3, 2022
Luke 8:22-25

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, July 1, 2022. Remember, during the summer, weather permitting, both churches will be worshipping outside.

At the beginning of worship:

I’m afraid the church, as an institution, along with our world, is heading for stormy waters. Some who claim to be a part of the church are doing outrageous things. From Christian nationalism to the extreme, a pastor in Texas preaching for the execution of gays. So much for love and grace and forgiveness and other Christ-like virtues. “Shoot them in the back of the head,” he suggested.[1] I don’t want to be a part of an organization like that, and hopefully neither do you.

Sadly, one outlier like him tends to taint all of us who strive to follow Jesus (not that I think he was following Jesus, but that’s another topic). Such renegades provide those outside the church with a reason to stay outside. In this series of sermons, I want to consider how to invite people into the church. We have work to do, to overcome such behavior which creates a negative view of the Church. 

The challenge to today’s church

The amount of hate spewed toward the church and Christianity seems to be on the rise. When those outside the Church lump us all together, they miss the concept of the church as a place of love, acceptance, and grace. The church consists of people like us, who admit our sinfulness, and depend on the grace offered by Jesus Christ. Without his grace, we’d all be sailing into a storm without a rudder.

Being Christians

“We should not simply be known as Christians,” Ignatius told the church in the second century, “but really be Christians.”[2] That advice still holds true for today.

In this stormy time in which the world seems to be headed, we need to do a better job of conveying the love and grace of Jesus. We must show the world we care and accept one another with open arms. As we’re all in the same boat, we illustrate our trust in Jesus. We need to be good neighbors while modelling compassion and love. We don’t know how things will turn out, but we have faith that God is amongst us and in the end, everything will work out. But sometimes, when we are in the middle of a storm, it’s easy to lose sight of this, as we’re going to see in our Scripture for today. 

Read Luke 8:22-25

The Savannah Sail Club often held late Wednesday afternoon regattas during the longer days of summer. A group of us from the Landings Sail Club would often sail with them. These were fun times. However, because of thunderstorms, such events were frequently cancelled. 

Sailing in a Gal

Then there was this time. The day had been hot, and the wind squirrelly. The weather forecast suggested the storms popping up inland and moving north. This was often the case for the sea breeze would come in during the afternoon. The cool wind from over the ocean blows across the hot land, which generally kept the storms inland. 

We were sailing out of the Skidaway River, on the second leg of the race, making for the marker at the Wilmington River where we were to head toward Wassaw Sound, before rounding a buoy and returning to the Savannah Yacht Marina on Wilmington Island. That’s when we realized the sea breeze wasn’t as strong as we thought as a storm moved quickly over us. We were hit with 45 mile an hour straight line winds, and it was all we could do to keep the boat upright. 

Crewing on a Rhodes 19

I was part of a three-person crew on a Rhodes 19, a small racing dingy. All three of us climbed up on the high side of the boat, trying to balance it out. I controlled the jib sheets, letting the foresail out to spill wind. Chris took control of the main sheets from Ken and did the same. Ken, who was at the helm, pulled hard on the rudder to bring us into the wind, but it wasn’t much use. A boat heeled over that far means only a small part of the rudder is in the water. We struggled, as a torrent of rain accompanied the winds. 

Right next to us, also heeled over, was a much larger boat with a mast a good 10 taller than ours. That boat was named “Lightning Rod.” It seemed a bad omen as lightning bolts began to pop around us. With the wind, the beating rain, lighting bolts instantly followed by the clamp of thunder, I thought we might perish. Sadly, we didn’t have Jesus physically on board to wake up and still the storm, but I can assure you, prayers were offered. 

Prayers answered

Our prayers were answered and in a few minutes the wind died. The water that had been foaming became like glass. There was no wind, and the tide was running against us. We lost all headway, as the boat moved backwards. 

It’s terrifying to be on a small boat in a gale. Thankfully, in the storm I described, the terrifying part only lasted maybe ten minutes, then there was bailing and checking gear to make sure nothing broke during the gale. 

Sailing on mountain lakes

Sailing on mountain lakes, like Galilee, can even be more terrifying. The wind funnels down the mountain through ravines and pours out onto the water like the exhaust from a turbine. The interaction between the warm waters and the cool air from the hills creates unpredictable weather. Such a situation is challenging, even for seasoned sailors like half of the disciples who fished for a living. 

Gillian’s Island Interlude

We could open this passage with the Legend of Gilligan’s Island:

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
a tale of a fateful trip,
that started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship.[3]

The area around Galilee was tropical. Located below sea level, the climate was moderate enough that crops could be grown most of the year. And the lake is only nine miles long, seven miles wide, so the disciples and Jesus aren’t planning to be gone too long. They push off from one side of the lake, expecting to arrive on the other in a few hours at the most. Just like with Gilligan, this should be no more than a three-hour cruise. 

Jesus, who may be weary from teaching and preaching, decides to take a nap. He’ll let those seasoned boaters take him across the waters. Then the storm hits. 

Sleeping through the storm

And Jesus sleeps soundly in the stern of the boat.

I’m sure Jesus sleeping irritated the disciples; after all, he suggested they all sail to the other side. And as they work to bail out the water, Jesus snores. 

It appears they wake Jesus, not because they think he can help, but because they want him to know that they’re all doomed. Interestingly, Jesus gets up and rebukes the wind and the waves. Rebuke implies dealing with evil, and perhaps the storm was another of Satan’s attempts to do away with Jesus.[4] But Jesus’ words contain power. 

Two questions

The storm dies and the boat floats on calm water, no longer in danger of capsizing. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks, “Where is your faith?” How do they answer such a question?  We’re not told they did; instead, they ponder “just who is this guy that commands the wind and the sea, and they obey.” 

While Jesus’ question reminds the disciples that they, like us, need to trust him, I think the disciples ask a more interesting question. “Who is Jesus?” It’s essentially the same question we saw asked a few weeks ago when Jesus forgave the sinful woman. Those at the table asked, “Who is this that can forgive sin?”[5] Neither question is answered. As James Edwards summarizes in his commentary on this text: “The right questions lead not to pat and ready answers, but to awe and wonder in the presence of Jesus.”[6]

The Edmund Fitzgerald

The ballad, “the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has a haunting question. “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes into hours. The disciples didn’t realize at this point in their ministry with Jesus that God was with them, in the stern. 

What does faith mean at times like this

What does it mean to have faith during a storm? Does it mean that everything will be okay? Or are we left with the assurance that we are in God’s hands? And we can trust that no matter what happens, God is with us?

The Troubles of the world

It appears the church, our nation, and our world is sailing into stormy waters. The war in Ukraine causes untold amounts of devastation to that country while threatening the world’s food supply. In places like Ethiopia, you have war and famine. Religious unrest seems always to be simmering somewhere in the world, most lately in India and Sri Lanka. We seem to encounter one disease after another, from COVID variants to Monkeypox to the deadly Ebola virus which keeps popping up in sub-Sahara Africa. The distrust between the political parties in our own country, in which both seem more interested in their own power than the good of the whole, destroys the ability of working together. 

Who do we trust?

As the storm clouds darken, who do we trust? That’s a question we all may be asking. And if not, we will be asking it. Do we look for a savior among politicians and diplomats and business leaders? Or do we look to the only Savior the world has known?

Back in the 90s, when people still used phone books, a group of churches in Cedar City, Utah, where I was pastor, created an ad that appeared on the back cover of Southern Utah University’s student and faculty directory. We got permission from the Jesus Film folks to use a still shot from that movie which depicted Jesus standing up in a boat during a gale and raising up his hands to calm the wind and sea. The caption read, “he calmed the sea, let him calm your hearts,” and then listed the churches who sponsored the ad. 

Jesus calmed the seas, let him calm your hearts. I think that’s still good advice for today’s world. Amen. 

[1] https://www.newsweek.com/pastor-gay-people-solution-killings-bible-1714037

[2] James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021), 232. Edwards quotes Ignatius’ To the Magnesians, 4.

[3] https://www.songlyrics.com/gilligan-s-island/gilligans-theme-song-lyrics/

[4] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 114. 

[5][5] Luke 7:49.  See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/06/all-are-in-need-of-forgiveness-the-seemingly-righteous-and-the-obvious-sinner/  

[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 247.

5:45 AM this morning

Bringing Light to the World

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
June 20, 2022
Luke 8:16-23

Sermon recorded at the Bluemont PIcnic Shelter on Friday, June 24, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

One of the key doctrines of the Protestant Reformation is the “priesthood of all believers.” The concept, defined by John Milton, held that “every person is created by God with the freedom of conscience, reason, and will.”[1]  

This doctrine implies that we all have direct access to God in our prayers and through our study of God’s word. We don’t have to go through a priest, who stands between us and the divine. Jesus destroyed the veil separating us and God.[2] We can cast our burdens upon God, ask for intercession for friends and family, and seek God’s wisdom, all on our own. 

The priesthood of all believers and democracy

The priesthood of all believers is a novel concept which became foundational for a democratic society. If we have standing before God, the holy and almighty one, it goes without saying that we should also have political standing before other creatures like us who happen to be in a position of power.  

Telling what’s great about our local church

Throughout this series, I want to prepare you to be able to articulate why someone should check us out as a church. In this matter, I think the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, is important. As a church, in the eyes of God, we’re all equal. And we should see others in that same way. No one is above anyone else.

Yes, some may be set aside for special functions such as the clergy. Some are set aside as ruling elders, those who make up the Session, the governing board of the church. But even here, no one is given special access to God. Nor is anyone given special treatment. We’re equal in God’s eyes, which we should celebrate! It makes the church a unique place in the world. We come as equals, we come as those brought together in Jesus Christ. 

Before reading scripture

We’re continuing our reading through the middle section of Luke’s gospel. Last week, we looked at Luke’s telling of the Parable of the Sower. This week, Luke follows that story with some mini parables about our responsibility to “let the truth be known.” Then Jesus discusses the meaning of his true family, which also has implications for us. I am reading this passage in The Message translation.

Read Luke 8:16-21

After the reading of Scripture: 

On a dark night from the bridge of a battleship, the lookout sighted a light dead ahead. They were on a collision course. He quickly relayed his sighting to the captain, who signaled to the vessel ahead, “change your course ten degrees east.” The response came back: “Change your course ten degrees west.” 

This infuriated the captain.  He responded: “I am a Navy captain. Change your course.”  

“I am a seaman, second class,” came the replay. “Change your course.”

Steam flowed from the captain’s ears, “I am the captain of a battleship. I’m not changing course.”

The response came back, “Sir, I’m manning a lighthouse. It’s your call.”[3]

Lighthouses as a sign of Jesus’ faithfulness

Christian stores often sell kitschy plaques and paintings of lighthouses with Bible verses about Jesus being the light of the world. And it’s appropriate, for lighthouses have become symbols of Jesus’ faithfulness. I’m not sure when Christians adopted the symbol, but it may have been quite early. By Jesus’ day, there had been a lighthouse for two centuries on the island of Pharos. This lighthouse guided ships into Alexander in Egypt after they’d sailed across the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander had a strong Jewish and latter a Christian presence.[4] While we can’t know for sure, perhaps the lighthouse there became linked to the faith in the late first or the second century. 

 In the days before Loran and GPS, lighthouses were essential to warning ships as to shoals and to the entrance to harbors. Many lives have been saved by those who attended lighthouses. It was a tough job as one had to keep the light going in all kinds of weather, especially during storms. 

Misleading lights

But, you know, other lights were at times used to confuse ships. During the 19th Century, along the Outer Banks, where many of the original residents were distantly related to pirates, during storms, some would build bonfires along the coastline. Seeing these lights in a blowing gale, a captain might adjust his course and then find his ship broken up on a sandbar. The residents would then save the crew and, as it was their maritime right in finding and saving the crew of a broken vessel, they would loot the ship of its goods. 

The message for us: Make sure we only shine the true light. We’re responsible to Christ, to let him shine, not to shine a light for our benefit.  This is especially true as we perform our role as a priest, of which we’re all one. Those who don’t know of our special status as a follower of Jesus, need to see our good deeds. Do we bring our Savior glory? 

Today’s text

Our text today has two parts. We could separate them as it appears they are distinct. The first part, about letting our lights shine, comes on the heels of the parable of the Sower, which we explored last week. Matthew and Mark also have sayings like this one in Luke’s gospel.[5] However, Matthew’s saying, in the Sermon on the Mount, is in a different context. “Letting the light shine,” may have been one of Jesus’ more frequent sayings. It could also be used in different situations,[6] but the sayings in all point to our priestly role of letting others know of Jesus. That’s why we put a lamp on a stand, so that it can give maximum light. 

Lamps in the first century

Hearing Jesus’ teachings about putting a light on a stand may have drawn people’s minds to the light stand in the temple, illuminating the holy room, for mortals to see. Or maybe they thought of their own lamps which provided nominal amount of light and had to be held high to maximize its benefit. We know that small oil lamps were common in Jesus’ day as they are frequently recovered in archeology digs.[7]  

Revealing God

Jesus, in recalling the use of lamps right after having told the story of the parable of the Sower, emphasizes the need to let our light shine. Jesus came to reveal God. And we, who know this truth, are to share it. We’re not to hoard such knowledge by hiding it under a pan or under the bed. I would suggest that hiding a light that was burning under a bed would be quite dangerous. That flame might set the sheets on fire. I’m not sure that’s a metaphor Jesus’ meant when he told this mini parable, but it certainly implies. Jesus shares his grace and love with us, and he expects us to share it with others. When we don’t, we’re not doing what he said. That can lead to dangerous consequences, such as our metaphorical bed fire.  

Two Points

There are two points we should understanding from these three opening sayings made by Jesus in the first half of our reading: Jesus’ purpose is not to conceal, but to reveal.

  1. Jesus didn’t come to share secrets with a few, his ministry is to bring to light what was unknown about God.
  2. However, parables don’t bless everyone equally. Those who hear and understand are blessed. Those who think they already know everything, find themselves lost.[8]
Second part of reading

The second part of our reading seems to be a new topic. Obviously, here, Jesus is no longer outside as it appears he was when he talked about the Sower. Instead, he is inside a building for his mother and brothers are outside. However, the topic, who are the true followers of Jesus, links up with Jesus’ previous teachings. 

Jesus and his family

Luke has already shown that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was committed to doing God’s work. We witness this before Jesus’ birth, as she answers the Angel Gabriel, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word?”.[9] At the age of 12, Jesus demonstrates has also shown his true family isn’t his earthly one which, like our families, is transient. Instead, his true family came from his closeness to his Father in heaven.[10] This also has implications for us. Our true family and our true home are not here on earth, but with our Father in heaven. I think that’s what Jesus drives at in this passage.

Mark presents this same story in a different light. He makes it sound more like Jesus’ family tried to discourage his ministry. Luke, however, presents the story in a more neutral way. As Luke has already done, Jesus’ family are portrayed as faithful and obedient.[11]   

Obedience is important to Jesus

So, according to this passage, who does Jesus consider his family? Those who hear his word and do it. It’s not just hearing or just believing; we must act on such beliefs. Obedience to Jesus is important. And, as we’ve just seen in the early part of the reading, part of this obedience is a willingness to share the faith and the hope we have in Jesus with others. 

Recently, somewhere, I saw a meme that hit home. It read: “Bible believing isn’t as important as Bible living.”[12] And I think that is what Jesus drives at in this passage. It’s not enough to know who Jesus is, we must follow him and show his love and offer his grace to the world around us. 

Sharing the Gospel of Grace

Of course, we’re not to share the gospel in an obnoxious manner. Jesus never used God’s word to beat up others. As Hannah Anderson in her book, Humble Roots, writes, “when we use fear to persuade a person to make a decision ‘before it’s too late,’ we make God look like a cosmic bully.”[13]We serve a God of love. As we follow the Son, our Savior, led by the Holy Spirit, we’re to show the lovingkindness to others that God has shown u

[1] John Witte Jr. “Law, Authority, and Liberty in Early Calvinism,” in Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview, David W. Hall and Marvin Padgett, editors. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 36.

[2] Luke 23:45 describes the curtain (veil) in the temple ripping during Jesus’ crucifixion. 

[3] This is an old joke, going back to the 1930s. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lighthouse_and_naval_vessel_urban_legend

[4] See James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2021), 62-64. 

[5] Matthew 5:14, Mark 4:21. While John doesn’t talk about a lamp, he does speak of Jesus as the light of the world. See John 1:4, 7-8.

[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 241-2.

[7] Edwards, 241

[8] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 113. 

[9] Luke 1:38, 46-55. 

[10] Luke 2:49. 

[11] In addition to taking Jesus to the temple at the age of 12, they also presented Jesus on the eight day to be circumcised. See Luke 2:21-24.

[12] I would defend this meme in that we are not to believe the Bible, but in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, that is revealed to us through Scripture.

[13] Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Chicago: Moody Press, 2016), 112.

Morning Light, June 26, 2022

We’re called to be farmers

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
June 19, 2022
Luke 8:1-15

Recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, June 17, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Does everyone have their gardens planted? I transplanted eggplants and winter squash this week, which I’d started indoors by seed. That’s the last for my garden until later in the summer when I’ll replant lettuce, turnips, and beets for the fall. Today’s theme is about planting, but not just about putting seeds in the ground. How do we plant the seeds of God’s hope and grace into the minds and hearts of others? 

We all know that Jesus calls disciples to fish for people, right? But that’s just in Matthew and Mark’s gospel. We’re called also to be Sowers of God’s word and that’s in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.[1] But how do we sow God’s word? Ponder this question this morning. I’d love to hear your ideas. This also might be something to talk about with one another after worship. 

Before reading the scripture:

Last week, we saw a woman break the social customs of the day by crashing a dinner party and anointing Jesus’ feet.[2] Today, as we move into the 8th chapter of Luke, we learn Jesus and the disciples are also accompanied by woman as they travel and teach. Luke focuses on women in Jesus’ ministry. He also often places contrasting stories side by side, as he does here with the story of the forgiven woman followed by women travelling with Jesus and supporting his ministry.[3]

Our reading today is about sharing the gospel. That’s what the disciples, including the women, are doing. And it’s what we’re called to do. Yet, we’re not always successful, as we see in this parable. But that’s okay. We’re called to try in good faith. Ultimately, when it comes to salvation, God is in charge. 

Read Luke 8:1-15

The Call to be a Teacher

If you want to make a difference in the world, there probably no better occupation, calling, or vocation than to be a teacher. Think back on your lives. Parents aside, in our younger years, teachers probably influenced our life more than anyone else. In addition to giving us the knowledge we need to make it through life, good teachers show us they care and instills in us curiosity for the world and compassion for others. 

Ms. Freeman

My family moved during the summer between my third and fourth grade. It was traumatic to leave friends and my old school behind and to start over again at Bradley Creek Elementary School. 

My teacher in the fourth grade, Ms Freeman, made all the difference. I struggled making friends in this new school and did not do well academically. My conduct grades were even more atrocious. Unbeknownst to be, Ms. Freeman got permission from my parents to keep me after school one day. I’ll never forget, when all the kids left class and headed to the bus. I was told to remain behind. I felt rejected. 

But Ms. Freeman won me over that afternoon by going to the teachers’ lounge and fetching us both a Pepsi-Cola. I was a cheap date! We visited about the changes going on in my life. Then she gave me a ride home. I think she had a hot new mustang. If not, it was some spiffy new car. From then on, Ms. Freeman was more than a teacher. She was a friend.

I have not seen or heard of her since I finished elementary school at Bradley Creek a few years later. Hopefully, she knows I and many in the class turned out okay. Others, at least one other that I know of, was big disappointment. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life behind bars. Sadly, that’s how it goes. Some seeds fall in good soil, some don’t. 

Parable of the Sower:

Where do we see ourselves in this parable? I suggest that we’re to be the Sower. For you know, when you bury a seed in the ground, you lose control. We trust the soil. We have faith, as the seed magically dies to come alive in a new plant. 

You know, it was hard for the disciples and those around Jesus to see so many people who did not receive our Savior’s message. They were close to Jesus and saw him change lives. But others seem unaffected. This bothered them.

Jesus answers a lingering question

The question still lingers today. Why do some people accept the Jesus’ message while others ignore it? And then there are those who outright reject it? Many, especially new Christians, become excited about Jesus and wonder why no one else seems to share their excitement. After all, they tasted the bread of life, they’ve realized that their lives have been redeemed, saved. With this new and euphoric experience, they wonder why the world doesn’t embrace Jesus’ message. After all, it would solve a lot of problems. But, as it is, not everyone accepts the gospel.  

The parable of the Sower addresses this lingering question as to why some ignore the gospel, why others seem to accept it only to fall away, and why the gospel message in other blossoms. There’s a crowd of people around Jesus when he tells this story. Many of them, we can assume, were farmers. They knew what it meant to sow seed. 

Farming in the first century:

Farming in the first century was different. They didn’t have fancy farm implements: plows, disks, grain drills, planters, and cultivators. First century farmers didn’t first plow their fields; instead, they literally sowed seed by tossing it over the land. Then they came back and, with a rough prototype of a plow, disturbed the ground a bit, kicking dirt up over the seeds, so that they might sprout and grow. 

Of course, with this primitive style of agriculture, some seeds did fall on the path and were either trampled or eaten by birds before they were covered with dirt and allow to germinate.  Other seeds fell in with the weeds and the nutgrass which overwhelmed the plants before they had a chance to produce. Others fell among the rocks and couldn’t establish solid roots. But there were a few seeds that landed in good soil. They made an incredible harvest.

What’s Jesus’ driving at?

Listening to this parable, I’m sure many wondered what Jesus was driving at. Certainly, they knew what he was talking about, in a literal sense. They’d either sowed many a seed themselves or they’d seen farmers at work. When Jesus interprets the seed in the story to represent the word of God, many who heard the parable probably worried whether they were in good or bad soil. In other words, will the gospel take root in me, or will I turn away in despair? Therefore, they ask Jesus to explain his story. 

Explanation of the parable:

From Jesus’ explanation, we learn the intention of this parable is not for us to worry and wonder about our faith. Instead, the parable addresses the concern Jesus’ followers have about not everyone responding to the gospel.   Not everyone hears Christ’s call—and not everyone who hears takes his word to heart. But just as the Sower continues to plant even though he knows that not every seed will grow into a fruitful plant, we too must continue our work. In other words, instead of worrying about what type of soil we’re rooted in, we should see ourselves as the Sower. We’ve been called to share the gospel, which is to sow the seeds of faith. When we sow such seeds, we can’t control the outcome.

Responsibility to be faithful:

When we see ourselves as the Sower in the story, we understand we have a responsibility. Our task as Christians, is to be faithful, not successful. Because we don’t know when or where a particular seed might germinate, we carry out our tasks and trust God will bless our efforts. This takes a big burden off our shoulders, for we are just laborers in God’s Garden. 

Proclamation and listening required

For the gospel to germinate, it requires two things: People must hear. Believers must tell others. But the other person must hear and understand.[4] We control only our message. It’s up to the listener and the Holy Spirit to ensure the message is heard and understood.[5] We participate in the sowing of seeds and in the harvest, but God is the one who brings about the bounty. Faithfully carrying out our call is all that is asked of us.  

Sowing seeds today:

So how do we sow seeds? Let me suggest two ways. First, if people see us living a godly life, putting our trust and faith in God, then we’re sowing seeds. Sometimes it might go against the grain of who we are to trust in God. We should live within the Platonic idea that it is better for our soul’s sake even to suffer wrong than for us to do wrong.[6] That’s having faith, putting our trust in the Lord. Furthermore, without us bragging or being showy, people should see signs of fruit from our lives as they witness our kindness and gentleness. 

A second way we sow seeds is to tell others about Jesus. We do this by inviting people to church where they can learn about Jesus. But we should also be ready when called upon to give a testimony. What does it mean for us to be a Christian? Can we articulate to others why we place our faith in Jesus? Can we share what it means to us to trust him, to follow him? 

An elevator speech

One thing you might try this week, to help you grow in your faith, is to write out an “elevator speech”? An elevator speech is a brief sales pitch for an idea. It’s short enough to share with someone in the time you have together in an elevator ride. What about your faith that is important to you that you would be willing to share with others? Write it down, keep it short and simple, then if you’re ever called upon to give a testimony, you’ll be ready. Here is my attempt at an elevator speech: 

I’m a sinful man. While I am not worthy of the grace God has shown me through Jesus Christ, I am grateful Christ died for me and called me as not just a disciple but a minister within his church. I am grateful God’s Spirit surrounds me even when I am unaware of such presence. Out of gratitude, I do what I can to bring glory to God though Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, by loving God and others. 

If people see us living a godly life, a life of faith, then we’re sowing seeds. If people see us living a life that’s not so godly, one where we don’t put our faith in God, we’ll be sowing weeds rather than seeds. Let’s sow good seeds. Amen.

[1] Jesus call for the disciples to become “fisherman is found in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20. The Parable of the Sower is found in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 13-20; and Luke 8:4-15. 

[2] See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/06/all-are-in-need-of-forgiveness-the-seemingly-righteous-and-the-obvious-sinner/

[3]Fred B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 106. Another example of Luke placing contrasting stories back-to-back: The blind beggar and rich Zacchaeus (18:35-19:10).

[4] Craddock, 111. 

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 240. 

[6] Arthur Herman, The Cavet and the Light: Plato Verses Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization. (2013). 

Travel with us this summer as we learn what it means to share the good news

All are in need of forgiveness: the seemingly righteous and the obvious sinner

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
June 12, 2022
Luke 7:36-50

At the beginning of worship:

The first great end of the Presbyterian Church is “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”[1] In other words, we’re to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ for he is the way to salvation.[2] By teaching and sharing Jesus’ story, we participate with God’s work through the Holy Spirit to help people know Jesus. Everyone needs to understand God’s love for the world as demonstration in the sending of a Son, our Savior and Lord.[3]

Think about your role. How can you help people know Jesus? One way is by inviting them to church or to a church function like a Bible study or a fellowship event. We need to get to know people. We should show people that we’re a pretty good bunch of people and that, like Jesus, we’ll accept them and not be judgmental. For we know Jesus accepted us, faults, and all, as he has called us to repentance and offered his grace. Jesus is gracious to us; we’re to be gracious to others. 

Before the reading of scripture

Today we’re beginning a trip through the middle of Luke’s gospel. In these passages, I will highlight why it is important for people to experience Jesus and our responsibility to bring this about. 

Our text is Luke 7:36-50. 

After Scripture

Everlast, “What’s It’s Like”

While I’m not a big rap fan, one rapper I sometimes listen to is Everlast. A “white” rapper, he’s a good musician. Carlos Santana demands such. I became aware of Everlast through music he made with Santana.[4] Like most rappers, his lyrics contain explicit language. But they also contain a message. If you cleaned up the words, his song, “What’s It’s Like” could be an appropriate hymn to go with today’s text. 

We’re all seen a man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change.
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange.
He asks a man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes.
“Get a job, you [blankly] slob” is all he replies.

Then comes the chorus. This should make us think:

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might now what it’s like to sing the blues
Then you really might know what it’s like…[5]

This song continues with the story of a pregnant teenager, a drug addict, and other down and out examples. We also hear the abuse they receive. But what would Jesus say? What would Jesus do?  

How would Jesus treat someone who’s down and out?

Our passage today provides a hint at what our Savior might say to the person down and out. The text makes it clear, the sinful woman who busts into the party isn’t appreciated by anyone but Jesus. 

But maybe turn-around is fair play. After all, this is the second dinner party in Luke’s gospel where Jesus finds himself being judged. The first, thrown by Levi, had a bunch of tax collectors. And the pharisees, witnessing this, complain to Jesus’ disciples, wanting to know why Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners.[6]

Why is Jesus in the home of a Pharisee?

And now Jesus is in the home of a pharisee. We might wonder why Jesus would go to a pharisee’s home. After all, he had a lot of problems with tax pharisees. But it appears Jesus likes Simon. Besides to be in fellowship with one group and not the other, while you’re teaching about love, would show prejudice.[7]

When we set out to right the world, we’re always in danger of just sticking with those who think like us or look like us. And then, our focus becomes myopic. We see the faults of others, and not of ourselves and those like us. Self-righteousness leads us down the wrong path, as we see with Simon. So yes, Jesus eats with those labeled by society as sinners. But Jesus also eats with those seen as righteous. And, knowing their hearts, he knows both need grace.  

This is an important message. Don’t ever think anyone doesn’t need to know about Jesus and his love and grace. We shouldn’t set those who seem to be righteous on a pedestal nor should we look down on those whose faults are so visible to everyone. We don’t know people’s hearts.

Why did Simon invite Jesus

I wonder why Simon invited Jesus to dinner. Simon, with what we’re told in the text, doesn’t seem to be setting Jesus up for entrapment.[8]That happens with others pharisees and in other places in the gospels,[9]but Simon appears genuinely interested in Jesus. He even refers to Jesus as a teacher, or rabbi, a title of honor in the day. “Maybe Jesus is a prophet,” Simon thinks. “After all, it’s been centuries since Israel had a prophet.”[10] I expect Simon feels blessed to be able to spend some quality time with Jesus, getting to know this interesting teacher who has become somewhat of a celebrity.

While I don’t think Simon was out to entrap Jesus, I do think he had certain expectations of him as a guest in his home. 

Simon’s home invaded

Simon may have wondered if his luck had run out when a woman, a known sinner, interrupts his cozy meal with Jesus and a few of his friends. 

Now, let me say something about the woman’s sinfulness. It doesn’t say in the text that she was a prostitute, but throughout the centuries, that’s been her cast. The loose hair and the expensive bottle of perfume seem dead giveaways. But that’s reading into the text our own values. Unmarried women were not expected to wear their hair up and the alabaster jar, for all we know, may have been an inheritance. Furthermore, Luke doesn’t really address prostitution.[11] The only thing we can be certain of is that she was publicly known as a sinner.

The persistent woman  

The woman’s perseverance reminds me of a tiny enthusiastic flea who can worry an entire dog. She’s determined. She forces herself in someone else’s home and positions herself by the guest of honor. Look at the active verbs that indicate her determination: she learned where Jesus was at, she brought ointment, she stood behind his feet, she weptwhile she washed and wiped, kissed, and anointed his feet.[12] Eight strong verbs illustrate her determination. 

The woman’s grit rubs Simon the wrong way. All the while, Jesus remains calm as she washes his feet using only her tears. She dries them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with ointment. After a lot of walking around Galilee, I’m sure Jesus appreciated such care. But Simon now thinks Jesus is a fraud. A prophet would know better and shoo away such a sinful woman. 

Jesus responds publicly to Simon’s private thoughts

Yet, Simon keeps his thoughts to himself. Jesus, knowing Simon’s thoughts, responds with a parable. To put this parable in modern day terms, two individuals owed the bank money. One owed a five thousand dollars and the other a hundred thousand dollars. The text uses the terms 50 and 500 denarii. A denarii was the rate of pay for a day laborer, which is how I came up with my equivalents in today’s dollars. 

The bank forgives both loans. Fat chance, we say, but remember this a parable, a story told as an example, not an actual incident. Bankers weren’t any more forgiving in the first century than today. 

But for illustration, the banker writes off the debt of both. Jesus asks Simon which individual loved the banker the most. Simon answers, the one forgiven the most.

This sets the stage for Jesus to compare the woman with Simon. Simon, whom we assumed had little for which to be forgiven, didn’t perform any acts of adoration upon Jesus. However, this nameless sinful woman worships him with expensive ointments and her own tears. She shows hospitality beyond that which Simon has shown. “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says. “Your faith has saved you; you can go in peace.” 

Jesus’ forgiving sin

The folks sitting around the table are amazed by Jesus’ words. After all, only God can forgive sins, they think. And they’re right, but they just don’t yet know Jesus’ identity. 

Interestingly, our text leaves us hanging. The question of forgiving sins is not addressed in this text. Nor do we know if Simon became a follower of Jesus. Maybe he did. We can only hope. After all, another pharisee, one who appears to have been even more self-righteous than Simon, meets Jesus on the Damarcus Road and becomes the greatest Christian missionary ever.[13]

Lessons from the text

What might we learn from this text? How about this: everyone needs grace. This includes the sinful woman and the honored pharisee. One may be forgiven a little, the other a lot, but both stand in need of forgiveness. 

As Christians, we’re in the forgiveness business. This is why Jesus set up the church: to show grace. Which leads me to a second truth from the text. Never belittle the sinful who seek forgiveness. Instead, we’re to be like the angels who rejoices when even one sinner repents.[14]

May our community of faith be known to be gentle and caring, like Jesus. Amen 

[1] Presbyterian Church, USA, Book of Order (2017-2019), F-1.0304.

[2] John 14:6.

[3] John 3:16. 

[4] Everlast and Santana “Put Your Lights On” was released in 1999 and won a Grammy as the Best Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards. 

[5] Everlast, “What It’s Like,” on the album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues (1998).

[6] Luke 5:29-30. See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 226.

[7] Fred B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 104. 

[8] Edwards, 226; Craddock, 104. 

[9] Examples: Matthew 12:38f, 15:1f, 16:1f, 19:3, 22:15f; Mark 7:5, 8:11f, 10:2f, 12:13f; Luke 6:7f, 14:1f; John 1:24f.

[10] I’m speaking of a prophet who left writings behind for John the Baptist was a prophet (Matthew 14:5). The last prophet to leave behind writings was Malachi, whose ministry was after Israel returned from Babylonian exile.

[11] Luke’s sole mention of prostitute is 15:30 (Prodigal Son). For more discussion on why we shouldn’t immediately consider her a prostitute, see Edwards, 227-229. Norval Geldenhuys’ considers her a prostitute in his commentary. See The Gospel of Luke NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983 reprint), 236 note 4. 

[12] Edwards, 228.

[13] Edwards, 231.

[14] Luke 15:10.

It’s a foggy morning that that doesn’t keep the birds from singing. May our hearts be as joyful.

Why Church? To Reorient Our Lives to Jesus

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches 
March 27, 2022
Luke 9:51-61

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 25, 2022

At the beginning of worship

As we continue our Lenten theme of “Why Church?” consider the role of church to reorient our lives. 

Back in the 1980s, Neal Postman wrote a classic book titled, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Even before the rise of 24/7 news programs and the internet for everyone, Postman understood that we are drowning in information.[1] And it’s gotten worse. All this noise that surrounds us, challenges and confuses. It competes for our attention. Sadly, church only provides an hour or two a week counterpoint. Here, we point people to Jesus Christ. He’s the the one person to whom we should give our attention, not the soundbites that surround our lives.

Before the reading of the Scripture:

“We do well to remember that the Bible has far more to say about how to live during the journey than about the ultimate destination.”[2] Our passage today comes at a turning point in Luke’s gospel. 

Jesus begins to wrap up his ministry in Galilee and for the journey toward Jerusalem. Luke uses this travel narrative as a unifying theme for the middle section of his gospel. [3] Jesus doesn’t arrive in Jerusalem for another ten chapters. During this meandering journey, there are lots of opportunity for Jesus to teach the disciples. Today, we’ll look at one such lesson of how we’re to live during our journeys.

High points and rejections in the gospel:

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus with the handful of the disciples experienced the “Transfiguration.”[4] It’s a high point of the gospel, ranking up there with Jesus’ baptism.[5] Interestingly, Luke follows both these “high points” with a story of rejection.[6]Jesus’ ministry began with his baptism followed by forty days of temptation. Then, he experienced rejection by his hometown.[7]

Now, following the transfiguration, where three disciples see Jesus in his full glory, the rejection comes from a Samaritan village. Jesus uses this rejection to teach the hardship of discipleship. Are we willing to risk rejection to be a disciple? Think seriously about that question as I read this passage. 

Read Luke 9:51-62

After the reading of Scripture:

Rejection along the AT

When hiking the Appalachian Trail, I headed into Gorham, New Hampshire for the evening. It’s a small town near the Maine border. I needed to resupply for the next section of trail. I was down to only oatmeal in my food bag and didn’t have enough fuel for my stove to even prepare that. 

On my hike I carried with me a multi-fuel stove that could burn regular gasoline. The benefit of such a stove is that I didn’t have to buy gallon containers of white gas at a hardware store, of which I’d only need a liter. It saved me on gas. I’d only spend a quarter or maybe 30 cents to fill up my bottle. Gasoline was a lot cheaper than Coleman fuel, and both fuels were cheaper back then. 

So, I stopped at a local Exxon station on the edge of town, leaned my pack against the pump, and pulled out my fuel bottle. As I reached for the nozzle, the cashier ran out of the store yelling obscenities and telling me I couldn’t fill up my bottle. 

“Why,” I asked? 

“You might spill gas.”

“I’ll be careful. I haven’t yet spilled any and have filled this bottle at least a dozen times.” 

“We don’t allow it,” she said. 

I was mad. 

“It’s a good thing I’m not driving,” I told her, “I’d run out of gas before I filled up at your station.” 

Looking back, even without gasoline, I was able to throw some gas onto what was becoming a metaphorical fire. She cursed me and said she wished all us hikers would go back to where we came. In response, I pulled out my journal, wrote down the name of the station, and asked her for its address. I promised to send letters to the Chamber of Commerce and to Exxon Corporate Headquarters. She had a few more choice words for me as I walked down the street and filled up my fuel bottle at the next station.  

Having been rejected, I found myself steaming. The next morning, as I left town and hiked north, I crafted letters in my head. Then I realized the negative energy I put into the situation. I let it go. I never sent those letters. 

What would Jesus do?

Had Jesus been among us hikers, I think he’d told me to do just that. Drop it. Harboring such feelings is never good. It eats at your soul. We cannot control how other people react to us; we can only control how we react toward them.    

Jesus heads toward Jerusalem

Jesus now heads toward Jerusalem, taking the disciples with him. The text says he “sets his face” toward Jerusalem, a phrase echoed throughout the next ten chapters. On this journey, we learn things not mentioned in the other three gospels. Jesus is not just walking; he’s teaching and healing.[8]

If Jesus had a GPS and set the destination for Jerusalem, the machine would have been constantly squawking “recalculating, recalculating” as he wanders around. It’s in this wandering we find some of our most beloved parables, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Along the way, Jesus stops and teaches people about who God is and how they should relate to their neighbors. 

Those not wanting to see Jesus

But not everyone wants to see Jesus. Luke informs us that the Samaritans don’t want anything to do with Jesus because he has sent his face toward Jerusalem. The Samaritans, who don’t see Jerusalem as holy and who worship on another mountain, have grown weary of self-righteous Jews trampling through their land on their way to Jerusalem.[9] They’re just like the gas station attendant, who was tired of hikers coming through her town. In Biblical times, many Jews from Galilee would take the longer away around Samaria to avoid such encounters. 

Hotheaded response of the disciples

Kind of like me going into that New Hampshire village to resupply, the disciples try to arrange food and lodging for their journey. They become upset with the reaction they receive. “Let’s nuke ‘em!” “Let’s blow them to smithereens!” “Let’s get her in trouble with her boss, or the corporation.” Ever hear people talk about enemies like that? 

Two of the disciples, James and John, whom Jesus nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,”[10] ask Jesus if he wants them to do away with this village… “You know, Jesus, just a little fire from heaven. It’ll melt their hearts.” 

Today, many of us have probably thought similar things about Putin and Russia. And we should think about this in regard those whom we perceive as political enemies. Like the disciples, we have thin skin. Jesus doesn’t take rejection personally and encourages the disciples to get over it. After all, scripture clearly states that vengeance isn’t ours![11]

The difficulty of discipleship

Yet, there are also those wanting to join Jesus on this journey. We’re not told if Jesus turns them away, but he certainly used no ad agency to sell his trip. “I have no place to lay my head,” he says. The Message translation here has Jesus saying, “we’re not staying at the best inns, you know.” 

Following Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus makes a demand on our lives. “Are you ready to follow me,” Jesus asks? “If you want to follow me, I have to be first and foremost in your lives,” he says. “Nothing can come before me!” 

Do we put things before Christ? Think about your life and what you value. Are you willing to give it all up for Jesus? Is Jesus at the center of your life? Is he what’s most important?

The two parts of this passage

Tension exists between the first and second parts of this passage. In the first part, we’re told not to be so zealous that we forget the mission. Jesus came to save, not to destroy. The desire for revenge or violence toward our enemies goes counter to Jesus’ teaching.[12] In the second half of the passage, Jesus reminds us that following him is tough. Yet, if we decide to follow, Jesus demands our total allegiance. We can’t jump halfway in, it’s all or nothing. 

Today’s meaning

What does this passage say to us today? One thing we can gleam: If we want to be a follower of Jesus, we must be willing to stand up against the contempt that is so prevalent in our society today.[13] Jesus didn’t allow the disciples to have contempt toward the Samaritans, and I don’t think he’s happy about how we treat others. 

The problem of contempt

Contempt for others is a human problem. Certainly, in recent years, it’s grown like a wildfire in our national politics. Adhominem attacks are tossed around like grenades. We become more interested in sound bites than logic and fail to realize such grenades contain a basic fallacy. 

Ad hominem means “against the man.” Such a fallacy occurs when, instead of attacking an issue, one belittles or dehumanizes the person on the other side of an argument. I don’t think Jesus appreciates this, which is one of the reasons I think he tells us to pray for our enemies.[14] When you pray seriously for others, they don’t remain enemies and we certainly can’t hold them in contempt.

Wishing others would go away

Just think about this. When we hear something we agree with, we jump on the bandwagon without thinking. It then becomes easy for us to let our contempt rule. “Let’s call down some fire from heaven.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? It has gotten so easy to wish those we don’t like would disappear or go away. 

We not only see this tendency in our national politics, but locally… And it happens within churches, between friends, and even within members of a family. When we know we’re right and assume others are not only wrong but also evil or stupid, we quickly slide into thinking we’d be better off without them. We show contempt. We’re like James and John in our story today. 

Sadly, it’s easy to mouth off. And our words risk creating a larger divide between us and the other. But the Christian faith isn’t about creating divisions. It’s about bringing people together. It’s about standing up for others, even those we may not agree with. It’s about not spouting off at the mouth. It’s about thinking before we speak. When we come to church, we need to be reminded that our actions matter.


Today, I think back to that encounter so many years ago in Gorham, New Hampshire. I wonder what would have happened if I had gone back to that cashier at the Exxon station and apologized. I wouldn’t have to say she was right, but I could have acknowledged my response and my thoughts about her were misguided. As humans, we can’t be responsible for what someone else does. We can only be responsible for what we do and how we react.  

Consider what this all might do with our need for church. When we come here, we’re reminded that our thoughts, desires, and feelings are not what’s most important. Instead, what matters is following our Savior. If we only look out for ourselves, we will lose the path Jesus sets before us. Amen. 


[1] The future danger was not slavery in the form of totalitarianism (as in George Orwell’s 1984, but a slavery to our amusement (as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World). See Neal Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. (NY: Viking, 1985).  

[2]This quote came from a Facebook Meme posted by the Clergy Coaching Network and attributed to Philip Yancey. 

[3] See Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 139-142.

[4] Luke 9:28ff.

[5] Luke 3:21-22.

[6] Craddock, 142.

[7] Luke 4:16ff.

[8] For a discussion on Jesus heading to Jerusalem but not making progress, see James R. Edwards, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 294, n. 4. 

[9] Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 292-3. For the difference in worship between Jews and Samaritans, see John 4:19-20. 

[10] Mark 3:17

[11] Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30. 

[12] Geldenhuys, 292. 

[13] For a detailed discussion on the problem of contempt, see Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies (New York: HarperCollins, 2019). 

[14] Matthew 5:44

Hiking in Maine

Why Church? To Care for the World

Jeff Garrison 
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
March 20, 2022
Luke 10:25-37

Sermon recorded on Friday, March 18 at Mayberry Church

Thoughts at the beginning of worship:

We’re continuing with our Lenten theme, “Why Church?” Our world can be cruel. But that shouldn’t be the church. We’re to show an alternative to the world.[1] We’re to be a place and a people who care for others. And because we know the church is far more than just what goes on inside these walls an hour on Sunday morning, we are reminded to care not just here, but wherever we find ourselves. How can we care for one another, for our neighbors, and for the world?   

Before reading the Scriptures:

The Good Samaritan is one of the best known and most loved parts of scripture. We have Jesus answering the questions of a lawyer. This isn’t a lawyer like we think, but one who studies God’s law. In other words, he’s a theologian. That should let the lawyers off the hook a bit; after all, they find themselves at the blunt of enough jokes. This lawyer/theologian begins by asking Jesus a question about eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says, and he answers with the great commandment. Love God and neighbor. 

Jesus agrees. But the lawyer continues, asking for clarification. This provides an opportunity for Jesus to tell a story. As Luke recalls Jesus’ teachings in this section, he points out that our relationships to neighbors, to Jesus, and to God are all important.[2]

Read Luke 10:25-37

After the reading of Scripture:

Come on Jesus! You were asked a direct question. “Who is my neighbor?” There can’t be a better way to muddy the waters about neighbors than to tell a story about a journey. It’s hard enough to know our neighbor when we deal with those living close by. But when we travel? 


When we travel, we often don’t want to be bothered? Think of how things are designed to insure our comfort and privacy? We drive in enclosed cars on freeways that keep us from facing other vehicles, with easy access ramps to and from the highways which helps us avoid hassles. At the exits we find drive-through restaurants where we talk to a machine along with gas pumps where we swipe a card and never talk to an attendant. Our whole system of highway transportation has evolved to isolate us from one another. 

So, who is our neighbor? How do we know a neighbor when traveling? How about closer to home. Are those in the next hollow our neighbor? Who are our neighbors in the United States? In the world? What about Russia or North Korea or Cuba? This question is problematic. How many billion people are they in the world? They can’t all be my neighbor, can they? We must admit that Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question doesn’t make our quest for eternal life any easier.  

Putting it into context: The Good Samaritan doesn’t stand alone

To understand this passage, realize that the parable of the Good Samaritan, like much of scripture, doesn’t stand alone! It’s a part of a longer conversation between Jesus and a lawyer. Like lawyers of our day, this dude tries to trap Jesus. He asks: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In a way, the question is flawed. How can we do anything to inherit. Inheritance is a gift; we don’t work for it.[3] Eternal life comes through grace, but back to the dialogue… 

Jesus responds with a question of his own. “What do the scriptures say?” The man answers, quotes from the Torah, the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, telling Jesus that one must “love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” and one must love your neighbor as yourself.[4]

Who is our neighbor?

“You got it,” Jesus responds. Do this and live.” Perhaps the lawyer hopes to trap Jesus as he asks a follow-up question. “Who is my neighbor?” However, the question naturally arises from such a command. The Jewish rabbis of the day had generally interpreted one’s neighbor in restricted ways. They did not have the benefit of Mr. Rogers encouraging us all to be good neighbors. Instead, “neighbors” were generally understood to be pure blooded Jews.[5] Others, like the half-bred Samaritans, could be ignored.  

The lawyer’s probably thinking, “If I only have to love those like myself, I’ve got it made! The boarding pass for the heaven express is in the mail.” And then Jesus tricks him into realizing those low-down dirty Samaritans who live across the tracks are neighbors. Our passage starts with the lawyer trying to trap Jesus, now we see that Jesus laid a trap for him. Upon hearing the story, the lawyer is forced to admit that the Samaritan is the good guy. 

Nouns and verbs

Interestingly, the man’s question speaks about a neighbor as a noun (a person, place of thing). Jesus responds, not with a noun, but with the verb form of a neighbor. A neighbor becomes an action, one who shows mercy. Being neighborly isn’t because of location; it’s something we do.[6]

Story told with contemporary enemies:

Jesus ends the conversation with the command to go and do likewise. Pretty tough words! “Go and do.” Over the centuries this story has become one of the most loved and best-known passages in scripture. But do we realize the force of this command? This is a scandal! If we were to tell this story today, with the force that Jesus told it, the Samaritan would be someone we despised—maybe a Russian soldier or an illegal alien.  

Encountering Jesus

In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren describes a series of encounters with Jesus that “ruined his life, ruined it for good, in a good kind of way.”[7] In some ways, this is what happens. If the lawyer listens, this encounter will change his life radically. I don’t think he’s that interested in being changed, but it happens.

I vividly remember back when I was in seminary in Pittsburgh. I’d been hired, sight unseen, to assist at a church in Butler, a town to the north. In the phone interview, they sold me on Butler as a quaint little town that’s a pleasant drive through the countryside, just 30 miles up Route 8.” Little did I know that in the 30 miles from the seminary to the church were 48 stop lights! I counted them on my second trip. 

I was always in a rush on Sunday mornings as I had to be there early to teach Youth Sunday School. One Sunday I was running a little later than usual, and I passed a family whose car was broken down on the highway. Do you think I stopped? No, I would have been late and who knows what those kids I taught would have gotten into. But I felt guilty afterwards—especially as I pondered this passage. I played the role of the priest rushing to Jerusalem to lead a service in the temple, except that in the story, the priest is heading away from Jerusalem. He can’t use his work as an excuse.[8]

An impossible commandment?

This story stands as an impossible commandment. Yet, at the same time, it’s an imperative we follow it. You might say in taking this story seriously, we’re placed between a rock and a hard place! We cannot be neighbors to everyone; we cannot always act like the Samaritan to all the people we come contact with in this world. Only God can do that, right? Thankfully, there is forgiveness and grace.

An allegory 

Let me suggest another way to draw ourselves into this story. Instead of trying to see ourselves as the Samaritan (or even the priest or Levite), let’s place ourselves in the ditch beside the road. We’ve been robbed and beaten. We lie helpless. The Samaritan who stops is Jesus. In some ways Jesus was a like the Samaritans. Persecuted, the “religious Jews” looked down on him. And Jesus paid out more than required for our wounds—giving his life for our sins. 

So, Jesus picks us up out of the ditch, bandages our wounds, restores our soul, makes sure we are on the way to recovery, and arranges to continue care for us. By the way, the church now plays the role of the innkeeper. Once we have been nursed back to health, Jesus pats us on the back and tells us, “Go and do the same.”      

Understanding this passage this way, as an allegory, summarizes the gospel. Jesus shows great mercy to us and expects us to do the same to our sisters and brothers in this world. Such interpretation of the passage is ancient, as early as the second century.[9] But even as an allegory, it comes back to what we do.

The desire for eternal life

It’s interesting that this story is a part of the extended answer to the question, “what must I do to receive eternal life.” In answering this question, Jesus quickly moves pass the commandments, the theological dogma, and instead Jesus tells a story about our relationship to our neighbors. For Jesus, these relationships are not isolated incidents or theological concepts, but actual encounters with real people who have needs. 

If we have been lifted out of the ditch by Jesus, if we have experienced salvation, if we are assured of eternal life, we must go and do likewise, to all our neighbors.  

Emphasis on “Go and do”

While I accept the allegory interpretation of this passage as one way to understand it, I also see the danger in such an interpretation. John Calvin, one of the founders of our theological tradition, questioned the allegory interpretation because he felt it diminished our Lord’s command to “Go and do likewise.[10]

Let me interpret this parable in this manner. We must first accept and believe in Jesus Christ and the gift he offers to us (that’s Jesus pulling us out of the ditch). Following our acceptance of salvation, we must then live as the Samaritan, helping others, regardless of how we feel about them.


Like all the folks in the story, we’re all on a journey through life. The question we’re left with is how we go about making this journey. Do we continue to travel down the road with our windows closed and our eyes straight head, the radio up so loud that we can’t hear anyone calling out for help? Or do we slow down and look for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others? The lawyer asks the question for us, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns that question around and asks us, “To whom have you been a neighbor?” How do we answer? Amen.

[1] The Great Ends of the Presbyterian Church USA include the command to “exhibit the kingdom of heaven to the world.” Book of Order, F-1.0304

[2] Following the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel is the story of Mary and Martha (relating to him, then gives the example of the Lord’s Prayer (our relationship to God the Father). 

[3] Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2008), 286.

[4] Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18

[5] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke: he New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 311, 313 n5.

P[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 323.. 

[7] Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004 ), 20.

[8] We’re told the priest and Levite were going “down that road.” Jerusalem sat on a hill at 2600 feet. Jericho was below sea level. So going down meant they were leaving their work behind and possibility heading home or to visit realities. See Edwards, 320.

[9] Edwards, 324.

[10] Edwards, 324, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.5.19. 

“A man was going down… (Luke 10:30). A foggy morn on Laurel Fork Road.

Jesus at 12

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
December 26, 2021
Luke 2:41-5

Sermon taped at Bluemont Presbyterian Church on Sunday, December 26, 2021.

A few years ago, one of our missionaries in South Korea shared a story about a boy named Amos (obviously, that’s not his Korean name and for obvious reasons, the missionary didn’t use real names). Amos’ father was from North Korea and spent ten years in a labor camp before escaping to Russia. 

He lived there illegally and fell in love with a Russian woman. But they couldn’t marry because of his status. If he’d been discovered, he would have been sent back to North Korea, so they lived together and they had a son, Amos. The mother died when Amos was small, but because he was not legally linked to the father, he was taken to an orphanage. The father moved to be near the orphanage where he could visit his son and keep an eye on him. Then came the day that he learned his son was to be adopted. Fearing he’d never see his son, the father gambled and called on the South Korean embassy. After some political wrangling, he was allowed to migrate with his son to South Korea. 

When we think things are difficult in our lives, we should remember Amos and his father.[1] The bond between a parent and a child is great and when threatened, it’s heartbreaking, as we’re going to find out in our text today.

Today, a day after we celebrated Jesus’ birth, we’re looking at his young life. We don’t know much about his upbringing. The teachings of the Apostles focused chiefly on Jesus’ public ministry—from his baptism through the resurrection. Only two of the four gospels give us any detail about Jesus’ birth, and they both provide only a fleeting glimpse of Jesus’ life between his birth in Bethlehem and his baptism by John.  Matthew tells us the holy family spent time in Egypt—as refugees. Luke tells us two things about Jesus’ early life—his circumcision on the 8th day and the family’s yearly visit to the temple with some more detail provided about this visit when Jesus was 12 years old. This is the passage I’m using for today’s message.

I wonder if Luke received his information about Jesus’ birth and childhood from Jesus’ mother Mary. Twice in the 2nd chapter, we’re told that Mary pondered or treasured what happened to Jesus in her heart.[2]It seems quite probably that by mentioning Mary’s pondering these thoughts, she was the source for Luke’s information.  

We have so little information about Jesus’ early life and are left wondering… At best, in Luke’s gospel, we can only account for a few weeks of Jesus’ first thirty years. In our age where people focus on childhood experiences and their psychological impact on the rest of our lives, we’re curious. And we’re not the only ones. Even in the early church there was much curiosity about Jesus’ upbringing, which led to the publication of many apocryphal and extra-biblical writings about what Jesus said and did as a child. But most of these accounts are so fantastic that they were easily dismissed.[3]

The Holy Spirit inspired what we have: the four gospels with their limited insight into Jesus’ early life. So, we must be satisfied with these glimpses of Jesus’ childhood. We can save any other questions for table talk at that great banquet in heaven. Let’s now look at today’s text.

READ LUKE 2:41-52.

Probably one of the worst nightmares for a parent comes from the fear of losing a child. I told you the story about the Korean boy at the beginning of the sermon. It came from an article titled “The Shepherd of North Korea,” written by a Presbyterian missionary in South Korea. 

The author recalls his real education on God’s shepherding. Shortly after he and his family moved to Seoul, they visited an open-air market. I’ve been in some of those crowed markets. You wind through alleyways, with way more people than space. He and his wife then realized that his daughter no longer had his hand. What happened next, he described, was “five minutes of hell” as they searched for the small girl in the crowds of people speaking a strange language.[4] Luckily, they found their daughter, crying and terrified, but safe. It’s a horrifying thought; it’s our worst nightmare, not knowing where a child is located and knowing there is no way you can help him or her. If we think about the emotions the thought of losing a child brings to us, we can empathize with Mary and Joseph.

Mary and Joseph are devoted Jews. In some ways, their actions go beyond the demands of the law, which required adult Jewish men to go to the temple for Passover. Those living around Jerusalem observed this requirement, but those living more than a day’s journey or roughly 20 miles from the city, were excused. For those living far away, the trip was made less frequently and, in some cases, was a once in a lifetime journey. The holy family, however, attended every year. That’s devotion for the hard journey would have taken then four days of walking, each way. Even more remarkable, both Joseph and Mary attend!  Mary wasn’t required. She could have stayed home. But Luke leaves us with a picture of devout parents raising Jesus.

The fact that this is Jesus’ twelfth year is also telling, as perhaps he has gone through his bar mitzvah. Now Jesus is, in Jewish eyes, a “son of the law.” At this point, he’s obeying the command to attend Passover.[5]

There is much speculation about what these journeys to and from Jerusalem were like. Most likely, the pilgrims traveled in caravans or groups of like-minded people. The men walked together and discuss theology briefly, before the talk switched to the World Series, Superbowl, business, how they are all hen-picked by their wives, or equivalent subjects of the first century. Likewise, women walked together. They talked about kids and school, celebrities, and the inattentiveness of their husbands. Children also gathered to play with each other, to sing, and keep each other company while complaining about their parents. Not much has changed. Since this was a male-dominated society, the children mostly hung out within sight of mom.

Perhaps this is how it happened. Leaving Jerusalem and heading north to their home, Joseph engaged in conversation with other men and thought that Jesus was with Mary. And Mary, knowing that Jesus is now 12, almost a man, assumed he was with his dad. And even if he wasn’t with dad, he could have been traveling with some of his cousins. Jesus himself is at the in-between age; he’s not quite an adult (that’ll happen according to their tradition on his next birthday), but he’s also no longer a child and he’s putting aside childish games. Being in this no-man’s land, Jesus falls through the crack and it’s not until that first night, when Mary and Joseph reunite, that they realize he’s missing. Unable to find him among the pilgrim’s camp, they worry. 

They’re now a day’s journey from Jerusalem. They immediately turn around and hike back to the city and look for him. Not only are they devoted to their religious teachings, but they are also devoted to their child. 

It’s on the third day (a day traveling from Jerusalem, a day traveling back to the city, and a day of looking) that they find Jesus. Luke may be foreshadowing or hinting at the time between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Jesus is having an adult conversation with the intellectuals of the faith, but Mary isn’t impressed. “Why have you treated us like this?” she yells. “Your father and I have been worried.” Mary’s response is natural; all of us who have children have probably said this or something very similar at some point in their upbringing.  

Jesus replies, asking why they were searching, as if he didn’t know, and then, playing on words, asked if they didn’t know that he would be in his Father’s house. Mary and Jesus use the word Father, Jesus capitalizes his use, (or, it’s capitalized in the English version due to our grammar). Mary of course, uses father to refer to Joseph while Jesus is talking about our heavenly Father. But Jesus’ comments are not a rebuke of his parents, for we’re told that he returned home with them and that he remained obedient.  

There’s an unanswered question here. Had Mary forgotten about her pregnancy and Jesus’ miraculous birth complete with angels and strangers bringing gifts? Luke doesn’t say she had a brain lapse and suddenly snapped out of it, saying, “Oh silly me, I forget, we should have looked here first.” Luke is doing two things. First he’s showing that Jesus, even with his divine nature, was part of a normal family, one that cared for and worried about the kids.

Secondly, Luke sets up early in his gospel the tension that will later become more prominent in Jesus’ ministry—a tension between one’s family and God. Jesus himself faced this problem as we see here and later in his life as his brothers challenged his ministry.[6]  

Luke uses this story to illustrate Jesus’ growing awareness. As Jesus matures, he begins to understand his destiny, as Luke points out in verse 52. Luke also shows the human dynamics of a family struggling with such a calling. Jesus’ mother would stick by him, even being there at the cross. Certainly, Jesus’ ministry caused her much heartbreak, of which this little blip in his childhood is only the beginning. Yet, she knows he’s destined for something greater than she could ever imagine. She does her part, raising the child, but when the time comes, must let him go to do his Father’s work.

Looking at this story from this angle, we can see it affirms both the role of the parents (after all, when they found Jesus, he obeyed them and returned home) and the need for a growing boy who’s almost a man to spread his wings, so to speak. The family, as well as the larger community present at Passover, did their parts in preparing Jesus for his life and ministry. Could we ask for more? Is there anything more important a community or a family can give the young people with whom they are entrusted? Therefore, when we baptize children, we require parents as well as the congregation, the child’s worshipping family, to pledge their support.  

And when the parents and the community have faithfully raised a child, that child must then be given the freedom to follow his and her own path. Here, we see that ultimately the focus isn’t on the family; it’s on doing the work of the Heavenly Father. When this is kept in perspective, our priorities fall into place, just as they did for Joseph and Mary.  

Raising children is both a blessing and a responsibility that we share with Mary and all other parents. Like Mary and Joseph, it is easy for us to get busy about our own concerns and forget our role in preparing our children to be about the business of their Heavenly Father.  

As we end this year and begin the next, think about our responsibility to the children in our homes, our community and of the world. What might we do, in our homes and in our neighborhood, to help our children grow up wanting to serve their Heavenly Father? What might we do to support children around the globe? We have a responsibility and we’re all in this together. Amen. 

[1] Samuel Weddington, “The Shepherd of North Korea,” Presbyterian Outlook, 10 December 2012. See https://pres-outlook.org/2012/12/the-shepherd-of-north-korea/

[2] Luke 2:19 & 51.

[3] Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 125-126,

[4] Weddington, “The Shepherd of North Korea.”

[5] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 41.

[6] See John 7:1-5.

Mayberry Church on Christmas Eve (photo by Beth Ford)

Mary’s Song

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
December 18, 2021
Luke 1:39-56

At the beginning of worship

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent. Out waiting is paying off. This week, we’ll celebrate the birth of Jesus. But what does Jesus’ coming mean? What will his return be like? Today, we hear from his mom. Jesus doesn’t just come to provide for about individual salvation. Instead, God is doing something incredibly new in the world. Will we want to participate? 

Before the reading of Scripture

When I lived in Michigan, there was always a time, generally in March, that I’d wake to birds singing while it was still dark. It was a sign winter was almost over. Spring was on its way and the birds had made their trip back from their winter home. I imaged them singing a song of thanksgiving. 

Luke’s gospel opens similarly. Everyone sings. We’ll almost everyone. Old Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, was at a loss for words. That is, until he regained his speech. But I bet his heart sang. Joining in his heart’s song is his pregnant wife, Elizabeth. And then Mary, pregnant with Jesus, joins the song. And after Jesus’ birth, angels gather as a chorus. They all understand it’s a new day. God’s promises are about to be fulfilled.

The last two Sundays, we explored John the Baptist. The last of the prophets of the old age, John points the way to Jesus, the one who ushers this new age.[1] Today, we’re stepping back, to when John and Jesus were still in the womb. Our scripture tells of the two mothers, Elizabeth, and Mary, giving thanks to God. 

Read Luke 1:39-56  

Automobiles and control

I have a confession to make. I like to be in control. Didn’t come as a surprise, did it? I like to know what I’m doing and where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. I don’t like things I can’t control, which is probably why I don’t get excited over cars. I’m not impressed with how much horsepower one packs under the hood or the size of the tires. I just want the contraption to get me where I’m going.  

You see, with a car, you can be whizzing down the interstate at midnight with everything in order—cruise control set just a hair above the speed limit, the vehicle’s interior climate comfortable, and just the right tune blaring from the stereo when, suddenly, a water pump breaks. You sit in the middle of nowhere, reminded once again that you’re not in control. A little mechanical gadget that can only be found in an auto-parts store three counties over shatters any allusion of that. Moments before you were happy and content, now you’re cranky and angry. Know the feeling? (That said, I hope none of us have car problems if you’re travelling for the holidays.)

The desire for control is something instilled into our culture. We’re told to pull ourselves up by our bootlaces. We take care of ourselves, or at least we are under the mistaken belief we can take care of ourselves. But we didn’t build the car. Nor did we build the highway or refine the oil to make the car run. We should keep in mind that we always depend on others and ultimately, we depend on God. 

The fantasy of control

We need to get this control fantasy out of our heads. The tornadoes to our west over the past two weeks, at the wrong time of the year, certainly reminded folks in places like Mayfield, Kentucky they weren’t in control. That said, we need to accept ourselves for who we are. When we try to make ourselves out to be more than we are, we create an idol out of the self and set ourselves up for a fall. The higher we elevate ourselves, the further we fall.[2]

Yet, control is a desire we all share. But it’s dangerous because it is incompatible with our faith in God. We desire to be rich, famous, powerful, popular, the type of individual who controls his or her surroundings. But it’s a myth. As Christians, our desires should center on pleasing and fulfilling God’s will. If you question this, consider Mary, the women whom God chose to work through to bring about salvation to the world.  

Mary and women of the 1st Century

Mary wasn’t rich or famous or powerful or popular. According to worldly standards, she was the most unlikely candidate to be the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. She was young and unmarried, probably poor, from a second-rate town in an obscure corner of the world. As far as we know, she had no education and there was no royalty within her blood. She didn’t seek fame. 

Mary depends on others. As with other women of the age, she depends on her father to find her a husband. Then she’ll depend on her husband to provide for her and their children. Later in life, she’ll depend on her children to take care of her. She had no control over her life. Absolutely none. A poor woman, like 1000s of other poor women, in a dirt-poor town in an obscure providence of the Roman Empire. 

Mary’s troubles

Yes, Mary was like 1000s of other women, until she’s visited by the angel Gabriel. It almost sounds like a fairy tale story, does it, to be chosen as the mother of God?[3] Except Mary never inherits a castle. Her story goes downhill. She gives birth to her son in a stable, the family flees to Egypt where they live as political refugees, and three decades later she’s there by the cross watching her son die.[4] She is a woman of sorrow, but despite this her song is one of the most beautiful found in scripture as she praises God for what he has done and is doing.

Mary realizes her position. She’s a lowly servant. Her honor comes from God’s action within her life. Everything is God’s doing, not hers. She’s not the cause of redemption; she’s just a vessel God uses to bring the Savior into the world. Mary can’t boast of her accomplishments. She doesn’t line up book deals; she isn’t saying, “look at me, I’m the mother of God.” Instead, as Luke tells us at the end of the Christmas narrative, Mary ponders all that happens in her heart.[5] She’s the model of true humility. She directs her praise, as well as her life, toward God.

God’s operation

Mary’s song gives us an insight into how God operates. God chose her, an unlikely candidate, to be Jesus’ mother. God lifts the lowly while pronouncing judgment upon the powerful—upon those who think they are in control. We Americans should take notice. 

God’s blessings are given to those who understand they have no control in their lives; God’s blessings are for those who, in their humble state, fear the Lord. At the same time, those who are not willing to acknowledge God’s sovereignty will not find salvation in Jesus Christ. They’re too busy looking out for themselves and pretending their own resources will save them. Such folks may not even realize they need a Savior.

The poor and dependency 

Have you ever wondered why the poor appear to be special in Scripture? Think of the verses: Blessed are the poor.”[6] “It’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven.”[7] Why is it easier for the poor to accept Christ and find salvation?  

The poor are dependent. Those without money must depend upon others for food. Those without capital must depend upon others for jobs. And this doesn’t just go for the economically poor. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”[8] Those who are depressed must depend upon others to cheer them up. The poor are dependent on others, they are not in control, and those who acknowledge their dependence have an easier time accepting God’s grace.  

All of us need to learn to depend upon God and, by doing so, we need to make Mary’s song our own. Can we prescribe all our praise to God? (Or, do we want to save a little for ourselves?) Can we acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty in this world? (Or, do we believe in our individual grandeur?)

Mary is in no position to help herself, yet she so totally trusts God and sings his praises. Mary accepts God’s call and gives God thanks for choosing her, which is why her song is remembered.  

Mary’s model of prayer

Mary’s song provides us a model of a prayer of thanksgiving. If Mary, a woman of sorrow, can sing such a song, if the songbirds who struggle day after day for food and survival and make long journeys across a continent can sing such praise, why can’t we? In all we do, we need to see how God is working in our lives and then give thanks.

We need to take Paul seriously when he says that we’re to be praying without ceasing.[9] And our prayers need to mostly be prayers of thanksgiving, as we praise God for all that he has done for us. When we search our lives for God’s blessings and realize our blessings. Humbled, we become even more dependent upon the loving arms of the Almighty God. 

During this festive season, don’t forget to give thanks. Take time to count your blessings. What has God given you to be thankful for? First off, he’s given your life; God’s given you a chance.  Secondly, you’re redeemed in Jesus Christ. That’s a lot! And what has God done for our church for which we should be thankful. He’s given us a rich heritage, a church that has served this community for a hundred years,[10] people who work hard in the community to make it a better place for all people. We’re not perfect; for that we’ll have to wait for the Second Advent. But God blesses us to be a part of Jesus’ family and in such a community as this.  

Blessedness in a troubled world

Of course, as the news reminds us daily, we live in a world of violence. But so did Mary and Elizabeth. They lived in a world where those who disagreed with the occupying army were crucified and where Roman soldiers enforced the will of Caesar by spear and sword. And yet, they both praised God for what was happening. Both knew what God had done in the past and understood that a new age was dawning. Even John, in his mother’s womb, knew and was excited about what God was doing.

Today, we can be cynical, when considering the violence and injustice in our world. Or we can realize the message of the cross, which is that violence and evil may have their day, but they are not the final answer. Be thankful, for the powers of death could not overcome God’s love for the world. Be thankful, for Jesus will return and establish his rule and every knee will bow in reverence and God will live among us in such an intimate way that he’ll wipe our tears from our cheeks.[11]

Blessings and Hope

And be hopeful. For God works with us to bring about a marvelous eternity. This past week, I listed to Tim Keller talk on hope in a troubling time. Keller is the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of New York City. Keller also suffers from cancer. (In the footnotes of my written sermon, I posted the link to this YouTube podcast.[12]) Keller reminds us of the depth of our hope. We are not just hoping God will take away whatever trouble we experience today. That’s trivial hope. We place our hope in what God is doing in the world that will be eternal. And that starts with the coming of Christ. 


I encourage you in your prayers to be like Mary. Remember what God has done and what God is doing!  Paul tells us to rejoice always.  When we regularly give thanks to God, we live differently. Our lives will be more positive. We’ll be like the songbirds on a spring morning, sharing God’s hope to a hurting world. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!  Amen.  

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: JKP, 1990), 29.

[2] See Isaiah 14:12-14 and Luke 10:18

[3] Luke 1:26ff.

[4] See John 19:26.

[5] Luke 2:19

[6] Luke 6:20

[7] Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25

[8] Matthew 5:3

[9] 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

[10] Bluemont was 100 years old in 2019. While Mayberry will be a hundred in 2025, it existed as a Sunday School meeting in the school house before then. 

[11] Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10, Isaiah 25:8, and Romans 21:4

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB2rS71FcUM

Another lighthouse ornament from my Christmas tree. Bald Head Light at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

The Preaching of John the Baptist

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Church
December 12, 2021
Third Sunday of Advent
Luke 3:7-20

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, December 10, 2021

At the beginning of worship

We’re at the third week of Advent. Christmas is coming. Have you’ve been naughty or nice? Of course, that sounds like I’m emphasizing works. We often think the only thing that matters is a belief in Jesus. And while believing in Jesus is important, so is how we live our lives. Because of the love we’ve experienced in Jesus Christ, we are to share such love with others. 

This week on Twitter, a seminary student witnessing an online debate over what’s the correct belief, responded: “Some of y’all need to stop studying apologetics (that’s the defense of our faith) and start studying apologies.”[1] She has a point. Jesus would probably agree.

I’ve been reading Makoto Fujimura new book, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making. The author challenges us at our “bottom line”.[2]What are we doing with our lives? How are we using the gifts God has given us to make this world a better place? Not only do we need to believe and love Jesus, but we must also shape our lives using him as a model. 

Before the Gospel Reading

Again, this week, we’re dealing with John the Baptist. The man preaches a harsh sermon. God’s judgment is at hand! John’s message when added to Zephaniah’s (whom we heard in our Old Testament reading) blend into the sweet and sour of God’s word. Like sweet and sour sauce, the richness of tastes comes by combining both flavors. God’s ways are good for salvation, yet they are linked to judgment. Listen to what John says. Once he gets your attention, I think you’ll then be surprised at what he says.  

READ LUKE 3:8-18

After the Reading of the Gospel

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson depicted Jesus as the Hound of Heaven in his epic poem by the same name… We, of course, are the ones portrayed in the poem as being chased by the hound. Out of fear, we run as fast as we can. 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him…

But the hound pursues. He doesn’t give up the chase. When he finally overtakes us, we find it’s the not the deranged dog we’ve feared.[3]Jesus is a loving hound, who chases us down because he cares about us. The Hound of Heaven is the type of dog that would jump all over us and lick us. 

At the risk of blasphemy, the hound of heaven is like my dog, Mia. As those of you who have met her knows, she barks and barks, but if you get to know her, she’s loving. She’ll roll over and let you rub her belly. 

The Junkyard Dog 

But if Jesus is the loving hound of heaven, John the Baptist is the junkyard dog.[4] Wild and furious, John stands in our way. Interestingly, in all four gospels, before we get to the life of Jesus, we go through John. We endure John’s preaching and hear about the vipers, wrath, and unquenchable fire. 

We want to get to the stable, where we feel safe and can see baby Jesus lying in a manger. We want to bring gifts for the child, to sit at the feet of a gentle Savior and draw in his words. But before we arrive, we must deal with this wild lunatic. The junkyard dog snaps at our heels, shouting repent, repent, for judgment is at hand.

John wasn’t a preacher who spoke gently. He had no golden tongue or mild-manner ways. When the crowds came, he shouted at them, “You brood of vipers.” That’s not a line church growth consultants suggest we preachers use. Yet, they came. People came from all around. Somehow the word got out and people were intrigued, and they made their way to where John was holding his camp meeting. Why, what drew them?  Perhaps they needed an honest assessment of themselves. Or, more likely, they knew what John said was true, that deep down they were lost and to find the way to salvation, they had to be honest to themselves and to God.  

The Need to Confront Our Sin

Consider this: If we think things are okay, we have no need for a Savior. But when things aren’t looking quite right, when we’re in over our heads, we need a Savior. John prepares these folks for Jesus’ arrival, getting them to understanding that just being children of Abraham isn’t enough, they need something more. It’s no longer the “good old boy system” where you get special treatment because your daddy or uncle is so and so.

The Grace in John’s Message

Although John has some rather unusual tactics and he preaches judgment as harsh as any fire and brimstone Puritan, his message really isn’t that tough. He gets the crowd’s attention by harshly pointing out their sin and teaching that they couldn’t depend on the faith of their ancestors. Once he’s got their attention, John demands they behave in a particular way. By then, they know they have not been living up to God standards for John doesn’t command anything that’s not set out in the law.  

What Should We Do

What John does is to get his audience’s attention, convict them of their sins, and lead them to the point that they ask, “What should we do?” This question forms the centerpiece of this passage about John’s ministry. What should we do? It’s asked three times in these few verses!

First the crowd asks the question. “What should we do?” And John says, “Be generous.” Share what you have.

Next, tax collectors come and ask what to do. Did you catch Luke’s irony? In the New Revised Standard version, the phrase reads, “even tax collectors came.” No one expects them, but they came and asked what they should do. John tells them to only collect what they are supposed to collect. 

Luke sets the stage here for an event that will come later. In the 19thchapter, he’ll tells us the story of Zacchaeus, the wee-little tax-collector who meets Jesus and doesn’t have to ask what to do.[5] Instead, he gives half his possessions away and promises to give to those he defrauded four times what he’d taken. Had Zacchaeus heard John’s sermon? 

Perhaps more surprisingly than the tax collectors are the soldiers who make their way to John’s revival meeting. These soldiers would not have been welcomed by the Jews of the day, for they were serving Imperial Rome.[6]

Remain Moral in Compromising Occupations

Surprisingly, John doesn’t say the tax collectors or soldiers should find a more suitable occupation. Tax collectors can still collect taxes and soldiers can still do their duty. However, they are encouraged to be generous, honest, good, and content. In other words, they’re to be nice. John’s teaching assumes that even in potentially compromising situations, people can still be moral.[7]

Nothing Radical About John, Mostly Mundane

There’s nothing radical about what’s John calls people to do! As one scholar on this passage wrote, “Much of what it means to follow Christ into better ways of living seems so mundane.” He goes on to note that mundane comes from the Latin word for world, and suggests that John 3:16 could also be translated as “God loves the mundane that sent his Son.”[8] Being a disciple isn’t about making a being on a grandstand, it’s what we do in the mundane encounters of life.

John comes to prepare the way and because of his message people expect something great to happen. The greater the demands, the greater the expectation. As the church, we need to remember that. The people of Israel now expect great things; after John, they are ready for Jesus. But are we?  Ponder that question…

Those Not Wanting to Hear John

Of course, there are those who don’t want to hear John’s message. There are always those who don’t want to play nice. One is Herod, the puppet ruler for Rome, who is one of history’s rotten characters. Herod can’t stand the truth. In a classic example of shooting the messenger, he has John jailed and later beheaded. But it was too late, John has already spoken, the Savior is on his way, and soon Herod will only exist as a footnote in history.

John Challenges the Chosen

It’s interesting to me that John can pull off his message. After all he preaches to the chosen people, those who feel God’s hand-picked them to be special. He’s telling those who feel secure because they have a covenant with God to shape up. Some of us may feel this way. Yet, we should know God expects more of those who have been given more.[9]

Will Rogers, America’s John the Baptist

Will Rogers may be the closest thing we’ve had in America to John the Baptist. Rogers didn’t pull any punches when attacking “sacred cows.” Like John, Rogers challenged society to live up the values they espouse and to change oneself before changing others. Pointing out the inconsistency in this nation of Christians, he once asked:

            What degree of egotism is it that makes a nation, or a religious organization think theirs is the very thing for the Chinese or the Zulus?  Why, we can’t even Christianize our legislators!

On another occasion he said that we have “the missionary business turned around. We’re the ones that need converting.”[10]

We Need to be Converted

Rogers has a point. We need to be converted, and now is the time. Before we head off to Bethlehem, we need to realize our need for a Savior. Before we enter the stable, we need to get our act together so we can anticipate what our God can do for us as opposed to what it is we can do for ourselves. We need to be shaken out of our comfort zones, to be confronted by John’s wrath, so that we too will seek out and clean up those places in our lives that are inconsistent with the gospel.

As harsh as we might think John came across, his preaching wasn’t void of good news. Yes, John points to the ax at the tree not bearing fruit and he talks about the fire burning the chaff. But trees that have been pruned bear more fruit and though the chaff is burned, the kernels of wheat are saved. John’s message encourages the Israelites (and us) to bare more fruit. And to be fruitful, we must put away those obstacles, those sins, which keep us from having a healthy relationship with God.  


Before rushing off to the manger to worship the Christ Child, pause long enough to hear John’s warning. His bark may sound mean, but it’s a loving warning. Repent and prepare a place in your hearts to receive the Messiah. Live so that your faith in a loving Savior is shown in a gentle life that is lived honestly and filled with kindness. Amen

[1]Laura Klenda, on Twitter, 9 December 2021

[2]Makoto Fujimura, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (New Haven, CT: Yale, 2021), 62.

[3] Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, nd).

[4] Idea from a sermon titled “A Cure for Despair” where John was portrayed as a Doberman pinscher.  See Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Sermons on Suffering (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 22ff.

[5] Luke 19:1-10

[6]James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 112.  

[7] Edwards, 113.

[8] Scott Hoezee, “Remembering the Future” in Reformed Worship #57 (September 2000), 9. 

[9] Luke 12:48.

      [10] The Best of Will Rogers, Bryan Sterling, editor (New York: MJF Books, 1979), 194.

Whitefish Point Lighthouse Ornament from my Christmas Tree. In a way, John the Baptist was like this lighthouse, that also boasted large fog horns that warned passing ships of the shoals around the point.

Advent 2: Preparation

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
Luke 3:1-6

December 5, 2021

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, December 3, 2021

At the beginning of worship

Christ has come, and Christ will come again. This truth of the Christian faith is why on our Advent journey. As we recall what happened and will happen again, (Christ’s coming), we find we must deal with a crazy man out in the wilderness. 

We’re going to spend two weeks with John the Baptist, today and next Sunday. John kind of reminds me John Brown, the fiery abolitionist, for neither of the two minced words. John called it as they saw it, yet people were drawn to him. It’s an interesting phenomenon that we still see—one who makes outrageous demands yet is still able to draw a crowd. What’s that all about? 

Perhaps the appeal of John the Baptist has to do with us knowing that, deep down, that is something rotten in us and we need to change. John tells us to be ready, for one is coming who can help us make such changes. Today, our topic is preparation. How are we preparing to meet Jesus?

Before the reading of scripture:

Our reading today begins, not in the land by the Jordan in which John ministered, but in the halls of power as Luke tells us who was in charge in Rome and the various providences around Palestine and at the temple. The halls of power stand in contrast to the voice crying in the wilderness, far from where people live and work. 

Read Luke 3:1-6  

After the reading of scripture

Las Vegas as a metaphor

Some of you, I’m sure have been to Las Vegas. It’s a city that never sleeps. If you are up at 2 AM, which you might be if you have just arrived due to the 3-hour time change, you find the casinos still bright with the bells of slot machines ringing. Deserts are usually dry, dark, and sparsely populated places. But Las Vegas defies the desert. You’ll find magnificent fountains splashing water. 

When I lived in Southern Utah, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive to Vegas, I often made the drive at night. Or, sometimes, I drove in the predawn early morning hours to catch a flight. I travelled down Interstate 15, through the darkness with bright stars overhead. Then, when I crested a ridge about twenty miles outside of Vegas, the entire valley before me lighted up. It appeared like Christmas, regardless of the season. 

And the crowds. Even in the darkness of early in the morning, Interstate 15 would be crowded.

In contrast to Vegas, deserts are quiet places, with the only sound being the wind blowing through a barren canyon or rattling dry yucca pods. In Vegas the sound of a carnival fills the air, especially downtown and along the strip. If you get out of Vegas, just twenty or so miles, you’re in a different world. 

The wilderness around Vegas

One of my favorite places to hike, on the times I was there in the winter, were the canyons that dissect the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. This area lies south of Hoover Dam. You never wanted to hike such canyons in the summer as the temperature will rise over 120 degrees. 

These dry waterways are dotted with an occasional hot sulfur spring. Because of danger of flash floods, you’d best stay out of the canyon when rain is forecasted. Deep inside one, you’d be more likely to come upon a desert bighorn sheep or a rattlesnake than another person. For those like me, who sometimes need a break for the commotion of a place like Vegas, these canyons provide opportunities for solitude. It’s hard to believe, when you are in such an isolated place that hundreds of thousands of folks are rushing around life just a dozen miles or so away, by the way the crow flies.    

From the busy world to the wilderness

Luke, in our reading today, provides us with a similar contrast, as he shifts our focus from the busy places of politics to the wilderness. This gospel writer is a stickler the details. We’re provided a historical setting, a who’s who of both the political and religious world.  

If I was to write the history of my ministry, using Luke’s model, I might tell the story of my ordination in Ellicottville New York in this manner: George H. W. Bush was in the White House, Mario Cuomo was the governor of New York, Price H. Gwynn III was the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and the Reverend Eunice Poethig was executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Western New York.  

By beginning with all the bigwigs of Rome and Jerusalem, which Luke inserts here as he also does in chapter two with the birth of Jesus,[1]we’re surprised to learn that God’s word doesn’t come to the city or to those in power. Instead, it comes through a strange fire-breathing prophet living out in the Jordan River wilderness. Those in power have no idea of John, but the changes he forecasts will change the world in which they live.

Ancient ties to John’s message

John’s message is one of expectation, as he draws upon the ancient prophet Isaiah, emphasizing God’s on-going work of salvation.[2] I like how Eugene Peterson translates John’s preaching in The Message:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in, 
every bump smoothed out
the detours straightened out
all the ruts paved over.  
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God’s salvation

There are some that think this passage draws from an ancient practice of clearing a path for a royal procession. If a king traveled through his territories, there would be those who went ahead to smooth out the road so that the king could travel comfortably and speedily.[3]

Admitting our needs

It’s interesting to contemplate this passage considering the never-ending political season in which we now live. A friend, commenting on how Luke throws in the politics of the era into our text, wrote: “In the rarified circles of society where the Caesars dwell, folks don’t like to admit they have problems. Politics is about solving other people’s problems, not about admitting to your own.” To such people, who “live on the mountaintop, such a call to repent is frightening,” for they are to be made low. But to those “living in the low-lying margins of life, this great equalization, the mountains lowered as the valleys rise, is good news.”[4]

In a way, this appears to be just another example of that hard-to-comprehend truth found throughout Jesus’ teachings that the last will be first.[5]

We must always remember that God’s ways are not our ways! God loves the world and is looking out for everyone, especially those often overlooked.

God is coming

John’s message is that God, through Jesus Christ, is coming. People better get ready! To the Jewish listener of John in the first century, the thought of encountering God face-to-face was terrifying. They knew their own sinfulness, and that when compared to God’s holiness, it would lead to their demise. So, it’s imperative that people prepare themselves by confessing their sins, just as we do early in nearly every worship service. 

Confession and repentance are necessary if we want to stand before God without fear.

Preparing for the holidays

We all get that Advent is a season of preparation. Many of us have begun decorating our homes with trees and lights. The Garrisons may get around to it this afternoon. The smells of sweets baking, and cider mulling fill our homes. Donna made gingerbread cookies this week. Our homes seem warmer and brighter this season even as the weather can be cooler (although, that hasn’t been the case this year). At least the nights longer. 

Getting ready for Christmas, in this way, runs counter to the season. We prepare with optimism, reminding ourselves of a change that’s coming, as the days will be getting longer after Christmas. But our preparations, the ones that are really needed, have nothing to do with us creating a home that could be featured in Southern Living. We need to prepare our souls…

Preparation by self-examination

The preparation for Christ’s coming, whether it was his first coming, his second coming at the end of history, or just preparing to celebrate Christmas, must involve self-examinations. Are our paths straight? Are their bumps on the roads of our lives? Are their mountains that we face or valleys we must cross? 

John wants us to do is to examine ourselves so that we might see what keeps us from being in full communion with God. John’s role, by being out in the wilderness, draws our attention away from the busyness of life and refocuses us on what’s important.[6] What crooked ways do we need to straighten, what obstacles do we need to remove?

Now obviously, by ourselves, we can’t move mountains. But God can. If there’s something like a metaphorical mountain blocking us from God, we need to confess and call out for help. We do this trusting God will hear our cries and respond with compassion. 

We need to enter the wilderness

This Advent season, take some time to go into the wilderness, at least metaphorically. Explore the rough places in your lives and see what might need to be done to make room for the coming of God, the coming of a Savior. Are there dark places in your heart which needs to be brought to light and confessed to God in repentance? Are their obstacles that keep you from accepting the gentle loving ways of Christ that need to be removed so that you can be filled with joy? 

Baptism is the symbol of our sins being washed away in Christ. Do you need to be baptized? Or maybe, we all need to rededicate ourselves to the baptism we experienced years ago.

An evening ritual

You know, before falling asleep at night, I try to think of the things for which I’m thankful and include them in my prayers. But there is another side to prayer. Before falling asleep at night, take time to examine your life using Jesus as an example and confess those sins that you realize you’ve committed. And, in in the spirit of the season, if you find you have wronged someone, make a point the next day to apologize. And finally, repent too of those sins you may not uncover and need God’s help in weeding out from your heart. If we truly open ourselves up to Christ, there will be things we may be surprised of our need for repentance. 


Prepare, for not only has Christ come, but he is also coming again. Are we ready to meet him? Amen.

[1] Luke 2:1-2.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: JKP, 1990), 47.

[3] “To You Is the Song: The 2015 Advent Devotional” published by The Fellowship Community (Louisville, KY), 12.

[4] Scott Hoezee, “Remembering the Future,” Reformed Worship Vo. 57 (September 2000), 7.  

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

[6] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 137.

Sunrise in the woods on December 3, 2021