Advent 1: The End is Near, But Don’t Worry

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Church  

Luke 21:25-36
November 28, 2021

Sermon recorded on Friday, November 26, 2021, at Bluemont Church

At the Beginning of Worship

Today we begin our Advent journey: four weeks of preparation for Christ’s coming. Advent is about waiting. During this season we recall the centuries the Israelites longed for a Messiah. It’s also a season in which we are reminded that we, too, wait the return of the Messiah at the end of history. We wait in hope for what is to be. We wait because we know the future will be wonderful, kind of like a kid knowing that Christmas will be incredible when whatever present is the big one that year is found sitting under the tree. 

But there is a trap in such thinking. Yes, it’ll be wonderful to be united for eternity with our Savior, but Jesus wants us to enjoy life, here and now. We’re not to just sit and wait for his return. Let me explain… 

If you haven’t read Marshall Goldsmith, I recommend him. He is one of the world’s leading business gurus and advises leaders of multi-national companies. In one of his books, Goldsmith describes himself as a cultural Buddhist. This means he appreciates Buddhist philosophy but doesn’t practice the religion. He describes what he gains from Buddhism as an antidote to what he labels our “Great Western Disease.” We often think, “I’ll be happy when…” I’ll be happy when I have a million dollars, or a new house, or sports car, or a boat, or a spouse… We’re like me as a boy waiting on Christmas, “I’ll be happy when I find that Daisy BB gun under the tree.” 

Don’t put your happiness into the future

The idea of achieving a goal to bring about happiness puts everything off into the future. Such thinking is very Western. We fixate “on the future at the expense of the present.”[1]

Interestingly, Jesus says similar things about making the most of today and not worrying about the future, especially in his “Sermon on the Mount.”[2] But then, Jesus’ way of thinking wasn’t very Western. As we’ll see in our morning text, Jesus reminds us that the near future may not even be all that nice. But we should have faith and not worry.  

Before Reading the Scripture

We’re exploring a passage from Luke’s gospel today, from the 21stchapter. During this Advent season, I will draw upon the scriptures from the lectionary. 

Let me give you some context. Jesus is finishing up his earthly ministry in Jerusalem. Our passage is the last of Jesus’ public addresses recalled by Luke in his gospel.[3] The setting is the week between what we call Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and Good Friday, when he was crucified.  

Jesus and the disciples are on the temple grounds. The chapter opens with Jesus pointing out to the disciples the “widow” giving her mite to the temple treasury. Then he begins to speak about the temple’s forthcoming destruction. This shocked everyone. That structure was strong. I just learned recently that the temple foundation stones Herod used were 40 cubits in length, approximately 60 feet. Can you image moving such rock without modern equipment?[4]

 Yet, approximately 30 years after Jesus spoke these words, when Rome puts down the Jewish Rebellion, the Empire destroys both Jerusalem and the temple. Our passage is an example of eschatological literature. But Jesus uses a near event (the destruction of the temple) to foreshadow a distant event of which we still wait. 

Read Luke 21:20-36.

After the Reading of Scripture

I looked back in my files and found the last time I preach on this text was in December 2012. I’d made a note on this sermon. Five days earlier, I had a surgery to remove and biopsy a cyst from my forehead. The blood for the surgery drained down around my eyes and my cheeks. My right eye was almost swelled shut. I looked like I had gone twelve rounds with George Foreman. I provided the congregation a visual image of what one might look like dealing with the chaos Jesus’ describes. I may not be the best thing to look at in the pulpit, but I look a lot better today than I did that day!  

Worrying about “The End”

“Nothing lasts forever; even the earth and sky will pass away,” Jesus tells us. Only his words will survive. Or, to put it another way, only God is eternal. Of course, we want to know when such things will happen. We’re no different that the disciples. 

Are the things Jesus speaks of in this chapter happening, now? Some will say yes, but that’s nothing new. And yet, Jesus, in other places, is adamant that we’re not to worry about the tomorrow.[5] Furthermore, Jesus teaches that only the Father in Heaven knows when the world will end.[6] What’s going on here? Is Jesus giving us a clue? I don’t think so.

Whenever things start to go bad, people begin predicting the world’s demise. But so far, the world muddles along. Barry McGuire sang about “The Eve of Destruction” in 1965 and with minor tweaks to the lyrics, the song would be just as relevant in 2021 as it was then. Prophets come and go, plagues come and gone, wars and come and go, but so far, the world remains. This doesn’t mean the world we know won’t end, it will; but as for when, we have no idea. And we’re not to worry. 

Avoid those who suggest the end is at hand

Jesus doesn’t want us to worry whether today will be the day. After all, earlier in the chapter, Jesus warns the disciples not to run after those prophets who claim that the time is near.[7] Instead, I think this passage is more pastoral, about how we are to live our lives in the middle of chaos. As disciples, we’re not exempt from suffering the tragedies mentioned. But instead, as Jesus’ said earlier in this chapter, during all this trouble, we are to be Christ’s witnesses.[8]

Know you’re in God’s hands

Jesus begins with the cosmos (the heavens and the earth), then moves to the changing of the seasons, and concludes with words that speak to our hearts. We’re to live knowing that things are in God’s hands and are under control. So, it doesn’t matter if the world ends today or a thousand years from today. God matters, and God has a lot more power and compassion than us. We’re not left to fend for ourselves, but to take hope in the power of a loving God.

Mayor Bob

One of the first individuals I met in Hastings, Michigan, as I was discerning the call to the Presbyterian Church there, was Bob. He was the mayor, and a good man but had never joined a church. We became friends. I think it took Bob five years before he attended a church service, even though we often talked about faith. Slowly, he began attending church and made a profession of faith. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with cancer. 

And then the strangest thing happened. In the months before he died, Mayor Bob ministered to me many times. It was like a role-reversal. I’d visit with Bob, sometimes in the hospital. I tried to help him make sense of things and to remind him of God’s presence despite evidence to the contrary. But Bob accepted what was probably going to happen. He would tell me that he desperately wanted to live. He had things he wanted to do in the city and community. But he also said that it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s going to be okay. If he was given another reprieve from cancer, great! And if not, fine. He’d be in Jesus’ hands. 

What an incredible testimony. It’s one thing to make such a testimony when things go well. But as Jesus reminds us in this passage, things won’t always go well. Bob had the kind of faith Jesus encourages. Do not worry about these things. At some point, in our lives all of us will have such signs. But instead of worrying, we’re to live in the hope that such signs mean our redemption is near. Only someone assured of his or her faith can have that kind of trust.

Don’t try to predict “The End”

People have often tried to interpret when the end will be based on Jesus’ words, but that’s a misinterpretation of what our Savior taught. Jesus taught us to not to worry about tomorrow, not to fear the end, but to live for today.

The danger of fear

Yet people misuse these texts to incite fear. That’s not their purpose. Jesus doesn’t want us to run around afraid. Jesus wants us to be assured when things look bad that God is with us. The 23rd Psalm reminds us that the Lord is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is not trying to scare us but to assure us when things look bad. 

I had a professor in seminary who spoke about hell-fire sermons. I think the same warning should be made about fearful preaching on these kinds of texts. He said that if we dangle the souls of our congregation over the fires of hell, we may cause more fear than salvation. In this case, our listeners may wind up hating evil more than loving the good. Such teachings result in disciples who don’t necessarily follow Jesus. Instead, they become good haters who miss the whole point of Jesus’ message. Sadly, we see this a lot!

Jesus tells us in this passage that when we see things happen which we can’t explain, we should raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near. We are not to be afraid. Jesus doesn’t say when this will happen, but that it’s getting closer! Time marches on.

The near and distant future

In this passage, Jesus speaks of something that is soon, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Such events were only a three or four decades in the future. They foreshadow the end of history when Jesus returns. So, we live in the in-between season, waiting for our Savior’s return. As one Biblical scholar writes, “The end cannot be prepared for by anticipating and forecasting, but by watchfulness and faithfulness in the present.”[9]

Know by the seasons

We’re now entering the winter season. We’ve had several hard freezes; on Friday morning, the winter wind howled. But we all know that come March there will begin to be signs of springs. In the swamps, even if there is still snow on the ground, skunk cabbage will appear. It’s a unique plant that creates its own heat and can melt enough snow to poke its head above the muck. In other areas, shoots of ramps will appear. Then buds on trees will start popping open and in places the ground will be covered with trillium and mayflowers.

We’ll know then that winter is on its way out and summer is approaching. Jesus says it’s going to be the same way with his coming. So, we “guard our hearts” and avoid trying to ignore the signs by over-indulging ourselves or getting drunk, yet we’re not to worry. Yes, we remain on guard and alert but don’t be frightened. We have hope in the one in control.


By being alert, but not being overly concerned, our hearts won’t be weighed down. We accept today as a gift from God and rejoice in it, but we also realize that tomorrow will be a gift of God, whether the earth continues, or dissolves. But we’re not to worry, we’re to be concerned for today and that we’re doing what we can to bring God glory.  

Let me end with a question. If God comes back today, what do you want to be doing? The work of a disciple? Or living in fear of what might happen? Amen.  

[1] Marshall Goldsmith, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It (New York: Hyperion, 2009), 79-80. 

[2] Matthew 6:25ff. 

[3] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 592

[4] Edwards, 593. Josephus gives the measurement of stones of 40 cubits. 

[5] Matthew 6:31-36

[6] Mark 13:32

[7] Luke 21:8

[8] Luke 21:12-19. See Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 244-245. 

[9] Edwards, 610.

Mayberry Church’s float (which took first place in the Meadows of Dan Christmas parade)

Leftovers for a Risen King

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Luke 24:36-49
May 3, 2020

The worship service can be watched on YouTube. The sermon starts at 15:01 and is over at 36:06, in case you would like to fast forward to just catch the sermon (or watch all but the sermon). Just click here to be taken to YouTube. 

We are continuing our look at the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. As I said last week, Luke provides three vignettes of Jesus on that first Easter. The first is with the women at the empty tomb, then Jesus meets up with the disciples along the road to Emmaus. Somewhere, too, this day, we’re told Jesus encountered Simon Peter, but we’re not give a first-hand account of that meeting, just an after-the-fact mention.[1] The final meeting on this first Easter is similar to the Easter Evening description in John’s gospel, but there are some differences we should explore. In Luke, the disciples are confused and wonder if Jesus is a ghost. Jesus points to himself and his “flesh and bones” as an indication that it is really him. Then, Jesus asks if there is something to eat. After all, ghosts (according to their belief) didn’t eat. Jesus is given some leftovers from dinner.

I don’t have a classic photo to show you of this encounter. Artists seem more interested in painting the Emmaus story or the story of Thomas sticking his hand in Jesus’ wounds. So, let’s think for a minute about leftovers. Leftovers doesn’t seem suitable fare for a risen king, does it? Cold fish? But Jesus surprises us. Just as he was born a king, but in a manger and not a castle, upon his resurrection, Jesus doesn’t expect a fancy banquet. Just a piece of broiled fish. Simple food, the food of the masses.

Jesus isn’t pretentious. With Jesus, it’s never about having the best stuff. Instead, it’s about relationships and being connected to God the Father. Sometimes his followers forget this. We build fancy cathedrals in his honor. But for a man who lived most of his life on the road, one should ask if this is where Jesus would feel at home? For this reason, those of us in the Presbyterian and Reformed Tradition have tended to shun that which is flashy.[2] Our buildings tend to be simple and functional. Our Scottish ancestors saw to it that even clergy dress is simple. Most of us wear Geneva gowns, more akin to the academy than to the high church. We’re simple folk, which brings us back to leftovers. It’s the perfect meal. Don’t waste things; make the best of what God has given you, and be thankful.

For those of us who are living in this strange time of pandemic, this is a good reminder that we should be thankful for what we have, even leftovers. Read Luke 24:36-49.

         One of the common characteristics of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus is that no one is looking for him, and no one “finds him.” Instead, Jesus just shows up. The disciples are hearing from the women about Jesus not being in the tomb, reports of him being in Emmaus, and from Simon Peter. But they don’t send out a search party to find Jesus. They’re scared. They lock themselves into a room while discussing what they consider as rumors. And when Jesus mysteriously shows up, they freak out. “It’s a ghost!”

          One of the lessons we should learn from the resurrection stories is that Jesus controls both his and our destinies. It’s not about us going out looking for God, it’s about God looking for us. There are no barriers that we can put up to avoid God. The disciples discovered this when Jesus pops in. This is good news for those of us sheltering and avoiding contact with others in order to stay healthy during this pandemic. While we might not be able to go to church on Sunday mornings, God can invade the privacy of our homes. We can’t keep God out. As Jesus shows us, God is in control. That’s good, because we can screw things up, so we’re a lot better off depending upon the God who surprises us, than depending on our own inability to bring us back into a relationship with the Almighty. This is what the Presbyterian doctrine of election or predestination is all about.

          But before the disciples can understand this, they must realize who this is that has invaded their meeting. In their mind, Jesus is dead. You don’t come back to this life once grasp the idea that he is risen. First, he asks for a bite to eat. It’s been a while since his last supper. It’s important that they see food going in his mouth (see food, seafood, get it?). Jesus then points to his flesh and bones. Luke wants to assure us that Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after his death isn’t just wishful thinking on their part.[3] The disciples expect Jesus to be dead and his appearance strikes fear in them. Jesus assures them what is happening by eating and showing his body. Still, his presence in the resurrection state creates questions for us such as how just how he got through the walls and locked doors.[4] Because Jesus is also God, there are mysteries we can never comprehend.

          The second thing Jesus does, which is like what he did with those in Emmaus, is to help the disciples understand the scriptures. Jesus wants them to grasp the idea that his suffering, death, and resurrection has been God’s plan.[5] The Law of Moses (or what the Jews call the Torah or the first five books of our Old Testament), along with the prophets and Psalms, all point to Jesus Christ. God is working out history with humans, which means there is much in the Scriptures that’s messy. We had this discussion yesterday in the men’s Bible study. We are reading Genesis. As humans, we have a hard time understanding stories like that of Tamar playing the role of a prostitute, yet finding a place in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.[6] God has a way of redeeming us and working through us to bring about his purposes. We might screw things up, but God can make it right. Again, that’s the doctrine of election or predestination at work.

This brings me to the last point I want to make on this passage. Jesus doesn’t open their eyes only so they can understand what had happened that weekend which began on that terrible (yet good) Friday. Jesus is preparing these misfits, who denied and abandoned him, to continue with his ministry and to take it to the ends of the world. Throughout these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is a call to mission. The disciples are to be Jesus’ witnesses.[7]

         Of course, because this is God’s doing, not the disciples’, they will need to be given the strength and ability to carry this mission out. Jesus, in his commission to the disciples in Luke’s gospel, is looking forward to the: coming of the Holy Spirit, to Pentecost, after which the disciples will take Jesus’ message to the end of the world.[8] As I insisted over and over again when preaching through Luke’s second book known of as “the Acts of the Apostles,” it should have been called, “The Acts of God through the Apostles.” For it wasn’t the Apostles that made the difference, it was God working through them. With God, all is possible. Without God, nothing is possible.[9]

So, what can we take away from this passage as we sit, isolated, in our homes? First, while we keep others at a distance (and for a good reason as we are striving to stop this virus), we can’t keep Jesus out. You never know where he might show up. But don’t worry if you’re in your pajamas or an old sweat suit. That doesn’t bother Jesus, just as he won’t be offended if you offered him leftovers from the fridge. But understand this. Jesus doesn’t just show to make us feel better. He shows up because he has a job for us to do. He shows up to encourage us to trust in God and to be his ambassadors, starting where we are at and then to the ends of the world. Jesus shows up to call us to be gracious and thankful even during a pandemic.

          Jesus shows up and calls us because, sooner or later, we are no longer going to be hiding in our home. Life will open back up and when that happens, we need to be ready (just as the disciples were ready on Pentecost) to go into the world and make a difference. Think of this time we’re in as a Sabbath. Like the disciples, we rest today. In a short while, there will be plenty for us to do. As followers of Jesus, we’re to change the world, to make it a kinder more generous and gracious, home. May we catch that vision and live into it. Amen.



[1] Luke 24:34

[2] See Book of Order F-2.05 and Westminster Larger Catechism Question 141.

[3] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 729.

[4] While Luke doesn’t mention locked doors, it is still apparent that Jesus suddenly appearing in the midst of the disciples is miraculous and unexplained. See John 20:19.

[5] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Preaching and Teaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 291.

[6] Genesis 38 (especially verses 14-19) and Matthew 1;3.

[7] In Matthew 28, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are sent to tell the disciples, then the disciples are sent to tell the world. In Mark 16:15, the disciples are to go tell the world. In John, Mary Magdalene is sent to tell the disciples (John 20:17); the disciples are sent into the world to forgive sin (John 20:21-22); and Peter is sent to tend and love Jesus’ “sheep.” (John 21:15-23). In the cases where there is not implicit instruction, the disciples seem to know that they are to go tell about Jesus’ resurrection as in the case with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff).

[8] Edwards, 735.

[9] Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27.

Encountering Jesus Along the Way

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
April 26, 2020
Luke 24:13-35

To watch the entire service (approximately 40 minutes), click here to go to our YouTube site.

           It is solved by walking, Augustine of Hippo said.[1] I believe it. When I don’t know what to do, I often take a walk (or ride a bicycle or spend time in a kayak). There’s something about getting out and moving that helps us re-center ourselves. It’s especially true during these times of social isolation. We need to get some fresh air and pick up a little sunshine. It helps our mental state. And maybe that’s why the two disciples in today’s scripture reading decided to hike over to Emmaus. After all, they’d had a bad week. We’ve all had some bad weeks lately and could all probably use a good walk. The weather is going to be nice today—just maintain a safe social distance.

As we’ve done through Lent and have continued through the Easter season, I’m going to use a piece of art to help us get into the text for today. Our picture shows two disciples flanking Jesus as they walk along the road. Now, as we’ll see when we get into the text, they don’t recognize Jesus. We do! He’s in the middle (remember my sermon from last week-Jesus is always in the middle and we need to keep him there.). Also, Jesus is wearing white! That’s a dead giveaway! One of the disciples holds a scroll and Jesus is obviously helping him understand what he’s reading. But let’s step away and get into the mind of what this lad, over on the edge, might be thinking.

          I have a lot of time to think out here, watching the sheep. I see a lot of people coming and going. Jerusalem, the Holy City, is just over the rise, a few miles away. These three were heading away from the city and engaged in a great debate. Even with my back turned, I could hear them a mile away. And as they were talking, the third guy, the one in a white robe, catches up with them. He joins their conversation. They seem rather surprised that he didn’t know what they were talking about. There’s this man, supposedly a king, who’d been crucified. But then he starts asking questions and I can tell they are intrigued. Here, a guy who didn’t seem to know the news, yet knows the scriptures.

          Later in the day, as the sun is setting, I see the two men again, rushing back toward Jerusalem. They are joyous and excited. I wondered what happened to the third man, the one who seemed to know so much.


It’s still Easter in our text, the afternoon after word began to spread around about Jesus not being in the tomb. People are trying to figure this all out. One of the things that I like about Luke’s retelling of the resurrection is how he gives three different stories which all happened that first Easter Sunday. There is the account of the women and Peter at the empty tomb early in the morning. Then there is this account that happens along to the road to Emmaus. Finally, there is the appearance of Jesus among the disciples at a fish fry. In today’s account, we learn that what happened was necessary and foretold by prophets. The Messiah had to suffer, die and rise again.[2]

In the account we’re looking at today, we join up with two disciples walking to Emmaus, a town which according to Luke was about seven miles from Jerusalem. We’re not sure, today, where Emmaus was located. One of the disciples is identified as Cleopas, and we don’t really know who he is as this is his only mention in Scripture. It’s assumed these two disciples were not part of Jesus’ inner-circle (the twelve) but of a larger group of those who followed Jesus.[3] Some think the unnamed disciple might have been Cleopas’ wife. Perhaps they were two of the 70 disciples Luke mentions in the tenth chapter, who were sent out by Jesus.

On this occasion, they are walking and discussing the events of the past few days when they are joined by a stranger. This makes sense to me, as I have walked a lot in my life. I recall numerous occasions along the Appalachian Trail where I was talking to someone and a third person comes up behind us and, overhearing what we were talking about, puts his two cents worth.

Interestingly, they do not recognize Jesus. Certainly, if they had traditional robes and head coverings, it could be hard to recognize him, but we’d think they would be familiar with his voice. But Verse 16 indicates that their eyes were prevented from seeing Jesus, which parallels what happens in the guest house, where their eyes were opened.[4]

When the stranger joins them, he asks, essentially, “What’s going on?” Think about this. It’s been a troubling few days in Jerusalem. This is kind of like someone coming up to you in the grocery store, way too close, while you’re decked out with gloves and a mask, and ask what’s up with the gloves and masks. Does this person not know what’s going on with the COVID virus?[5]  Cleopas, the only disciple named, questions him harshly. “Are you the only one that doesn’t know what’s happened? It seems odd that this stranger is clueless, and they fill Jesus in on all that has happened. They witness to Jesus, about Jesus! But it turns out, Jesus’ isn’t so clueless. He helps them understand the Scriptures by asking a question. It has been said that questions “help tune the soul,” as they help “illumine the world.”[6] Jesus’ question, on the need for the Messiah to suffer before glory, does this. Jesus, whom they still don’t know, helps these disciples see the Scriptures in a new way.

There’s a part of me that feels as if Jesus is playing with the two disciples. Yes, he knew very well what happened in Jerusalem over the past few days. But Jesus, instead of pulling down hood of his robe and demanding the disciples look him in the eye, or maybe showing them his hands and feet, takes the time to lead these disciples to the point in which they can accept and understand what happens. Jesus is never in a hurry; he takes his time, helping us to understand God’s grace.

The disciples, who still haven’t figured out who Jesus is, appreciate his words and invite him to eat with them in Emmaus. We have the sense Jesus was willing to just keep on walking, but hospitality is appreciated, and Jesus’ accepts. This sets up an occasion for him to break bread with the two disciples and it is in that act that their eyes are opened, and they recognize him.

Something else happens. Jesus, at the table, goes from being the guest to the host.[7] The disciples are rewarded for their hospitality, perhaps foreshadowing what would later be written in the Book of Hebrews, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.”[8] In this case, it’s not just an angel. It’s the Lord himself.

As they walked to Emmaus, I imagine the two disciples lollygagging along. Their heads are down, they’re kicking stones. They’re sad about Jesus and not sure what to think of the rumors they’ve heard. Their slow pace allows this stranger to catch up with them and join in their conversation.  Afterwards, after Jesus opens their eyes, they run back to Jerusalem. Their pace picks up. They have a purpose. They head back to find the disciples and to share the story of their encounter.

Jesus gives us a purpose. In the other resurrection stories, Jesus sent off those he met with a mission. Mary Magdalene is to go tell the disciples. The disciples are to build a church on forgiveness. But here, Jesus just disappears. However, the two disciples know what to do. This is just too glorious to keep to themselves. They must share the message with others, so they head back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples.

In some ways, our encounters with Christ are probably more like these two disciples walking to Emmaus. There are very few Damascus Road experiences, like that of Paul. It ranks up there with Moses’ burning unburned bush. Most of us experience Christ, like these two, when we realize something someone said caused our hearts to burn, or when someone opens Scripture and we learned the eternal truths of God’s Word. And when something like that happens, we must tell someone. It’s a Truth we can’t keep to ourselves. This is how our faith spreads. We encounter Christ through his word or through someone who speaks to us about Christ and then Christ becomes real to us.

When Christ became real to these two disciples, they rushed off to tell others. What do we do? How do we respond? How does our faith change our lives? In this time of social distancing we might not be able to barge into a neighbor’s house sharing the good news, but there are still ways we can let people know what we’ve found to be true. There are ways we can let people witness our faith, for we have a story that demands to be told. Amen.



[1] Solviture ambulando. It’s one of my Augustine’s more well-known sayings that has been often quoted.

[2] See Luke 24:6-7, 25-27, and 46.

[3] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 632.

[4] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 716-717, 724.

[5] This story came from Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary-3rd Sunday of Easter,” The Presbyterian Outlook (April 20, 2020).

[6] Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred (New York: MJF Books, 1998), 24.

[7] Edwards, 723.

[8] Hebrews 13:2, New Living Translation.

Unabashed Joy


Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Luke 1:46-55
December 15, 2019




       Earlier in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, the angel Gabriel met Mary in Nazareth to give her the good news. However, I’m not sure that everyone saw this as good news. I am not even sure Mary saw it that way. After all, she was just a young woman. Tradition has it she was only 14 years old, and here’s this angel is talking about all of what this child she’s to carry will do. Mary wonders how it’s to happen and told that the Holy Spirit will fill her, and she’ll conceive. In addition, she’s told that her relative, the old barren Elizabeth, is also pregnant and will bear a son. God appears to be active with the oldest and the youngest.

Upon hearing this news, Mary doesn’t break out in song. Instead, she humbly submits, telling Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.” The angel departs, and Mary leaves Galilee for the Judean hill country where Elizabeth lives. It used to be common, even when I was in high school, for an unmarried pregnant girl to be shipped off to an aunt or some other relative in a different city. Maybe that’s part of Mary’s desire to travel: to get away from those who know her and who whisper behind her back as her belly grows.

         “Girl, how’d you get yourself in this mess?” isn’t how Elizabeth greets Mary. Instead, she starts out praising Mary, wondering what she, Elizabeth, has done to deserve such a visit. She proclaims Mary as the most blessed of all women. Mary breaks out in song. She didn’t sing to Gabriel, at the heavenly encounter she had earlier. She sings when another person, one whom must have known as a kind older woman, confirms her status.[1] At this point, Mary belts it out in a song the church has been singing for 2,000 years.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Mary is joyous, but not in the manner we think of joy. For us, joy is a child experiencing an ice cream cone for the first time or us witnessing the child’s wonder. Joy is a mother watching her son make a home run as a Little Leaguer. Joy is laugher at a good joke, the awe of a beautiful sunset without sand gnats, sitting around a fire telling stories when it’s not too cold, or the Pirates winning the World Series. All these things are great, but is this what joy really is? Or is it something deeper.

         When Jesus was at table with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion, he instructs his disciples and then says he’s telling them all this so that his joy will be in them, and that their joy will be complete.[2] Jesus then continues, talking about laying down their lives and how the world is going to hate them. I tell you, joy during troubling news is common throughout Scripture.

        When Paul writes from prison to the Philippians, he tells them how he’s joyous when he prays for them and asks them to make his joy complete by being of the mind as Christ.[3] When he chastises the Corinthians for being stingy, he lifts up the Macedonians who despite a “severe ordeal of affliction” and “extreme poverty,” have abundant joy that’s shown in their generosity.[4] James, the brother of Jesus, suggests we consider our trials as joy, for they help us grow in endurance and maturity.[5] Peter speaks of rejoicing in our suffering that will lead to us being joyful when Christ’s glory is reveal.[6] All these passages in the New Testament suggest that joy isn’t the absence of suffering. Joy is something deeper within us, a hope that we have in what God is doing in the world. Because we place our trust in God, we should be joyful even when things are tough because we know God is beside us, working out things for our well-being.

This idea of joy in times of trouble isn’t limited to the New Testament. Our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Isaiah is a song of promise and joy sung during a time of war and destruction. In the chapter before this reading, God pronounces judgment to the nations, and after this song, we learn the Assyrians are threatening Jerusalem. As one commentator on this passage says, “Isaiah dares to speak a word out of place. A word that refused to wait until things improve.”[7]

          This is unabashed joy; joy regardless of the situation. All is not well in the world, then or now, but we as believers are called to see beyond the present and to have faith in what God’s doing. We are called to be joyous and to have hope and to share our hope with others. In the long arch of history the impeachment of a President, a rogue nation like North Korea having rockets and weapons of mass destruction, and the eruption of a volcano in New Zealand (or heaven help us, if one blew up in Bluffton) isn’t the final word. For we believe God has things under control and even if we screw everything up and blow the planet to smithereens, God will not let that be the final word.

          So, we go back to that young woman, pregnant and not yet married, in a world without social safety nets. You can’t be much more vulnerable than Mary, standing before Elizabeth. Yet she breaks out in this beautiful song that focuses on what God is doing. Mary doesn’t speak of what God is doing for her, personally, except for having chosen her. She’s not thankful for a new house, or car, or clothes or a servant. Her lot is not joyful by most definitions. She has this son that runs away at the age of 12.[8] He’ll says some things that are hurtful during his ministry, even asking rhetorically “who is my father and mother?”[9] (How do you think that made her feel?) And if that’s not enough, she’s there at the end, watching that bundle of joy whom she carried in her belly die on the cross.

Despite all the heartache Mary experienced, she still had joy in her heart, not because of her experiences, but what God was doing in the world through the son whom she brought into the world. Her hope wasn’t for an easy life and a comfortable retirement as she watched her son succeed in business. Her hope was in the future, knowing that she was playing a little part in God’s great drama of turning the world on its head. In the fullness of time, God will show mercy on the poor, people like her, who find themselves blessed beyond measure.

What does all this unabashed joy, which at times seem absurd, mean to us? It means that we, knowing that God is in control, need to do what is right and just despite what society, peer pressure or even an unjust law might say. Unabashed joy influences our behavior for it means we’re not invested for the short term. As people of faith, we’re committed for the long term, longing for that new heaven and new earth, praying “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”


Don’t confuse joy with happiness. There wasn’t much in Mary’s life that was happy, and that may also be true for us. Happiness is on the surface, but joy resides deep within us. As David Brooks writes in his book The Second Mountain, “We can help create happiness, but we are seized by joy. We are pleased by happiness, but we are transformed by joy.”[10]


Be transformed! Show unabashed joy. Don’t let discouragement or the news of the world get you down. Trust in the Lord and believe in God’s goodness and let joy transform you. Amen.




[1] Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983), 84.
[2] John 15:11
[3] Philippians 1:4, 2:2.
[4] 2 Corinthians 8:1-2.
[5] James 1:2.
[6] 1 Peter 4:13.
[7] Barbara Lundbald, as quoted in the “Sermon Fodder” for “Heaven and Nature Sings” by the Worship Design Studio.
[8] Luke 2:41ff.
[9] John 2:4 and Matthew 12:48.
[10] David Brooks, The Second Mountain (Random House, 2019), xxiv. Quote obtained from a Facebook post on joy.

Banquet Etiquette?

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Luke 14:7-14
September 1, 2019


The fourteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel opens with Jesus attending a dinner party at the home of a leading Pharisee. It’s the Sabbath, so it’s a special gathering with food that had been prepared earlier. As the sun sets and the Sabbath begins, Jews put on their finest robes and light their best candles. The Sabbath is important; one Jewish scholar describes the whole week as a pilgrimage to the Sabbath which is a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath.[1] But, as we know, there was a lot of debate in Jesus’ day over the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. Jesus taught that the Sabbath is created for us, not us for the Sabbath, as some taught.[2]

Luke creates tension by telling us in verse two that all the eyes are on Jesus. There’s a man suffering from dropsy, an illness swells the body with water. Today, it might be called “Congestive Heart Failure.[3] He’s right in front of Jesus. Is Jesus being set up? Jesus asks the gathered crowd if it’s right to cure on the Sabbath. He receives no answer, so he cures the man. The he justifies his actions by asking them if they would intervene if they had an ox or a child fall into a well on the Sabbath. The crowd remains quiet.

This dinner party must have been the quietest on record. Normally, as everyone gathers, people mingle around with cocktails and greet one another. There’s a lot of talking. People offer their opinions about the day’s ballgame or the hurricane offshore or the Treasury’s inverted yield curve. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Everyone is quiet, so Jesus takes the stage and teaches with a series of parables. Today, we’re going to look at the first parable. Read Luke 14:7-14.


         At the end of the sixth grade at Bradley Creek Elementary School, there was a graduation banquet. It was held in the evening, which made it special, and in the cafeteria, which wasn’t so special. I’m sure we had macaroni and cheese. We always had mac and cheese. There must have been a rule that you couldn’t open the cafeteria without mac and cheese. But this was a special meal, so maybe there was a slice of ham or a piece of chicken and a piece of cake that was larger than the one inch cubes they fed us at lunch.

While I don’t remember exactly what we ate, there’s another memory from that evening that haunted me for years. I assumed our parents were invited to this banquet. I encouraged my parents to come. I am not sure where I got this idea, for there no other parents there. I’m not even sure why I thought it would be a big treat for my parents to eat cafeteria food. I was embarrassed, even though they graciously slipped out. Instead of eating cafeteria mac and cheese, they went to Wrightsville Beach for a seafood dinner.

Knowing the feeling of having invited someone who wasn’t invited, I understand some of what Jesus is driving at in this passage. Don’t make assumptions. It’s always better to be called up to the head table, than to be told you need to go to the back of the room. It’s simple banquet etiquette.

          In the bulletin, I titled this sermon “Humility and Hospitality.” The problem with coming up with a title a few weeks before writing a sermon is that you often have no idea where the sermon is heading. I later decided that a better title might be Banquet Etiquette. But as I continued to study and ponder, I decided to put a question mark at the end. Yes, Jesus expects us to be humble and not pretentious. Such advice will also keep us from being in an embarrassing position. Yes, on the surface, this is about etiquette. But is this what Jesus is driving? Is this Jesus’ attempt to be the Emily Post of the first century? Or is there a deeper message here?

         Remember what I said about the Sabbath, before reading this passage? That it was a foretaste of the eternal kingdom. And this section of Luke’s gospel is filled with parables that focus on the kingdom.[4] Parables generally operate on more than one level. They often, as Ken Bailey describes in his work on parables, contain a “play within a play.”[5] Each level has a different meaning. While the obvious meaning of our text today is about being humble and not pretentious, the deeper meaning of the parable has to do with God’s kingdom. What is Jesus envisioning here?

       The surface meaning may have to do with avoiding embarrassment. A deeper meaning might be that we should humble ourselves. One of the challenges that Jesus had was his disciples wanting to grab key positions in the coming kingdom.[6] Two of the dudes when so far as to ask their mom to intervene with Jesus on their behalf.[7] This is a deeper meaning of the parable. Don’t get caught up in all the fuss over where you’re going to be seated at the heavenly banquet (or even an earthly ones).

         But there is another way to look at this parable, which I had not considered until I read a blog post by a pastor in Iowa earlier this week.[8] He found himself needing to get to Minnesota where his wife was at with one of their cars that he needed to drive back to Iowa. He took the bus, which meant leaving Des Moines at 5 AM. Taking a bus can be an experience as most of the people on the bus are not like us. We drive or fly. I know what he means by taking a bus because 25 years ago, Donna and I had taken the train out west. It was a summer with a lot of floods and since train tracks are often right by rivers, they were flooded. Coming back, we ended up being on a bus for part of our journey. On this trip, from Iowa to Minnesota, the blogger realized the blessings that can come for being among those who were not like him—those with darker skin, many of whom spoke Spanish. Blessings can be experienced even when sitting at the back of any banquet.

          Instead of Jesus wanting us to show humility in the hopes that we might be called up to the head table (as you could read this passage), maybe Jesus is telling us to meet others where we find ourselves. Show hospitality to those less fortunate. If our only goal was to sit at the head table, we could easily display false humility to gain such a blessing. [9] Image a Monty Python skit where everyone is trying to outdo one another in humility in order to be seen as most humble just so they could be exalted.

         But Jesus wants us to long for the kingdom, which isn’t going to be made up of exclusively of those who look, and act like us. Jesus’ vision is for a world where believers cherish their friendship and fellowship with all people. It’s about us showing goodness to those who have no way to repay us for what we can do for them. Ponder what this kind of world might look like.

          You know, none of us know what this week will bring as Dorian churns up the waters. When Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, I spent a few days in Dublin, GA. There’s a great hot dog shop there, not far from the courthouse, where I found myself drawn at lunchtime. There were the regulars, but there was also those of us in exile: from Savannah, from Hilton Head, from Brunswick and Saint Simons. The place was packed. Friendships were made as we were forced to share tables. Stories were told of shared experiences such as being in gridlock on the highway. There was a lot laughter. I image that’s how the kingdom will be. So, if we evacuate this week, and you find yourself in a strange land for a few days, don’t see it as a burden. Instead, take it as an opportunity to sample the kingdom. That’s what Jesus would have you do. Let us pray:


God of the wind and waves, the earth and the sky, we know of Jesus calming the storm. Calm our hearts as Dorian approaches and keep us safe. We pray for the people in the northern Bahamas, who are experiencing the worst of a natural disaster. Be with them, and with us. Where ever we find ourselves, whether we are at the head table or in the back corner, help us to be the people who show kindness. Amen.



[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (1951, New York: Farrar, Staus, & Giroux, 1979), 90-91.

[2] Mark 2:27. See also Luke 6:1-5.


[4] In Luke 13, Jesus tells two parables of the kingdom (verses 18-19: Parable of the Mustard Seed, and verses 20-21, Parable of the Yeast). After this parable, he tells another parable of the great banquet, which is also about God’s coming kingdom.

[5] Kenneth El. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), xiii.

[6] I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 581.

[7] Matthew 20:20.


[9] See Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Louisville, KY: JKP, 1990), 176-177.  Craddock reminds his readers that the word in the New Testament that’s translated as hospitality literally means “love of a stranger.” Hospitality isn’t just rolling out the red carpet for important guests but welcoming those who may be on the margin.