Worship for Sunday, October 24, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses of the Negeb.
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. 

Hebrews 7:23-28

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.   For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:46-52

As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.   Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wow – life has been intense lately – hasn’t it? Life just keeps bringing it these days – doesn’t it?   The tough stuff just keeps coming and coming and coming . . . And then coming some more!

It would be so nice to catch a break – to get a lull – to have a moment to come up for air – wouldn’t it? It would be such a relief to be able to catch our collective breath. To have a pause before getting hit again.

These past months (closing in on 2 years now) have been hard on all of us. This pandemic is taking a toll.   It is leaving permanent marks on our lives and our hearts and our very souls.

We are different. We have been changed.

I keep thinking of those “before and after” photo montages the news folks always seem to put together of our US presidents as they are about to leave office.

First up are the “before” pictures. In those pictures we see the happy – exultant – youthful – beaming man our great nation has just elected to lead us for the next 4 years. Those “before” pictures radiate vigor and optimism and vitality and joy.

Next up are the “after” pictures. And what do these “after” pictures reveal?   Well – our fearless leader is a mere shadow of his former self. His hair is thinner and much – much whiter. There are dark circles under his eyes that even make-up can’t hide – and deep – deep frown lines have embedded themselves around the corners of his mouth.

Once upon a time – this man looked ready to take on the world – now he looks ready to take a nap!

I walked by my very own “before” picture this week.   Cheryl has it posted in the hall outside the church offices. It is a “before the pandemic photo.” And I just stood there with a cup of coffee in 1 hand and a jumbo container of Pinesol in the other and sighed a big sigh. I had brown hair once . . . and then I went back to sipping my room temperature coffee. . .

Living through a pandemic has been many things. And I think it is safe to say that it has been challenging for most of us.

And – of course – all of the other things that have always made our lives complicated and challenging have kept right on happening too. It’s not like the pandemic started and we were just able to focus on coping with Covid-19. Nope – that didn’t happen. Covid-19 just added to the stress and complexity of our already very human lives.

The illnesses – the accidents – the arguments – the disappointments – the assignments – the bills – the diseases – the deaths – and all the rest just kept right on coming and coming and coming.

And all while we are trying to handle surges and waves and variants and change after change.

Life tends to be pretty complicated as it is and when you add in a global pandemic – well – it can all begin to feel downright overwhelming!

You know things are getting bumpy when an 8 year old sits you down for a heart to heart and he starts off by reminiscing about “the good old days.” I wasn’t sure that Will was old enough to have “good old days” yet?!?   But – that is exactly what happened at our house this week when the littlest McFarland had suffered one Covid-19 disappointment too many.

Will needed to unburden himself. So we talked about “the good old days” – back when he was still 6 years old and none of us had even heard of Covid-19. Back when masks and vaccines and quarantines and pandemics and waiting weren’t part of our daily lives and lingo.

It broke my heart to hear someone so young longing for better – easier – less complicated times.

All of this hurt – all of this sorrow – all of this very human humanness can get just plain exhausting. It can wear us down. It can feel overwhelming.

It can make us feel lost and all alone in the world.

And yet – as Christians and people of faith – we know we are not alone in this world. Not even now in the midst of these especially difficult days.

Our God is with us! Our God is always with us!

The powerful words of the prophet Jeremiah remind us today (and every day) that our God will never leave us or forsake us or forget us. God is our loving – faithful father forever and always – even when (especially when) life is difficult. We are not in this life alone!

Yes – life in this very human world is filled with difficulties and diseases and pain and pandemics. Yes – life can be incredibly difficult sometimes – but God promises us that he is with us. That he will watch over us and deliver us.

Our God promises us hope. Hope for a brighter future. Hope for better days ahead.

God promises us that the stresses – difficulties – sorrows and pain we face in this time – in these more difficult days – do have the last word with God.

Our God promises us hope for the future.

Our Psalm for today boldly declares this hope to us (and for us).

Our God shall fill our mouths with laughter and our tongues with joy!   And our weeping and our tears will be no more!

Let those words wash over you . . . laughter – joy – delight – gladness!

Your God is with you now. And God promises he will be with you for all eternity – leading you into the bright and glorious future that he has planned for you.

Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

Watching My Shadow Grow

I have had a shadow for my entire life. (I’m NOT a vampire . . .) I know this to be true. It is an unequivocal fact.

But once my sweet William was born I gained a whole different sort of shadow! Our youngest son (even at almost 9 years of age) is quite often my shadow – my companion – my sidekick – my little buddy – and my right hand man.   Will and I spend a lot of time together – because he likes it this way.

Will’s first sentence was “I GO!” And those two short words very clearly meant – “I am going with my mom wherever she is going and please for the love of all that is good and holy don’t get in the way!”

And he meant it. Will likes to keep an eye on me. He seems to consider it his assigned duty and responsibility.

Perhaps even as a toddler Will knew just how bad my sense of direction is and he feared I would wander off and get lost forever and ever if he didn’t keep a careful watch over me . . . And honestly that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

My sense of direction is terrifyingly – wretchedly – shockingly miserable. Some days it feels like I could get lost in my own backyard . . . One of Jason’s primary and most essential roles in our family is helping me find my way home. I don’t use GPS – I call Jason – because only Jason can understand the predicaments I get myself into on especially bad direction days.

William is also the only extrovert in our family of 4. While Jason – Jack – and I will gladly sit in silence for hours (together or alone) – Will likes/wants/needs to be in on the action.   He is happiest when he has companionship (me).

Will is always up for an adventure and he delights in coming to church with me (especially during the week). It is one of his favorite things to do. Will asks to do this for fun. He even has his own desk in my office. These trips to the church feel cozy and nurturing and welcoming to him.   Will gets alone time with his mom and there is always the added excitement of the possibility of another Lutheran dropping in for bonus entertainment.

Please overlook his indulgent beverage . . . he was on a VERY RARE “coffee break.”

Last weekend Will was thrilled when Jason and I announced that Saturday was a church property work day and we would be spending the WHOLE morning at church. He couldn’t wait until it was time to leave for the church. Will was ready and waiting at 6:10 am when I escorted Jack to the vet clinic where Jack works each weekend.

Later when Will and I set forth closer to the appointed time – he was bouncing with excitement and glee. We were going to church on a Saturday morning – for the whole morning and people were coming (we hoped . . . ).

And seeing Rod – Peggy – Buddy – Cheryl – Ella – and even his dad arrive thrilled his little extroverted soul! People after his own heart. People who love coming to church. People who love helping and serving!

As we worked – I thought to myself – my sidekick is growing up.   He is becoming really and truly helpful.

Will helped decorate the church fellowship hall for the upcoming Halloween Party. Will collected a vast array of sticks from all over the church yard. He helped clean up the piles that his dad made from trimming the bushes around the church property. And he pitched in and helped out and he did it all with a huge smile and a willing spirit!

I think I can learn a lot from my little guy . . .

“The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat; the calf and young lion and fatling will be together, and a little child will lead them.

– Isaiah 11:6

Shadows

I have long been intrigued by light and shadows and the dance they do together on a sunny day. For that interplay of light and darkness.

I have been known to play with shadows for embarrassingly long periods of time.

I am always on the lookout for a good shadow. For that unique outline. For that eye-catching shape. For the interesting change of perspective. For the opportunity to see something with fresh eyes.

Fuzzy shadows . . . Sharply defined shadows . . . Wide shadows . . . Long – lean shadows . . . They all spark my imagination.

And I find great shadows in the most surprises places. While pumping gas. While folding bulletins. I spotted a cool shadow just yesterday while having blood drawn at the lab. (Seriously – not kidding – and it was a nice distraction.)

I remember “taking my shadow for a walk” when I was just a little kid. I was mesmerized by how tall my shadow could become when I was still so small!   I loved how tall my shadow-self was. It was fun pretending to be a great – big giant. (Actually – it still is fun to pretend to be a great – big giant!)

Some of the very best spots in my world these days for spotting seriously impressive shadows are the Saint Stephen narthex and sanctuary on a sunny day. (I know that our church windows can be pretty annoying when the white-hot burning sun is blinding you during worship on Sunday mornings. I have seen your anguish and your genuflections   and your sunglasses!) But – on the upside – the shadows in there will knock your socks off! Seriously – sometimes there are shadows combined with dancing rainbows caused by the prisms in our church windows. AMAZING!!!

The shadows in our sanctuary and narthex move and dance beautifully. The interplay of light and darkness is dazzling and delightful!

As fall settles in around us – our world is changing. The light is shifting. The shadows are lengthening and becoming much more prominent.

Can you take a quiet moment to watch? To observe? To stand in awe? Simply to be impressed?

I am trying to remember to watch and to wonder and to take the time to seek beauty.

You are all in my heart – thoughts and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, October 17, 2021

Isaiah 53:4-12

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 91:9-16

Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
and the Most High your habitation,
no evil will befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your dwelling.
For God will give the angels charge over you,
to guard you in all your ways.
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion cub and viper;
you will trample down the lion and the serpent.
I will deliver those who cling to me;
I will uphold them, because they know my name.
They will call me, and I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and honor them.
With long life will I satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.  Amen.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel reading for this week – opens with the brothers James and John coming to Jesus with an incredibly bold request.

And they didn’t want any witnesses. So they waited until the other disciples aren’t around before making their bold request.

They want a tangible sign of just how important they are. James and John want a sign so obvious – no one can miss its meaning. James and John want to sit at Jesus’ right hand and his left hand in glory.

James and John want positions of power and honor and incredible prestige. They want everyone in both heaven and on earth to know just how important they are!

This must have been one of those moments in Jesus’ earthly life that made him want to weep. Or beat his head against the nearest wall. Or stomp his feet in frustration while throwing a hissy fit. Or to send James and John back to being fishers of FISH.   Or simply to quit in despair.

Seriously – after working and learning and studying and SERVING with Jesus for years – James and John come to him with a request like this?!?   Jesus must have wondered where he had gone so wrong . . .

But Jesus doesn’t have a hissy fit or quit or cry or fire James and John.

And Jesus doesn’t grant their bold – completely clueless request either.

Instead – Jesus informs them – they clearly don’t understand what they are asking for. They have completely misunderstood what Jesus has been up to in the world.

Jesus’ response must have been crushing for these ambitious brothers.

And things don’t get any better for James and John. Because when the other disciples hear about their gutsy request – they are furious with them.

Jesus sees trouble is brewing. So – Jesus gathers ALL of his disciples together – and informs them – that – “whoever wants to become great must become a servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

That probably wasn’t what ANY of the disciples were hoping to hear.

It isn’t like servants were held in higher esteem back then.   Serving wasn’t more honorable in Jesus’ time than it is in ours. People looked down on servants then too. Servants were nobodies who did the worst – hardest – most backbreaking jobs. And in many cases – they were actually slaves.

Yet here Jesus stands telling the disciples they are called to be servants and slaves.

Once again – Jesus is calling us to do something hard.   Service just doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Serving others takes humility. Most folks prefer glory and honor like James and John. Or at the very least not having to do too much hard work.

There is a story about a company of soldiers from the American Revolutionary War that speaks to our tendency to look down on serving.

These soldiers had been working day after long – hard day constructing a fort. All of the work was done by hand with just a few rudimentary tools. The work was truly difficult and the men were exhausted. As the men worked – their captain stood nearby shouting orders – but offering no help.

Finally – the end was in sight. There were just a few huge logs for the men to heft into place. As the men wrestled with these final logs – it was clear they were nearing their physical breaking point. But still their captain refused to offer any help.   Instead – he just stood there yelling at them and shouting insults.

The more the men struggled – the louder their captain yelled. But he never made a move to help them.

Suddenly a stranger rode up on horseback – and seeing the soldiers struggling – he stopped and asked the captain why he wasn’t helping his men.

“I AM AN OFFICER. OFFICERS DO NOT DIRTY THEIR HANDS IN THAT MANNER” – was the captain’s snooty reply.

Upon hearing that – the stranger quickly got to work helping the men place the final heavy logs.

And the helpful stranger – well – rumor had it – It was George Washington himself the COMMANDER of the Continental Army . . .

A good leader serves others too. Leading means pitching in – helping out and offering support. The best leaders are helpers and companions and co-workers.

James and John did not understand this. They didn’t want to get their hands dirty. They wanted glory and not a bunch of hard work.

Clearly James and John hadn’t been watching Jesus very carefully.   Because Jesus had been showing them day after day that being a follower of God means serving others.

Just look at Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus put other people first. Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus cast out demons and raised people from the dead.

Jesus taught and healed and preached the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy – because that is who Jesus is.

Jesus helped and served to show the world God’s love and that is why we serve too. We serve to show the world God’s amazing love for everyone.

When you volunteer at a local school or bring in food for the food pantry at FCHUM – or send a card to someone – God’s love shines through you.

When you donate blood – support Sunday school – pitch in with cleaning the church – or help out with our church Halloween Party – you are sharing God’s love.

When you pull a few weeds in the church flower beds – go to the Ronald McDonald House – drive a neighbor to the doctor or to the store or rake some leaves for a shut-in – you are sharing God’s love.

When you make a pot of chili – pray for someone on the church prayer list – help on a church work day – or serve as a reader during worship you are being just who God called you to be.

Jesus called you to serve. And when you do – you are sharing God’s love.   Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Worship for Sunday, October 10, 2021

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.   Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 90:12-17

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry?
Be gracious to your servants. 
Satisfy us by your steadfast love in the morning;
so shall we rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you afflicted us
and as many years as we suffered adversity.
Show your servants your works,
and your splendor to their children.
May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us;
prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. Amen.

Hebrews 4:12-16

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.   Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:17-31

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When my brother was in high school he and his friends all loved the song “I Wanna Be Rich” by the R and B duo Calloway. It was so totally early 1990’s – and they absolutely loved it.   I remember Matt and Perez and Todd and Derek all rocking out to “I Wanna Be Rich” while wearing their super cool M C Hammer pants!

Matt and his best buds all “wanted to be rich! They wanted lots and lots of money. They wanted the pie in the sky. Yes – they wanted to be rich!” And on and on and on. Over and over and over again.

As far as I know none of them have become multi-millionaires just yet – but there is still time.

What about you – are you rich?

I would guess that all of you gathered here today would answer that particular question with a great big old – “NO WAY!”

Or “an are you kidding me?!? Rich – I wish!”

According to one study I read this week – only 28% of people with assets of between 1 and 5 million dollars consider themselves to be rich.   In fact only 60% of folks who have assets of more than 5 million dollars think that they are wealthy. Seriously . . . 5 million dollars and they still don’t feel wealthy?!?

So what does it take for someone living in the United States of America in 2021 to think of themselves as wealthy?

My family makes me feel wealthy!

Well – another group of researchers learned it takes about 2.4 million dollars on average for someone in our country to feel really and truly wealthy. But that varies from city to city and region to region.

Another pretty consistent pattern about wealth is – we always think our money concerns will go away if our income would simply double what it is now.   So if I make $30,000 then I believe all will be perfectly perfect in my world once I am making $60,000. The problem with this is – once we start making that $60,000 we find ourselves yearning for $120,000 and on and on and on.

Making memories with my people = life’s greatest riches!

We are never content for very long. We always want more and more and more!

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus tells us – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Hearing Jesus say that – sort of makes you feel sorry for all of those poor rich people who are going to have such a hard time getting into heaven – doesn’t it?!?

After all – I doubt many of us would call ourselves rich. Honestly – most of us never feel like we have enough money. Like our resources are always being stretched thin . . .

Sure we might be comfortable – but rich just doesn’t describe us. . . Jesus couldn’t be talking about us – could he?

Well – Jesus would say – that he is absolutely – positively talking to us. Jesus would say – we are all rich! That we are all wildly and wonderfully and gloriously rich!

More memories with people I love!

Me – rich? Yeah right – you are probably thinking to yourself – but I ask you to stop for a moment to think about all of the material blessings in your lives.   Think about the clothes in your closets – the car you drive – the shoes on your feet – your home – the food in your refrigerator – the abundant clean water that flows from your faucets – the heat that blasts from your furnace – the electric lights that illuminate your lives – your access to health care and education – and all of those other things we have in our lives that we are all so quick to take for granted.

Now think about this – more than 600 million people currently live on less than $2 per day.

Imagine earning less than 700 dollars a year.   Hearing that sort of makes you rethink the whole rich thing doesn’t it?

When was the last time you were really hungry for longer than the time it took to zap something in the microwave or to go through the nearest fast food drive through?

800 million people in the world are hungry right this very moment. 800 million people – might eat sometime today – but it won’t be enough to satisfy their hunger.

600 million people don’t have access to clean water.   While each of us will use about – 150 gallons of water just today.

900 million people around the world have no access to electricity. And I complain about replacing a lightbulb!?!

Can you imagine life without enough food?   Without clean water?   Without electricity? What would your life be like without those things we think of as necessities but others must live without?

Frankly – we are all rich beyond most peoples’ wildest dreams. We are some of the richest people who have ever lived in human history! Ever!!!

And so – I think we can be pretty sure Jesus was talking to us in our Gospel reading for today when he said – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are aren’t just rich. We are crazy rich! All of us.

But know this too – Jesus isn’t telling us all is lost. Nor is he condemning.   Rather Jesus is warning us.   Jesus wants us to know having so many material blessings can be dangerous. It can make us arrogant. We can get so comfortable and so self-confident that we forget we need God.

All of the wealth that surrounds us – all of our possessions – all of our successes – can make us feel powerful – invincible – even immortal.

Our wealth can cause us to think that we are god-like. We can start to depend on and rely on our material wealth more than we depend on our God. We can start to put the stuff of this world before God.

And this is what Jesus wants us to be aware of.   Jesus wants us to know our wealth cannot save us.

Only God can save us.

The Gospel reading for this week is not a condemnation – rather it is a loving reminder.   God can and will save us – but we do need to remember we need him! And we do need him and his grace – love – and mercy. AMEN.

Waiting in Silence

I am usually so full of words. Words tend to pour out of me. Most days words flow and flow and flow in what must seem like an endless stream to those who love me most.

I often find I have almost as much to write. (Again with all of the wordy words!)

Words are my solace and my joy. Words delight and amuse me. Words – words – words. Words!   I delight in words!

But not so these past days.

I find that the words are not flowing.

Instead I find myself listening. And praying. Oh how I am praying. And I am thinking. And I am seeking time for silence and contemplation. And observing and listening some more.

These have been hard days. It has been a long week. A heavy week. A painful week.

My heart is so weighed down and filled with grief. Our Christian community is grieving. My sisters and brothers in Christ are hurting.   Our hearts are broken. We are sad. We are grieving.

This is hard. This is sad. This is so wretchedly awful it is hard to put it into words . . .

And so I listen. And I pray.   And I wait in silence. And I sigh those sighs Saint Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans and depend on the Spirit to intercede for me with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26).

I hear scripture rolling around in my mind. God’s Word comes back to me. All of that time writing sermons and reading and preparing Bible studies and doing church-y things is blessing me.

I have verses that my mind returns to again and again when I need comfort and solace and strength for the journey.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. . . even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Yes – through – not into forever but through.   Yes – I needed to be reminded that the dark valley isn’t where we stay. It isn’t our permanent residence.

And again I return to Romans 8 – to be reminded of God’s love and care when I am heartbroken.

 “What then are we to say about these things? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Life is hard. Saint Paul really hits the nail on the head when he lists life as one of the things we all fear might separate us from God – doesn’t he?   We all need this reminder that God won’t let anything come between us – not even life in this broken – sinful – incredibly human world. God’s love for us is bigger than even this life!

And Isaiah 49:16.   “See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands.” This image of being in God’s hands . . . this strengths me.

And Psalm 46. I turn to Psalm 46 again and again. The silence part is great – but my favorite reminder is that the God of our ancestors is faithful and with us.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” – Psalm 46:7

Our God doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen to us or those we love. Our God promises us that we are not alone. God is with us in the storms of life. Our God is with us.

I have been seeking and listening and praying and waiting in silence.

What are the verses from God’s Word that strengthen you? That offer you comfort and solace?

What offers you comfort?

You are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

Worship for Sunday, October 3. 2021

Genesis 2:18-24

18The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 8

1O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!—
2you whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children;
you have set up a fortress against your enemies, to silence the foe and avenger.
3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
4what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them,
human beings that you should care for them? 
5Yet you have made them little less than divine;
with glory and honor you crown them.
6You have made them rule over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet:
7all flocks and cattle,
even the wild beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
9O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,9but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark the 10th chapter.

2Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus boldly declares to us that we all need to have faith like children if we want to be able to enter the Kingdom of God.

This particular statement from Jesus is almost certainly guaranteed to capture our attention – because who here doesn’t want to enter the Kingdom of God? Who doesn’t want to go to heaven? Who doesn’t want to spend eternity in Paradise with our Lord?

This declaration from Jesus has certainly captured the imagination of more than a few preachers and been the topic of many sermons over the years.

Lots of these sermons begin by carefully and thoughtfully describing children. The children these preachers know are truly amazing – even downright dazzling creatures.   These children are simply delightful.   They actually verge on being angelic.

These children never – ever roll their eyes or make faces at their parents. Or use more than their fair share of the family data plan or hog the Wi-Fi. These children would never express annoyance about the sage advice their moms lovingly offer!

These children eat all of their vegetables with smiles on their faces and gratitude in their hearts.

A mom could dress these children in white clothing with confidence because they would never dream of wrestling with each other or rolling around on the floor like a pack of wild animals!

And the apparent awesomeness of these sweet – angelic – grateful – vegetable eating children doesn’t stop here . . . Oh – no there is more.   These children also have a completely and utterly trusting faith in God.

These children have no doubt – no questions – and absolutely no uncertainty. Just unwavering faith. The faith these children possess is just as unblemished as their spotless white clothes are.

After hearing these sermons – I am always left scratching my head in puzzlement. Because the children these preachers describe are nothing like ANY of the children I know. Seriously – NONE!

Maybe it is a denominational thing . . . Perhaps it is just Lutheran children – who have these sorts of “issues?” Maybe other children are less “intense.”

Maybe Catholic children are more agreeable and compliant.

Could it be that Methodist children are less probing and Baptist children are less inquisitive?

Perhaps – Episcopalian children are less opinionated.

Because – all of the Lutheran children I have ever met are incredibly spunky creatures. They all seem to be born with strong opinions. And they ask hard questions.

Even really young Lutherans have inquiring minds and they all want to know – absolutely – positively EVERYTHING!

Vacation Bible School – is hands down the most terrifying week of my year. The questions our brilliant young Lutherans ask could make even Martin Luther quiver with fear.

Sometimes the questions are fun like – “Did Adam have a bellybutton since he didn’t have a mom?” Or “why did God think mosquitoes were a good idea?” “Or how do you justify the existence of the paid clergy? – yes I really got that question once . . . ”

But other times – the questions take my breath away and leave me speechless.

Like the day 6 year old Jessie asked me– “If Jesus loves me – why did I get brain cancer?”

Or Erica – who was just 12 when her dad died – She wanted to know why God let her dad die when she still needed him so badly.

Questions like these are enough to make a pastor think about early retirement or a career in just about anything else.

Real – children are inquisitive. They are full of questions. Questions pour out of them all of the time. And many of the questions they ask are hard questions.

Questions just like we ask. Because questions and questioning are part of being human.

But far too often we equate faithfulness and belief in God with a lack of questions. We act like a really and truly faithful person isn’t going to have questions or at least a truly faithful person isn’t going to have tough questions for God.

But I assert with great conviction that questions – even really hard questions about God – and faith – and being a Christian in this broken – sinful world are part of having faith.

God doesn’t ask us to leave our questions behind when we become Christians. Nor does God want us to leave our inquisitiveness at the door when we enter the church.

Some of the most faithful people have asked really hard questions.

Think of all of the questions the disciples asked Jesus.   They asked Jesus hard   questions.

They wanted to know why bad things happened to good people.

They wanted to know why Jesus had to die on a Roman cross.

They wanted to know how to pray and about what heaven was going to be like.

They too wanted to know the meaning of life. And they asked hard questions about divorce too.

Or think of Martin Luther. Think of the hard questions he asked and the ways his hard questions changed the world forever.

I think that when Jesus tells us we should have faith like a child – Jesus is encouraging us to ask questions – to be inquisitive – to dig deeper.   To be seekers and questioners and thinkers.

True faith isn’t the absence of hard questions. Faithful people have all sorts of questions.   Even hard questions.

So ask your hard questions – and seek answers.   Read your Bibles. Pray and talk to God. Come to Sunday school and participate in worship. Listen to God’s Word and listen for God’s answers.

And know this – in our Gospel reading for today – Jesus is telling you – you and your questions are welcome here.   Because God loves you and your questions. And truly this is Good News!   Amen.

93 Days, 15 Hours, and 49 minutes

Summer 2021 is over. This summer flew past in a blur of marigolds and black-eyed Susans and hibiscus blossoms.   It flew by in a whirl of a laughing little boy jumping on his trampoline and riding his scooter and swinging on his swing set and talking to me about how much he loves planes and ships. And a frolicking orange kitten chasing fireflies and many – many trips to the zoo and walks with my beloved.

I tried to slow it down. To stop and smell the roses and the lavender and the freshly mown lawn.   To delight in the blue skies and the way the hot sun felt on my shoulders. I tried to remember to give thanks for the deliciously long days when the sun rose early and didn’t set until our sweet Will’s bedtime.

I tried to remember to sit outside under the shade of my oak tree with my knitting and a good book as often as I could.

I tried to remember to linger outside in the summer air. To take it all in. To watch the white clouds dancing across the vividly blue skies.   To listen to the cicadas’ noisy chatter. To watch the bumble bees busily working and the ants too.

I made time for trips to the river. And I even took a moment now and then to watch the heat radiating off the pavement.

I wanted to appreciate all of it. To soak the blessings of summer in. Because summer does not last.

Summer is so fleeting. And I love summer so. But sadly summer is here and gone so quickly every year.

Today is the first day of fall.

It feels like summer is over. It feels like the first day of fall. Everyone (except Jason) at our house is bundled up in a sweatshirt today.   Jason won’t need long sleeves until late November and only then if he is outside.

It is rainy and gray and cool.

Fall arrived today, Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 3:21 pm and I am trying really – really hard not to be too disappointed.

But I am a summer person. Summer is glorious and amazing and balm for my soul. Summer is vivid – riotous color and baking heat and sunshine.   Summer means growing things and 8,000 shades of green!

I am always just a bit surprised when folks complain about the heat of summer – because I love it so very much. In fact when people complain about the heat of summer I always – always think to myself – “Seriously?!?! January is coming.”

As I sat at my desk today – dressed for fall – listening to the rain fall outside – I lamented the end of summer. Spring 2022 is 6 whole months away . . . 186 days . . .

That is a lot of time. I will have plenty of time to tell my beloved family just how much I abhor winter and dislike fall because it is so close to winter . . .

So today I will close my eyes and remember and reflect and give thanks for my favorite season. I will give thanks for the blessings of the summer of 2021.

I will give thanks for the sun on my shoulders.

I will give thanks for vividly blue skies.

I will give thanks for sons jumping on trampolines.

I will give thanks for walks with my beloved.

I will give thanks for noisy cicadas – so noisy sometimes the sound almost hurt my ears.

and for flowers

and for bees

and for butterflies

and for afternoons spent reading under my favorite tree

and for a funny orange kitten

and for late sunsets and early sunrises

and for green grass and gardens and the heat that I love so . . .

I will give thanks for my favorite season – for all of its blessings – for all that it held. I will try to remember that fall is some folks’ favorite season. And if nothing else I will remember that spring is just 186 days away . . . (and it is supposed to be 81 degrees and sunny on Monday!)

 

Watching More than the Grass Grow

Jason and I go for a walk almost every day. Usually more than once a day.

For years now Jason and I have walked as soon as our work day was over.   Jason would get home from work and off we went for a walk.

Now that Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down and inside out – we often walk together during our lunchtime break from work too. (We have both noticed how much better we feel when we are less sedentary. It is so much easier to work and to think after some exercise!)

In our neighborhood – we have a reputation for being folks who walk.

Just this week one of our neighbors stopped us to ask how many pairs of shoes we wear out each year. He was being silly – but the truth is I walk through about 3 or 4 pairs of sturdy   hiking shoes each year. I walk the tread right off my walking shoes.   It seems asphalt is hard on whatever my shoes are made of.

Walking together long ago became a daily habit for us. It is quite simply part of who we are and how we live in this world.

We have 3 walking patterns that we have developed over the years that fit our family’s needs. Sometimes we can wander further afield and other times we need to stay closer to home.

But our neighborhood is not particularly large by Louisville standards. So – no matter which walking pattern we choose – the paths we walk are very – very well trod. We see the same things over and over and over again on our walks. The same homes – the same yards – the same flowerbeds – the same trees – the same EVERYTHING. Day after day – month after month for almost 9 years now.

At first one might think this would be painfully boring. That seeing the same things over and over and over again would be mind numbingly dull. But thankfully it isn’t. There is joy to be had in knowing something really well. I have found it can be a blessing to be deeply familiar with something.

And over the years I have learned that even when things are deeply familiar – there is so much to see.

First – I have favorite things I look and listen for on our walks.   There is a pair of nesting hawks in our neighborhood. Watching our hawks soar and swoop and hunt and listening to them call and scream is a highlight of our walks. I am quite smitten with our hawks.

I am all about watching clouds. I can and do watch clouds for a very long time. I find the sky to be fascinating.

But what truly captures my attention are the small things. I notice so many little changes in my world.   The minutiae. Those things you would never notice when you were driving by in a car or if you were staring at your smartphone or just simply not looking for them. These are often the things that delight and amaze me the most.

This week it was fungi. Seriously – I kid you not. It was fungi that caught and kept my attention. Fungi were popping up in yards all over our neighborhood. And there was a truly intriguing assortment.

I was mesmerized and delighted and intrigued and amazed.

And this array of fungi grew and spread so quickly. Sometimes there would just be hours between our walks and yet in that time – the fungi would be visibly different. It was amazing to watch them grow and spread and change.

There are 75,000 scientifically identified species of fungi!   And scientists think there are likely a million more that they haven’t yet identified!?! Talk about intriguing . . .

I had no idea what I was looking at – but it didn’t matter. What I was looking at was beautiful and elegant and lovely.

Look at those shapes . . . and colors . . .

Look at the way they contrast with the green of the grass . . . Amazing – right?

I try to keep myself open to surprises and things that might just delight me. I have developed an eye for detail. I notice subtle changes.   I see the little things. I let my eyes wander while my feet pound the pavement and I see amazing things. Beautiful things. Humbling things.   Blessings . . .

I find that many of the greatest blessings in my life are the blessings I might not even notice if I weren’t open to seeing them – to noticing them – to being delighted by them.

It would be easy to miss them – to walk right on by – to be too absorbed – too busy – too hurried – too harried – too distracted . . .

(And I know I am missing so – so many blessings because I am often too absorbed – too busy – too hurried – too harried – too distracted – too arrogant – too lots of things . . . )

This one was literally as big as my head!!!

Have you tried slowing down lately? Have you tried noticing and looking and listening? Have you tried watching for something surprising?

What have you noticed? What have you seen? How have you been blessed?

You are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, September 19, 2021

Jeremiah 11:18-20

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 54

Save me, O God, by your name;
in your might, defend my cause.
Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life,
those who have no regard for God.
Behold, God is my helper;
it is the Lord who sustains my life. 
Render evil to those who spy on me;
in your faithfulness, destroy them.
I will offer you a freewill sacrifice
and praise your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For you have rescued me from every trouble,
and my eye looks down on my enemies. 

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

The Word of the Lord.

Mark 9:30-37

[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I have heard that actual families exist in the universe where the siblings don’t fight – argue – bicker and fight some more. I hear there are families in which everyone keeps their hands to themselves ALL of the time. That there are families where sibling rivalry doesn’t even exist. And the children actually manage get along with each other – even when they are in the same room for longer than 30 seconds in a row.

And while I don’t deny these families may actually exist – a huge part of me believes these families are as rare as unicorns and mermaids.

And just like unicorns and mermaids – these families sound beautiful and lovely and gloriously amazing – but I haven’t had the honor of meeting any of them personally.

My own sons are nifty people – but they delight in messing with each other and in pushing each others’ buttons. And I most certainly didn’t grow up in a family like this. My brother and I fought – argued and bickered daily. In fact – we could get into an argument about anything. And we did – over and over and over again!

If I liked something – Matt hated it. If I thought something was fun – Matt thought it was stupid. If I thought something was interesting – Matt thought it was boring.

Almost all of our arguments were petty and ridiculous. But if we could think of a way to turn something into an argument – we did! It was a sad super-power to possess but it was ours . . .

In our Gospel reading for today the disciples are bickering with each other just like my brother and I used to do. The disciples are arguing about which one of them is the most important. About which one of them is Jesus’ favorite. About which one of them – Jesus loves the most.

And they are having a hard time settling their disagreement. Because – they all believe themselves to be incredibly important. After all – they were ALL called by Jesus to be his disciples.   They are ALL part of an elite group of 12. They are ALL insiders.   They are Jesus’ closest companions and his dearest friends. They ALL believe themselves to be very special . . .

Clearly – the disciples have gotten pretty puffed up and full of themselves.

But when Jesus asks the disciples what they have been arguing about during their walk to Capernaum – they are silent.   They are too embarrassed to tell Jesus.   Because they know – their conversation had been completely and utterly inappropriate.

But they don’t have to tell Jesus what they have been wasting their time arguing about. Jesus already knows what they have been up to.

Jesus knows they have been arguing about which one of them is the most important. Jesus knows they have gotten too puffed up for their own good . . . So Jesus decides to answer the question they aren’t brave enough to admit to debating.

Jesus sits the disciples down for what you might call a “come to Jesus moment.” And he declares – “If anyone wants to be first – he must be the very last – and servant of all.”

This was NOT what the disciples wanted to hear Jesus say!

Then Jesus illustrates his point by gathering a child into his arms and telling the disciples – “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me – welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

With those simple words – Jesus really disappointed the disciples and he turned their world upside down and inside out.   Jesus’ statement was shocking.   Seriously – welcoming a kid – is like welcoming God? Really?   Come on?

That wouldn’t have made any sense to the disciples.   But it makes a lot of sense to us.   Because we live in a world where even the bibs we put on our babies declare them to be royalty.

You have all seen and likely purchased those t-shirts for kids that say things like –   “Princess” – “I Rule Daddy’s Heart” – “Super Star” – “Awesome and I Know It” – “The Next Big Thing” – “Super Hero” – “Check Me Out” – “The Boss” and on and on and on.

We make a really big deal out of our kids.   We hover and dote and pamper.   We treat our kids like royalty.   We quite literally put crowns on our kids and not just at Halloween. Just this week I saw a little princess marching around Target in a crown while also carrying her very own scepter. And she was quite clearly the boss of her mom if the temper tantrum she was throwing was any sign of their relationship . . .

But the world Jesus and the disciples lived in was very different. In Jesus’ world children were nobodies. Kids weren’t just second-class citizens – they were property.

And yet – here Jesus is – telling the disciples if they welcome a complete and utter nobody – they are welcoming both Jesus and God the Father.

So what was Jesus’ point? Why did Jesus tell his disciples that – if anyone wants to welcome God – they must welcome – a bunch of insignificant nobodies?

Well – once again Jesus wanted his disciples to change their way of looking at the world. Jesus wanted his disciples to know everyone is important to God. Yes – God loves kings and queens and faithful disciples. God loves presidents and presiding bishops and prophets – but God also loves children and poor people and folks who the world thinks of as insignificant and unimportant.

To God all people are important and all people are valuable. We are all children of God and we are all equally valuable in God’s eyes. We all matter to God.

No one is insignificant. All people are the beloved children of God – no matter what their social status is or their life circumstances are.

God loves and values the homeless person sleeping rough as much as he loves the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA – Elizabeth Eaton.

God loves and values the drug addict as much as he loves the church deacon.

God loves and values the person who is making decisions we just don’t understand as much as God loves and values us.

God loves and values the person who is in prison as much as he values Pope Francis.

And so should we.

God wants us to show all people the same respect and kindness we show God. God calls us to open our lives and our hearts to the people our society is far too quick to reject. God wants us to love society’s outcasts as much as we love folks we see as loveable.

And God tells us that when we do this we are expressing our love for him. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.