Thinking about Trash

I am a bit of a tree hugger.  Okay maybe I am a lot of a tree hugger!

I recycled back when it was harder to do.  I recycled when you had to sort your own recycling and you had to drive way out of your way to do it.  I recycled when it was just me and the other lady in her matching Birkenstock sandals and Greenpeace t-shirt at the recycling center (and our Birks weren’t even trendy or cool – just environmentally friendly).

My tree hugging ways are definitely intensifying with age. 

Gone are things like paper towels and paper napkins at the McFarland house.  I dislike storing food in plastic.  I ration zip-lock bags.  I regularly ask the baggie holder if he really  needs that baggie or if a lovely – reusable – environmentally friendly glass container would work instead?  I buy in bulk whenever possible, because it has so much less creation harming packaging. 

I feel some pretty serious guilt over those wretched foam take-away containers our favorite Mexican grocery uses for our Friday night tacos.  I wonder- if once Covid-19 is over – if I might be able to provide my own environmentally kinder containers – but I am sure the health department would have a fit.  (A lady can dream . . .)

As Christians I believe we are called to be good and wise stewards of God’s creation.  Creation does not belong to us.  I believe when God created humanity in Genesis and called us to be his caretakers that we were given an important task – a task we far too often don’t take seriously enough.  Or one we have far too often interpreted “as turn the Earth into our personal garbage dump.”  (Why yes – I do feel passionately about creation stewardship!)

“26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:26-28

The NRSV translation of the Bible uses the words “dominion” and “subdue” in Genesis chapter 1.  Unfortunately – we have far too often used those words as an excuse to abuse God’s gifts to us – to spread our trash everywhere – to use to excess – to not think about others. 

I see this all the time when I am out in nature – hiking – walking and exploring. 

Sometimes it is as simple as our next door neighbor’s refusal to recycle anything and her overflowing trashcan week after week.  Weekly we pick up her trash from our yard and the cul-de-sac.  It is a sad, but regular part of our Thursday walks.  (Today is was a McDonald’s bag blowing like a tumble weed through the cul-de-sac.)

This Christmas break our extended family collected over 40 huge black trash bags of trash from the woods up the mountain from where my in-laws have their mountain home.  Some homeowners are so shockingly careless with their trash and bears get into it over and over again.  This endangers the bears and leaves the beautiful mountains looking like a garbage dump.  So the Markward-McFarland clan cleaned it up several times.  Jack, Nic, Bella, and Will were amazing.   We were so proud of them!  Hopefully they are learning important lessons about stewardship of God’s creation and care of God’s creatures.

Here some of us are with our handy work!

Other times it is the trash that litters the sides of the trails we hike.  I am dumbfounded that anyone could hike along a trail drinking a soda and eating a bag of chips enjoying the beauty of nature and then upon finishing these “food” items toss the empty containers onto the ground beside the trail . . .

When Jack, Will, and I were exploring and delighting in the Broadrun Park and Floyds Fork River this week we saw evidence of humanity’s abuse of God’s glorious creation over and over again.

There were overflowing trashcans close to the river.  There was trash that had washed up along the river like plastic bottles and bags and those little yard flags. 

There were golf balls.

There were so – so many broken beer bottles.  Drinking beer and tossing the empties into the river must be the pass time of many an American! 

There were pieces of metal in all shapes and sizes.

As we explored and took it all in – we talked about what we were observing around us.  I didn’t even start this conversation. . .  We talked about the incredible beauty of nature and God’s creation and how ugly humanity’s garbage is. 

And then Jack pointed out that while the plastic and the foam stayed just gross and disgusting – the glass and the metal became interesting as God’s creation reclaimed it.  The broken glass bottle pieces shine and sparkle as the river washes over them. 

(The McFarland sons and I collected an entire tray of broken pieces of glass on Monday afternoon in just a couple of hours!)

The metal also becomes beautiful as it breaks down and returns to the elements of the earth from which it first came so long ago.

Truly there is beauty everywhere and in almost everything – but I don’t think that is an excuse to be bad stewards of God’s beautiful creation.

A steward is someone who cares for something that doesn’t belong to them.  None of this is ours.  We are just borrowing it for a bit.  Would any of us borrow a friend’s home for a while and leave behind a bunch of trash in our wake?  I would really – really hope not!  Why do we do this to God’s creation?

January is a great time to start new habits and try new things.  Perhaps one of those new things could be trying to be a better steward of God’s creation.  Maybe you could remember those reusable grocery bags and stop using those plastic grocery bags.  Maybe you could remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room (I am working on this one myself this year.)  Or could you turn down the furnace when you are sleeping?  Maybe you could start recycling if you don’t already.  Maybe you could put on some gloves and pick up someone else’s litter the next time you are out and about.  Or how about taking shorter showers or showers instead of baths? 

God has allowed us to live on a truly beautiful planet.  We are so blessed.  And there are so many ways we can be God’s stewards in this world – even now in the middle of this pandemic!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Cabin Fever

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.  Amen.

I needed a change of pace.  I had been spending way – Way – WAY too much time stuck inside.  I am not an inside kind of person.  I have a threshold of inside-ness and I had surpassed it days ago!  Thanks to our winter-y weekend weather I had a rather serious case of cabin fever.  

I was longing to be outside.  I needed to be immersed in nature.  I needed fresh air.  I longed for the sounds of nature.  I wanted to explore – to move – to seek.  I needed to feel the sun on my face. (This is seriously one of my favorite things in the entire world – I love – love – love it!)  I needed mud on my boots.   I needed trees – and lots of them.

I knew just where I longed to be.  I knew just where I needed to go.  I needed to go to the river.  It was time for a river glass hunting expedition!

So I got up a bit earlier than usual on Monday with a plan.  Will, Jack, and I were going to the river on Monday if at ALL possible.  Thanks to a National Holiday and no NTI – I was able to work with fewer interrupts than usual and achieved my goals for the day with a few hours of sunlight left!  Yippee!  Whoo-Hoo!

Warm hats – gloves – cozy coats – and sons were located and we were off!  We quite cruelly left poor Jason behind.  We are like that sometimes . . . I think he is getting used to it! 

As soon as we arrived I felt more at peace.  My soul – just sort of sighed with relief.  I was where I needed to be.  It was well with my soul! 

I am so often happier outside. (Unless it is raining – I despise getting wet from water that I did not request – yuck!)  And outside with lots of trees and a river or a lake is amazingly – perfectly awesome!

I feel more alive – more awake outside too.  And this time of year – I so often feel like I am constantly combating the desire just to surrender and hibernate until spring.  Some days I feel like I never really wake up all the way until I get outside for a walk!

We explored.

One of us threw stones.

Taking my littlest guy to the river means that rocks will be thrown.  I love listening to the sound of Will throwing rocks into the river.  I sometimes just close my eyes and listen.  It makes me smile.  What is it about children (and many adults) that makes them feel compelled to throw rocks into bodies of water?  I don’t personally feel the draw to throw rocks – but I love watching my sons do it.  I even love listening to them do it.  That glorious plop is very appealing.  Maybe I don’t throw stones – because Jack and Will do it for me!

Will climbed and climbed.  Will has been taught about climbing from an excellent teacher.  His beloved big brother is a serious climber.

We found tons of river glass.

Seriously – tons of river glass!

I listened to the river.

I watched the river and the trees.

I looked at the sun and the sky.

We chatted. 

We were quiet together too.

I let the beauty of the day and the blessing of the magnificent company wash over me.

We headed for home feeling refreshed and thankful and blessed.

Do you have a place or places that do this for you?  Where do you go when your soul needs a break?  Where do you find peace settling into your heart?

How are you taking care of your soul these days?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, January 17, 2021

Proverbs 9:9-10

9 Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 139:1-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end — I am still with you.  Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 5:14-16

14 Jesus said“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Gospel of the Lord.

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

I know many of us are emotionally exhausted right now.  Living through this pandemic is taking such an emotional toll on lots of folks.  Covid-19 has been reeking havoc on our lives for months now.  And honestly – we are fed up.  We are so tired of ALL of it.

I hear this fatigue in your voices when I talk to you on the telephone.  I see it written on your faces when we chat on Zoom.  I can even see it from a safe social distance on those rare occasions that I am able to see you in-person.  So many folks seem deflated.  Tired.  Weary.  So many folks are just plain worn out. 

And winter seems to be making it all so – so much worse.  We were already struggling with living in this strange Covid-19 world and then came the short – cold – gray days of winter in Kentucky.  Winter can be a bit of a slog during a good year.  We may need to dig pretty deep to make it through winter when everything is going smoothly.  And this year – well – this year is so very – very much harder!  Because it doesn’t seem like ANYTHING is going smoothly right now.  Zip – nada – absolutely nothing! 

Sure winters past have been a bit isolating as we hunker down at home to avoid the cold – but never like this!  We are so very lonely.  We are missing friends and our beloved family members.  We are missing classmates and colleagues.  We are missing our sisters and brothers in Christ.  We may even be missing our co-workers (or not) . . .  We are craving human interaction.  We need people and conversation and contact! 

And we are so tired of all of the other restrictions too.  We are tired of masks.  We are fed up with cancellations.  We don’t want to socially distance or isolate anymore.  We want to shake hands and hug and stand really close to each other!  

We have washed our hands until they look twenty years older than they did a few months ago.  We have sanitized everything in our lives. 

And NTI is hard!  Most of us aren’t educators for a reason – we stink at it!

Plus we are exhausted by the bad news. But it just keeps coming and coming.

We are fed up.  We have had ENOUGH!  Seriously – enough already!

We want to sing and laugh out loud.  We want to gather in large groups while standing very – very close to one another just because we want to.  We want to throw caution to the wind.  We want to be carefree. 

We are desperate to get back to our lives before Covid-19 invaded and turned our lives upside down and inside out.  We long for the good old days – when life was easier.  When life was less complicated and less frightening.  When life didn’t feel nearly so hard or so stressful or so disappointing or discouraging.

But Covid-19 isn’t over.  The pandemic is still spreading aggressively.  We are in the middle of a surge.

Our time of making sacrifices for the greater good isn’t over.  We cannot “grow weary of doing what is right.”  (Galatians 6:9)

I know there are those who believe and proclaim the most faithful action of a Christian is to continue to gather for worship no matter what.  I have heard and read that the Christian church didn’t close its doors for previous pandemics so why would we now?  I have seen church signs right here in Louisville proclaiming “Faith over Fear!” along with the message “still meeting for in-person worship this and every Sunday.” 

I passionately disagree with choosing to gather for worship when we are being advised by wise doctors and scientists not to.  It is simply not more faithful to gather for worship in the middle of a surge in this pandemic.  It is not more faithful to take such risks and perhaps spread a deadly virus.

In fact – I would assert the more faithful choice is to worship God from our homes where we do not endanger others.  The more faithful choice is to put others’ needs before our own wants and desires.  The more faithful choice is to sacrifice and live with the uneasy feelings and grief we must confront when we are unable to do what we want to do.  The more faithful choice is to think deeply and pray about why we struggle so much to protect others. 

We are not being unfaithful Christians by worshipping from home – by holding Zoom meetings and Sunday school.  We are being faithful Christians by not singing during our in-person worship until it is safer – by wearing our masks – and by social distancing. 

I know this is so very hard.  I know this is very uncomfortable.  I know we are all weary of the isolation.  I know we fear what our church will look like once we are finally able to gather together safely, but our God calls us to be people who make sacrifices for others.  God calls us to be courageous and patient and loving. 

We can do this.  We are doing this!

We will gather together for worship in our sanctuary again.  We will sing hymns of praise to our Lord.  We will share the peace.  We will hug and laugh and stand really – really close again.  We will have Holy Communion the way we used to.  We will have Vacation Bible school and in-person Sunday school.  We will have social gatherings and long lingering conversations.  We will fill the sanctuary and the fellowship hall with our sisters and brothers in Christ again. 

But not just yet.  This is our time to make sacrifices for others.  This is our time to dig deeper. 

This is our time to not “grow weary of doing what is right.” This is our time to “work for the good of all.”  (Galatians 6:7-10)

Our God is with us.  Even now – God walks with us.  As the Psalm promises – there is no place we can go that God will not go with us.  We are not alone.  You are all in my heart and you are in my prayers.  Amen.

Bravely Venturing Forth

Tuesday was beautiful here in Fern Creek, Kentucky.  The sun was shining.  Yes – the sun was really and truly shining and it wasn’t crazy cold outside.  The sky was so very – perfectly blue.  It wasn’t a summer blue sky.  It is after all  – January.  But it was very blue and so very pretty.

I was so excited!  I love blue – sunny skies! 

As soon as NTI and my work for the day were wrapped up – the McFarland sons and I headed outside.  I was drawn outside like a kid is drawn to a candy store or more precisely like a knitter is drawn to a yarn store.  Jack and Will headed outside because I made them . . . They are very good sons who listen to their mom almost ALL of the time.

Cleaning off the trampoline.

It felt so wonderful to be outside with the sun on my face.  The rest of me was swathed and swaddled in wool and my great big – glorious puffer coat.  It is still undeniably January.  I could almost feel my body start making vitamin D more efficiently!  The sun is quite the mood booster for this aging pastor.

I am always struck by the stark difference between the seasons.  Summer is lush and green and a riot of color.  Summer is noisy and bustling and hot.  Summer is bright and so very busy.

Winter is so – so much quieter.  The McFarland sons and I were the only people outside in our neighborhood at the time.  I think everyone else must be hibernating right now!  I know most evenings I feel like hibernating on the couch with a good book and my knitting. There was so much less activity going on outside.  Very few people – not many animals – no bugs at all. 

There wasn’t much color either – but I found some beautiful color. 

I am me after all and I was determined to find some colorful things somewhere.  Also – Will is my son and my littlest guy loves color.  If my Will is with me – then there is bound to be a colorful hat or bright orange coat or pair of shoes in a color few other folks would dare to wear!

Always with the orangey goodness and this fellow!

One thing I have always loved about winter is the shadows.  Shadows are amazing this time of year.  If you are looking for some truly affordable yet fascinating entertainment bundle up and head outside and play with your shadow on a sunny day in January – so much fun!  Seriously – you will never feel so tall or so thin or so elegant in your entire life (unless you are blessed to be those things on a regular day . . .)

Winter shadows have summer shadows beat hands down. 

I noticed the sun shining.  I played with my shadow.  I chatted with my sons.  I watched and listened.  I explored.  I delighted in the sun shining on my face. 

I was amazed and delighted to see just how hardy these flowers are – seriously still green in January. . .

I gave thanks.  I felt so very blessed.  The world we live in is amazing and beautiful and lovely.  And once I started to lose the feeling in my fingers because of the cold (fun symptom of my autoimmune disease) I headed inside and I felt blessed to have a cozy, toasty, warm home to retreat to.

I was reminded again and again of God’s presence in the 45 minutes I was outside on a sunny January afternoon.  Yes – it was chilly – but it was a delight and a pleasure and a blessing. 

I know nature may not excite and delight you as much as it does me – but science has proven again and again and again that it is very – very good for us to get outside and spend time in nature.  Nature improves our moods and our sense of well-being.  And we all could likely use that right now!

Where are you seeing God’s blessings and God’s presence in your life right now?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
  worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
  the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
  and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord
bursts forth in lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
  the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.
And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;
  the Lord sits enthroned as king forevermore.
11O Lord, give strength to your people;
give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace.  Amen.

Acts 19:1-7

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

All of our Christmas presents have been opened and the beautiful cards admired.  The Christmas carols have been sung.  Our ugly Christmas sweaters have been proudly worn. The gluttonous meals have been devoured.  The cookies and candy have been eaten or left to grow stale. 

By now most of our Christmas decorations have likely been tucked away for another year.  Or we really – really wish they were!

The big crystal ball is Times Square dropped over a week ago now.  The confetti flew.  The New Year has been very – very warmly welcomed.  Never have we been so happy to say good riddance to a year as we were to 2020!

Vacation is over.  Alarm clocks are buzzing.  Learning hopefully resumed this week.  Life is getting back to normal.  Or normal-ish by pandemic standards – that is!  

And now we can no longer ignore the reality confronting us.  It is abundantly clear.  There is no denying it.  It is winter.  The nights are long and the days are fleetingly short.  The air is cold.  And the wind is biting.  The land is dormant.  No green grass – no colorful flowers.  It is just gray skies and brown dirt with the occasional shivering squirrel. 

Winter has settled in for a nice long stay.  The outside world can look pretty dull and bleak this time of year.  

Not only do things look rather bleak.  It can feel pretty bleak too.  After all – we are facing a long slog through the dark – cold days of winter.  The hope of spring is still such a long way off.  

Sadly – the news is as bleak as the weather is.  The headlines proclaim that we are months away from getting back to life as we knew it.  Covid-19 continues to spread and to make so many people so very ill.  The vaccine is coming – but it will take time!

The economy is a mess.  Unemployment remains high.

The people we elected to lead our government act in their own interests time and time again.  What happened at the Capital this week is just plain heartbreaking.

All of these things can combine to make us feel as blah as the gray sky.  

But then – we turn to our first reading for today.  The opening verses of Genesis are bursting with life and hope and overflowing with amazing miracles.  Our God is busy creating the world and everything in it.  Where there was once nothing but darkness – there is brilliant light as God creates the sun – moon and stars.  

Where there was no life – God speaks and trees, plants, and flowers burst forth. Swarms of living creatures cover the earth.  Where there was nothing – there is life.  

These opening verses of the Bible are a powerful reminder to us of the awesome God we worship.  Our Lord created everything we know from nothing.  Our God speaks and the heavens respond.  Our God works amazing miracles in our world.  

The opening verses of Genesis tell us about God’s first miracles – but God’s miracles did not stop with the creation of the world.  Nor did God’s miracles stop when the Bible ended.  God’s miracles are not the work of a bygone era.  God continues to work amazing miracles in our midst – each and every day.  God is at work in the world.  Miracles are happening all around us.  

We just need to slow down a bit and open our eyes to see them.  We need to shift our focus from the headlines that proclaim bad news – to see these miracles.  God is at work in our world and in our lives!

One miracle most of you never have the opportunity to witness is the way I am able to put our social ministries fund to work doing God’s work in the world.  This money helps our sisters and brothers in Christ who are going through a difficult time.  Think of how these folks’ lives are blessed by the gift of groceries or help with rent.  That is a miracle.

Think of the groceries and toilet paper and toiletries we gathered together in the midst of this wretched pandemic to help our neighbors in need.  Month after month – I filled my car to overflowing with gifts for the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries.  

Think of the school supplies we gathered together this summer and the children who have been blessed by those school supplies this year.   

Think of the bags of food for Christmas dinners we collected.  

Think of the Red Cross Blood drives.  Many of us know someone whose life has been saved by a blood transfusion.  

Think of the meals our church has continued to provide at the Ronald McDonald House each month.  (Thank you Marilyn!!!)

Think of the multitude of ways God has continued to make himself known to you – in rainbows and gorgeous sunsets and special Christmas stars.  In friends and family and brothers and sisters in Christ.

These are all miracles too.  God is at work in our lives.  God is working in and through us.  

Miracles aren’t just found in the pages of our Bibles.  Miracles happen in our lives too.

We worship a God who is always busy working miracles and – doing amazing things.  Our God is at work in our lives.   Our God is an awesome God.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

Reflecting and Considering and Giving Thanks

These 2 are numbered among the greatest blessings in my life!

The end of any year might cause us to take some time to reflect.  It can be a natural time to pause and consider all that happened over the past twelve months.  I usually take some time as each new year begins to think over the previous year’s events and happenings.  And I think the end of this past year is a particularly good time to pause and consider all that has transpired.

2020 was quite the year wasn’t it?  It was a year like no other I have ever experienced!  

Of all of the many things my extremely vivid imagination has conjured up over the years – I never – ever imagined raising our sons or pastoring a congregation through a global pandemic.  

Flood – tornado – fire or another natural disaster – sure – I had considered how I might respond to any of those (my imagination is a busy place).

Illness – yep.

Major recession – covered that!

Theological schism – been there done that twice now.  First was Called to Common Mission and the Historic Episcopate.  (Wow – did some folks get angry about that one!)  Next was how we should treat our LBGT brothers and sisters in Christ.  

But this pandemic – well – I was really and truly blindsided and totally and utterly unprepared for it.  This time last year I blithely thought the news I was hearing made it sound like it was going to be a bad year for the flu . . .(Naive much?)

This time last year I had cancelled in-person worship a whole 4 times in almost 20 years of active ministry and then came 2020.  Sometimes it feels like we only had in-person worship 4 times in all of 2020 . . .(And yes I know we worshipped together in-person many more times than that – but as Jason will tell you – there is nothing I love more than to exaggerate in an attempt to prove my point.)

Holy Week at Saint Stephen was painfully quiet . . .

Honestly cancelling in-person worship was just the tip of the iceberg.  2020 was an awful – wretched mess – wasn’t it?  I have heard 2020 called all sorts of really interesting things (most of which I won’t put into writing . . .). Dumpster fire is the most polite one I can remember hearing.

2020 was the year we cancelled in-person worship for Easter and Christmas Eve.

2020 also brought: 

The need to record EVERYTHING.  I am not someone who ever wanted to start a Vimeo – Youtube or whatever account!  This recording business could be listed up there as Kerri McFarland’s worst nightmare!


Masks and Halloween costumes – very 2020!


Social distancing – can you even remember life when we stood close to one another?

Staggering unemployment numbers and the equally staggering national debt

Hand sanitizer

TP – hoarding and shortages

Zoom meetings


Cancellations on top of cancellations on top of cancellations

Working from home

Learning to be agile and to change and adapt and grow!

So many really – really sick people

So much loss

The frustration – the fear – the sorrow – the isolation – the heartache – the pain and everything else.  

Such a strange – disappointing – stressful – hard – sad – year 2020 was.

But that wasn’t all 2020 was.  There was so much more to this past year – so very – very much more.  And I don’t want to focus on the bad all of the time.  2020 was filled with blessings too.  I know being negative exhausts me.  It hurts my soul and makes me someone I don’t want to be.  Of course 2020 was hard and filled with disappointments and pain – but there was more too.  It feels lazy just to focus on the bad.  Focusing on the bad is easy.  That’s low hanging fruit.  Being negative takes very little thought.

So I have spent the last few days seeking the blessings of 2020.  I have been walking through the past 12 months in my mind and remembering and giving thanks for all that went okay (tons).  I have been tripping over blessings for which I am truly thankful.

Some of the coolest blessings of 2020 for me:

Listening and watching our sons play on their trampoline.  Those two are absolutely – positively fearless and their laughter always delights me.  Sometimes their bravery terrifies me – but they are who they are!  And I love that too . . .

Twice daily walks with Jason.  Before Covid-19 we were only able to walk together once a day – but now we try to walk during lunch most days too.

Serving our Lord with Rod.  Saint Stephen is so incredibly blessed by our church president and by Cheryl our church secretary too.  I don’t know what I would have done this year without Rod – Cheryl and Buddy.  Buddy checks on the church almost every single day.  Buddy has counted our offerings and has done our banking every single week during the pandemic.  Talk about faithful dedication to our Lord!

Even though I find balancing NTI with a 2nd grader and my job (very – very) stressful some days – I have loved this time with the littlest McFarland.  I have delighted in being so involved in all he is learning each day.  I have also delighted in getting to know Will’s teacher so much better than I ever would have otherwise.  After all – she drops into my dining room and my church office and my home office 5 days a week!

I don’t particularly enjoy recording my sermons.  Preaching to an empty sanctuary is really NOT this pastor’s dream – but spending one-on-one time with my personal videographer has been a wonderful blessing.  I love hanging out with our oldest son.

The kind notes and loving words of encouragement from my sisters and brothers in Christ have been such a wonderful blessing.

Exploring God’s creation with my family was an incredible blessing.  Searching for snakes with our sons – hiking the hills of Kentucky and delighting in the great outdoors together.

Taking the time to seek God’s loving presence in my life.

Gardening and growing flowers.  One of my favorite memories of 2020 will be of watching our hibiscus plants bloom and delighting in their riotous and wildly colored blooms all summer long.  We had so much fun seeing  what color the blooms would be each day.  The yellow ones were our favorites.

I rediscovered a hobby I really enjoy.  I have been embroidering.  Wild – crazy  – riotous designs – not your great-grandma’s teapots and kittens (not that there is anything wrong with those).  It has been a blast to play with color and design and just to play.  I don’t think grown-ups play nearly enough.  I am trying to play more.

I could go on and on listing blessings I experienced in 2020.  2020 was an incredibly challenging year in so many – many ways – but the blessings were always there.  God was always present.  We are never alone.

2020 was difficult.  It was filled with all sorts of changes and challenges and sorrow and sickness and stress.  But – there was so much more to the past year.  There were blessings too.  I encourage you to join me in looking back over the past year and considering your blessings. 

What are some of the good things that happened last year?  What did you enjoy doing?  What made you smile or laugh or just feel happy and content?  What is your favorite memory of 2020?

You are in my heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, January 3, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-14

For 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 labour, 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.

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
   and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
   and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
   and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
   and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
   and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
   and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
   and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
   I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
   and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 147:12-20

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders he fills you with the finest of wheat. He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow. He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!  Amen.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Who are you?  That is a question we all get asked from time to time.  And our answer – often depends on the situation in which we find ourselves.

My birth certificate says I am Kerri Rene Manning.  But I always hated my middle name – because my parents misspelled it on my birth certificate.  And I found it so incredibly embarrassing to have a misspelled name!  

My marriage license says – I am Jason McFarland’s wife.

My driver’s license says I am Kerri M. McFarland.

When I graduated from seminary I earned the title Reverend.  So sometimes – I am the Reverend Kerri M. McFarland – which sounds awfully official to me.  Certainly the Reverend Kerri M. McFarland must be a very dignified sort of person.  She is probably serious and pious.  I bet she can still read both Ancient Greek and Hebrew.  And I bet she never trips on her alb, knocks off her microphone, or messes up the liturgy.  She and I probably don’t have a lot in common!

When I am at church I am just plain Pastor Kerri.  

At Will’s school – I am Mrs. McFarland.  But I use Mrs. McFarland so infrequently – I usually wonder who she is.

When I am with Jack and Will – I am Mom.  

Other people don’t know my name – but they know me by my knitting.  So to those folks – I am the weird knitter lady.

My niece and nephew call me Aunt Kerri.  Or as my niece Bella used to tell me – I am her “mean aunt” – because I say “NO!”

Other times – I am just plain old Kerri.  

I have lots of different names and roles.  And I am sure all of you do too.  You are husbands and wives.  You are children and aunts and uncles.  You are Christians and Lutherans and volunteers.  You are cousins and friends and coworkers.  

It can be hard to answer the question – who are you?  Defining ourselves can be complicated.  So what about you?  Who are you?  How would you define yourself?

Sometimes when people ask who you are – you answer by sharing what you do to earn a living.  Or you might declare you are retired with a smug – relaxed smile.

If you are a student you might share your grade or where you go to school or your major.

If someone asked you who you are while you were traveling – you might tell them you are a Kentuckian.  Or that you are a Louisville-ian (but spell check doesn’t think that is a word – so it might not be possible to be one of those.)

Who are you?  You are a multitude of things.  None of you can be summed up in few words.  Your grade in school – your profession – and the place you call home – are just a the smallest part of answering the question of “who are you?”

You are all so many wonderful things.  

In our 2nd reading for today – we heard another very important answer to the question of who are you?  Saint Paul declares that you are all God’s beloved children.  And you have been God’s child since the very beginning of time.   

Who are you?  You are a beloved child of God.  God has loved and cared for you since even before he created the world!

And God’s love for you is incredibly special.  God loves you in a way no one else ever will.  God’s love for you is so perfect – it dims all other kinds of love.  God’s love for you is so amazing – it boggles the mind.

Listen to how Saint Paul describes God’s love for you in his letter to the Corinthians.  God’s love for you “is patient.  God’s love for you is kind.  God’s love for you is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  God’s love for you does not insist on its own way – it is not irritable or resentful – it does not rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in the truth.  God’s love for you bears all things – believes all things – hopes all things – endures all things.  And most wonderfully of all – God’s love for you never ends.”  

That sort of love – gives us great comfort and hope.  That sort of love changes our lives –  redeems us for all eternity and reveals to us the beauty of heaven.  

That is the sort of love only God can have.

There is no place you can go that will separate you from the love of God and there is nothing that you can do that will stop God from loving you.  God promises to love you with a perfect love forever.  

God loves you. God has always loved you and God promises he will always love you with a perfect love for all eternity. 

Who are you?  You are God’s beloved child.  And that truly is Good News.   AMEN.

Worship Service for December 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
   my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
   and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
   and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
   and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
   that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
   and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
   for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
   he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
   stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
   fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
   creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
   princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
   old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
   for his name alone is exalted;
   his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
   praise for all his faithful,
   for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!  Amen.

Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Christmas Eve Worship 2020

Prelude – “Mary did you Know” by Brenda Firquin

Confession and Forgiveness

“O Come All Ye Faithful” by Brenda Firquin

The Coming of the Light:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:1-9

(read by Glenn Eisenbrey)

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Christmas Hallelujah” by Susan Johnston and Lindsay Johnston

The Angel Visits Mary:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1:26-35

(read by Kenna Markley)

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 

The Gospel of our Lord.

“The First Noel” – by Brenda Firquin

Mary and Elizabeth:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1:41-45

(read by Bob Meyer)

41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Mary Did You Know” by Susan Johnston and Lindsay Johnston

Mary’s Song:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1:46-56

(read by Cathy Meyer)

46And Mary said,
 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
 Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
 and holy is his name.
 50His mercy is for those who fear him
 from generation to generation.
 51He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly;
 53he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and sent the rich away empty.
 54He has helped his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy,
 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
 to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56And Mary remained with [Elizabeth] about three months and then returned to her home.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Silent Night” – by Dolores McCloud

Joseph’s Dream:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 1:18-24

(read by Paul Kiser)

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
 and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Brenda Firquin

Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:1-7

(read by Steven Sarson)

1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Silent Night” by Karen Eisenbrey

The Angels and the Shepherds:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:8-14

(read by Jack McFarland)

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
 and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

The Gospel of our Lord.

“O Holy Night” by Susan Johnston and Lindsay Johnston

The Shepherds Worship Jesus:  The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:15-20

(read by Rod Firquin)

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Brenda Firquin

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

Wow – just – wow!  What a doozy of a year this one has been!  Seriously – 2020 has certainly been one wild – weird – and not so wonderful – roller coaster ride – hasn’t it?

There are so many things I thought I might live through and need to respond to as a pastor and a mom – but honestly – a global pandemic wasn’t even on my radar. . .

It feels like our lives have all been turned upside down and inside out – and then tossed around a bit for good (or not so good) measure! 

And – sadly – this year has been filled with just so much bad news.  Really – really wretchedly awful news.  News that breaks our hearts and troubles our souls.  News we  don’t want to hear anymore.  But it just keeps coming and coming and coming! 

The news is filled with so much sorrow.  So much sickness and suffering.  So much pain. So much grief. So many precious – beloved lives lost. So many questions about the future.  Questions about our future.  Questions about our beloved children’s future. The damaged economy.  So much unemployment.  So many hurting people.

So much heartache.  So much loneliness.  So much fear.  So much anger.  So much hurt.  So very – very much hurt! So much seriously – wretchedly awful bad news.  There is just so much bad news these days!  It can be absolutely – positively exhausting.  All of this bad news has a way of weighing you down.  All of this bad news can feel like it is just too much to bear.

And now the cancelled Christmas gatherings.  The missed visits with beloved family and friends.  It may be the right thing to do but Zooming with grandma just isn’t the same as snuggling with her on the couch.  It may be the morally responsible thing to do but Google Meeting with grandpa certainly isn’t the same as lingering with him around the Christmas tree.  The additional disappointments on top of the already difficult year are so hard to take. 

The pain and sorrow can quickly become all we think about.  The bad news can become all we talk about.  Soon our focus can be only on the negative and the bad and the yuck and the terrible and the miserable.  And on the disappointments and on what is wrong in our lives.

We can get lost in the mire of the bad news.   

But then this evening – something absolutely – positively amazing happens.  This evening the news we hear is completely and utterly different from what we have grown so used to hearing.  The news we hear this evening is awesome.  The news we hear is glorious.  The news is extraordinary.  The news we hear promises to transform our lives for all eternity!   This evening the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy breaks forth into our lives with all of its radiant – glorious promise!

Hear again the angel’s – amazingly – awesome – life transforming declaration to the shepherds and to us – “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Do not be afraid.  Your Savior has been born.  Your Savior has come into the world.  The Messiah is here.  Our Lord has come to save us from our sinful selves!

This year of all years – we all need to remind ourselves – why we celebrate Christmas.  We celebrate Christmas – because of one incredibly special baby boy who changed the world forever.

The stars in the sky celebrated – his birth.  The angels in heaven rejoiced on his birthday.   Kings journeyed from afar to meet and worship this baby boy.

His birth has changed the lives of billions of people all over the world forever.  Because Jesus was no ordinary baby.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus is our Lord and Savior. 

Jesus was born was so that we might receive the greatest gifts of all – the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life spent in heaven with our Lord. 

Jesus Christ came to save us from our sinful selves.

We celebrate Christmas because Jesus is our Savior.  We celebrate because we have all received the gifts of God’s grace – love – and forgiveness. 

We celebrate Christmas because Jesus Christ – saved us from our sinful selves and opened the doors of heaven for us all. 

Truly this is the Good News – AMEN.

“What Child is This?” by Brenda Firquin

The Apostles’ Creed

The Prayers of the People

Celebration of Holy Communion

“Joy to the World” by Brenda Firquin