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.

There are No Do-Overs

I came across these words from a song by Kate Wolf last week:

These Times We’re Living In

“There are no roads that do not bend

And the days like flowers bloom and fade

And they do not come again

We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

These four simple lines of poetry struck me deeply. And have lingered in my brain for days. I keep coming back to them again and again.

I did not know who Kate Wolf was. I assumed she was a modern poet I had missed by majoring in theology and ancient Greek in undergrad rather than English (one of the great sorrows of my life . . .) Oh well – life doesn’t come with “do-overs” – does it? If it did – I would so totally major in English in college and minor in theology and Greek. I got plenty of theological stuff in seminary – PLENTY!

Anyway – Kate Wolf was a folksinger and song writer. She is described as a musician with a poet’s heart.   She died far too young of leukemia.   She knew much about appreciating the blessing of the time we do have.

Something many of us – don’t . . .

“We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

Wolf’s words express a wisdom about time and this life so many of us fail to see. Those of us who believe we have all of the time in the world are often so very – very careless and cavalier with time and with our lives. We are blind to the powerful blessings of the present moment and time.

We act like time is an infinite resource.

Honestly – there is much in this life (in my own life) that I wish were different. I could go on for days/weeks/months about what I would like to change. My regrets. What I don’t like. What annoys – disturbs – troubles and bothers me. I am a very human – human.

I do not like living through a pandemic. I do not like the divisions in our society. I do not like the apathy and anger and exhaustion I see (and experience). I do not like living with autoimmune diseases and all of the strange – annoying symptoms that come with them. I do not like war. I do not like pain and sorrow and suffering and sin. I do not like celery or sweet potatoes either (just saying).

But . . . but this is the life and world and these are the times I am living in. This is my life. These are my experiences.   This is it . . . This is what I get . . .

This is my life. My time on this earth is finite.

These days with Jason – Jack – and Will – they are finite too.   And it just so happens that Will’s 8th year of life – Jack’s 18th and my/Jason’s 46th – well they are being lived in the midst of a global pandemic.

“We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

I can complain about my life and be miserable and angry and filled with bitterness and resentment that my life isn’t what I wanted/hoped/expected it to be. Who hopes for a pandemic?   Who hopes for disappointment? Who longs to live in a world filled with so much brokenness and pain?

No one longs for these things. But these are the times we are living in. It is what it is . . .

I can choose a different mindset. A different way of being in the world. I can choose to appreciate what I have. I can seek the good. I can look for beauty. I can work really hard to rise above the ugliness. I can choose not to focus like a laser on the bad and the awful and the disappointing and instead focus like a laser on the good. I can choose contentment with the blessings I have – because my life is filled with a multitude of blessings.

I know it can feel hard to find much that feels good or lovely about this time in our lives. Living through a global pandemic is hard and stressful and exhausting. There have been so many disappointments. I will be the first to say that I think it has caused real rifts in our society. Our lives have changed – perhaps forever. . .

But – when we open our eyes and hearts and really look – there is much to appreciate. Much to give thanks for. Much to stand in awe of. There are blessings. There is beauty. There is good.

It isn’t all rubbish . . . It isn’t all wretched and misery . . . It isn’t all ugliness and disappointment and disaster.

“We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

This is the one life we have to live. These times will not come again. There aren’t any do-overs.

This week after I spent time in lament – I wanted to spend time giving thanks too. Not fake thanks. Not thanks I wasn’t feeling.   I didn’t force it. I just let it come. I found that lament and thanksgiving could co-exist in my heart.   I am thankful (just not thankful for everything . . .)

Lately I have stood in awe of health care professionals. Their willingness to help and care for and make huge sacrifices for people with Covid-19 without judgment or condemnation moves me deeply. I truly am awed by these people.

I give thanks for the people of Saint Stephen who have stepped up during the pandemic and helped me over and over again. Saint Stephen exists because of the faithful volunteers who serve our Lord. These folks have blessed our Christian community and me in profound ways these past months. Without them Saint Stephen could not/would not exist.   Some stepped way up.

I give thanks for the crossing guard at Will’s school. She literally takes her life into her own hands every single day protecting young children from reckless – selfish drivers who speed through the school zone in front of Will’s school.

I give thanks for my family. And it is an amazing blessing to be surrounded by people who are good and kind and loving. I did not grow up in a family like this.

I give thanks for sunshine. I love – love – love sunlight.

I give thanks for nature. It is mighty and can be fierce and terrifying – but it is also incredibly – wildly – gloriously beautiful.

I could go on and on and on. And perhaps I should. It is far better for my heart and my soul to focus on the good than to focus on the yuck and pain and difficult. But I will spare you my list . . .

What is good in your life? Where have you been blessed? What can you give thanks for? Who can you give thanks for?

Rally Sunday

This Covid-19 world we live in is filled with all sorts of disappointments both big and small. And moments that make your heart ache. Or moments when your hopes are dashed.

Sunday morning was NOT one of those times for me!

I had been looking forward to this particular Sunday morning for weeks.   Honestly – for months. Rally Sunday! I had been hoping big hopes about Rally Sunday. (Not too big – I know Covid-19 has changed the world and the way people feel about coming to church.) I was keeping my hopefulness within the realms of reality. But I was hopeful all the same.

I had been keeping a close eye on the sign-up sheet in the narthex.   Each time a new name was added I would smile with relief. People were planning to come. People were willing to participate. People are still willing to be a part of our Christian community.

I am used to being in the church alone. I am used to quiet time with our Lord. I like solitude and time for reflection – but Covid-19 has given me far – far too much alone time in the church . . .

One notices things like this when one has lots of alone time in the church.

I was longing for some noise caused by someone other than my own children or by me talking to myself. I was hoping for some hustle and bustle. Maybe even a bit of chaos. Or a cacophony. A cacophony would be nice.   I hadn’t heard one of those in the fellowship hall in a while.   Our Christian community used to be really good at those!

When Jack – Will and I arrived at church hours before the scheduled start of worship – there were cars already parked in the parking lot! The lights were on and not because someone had forgotten to turn them off. The air conditioning was running. There were delicious smells wafting through the air. And best of all there were Lutherans in the church kitchen – the church office – and the fellowship hall!

YUM!

Saint Stephen was abuzz and I wasn’t even doing any of the buzzing (yet)!

I was grinning from ear to ear from the moment my key hit the lock.   There were Lutherans in the church and they beat me here! Whoo-hooo!!! Hallelujah!!! This was glorious and wonderful and awesome and truly a delight for this pastor’s world weary – Covid-19 exhausted soul . . .

Gene and Dolores were hovering over a huge pot on the stove in the kitchen like magicians concocting something glorious to delight our taste buds.

Deb and Marilyn were blurs of activity as they hurried between the ovens and the stoves and the refrigerators preparing a feast for both our stomachs and our souls.

And Pat Markley was in the church office – faithfully cooking the books in preparation for the church council meeting scheduled for later that morning.

It was so much fun. It was like the “good old days.” Like the before times.   Those days I took for granted before the pandemic. Before Covid-19 made a mess of our lives. Before staying safe at home was necessary. Before quarantining was commonplace.

And the Lutherans just kept coming and coming and coming.   Ellen was next. Followed quickly by Elaine and Grace. Then Marcia and Madelyn. And Connie and Buddy and Barry and Peggy and Kenna and Ella and Cheryl and before I knew it the fellowship hall was full of Lutherans.

It was noisy and amazing. It was almost like the before the pandemic times – of course – there were more masks. But I find masks to be such a small sacrifice (if you can even call them a sacrifice at all) to make for fellowship and conversation and protecting my young sisters and brothers in Christ. I will gladly and happily wear a mask to protect others (even when it fogs up my glasses) – because it is the right thing to do. And while wearing a mask I receive blessings like fellowship – time with people I love – seeing the twinkle in someone’s eyes as they tell me a story – and so much more. So bring on the masks . . . masks are such a small sacrifice to make when others are making much – much bigger sacrifices.

I talked and I talked and visited and caught up.

I heard from William Beckman about his daring exploits on the football field. Will is fearless and terrifyingly brave. Jodi must hold her breath and pray the entire time her precious boy is on the field!

Jason and I swapped stories with the Beckmans about life way up North. I went to seminary in Minneapolis- Saint Paul and my first call was in northern Minnesota – almost to North Dakota. It is fun to swap stories about life where winter starts in October and is so real – you think it might just kill you! Winter here in Kentucky is barely winter at all when I remember winter up there . . .

Jordan shared about life at Seneca and updated me on his class schedule. I think he is taking every freshman honors class Seneca offers! Clearly Jordan is one smart fellow.

Kenna and I chatted about weddings and bishops and extremely conservative Methodist clergy (why yes – our conversation was far-ranging). Ella and I talked shoes.

I heard Marcia and Elaine’s gloriously – awesome – amazing good news. They are going to be GREAT-GRANDMAS in the spring!!!

Deb shared an update on the house she and Duane are building in Wisconsin and I was happy for them and sad for us . . .

I could go on and on and on.

It was so wonderful to be with my church family – moving from table to table and group to group and person to person. Chatting and chattering. Talking and discussing. Listening and learning. Catching up and fellowshipping.

I loved every single minute of it. It was balm for my soul. It was just what I needed and what I had been longing for – for months.

Thanks to masks and vaccines we were able to gather together again. We were able to fellowship and spend time in conversation with our sisters and brothers in Christ. We were able to delight in the blessing of Christian community.

Sunday school started with Rally Sunday at Saint Stephen on Sunday!   It was such a gloriously wonderful blessing to see and hear and just be with my sisters and brothers in Christ.

I hope I never take the blessing of community lightly again. I hope I never forget to appreciate the noise and the chaos and cacophony and fun and joy of a Christian family all gathered together.

Because I think we did. Before Covid-19 – we did. Before the pandemic – we took the blessing of our Christian community for granted. We took the ability to gather together for granted. We assumed our church would always be here. That we would always be able to gather together – until we couldn’t . . .

The Elephant in the Room

We all have that first memory of hearing about Covid-19 (or whatever they/we were calling it at the time). I was in Tennessee with Jason at the tail end of our Christmas vacation.   Our boys were at Disney having a blast with their Mimi and Papa and cousins and Auntie and Uncle.

Several times each day we would get adorable updates of their adventures together. Our phones would buzz and we would see Will on the monorail with Auntie or Jack having lunch with someone famous like Mickey Mouse or the whole family eating Dole Whips under the bright Florida sunshine. Our beloved family was clearly having a wonderful time together.   And I wasn’t having to stand in a single long line or to navigate any bustling – noisy crowds. This arrangement was this introvert’s dream come true!

Our extended family had just celebrated a wonderful Christmas.   Our sons were with people who love them as much as Jason and I do and spoil them way – way more than we do. I still had some vacation time left to enjoy.   It truly felt like all was right in the world!

I was gloriously and wonderfully relaxed.

The worst thing that happened (I thought) during those final days of my vacation was breaking a favorite knitting needle. And it was quickly replaced at the local yarn store.

I knit and read and watched the mountains. Jason read and walked the dogs and watched the mountains.   Very occasionally we would read the news. It was during those rare forays into reality that we happened upon a few news stories about a new cornavirus that had appeared in China. It seemed this new virus was causing some concern with virologists and public health doctors. But I wasn’t concerned – I was on vacation . . . my children were at Disney . . . my sons were literally in the Magic Kingdom!

That was well over 600 days ago now. And so much has changed in the world.

When Will asks about a return trip to the Magic Kingdom – our answer is always the same – “After Covid.” (I just hope our sweet boy isn’t 60 years old before it feels safe to return to Disney.)

When Will asks about so many things our answer is – “after Covid” or the classic “because of Covid” when he/we just plain can’t do something. (Will is only 8 and can’t be vaccinated just yet. We are choosing to be cautious and we try to follow the CDC’s guidance.)

“After Covid” and “because of Covid”. . . have become common refrains in our home and in our lives. We say them so frequently now – they have just become part of our family’s lingo – our vernacular.

“After Covid” means waiting for Will. And honestly (thankfully) – our youngest son – is a bright sunshine of a child. Will is fine with waiting. Will rolls with life in a way not many adults do. Not much gets under Will’s skin. If more of us were like Will – the world would be a nicer – kinder – far less angry place . . .

But for the adults in Will’s life “after Covid” and “because of Covid” come with sorrow and hurt and pain. Those words hang heavily in the air. Covid-19 has lingered so long. So very – very long. This wretched virus has taken such a toll on us. This virus has cruel teeth like a piranha.

The suffering. The illness. The pain. The grief. The death.

The anger in our society. The white-hot fury. The polarization.

My heart is sad.

I hurt because of the way the world is changing. I grieve for what we have lost and are losing. For what seems to be slipping away. I miss what was and will likely never be again.

My heart is sad.

I hurt because those I love grieve and hurt and ache and struggle.   Covid-19 has made almost everything so much harder. Loss – illness – and grief. Those have been made exponentially harder by Covid-19.

My heart is sad.

Some days the words “after Covid” and “because of Covid” feel a bit like a litany of lament to me. I hear and say and think them so often.

And perhaps that is what we need. Perhaps we need to lay claim to our grief and our sorrow and our hurt and our pain and even our anger by naming it. By saying the words. By whispering them or shouting or crying them out to the Lord.

The Bible is full of lament. The book of Job and the Psalms and the book of Lamentations. The Old Testament prophets lament. Jesus himself cried out to God as he died on the cross – “My God – my God – why have you forsaken me. . .” (Matthew 27:46). And this cry was from Psalm 22:1.

If Jesus – who is our Lord and Savior – can cry out boldly and publicly in lament – then certainly – this gives us permission to cry out in lament. . .   To share our grief with our Lord.   To lay our pain at God’s feet.

It is not un-Christian or un-faithful or somehow a sign of weakness to feel grief and pain and sorrow in the face of hard things. It is human. It shows you have a heart. Jesus himself lamented. Jesus cried when his beloved friend Lazarus died (John 11).

I would worry far more if we weren’t grieving. If we weren’t hurting. If we weren’t feeling loss. If we weren’t troubled by living through global pandemic.

Life is hard. Living through a pandemic is painful. Change and loss can be bewildering. Grief is exhausting. Pain is difficult to endure.

And so today I shall lament. Lament isn’t surrender or un-Christian or unfaithful. To lament is simply admitting that this hurts and is hard and I hate it!

Lament is about naming the pain.

I am no liturgist and I am not poet. I am a just me – a more than middle aged pastor – wife – and mom who knits far more than average – walks a lot and needs to lament today.

There are very few beds in our hospitals – because of Covid.

A dear friend spent hours and hours waiting in the ER to see a doctor – because of Covid.

4,625,974 precious human beings have died – because of Covid.

People continue to fight and argue and threaten one another and die needlessly – because of Covid.

Church attendance has dropped dramatically – because of Covid.

I miss my sisters and brothers in Christ – because of Covid.

Nurses and doctors are exhausted and feeling burned out – because of Covid.

We have to wear masks – because of Covid.

I told my littlest son no yet again – because of Covid.

The church council sighed big sighs during our meeting – because of Covid.

People are living and dying alone – because of Covid.

Our lives and our world and our church have changed forever – because of Covid.

This is hard. It is okay to lament. It is okay to hurt and grieve and cry out.  Are you feeling the need to lament too?  What would you add to the list?  What does your heart cry out for?

You are in my heart – thoughts and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, September 12, 2021

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 116:1-12

I love the Lord, who has heard my voice,
and listened to my supplication,
for the Lord has given ear to me
whenever I called.
The cords of death entangled me; the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.” 
Gracious is the Lord and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought low, and God saved me.
Turn again to your rest, O my soul.
for the Lord has dealt well with you.
For you have rescued my  life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling;
I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living. 

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I absolutely – positively love words! I use a lot of words in my daily life. And frankly I wish I could use even more words.

I long to be able to speak Spanish – because I love traveling to Mexico.   I love the food and the culture.   I love the people and I really – really want to be able to communicate with them. Because when our family goes to Mexico we skip the fancy-smancy all inclusive resorts where everyone speaks English. Jason is big on experiencing the real Mexico. We take buses with the locals and eat where they eat too. But my Spanish isn’t just bad – it is wretchedly awful. Horrifying even!

I can’t even say “hello” properly in Spanish.   Seriously – my “hola” is laughable! I am not kidding. When I say “hola” the people of Mexico laugh at me . . . and so does my family!

And it just gets worse when I actually try to communicate with anyone. There was the day – I accidentally insulted the nice lady at my favorite restaurant who was just trying to help me. After we left – Jason turned to me and said with a huge grin on his face – “You know Kerri – you just told that nice lady ‘she spoke very bad Spanish!'” (Oops – so NOT what I was trying to say . . .)

Or the evening I somehow confused our sweet waiter so badly – I ended up with not 1 but 2 entire entrees! Yes – I got both the beef and the chicken for supper . . . Jason just paid the bill and smiled indulgently – yet again.

There were a few times when both Jason and the boys asked me very kindly but firmly NOT to say a single – solitary word. Like the afternoon soldiers from the Mexican army boarded our bus and began inspecting everyone’s travel documents. Jason gathered our passports – looked me square in the eyes and said – “Kerri – I HAVE THIS!” Which was code for “Kerri – zip it . . .”

“Okay then” apparently my beloved husband thought I was going to get us deported or worse!

Words are important. Words are powerful. Words can and do change lives. Sometimes words can even help us cross cultural divides – or NOT . . .

The words we speak share our thoughts – our dreams – our needs – and wants.

Words are a huge part of our lives. But since words are so common. And because we use so many of them – it is easy to use words lightly.   Carelessly even. We toss words around without even thinking about them.

Our scripture reading for this week from James – calls our attention to this very concern. James reminds us words are powerful. He declares our tongues can get us into a lot of trouble.   They can betray us – and cause all sorts of problems. The words we use can hurt and wound and do incredible lasting damage.

So – James tells us – we need to guard our tongues.   To be careful about the words we use.   We should pay attention and think before we speak. We need to be aware of the powerful impact words can have on other people. We need to remember every time we utter even a single word that we are God’s children.

Because words can and do hurt. Words can break hearts and change lives.

We have all heard these words. We know these words far too well – words like – “I hate you.” “Shut-up.” “You are worthless – or stupid.” “I don’t like you.” Words like “get lost.”   “You are ugly or awful.” “Loser.” “Gross.” “Idiot.”

Words that tell people we think they aren’t good enough – aren’t worthy – aren’t meeting our standards.

Lies – manipulations – gossip – gas lighting – judgments . . .

Words like those crush people. Words like those aren’t forgotten or just shaken off.   Words like these stay with someone forever.

These are the words James is warning us about.   Because these words burn like fire.   These words hurt. Words like that crush souls. Words like these leave deep and lasting scars.

And sadly – these words roll off our tongues far too easily. Words like these slip through our fingers and into texts or onto Twitter and online comments or other social media so quickly.

We hardly even think about it and before we know it those words are out there in the world, because of us.

Make no mistake about it – the words we speak and type and whisper have the power to change lives. Even anonymous words burn and scar and hurt.

James calls us to use words of kindness, love, and blessing.   To use words that reflect God’s love for the world.

Words have power. Words change lives. Words can hurt. And once spoken – we can’t get them back no matter how badly we may want to.

But words can also bring healing. Words can be a blessing. Words can bring joy. Words can be loving. Words can give life.

James comes to us today to remind us that as God’s followers we are called to speak loving – gracious – kind words. To chose to spread love – grace – and kindness. To be encouragers and helpers.

When we speak words of love – we are being who our God has called us to be. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

It Seems to Run in the Family!

Jason’s mom is really big on exploring and learning and history.   My beloved mother-in-law delights in National Parks and State Parks and monuments. Linda McFarland loves nothing more than a visit to the birthplace of an important historic figure or to the place an historic figure’s parents were born.   She also enjoys visiting places historic figures visited – ate – slept or passed through on their way to someplace more interesting.

Linda has very carefully compiled a vast array of guidebooks over the years and she isn’t afraid to use them! The power of the internet search has only made her more adventurous. . .

Yes – of course – Linda goes to places that are on the beaten path like the rest of humanity. But Linda also goes to places that are off the beaten path. Linda takes the road less traveled. Sometimes Linda takes the road way – way less traveled! And she never goes alone!?! Our family is chock-full of amusing (sometimes hilariously funny) stories about exploring with Linda.

I am not sure there is a valley in Tennessee that the McFarlands haven’t explored or at least considered exploring. They have been places that aren’t quite on maps . . . that have names like Rabbit Hollow Road and Pig Pen Lane (so not kidding).

Bob – Elizabeth and Jason are game for just about anything. They all love a good adventure. These 4 will do about anything as long as they have some water – a map and a full tank of gas. Linda has trained them for adventure and dirt roads and patience.   They have grit and fortitude.

I fear getting lost. These 4 (original McFarlands) are all like “hey whatever – the Earth is round.   We can’t stay lost forever . . . ”

This weekend – the plan was to visit an Abraham Lincoln spot of significance right here in the beautiful Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My brilliant and talented sister-in-law listened carefully to her beloved mom – did a Google search – found directions and off we set on Sunday afternoon. Elizabeth is used to leading the way. She is an elementary school principal. Mrs. Markward is first into the breach often.

Soon we were in beautiful Hodgenville, Kentucky at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

As we pulled in and parked – Linda turned to Bob and said “this is lovely – but I don’t think this is the place we wanted to go . . .”

Hmmm . . . well – this is Kentucky. And we are awfully proud to be the birthplace of the 16th President of the United States of America. We do have quite a few memorials and parks and statues honoring Abraham Lincoln and his family.

As I drive around Kentucky it seems like I am always getting confused by another Lincoln birthplace. (Is there more than one?) Jason tells me no. There is just one Abraham Lincoln birthplace – but there is the Sarah Lincoln birthplace. And I have NO sense of direction so I could be driving by the same Lincoln birthplace over and over again . . .

Anyway Linda – being Linda – she didn’t care one little bit that we hadn’t landed where she expected us to land on Sunday afternoon. She hopped right out of the car and off we went to explore and learn and read and see what there was to see!

We read the signs. We stood in awe imagining life in a tiny – dark log cabin in the Kentucky woods.   We imagined trying to carve a life out of the wilderness. We admired the family Bible and considered life with only ONE book to read. A seriously AWESOME book – but still just ONE book . . .

Our hearts ached for the Lincoln family thinking of their incredible losses. First their baby boy Thomas – then their farm – followed by Nancy herself.

We climbed the 56 steps to the beautiful memorial building which houses an original log cabin from the 1800’s. (Will counted each and every step.)

The kids read the words inscribed on the memorial to us:   “With malice toward none and charity for all” and we thought some big thinks about what those words mean.

“Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States of America and he’s from Kentucky” – Will declared proudly “and so am I.”

Thank you – Mimi – I thought – thank you for bringing us here on this rainy – raining Sunday afternoon. Thank you for reminding us to learn and listen and explore. Thank you for the perspective on this life we are living. Thank you for getting us outside of ourselves and our small world. Thank you for gently and lovingly encouraging those you love the most to think some big thinks on a rainy Sunday afternoon in September.

As we drove to Bardstown to dine at Talbot’s Tavern (see I told you we go to lots of historic places) we drove by the Lincoln historical place Linda had actually wanted to visit. It was the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek – but it was still closed for renovations. We will have to go back another time!

But that won’t be a problem – because we are McFarlands (and Markwards) and we excel at adventuring!

We all need to keep our perspective on life from time to time.   Visiting a pioneer cabin will quickly help you realize just how blessed we all truly are . . .

Letting The Youngest McFarland Lead Us

I tend to be curious by nature. I love learning. I take great delight in reading and exploring and gathering new information about my interests and passions. I think knowing more and gathering more information is gloriously wonderful. I take pride in having an inquiring mind.

But in the McFarland household – I am a mere novice – neigh a simple neophyte – a complete and utter fledgling at the gathering of information and data.

At just 8 years old Will McFarland has me completely and utterly skunked. William leaves his mom in the dust! Our boy is all about the deep dive into his passions. If Will is interested in something then he develops a vast knowledge base about it.   He becomes positively encyclopedic.

Our boy goes ALL in.

When Will was in preschool and kindergarten he was VERY interested in the Titanic and her sister ships so we learned all there was to know about the Titanic and the Britannic and the Olympic. We read book after book after book on these awesome and amazing ships. We watched YouTube videos and PBS documentaries. We have many pictures and original paintings by Will around our house of the Titanic.

I take such delight in these “early” Will McFarland canvases.

Next it was astronomy. We did a really deep dive into astronomy in kindergarten and 1st grade.   We were regulars at the Rauch Planetarium on the U of L campus. Will taught me so very much about the planets (especially Jupiter = his very favorite planet). He also taught me tons about the dwarf planets and the asteroid belt and the Kuiper Belt (which I don’t even remember from my astronomy class in college a billion years ago). There was even an adorable planets song!

Then we moved on to airplanes and military ships. For the past year and a half we have alternated between airplanes and military ships every few months.

Right now – we are in a ships phase. This means Will is making very impressive models of US navy ships with Legos. He draws detailed naval battles.   He will play lengthy battles of the board game Battleship with anyone who has the time. He watches videos on YouTube. Will and Jason are male-bonding while watching movies about WW II. His bedroom floor and our living room are often the scenes of heroic naval battles. We have made trips to the library seeking books about navy ships.

I was rather worried about this American aircraft carrier – but Will assured me the Americans were victorious!

Will is learning a lot about navy ships and by extension so am I.

In fact – if you want to have an in-depth conversation with someone – ask Will about the USS ANYTHING . . .

So when Jason read that the USS LST-325 was going to be in Brandenburg, KY this past weekend – we knew we needed to take our resident budding naval expert. This was so very – very Will!

A visit to an honest to goodness WW II navy ship was a perfectly perfect way to enrich Will’s Labor Day. This would be an adventure and a learning opportunity in which our boy would delight (and he did)! He really – really – really did!

The USS LST-325 is the last fully operational WW II Landing Ship Tank.

This ship is still sea-worthy and sails each summer with a volunteer crew of 45. In the winter USS LST-325 docks in Evansville, IN (in case you too would like a tour).

My two favorite readers reading together as we waited our turn to board the ship.

In 1941 these ships were the largest ships designed to place tanks – troops – and cargo onto hostile beaches.   This very ship was at Normandy on D-Day. This fact took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.   Especially now that I have an 18 year old of my own . . .

Winston Churchill called LSTs – “the ship that won the War.”

We were able to tour most of the ship. From the stern to the bow and back again.

The LST-325 has a Greek name too (Syros) – because she was a part of the Greek navy for 36 years from 1964 – 2000.

By navy standards this ship is small – but to me it seemed huge!   It seemed huge until I imagined being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – then the LST-325 seemed to be a very – very – very teeny tiny ship.

William McFarland called the LST-325 awesome and amazing!

I likely would not have chosen to spend the Monday morning of my Labor Day weekend touring a WW II navy ship on my own. But because I love Will McFarland and he loves ships I was thrilled to spend my morning aboard the LST-325.

At one point on Monday morning Will noticed that even the crickets sounded excited and seemed to be sharing his joy at seeing the LST-325. I don’t know if the crickets were excited or shared in his joy – but I know Will’s dad and mom were excited and were most certainly sharing in his joy!

Jason’s smile was pretty big too!

I love learning. I delight in exploring and expanding my mind. It is such a blessing to share in other folks’ passions.

Will was very impressed with this 20 mm round . . .

I give thanks for the opportunity to learn new things. To listen. To stand in awe. To be impressed. To be humbled.

Such a small bedroom. I think I shall refrain from complaining about my storage space from now on!

Exploring and learning and standing in awe are truly good for the soul.

I learned a lot.  But more than anything I was blessed by these sparkling eyes and Will’s awe and wonder and delight and his beautiful smile!

Exploring and growing and learning – what a wonderful way to experience blessings!

Even with a mask on you can see his smile!

Worship for Sunday, September 5, 2021

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 146

Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
     I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
     I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Put not your trust in rulers,
in mortals in whom there is no help.
     When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
     and in that day their thoughts perish. 
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
     who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
     who keeps promises forever;
who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger.
The Lord sets the captive free.
     The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who                              are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 
The Lord cares for the stranger;
the Lord sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
     The Lord shall reign forever,
     your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah! 

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 7:24-37

[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I was waiting patiently to check out in a seriously long line at my favorite big box store last week when I overheard a conversation between two friends.

Apparently these two friends hadn’t seen each other in quite some time. So I was privileged to witness their Covid-19 reunion.

After the manly – “hey mans!” And the elbow bumps – because we don’t shake hands anymore.   They exclaimed over the length of each others’ hair and discussed the positives and the negatives of growing a pandemic beard. Both agreed that beards were awesome in January – but took real fortitude in August in Kentucky.

They swapped vaccination status information. Both were thrilled to be vaccinated and apparently so are their wives. And both men worried about their elementary school aged children who couldn’t yet get vaccinated.

They were both still working from home and liking the commute a lot. But they admitted to talking to the barista at Starbucks a little too long sometimes – just because he wasn’t their wife or kids or the dog/cat!

They laughed about how the highlight of their social calendar was a trip for a large coffee and a stale scone. “Oh how the mighty have fallen” – they joked!

And then the conversation quickly took a serious turn. One of the men said – “Man – this is just so hard.   I worry about my kids all of the time.   They’re just so stinking little.   Some days it feels like all they have ever known is this miserable mess. This pandemic . . . This world . . . I just don’t know anymore . . . Man – I just don’t know . . .”

To which his friend replied – “I know – Man. Its starting feel kinda biblical out here!”

“Amen – brother” – was all I could think. “Amen . . .”

Honestly – frankly – bluntly – it has been tough going lately – hasn’t it? Some days it has been really – really hard!

I know – I am always going on and on about God Sightings and seeking the good in things. And I really do go around looking for rainbows after thunderstorms. And I will spend shocking amounts of time delighting in puffy clouds and random bits of river glass. And don’t even get me going about the way sunlight makes the stained glass windows cast prisms around the sanctuary on a sunny day . . .

But . . . it hasn’t been very easy to do any of those things lately has it? (Or – at least – I am finding it harder to do these things lately.)

Life hasn’t been easy – breezy recently – has it?

The news isn’t just bad these days – it feels bleak – heartbreaking and overwhelming. War – earthquakes – wildfires – hurricanes – famine – drought – rising violence and murders across the nation and right here in our beloved city.

And this wretched pandemic just goes on and on and on. Over 600 days and counting!

We long for the good old days before “the great sickness” came. Before the masks. Back when tests were for spelling words and folks weren’t arguing about vaccinations. We long for those days when life seemed less complicated – less exhausting – less sad – less stressful – less disappointing and far less messy.

We are exhausted and stressed and frustrated and hurting and well – we are all sorts of things.

This is so hard. We have had enough. Enough illness. Enough of the grief and the sorrow and the fear. Enough of the anger. Enough of the pain and the suffering. Enough of these horrible divisions that drive us apart.

Our very souls cry out – enough is enough already!

It is at times like these when we need to hear Good News. When we need to be encouraged and lifted up. We need HOPE! We need to be reminded we are not on this journey alone. And this is exactly what we hear from the Prophet Isaiah this week.

Isaiah marches boldly into our church and into our broken – heartbroken world and declares to us – “Be strong – do not fear! Here is your God! He will come and he will save you!”

Hear those words from the Prophet Isaiah one more time. Let them sink in and wash over you . . . “Here is your God!” God is here.

Isaiah says – you – heartbroken – world-weary – weighed down – folks – you are not alone. Your God is here with you in your world – in this very place where you live and work and play and wonder and worry. You are not alone. God is here.

Yes – Isaiah says – I know it feels dark right now. But you are not in this by yourselves. Your God is with you.

And your God will deliver you. He will lead you out of these dark times into better times. Into the glorious – abundant – healthy future he has planned for you.

I know these days feel long and hard. I know these days feel exhausting and overwhelming. But you are not alone. Your God is with you. In fact – God promises to be with you each and every moment of your life. God is with you in the easy and in the hard.   In the good and in the bad. In the happy and the sad. God is there. He will sustain you and lead you forward into the future he has planned for you.

You are never alone. Truly this is Good News.   AMEN.