Searching for Some Good News

These past weeks so much of the news has been frightening.  News story follows news story of how the novel corona virus is ravaging our nation – our entire world.  And frankly the news has all been so heartbreaking.  So much loss.   So very – very much loss.  So many precious human lives have ended far too soon.  Leaving behind grief – sorrow – heartache – and so much pain for so many people.

Lost jobs – lay-offs and furloughs.  And the grief and uncertainty that come with unemployment.  The unemployment numbers are just plain staggering and keep getting worse and worse with each passing week . . .

Lost months of education for our beloved children and their teachers.  Cancelled  graduations and celebrations.  No cheery balloons and huge cakes this spring.  No noisy celebrations.  No cars lining the streets of the neighborhood to celebrate the newest grad.

Will’s 1st day of kindergarten feels like a lifetime ago . . .

Missing our friends and our family.  Missing our sisters and brothers in Christ.  Maybe you are even missing your co-workers!  (Could you even be missing church council meetings?  I know that I am.)

Missing those casual conversations we used to have all of the time and we took them so lightly.  Missing hugs and handshakes and pats on the back!  To think that we used to talk to strangers and to touch unsanitized grocery carts!

The empty – now silent fellowship hall stops me in my tracks at least once or twice a week . . .

It literally can take your breath away to think about how much we have lost as a nation –  as a world.

And then there are the news stories that I really and truly dread.  The news stories that make me groan and despair for humanity.  The stories of people fighting over TP in the aisle of the local super store.  The story of the lady stockpiling hand sanitizer and medical grade masks in her basement.  The stories about doctors hoarding medicines that might just be helpful in combating COVID-19 for themselves and their precious loved ones.

Who would have ever thought TP would have become such a topic of conversation?!?

When I hear these stories I sigh, and I ache about our brokenness as human beings.  My heart breaks.  I express my weariness about these sorts of things.  And then – Jason always – always reminds me about Jesus. 

“Kerri” – Jason says – “if we human beings were not such a broken – messed up – sinful disaster – we would never have needed a Savior in the first place . . . We all need Jesus. . . All of us . . .” 

And so you see – sometimes – the pastor’s husband can deliver a pretty rocking good sermon at the McFarland house (and Jason’s sermons tend to be much – much shorter than mine are)!

And so after hearing one of Jason’s sermons this weekend I decided to spend some extra time looking for Good News this week.  I thought that I might not be able to come up with a very good list because we aren’t out in the world nearly as much as we used to be.  But – nope the Good News has been flowing . . .  and here is what I have discovered so far:

– Someone mulched the flower beds at the church.  They look absolutely, positively gorgeous.  Thank you to whoever did this for us!

Just gorgeous! Thank you – thank you – thank you!

– Whenever we walk and hike more folks share friendly greetings than they used to.  Jason and I have been hiking and walking together since we were 15 years old.  We have a lot of history in this department.  People are just plain friendlier these days.

– I hear people telling the grocery store employees thank you.  And I see them treating them with kindness and respect.  This is a huge change.  I hope we never revert back to our old ways!

–  The lawn cutting service for the church told us if money was a problem that we could pay them when things got better (thankfully we are doing okay).

–  The loving cards – notes – and texts that our family received after Jason’s Aunt Jannie died were such a comfort and a blessing.

–  The offerings for our Lord’s Work and Saint Stephen that come in the mail almost every single day.

– A cheery cloth mask made with love to keep me safe when I must venture out into the world (Jason wears it too).  We so appreciate this gift of love and kindness.  I feel blessed every single time one of us has to wear it (even though I really wish it weren’t necessary).

Trying to not look too weird or too whatever while modeling my mask and failing. Of course – I am the lady who takes pictures of TP so I am just plain weird . . .

– I have been so dazzled by the way Will’s 1st grade teacher Mrs. Meers continues to teach with such love, grace, and passion under such trying circumstances.  I am really enjoying going to 1st again and so is Jason!

Such a look of concentration!

–  A message on the church answering machine just to say hi and to send some love to the pastor.  Wow – that made my day!

–  Matt is mowing the front lawn at the church every other week to help us save money.  Thank you so very – very much!

Look at that gorgeous, green grass – not the crazy lady photo bombing the picture.

– Jack has recorded every single one of my sermons.  I don’t even know how to turn on the video camera . . .

– Lutherans calling Lutherans to check in on them and to make sure that they are making it through these tough times okay.

– Lutherans emailing – texting – and calling their pastor to make sure that she is okay . . . thank you.  I miss you all so much.  Like I said I am even missing church council meetings!

– A sweet hug from my littlest guy and a snuggle on the couch after a long day of work, learning, and jumping on the trampoline. 

– My flower beds filling up with spring flowers.

I am seeing and experiencing Good News all around me.  Even in these incredibly difficult times I am seeing and experiencing Good News.  I just needed to open my eyes and my heart.  I needed to pay attention!  I needed to be willing to see and experience it, because Good News really and truly is all around me.

I know these are hard days.  I acknowledge and honor that – but there is some good in here too.  I give thanks for that.

Where are you seeing and experiencing Good News these days?  How is God making himself known in your life these days?

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Sometimes It is the Little Things . . .

Our sons don’t always look forward to our hikes.  I am not delusional.  I live in the real world. I know that sometimes (okay most of the time) they would rather be watching You Tube videos or building with Legos.  Or gaming with their friends or sleeping or honestly doing just about anything other than trudging over hill and dale with their hippy dippy tree hugging parents.  We are not the Von Trapp family from “The Sound of Music.”  (We never ever wear matching outfits nor do we sing while hiking!)

Look at those thorns . . .

I get it.  I really and truly do.  Because sometimes I make ME go for a hike when I would rather be sitting on the couch knitting while reading a good book.  After all – if I am sitting still for more than 30 seconds you can bet that I am knitting and reading or at the very least thinking about reading and knitting . . .

The dogwoods are still gorgeous!

But the thing is – there are solid reasons for these hikes.  (Other than tormenting our beloved sons on a Saturday morning and again on a Sunday afternoon which is always super- duper fun!)  These hikes are really and truly good for us.  And I don’t just mean the family bonding stuff (which is awesome)!

These were not blooming last Saturday. . .

One of the neatest books I have read in years is called “The Nature Fix: Why Nature
Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.”
 The subtitle more of less summarizes the whole book.  It is all about our need to be outside and surrounded by God’s creation, because human beings feel a whole lot better when we spend time outside.  Science shows that when we get up off the couch and step away from our electronics and head outside into the great outdoors – we are healthier and happier and much more creative.  And the greener the space the better.  So the McFarlands head outside every single day, and we head to the woods as often as we are able to.  After all – who doesn’t want to be happier – healthier and more creative?  I know that I sure would love to be all three!  (On Sunday going for a hike even helped with my stupid migraine . . .)

I know that I have been accused of being an evangelist for both Jesus and hiking/nature.  And I am absolutely cool with that.  After all – God made all of this lovely nature and called it good!

Jason and I are both especially adamant about our family’s daily exercise/weekend hiking routine right now during this incredibly stressful time in our lives.   These are anxious – frightening times.  We can’t change that (oh – how I wish we could). But we can share with our sons the blessing of God’s glorious creation.  We can remind them that they aren’t alone in this time.  We can help them see reminders of God’s presence in our lives.

And so bright and early Saturday morning before the threatened rain arrived – the McFarlands were off to the woods for a brisk hike and then some promised playtime in/near the river.

Onward and upward on a Saturday morning!

As usual – Jason and I were more pleased about the initial launch of our hike, but we are always realistic about our hiking companions.  Again – we don’t expect our sons to thank us for dragging them away from their electronics. But when we were only about half way up the first big hill and Will stopped dead in his tracks and sat down I have to admit I was a bit surprised.  The hill is a bit steep, but Will is a pretty good hiker and he has gone much – much further without too much complaining.  Will has actually run up this very hill before while chasing Jack.  “Oh great-” I thought to myself “it is going to be one of those days . . .”

But no I was wrong.  (There is a first time for everything!) Will was having a God sighting moment.  Will had noticed a teeny-tiny snail on the trail, and had stopped to take a look. 

So small . . . so very, very small . . .

So Will and I stopped what we were doing.  We pushed the pause button on our lives. And we sat right down on the side of the trail and enjoyed God’s glorious creation for a few minutes.  We soaked in just how amazing that little snail was.  How perfectly – perfect.  We talked about the swirl of its shell.  We talked about how tiny it was. 

We talked about how if he hadn’t been using his “looking and thinking eyes” he would have missed it.

Sharing his thoughts and this guy always has something nifty to share!

We talked about how it reminded him of all of the leaf cutter ants we saw in Mexico.  Those were seriously cool! Will and I spent hours watching leaf cutter ants at work during our sabbatical in Mexico.

Hanging out with the leaf cutter ants at Calakmul while the big guys were climbing something scary and dangerous!

We took some time just to take in the amazing – awesomeness that is a teeny-tiny snail.  A snail that most of us would have walked right by and never even seen.  And you know what – it was really cool.  It was beautiful.  It was amazing.  Then Will carefully found a home for his snail in the tall grass were it could live safely and we hopped up to resume our hike with new eyes.

Jason spotted this funnel weaver spider web during our hike.

The thing is when we set off on one of our family hikes – I never know what is going to happen. What we are going to see. What I am going to learn. What we are going to chat about (or if we are going to annoy each other to distraction). But I always – always come home glad I got off the couch and headed outside. I never regret heading into God’s creation for a few hours. Nature is very healing for my soul.

Skipping stones in the river.

This time Will reminded me to look for God’s presence in the small stuff. That God is everywhere – all of the time. We just need to open our hearts and our eyes. We need to look – to listen – and to be willing to see and to hear.

Will skipped his very first stone on the river on Saturday!!!

I encourage you to spend some time today looking and listening. Where do you see God? Where is God making his presence known in your life? God promises us he is with us always. We can cling to that promise.

“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

You are all in your pastor’s heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Not Just Another Hike

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

Have you ever had that sinking feeling of being all alone in the world? 

I’m not talking about the “good” kind of being alone.  We have all had those times when it felt gloriously wonderful to be alone for just a bit.  To be slightly indulgent or just plain lazy for a while. 

It can be absolutely positively delightful to have the house all to yourself.  To soak in the sound of silence.  Not having to cook supper for anyone else or to share the television or to pick up any messes can be an amazing blessing.  Especially if your days and nights are filled with noise – nuggets and someone else’s Netflix queue. 

The McFarland house sometimes feels like it is one great big LEGO ship!

But that isn’t the kind of alone I’m thinking of.  I’m talking about the kind of alone that leaves you feeling lonely and maybe even lost.  I have felt this way a time or 800.  Sometimes I even feel lost and alone when I am surrounded by other people.  

This happened to me on our sabbatical while we were in Mexico.  Actually – this has happened – every time Jason and I have gone to Mexico – now that I think about it! 

You should know that as much as I love Mexico – I don’t speak Spanish.  As in I can barely say please and thank you on a good day.  And when I get nervous my very minimal Spanish speaking “skills” disappear entirely!  As in zip – zilch – nada – nothing.  I become a babbling idiot! 

In fact – Jack spent most of our sabbatical laughing at my pathetic pronunciation of the 6 Spanish words I do know and telling me to stick close to his dad!  And believe me – for the most part I stuck to Jason like superglue.  Because – you know – the whole I can’t speak any Spanish thing.

This is why Mexico has stolen part of my heart in spite of the language barrier . . .

But one afternoon – I got brave and actually volunteered to go into a store near the bus station to buy drinks for our next bus trip all by myself!  The boys were sitting with our luggage.  Jason was buying our bus tickets, and I was in charge of drinks. 

Easy-peasy right.  I didn’t even have to speak Spanish.  An 8 year old could do this.  (Actually – in Mexico – much – much younger children do errands like this by themselves all of the time.)

And this – this is pretty awesome too . . .

With my family cheering me on – I bravely set forth like I was about to conquer Mount Everest instead of the local 7-11!

And I will have you know that I totally rocked the whole buying of the drinks thing.  I got the waters and even threw in a bonus package of cookies.  I smiled warmly.  I got my change.  I only slightly mangled my pronunciation of “gracias.”  Then I marched out of the store and onto the street and I immediately realized I was lost.  And I mean LOST!

And this . . .

I had absolutely – positively no idea where I was.  Well – I knew I was still in Mexico, because I could not understand a single word I heard as I stood there that afternoon.  I couldn’t read any of the signs.  I was clueless.  I was helpless.  I was terrified, and I was alone – very – very – very alone.  Where had the bus station gone!  It wasn’t where I had left it.  The bus station had just disappeared!

Sweat began to pour down my back, and not just because it is about 3,000 degrees in the sun in the summer in Mexico.  It occurred to me that perhaps I would never find my family ever again.  That I was going to need to make these 4 bottles of water and this package of cookies last me for the next 40 years of my earthly life.

Then it occurred to me that maybe they had moved the bus station on purpose!  Perhaps they had decided to leave me and my annoying ways behind.  I can be rather obnoxious.  I talk a lot.  I come with far more yarn than is considered “normal” and I do perhaps have some very strong opinions on well just about everything.  Then there is the whole talking a lot thing.  No more wife and mom – just peace and quiet and sweet – sweet freedom!

I felt like Will looks in this picture – so sad . . .so miserably alone in the world. . .

Thankfully right before I started to ugly cry – Jason sent Jack to fetch me.  Jason had been keeping an eye on me from the bus station and had watched me walk out the wrong exit of the store.  You see – I am not only language impaired – I am also directionally impaired!

My hero!

Sometimes we feel lost and alone – even when other people are around.  This is what happened to the men in our Gospel reading for today.  The Gospel of Luke tells us two men are leaving Jerusalem and heading to the nearby town of Emmaus.  We don’t know why they are going to Emmaus – but we know they are heartbroken and grieving.  And they are feeling very alone in the world. 

As they walk along – they are talking over the horrible events of the past few days.  Jesus is dead.  Jesus had been arrested – tried – crucified and buried in a sealed tomb.

They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah.  The Savior – who would deliver them from their Roman oppressors.  But the Romans had killed Jesus.  So it seemed pretty obvious that Jesus was not the Messiah they had been hoping and praying for. 

Not only are they heartbroken and grieving.  They are also confused.  Just that morning – they had started hearing outrageously wild rumors.   Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were saying Jesus was alive.

But how can that be possible?  After all – dead means dead.  When people die – they stay dead.  Dead people don’t come back to life.  It is impossible that Jesus could be alive.  Those women must have literally been out of their minds with grief. 

As they walk along – trying to process their grief and sorrow – they are joined by a stranger – who asks the two friends what they are talking about.  They are shocked by the question.  How was it possible he did not know what had happened?  Everyone was talking about what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth!

So as they continue on their journey – they share their heartache and their grief with this stranger.  And he listens intently and offers them words of loving encouragement.  He shares their grief and their pain with them.

As they arrive in Emmaus it is getting dark.  So they invite the stranger to stay with them. A simple meal is prepared.  And after they are seated – the stranger picks up the bread – he blesses it – breaks the bread into pieces and gives it to them to eat. 

And in this moment their world is changed forever – because their eyes are opened and they realize the stranger isn’t a stranger after all – it is Jesus!

 Almost as soon as they realize it is Jesus – he disappears.  But the two men do not despair – because they know Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Jesus is alive!

Jesus lives!

Jesus walked with these two men.  He shared their journey and their grief.  Jesus was their traveling companion and their comforter.  He encouraged them.  Jesus walked with them and shared in their lives. 

One of the churches in Valladolid, Mexico.

And the same is true for each of us.  Jesus is with us always.  Jesus is with us – even when our sorrow and our grief make it hard for us to see him.   Even when our lives are messy and complicated.  Even when we are so busy living our lives that we don’t look for him. 

Jesus shares in our joys and in our sorrows and in those messy in between times too. 

Jesus is with us always. 

We may not always recognize him.  We may not always acknowledge him.  We may not always remember that he is here with us.  But Jesus is always here.  Jesus is always with us to share in whatever life brings our way.  You are never alone.  Not even during these strange – unprecedented days.  Your Lord is with you always.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

Scripture Readings for Sunday, April 26, 2020

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Acts 2:14a-36-41

1But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 

The Word of our Lord.

The view of the sky from our backyard.

Psalm 116:1-4 and 12-19

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard
   my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
   therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
   the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
   I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
   ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’

12 What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O Lord, I am your servant;
   I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid.
   You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
   in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!  Amen.

Air plants (in Mexico)

1 Peter 1:17-23

17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 

The Word of our Lord.

A sunny morning in Perryville, KY in April.

Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Gospel of our Lord.

The garden at Casa Hamaca in Valladolid, Mexico.

The Legend of the Dogwood Tree

I don’t know what your neighborhood looks like these days – but our neighborhood is absolutely – positively filled with beautiful flowering trees right now.  There are white trees and pink trees and purple trees.  There are bushes that look like they are on fire, because they are covered with so many red flowers.  The world (or at least Louisville, Kentucky) is a wild – glorious riot of color this week.  Everywhere I turn on our walks – I see something lovely.

I have noticed the dogwood trees seem to be especially lovely this year.  There are dozens of dogwood trees in our neighborhood.  There are lots and lots of white dogwood trees, and there are also quite a few shockingly pink dogwood trees too. 

I also noticed that the woods at Broad Run Park this weekend are full of dogwood trees.  Their stark white blossoms could be seen throughout the woods.

As I looked at all of the dogwood trees in the woods at Broad Run this weekend I remembered the legend of the dogwood tree, and I thought that I would share it with you.

Legend states that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, dogwood trees reached the size of mighty – towering oak trees.

The strong, firm wood of the dogwood tree was chosen as the timber for Jesus’ cross.

To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the dogwood tree.

While nailed upon it, Jesus sensed this, and in his compassion said: “because of your pity for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used for a cross. Henceforth, it shall be slender, bent, and twisted.  Its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross – two long and two short petals.  In the center of the outer edge of each petal will be the print of nails. In the center of the flower, stained with blood, will be a crown of thorns so that all who see it will remember.”

Take a walk today and look for a dogwood tree in your neighborhood and look at the blossoms.  They are lovely, and they really are cross shaped.

I hope you are able to enjoy the blessings of God’s glorious creation today and everyday.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Sinking the Bismarck at Broad Run

These weeks of social distancing and adjusting to this strange new world we are living in have been filled with all sorts of ups and downs and emotional twists and turns for me and for all of the members of the McFarland family.  Some days are simply easier than others.  And some days are harder.  Actually some days feel so very much – much harder.  And the same goes for the weeks too.   And I am guessing the same is true for each of you.  There is just so much change to adjust to. 

Our world is very different these days.  I cannot believe how I used to take things like Sunday school, coffee hour following worship, and church council meetings for granted!  I cannot believe that I miss church council meetings – but I sincerely miss them!  I miss the easy banter of chatting with my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I miss . . . well I miss a lot – but mostly I miss the comfort and ease my “old” life. 

And I do try not to be a whiney brat.  I know I am deeply and abundantly blessed.  I know deep in my soul I have so very – very much to be grateful for – but still even middle-aged pastor types have bad days.  Days when I feel like stamping my feet and saying I have had enough of this.  I am fed up.  I want what I want and I want it NOW!

This past week was one of the more challenging weeks for me.  My stupid, annoying brain spent the week misbehaving and misfiring, and therefore my week (and the whole family’s week) had the added joy of one long migraine followed by another migraine.  I know that migraines make me a true joy and a delight to be around. And no one could escape – not even me! 

So by Sunday – we all needed a great, big massively huge dose of fresh air.  This week we decided on Broad Run Park.  It is close to home and offers lots of wonderful outside options to explore. 

Much to the youngest McFarland’s dismay – Jason drove by all of the nice flat trails in the river valley and headed for his favorite trail which is hilly.  Jason never – never ever picks the easiest anything.  The man loves a challenge (perhaps that explains the ongoing success of our marriage)!

The first hill is the biggest!

After “an easy five mile hike” (Jason’s words).  I am pretty sure that is not what the youngest McFarland was thinking – although he was incredibly proud of his accomplishment – we headed to the river.

If it can be climbed – Jack feels compelled to give it a go.

The river at Broad Run is always Jack and Will’s favorite part of any trip to this park even when their amazing playgrounds are open.

We spent hours by the river on Sunday.  Well – Jason and I spent hours by the river.  William spent hours IN the river – even though it was quite chilly outside.  And Jack spent some of his time in the river too.

55 degrees is way – way too cold for wading in my not so humble opinion!

I did what I always do – I wandered up and down the shore looking for river glass and taking in the world around me. 

Jack is also a river glass seeker.

I heard the birds singing and Will was singing too.  I heard Jason talking to our sons.  I heard rocks hitting the water as people tossed them into the river.  I heard dogs barking and the voices of more distant families chattering.  I heard the wind blowing through the trees and the sound of the water in the river.

I saw the brilliant lush green of spring leaves and the equally brilliant green grass on the river banks.  I saw fossils that must be millions of years old and pieces of river glass reflecting the spring sun.  I saw early spring flowers and other families out for some exercise and adventure.

Hard at work being 7 years old.

I saw the people I love most in the world at ease and delighting in God’s glorious creation and in each other.

Always with the climbing! Always!!!

And I remembered that I am deeply and wonderfully and gloriously blessed by God the Father.  I remembered this deep down in my soul.  Not just in an intellectual way – but in my heart too.  My brain always seems to know that I am blessed.  It is my heart that tends to forget. . .

These were his ships.

William played in the river.  He got soaked to the skin while he sunk the Bismarck and the Yamato and his mommy regained her perspective.  Migraines stink – but little boys are a dazzling, glorious blessing from God.

Moving an aircraft carrier by hand is hard work!

Jack collected river glass and threw rocks from our side of the river to the other side of the river and his mom remembered her blessings.  I miss worshiping with my church family – but I get to watch this boy grow into a man!

Jason patiently kept everyone safe and sound, and his wife just “was” for a while.  Social distancing can be hard – but I get to negotiate life and social distancing with my best friend. . . and two very interesting young men.

How are you seeking God’s presence these days?  I encourage you – especially on the hard days to take time to seek God’s presence.  To do something that fills your heart with joy. 

God is with us – even now – especially now.  Our Lord has promised to hold us in the palm of his hand.

You are all in your pastor’s heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Peace be with You.

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

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Imagine the past few weeks and all that the disciples have been through.  The crazy twists and turns that their lives have taken. 

Just a few weeks ago everything had seemed so delightfully and wonderfully normal (and can’t we all relate to that). 

Not so long ago – they had all been with Jesus out there in the world doing what they did best.  They had been busy helping Jesus share the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy.  They had been doing great things for God.  Well – actually – they had been doing – seriously awesome things for God!  They had been helping Jesus feed the hungry and heal the sick.  They had been making a real difference in this world.  They were learning and growing and getting better and better at their jobs.   And more and more people were coming to meet Jesus every day.

After three years together – they had found their groove, and it probably felt like they were totally rocking it!  Life was good.  And it looked like it was only going to get better and better. 

Think about that awesome triumphal parade into Jerusalem on the very first Palm Sunday.  Imagine how the disciples must have felt.  It must have seemed like the entire city had come to shout Jesus’ praises.  The people of Jerusalem threw an impromptu parade to welcome Jesus!  People were literally throwing their coats on the road to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.  People were shouting Jesus’ praises at the top of their lungs and declaring that Jesus was their Savior! 

Finally – it looked like people were getting it.  Finally it looked like people understood  who Jesus really is.  Finally – after three years long years of really – really hard work – it looked like everyone in the entire nation of Israel was going to see that their Savior had come to set them free.

The disciples must have been soaring.  Life was good.  Well actually – life was really – really good. 

But then – the garden of Gethsemane happened.  And that was almost too much for them to comprehend.  The crowds were back – but this time – the crowds were furiously angry and they were armed with clubs and swords.  The crowds were threatening and so – so scary.  The crowds were filled with hate.  It was horrible.  It was terrifying. 

They arrested Jesus and took him away.

Away to be put on trial. 

Away to be beaten and humiliated and mocked and marched through the streets of Jerusalem dripping with his own blood.

Away to be crucified.

Away from everyone who loved him to die such a horribly cruel – painful – miserable death.

Everything – had gone so very – very wrong so very – very quickly.

Their teacher – their beloved friend – their Lord and Savior was dead!

Jesus was dead . . .

Their lives had soared so very high!  And then they had crashed so very – very low.  And then – well then – let’s be honest – things had gotten just plain unbelievable!

Because now there are rumors that Jesus isn’t dead!  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came running back from Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning with this outlandishly wild story about seeing an angel of the Lord who told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  And then if that wasn’t crazy enough – the two Marys said that they also met Jesus in the cemetery at dawn on Sunday morning.  And Jesus too told them not to be afraid and that God the Father had raised him from the dead!

But that can’t be true can it?  Because when people die – they stay dead.  It is incredibly painful – but that is the way life works.  Death is final.  Death is the end.  When people die they stay dead.

Nothing feels normal anymore.  Absolutely – positively everything has changed.  The disciples’ entire world really has been turned upside down and inside out (and again I think we can all relate to that too)!

So – they do what comes naturally to so many of us when the world gets really scary – they call a retreat.  They fall back to regroup and to catch their collective breath.

I know I do this when I feel overwhelmed by life.  When life starts to feel like it is just too much I go home to Jason – to Jack and to Will.  Being with them is grounding for me and it gives me comfort.  They remind me of who I am and whose I am.

I also have special places in our home that are especially comforting.  If the weather is nice – I love to sit on our back steps.  The sun warms the concrete steps making them feel cozy.  Sitting there I can feel the sun on my face and I can take in a little nature.  If the weather isn’t cooperating – I have a favorite cozy corner on our couch – that is Pastor Kerri shaped after all of these years!

I get the feeling this is exactly what the disciples have done in our Gospel reading for today.  They have called a retreat from the world – because it all just feels like it is too stinking much.  They are exhausted and afraid and overwhelmed and they just can’t take anymore of anything!  They have had enough!

Too much in their lives has changed too quickly.  There has been too much loss too quickly.  Way – way too much loss.  And too much to try to comprehend.  There is just so much that has changed in their lives. 

Just a few weeks ago they knew exactly who they were and what they were supposed to be doing.  They were Jesus’ disciples, and they were supposed to help Jesus feed the hungry and heal the sick.  They were incredibly busy helping Jesus share the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy.  But now that Jesus is dead – what on earth are they supposed to do?  Where do they go from here?  Who are they now?  They have lost their teacher – their Savior – their jobs – their very identities in this world!?!

And what about that crazy tale Mary Magdalene and the other Mary keep telling about Jesus not being dead?

The disciples are afraid, and they are exhausted.  They confused and not really sure what to think or what to do.  (And who can’t relate to that lately!)

So they retreat from the world behind locked doors.  They come together for comfort like we do with our own special people when life gets to be just a bit too much. 

In my imagination I see them sitting in exhausted silence.  Or talking in quiet whispers.  This isn’t a time for animated conversation.  They aren’t swapping favorite stories or sharing jokes.  They are wounded – afraid – exhausted.  And probably feeling more than a bit broken by life.  Their heads are sagging.  Their once proud shoulders droop. 

These past days and the grief they carry has changed them.  They are different.  They are struggling to comprehend what this all means.

When suddenly – while they are gathered together – Jesus appears in their midst.  One moment they are all alone – almost buried alive in their grief and regret and the next Jesus is there with them. And the very first words that Jesus speaks to them are “Peace be with you.”

Wow – don’t those words take your breath away.  Especially when you think about the situation into which Jesus spoke them. 

Isn’t it amazing how Jesus always – always gets it.  Jesus always gets it right! (It is that whole God and human at the same time mystery.)

Because – that is exactly what these poor – broken – exhausted tormented souls need.  They need peace.  They need peace almost as much as they need to breath oxygen.  And that is what Jesus offers them.

Jesus comes to his beloved – broken – exhausted – friends and disciples and he wishes them peace.

Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for abandoning him when he needed them the most.  He doesn’t reprimand them or condemn them or shame them.  Instead Jesus speaks words of love – grace – and mercy to them – because that is who our Lord is.

Jesus meets them in their brokenness and offers them peace and love.  And Jesus does the very same thing for us.  Jesus meets us in the broken places of our own lives and he offers us love and peace and grace and mercy.

Jesus comes to us when we are afraid or when we are hiding out in our locked rooms and he wishes us peace and reminds us that he loves us and that we are never alone.  That we are the beloved forgiven children of God today – tomorrow and always – no matter what we do or what this life brings our way. 

And this I believe is very good news!  Peace be with you – my sisters and brothers!  Amen.

Scripture Readings for Sunday, April 19, 2020

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First Reading:  Acts 2:14a, 22-32

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
   nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 16

1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
   I have no good apart from you.’
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
   in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
   their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out
   or take their names upon my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
   you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
   I have a goodly heritage.
7 I praise the Lord who gives me counsel;
   in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord always before me;
   because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
   my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
   or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life.
   In your presence there is fullness of joy;
   in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Amen

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 20:19-28

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ “

The Gospel of our Lord.

Adapting

My haven’t these weeks brought some interesting changes into our lives?!?

Some of the changes have been annoying.  Some of them have been awful – heartbreaking even.  And some of the changes have been unexpectedly nice.

One of the positives for our family has come in the way our family expanded just a little bit. 

As you know – Saint Stephen is our Kentucky family.  Our boys’ emergency contact people after Jason and me are Saint Stephen folks.  Mimi, Papa, Auntie Liz, Uncle John, Bella, and Nic all live in Richmond, Indiana for most of the year, and that is just a bit too far away for their schools to call if Will misses the bus or if Jack locks himself out of the house. 

Jack and Will know to call in a Lutheran if there is an emergency.  We have told them since they were tiny – these are your people.  They love you.  If you need help and you can’t reach Mom or Dad – call someone from church.  They are your family too, and they will help.  (Heck – if what you have done is dumb enough it might even be smarter to call in a “back up Lutheran” before you call in your parents!)  But that is a lot harder to do these days.  Social distancing has made so many things harder – hasn’t it? 

So without any local family – we decided to make our family just a bit bigger for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

We are most definitely in isolation and so are our across the fence neighbors.  We are taking isolation very seriously.  But – our neighbors have become our special people to lean on outside of our nuclear family.  (They have always been our cool neighbors anyway!)  We are in quarantine together as our own little pod, and it has helped a lot.  It gives us so much comfort to know that our boys have two responsible, safe, mask-wearing (wow – that sounds odd doesn’t it) adults right across the fence should they need another grown-up and their girls have the same thing in Jason and me.  (We even shop at the same grocery store.)

Mary and I can swap recipes and chat about raising children in this strange new reality.  We can also swap ideas for home schooling (something I had once said I would never – ever do.  I really have got to stop saying stuff like that!).  Will can burn off some energy with someone other than Jack which I am sure Jack finds to be a relief.  And the world just feels a little less ominous for our three littlest ones who we are keeping very – very close to home these days.

As a part of trying to make the world a lovely place for our children in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – Mary invited us to join in an Easter egg hunt last weekend.  It was just what the McFarland family needed.  We filled bright, cheery plastic eggs with all sorts of yummy – chocolaty goodness to hide in our adjoining yards and then with heaping Easter baskets of rainbow colored joy Mary and I had a delightful 20 minutes of “hiding” the eggs.

I loved being part of hiding the Easter eggs, because I always miss out on this part of the fun at Saint Stephen.  I often get to fill lots and lots of eggs for our Easter egg hunts at church – but I am always leading worship when the hiding of the eggs takes place.  I still would rather have been in church on Easter, but it was fun none the less.  We may just have to make this a new annual tradition.  I am sure the children wouldn’t mind more candy!

Their girls and our boys always have an Easter egg hunt at church – so it was nice to do this for them this year too.  I quipped to Jack that he got to do an Easter egg hunt without the sermon this year.  And Jack’s completely deadpan reply was – “Umm – Mom – I have heard them all.  All of them. . . ”  Oh yeah that’s right – Jack has heard ALL of them.  Well – I like tell my children all of the time – you can never get too much God!

Obligatory – “why yes we are having fun” picture for the moms . . .
On the hunt!
Too busy to look at the camera.
A very busy lady!
Why yes – we did make the 16 year old play along – it was good for him!
Check out the loot! Perhaps 25 eggs each was a bit much. . .

These days are difficult. We cannot deny that. COVID-19 has changed our lives in so very – very many ways. We have all lost so much.

But not everything is awful. Not everything is bleak and grim. Our lives still contain good things and blessings from God. We need to be willing to look for them – to open our eyes and our hearts to see them and to look for them.

Where are you seeing God’s presence in your life these days? How is God making himself known to you?

I saw God this weekend in rainbow colored eggs and in chocolaty smiles and in green grass.

I heard God in friendly hellos called from a safe social distance while I walked in our neighborhood and in singing birds and laughing children.

We are never alone. Our Lord has promised us that he is with us always. I encourage you to spend some time today seeking God’s presence in the small things in your life that you might just overlook.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

A Different Sort of Easter . . .

I don’t know about you – but Easter for our family was very – very different this year. 

Yes – I preached an Easter sermon – but I preached my Easter sermon on Good Friday in an almost empty sanctuary to my faithful, dedicated Jack and his handy dandy camcorder. 

The sanctuary was beautiful.  I mean really – really beautiful on Good Friday.  The sun was shining through the stained glass windows casting rainbows all over our sanctuary. 

Rainbows!

Everywhere I turned there was another rainbow.  Another splash of color to gaze at.  Another reminder of God’s presence to give me pause.

The rose window reflected on the chancel floor.

Steve had changed the paraments from somber, dark Lenten purple to sparkling Easter white and gold for us. 

Steve also took the time to put up all of our candles.  Both Jack and I enjoyed being able to light the candles together.   As a pastor’s kid Jack has lit so very – very many candles, and he is good at it.  I enjoyed sharing this simple task with my big boy (who really isn’t a boy any longer – just in my heart – I suppose).

Once everything was ready.  The candles were lit.  The lights and the sound system were on.  I took my place at the front of the sanctuary, and I took a deep breath.  I closed my eyes, and I said a quick prayer.  I prayed for my sisters and brothers in Christ who I was missing so badly.  It wasn’t a long prayer – just what my youth group kids in Wabash called a “popcorn prayer.” I have missed you all so much over the past weeks – but in that moment the longing for you was at its deepest (so far). 

And the coolest thing happened – because when I opened my eyes I remembered that I wasn’t actually preaching my sermon alone.  I wasn’t just talking to Jack and his camcorder (as awesome as he is).  I remembered that great cloud of witnesses the Bible talks about in Hebrews chapter 12. (I was probably messing with scripture just a bit.  I am pretty sure Hebrews is talking about dead people – but still I was reminded of it. . .)

It might sound crazy to some of you, but I could see all of you there in the sanctuary with me.  I could see Brenda in her chair close to the organ.  I could see Matt, Chloe, and Lori right up front where Lutherans so rarely dare to tread (or sit) and Bill, Vivian, Charlie and Phyllis right behind them!  I could see Marcia and Elaine and their special people in the back in their seats, and Carol, Bobby, Tonya, Clint, and Amanda across the aisle from them.  I could see Steve and Rita halfway back on my left on the aisle (for a quick escape in case we need any volunteers for anything during worship).  I could see Easton’s mischievous grin coming from the back as he plots his next great escape, and I could see Fred busy ushering in the back. 

(And please – please don’t think because I didn’t name you here that I have forgotten you or didn’t imagine you!)  I saw all of you there with me, and you were wearing your Easter best!!!  It looked like you all had chosen some seriously nice Easter outfits for Easter this year – nicely done Lutherans!  Nicely done!

And although my heart still ached just a bit, because I so long to see all of you.  To catch up and hear how you are doing.  To see your faces and to say a final good-bye to these frustrating days of social distancing – I was reminded of the incredible gift and blessing of Christian community and family.  And our Saint Stephen church family is a blessing for which I give our Lord thanks each day.

And I want to encourage you to do the same.  Remember the gift and blessing of your church family during these long – difficult days of social distancing.  

Remember one another in prayer.

Remember to reach out to one another. 

Call and check in with each other.  Don’t just wait until we can all see each other face to face again to make those connections.  Send a text to the folks who share your pew or to the folks you always chat with during coffee hour.  Shoot off a zippy quick email or three or four to the people who sit on the same side of the sanctuary with you this week and next week send one to some folks on the opposite side of the sanctuary.  Write a card and drop it in the mail.  Write 6 cards and drop those in the mail too!

If you need a church directory please let me know.  I will drop one in the mail to you.

Reach out to one another.  Check-in.  Just say hi.  Or say Happy Easter – the Easter season lasts for 7 weeks – until Pentecost Sunday on May 31st so you still have some time.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri