Christians and Chaos and Creativity

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

There are so many things that I love about being your pastor.  Like Christmas Eve worship with the candles and the carols (even if I do have to stay up way – way past my regular bedtime).  I only just manage to stay awake for the end of the 11:00 pm Christmas Eve service because I am fueled by adrenaline and coffee. 

Not of Christmas Eve – but of Lutherans having fun at church around Christmas!

I love our annual week of Vacation Bible school – but it exhausts me.  I have absolutely – positively no idea how elementary school teachers do their jobs month after month.  Just one week of VBS brings me to my knees and leaves me virtually comatose with exhaustion!  Teachers really must have superpowers.  I am not nor will I ever be woman enough to teach elementary school.

VBS fun!

I love worshipping with you and learning with you and serving with you.  I love the way you welcome me into your lives and into your hearts over and over again. 

And I especially love watching all of you spend time together.  For as long as I have been a pastor – I have loved watching my sisters and brothers in Christ delight in each others’ company.  I enjoy standing on the perimeter of the fellowship hall during coffee hour or Trunk and Treat or before the annual meeting and to watch and to listen. 

At first it can seem a little chaotic.   Sometimes it can seem really – really chaotic!  But then as I  listen to the ebb and flow of the conversations around me – I hear the sound of what it means to be a part of a larger community. 

Admiring the newest Lutheran!

I hear that the fellowship committee is planning the next great gathering of Lutheran Christians.  There will be wonderful food and even better fellowship. 

Sleeping through all that noise!

Rod and Matt are likely talking about repairing something that is broken.  In a building this big – something always needs repaired or replaced.

The Worship and Music committee needs to meet soon.  And they are looking for an evening that will work for everyone on their committee which is never easy.

Hmmm – I think Glenn may have known something that the rest of us didn’t know!

The table in the corner really liked the coffee hour treats this week and some of them are heading back for seconds while their wives are distracted by pictures of the grandkids on their phones.

The new family is sitting by themselves (again) – but thankfully Buddy noticed and he and Peggy have joined them for a quick chat.

Pat and Tammy are talking about the glorious season of Bengals’ football that awaits them, and Jason and Steve are talking Penguins’ hockey.   Marcia read a good book and she is recommending it to Elaine and Jennifer.

Cheryl is trying to track down information for the church newsletter which is a superpower in and of itself!

And those are just snippets of what I hear as I stand there listening and observing and learning and delighting in this Christian community.   Because the Sunday school teachers are probably discussing something important and the teens are texting their friends about when they will FINALLY be set free and someone is in the kitchen making another pot of coffee.

Sometimes if I really – really want to hear what is happening all around me I will close my eyes so that I can really tune in.  So that I am able to hear the laughter.  To take in the chaos and the chatter.  We are a vibrant community of faith.  We specialize in boisterous energy and controlled chaos and conversation.

And trying to get your attention can be hilariously difficult.  I can clap my hands and wave my arms around in the air like a wild woman and no one will even notice.  Most folks don’t even notice when I turn out all of the lights in the fellowship hall!  A carefully placed whistle might just grab the attention of a few folks – but most folks will just keep right on talking away in the dark without missing a beat!  In fact – the only thing that has ever worked to get your attention is for me to proclaim – very loudly – “May the Lord be with you . . . ” and then everyone’s Lutheran programming/training kicks in and they are forced to respond “and also with you.”

I have to move fast though – because if I don’t the chaos and the conversation will quickly descend and I will have to start all over again!

I have found that many of life’s greatest blessings come to us in the midst of chaos and noise and messy messes.  Think of those noisy family gatherings . . . of those evenings when the kids are home and the house feels so full (maybe almost too full) . . . Of Trunk and Treat or Thanksgiving Dinner or Vacation Bible school.  Of art projects and glitter and making mud pies and jumping in piles of leaves.  Snow ball fights and splashing in puddles.

Messy – chaotic times in life are often those moments in which we receive our greatest blessings.  Sometimes, messy – chaotic things can even change the world forever.  We see an example of this in our reading from Acts for this week.  Our first reading for this week began in a small – crowded – upstairs room where 120 of Jesus’ disciples had all gathered together when suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. 

On the very first Christian Pentecost this mighty rushing wind was the Holy Spirit coming into our world with all of His strength and power.  Bringing an incredible – life changing blessing.

The second symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence was fire.  The Bible tells us there were tongues of fire “which separated and came to rest on the heads of each of the people.”    

I don’t have many pictures of fire so you get a picture of our last family bonfire!

The Holy Spirit just like wind and fire is incredibly powerful.  And the Holy Spirit came into the world in wind and flame to begin a mighty work.  An amazing transformation started that day.  From that moment until this very moment the power of the Holy Spirit has been shaping our world and changing lives.

As soon as the Holy Spirit entered into the world an amazing change took place in the disciples.  The disciples all started speaking in different languages.  Languages that up until that very moment they did not know. 

Imagine the disciples’ excitement as they discovered this amazing blessing from God.  They must have been noisy and excited as whole new languages poured from their lips.  Then they hurried out of the room into the streets of Jerusalem – filled with awe and excitement as they searched for someone to share their newfound talents with. 

As the disciples rushed into the streets of Jerusalem speaking all sorts of languages – things got even noisier and even more chaotic as pilgrims from many different countries heard their native languages being spoken by the disciples.  There must have been shouts of joyful recognition as they heard their own languages being spoken.  What a sight it must have been – with so many people and so many languages and so much excitement and joy.

The disciples’ lives were changed forever and so were the lives of the people who heard them preaching.  Because when these people heard the Good News of Jesus Christ for the first time in their own languages many of them became Christians and were baptized. 

The first Pentecost wasn’t neat and organized.  But it was powerful.  Amazing – life transforming things happened in the midst of what must have seemed wild and chaotic.  People heard the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy.  People from all over the world becoming Christians.

Sometimes – we Christians living today get the idea that God is done doing wild – amazing things in our world.  That God has somehow gotten tamer – or quieter – or less bold.  That the Holy Spirit is less active in the world than he used to be.  That we should somehow expect less from our God than during the days when the Bible was written.

But I really think that is so very – very wrong.  Our God is still active in our world and in our lives.  And with the help of the Holy Spirit Christians can do amazing things that we could never do alone.  The Holy Spirit is still at work in the world and where the Holy Spirit is at work – things still get messy and noisy and chaotic sometimes.

The Holy Spirit is at work in you and the Holy Spirit is a work in our world. 

If you seek proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world just look around you.  Look at the powerful things that can and do happen in this church and in the world in God’s name.  Think of all of the activities that happen around our church.  Think of the fun and noise and joy of  Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and our fellowship times.  During the passing of the peace, sometimes even during meetings and children’s sermons too.  The Holy Spirit is at work in our time together – in our learning, in our play, in our laughter, and in our serious times too. 

I know that some of these things will have to change (for a while as we navigate this different world with COVID-19) – but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t with us or that the Holy Spirit isn’t at work in our world.   We are just going to need to be open to doing things in new ways – in different ways.  But new and different doesn’t mean bad – it just means different!

The coming of the Holy Spirit marks the moment when things got a little messy as new things started happening in the world.  And new things continue to happen in our world.  Know this –God is with us in our world.   The Holy Spirit is at work in us. Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

Readings for Sunday, May 31, 2020

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Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The Word of our Lord.

Psalm 104

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
   In wisdom you have made them all;
   the earth is full of your creatures.
 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
   creeping things innumerable are there,
   living things both small and great.
 There go the ships,
   and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

 These all look to you
   to give them their food in due season;
 when you give to them, they gather it up;
   when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
   when you take away their breath, they die
   and return to their dust.
 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
   and you renew the face of the ground.

 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
   may the Lord rejoice in his works—
 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
   who touches the mountains and they smoke.
 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
   I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
   for I rejoice in the Lord.
  Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 20:19-23

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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

Not Just about the Knitting

I spent the last several evenings working on a shawl I knit over a decade ago.  Well actually I have been repairing this shawl.  I have been knitting patches for this shawl which is something that I have never done before.  I made my mother-in-law this shawl.  And she has worn it a lot.  I love that about Linda – she actually puts knitted gifts to use.

(I love lots and lots of things about my mother-in-law. Like how we both love the same people so very – very much.  We formed an instant bond years ago, because we both love Jason.  And now all these years later we both love even more of the very same people.  Now we have even more in common.  How cool is that?!) 

So back to the shawl.  This shawl hasn’t been in a drawer.  It hasn’t been in the back of a closet.  It hasn’t been gathering dust someplace.  Instead – this shawl got used.  It got used a lot.  It got used so much – it got great BIG holes in it. 

And the last time we were together Linda asked me if I could fix it.

“Hmmm. . . . Those are some really big holes.”  I said while running my knitterly hands over the shawl and contemplating the holes (as knitters do) – “Maybe I should just make you a new shawl.” 

“No thank you” said my lovely mother-in-law.  “I really like this one.  I wear while I read and while I do my Bible studies (she had me at Bible studies – by the way) on the sun porch in the winter or when the air conditioning gets too cold in the summer.”

Then she took the shawl away from me to model it for me just in case I didn’t understand how important this particular shawl was to her.

“But” – I said – “I remember that yarn and that pattern.  I made it when we still lived in Wabash (over 10 years ago).  I am afraid it is too far gone to be saved . . .even silk and wool yarn have a lifespan.”

“You can do it” – she said.

“I’ll try – but it will mean cutting your shawl apart . . .  I will either fix it or destroy it.  There won’t be any middle ground” – I warned her.

“I trust you” – she replied.  (I suppose she does trust me.  After all her son and two of her beloved grandsons live with me).

So I cut up Linda’s shawl on Monday evening.  I know that most of you reading this are not knitters – so please understand – that was a very – very BIG DEAL.  Scissors and knitting do not mix.  I do not cut holes in my knitting.  Doing so tends to destroy my knitting.  I literally took my sharpest knitting/sewing scissors and I cut out the places that had holes in them.  I made a VERY BIG hole in her shawl with my scissors.  I ended up removing 4 of the mitered squares.  And now I am knitting new ones.  I replaced the old ones – but you will be able to see immediately what I have done.  You will be able to see the mending.

The new squares are in gray yarn – but this yarn is from a different company.  This yarn is a lot less fancy.  It is a nice sturdy gray wool.  This job needed a sturdy yarn.  Besides there was no way I was going to get anything that would match the original yarn (the yarn company that made the original yarn stopped making that yarn years ago) so I didn’t even try.  I decided to embrace to contrast – to embrace the patching – to embrace the fact that life had done some damage to Linda’s shawl.  The mending will be very obvious when I am done.   The “cool” kids call this visible mending.

And I have been thinking a lot while I have been knitting these patches on Linda’s shawl and while making these repairs.  I have been thinking about how we all have our broken spots.  We all have our worn out places and those places where we hurt or ache or are just a tiny bit creaky.  Some of us may even have spots where we feel like we might just start to come unraveled if someone pulled too hard!  After all – none of us gets through this life unscathed.  Life and living just don’t seem to work that way.

And I doubt very much that any of us have gotten through these past few months unscathed or at the very least unchanged.  Staying safe at home has changed us.  COVID-19 has changed us.  Living through the spring of 2020 has changed us.  We have been changed.  We have all been changed.  And I am guessing that the changes are going to keep right on coming for the next few months.  After all – just going to the grocery store looks and feels so very different these days.  And we all know that coming to church is going to look and feel different too.

As I worked on Linda’s shawl – I realized that I really liked the patches.  I liked the character that they gave the shawl.  I liked the way the patches didn’t try to hide the wear and tear – but instead just embraced it.  And that is how I am going to try to think about these past few months and how I hope to approach the upcoming months.  I am going to look for the good and the beauty in them.  I am going to try to embrace the challenges that they brought to me and the lessons that I have learned.

I am going to try to embrace the change.  I am going to try really hard to see the beauty and the good in this strange new world of ours (and no I am not saying that COVID-19 is in anyway a good thing or a blessing).  I am going to try to bend and adapt and to be a bit more agile.  I am going to continue to seek God’s presence.  And I am especially going to seek God’s presence in those places that seem surprising – in those places where I might not expect to find him to be at first glance.  I am going to try to dig just a bit deeper.

And I hope that you might join me in this.  Let’s try to embrace the changes that life brings our way.  Let’s try to see the beauty in the patches and the twists and the turns and all that the next few weeks and months bring.  Let’s seek God’s presence in our lives even when our lives aren’t what we were expecting them to be!  After all – I think even patches and mended things can be beautiful.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Blessed to be a Blessing

These past weeks and months have been so very – very strange – haven’t they?  We have all had to change and adapt and change and adapt some more. 

Most of us have had to learn to do things differently.  (Masks – I am looking right at you!)  Home schooling the McFarland sons is high on my list of massively huge changes too. Thankfully Jason was able to handle the Latin – chemistry and higher math questions.  I handled the number bonds – the weekend journaling and the synonyms which was more my speed – thank you very much!

I wear my mask and I hope you are too (but I don’t usually wear it in the house).

So very – very many things have been canceled and moved and changed and adapted and changed some more.  Actually it feels like everything on the entire planet has been changed or moved or adapted in some way shape or form over the past few months!  And they will all probably change again before it is all said and done.

One of the things that was canceled was the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries’ Annual Gala on the second Saturday in May.  The Pennies from Heaven Gala isn’t just a big deal for FCHUM.  It is a massively huge – big deal.  The annual gala is their biggest fundraiser of the year.  Every year the Pennies from Heaven Gala helps FCHUM raise 1,000’s and 1,000’s of dollars to help our neighbors who are in need of assistance during a difficult time in their lives.  Last year the Gala raised over $27,000 for the powerful, life-changing ministry they do each week at FCHUM.

FCHUM was forced to cancel their biggest fundraiser of the year just as need for the services they offer at FCHUM skyrocketed.  FCHUM is experiencing record numbers of people requesting assistance with food and other needs like rent and utilities.  They are actually going through tons of food each week as they feed our neighbors.  In April of 2019 FCHUM helped 431 families (903 people) with groceries.  This April they helped 767 families (1,800 people) with groceries!

FCHUM is currently completely out of bars of soap – toilet paper – toothpaste – dish soap – laundry detergent – and shampoo.

FCHUM is very – very low on tuna – canned pasta like ravioli – hearty soups – peanut butter – dried pasta – pasta sauce – macaroni and cheese – canned beans – and canned fruit.

We can help.  Working together can make a difference.  We can help feed and care for our neighbors who are in need right now during this difficult time in their lives.

On Sunday, June 7th let’s celebrate our return to in-person worship at Saint Stephen by bringing in bags and boxes of groceries and toiletries for FCHUM.   Let’s pile the table in the narthex with heaps and heaps of groceries!

We can be a blessing to our neighbors.  We can share God’s blessings to us by being generous. 

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Change is in the Air!

Video Links

I apologize for the delay in uploading the video links for this week. Our video camera abruptly stopped working half way through the recording. We need to order a replacement battery which will take time to arrive. Jason and I both use ancient/6 year old cell phones so recording on them isn’t a viable option. I will try to record using our laptop tomorrow. Our A/V department consists of Jack’s old video camera from the Christmas he turned 12 and well – it just got tired! We are operating on a shoestring budget and a wing and a prayer! Thank you for your understanding.

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

I may have mentioned it a time or 3,000.  I struggle with change.  I have always struggled with change.  Change has a way of sending me for a loop!  Even seemingly insignificant changes can bug me – A LOT.  

I know this about myself – so I plan accordingly.  I make adjustments for this particular personality “quirk.”  

My cell phone is over 6 years old – but I really – really don’t want a new phone.  (Yes – I am a great big – massive cheapskate – but there are other important reasons too.)  I understand how my current phone works.  Well – actually – I don’t really know how it works.  But after 6 years together my phone and I have come to an understanding of sorts.  And most of the time we can live together in relative peace and harmony.  We have learned how to get along!  A new phone would disrupt this harmony – because it would come into my life and bring lots and lots of change with it.  And I don’t like change.  I am change averse.

And please – whatever you do – don’t run software updates on my computer!  I despise that with every ounce of my being!  I mean seriously – I happily left work on Sunday and my computer looked one way and I turn in on Monday morning and now it looks completely and utterly different.  And I am just supposed to adjust.  Or to – you know –  think that you have done me a kindness or that this has improved my life.  I think not!  Because now I can’t find ANYTHING!  

And I am left sending huffy texts to Jason begging him (okay demanding) that he make my computer look like it used to because I liked it that way!  (Jason just LOVES receiving  those texts!)

I am not a big fan of transitions either.  Because – you know – transitions involve change!

When we get together with our gloriously awesome extended family – I truly look forward to seeing everyone for weeks.  I have the best in-laws in the universe.  These people are the absolute BEST.   I love the laughter – the conversation – and everything that comes with our great – big extended family gatherings.  But that first hour – well – if I am honest – it all feels like it is just a bit too much to me.  

They have been putting up with me since my hair was actually brown!

So I have learned that I need to build in time and space for me to adjust so that I don’t end up coming across as an evil troll!  (Well – so that I don’t end up coming across as  more of an evil troll than I want to anyway.)  

I have always been amazed by the way some people can just roll with change.  The way some people just go with the flow when life brings changes their way just plain dazzles me.  They leave me in complete and utter awe!

In our Gospel reading for this week we heard about a great – big – massive change that happened in the disciples’ lives.  The Bible tells us when Jesus returned to heaven – he ascended right in front of the disciples.  One moment Jesus was standing with them – talking to them and teaching them and the next Jesus was ascending into heaven right before their very eyes!  

I wonder . . . do you think the sky was perfectly blue or do you think it was gray and overcast the day Jesus ascended into heaven?

Talk about a shocking change.

Yes – Jesus knew that he was going to need to leave his disciples one day.  So Jesus had tried – again and again to prepare the disciples for this incredible day.  But the disciples were still bewildered by this turn of events.  And honestly who wouldn’t be?  It wasn’t like this was something that you see every day!

The disciples stood there with tears in their eyes and sorrow in their hearts as they watched Jesus leaving them until they could no longer see him at all.   

Or maybe it was a fiery sunset?

Uncertain of what was going to happen next and probably hoping if they stood there long enough Jesus would come back – the disciples continue to stand gazing into the sky – long after Jesus disappeared from sight.  In fact – they stand there for such a long time that two angels of the Lord come and ask them – why they are standing there staring up into heaven.  

The angels certainly knew why the disciples were standing there staring up at the sky.  The angels must have understood how shocked the disciples were.  After all – the Savior of the world doesn’t ascend into heaven right in front of you every day.  

And – God understands too.  That’s why the angels were there.  God sent the angels to get the disciples moving.  To help the disciples process the changes that had happened in their lives.  Because the disciples just can’t stay there gazing up into heaven for the rest of their lives.  

They can’t stand there longing for what was – and yearning for what they have lost.  They can’t remain focused on the past.  They have to begin to move forward.

It is time!

They have to get on with their lives.  Yes – their lives have changed dramatically – but it is time for them to begin anew.  It is time for them to take what Jesus taught them during their 3 years together and get to work in the world.  They have incredibly important work to do in God’s world.  Jesus has called them to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

The angels came to remind the disciples there was work to be done and they needed to get started.  And get started they did.  The stories of the disciples’ powerful witness are the stuff of legend.  

Peter preached in Jerusalem.  Thomas shared the Good News of God’s grace, love, and mercy in India – while Andrew witnessed in Greece and Turkey.   Philip preached in North Africa.  Matthew is thought to have taken Jesus’ message to Ethiopia.  And James witnessed in Syria.  Jesus’ disciples answered his call to share the Good News of God’s amazing love, grace, and mercy.  They were Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.

And they quite literally changed the world and the lives of the millions upon millions of people.  Think of it – because the disciples were courageous enough to take those first – brave bold steps into the world after Jesus ascended into heaven – we are Christians.  If the disciples had refused to adapt or change – none of us would know the hope and peace that come from knowing we are the beloved, forgiven, redeemed children of God.  

If the disciples had refused to adapt to the changes life threw their way – none of us would be Christians!

We too are living through a time of great change and transition.  The last time we were able to gather together for in person worship was two months ago.  And when we gather together again in our sanctuary on June 7th – worship will be dramatically different from what we are used to.  From what is familiar.  From what is comfortable.  From what most of us would prefer!

Social distancing is so annoying.  Masks fog up our glasses!  Hand sanitizer dries out our hands. Communion juice instead of communion wine.  The deacon in street clothes instead of an alb!  No hymns!  No chanting!  No choir!  No coffee hour!  And where are our “regular” seats!   Someone moved our regular seats!

We are being asked to change.  To adapt.  To be different.  And this is hard.   Actually it can be really – really – really hard!

It would be easy for us – to get stuck – sort of like the disciples were with our eyes fixed on what was.  It would be so very easy for us to spend our days longing for what was familiar.  To yearn for what we know best.

But we cannot.  We are being called into a new future.  

Yes it will be different.  It will feel strange.  We will be asked to adapt and grow as individuals and as a Christian community.  We will need to be creative – perhaps very – very creative!  We may be asked to do things for others that we would rather not do.  We might have to make concessions!  There will likely be growing pains.  We will make mistakes and we will need to be patient with one another.  Very loving – very patient – very kind.  Very understanding as we move through these weeks of change and transition that are ahead of us.

But we do not go into this future alone.  Our God goes with us.  And our God has blessed us with wonderful traveling companions.  We have our Lord and we have one another.  We can do this.  We can do this together with our Lord.  Truly this is Good News!  Amen.

Readings for Sunday, May 24, 2020

Video Links

I apologize for the delay in uploading the video recordings this week. Our video camera stopped working half way through the recording. We need to order a replacement battery which will take time to arrive. Jason and I both use ancient/6 year old cell phones so recording on them doesn’t seem to be a viable option. I will try to record using our laptop tomorrow. Our A/V department consists of Jack’s old video camera from the Christmas he turned 12 and well – it just got tired! We are operating on a shoestring budget and a wing and a prayer! Thank you for your understanding.

Acts 1:6-11

So when they had come together, the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ Jesus replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 68

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
   let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
   as wax melts before the fire,
   let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful;
   let them exult before God;
   let them be jubilant with joy.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
   lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
   be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows
   is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
   he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
   but the rebellious live in a parched land.
O God, when you went out before your people,
   when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
   at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
   at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
   you restored your heritage when it languished;
your flock found a dwelling in it;
   in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
   sing praises to the Lord,
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
   listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.

Ascribe power to God,
   whose majesty is over Israel;
   and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
   the God of Israel;
   he gives power and strength to his people.  Amen.

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

The Word of the Lord

The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 18:18-20

Jesus said – “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Taking Time for Turtles

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,

but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I try to pay attention to the world around me.   I try to live more in the real world and less in the virtual world.

I try really – really hard to spend more time with my sons than I spend with my e-reader surfing the web.  I try to make more memories of these years with Jack, Will, and Jason than I make trips to the store to buy stuff.  I try to watch more sunsets than television shows on Netflix.  I strive to watch more tricks on the trampoline than stuff on my phone. 

I try to smell roses.  I try to really and truly taste my morning cup (or 2) of coffee.  I try to listen to the sound of our home and enjoy the sounds of busy boys filling it with their presence. 

I try to enjoy this one earthly life that I have been blessed with.  I try to savor my life and to enjoy the blessings I have been given. 

Some days I get it right-ish.  And some days – well – not so much. . .  I get to the end of some days and realize that I didn’t stop long enough to enjoy my blessings from God or to smell any roses.  (Although honestly – my lavender plants smell soooo much better than my roses do!)

Some days I don’t savor much of anything except the sight of the clock announcing that it is bedtime at the McFarland house and I can collapse into bed with a good book.

I am a very human – human being, and I fail to live up to my goals and aspirations all of the time.  I fail to be mindful.  I fail to appreciate or to give thanks for God’s blessings to me.  I am well aware of the fact that I miss God sightings all of the time.

But – sometimes when I least expect it – God knocks my socks off with the beauty of his creation.

On Tuesday morning – I had one of those moments.  I was standing in our dining room/Jason’s new COVID-19 workplace bugging him about something or other when I glanced out the window.  I do this all of the time.  I find my eyes drawn outside like moths are drawn to light.  And what did I see?  I saw an Eastern Box Turtle going for a stroll through our backyard.

He wasn’t even afraid of me. I think he knew that we appreciated him and he was with friends!

And he was stunningly beautiful!  (Thanks to Jason – Jack – and William I could see the turtle’s beauty.  They have all taught me so very – very much about appreciating nature in all of its many varieties.  Thanks – guys!)

William and I have been reading about all sorts of reptiles and amphibians just this week.  (Turtles are reptiles – by the way.  Life with my 3 gentlemen has taught me this fact.)  Will loves the really scary – deadly – horribly – terrifyingly dangerous stuff like king cobras and black necked spitting cobras and black mambas and well just about anything that can make your arm fall off in 2 seconds if it bites you!

I – on the other hand – like the animals that won’t make me dead if I happen upon them while gardening!  And yes – I know living in Kentucky that I probably won’t run into many black necked spitting cobras while gardening (outside of my very vivid imagination) – but it never hurts to be prepared and to keep a watchful eye out!

Anyway – this eastern box turtle who was strolling through our backyard was beautiful.  And I got to see him all because I took the time to look.

What are you seeing out of your windows these days?  Where are you seeing God at work in your life?

Why – yes – I did take about 3,000 pictures of the VERY slow moving turtle. And yes – they do almost all look the same. But not quite – he moved his back leg . . . well I think that he did!

Try looking at the world with new eyes today.  You might just be surprised (dare I suggest impressed) by what you see!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Change is – Well Change is in the Air

I am so excited that soon my car won’t be the only one in the parking lot!

I read a really fun book this week all about different personality traits and how they manifest in different people.  Actually – I more or less devoured the book in about 2 days.  I would have read it even more quickly – but Jason thought it would be healthy if I got up off the couch for some exercise.  And William – well Will just kept interrupting me with his unreasonable demands for food and attention.  I can’t believe that I have failed teach our 7 year old how to cook and clean and educate himself.  Total parenting fail!

So anyway – the book touched on several different popular personality assessments, and I simply adore this kind of stuff.  I love thinking about what makes all of us tick.  I find people so intriguing.  We are all so unique.  We are all hardwired so differently.

For instance – I am an introvert and so are Jason and Jack.  The 3 of us don’t talk to strangers.  But William is a great big, glorious extrovert.  Our little guy will talk to anyone – anywhere – at any time.  This winter – in life before COVID-19 – Will and I were in the Kroger liquor store buying communion wine for church (really – honest – it was communion wine – I promise).

And this is what I heard behind me.

“Hi I’m William.  But my mom calls me Will lots of the time.  What’s your name?”

“That’s my mom.  She is a pastor.  She is buying a whole bunch of bottles of wine for our friends at church.  We ran out of the good stuff (He was quoting me here.)  We drink wine at church in little cups – even the kids!  I have tried the wine – but I don’t really like it.  Lots of the old people seem to really like the wine.  Do you like wine?”

“So what are you buying?  Do you like it?  I like orange Fanta.”

“Do you have any little kids at your house that I could play with?  If you don’t have any little kids – maybe you could come to my house and we could play?  Hey – Mom can you tell this man where we live so that he can come over so that we can play?  He is nice!”

All of this in the time it took me to swipe the church debit card and enter the pen number!  I am not kidding. 

The nice gentleman – who must have been about 85 – smiled warmly at me and said – “Wow – that’s quite a friendly little fellow you have there.  I hope he isn’t too offended if I skip out on the invitation.  I am afraid that my hip replacements don’t let me keep up with the youngsters like I used to.”

If it had just been me getting the communion wine by myself that day – I would have smiled warmly at the gentleman behind me and probably shared – a friendly “hi” – but I would never have learned about his hip replacements . . .

Introverts make up around 40 % of the world’s population and extroverts make up the rest (even I could figure out that math).  Some people are incredibly empathetic.  Others make amazing leaders.  We are all different – and I love that about people.  If we were all the same – life would be incredibly boring and probably pretty predictable.

One of my own personality traits is that I am very – very – very change averse (which makes me a magnificent mainline Christian/Lutheran).  I don’t do change well at all.  I want to know what to expect and when to expect it.  I find change very stressful.  Change makes me nervous.

I don’t think that I am alone in wanting to know what to expect and when to expect it.  Even people who aren’t averse to change like being in the know. 

So I want to share with you what worship will be like at Saint Stephen when we resume in person worship in our sanctuary on Sunday, June 7th.

What follows is the plan that the Church council, Rod Firquin, and I have put together after much thought, prayer, and careful deliberation.

I understand that there is a lot to read through, but please do take the time to read through all of it.  This plan explains how we will be moving forward together as a Christian community in the weeks and months to come.

Change is not always easy.  We are all going to have to make changes and concessions.  Worship is going to look and feel quite different.  We are all going to have to adapt our behaviors so that we can safely gather together to worship our Lord.

But remember as Jesus told us and his disciples – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20.

We can do this together (at a safe social distance of course)!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship at Saint Stephen in the Midst of COVID-19

We ask that folks stagger their arrival times when arriving at Saint Stephen for worship.  We ask that people please don’t wait to arrive for worship until the last few minutes as so many of us have done in the past.  If everyone waits until 9:55 am to arrive for worship – worship will not begin on time!

Folks will have to be very careful to maintain safe social distancing in the narthex as they arrive for worship.  Everyone will be asked to wear masks the entire time they are in the church (except when they are taking Holy Communion).  The governor recommends everyone over the age of 2 wear a mask when out in public and that is the policy Saint Stephen will be following until our governor advises differently.

This is Will’s mask . . . just kidding!

When parking we ask that you park every other space in the parking lot too.  This will allow for safer social distancing outside (unless you are from the same household.)

As folks arrive for worship each person will need to collect their own worship attendance card and prepackaged Holy Communion from the table in the narthex where they will be placed each week in nice prepared, safe zip lock bags.  After collecting these items they will be encouraged to place their offerings in the offering plate and to proceed to their seats in the sanctuary so that the next people can do the same. Our narthex just isn’t big enough for us to linger safely en masse like we used to do.

We just can’t safely social distance in our narthex – well not very many of us can anyway.

We are going paper-less.  We will be projecting the spoken liturgy onto a screen in the sanctuary each Sunday.

Safely stored for now – but not forever!

We will prop open the doors to the narthex and to the sanctuary so that people are not touching the doors as they arrive for worship and as they exit from worship.  We will also prop open the door to the hall.

We can’t really prop open our bathroom doors, but we can place paper towels and hand sanitizer beside each door.  We will encourage people to use those when entering and exiting the bathrooms. 

Ask people to NOT go into the rest of the church.  We just don’t need to be in the offices or the classrooms or the fellowship hall or kitchen for the time being.  We will definitely have to close off the nursery.  We will not be able to provide nursery care for the foreseeable future.  

This is one of the many reason we can’t be in the fellowship hall right now. It has become a storage room!

The deacon will process in from the fellowship hall.  The deacon will serve as the acolyte and the reader for the foreseeable future to limit the amount of people in the chancel area.  The deacon will NOT be vesting.  We cannot share clothing during a pandemic!

Pastor Kerri will also process in from the fellowship hall.

There will be no singing of any kind or any chanting.  Pastor Kerri will rework our liturgy so that it is all spoken.

The deacon will serve as reader and will do the readings from the lectern.

Pastor Kerri will read the Gospel from where she preaches in the chancel.

We will not be able to safely have a children’s sermon.  (We can reassess this in mid-September.)

We will worship together – apart!

The deacon will lead the Prayers of the People from the lectern.  

We will have to omit the physical passing of the peace – but we will still speak the words to one another.  We can wish one another God’s peace.

We will have to omit the offering = the physical passing of the offering plates.  We will place an offering plate in the narthex where people can place their offerings to the Lord as they enter or exit worship.

For Holy Communion everyone will have their own Communion in their pews using pre-packed/pre-sealed grape juice and wafers.  Pastor Kerri will invite everyone to open their communion before she shares the Words of Institution and we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  Then we will all receive/take communion together.  

Lots and lots of breathing room!

After we take communion we will all carefully place our empty communion cups and containers back into our zip-lock bags and seal them in preparation for throwing them away ourselves in the trash cans provided in the narthex following worship.  

We will need to ask people to exit worship mindfully and in a way that is safe.  Following the announcements Pastor Kerri or the deacon will direct people to leave pew by pew starting from the back of the church and working our way toward the front.  

As they exit, they will need to place their communion waste in a trash can and their worship attendance card in a basket on the table in the narthex (we can label all of these things – but no one can touch these items until they have had 72 hours to “breathe.”)

People will then need to head outside promptly so that the people behind them can leave the sanctuary.

Plenty of room to spread out and stretch our arms. You can all start talking like me now – lots of arm waving!

Again the doors to the sanctuary and the parking lot will need to be propped open to insure that people are not touching the doors.

We encourage people to chat in the parking lot at a safe social distance if they choose – but not in the church.

We understand that some of our members will not be able to join us at Saint Stephen for worship for the foreseeable future.  We will continue to post the sermons/worship services online each weekend.

Never Alone – Not Really

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

Have any of you ever had moments of understanding that completely changed the way you understood the way the world works? Moments that turned your world upside down and inside out?

The setting sun over Lake Superior.

For 1,000s of years people firmly believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth. People were absolutely positive that the Earth was the center of the entire Universe.

Then Galileo discovered that the Earth wasn’t the center of the Universe. That the Earth actually orbited around the Sun. Galileo’s discovery shook people to the very core of their beings. His discovery was so shocking and so disturbing – that the Catholic Church actually threatened to kill Galileo for daring to say that the Earth wasn’t the center of everything in the entire universe.

Folks didn’t take kindly to his turning their world inside out.

My own little astronomer in the making at the planetarium here at the U of L.

Or like when the explorer Ferdinand Magellan proved that the world was round instead of flat. With no understanding of gravity – folks just assumed that anything that wasn’t nailed down – would simply fall off the bottom of the world. So naturally – the world had to be flat. Then Magellan and his crew circumnavigated the world without falling off.

Talk about turning the world upside down!

Magellan’s ship probably wasn’t made by a 7 year old with a 2 by 4 and some nails but . . .imagination is important!

We have all had moments like these. Sure our discoveries probably don’t make the evening news or get us written up in history textbooks. But these moments are still a really big deal to us. They still change us and our lives forever.

For many of us – I am guessing that this spring may be one of those times of profound change in our lives.

I can still remember one such moment in my own life. I was probably only about 8 at the time. I was playing with my friends on the school playground when Sara declared that her mom said that Mrs. Sando was dying.

“What?!?” – I remember thinking. Mrs. Sando. . . I knew that she had been really – really sick. We all knew that she had been really – really sick. She taught 3rd grade at our school and their family lived in our neighborhood. She was our friend’s mom. Mari’s mom was dying . . . that was simply incomprehensible to my little 3rd grade brain. Mari was our age. Mari and her little brother were still just kids. They needed their mom for seriously important things like food, shelter, and well – they needed her for just about everything.

In that moment – I learned young people could die too. (And now that I have children of my own I realize just how young Mrs. Sando was at the time . . . She was incredibly young.) Up until that day – I had assumed that only really, really super-duper old people died. I didn’t realize that parents could die and leave their kids all alone in the world.

My world was shattered by this newfound knowledge. This realization left me reeling. Because even at 8 – I knew that being orphaned was a very bad thing. (I had read the Boxcar Children books. I knew that being orphaned meant you were ALL alone in the world!) I had nightmares for weeks about being left all alone in the world to fend for myself. I remember begging God not to leave me orphaned.

In our Gospel reading for this week – we hear Jesus speak words of comfort and reassurance to his disciples during a truly terrifying time in their own lives. In just hours Jesus knows that he will be arrested – put on trial – convicted and crucified. Jesus knows the disciples are frightened – actually Jesus knows that they will soon be downright terrified. Jesus knows big changes are coming for his disciples. He knows their world is about to be turned inside out and upside down.

So – Jesus promises his disciples that he will not leave them orphaned. That he won’t leave them all alone in the world to fend for themselves. Jesus reassures them that he loves them and that he will continue to love and care for them – no matter what happens.

We can certainly understand a bit of what the disciples are going through – can’t we?

I keep thinking about the incredible – shocking changes that the spring of 2020 has brought into all of our lives. I mean really – if on New Year’s Day anyone had said to you that by May 17th we would all be living through a global pandemic that had us quarantined in our homes for weeks on end – we would have thought they were a bit unhinged or still tipsy from having too much fun on New Year’s Eve. And yet – that is exactly where we find ourselves.

The world remains in the grips of this deadly pandemic. . .and we don’t know how long it is going to last . . . The economy is in tatters. Those of us who can work from home are doing just that. And far – far too many of us aren’t able to work at all. Our children are distance learning – kind of – sort of – well we hope they are anyway! So many of our politicians and governmental leaders are behaving like petty children (actually that is probably a complete insult to all children everywhere) – blaming each other rather than working together. The numbers of people who are dying from this horrible virus just keep growing and growing. The heartbreaking loss and fall out just seem to get worse and worse and worse.

Our lives have been turned upside down and inside out. We are exhausted and afraid. And yearning for hope. It feels like our world is a great – big – scary place.

But Jesus tells us today that there is Good News – comforting news – reassuring news. We are not alone in this world. We aren’t orphans. Jesus reassures us that he won’t leave us alone. That our Lord isn’t going to forget or foresake us.

God will always take care of us no matter what this life brings. God is with us all of the time. God is faithful. God has been with you each and every moment of your lives and God will continue to be with you all of the time. This will be true no matter where you go or what you choose to do with your life. God will be with you forever. You can trust in that – because it is true.

God loves you with a perfect love forever. God walks with you and will provide for you and watch over you. You are never alone. Not even now during these frightening times. God is always faithful and you are always in God’s perfect loving care. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Readings for Sunday, May 17, 2020

Video Links

The First Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23

For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.”

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 66:8-20

Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.I will come into your house with burnt-offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt-offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him,
and he was extolled with my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Praised be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me. Amen.

The Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 14:15-21

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

The Gospel of our Lord.