Why I Keep Posting so Many Pictures of Puffy Clouds and Pretty Flowers

Not all that long ago – someone very important to me – asked me why – in the middle of a devastating global pandemic I keep seeking beauty in the everyday.  She asked me why I persisted in seeking God’s presence.  Why I look for flowers – rainbows – laughing little boys and beautiful skies with so much determination day after day after day?  She said – you stubbornly insist on looking for the good and the lovely and these are not good or lovely times . . .

Yes – that is right.  I do.  I am.  And I shall persist!  I am stubborn – just ask Jason!

I do all of this because of this – I firmly believe our attention really and truly is like a magnifying glass.  Our attention always expands and enlarges the importance of what we are thinking about.  And I want to spend as much of this life as possible focused on beauty and kindness and our God’s presence in this world.

Years ago (well actually decades ago now) I decided I was going to spend my life focusing on the good.  That I wanted to seek beauty.  That I wanted to be a kind – loving – positive and if possible – gentle person.  (And yes – I have met myself and am well aware that I am a work in progress!)  This was a very conscious decision.  And I have had to work very hard at it.  I am not naive.  I am no Pollyanna.  I am not blind.  I live in the “real” world.  But in college I vowed I was going to be different.

The household I grew up in just was not a very happy place.  It was a negative place.  When I was a kid – I didn’t realize just how negative it was.  After all – it was all I knew.  It was my normal.  I thought all kids lived immersed in a sea of negativity.  And from the outside looking in – I am sure most people thought everything was fine and dandy  – but it wasn’t.

My parents did not give compliments.  They handed out criticisms instead.  If you mowed the yard – they never just said “hey thanks kiddo.”  Or told you that you had done a nice job.  Instead they pointed out how you had failed to live up to their impossible standards.  There was always a crooked line in the lawn or there were a few untidy grass clipping left in the street or a spot you had missed.  The same went for cleaning your room or cleaning up the supper dishes or ironing a t-shirt or your confirmation report on Martin Luther.  Nothing was ever good enough.  Nothing received a compliment without a sharp verbal barb or two.

And it wasn’t just their children who couldn’t meet my parents’ standards. 

It is true that children learn what they live.  And so by the time I escaped to college I knew how to play the game.  I was good at being negative and cynical and even two-faced.  After all – I thought that was what everyone did. 

Then freshman year – one of my best friends and I were walking across campus and I made some sort of snotty comment about another friend who wasn’t there at the time.  I did it – because that was what I had learned to do.  That was how I had experienced the world up until that moment.  No one was ever good enough.  No one was complimented.  Everyone got torn apart when they weren’t in the room.  You smiled while sliding the verbal knife into everyone’s back.  That’s what everyone did – didn’t they?

But that night – Jen stopped dead in her tracks and looked me deeply in the eyes (honestly she looked right into my broken, damaged soul) and said – “Oh Kerri – that was so mean!  I hope you don’t talk about me like that when I am not around.”  I saw such hurt in my dear friend’s eyes.  Hurt that I had felt so many times when I had been criticized and humiliated.

And in that moment I vowed to be different – to change.  I vowed to stop being that person who brings hurt into the world.  I vowed to start looking for beauty and love and kindness.  I was baptized as an infant and had gone to church almost every Sunday of my entire life – but that was really and truly a “come to Jesus” moment for me.

Of course – I still get it wrong all of the time.  I am a broken – sinful human being in need of God’s grace – love and mercy – but I keep on trying to seek God.  To see the beauty in this life and to live with kindness.

So that is why I keep showing up in this space – week after week – month after month in the middle of a global pandemic with all of the pictures of flowers and puffy white clouds and bumble bees. 

I am being not naive.   I know that we live in a broken, sinful world.  I am not blind to the suffering around me.  I see it.  I know. 

Instead I am keeping a vow I made over 25 years ago.  I am choosing to spend as much of my life as I can focusing on the good – even in the midst of a global pandemic.

What will you focus on today and in the weeks and months to come? 

I am going to be wandering through this life with Jason – Jack and Will seeking the good in this wild – messy – sometimes terrifying – and occasionally beautiful life.  Thank you for joining me and thank you for sharing in even a moment of it.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, June 28, 2020

Jeremiah 28:5-9

5The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

1Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing;
  from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2For I am persuaded that your steadfast love is established forever;
  you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
  I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
4‘I will establish your line forever,
  and preserve your throne for all generations.’ ” 
15Happy are the people who know the festal shout!
  They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence.
16They rejoice daily in your name;
  they are jubilant in your righteousness.
17For you are the glory of their strength,
  and by your favor our might is exalted.
18Truly, our shield belongs to the Lord;
  our king to the Holy One of Israel.  Amen.


Romans 6:12-23

12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Word of the Lord.

Matthew 10:40-42

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

The innocent little one I am honored and blessed to spend the most time with . . .

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

When I was a little girl – we had an amazing neighbor named Mrs. Browning.  We were next-door neighbors – but our yards were separated by a dense – thick hedge of pine trees and honeysuckle bushes.  And as much as I liked Mrs. Browning – I liked her hedge even more.  Actually – I loved her hedge – because it was one of the very best places in my world to play. 

As the bushes had grown over the years – they formed wonderful – nooks and crannies that made perfect play houses that were just the right size for a little girl and her imaginary friends.  During the summer when the leaves hid me from view – I spent hour after hour playing in her hedge.  In Mrs. Browning’s hedge – I entered worlds spun from my vivid imagination. 

Some days I was a pioneer living in a sod house struggling to survive a raging winter blizzard.  Other days I was an intrepid explorer discovering incredible new worlds.  And sometimes I was an orphan bravely living in the world helped only by my wits and ingenuity. 

We are a multi-generational bush hiding family . . .

I must have talked to myself out loud a lot (even back then) – because more than once when I was a pioneer whose food and water supplies were running dangerously low – Mrs. Browning would bring me life-saving provisions.  By generously placing a few chocolate chip cookies and grape Kool-ade on the stoop of my sod house – Mrs. Browning gave me the strength to carry on.

If I were shipwrecked on a scorching hot desert island – she might provide me with the only nourishment I had received in days in the form of a truly refreshing Popsicle or two. 

More than once – Mrs. Browning saved me from freezing to death during a wickedly nasty August blizzard.

I didn’t even ask him to climb into this bush – he did it on his own!

Mrs. Browning knew all about hospitality.  It was such a part of her life that she even offered hospitality to the quirky little girl and her imaginary friends hiding in her bushes.

Who do you think of when you think about hospitality?  Who or what comes to mind? 

When I think of hospitality – I think of people like Mrs. Browning who have welcomed me warmly and cared for me.  Who opened their hearts and made room for me in their lives.   I think of people who were patient and loving and gracious.

Dictionaries say that hospitality is the “act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward.” 

But what about Christian hospitality? What is Christian hospitality and what does it look like? 

As always – the best place to look for answers to questions about our faith is the Bible.  So let’s turn to God’s Word.  The Bible has a whole lot to say about hospitality. 

Most of us tend to think of hospitality as having good manners and being polite when someone stops by for a visit.  We think that hospitality means offering our guests something to drink and something yummy to eat.  But the Bible tells us hospitality is more than good manners. Hospitality is an act of worship.  Hospitality is our sacred duty.

In ancient times – hospitality was literally a life and death matter.  After all – people lived in a world without hotels, restaurants, rest stops, debit cards, and 24-hour grocery stores. 

Folks depended on the hospitality of complete strangers for survival as they traveled from place to place.  If a traveler were not shown hospitality by a stranger – he was very likely going to spend the night hungry and thirsty and quite possibly in considerable physical danger.

Hear the words God shared with his people in Leviticus (19:33-34) – “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” 

God is reminding his people that they were once the travelers and the strangers and the people who needed help.  God is reminding his people to look to their own history as the strangers in a new place and to be loving and gracious and compassionate. 

Saint Paul declared to the Romans (12:12-13) that they should – “Contribute to the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.” 

It is so very – very easy just to save our hospitality and kindness and generosity for our friends and loved ones.  But our God wants us to remember that as his followers we are called to help everyone – even complete strangers!

First Peter (4:9-10) includes the call to Christians to “be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”  Seriously – without complaining?!?  But most of us are just so good at complaining . . .

Easter dresses for FCHUM!

Jesus knew the importance of hospitality from firsthand experience. Jesus regularly depended on the hospitality of strangers as he had traveled all over Israel and the surrounding countryside sharing the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy.

Hospitality is deeply tied to our faith in our God.

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus revealed something very important about Christian hospitality – when Jesus said – “Whoever welcomes you – welcomes me and whoever welcomes me – welcomes the one who sent me.” 

Jesus tells us that he and God the Father are present in every single person whose path crosses ours.  So when we open our hearts and homes and our church and lives to others – we are opening our hearts and homes and lives to our Lord. 

Jesus wants us to see the people who pass through our lives and to be aware of their needs.  God wants us to be compassionate – loving and generous.  God wants us to open our hearts to his world and to ALL of his people.  And by doing this Jesus tells us we will be loving God – caring for God – and serving God. 

This is amazingly good news for us – when we serve others we serve our God. 

Hospitality is worship and praise.  Through hospitality we are given the opportunity and the privilege to be used by God for incredibly important things.  Hospitality is a way of thanking God for his blessings to us. 

The church council working together so that we can worship as a community again!

When you welcome others into your heart you are welcoming Jesus. 

When you are generous to others you are being generous to your Lord. 

When you welcome that new family into the neighborhood – you welcome Jesus.

Long time members of Saint Stephen spending time with newer members of Saint Stephen.

When you thank that front line worker – you are thanking Jesus.

When you make the stranger who is visiting your church feel at home – you are welcoming God.  

When you help by donating nutritious food to Fern Creek/Highview Ministries – you are feeding Jesus. 

When you stand in solidarity with the oppressed – you are standing with Jesus. 

When we feed a stranger we are feeding Jesus.

When you live lives of hospitality – you are serving God and you are being who God has called you to be.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

Catching up with Easton and Grant

Extroverts intrigue me – because they are just so different from me.  I find extroverts absolutely – positively mystifying.  They are so – well – they are so energized by things that exhaust me!

I am an introvert.  I crave quiet and solitude.  I love long stretches of being alone with nothing but my own thoughts and a ball of yarn and some knitting needles.  Nothing makes me happier than an entire weekend (my weekend = Friday and Saturday) when the only people I see are Jason, Jack, and Will. 

Once Will asked me why we don’t have parties at our house like his beloved Auntie and Uncle do.  Will is the family extrovert and he thinks parties are really fun!  Jason and Jack just laughed, and answered for me – “because Mommy’s brain doesn’t work that way!”  Seriously – my brain doesn’t work that way.  The last time I threw a party – was 19 years ago when we lived in Minnesota and it was for the church council.  I threw that party and thought “nope that is not for me!”  I was exhausted and completely stressed by the entire experience.

More than once someone in the McFarland household has commented that staying safe at home because of COVID-19 hasn’t dramatically altered our family’s way of living.  And it is true.  It really didn’t.  Our lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much, because I am an introvert who is married to an introvert.  We are happiest in the woods or the garden or with our noses in a good book.  A wild night for me is a Worship and Music Committee meeting at church. 

But as time went on I did notice that even this dyed in the wool introvert had enjoyed enough quiet time.  Buddy would come in to pay bills at the church and I would hold poor Buddy hostage until I had received a full and I mean FULL report from him on how everyone in his entire family was doing from Peggy right on down to Paige. 

Marilyn would stop by to drop off her offering at the church and I would realize that chatting with her and getting an update on the fence she and Sarah were building had been really and truly exciting to me.  Poor Marilyn probably was exhausted from building that fence and just wanted to get home and put her feet up – but first she had to spend 18 hours talking to me! 

Jason and I would see Marcia while we were on a walk in the neighborhood over our lunch break and we would chat so long Jason would have to remind me that he needed to get home because he needed to get back to work. . . okay then.

I would run into a Lutheran in the grocery store and we would have a socially distant conversation that lasted so long the McFarland sons’ ice cream started to melt!

For years and year and years – all I dreamed of was having great big – glorious uninterrupted swaths of uninterrupted family time.  And thanks to COVID-19 boy – oh boy did I get it! 

I do give our Lord thanks for Jason – Jack – and Will and for all of the time we have been able to spend together over these past months.  They have been and continue to be such a gift and a blessing. 

But I must say – it has been wonderful to be able to see and hear from other folks too.  I have been absolutely – positively craving news about how other folks are doing.

Today – I want to share a update with you from the Lynch family.  Beth, Michael, Easton, and Grant have not been able to join us for in-person worship just yet.  Imagine – if you will – trying to keep a mask on an eight month old baby . . .

Grant is 8 months old now!  Grant is crawling everywhere so Beth never – ever – ever gets to sit down now!  Michael probably doesn’t ever sit down either.  And we all know that Grant and Easton don’t ever sit down!!!  Grant is also teething so Beth and Grant aren’t sleeping much either. . .

So much handsome – gorgeousness in one photo collage!

Easton is busy thriving and growing and being just plain extraordinary and amazing! 

He is looking very mature!!!

Beth, Michael, Easton, and Grant are all well and say hi!  They are looking forward to seeing everyone as soon as they are able.

Brothers Bonding!

Thank you to Beth for sharing these wonderful pictures of Easton and Grant.  They have both changed so much.  3 months is almost a lifetime when you are little. . .

I would love to share more updates and similar God sightings so please send them my way! 

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

In Christ and with Love,

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, June 21, 2020

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13

7O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
 you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
 I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
8For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
  I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”
 For the word of the Lord has become for me
  a reproach and derision all day long.
9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,”
 then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones;
 I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
10For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around!
 Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
  All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.
 “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him,
  and take our revenge on him.”
11But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
  therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.
 They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed.
 Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.
12O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind;
 let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord!
 For he has delivered the life of the needy
  from the hands of evildoers.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18

7Surely, for your sake I have suffered reproach,
  and shame has covered my face.
8I have become a stranger to my own kindred,
  an alien to my mother’s children.
9Zeal for your house has eaten me up;
  the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.
10I humbled myself with fasting,
  but that was turned to my reproach. 
11I put on sackcloth also,
  and became a byword among them.
12Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,
  and the drunkards make songs about me.
13But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O Lord:
  “In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help.
14Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
  let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters. 
15Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up;
  do not let the pit shut its mouth upon me.
]  16Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind;
  in your great compassion, turn to me.
17Hide not your face from your servant;
  be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.
18Draw near to me and redeem me;
  because of my enemies deliver me. 


Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

1bShould we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 10:24-39

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35For I have come to set a man against his father,
 and a daughter against her mother,
 and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our father and from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

In his acceptance speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, Holocaust survivor Sir Elie Wiesel perfectly demonstrated his understanding of today’s lessons for us all. He so eloquently stated “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” In such a simple phrase, this Jewish man, who  -as 15-16 year old boy- had survived the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he lost both of his parents and his younger sister to the whims of pure evil, perfectly encapsulated the message of Christ in today’s Gospel, the faith of Jeremiah in our first lesson and the words of encouragement by St. Paul in his letter to the newly forming church in Rome as well as any pastor, Pope, philosopher or even Luther himself ever could.

Stand up. You are blessed. You have been called. Do not be ashamed nor afraid. Speak. Act. Fight for those who cannot. It is not about you.

Our Lord could not be more clear in his message for us today with his words quoted in the book of Matthew. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Peace is easy. Peace is acquiescence, Peace is complicitness. Yet the sword that Christ yields is not one to kill, maim or control others but is instead the sword of God’s eternal judgment of those who oppose him and resist His will for us in our time on this earth. Sitting passively on the sidelines while others are being oppressed is very clearly not an option. 

Doing our fallible best to obey the 10 Commandments so as not to harm others in our daily lives is admirable and a solid cornerstone for a functioning society. Jesus himself knew well and often spoke of the merits the “old laws” that were mostly divinely inspired and written long before his arrival. Yet when directly challenged as to which was the most important, three of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke recount that he did not waver: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” He did not leave it there, however. Those same three Gospels, along with the addition of John explicitly state that Jesus quickly followed his declaration with his own “new” directive. “Love your neighbor” -not only as you love yourself- but also “as I have first loved you.” 

Wow. Those are powerful words. The most palatable and sanitized interpretation of that seemingly simple directive is summarized in the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The essence of this maxim has been around since times long before the birth of Christ. It is pretty simple to grasp, “If you wouldn’t want it to happen to you, don’t do it to anyone else.” But that is not what our Lord has said. He said “Love your neighbor AS I HAVE FIRST LOVED YOU.” Model my love for you in the way you treat others occupying this planet with you. And, just to be clear, he is not only speaking of the people with whom you have chosen to live next door, across the street, down the block or even in the same part of town. They don’t have to think like you, look like you, live anywhere near you or even believe the same things you believe. They alone are not all of our “neighbors.” The neighbors Christ refers to are ALL of those individuals that share the basic property of being human on this big blue planet spinning around our sun as a part of billions and billions of galaxies in God’s universe. Every race of people in every corner of this planet has no more than 1/10 of 1% difference in their DNA. We all are one people. Jesus knew nothing about genetics, but he absolutely knew this.

His directive for us was not simply “Do no harm.” That is easy. No, Christ’s message is to love other people, including those that we do not even know, AS HE AS FIRST LOVED US. There should be no misinterpretation in understanding that he means caring for others so strongly that we would be willing to lay our very lives on the line to give them a chance for theirs to be better. That was the love He showed to us. He had no interest in His personal gain. He was sent to Earth to be a model of love for us to emulate. His love for everyone, even those who actually killed him, led to his death. But, of course, that was part of God’s plan.

So when Jesus challenges us as in today’s Gospel to “take up the cross and follow me” while fully acknowledging that those who do so will put themselves, their lives and even others they personally love in peril, he does so knowingly, emphasizing the significance of the instruction. When He says “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” he is saying that when you know in the deepest part of your soul that something is wrong, you MUST speak out and even act against it. Do not keep silent. But do so with the assurance that you are acting under the complete shelter and comfort of a faith in the one true God that has blessed us all with eternal protection for doing his will. He doesn’t promise that there will be no consequences for doing so; only that we must do it.

In the second lesson today Paul assures us that the lives we live as baptized believers in and workers with Christ are lives that have been blessed through the trials He faced. And through His resurrection over death ours are therefore lives that are to be dedicated to doing the will of God here on Earth. 

Doing the will of God.

For the overwhelming majority of us, my friends, this is a terrifying notion. Most of us have found or even labored extensively to create pockets of great comfort for ourselves and those we know and love in our own personal worlds. The idea of putting those treasures at risk to speak out against injustices for people we do not even know, or instances we barely understand is nothing short of horrifying. Yet, may we all find the faith of Jeremiah as demonstrated in our first lesson. While Jeremiah is lamenting the mockery, derisions and physical risks that are cast upon him by even his closest friends for speaking God’s will amongst an unreceptive audience he does so with a faith and confidence that he knows God sees his heart and will reward him in the end.

We are Lutherans. Specifically, we are Lutherans as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In some ways, since the formation of the ELCA by consecutive votes in 1982 and 1986 (the first of which was held here in Louisville coordinated by my father and our former Pastor Tom Swasko and the second one I got to attend as a youth delegate in Milwaukee) I’ve skeptically questioned the inclusion of the word “evangelical” in that name. You see, as a stereotype, Lutherans are not really known for our will to “evangelize” in the active sense of the verb. 

Evangelize: to spread the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.

We’re more of a “We’re so glad you’re here! Please come back and see us and we’ll share more of God’s love with you when you do! (But please don’t sit in “my” seat when you come back.)” kind of church. As a “rule” speaking out is not our forte. That is not to say there are not some AMAZING individuals actively doing God’s will and publicly sharing God’s love in His name on a daily basis. As a whole, however, we as Lutherans just don’t tend to do it in a way that frequently garners attention.

Yet our national church is very clear, and our Church Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has issued a call to us to do just what our Gospel today commands. Look within. Stand up. Speak out. We are blessed. Her words to us this week specifically referenced the unnecessary tragedy here in Louisville that took Breonna Taylor’s life. She then went on to call us to not be silent; for silence is acceptance. “As church, together we must work to condemn white supremacy in all forms and recommit ourselves to confront and exorcize the sins of injustice, racism and white supremacy in church and society and within ourselves as individuals and households.” Those are uncomfortable words. “Within ourselves? OUR households?” – Not me! – I don’t think…  But empowered by the unfathomable love that Christ has freely given to us we are blessed with an unmeasurable ability to dig even deeper and find that place from which we can share that love with ALL of God’s people. If we do not work in our own ways to undo injustice when we see it in front of our own faces, we are in the words of Elie Wiesel, “helping the oppressor” and “encouraging the tormentor.” In the words of our Lord in todays’ Gospel, that silence is walking past the cross laying on the ground and not taking it up to follow the will of God.

To close with a final quote from Sir Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”

Stand up. You are blessed. You have been called. Do not be ashamed nor afraid. Speak. Act. Fight for those who cannot. It is not about you. God calls us.

And now, may the peace and LOVE of God, which surpasses ALL our understanding, keep your hearts, minds, words and deeds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

  • written and shared by Dr. Paul J. Kiser
I could not find a picture of Paul on my camera – but did have a picture of Paul’s youngest daughter from years ago when she was being dropped off at church camp. Kayleigh is the one in the middle. (young Ella Markley and Jack are also featured)

Taking a Great Big, Deep Breath!

Far – far too often life just plain hurts.  Sometimes we hurt for ourselves.  Sometimes the pain we feel is physical.  Our pain can be fleeting but incredibly intense.  Like when we hit our funny bone.  (And we all know there is absolutely – positively NOTHING funny about hitting your funny bone!)

Sometimes physical pain lasts and lasts and lasts.  And we must learn how to cope and live with the pain.  We have discover how we will endure.  How we will find joy and meaning in life – even when it hurts – a lot.  I know that so many folks in our Christian community live with chronic ailments.  Personal experience has taught me that living with chronic pain is hard – hard work.  You have to dig really deep.  Some days you have to dig so deep you are pretty sure you might just end up at the center of the Earth – right there in the iron and nickel alloy core.

Sometimes the pain we must confront is emotional or spiritual or both.  Our hearts are broken.  We experience incredible loss in this life.  Loving people means being so very – very vulnerable.  People hurt us.  They disappoint us.  Sometimes they break our hearts by being just as human as we are.  Sometimes they break our hearts by getting sick.  Sometimes they break our hearts by dieing.

Sometimes the pain we feel is because our hearts are breaking because people we love are hurting.  This pain – this empathy – hurts too.  It can take your breath away to watch a loved one hurt or struggle.  We hurt because our loved ones hurt.  To know that your sister in Christ is heartbroken can break our hearts too.  To know that your friend is reeling makes us reel too.  To know that your brother in Christ is aching makes us ache too. 

I was having one of those days today.  One of those days when my heart was breaking for someone whose heart was breaking.  And like everything – it seems to be so very much worse because of COVID-19.  Because we can’t throw our arms around each other.  Because we can’t offer a hug or a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold.  Because phone calls just don’t seem sufficient. 

I was feeling so frustrated with the stupid virus.  For the way it feels like COVID-19 has robbed us of so much.  For the way that it feels like it has robbed us of community.  For the way that COVID-19 has made such a stinking awful mess of our lives.  And then I looked up and I saw this . . .

A cross – thank you Lord. 

Thank you Lord for being patient with me.  For being gracious to me.  For being so incredibly merciful!   For holding us all in the palm of your hand.  For the reminder that you are with us always.  Thank you Lord for hanging in there with all of us and for never leaving us alone.

I grabbed the camera and went on a scavenger hunt a while back on an afternoon when we needed to use our seeing eyes.  William and I looked for crosses and we found them all over the place!

I encourage you to do the same. 

Look for crosses . . .Look for them in your house. . .Look for them outside. . .Look for them in the grocery store.  They are everywhere!  Just like our God is everywhere.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Headed to the Cove

Everyone has a happy place.  That special place on the planet that fills their heart with joy.  For me the Great Smoky Mountains will always be one of those special places.  I love spending time in the mountains.  I especially delight in going for a nice – long hike in the mountains.  And I really and truly love going for a hike in the mountains with my very favorite people in the universe.  

On Wednesday I got to do a lot of just that when our family headed to Cades Cove in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Cades Cove was an isolated valley – but now it is one of the most popular spots in the entire National Park.  Cades Cove has an 11 mile one-way loop road that is incredibly popular with tourists.  

Normally I am not a very big fan of the Cades Cove loop – because it involves a lot of driving/sitting in the car.  (Actually – I have never liked going for “rides” in the car.  I am deeply and profoundly scarred from my childhood.  Oh how I hated being forced to go along for those pointless and truly horrible family drives when I was a kid – so painfully boring.  Those rides were torture to be dreaded like a trip to the dentist! I vowed I would never inflict those on my own children or myself ever again. Yuck – just yuck!)

But on Wednesdays the Cades Cove loop is closed to all vehicle traffic for the entire day.  So cool!  The only wheeled traffic that is permitted is bikes.  Jack and Isabella Grace took their bikes and rode the loop.  Jack and Bella flew like the wind – because they are young and so very strong.  Actually Jack rode around the loop 2.5 times because he is 16 and he could.  Again with the young and strong!

Mimi and Papa took Nic and Will and went on an abbreviated loop hike.  Mimi is still recovering from a total knee replacement this spring and was only up to hiking about 5 miles on her new knee!  We were all very impressed and very proud of her.  Talk about making strides in her physical therapy!  She is such an awesome role model of fierce determination for her grandchildren and her children and in-laws for that matter.

When I met Linda when I was a teenager – I remember being so impressed with a mom who could hike mountains.  I didn’t know any women who were strong and powerful enough to hike mountains until I met her.  Now Linda is a grandma who hikes mountains!  I hope I can continue to follow in her strong – gracious – loving footsteps.  Onward and upward or at least onward!

John, Elizabeth, Jason, and I opted to hike the entire loop.  It was so amazingly beautiful from start to finish.  We had perfect weather for our hike. And we were in a parenting-free zone (unless you count the 5 whole seconds we saw Jack as he zoomed by us on his bike).

The four of us have been hiking together in the Smokies for 23 years this summer.  I have been hiking with Jason and Elizabeth for 28 years now.  It is wild to think that Elizabeth was younger than our Jack when I started dating Jason!  

This was taken on my first trip to Cades Cove . . .

So many years and so many miles together. . .So much history and so much laughter . . . So many great stories. . .

Taking in the wildlife and no I don’t mean our children. They were looking at snakes!

We saw snakes . . .

Actually we saw 6 snakes . . . 

We saw wild flowers.

Lots and lots of wild flowers.

We saw deer.

Some of our fellow hikers thought this was an elk . . .

We saw a bear.

We saw mountains.

Did I mention the wildflowers?

The wildflowers are always my favorite.

Oh how I love the wildflowers!

This year has been wild and weird and painful and frightening.  It has been exhausting and bewildering too.  But it has also been filled with wonderful blessings and so much beauty.  It has been filled with love and laughter and good things too.

I give thanks for the journey – especially because I get to walk with these interesting people who are my beloved family!

Who are you giving our Lord thanks for these days?

What are you giving our Lord thanks for today?  

Even now – our Lord is with us.  We do not walk alone.  

You are in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri


I have always gotten a huge kick out of symbolism and its meaning.  Some of my favorite papers in college and seminary were explorations of an author’s use of symbolism in their writings.  (Why yes – I have always been a great big nerd!). I loved searching out meanings and uncovering messages and exploring clues that authors had left for their readers to discover and uncover.  These hints and nudges from the author intrigued me.  Actually they still do.  

Sometimes authors use color to draw their readers’ attention to something.  (Everyone knows what a woman wearing red means . . . that’s right it is Pentecost Sunday and she is on her way to church!)

Sometimes authors use food to evoke a certain thought or emotion.  Milk and honey for instance are likely going to make a person who has recently read Exodus think of the Promised Land.  While someone else might immediately think of helping her grandmother make homemade biscuits on her summer break.

I have read that scent is actually our most powerful sense.  And just the hint of a smell can pull up a powerful memory.  I am that way with the smell of wood smoke.  As soon as I smell it – my brain travels back to my sabbatical in Mexico.  I smell a wood fire and I am no longer in Louisville or in my in-laws’ backyard.  Nope – I am in the rural Yucatan of Mexico.

Life is full of things that make us think of other things.  Of things that point us to other things.

That is what I am trying to do when I seek out God sightings in my daily life.  I am seeking to remember that God is present with us all of the time – that God is active in our world all of the time.  That God is with us in our daily lives.

This week while I have been walking, hiking, and out exploring God’s creation – I decided to choose a color each day and to spend my day looking for that color.  

Yesterday I chose yellow.

Yellow – is the color of optimism, happiness, creativity, and joy.  I like yellow a lot.  It is such a fun color.  All day long I was on a yellow scavenger hunt.  I saw lots and lots of yellow out there in God’s great big – amazing – glorious creation.

I encourage you to join me in seeking God’s presence in your daily life.  Pick a color (maybe your favorite color) and start seeking.  What do you see?  Where do you see it?  What surprises do you uncover?  Where does God send you little reminders of his ongoing – steadfast presence in your life?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Still Called and Still Sent

Scripture Readings and Sermon for Sunday, June 14, 2020

Exodus 19:2-8a

2[The Israelites] had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

  7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8aThe people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

The Word of the Lord.

An Easter lily from 2019 is happily blooming in my back flowerbed right now!

Psalm 100

1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all you lands!
2Serve the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with a song.
3Know that the Lord is God, our maker to whom we belong;
  we are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture. 

4Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving and the courts with praise; give thanks and bless God’s holy name.
5Good indeed is the Lord, whose steadfast love is everlasting,
  whose faithfulness endures from age to age. Amen.

Romans 5:1-8

1Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

The Word of the Lord.

Matthew 9:35–10:8

35Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

So much has changed.  We are having to relearn how to do almost everything in our lives.  Some days it feels like everything has been reinvented.  That everything is different.

Even going to the grocery store is different these days.  Remember how easy it used to be to go to the grocery store? 

Trying to get one of those wretched produce bags open – with a mask on – while your glasses are fogging up – leaving you completely blind – while you attempt to graciously maintain a safe social distance can be challenging.  Well – I find it tricky at least . . .  Just last week – 9 nectarines were almost my undoing.

It had been a tough week.  And when I went to the grocery store on Friday morning it was busier than usual – which made social distancing harder than usual.  But I reminded myself that I was a “Big Girl” and I had my list = “bananas – milk – nectarines – rice cakes – and carrots.”  That list was a walk in the grocery shopping park.  I totally had this. . . or so I thought.

But then that horrible – hateful – downright cruel plastic bag just would not open!  I rubbed it between my fingers – but nope.  I held it up to the light to make sure I had the right end.  I thought I had the right end – but who could really tell with glasses as fogged up as mine were.  I rubbed the bag between my fingers some more.  This time with more passion!   But still nope.  I held it up to the light again – but the bag just laughed in my face.  So I wadded the bag up and rubbed it between my hands with a passion I usually save for protecting my sons from bears and each other.  I may have even cursed the stupid – hateful – cruel – soul stealing – bag and called it the evil spawn of Satan.

See masks don’t always make me mean – just when they blind me!

My normally low blood pressure began to rise.  And I thought to myself – so this is what it is like to have high blood pressure as I felt my pulse pounding in my forehead. 

I started to hate not just the horrible – evil stubborn “plastic bag of doom” but also face masks and glasses and NECTARINES!  Actually I hated all fresh fruits and vegetables.  I vowed to only purchase highly processed pre-packaged junk foods for the rest of my life.  As far as I was concerned Jack and Will were just going to have to get used to eating previously forbidden foods like Pop-tarts – Lunchables – Fruit Rolls Ups and all of those other things that I had been mocking as “fake” food for years.  Fruit Loops forever was going to be my new motto.

Just as I was vowing to give up on fresh fruit forever – the evil – soul sucking bag popped open.  Of course – by then – the nectarines were so old they were rotten and I had to start all over again!

Our sadly depleted fresh fruit bowl . . .I am going to have to face the fresh produce section again very – very soon!

It feels like everything is different.  Like everything has changed.

Church is certainly different these days.

Wide open spaces . . .

Going to the park with our children and grandchildren has changed.

Shopping is different.

School next fall promises to be different for our children and their faithful teachers.

For those of us who are still blessed to be employed in this time of record breaking unemployment – our jobs have changed. 

Going to the doctor is even different!

I read several articles this week on how we all are starting to suffer from “quarantine exhaustion.”  We are fed up with all of the changes and all of the stress and well – we are just plain worn out.  And it just keeps coming and coming.  Which may have something to do with my “little issue” in the produce section .

Truly – it does feel like everything in our lives has changed in the past few months.  But – not everything has changed.  God’s love for us has not changed.  God’s love for us will never – ever change no matter what this life brings!  And God’s call to us to share the Good News of his grace – love – and mercy have not changed either.  We are still called to share God’s love with gladness (Psalm 100).

But what are we to make of this call in the midst of COVID-19?  How can we serve the Lord with gladness when we can’t get close to other people and so many of us can’t even leave the house?  How can we answer our Lord’s call with wisdom and love?

Our Lord certainly doesn’t want us to endanger ourselves or others in our zeal for sharing his love!

First – prayer!  As God’s people we are all called to pray for one another.  Prayer is so very powerful.  And you can make prayer fit your personal style.  I stink at being still.  Stillness is my nemesis – so I pray on the move or I pray while I am knitting. For whatever reason folding the laundry and prayer have always been a good fit for me.  Rita says she does some great praying while she mows the lawn.  And I know other folks who pray while drinking a cup of coffee or during their morning commute or while sitting in their favorite chair.  No matter where you are or what you are doing – you can pray.  God is always available.  God is always listening.

It is surprisingly difficult to take a picture of oneself knitting . . .

You can share God’s love with gladness by reaching out to your sisters and brothers in Christ.  Grab your church directory and give someone a call.  Check in.  Chat for a few minutes.  See how they are handling all of the changes.  Send a card or a text or an email.  These days are long and stressful – especially when you haven’t seen or heard from a friend in a while.

Or how about reaching out to someone in your neighborhood?  These days of social distancing and isolation can really take a toll.  Folks are feeling lonely and are craving conversation.

You can serve the Lord with gladness by sharing words of thanks and kindness.  I am a huge fan of thank you’s and words of appreciation.  How about sending a thank you note to that healthcare worker in your neighborhood for her service?  Or to your neighbor who always picks up after his dog?  Or to your mail carrier?  Or to your best friend for being so awesome?  Or to your son for stepping up and helping you when you needed him the most?

Just some of the wonderful cards and greeting we have received during Covid-19. I carry them around in my knitting basket so I can enjoy them often.

Seriously – we complain all of the time.  But we so rarely stop to say a great big thank you!  Being generous with words of kindness and gratitude is a powerful way we can share God’s love – grace – and mercy wherever we are!

If you are able donate blood.  Saint Stephen is hosting a Red Cross Blood Drive on July 2nd.  The need is especially great right now because donations are way – way down.  You can serve God by giving of yourself.

Or if you are able – you can serve our Lord by bringing donations for the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries.  The need for nutritious food and toiletries in our community is huge right now.

The numbers of the people FCHUM is helping have literally doubled from this time last year.  Every box of mac and cheese – bag of rice – jar of peanut butter – and bottle of shampoo we donate blesses one of our neighbors who is going through a difficult time.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which you might answer God’s call to you.  There is no limit to the ways you can serve God and God’s people.  Use your imagination and pray and God will guide you.  You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.  Truly this is the Good News.  AMEN.

Not the Tower of Terror!

My faithful assistant/sidekick/shadow and I spent some delightful time this morning sorting and stacking and organizing all of the wonderful donations that folks brought to church with them on Sunday morning for the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries’ Food Pantry.

Will and I had a lot of fun organizing the bounty that was piled on the table in the narthex.  We practiced our counting and our adding skills.  It was nice to be able to put some of our NTI learning to good use after being on summer break for 2 whole weeks now.  We certainly do not want to get rusty, because 2nd grade will be here before we know it!

By working together we collected 167 rolls of toilet paper!  Your generosity resulted in a TP tower taller than a newly minted 2nd grader! 

Our tower of TP also made the folks at FCHUM very happy.  I have never heard anyone ooh and aah over TP like that in my entire life.  It was fun to be able to make the volunteer at FCHUM smile so big that I could tell she was smiling – even while wearing her mask.

We also collected 28 boxes of macaroni and cheese and 43 cans of pasta.  Both of which were totally 2nd grader approved.  Will thinks that any kid would agree to eat these culinary delights!

We collected 3 cans of soup, 1 huge container of oatmeal, 13 cans of nutritious vegetables, 8 containers of pudding, and 26 cans of tuna.  The tuna was most definitely not Will approved, but he thought that the pudding looked pretty delicious.

We also collected 14 bars of soap, 1 bottle of shampoo, and 2 bottles of dish soap.

When we finished we had a very nice pile and we filled our car up.  Nicely done Lutherans – very – very nicely done! Thank you very – very much!

We will continue to collect nutritious food and toiletries for the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries’ Food Pantry.  So please – when you come to worship on Sunday mornings consider bringing a bag or two of non-perishable food items or toiletries to share with our neighbors who are going through a difficult time.

Thank you!

In Christ and with Love –

Will and Pastor Kerri

Sunday, June 7, 2020 – Coming Home

The First Reading Joshua 1:5-9.

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Psalm 139:1-18

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
 you discern my thoughts from far away.
 3 You search out my path and my lying down,
 and are acquainted with all my ways.
 4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
 O LORD, you know it completely.

 5 You hem me in, behind and before,
 and lay your hand upon me.
 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
            it is so high that I cannot attain it.
 7 Where can I go from your spirit?
 Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
 if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
 9 If I take the wings of the morning
 and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
 10 even there your hand shall lead me,
 and your right hand shall hold me fast.

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

The Second Reading Romans 8:35-39.

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the 28th chapter

 16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Gospel of our Lord      

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

I don’t know about the rest of you – but I absolutely – positively love coming home.  Few things in this life seem sweeter to me than coming home to the place where I belong.

It feels like such a blessing to me to arrive home after a long day out there in the “real” world.  Coming through the front door and getting settled in at home feels awesome.  I feel just a little bit more relaxed.  A little bit more like myself.  A little bit more at ease.  I can let down my guard at home.  I can take off my armor at home.  I can be myself at home.

Home to me is art made by Jack and Will . . .

When I am home I am with my people.  When I am home I feel grounded and centered.  When I am home I am reminded of who I am and of whose I am. 

At home everything just seems to make a bit more sense.  Because when I am home – I have arrived in the one place in this world where I know for certain that I am loved and where I really and truly belong. 

And a coffee table in the living room that is covered in toy trains!

I often find that the world just makes a bit more sense – after I have spent some time at home with my special people.  Or at the very least I am better able to cope with all that the world throws at me.

I just love coming home. 

And crazy flower beds full of my favorite flowers!

I think that for so many of us our church is also a refuge and a port from the storms that this life sends our way.  Our church family has been a safe place for us.  A source of comfort.  Our church family has blessed us with that same sense of purpose and belonging.  Our church is also our home.  Coming to church has been grounding and centering.  Coming to church has reminded us of who we are and of whose we are in this world.

Coming to church for many of us is a homecoming.  Coming to church is about our identities in this world. 

When we come to church we feel like we are with our special people.  Like we are with the people who speak our language.  And don’t kid yourselves – we Lutherans really do have our own language.  We do speak “Lutheran.” 

And we have our own church family traditions and rituals that are dear to our hearts too.  Those things that make us uniquely us – those things that make us uniquely Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Fern Creek, Kentucky.

Believe it or not – it is not biblically mandated that the children’s sermon come with gummies or that the deacon wears a white robe or that there is an acolyte.  Nor is it biblically mandated that the paraments’ colors change with the liturgical season or even that there be a liturgy at all.  But these are all a part of who we are and how we gather for worship.

And so these past few months (and for some of us – maybe many more months to come) of not being able to gather together for worship have been incredibly difficult.  We have felt disconnected.   Perhaps we have felt a bit lost.  Some of us have even struggled to remember what day of the week it is without Sunday worship to help us keep track of time! 

And now – this morning – we returned to worship in the sanctuary with our hearts full of anticipation.  Finally – at long last after so very long apart – we have come home!   

Amen!  Woohoo!  Hoo!   And Hallelujah!

And yet we find changes.  So very many – many changes.

The liturgy is different.  It is familiar – and yet it is still different.

The deacon is not vested.

We don’t even have an acolyte this morning!

Holy Communion is going to be from a baggie – that can’t be biblical.  We all know that Jesus didn’t give Communion from a baggie!

No children’s sermon and no candy to help us survive another one of Pastor Kerri’s long – rambling sermons.

No hymns – no choir – no singing at all.

Masks!  Hand sanitizer!

This bizarre spacing of the chairs. 

And all of these new rules.  Pastor Kerri and the church council sure have gotten bossy over the past few months! 

Yuck – just yuck.

And most painful of all.  People are very – very clearly missing.  People we love are missing.  Our beloved sisters and brothers in Christ are not here with us.  And this just plain hurts.  It hurts a lot!  A family reunion with only half of the family here – well let’s be honest that is hard to accept.  We have come home – kind of -sort of.  Well – we are on the way at least. . .

It isn’t nearly as much fun as we were hoping for.  But that is our reality.  It is our new normal.  This is where we find ourselves. 

It is going to take time for ALL of us to be able to gather together in our sanctuary.  We are going to have to wait for that Easter morning feeling.

So what are we supposed to do?  Where can we turn when our beloved church looks and feels so very different?  What are we supposed to do when our Christian community changes and we feel just a bit unmoored?  What are we supposed to do when we long for one another?  When our hearts are still heavy?

As Christians we can turn to our Lord.  We can turn to God’s Word.  In our scripture readings for today – we hear again and again and again that during times of great change and upheaval and transition in the lives of God’s people that God is still God.  Even in the midst of wild – strange changes like the Chosen peoples’ wanderings in the desert God was with them.  God was with them for each and every one of those 40 long – exhausting – hard – change-filled years.  And then God was with them as they entered the unknown of the Promised Land.  God was faithful.  God’s love endured.

In his letter to the Romans Saint Paul reminds us so very – very powerfully that nothing and I mean absolutely – positively nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing – not even death or life or things present or things to come can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing!

Hear our Lord Jesus’ powerful promise to us from the Gospel of Matthew – “Remember – I am with you ALWAYS – even to the end of the age.”

God is still God.  God is always – always faithful to his beloved children. 

We are not alone.  You are not alone.  God’s love endures.  God’s love goes on for all eternity. 

Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.