“The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.” – Psalm 85:12
Jason and I both delight in gardening. We just plain like to grow stuff. We have grown all sorts of fruits and vegetables and squash over the years. Some have been wonderful successes and others have been abysmal failures.
Jason is still incredibly and deeply bitter about my little pattypan plant experiment. In my defense pattypan squash are stinking cute. How was I supposed to know the plants were evil soul sucking destroyers of all that is good in this world for multiple growing seasons? It soooo did not say that on the little label that comes with the plants at the nursery! I am quite certain I would have noticed that.
We grow a variety of things – but we specialize in growing tomatoes and peppers. And as far as the peppers go – in Jason’s opinion the hotter the pepper the better. Seriously – HOT like an August afternoon in Louisville with no air conditioning!!!
Jason likes peppers so hot that they melt your face off and set your hair on fire. Peppers that turn you into a fire breathing dragon are right up my beloved’s alley. Jason likes food that is so hot it just might give him the hiccups! Jason likes peppers that give him atomic breath like Godzilla. (That metaphor was Will’s suggestion. We are still watching the Godzilla movies in order at our house! Jealous?!? I bet that you are. Tonight is Godzilla versus Hedorah.)
This year has yielded bumper crops of both tomatoes and peppers from the McFarland garden. This is gloriously wonderful news – because I love canning even more than I love gardening. When I was a little girl I so totally wanted to be a pioneer when I grew up. Few things in this life delight me more than the prospect of laying in provisions for the long winter ahead.
Saturday morning Jason and I harvested and then we got to work turning our harvest into tomato sauce and 2 kinds of hot pepper sauce.
Together Jason and I turned dozens and dozens of Scotch Bonnet and Habanero Peppers into sauces that were so hot the steam literally made me cough! I was more than happy to help as long as I NEVER – EVER – EVER had to taste a single drop of the hot sauce. I do not like spicy food at all.
Habanero and Scotch Bonnet chilis are very hot. Both are rated between 100,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale. For comparison, most jalapeño peppers have a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale. CRAZY – I tell you – absolutely CRAZY CAKES!
We picked. We peeled clove after clove after clove of garlic. We sliced and diced and roasted. We pulverized and strained and simmered. We coughed. Seriously – that was some strong steam! We made a great – big glorious mess of our kitchen! Then I canned the sauces and got to hear that delightful “pop” as jar after jar of sauce sealed.
This is just one of the ways I am trying to savor the closing weeks of summer. I am making sure I take lots of time to stop and smell the roses and the lavender and the marigolds. I am watching the grass as well as the boys grow! I am taking a moment to delight in the blue of the summer sky and the radiating heat of the sun. I am giving God thanks for this my very favorite of seasons.
This summer has been tough for so many reasons – but it has held many blessings from our Lord too. Blessings for which I give thanks. Blessings I hope I will remember not just for an afternoon or a season – but for many years to come. Blessings like a day spent in the kitchen laughing – chatting – and making insanely hot – hot sauce that I will never eat with the love of my life – just because he asked. I will savor the everyday moments of my life also – because there are so many of those and they can be pretty amazing too!
How are you celebrating and giving thanks for God’s blessings to you? How are you giving thanks for those every day moments and blessings that can mean so much? Not every blessing from God has to be a “Big” moment. God’s blessings truly come in all shapes and sizes. Try keeping your heart and your eyes open . . .
You are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.
In Christ and with Love –
“The Lord makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth.” Psalm 104:14
O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.
Therefore, thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you,
says the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
The Word of our Lord.
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. Amen!
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The Word of our Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 16:21-28
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Relationships can be complicated can’t they? Even with people we love a lot – relationships can be challenging. Sometimes they can be incredibly challenging.
I love my extended family so very much. But I must confess we have disagreements sometimes. And occasionally the disagreements can be quite passionate! We have been known to roll our eyes at one another and even to engage in verbal sparing matches a time or two . . . hundred!
Shockingly some of us disagree on truly fundamental issues like how much ice cream and chocolate the McFarland sons should be permitted to consume for breakfast. Or if green gummy bears really are a serving of fruit. After all – they are both green and lime flavored! Don’t even get me started on politics! And those are just the “issues” I have with my brother-in-law John!
I have a vivid memory of a truly passionate vow of revenge that was made almost a decade ago.
Our Jack is almost 4 years older than his cousin Nic. They spend tons of time together – because our family is so close. But like all human beings they have had disagreements over the years.
Nic was only about 4 at the time of this particular incident. So at 8 Jack was bigger – stronger – faster and more agile than Nic. On this long ago day – Jack did something that made Nic furiously angry. Because Jack was so much bigger – there was nothing Nic could do about it. So Nic looked at Jack and declared with a stone cold fury – “You may be bigger now – but someday – I WILL be bigger than you. And I WILL get you back!”
Time has passed. At 13 – Nic has a beautiful smile – sparkling eyes – an infectious laugh – and a thatch of cute curly hair. But Nic is officially getting bigger than Jack now. So perhaps – it is time for Jack to start watching his back. I know that I am keeping my eye on both of them . . .
Sadly – my wonderful nephew is not alone in considering revenge. Or in acting out angrily. Think of those stories of people harming others over things like face masks and social distancing!
Just a few weeks ago a young man working at The Sesame Street Amusement Park was attacked for asking a visitor to wear a mask! He needed surgery to repair his jaw . . .
In France a bus driver was killed while trying to enforce France’s face mask mandate.
And sadly these aren’t the only news stories this summer involving people seeking revenge against those they think of as their enemies. The news always has plenty of tragic stories of people seeking revenge. The desire for revenge runs deep.
We may not take our desire for revenge as far as some folks. But we have all had moments of anger. Moments when revenge at least crossed our minds.
And yet – Saint Paul stands before us today and declares – “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”
Talk about a challenging message. Don’t repay evil with evil? Really? But it comes so naturally to us . . . And Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say – “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if your enemies are thirsty, give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Seriously?!? Paul’s words go against our most basic human instincts. Our guts tell us to hate our enemies and do everything in our power to get back at them. We tend to think revenge is sweet and payback is a worthwhile goal – even if we might be loathe to admit it in church.
In fact – one of the most frequently quoted verses from the Old Testament is “an eye for an eye – a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Exodus 21:24-25).
But we conveniently forget what Jesus had to say about it. Jesus said – “you have heard it was said – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you if someone strikes you on the right cheek – turn to him the other also.” And Jesus didn’t stop there – he goes on the say – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39 and ff.)
Feed our enemies. Love and pray for our enemies. Turn the other cheek. Wow. . . perhaps you are even thinking – no thank you!
Clearly we are being asked to see those we call our enemies in a new way. Jesus doesn’t tell us loving our enemies will be easy. But he does tell us it is possible. We can be more loving – more compassionate – kinder and more gracious. We can be more forgiving.
Jesus has shown us how. Jesus has taught us how to live lives of love and grace. So how did Jesus do this? How did Jesus love his enemies and everyone else too?
Loving one another does not mean we will always agree with each other. Jesus did not agree with the Pharisees and Sadducees on much of anything. But even though they disagreed on just about everything – Jesus still loved them. Jesus did not often like what they had to say – but he loved them anyway.
The same is true for us. We are called to love even people with whom we disagree. Jesus showed us quite clearly that you can disagree with someone and still love her. Which I plan on reminding myself every time I see someone out in public who isn’t wearing a mask or social distancing!
It is important for us to see also Jesus didn’t say nasty things about the people who disagreed with him. Jesus didn’t gossip or call people names. Not even when they couldn’t hear him . . .
Jesus assumed the best about people. Jesus assumed people’s intentions were good. That they were doing their best and trying their hardest.
Jesus loved everyone – absolutely – positively everyone. Jesus loved Judas – even after Judas betrayed him. Jesus loved the men who were crucified with him. Jesus loved Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross. Jesus loved all people – even people we might call enemies.
And the same is true for us. We are called to love all people – even people who disappoint us – even people who annoy us – even the people we call enemies. Jesus loved everyone and so can we.
Love is about sharing what we have and giving to others. Jesus shared what he had. He fed the hungry – healed the sick – and cared for people. Loving other people means being generous.
Most importantly Jesus showed us loving other people means telling them about God’s grace, love, and mercy. Jesus knew the most loving thing you could ever do for someone was to tell her about God. And the same is true for us. Loving people means sharing the Good News of God’s love, grace, and mercy with them. We are called to love everyone – no exceptions – no excuses – no attempts at justification. Our Lord has shown us the way. It can be done. And truly this is Good News. Amen.
Jason and I walk a lot! I cannot even begin to imagine the miles we have logged side by side in the almost 30 years we have been walking and hiking together. We started walking as teenagers who dreamed of incredible adventures. Now we walk as middle-aged people (we hope) so we will be healthy enough to continue to enjoy the adventures we have together for a very long time.
While others have perfected their sourdough bread or cleaned out their basements and closets or worked puzzles – we have walked and then walked some more. Walking is who we are. It is our thing. During COVID-19 we have averaged 2 walks a day together.
And while we walk – I talk and think and contemplate and ponder and talk a lot. I get some of my best ideas while we walk. And Jason talks me out of some of my worst ideas while we walk. Jason has kept me out of so much trouble over the years. Jack teases that his dad is my very own Yoda. Just like Yoda – Jason is a man of very few words – but when he does speak (twice a day at least) a wise person listens carefully. (If only I were wise . . . )
Anyway . . . I have had two/three topics on my mind lately. The passage of time and the blessing of Christian community and the way when they are tied together really lovely things can happen.
Last week our Jack turned 17 and this week he started his junior year of high school. When our family moved to Louisville – Jack was a 7 year old 1st grader. That – my friends – takes my breath away – truly it does!
We were a family of 3 way back then. And I firmly believed this was the way we would stay until Jack got married! Of course – that changed. How thankful we are every day for the wonderful blessing of our Will who is 7 himself now.
Almost a decade has passed since our family moved to Louisville and I became the pastor of Saint Stephen. In that time you all have gone from being really friendly – welcoming – kind – and gracious strangers to our sisters and brothers in Christ. To being our beloved church family.
In that time you have celebrated with us and shed tears with us. You have laughed with us and maybe at us on those days when our toddler was being particularly entertaining! (I understand. I have been there myself.) You have supported us and prayed for and with us. You have learned with us and served with us and worshipped with us. You have cared for us and loved us. You have helped us teach the McFarland sons about what it means to be people of faith in this wild and wonderful and sometimes truly puzzling world.
I truly love sharing this life with you. My sisters and brothers in Christ at Saint Stephen have been and continue to be an incredible blessing to our family. A blessing that has only gotten better and richer and more wonderful with the passage of time. Our shared history – the memories – knowing each other (flaws and all) makes life so much better.
This year has brought some truly wild changes into our lives. Oh my – how very many changes and challenges this year of 2020 has brought into our lives!?! Changes and challenges and things that are just plain scary and exhausting and frustrating and annoying. . .
Thanks to COVID-19 we aren’t making quite as many fun memories as we were hoping for this year at Saint Stephen. No Easter worship. No noisy Easter breakfast. No Easter egg hunt. No VBS. And no VBS laughter and memories and stories to tell and retell. No coffee hours. So much less lingering and chatter and fellowship. A delayed start to in-person Sunday school.
So much has changed. It feels like we have all lost so much.
But we can continue to be community together. We can continue to be a church family. We can continue to support and love and care for one another. We can make memories we will cherish. We can continue to be Saint Stephen Lutheran Church. We can nurture and bless one another.
We just need to adapt a bit. We are going to need to be more agile – lighter on our feet. I realize change is hard – but we can do this. God promises to give us the strength we need!
For those of you who are comfortable and ready – we are worshipping in-person at Saint Stephen on Sunday mornings at 10:00 am. We are being careful – wearing masks – socially distancing – and using copious amounts of hand sanitizer.
If you are not ready (and we completely understand if you are not) – I will continue to post my sermons on the blog as well as Jack’s videos of our worship services. https://pastorkerri.com/
I am still blogging away several times a week. (Like I said – I am full of words.) But seriously – when I blog I am trying to share thoughts with our community that might just help all of us a bit during these difficult days. https://pastorkerri.com/
Starting Sunday evening September 20th at 7:00 pm we will be having Zoom Sunday School. Everyone is very welcome. Our official class meeting time will be an hour – but if anyone wants to linger and chat the night away they will be welcome to do so. We will be continuing our study of interesting people from the Old Testament. If you haven’t ever joined us for Sunday school before – it will be really easy to join in. I will send out the link so you can participate closer to our start date.
We have plans for a safe – socially distant Trunk and Treat. It will be ALL outside with just candy and smiles with our eyes and masks for EVERYONE this year. It will look and feel different than years past – but different isn’t always bad! Trunk and Treat will be at 6:00 pm on Saturday, October 24th and our rain date will be Sunday, October 25th.
I know I keep encouraging you – over and over and over again to reach out to one another. There is a reason for this – other than the fact that I like to be annoying sometimes. (Imagine being one of my sons or being married to me!?!) I do this because I believe this – more than anything will help us not just endure these difficult days – but find moments of joy and happiness and blessing.
Support one another. Care for one another. Share God’s love with one another. Take 2 minutes and send that text you have been meaning to send. Take 10 minutes and write a note. Take 20 minutes and make that phone call.
Fun fact: there are 1440 minutes in a day and 10,080 in a week. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all took a few of those minutes to say I care about you to one another? (You don’t have to be all mushy about it – a quick hi – I miss you will be awesome!)
But I am the mushy type – so I will say it. I love you. Really – I do. Your pastor loves you all so very much. I give God thanks for all of you and for the blessings that you bring into my life. My life is better and rich and more blessed because I know you. Thank you for sharing this life with me!
Today was back to school at our house. William was so excited about going back to school he was awake at 5:00 am this morning. Seriously – 5:00 am!?! Our sweet little learner literally could barely contain his excitement about meeting his new teacher and his new classmates.
Unfortunately – that was not without its challenges. The poor lady’s sound did not work on her computer during her very first morning meeting with her brand-new class of wiggly giggly 2nd grade learners. She used hand signs and enlisted the help of the gym teacher whose sound was working. Talk about being agile and rolling with it. I was impressed. She was an absolutely splendid role model for her young students. She gets two thumbs up from me for being a superstar under a massive amount of pressure. I so hope that the rest of Ms. Mazzoni’s day went more smoothly!
Did you know that Jean-Baptiste de La Salle is the patron saint of teachers of youth? He was a French priest, educational reformer, and founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He sounds like an intriguing guy.
Thankfully the prerecorded lessons all went smoothly. We enjoyed a delightful story about Lilly and her purple purse and the math wasn’t too bad either. We only had to do addition going up to sums of 20 (thankfully).
Although – honestly – both Will and I found the lessons exhausting . . . Absolutely exhausting. I am also going to go out on a limb and guess that getting up at 5:00 am didn’t help much either?!?
I was soooooo not meant to be a teacher of small people. All they do is wiggle and squirm and make random comments that have absolutely positively nothing and I mean NOTHING to do with the subject at hand! And they look at out of windows A LOT! I would not do well in an elementary school setting. I am fairly certain – I would be sent to the principal’s office for shouting or crying or crying while shouting?!?!
I thought I appreciated teachers. I thought I was thankful for teachers. I thought I had at least a vague understanding of what teachers do for my beloved sons. Nope – I was wrong – Wrong – WRONG. Teachers shouldn’t have an appreciation week in the spring. Teachers shouldn’t merely have a patron saint – they should ALL be sainted! Seriously – I am starting a petition as soon as I recover from NTI – that is!
Jack was less excited. He was not awake at 5:00 am. I don’t blame Jack at all. 5:00 am is really not my favorite-est time of day either. I prefer to be asleep at 5:00 am also.
And thanks to NTI – Jack and Jason didn’t have to get up at their usual school day unholy hour of 5:15 am. (Note which parent really loves Jack . . . Every child needs one good parent!)
NTI means that Jack gets to enjoy a more relaxed start to his morning. Jack has had an intense commute for the past 2 years. Under normal – non-COVID-19 circumstances the poor lad must be at the bus stop at 6:10 am 5 days a week. (Jason and I aren’t like those really nice – cool – doting parents who drive their kids all the way to Manual from far flung places like Fern Creek. The bus it is and shall be until he has his own transportation or goes to college. Jack was accepted to much – much closer high schools. He picked the snazzy far away one! Mean – mean parents this wonderful boy has!!!)
Now his commute is about 60 seconds if he walks really – really slowly. Jack misses his friends – but he likes this commute a lot better than the old one. Plus as a bonus – it is a lovely commute right through a fully stocked kitchen – no less!
Students have more than one patron saint which certainly seems fitting. Being a student is hard work. I haven’t forgotten just how much work being a student can be. Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Catherine of Alexandria are both said to be rooting for our scholars both young and not so young. Saint Catherine sounds like a woman after my own heart. She apparently loved a good debate!
At more than one point today – I realized that our home has been transformed into a high school – an elementary school – a pastor’s study – and a computer programmer’s office. Not to mention a laundry and a full service restaurant serving a vast array of truly delicious culinary delights (if I do say so myself and clearly – I do!). Wow! Just wow!?!
Back to school 2020 certainly has been an adventure and different from anything I have ever experienced in previous years – but there is no one else I would rather be on this wild adventure with than these 3 wonderful men. (I hope that they would same the same thing about me . . .)
I pray that all of our Saint Stephen families are working out the kinks – rolling with the challenges – grinning with the growing pains – and learning wonderful new things as we begin this new school year. 2020 is certainly presenting all of us with new adventures and intriguing opportunities from growth.
Our students – our teachers and helpers – our administrators (hey Auntie Liz and Uncle John we love you!!!) – and all of our families are in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
The Word of our Lord.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast love and faithfulness;for you have glorified your name and your word above all things.
When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.
All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,when they have heard the words of your mouth.
They will sing of the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord.
The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly,perceiving the haughty from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.
You will make good your purpose for me; O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands. Amen.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
The Word of our Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 16:13-20
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
The Gospel of our Lord
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Wow – these past months have been absolutely – positively bizarre haven’t they?
Our faithful bishop has taken to calling this trying time our time in the wilderness. He is – of course – comparing this time for us to the Chosen People’s 40 years of wandering in the Desert Wilderness as they waited to enter the Promised Land. (But I really – really – really hope that this COVID-19 wilderness doesn’t last for 40 years or even 40 months!?!)
And yet – in so many ways it is already starting to feel like we have been living in this COVID-19 world for years now – doesn’t it? It feels like years ago or maybe even an entirely different lifetime ago when things were different.
Remember our old lives? Remember the way things were back in the olden days before most of us had ever heard of COVID-19? Back when global pandemics were the stuff of history books? Or the plot to the next big blockbuster movie on Netflix?
Was it really only last August that our kids went back to school at their actual school buildings wearing real clothing instead of virtually from our living rooms in their pajamas?
Remember Christmas 2019 – back when we did wild and crazy things like smooshing into pews for worship? Remember singing hymns in church – lots and lots and lots of hymns? Remember shaking hands and standing close to other people and hugging folks we weren’t married to? Remember when the only people who wore masks were surgeons and bank robbers?
That was only 242 days ago! Seriously less than 250 days ago . . . So much has changed in such a short time hasn’t it?
I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard our governor VERY strongly recommend that all churches in our commonwealth cancel in-person worship services during his news conference.
We all knew this was coming. Rod and I had already met to discuss this very thing. Jason and I were making plans. We knew. . .but denial runs deep sometimes. So even though I knew it was coming when I first heard the official declaration from Frankfort – I felt a bit ill and then I got nervous.
I wondered how on earth we would get through? How would we endure? Could our Christian community survive such a devastating blow? No in-person services for a week or even 2 because of bad weather was one thing – but no in person worship services for the foreseeable future?!? That was hard to comprehend.
I – like you – just wanted this horrible – wretched – evil – monster of a virus to disappear. I wanted it to take its nasty self and leave all of us alone. I wanted my old life back.
Honestly – I had to remind myself to keep the faith. That God was still God – no matter what. All of those sermons this spring about God’s steadfast love enduring forever. I wasn’t preaching to the choir – I was preaching to the PASTOR!
It was during this time that I began to notice something. I had noticed it before – but it hadn’t resonated with me in the way that it was now. Again and again as we read God’s Word – especially the Psalms – we hear two things when we cry out to our God for help. The first is a reminder that God’s love endures forever. And the second is when we cry out to God for help – God often answers by giving us the strength we need to keep on keeping on. God answers by giving us the strength we need to make it through.
In Psalm 138 the writer declares “when I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.”
God answered this cry for help. God’s answer was more strength to face the challenges before them. It wasn’t the easy answer. It probably wasn’t the answer his people would have preferred. But it was the answer God chose.
God’s answer wasn’t to take the challenge away – but to give his children the strength they need to face the challenges before them.
Over and over and over again in God’s Word we see that this is God’s answer to his people. This is the help God gives. God gives the strength to endure. The strength to face the challenges before them.
It can be easy to think when we receive this sort of answer from our God that he didn’t hear us. That he is making us wait for an answer. Or maybe even that he has told us no. But we see in God’s Word that there is another way of understanding what is happening. That God has heard us. That God has responded. But rather than doing what we thought he should do or what we told him to do – God has instead responded by increasing our strength within us. That God has given us the strength we need to live through challenging times.
COVID-19 has not gone away. It hasn’t just disappeared. But neither has our God or our church or our Christian community. God’s steadfast love has endured and God’s Word assures us that God’s love will endure forever.
And God has increased our strength. We are stronger than we were before. God has blessed us with exactly what we need to get through these truly difficult days.
God has increased our strength within us and he will continue to increase our strength within us.
These are not easy times – but our God is with us and he has given us exactly what we need to get through these times together as his people. Truly this is Good News – Amen.
Yesterday was a day celebration – reflection – and thanksgiving at our house – because seventeen years ago Jason and I got to meet John McFarland (better known to most as Jack) officially for the very first time. We were so excited to meet our son. And I was so very – very ready to have my ribs back. I was really and truly tired of sharing them with Jack’s busy little feet!
Yes – we had been spending a fair amount of time together over the last 9 months. Yes – we knew that Jack was incredibly active and prone to the hiccups (both of which remained true for years). Yes – we knew our Jack slept less than most babies (and oh my how true that proved to be)! But we didn’t feel like we had been formally introduced.
And now for the past 17 years – as Jack has gotten to know himself – we too have gotten to know him. And what an honor – blessing and privilege it has been to share these past 17 years with our boy.
I truly believe that sharing this life with other people is one of life’s greatest blessings. (It can also be one of life’s greatest challenges too – but challenges are good for us. Challenges make us stronger and tend to make us and life a lot more interesting!)
Healthy – loving – respectful relationships are sacred stuff.
One of the coolest things about these sorts of mutual relationships is the way in which we can learn and grow simply by being in relationship with one another. I delight in the way that we can learn from one another if we allow ourselves to be open to it.
Seeing other folks’ perspectives on life will bless us if we allow ourselves to be open to it. (Of course – we have to be open to the idea that not everyone is going to approach life from our perspective for this to work!)
Listening and learning and being truly present in the moment with another person is seriously cool.
Jack has taught me so much just by being himself over the years. I have grown and learned so much by knowing him.
Early on – Jack taught me that sleep is for wimps and other babies and other families – but McFarlands don’t need to sleep. (I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say that our firstborn son rejected sleep.)
Jack reminded me that grass feels great between your toes!
That the great outdoors is always calling. . .
That sometimes you really do need to call your Papa to check in and let him know how things are going. . . (Jack loved to call Jason’s dad when he was a toddler and would chatter away at Bob endlessly.)
Jack taught me that laundry baskets aren’t just for laundry. They make awesome sailing ships and racing cars and trains and spaceships.
Jack reminded me that buckets and baskets and other containers make great hats and that we should all use our imaginations every single day!
Jack taught me that cousins are awesome. (I was never close to my own cousins.)
Jack taught me that snakes are seriously cool. (I am still working on this one.)
Jack is teaching me that math is cool and has been since his first days of kindergarten when he fell in love with all things math-y.
Jack taught me that siblings really can love – care – and respect one another. He is a wonderful brother to Will.
Jack has also taught me that climbing is cool. I tend to be someone who likes to keep both of her feet firmly on terra firma.
I could go on and on. Jack has taught me so very – very much over the past 17 years. And I truly give thanks for all that our son has taught me.
What about you? What have the people in your lives taught you? How have they blessed you? What have you learned from knowing them and sharing this life with them?
I encourage you to think about this and then share it. Tell your son that you love him and you give thanks for the way that he taught you to appreciate tall trees or fast cars or the color yellow or whatever it is that he taught you. Tell your friend that you give thanks for the way that she taught you to appreciate crisp fall mornings and a cup of coffee with someone special.
I encourage you to tell the people in your life that you are thankful for them and for all the blessings that they bring into your life simply because they are who they are. I truly don’t think we do this often enough. I don’t think we speak our words of appreciation and thanks often enough.
I know that I give thanks for you. I give thanks for my sisters and brothers in Christ and for our Christian community.
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever . . .
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Some days it is easier than others to give thanks to the Lord isn’t it? Some days it is easier than others to rejoice and be glad in the day that the Lord has made? Some days it is easier to see our blessings.
Most of us tend to be pretty good at remembering to give our Lord thanks and praise for his blessings to us on the big days in our lives. Thanksgiving – Christmas – Easter – important anniversaries – birthdays. Most of us remember to stop for a moment or two or three to give God thanks on those days.
But it can be a whole lot harder to remember to rejoice and give God thanks on the regular plain – old ordinary, run of the mill days can’t it? It can feel especially difficult to give thanks right now – because thanks to COVID-19 life is feeling so hard – so painful – so complicated – so frustrating – so discouraging. You may even find yourself wondering/questioning from time to time if God’s steadfast love really does endure forever?!?
Honestly life is complicated even when we aren’t living through a global pandemic! And now – well now – some days – it is hard to know what to think.
I do try very hard to be someone who remembers to seek God’s presence in my life and to remember God’s blessings to me. I do this for many reasons – but one of the important reasons is I am happier when I do.
I love this quote by William Penn. “The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.”
I have found this to be so very – very true. I find that one of the best ways for me not to become overwhelmed by the negative things that life brings my way is to list my blessings. Yes – I literally list my blessing from God. (I really like lists.)
Sunday afternoon/evening – I decided to spend some time listing my blessings from God. Often I just write a list – but this time I decided to take pictures of my blessings. I grabbed my camera and spent a few hours taking pictures of things – moments – and the people in my life that are blessings. I just lived my life with my blessing radar on and when something felt like a blessing I took a moment to acknowledge and give God thanks for it and I took a picture of the blessing.
We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. This was a plain – old – absolutely – positively ordinary summer Sunday afternoon/evening at the McFarland house and yet – the blessings from God were abundant.
Take two or three hours this week and just turn your blessing radar on. Pay attention. Pay close attention.
Seeing the blessings in your life often means recognizing the sources of beauty and goodness in your life. What are sources of beauty and goodness in your life? What are the blessings in your life? Who are the blessings in your life?
I am so thankful I took the time to remember just how blessed I am.
Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
The Word of the Lord.
May God be merciful to us and bless us; may the light of God’s face shine upon us.
Let your way be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations on earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has brought forth its increase; God, our own God, has blessed us.
May God give us blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe. Amen.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
[Paul writes:] I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
The Word of our Lord.
[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus absolutely – positively shocks – every single Jewish person listening to him preach – when he boldly declares “Listen and understand. What goes into a person’s mouth does not make him unclean – but what comes out of his mouth – that is what makes him unclean.”
There likely would have been a stunned silence as this declaration settled over the crowd – followed by some serious grumbling and mumbling. Because with this statement – Jesus turns the Old Testament food laws upside down and inside out. And in doing so – Jesus turns these peoples’ lives upside down and inside out too. To the Jewish people listening to Jesus that day – keeping kosher was a really big deal.
These laws had been part of their lives for as long as they could remember. During the Exodus – God had given his people laws to govern their lives and to keep order in their society. As a part of these laws – God had declared some foods okay to eat – but other foods were just plain off limits.
These dietary laws weren’t like following a diet to help you lose a few pounds – or to lower your blood pressure. They didn’t cheat. They didn’t bend the rules while they were on vacation – or on their birthdays. They didn’t sneak a little bacon when no one else was looking. They didn’t have a cheeseburger when their wives couldn’t see them!
These food laws were an important part of their relationship with God. Keeping kosher was about worshipping – honoring – and serving God in their daily lives.
By observing these laws – they were publicly proclaiming their faith in the one true God every single time they interacted with food! These laws were about their identity as believers in the one true God. And so – these laws were a really big deal to them.
It is no wonder folks were deeply troubled by Jesus’ words. Jesus was telling them to change their relationship with God. Which is something most people don’t take lightly.
Think about how we react to changes at church and to our own faith practices. It usually doesn’t go over very well does it? A perfect example of this happened at my church in Indiana.
One cold January Sunday during our annual meeting – a deeply loved and high respected matriarch of our congregation stood up – cleared her throat – and declared that she thought the entire Worship and Music Committee should be fired.
“Whoa” – I remember thinking – “this is bad. This is really – really bad. This is the kind of bad they warned us about in seminary . . .”
I could feel the eyes of the entire congregation shift from Dorothy to me. And in that moment I realized they expected me to do something about this – because I was the PASTOR. Apparently THIS was MY problem!?!
My mind was reeling as I looked at the members of the Worship and Music Committee sitting with their families at tables in our fellowship hall. Two of them looked stricken and were clearly worried about what they had done to deserve Dorothy’s wrath. While the other two looked downright gleeful at the idea of getting kicked off the committee.
What had we done? I couldn’t think of a single crime that was so heinous that our ENTIRE committee should be fired.
I waited – a just second or two – hoping that I might be swept up into heaven in a fiery chariot like Elijah was – but no such luck! So I decided to pretend like I wasn’t terrified of Dorothy – and I asked what our crime was?!?
“You changed the Apostles’ Creed!” – Dorothy declared with great indignation. “And the Lord’s Prayer too. And that is just wrong. You can’t change God’s Word like that.”
“Ah – ha! Maybe it isn’t our fault. Maybe we are innocent! Maybe – just – maybe it’s the new hymnals’ fault!” I remember thinking.
And then I said with fear and trembling – “Is it new red hymnals? But I don’t think either the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer have changed? Have they?”
After all – I knew for a fact we were all still trespassing. Because we had voted as a congregation to stay trespassers.
“Pastor” – Dorothy said – “I truly hate to contradict you in front of your entire congregation – but you are WRONG. I counted and there are at least 11 CHANGES to the Apostles’ Creed.”
Later that afternoon I too pulled out a green hymnal and a red hymnal and checked. And you know what – there are 11 changes to the Apostles’ Creed. I hadn’t even noticed the changes – but Dorothy had. And the dear – kind – passionate woman of faith was struggling mightily.
Changing anything relating to our relationship with God isn’t easy.
So – you can see how troubling Jesus’ declaration was for the Jewish people in his audience. Jesus was asking them to make serious changes in their lives and in their relationship with God. And folks were upset.
Change is hard. Actually change is really – really – really hard. Think of how hard the changes we have had to make this year have been on all of us!
But change can be good to – because change makes us think and thinking is almost always a very – very good thing!
Thinking is good for us.
With all of this talk about food laws – it might seem like we got a free pass this week. After all – we aren’t concerned about keeping all of those Old Testament food laws. Most of us love a good cheeseburger or nice crispy piece of bacon.
Wouldn’t it be nice to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and to move on?
If only it were that simple – but it isn’t. Because Jesus tells us – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false testimony, and slander. These are what defile a person.’”
And here we get to the heart of our Gospel reading. Here we get to the part that we ALL need to do some serious thinking about!
Jesus makes it crystal clear that our actions and our words reveal the state of our hearts and souls. And not what we eat or what we wear or what our bumper stickers say.
A t-shirt saying we love Jesus doesn’t matter all that much if we wear it while being downright hateful and horrible – now does it?
If we wear a cross necklace – but say nasty things about our neighbors – what are we really saying?
If I have a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker on my car – but spend my commute cursing and gesturing rudely – what am I really declaring to the world?
We are Christians all of the time and not just when we are at church or when it is convenient.
We are God’s people at the grocery store – even when the wretched self-scanner thing-y is demanding that we return our items to the bagging area and we are in a hurry.
We are Christians when that infuriating guy just won’t wear a stinking mask.
We are Christians when that group of people clearly isn’t social distancing!
We are Christians – all of the time. There is no time in our lives when we are not God’s children.
As Christians our actions and words matter. Our actions tell God what is really in our hearts.
And Jesus reminds us that when we live our entire lives for God others can see the Good News of God’s grace, love, and mercy in action. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
Did you know that children exposed to the natural world showed increases in self-esteem? It also unleashes their creativity. (Be still my beating heart!) (The Nature Fix)
Adults also experience wonderful benefits from being exposed to nature. Studies have found that invisible chemicals called phytoncides in some trees can reduce stress hormones, lower anxiety, and improve blood pressure and immunity. (Who doesn’t need more of that? In know that I do!) Or get this – many – many studies show that we heal faster in hospitals, or have more energy and better cognitive abilities at work, when we have a view of nature instead of urban settings like a/c units and other buildings. (The Nature Fix)
I know that I talk and write about my love of nature almost as much as I do of my love of Jesus. I am quite aware that I can be pretty evangelical about both! (I can’t help it – Jesus and nature are huge passions for me.)
As often as possible I try to practice what I preach. I want/hope Jack and William will eat lots of fruit and vegetables – so I eat lots of fruit and vegetables. I don’t want my sons to drink (much) soda – so I quit drinking soda. (And breaking that particular addiction was hard – so very – very HARD!) I wish that my neighbors would recycle – so I recycle. I wish that everyone would just wear a mask to protect others – so I wear a mask when I venture forth into the world. I think that getting out into nature is good for your soul – so I try to get out into nature a lot.
Sometimes nature means a wander through our garden or around my flower beds at home. Other times nature time might mean sitting on our back step delighting in the beauty of our oak tree and my wild sons on their trampoline. But – my favorite times are when Jason and I pack a backpack or two and gather the McFarland sons for a nature adventure. I do like to really immerse myself in nature.
This Monday evening after everyone got off work the family voted unanimously to head back to Broadrun Park to the Floyds Fork River. We had so much fun there last week that a repeat trip was called for as soon as all of the working McFarlands’ schedules could be alligned.
Once again – it was absolutely – positively gorgeous. I find this particular spot of our fair city truly enchanting – probably because it doesn’t look anything at all like it is anywhere near a city. I am not really a big fan of cities (not a big surprise there I am guessing).
We didn’t have a plan for our evening. We all just felt the call of the wild. All four of us simply knew deep in our hearts that we needed to be really and truly outside. More outside than our backyard and garden could provide.
One of the best parts of heading into nature for me is that if I pack a well provisioned backpack (plenty of snacks are always a must with two boys who are growing at the speed of light) then we can just roll with it and usually for hours on end.
And roll with it we did on Monday evening. We simply took the time to delight in a beautiful August evening.
We delighted in our God’s creation.
We watched the sun sparkle and shine through the trees. If you haven’t ever done this – you really should give it a try. It is fascinating!
Will played in the river again. And Jack kept him company.
Jack and I collected river glass (as one does).
Jason thought about reading his book – but I don’t think it ever came out of the backpack.
We wandered and meandered.
We saw an actual water snake in the river and watched it for a very long time = so fascinating!
Jack and Will caught crawdads.
I looked at the clouds and the sky and butterflies.
Jack skipped more stones.
I talked Jason’s ear off – because that’s what I do best!
We enjoyed summer and nature and one another. (The enjoying each other bit is something I never take for granted. Peaceful relationships are a blessing I never – ever – ever take lightly or for granted! We are a “real” family with “real” children after all! There are days when we annoy the heck out of each other!!!)
These were some of our God’s sightings this week. Where have you seen God’s presence in your life this week?
This is our family’s way of seeking God’s presence. How does YOUR family seek God’s presence?
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
The river was calling Will’s name last week. Both Jack and Will love hanging out in and around creeks and rivers and lakes and streams. And Jason and I love hanging out with them while they explore these truly fascinating parts of creation. We have spent countless hours exploring various bodies of water over the years.
We can outlast any family who might happen to come to enjoy the same bit of God’s creation. The McFarlands have staying power when it comes to the great outdoors!
I often joke that we should give lessons to other parents on how to take children into nature – because I am repeatedly dumbfounded by the parents who bring children to rivers and then say things like – “Don’t get wet!” Seriously – don’t get wet. That is just plain mean spirited! Or to by grandparents who take their grandchildren to a particularly appealing place to explore – only to declare – “Don’t get dirty.” But – getting dirty is so much fun! God made children to be curious creatures, and they love digging in and exploring nature when they are given the opportunity.
I find this approach to being outside so very sad – because nature is so much more fun when you are fully immersed in it. Nature needs to be explored using as many of your senses as possible. Nature is intriguing when you can feel the water on your feet (or in my sons’ cases all over your entire body). When you can hear the delightful plop of a rock hitting the water after you have thrown it as hard as you can. When you have built a tower of sticks and have felt the texture of the bark. When you have caught a frog or two or three.
Actually – I believe this is true for adults too. I believe that we also need to immerse ourselves in God’s creation. We too need to feel cool river water on our feet. We also need to listen to that delightful plop of rocks hitting the water. We need to feel the intriguing texture of bark. We need to take in all of the wild and wonderful colors of nature. We all need to park our technology for a while and get out into God’s creation. The world won’t end if we don’t have cell service for an hour or two!
Nature is really and truly good for us. It is good for our souls.
If you don’t believe me – science backs me up on this – studies have shown “that when people walk in nature, they obsess over negative thoughts much less than when they walk in the city.” (The Nature Fix) Think about that for a moment. Just being in nature changes your attitude and the way you think. Nature makes us more positive. We can all certainly use some more positive right now!
The McFarland sons have a deep and abiding love for Floyds Fork River. And frankly I don’t blame them. Floyds Fork River is seriously cool. And so – we spent Thursday evening delighting in God’s glorious creation.
It truly was a perfect summer evening.
We saw beautiful wild flowers.
William played in the river with his boat.
We met an adorable frog/toad.
Jack and I looked for river glass which we found in abundance.
We chatted – and we were quiet together.
Jason kept an eye on everyone as he always seems to be doing (it is his superpower.)
Jack skipped stones.
Will got very – very wet.
Jack and Will turned looking for fossils and river glass into a contact sport! (Something anyone who has raised sons will be able to relate to I am sure/I hope. . .)
We enjoyed the blessings of God’s creation. We left wet and dirty and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy all of that wonderful nature.
These are not easy times we are all living through. I encourage you to take some time this week to get out into God’s creation. Spend some time in your yard. Run your fingers through the grass. Go for a drive to a park. Roll down the windows and listen to the birds sing. Read Psalm 148. It is a beautiful reminder of all our God has done and is doing in our world.