Never Alone . . .Really I am NEVER alone Anymore!

A Monday morning gift of beauty.

I work on Sundays.  Shocking – I know – that a pastor would work on Sundays.  Since I work on Sundays – my weekend is Friday and Saturday. 

This has upsides and downsides.  The biggest downside is that our family only gets a “real” weekend off together when I am on vacation – because during half of my weekend they are still hard at work.  We don’t get as much time together as we would like to go adventuring and hiking and exploring (but honestly who does?).  And I knew that pastors work on Sundays when I went to seminary.  Pastors also work all of the major Christian holidays when everyone else is off (I knew this too)! 

Our family has adjusted.  Our family’s traditions probably look a bit different than yours do.  For us – Easter dinner is almost always pizza delivered by a very nice delivery person who gets a very nice tip for working on Easter!  Your kids have ham served on china . . . my kids have pepperoni from a box! 

Christmas Eve means that Jason, Jack, and I pile into the car following the late service.  Jason drives and I talk and knit and we listen to a riveting Audible book while we make our way through the night to the family we love and long to be with for Christmas Day.   We can’t leave earlier, because I love my vocation and being a pastor on Christmas Eve is seriously cool.  We can’t leave a even minute later, because our sweet Will and his presents from Santa are waiting with Auntie, Uncle, Mimi, Papa, Nic, and Bella at our home away from home in the Tennessee mountains. 

A mountain sunset!

You may nap on Christmas day by the Christmas tree – because naps are cozy.  Jason and I simply lose consciousness for a few hours!

Life is full of compromises and adjustments. 

Before Covid-19 Fridays were my quiet days.  Unless the McFarland sons were on break from school – I would have Fridays all to myself.  My Fridays were quiet.

For years I used Friday mornings to run errands.  I would drop Will off at elementary school and then I was off to the bank and the grocery store and the pharmacy and the big box store(s) and the allergy doctor and wherever else my to do list led me that particular Friday. 

Running errands by myself is so much faster.  And soooooooo much cheaper – because no one adds anything to my cart that I don’t want to be in my cart if I go alone.  No – “Hey Mom doesn’t this look cool – delicious – fun – awesome – magically nutritious????”  No guilt about the fact that the “ALL of the other (much nicer – cooler – more awesome) moms are allowing their beloved children to consume this product that has absolutely NO nutritional value at all!”  Nope – just me and my to do list and all of the retired people hanging out together.

And then I would head home – quickly put everything away.  Do a zippy house cleaning and then I would read and knit and read and knit for a few blessedly quiet and peaceful hours almost every single Friday.  It was AMAZING!  Amazing – I tell you – really and truly awesomely amazing.  I read not just whole sentences and paragraphs without interruption – but actual chapters!  ALL BY MYSELF with just my thoughts and my yarn for company!!!

Mimi’s shawl.

But now – life is different.  Covid-19 means that I am never – ever – ever alone!  Well – actually that isn’t true.  If I go into the laundry room – I usually don’t have much company there.  Oddly enough – I seem to be the only McFarland who feels drawn to spend any time in our laundry room.  I also still try to run most of my errands alone for the sake of the family budget and to limit our family’s exposure to Covid -19.  But otherwise – Covid-19 means lots of family togetherness at our house.  LOTS AND LOTS of family togetherness!  LOTS and lots and LOTS and lots and LOTS of family togetherness!

I am not complaining.  Really I am not.  I love these three men more than words can say.  But – oh my – WOW – to the family togetherness!

We are certainly rocking the family togetherness these days. 

I spend my Fridays hunting for snakes now . . .

And I know that we are not alone in this.  We are not unique.  Covid-19 and quarantine and staying safe at home and NTI and working from home and all of this isolation means that we are all seeing a lot fewer people than we used to.  And for some of us – we are seeing a lot more of the same people!

This can be stressful for everyone.  And now more than ever – I think that self-care is incredibly important.  It is so very easy to get in a rut and to forget to take care of yourself – especially when we are all feeling so stressed out!

Taking care of yourself is going to look different for everyone.  But I think that it is incredibly important for all of us to continue to make time for the things and the people we love.  And no one really wants to hang out with the mean lady who is ranting and raving about laundry and dishes and NTI and never – ever – ever – ever getting a moment alone anyway!

This flower greeted me this morning as I wandered around our yard as the sun rose.

I encourage you to take time to spend with your Lord and with yourself (you are really excellent company after all). 

Take time for yourself.  Make time for nurturing your relationship with your Lord.  Go for a walk or a run or a ride or a stroll or a sit or a scooter and enjoy the sun on your face and the cooler fall temperatures.  Pull out your Bible and spend some time actually discovering what is there!  Make your favorite beverage and make a list of God’s blessings to you.  Dig into that hobby that you haven’t done in ages.  Get creative.  Think about everything that God created and is still creating!  Take 20 minutes and don’t do anything at all . . . just be thankful to be here – now.  Look at the massive mess that is your home and be glad that there are people to trash your house.  Or give thanks that your home is just the way you like it – because you are the one who makes the messes or not!  Call someone you love.  Listen to the sound of your precious person’s voice.  Try to burn it into your memory! 

Give thanks for what we do have instead of longing for what we can’t have right now.  I am focusing on this right now!  Some days are easier than others.  But I like having a goal and a focus.  Mine is to seek the good and to give thanks for this moment.

Sunrise on Monday at our house . . . it was lovely and peaceful and quiet!

These are incredibly stressful times.  Our lives have changed and will likely continue to change and change some more.  And yet our God reminds us that we are not in this alone.  Really – we aren’t.  God promises us that he neither slumbers nor sleeps!  That he holds us in the palm of his hand!

Psalm 46 is one of my favorites.  It also challenges me – every single time that I read it!  It also offers me incredible comfort.

The clouds are rolling in . . .but it is still beautiful.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
   the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
   God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
   he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
   see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
   he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
   he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
   I am exalted among the nations,
   I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

You are in my heart – thoughts – and prayers. 

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, September 27, 2020

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 25:1-9

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
   do not let me be put to shame;
   do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
   let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
   teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
   for you are the God of my salvation;
   for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
   for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
   according to your steadfast love remember me,
   for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
   therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
   and teaches the humble his way.  Amen.

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 21:23-32

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Sermon for September 27, 2020

Bishop Bill Gafkjen, Indiana-Kentucky Synod, ELCA

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance, dear people of God, from God our creator, through the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

And from your other ELCA siblings in Christ, some 45,000 folks spread across the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory, greetings and woo-hoo in the name of Jesus!

How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?


I know, it’s an old joke, and not a very good one. But, as with many jokes, we find ourselves chuckling at it – at least a bit – because it reveals some truth about us. After all, we Lutheran Christians have a reputation for resisting change.

Apparently, so did our ancestors in faith, those ancient exiles to whom the prophet Ezekiel spoke centuries ago.

Stuck in exile and offered new possibilities by the prophet, the people retreat into an old adage that suggests they are stuck with their situation:

“The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

Our ancestors appear to be using a traditional proverb about the effect of parents’ behavior on children in order to resist taking responsibility for changing their own behavior in response to their current situation.

God comes offering new possibilities beyond the horizons of their current predicament and, taking refuge in the limited possibilities of a situation imposed on them, the people claim that “the way of the Lord is unfair.” Or, as the CEB translates their claim, “The way of the Lord doesn’t measure up.”

Biblical scholar, Margaret Odell, suggests that, in the midst of the known, if challenging, realities of their current situation, “the exiles protest God’s unfathomability [the inability to fully fathom or understand God and God’s promises] – as if they prefer the tidiness of a self-limiting proverb to the mystery of God’s offer of new life.”[i]

The promise of new life is so incomprehensible within the framework of their tradition and their current situation that the exiles resist even the possibility that God promises.


The prophet pleads with them to accept the new life God offers in the midst of their dilemma:

Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Turn, then, and live.

Dear people of God, despite our joke-worthy resistance to change, if anyone should be able to turn and live, to embrace and live into the new – though different – life that God is able to work even in the midst of the worst challenges and tragedies, even in the midst of pandemics, unrest, and uncertainty…if anyone can turn and live into something new, it’s those who have passed through the baptismal waters.

We have died with Christ and are raised with Christ to new life through the washing of water and Word. Every day, we walk with Jesus deep into Good Friday and burst from the tomb with him on Easter morning.

As the old hymn puts it:

The Church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led,

Must claim and test its heritage, and keep on rising from the dead.

Like the parabolic son who said he wouldn’t and then he did, like the tax collectors and prostitutes who will be at the front of the line into God’s reign of justice and mercy, peace and forgiveness, and new, abundant, and lasting life for all…

…we cross-marked Spirit-sealed people can be open to the possibility of new life – as individuals and families, as communities, as church –  that is different from our old, pre-pandemic, life.

Certainly, this turn toward life that God calls us to is not without groaning, or birth pangs, or lingering looks over our shoulders toward what once was and what many of us had hoped would always be…

And yet, in the amazing grace of God, as the Old Testament teacher Walter Brueggemann suggests, the groaning can be a gateway to the new creation God offers us, our church, and our world in the midst of and rising out of this wilderness.

“The groan,” Brueggemann says, “is that mark of shock, bewilderment, and recognition that stands between the old world of death and the new world of life. That moment between…cannot be eluded, but is the narrow entry point into new creation. The groan is the gate to the future of God’s new creation.”[ii]

The groaning and grumbling, lament and discord that so many of us experience now can actually turn us toward new life, the new world God is crafting, a world of justice, mercy, compassion, peace, and security for all.

I have seen this happen all across this synod as leaders and faith communities have turned toward the new life that God promises and gives, even in the midst of their own uncertainty about the future. In the power of the Spirit so many have let go of the need to do things the way they’ve always been done have embraced and experimented with the new creation rising from the rubble of this tragic time.

For example,

Three small congregations without called pastors in rural southeastern Indiana – St Peter, Bear Branch, Emanuel, Greendale, and St John, Lawrenceburg – very early on worked with a cadre of retired pastors to embrace joint worship that required learning new technologies and letting go of the need to only do worship on their own and drew in worshippers from other neighboring congregations who also do not have called pastors.

Holy Trinity in Lafayette IN started up a feeding ministry that gave work to a restaurant owner whose restaurant closed down early in the pandemic by providing tasty meals for people in need in the church parking lot.

In the midst of the pandemic, Christ in Jeffersontown, KY started a brand-new meal ministry that feeds 50 homeless people and families a week.

Grace and Augustana in Elkhart IN are experimenting with a form of “house church,” small, local, distanced and masked, gatherings who pray together, worship together, and are visited once a month by the pastor for the celebration of Holy Communion.

And there are so many other ways, that you, God’s people of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod are turning toward the gift of life in the midst of loss, and grief, and uncertainty. I am inspired by you…and I see God’s unfathomable promise being fulfilled in and through you.

The Netflix series “Greenleaf” is the fictional story of the sometimes unscrupulous world of the Greenleaf family and the sprawling Memphis megachurch that they lead. In the series finale, after significant trauma in the congregation and the death of its lead pastor, his wife, Lady Mae, who is also a pastor, preaches at her husband’s memorial service.

Some of you will chuckle when I tell you that the text for her sermon is Isaiah 43:19.

Mae quotes the prophet who, like Ezekiel preached to people in exile:

I am about to do a new thing…do you not perceive it?

With stirring energy, she invites God’s people to dream together “not about what the church has ever been, but about what has never been.” She reminds us of the ways God has always done things, new things that are far beyond the imagination of current contexts…tongues of fire descending in a small upper room…one innocent man dying to bring life to all people…

And she prays for the new and unimaginable future that God promises:

Lord God, I’m asking you right now:

            Show me forgiveness where there can be none;

                        redemption where it’s far too late;

                                    waters where the wells long ago ran dry;

                                                acceptance where there is hate.

I want you to make me what I can’t become…

            I moan and groan to you, Jesus, and I can pray, “Please, please, make me new.”

She turns again to the gathered assembly she says:

We’ve been through so much…

            And we’re asking God to help us learn to love our past enough to let it go, and to move forward.

                        I want to move forward, Lord God, forward into the future.

                                    Say it with me, “Jesus, Jesus, make me new.”

Turning to an altar call that is familiar in some Christian traditions, Mae echoes ancient prophets:

Come, lay down whatever is keeping you from the new idea, anything keeping you from the newness of God, anything keeping you from being the best new you you can be [in Christ]. Lay it on the altar and let Jesus make you new…like a newborn baby.

Turn, then, and live.

Dear people of God, the promise and the invitation echo down through the centuries from Ezekiel and Isaiah to burst from the tomb of Jesus into our coronavirus wilderness, calling us to turn and live…

…to lay down at the altar all that keeps us from embracing the newness God offers, even now, to entrust ourselves, our lives, our families, our church, our world to the promise we see in the crucified and risen one, and to walk together with him and with one another through the groaning Good Friday gateway into the coming Easter reign of God – where all is made new with justice and peace, hope and healing, and abundant life for all.

Turn, then, and live.

Thanks be to God.


[i] “Working Preacher” app, September 28, 2014 – Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.

[ii] Brueggemann, Walter. Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty (p. 66). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

I have mentioned before that I am a “make lemonade out of lemons” kind of person.  This is a very intentional approach to life.  I choose to live this way.  During times like this – in the middle of a heartbreaking pandemic – I admit there are days when it takes a very fierce determination to keep the positivity flowing – but I have lived the other way.  It is miserable, and I never want to live that way again.

Being positive is so much nicer than the way I grew up.  My parents are the sort of people who always see the flaws and problems and the shortcomings.  And they would tell me all about them over and over and over again until I wanted to stab my own eyes out with a knitting needle!  Seriously – they always focused on the one weed in the flowerbed – the one B on the report card that otherwise had all A’s – the one crooked line in and otherwise perfectly mown lawn.  Even as a kid I thought their approach to life was sad and mean-spirited.  I wanted to be different.  And so I am.  I hope!

I find I am so much – much happier if I look for the good in a situation.  If I seek God’s presence.  If I keep my eyes open for the beautiful.  If I am open to moments of joy.  If I look for the silver lining. 

I also know these are hard times we are all living through right now.  I am well aware that these are challenging times. I am not naive.  I understand this can be challenging – especially now – when our lives have been turned upside down and inside out.  Even I don’t see many silver linings to Covid-19.  On a bad migraine day I too struggle – but I also know my attitude and approach to life shape my experience of life and the lives of my beloved family and friends.  Therefore – I remain determined to seek the good and the blessings and God’s presence.

On Saturday – Jack got sent home from work because the zoo’s thermometer said he had a temperature.  (Jack was perfectly and gloriously fine.  He has always “run warm.”  ALWAYS.  It is the way God and genetics made him.  And our thermometer at home said Jack was fine and dandy!  We checked – twice after we got home.) 

So rather than sit around the house and feel sad about Jack’s lost income – we did what we do best – we found some nature!  We made the most of this unexpected blessing of a day together.  We packed essential provisions, and we headed to Shaker Village to explore and seek God’s presence and to delight in the beauty of a truly stunningly beautiful late summer day.

It was gorgeous.  Kentucky was totally showing off on Saturday – totally!

We met some very friendly – beautiful horses.  Actually – there were lots and lots of horses at Shaker Village on Saturday.  The trails there are very popular with horses and their riders. 

We explored.

We hiked.

We met a very cute salamander.

We admired the wildflowers.

We stood in awe before stone walls that have stood for over a century.

We watched the sunlight dance through the leaves.

We listened to the sound of nothing but nature.

We gave thanks for the expected blessing of a beautiful day in the middle of September – in the middle of a hectic – sometimes pretty stinking stressful time in our lives. 

We focused on the good and the beautiful and the lovely and the joyful.

I know that these can be very stressful – hard days.  I know that Covid-19 has turned our lives upside and inside out – but we are not alone.  God is with us.  And God makes himself known to us.

Where are you seeing your Lord these days?  How is God making himself known to you?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Enough and More than Enough

I have noticed that different people and families are responding to living in and through the Covid-19 pandemic in very – very different ways.

Several of our neighbors have started walking on a regular basis during Covid-19.  It feels sort of like Jason and I have new friends.  We wave and smile and call out warm greetings from a safe social distance when we see each other on our twice daily walks. 

There are people who wear gloves, face shields, and masks when out in public and others who wear their masks around their chins.  I am deeply curious about what sort of statement these folks are trying to make with the “chin mask” – but I never want to get close enough to ask . . . (Jason has warned me that I probably don’t actually want to know what these people are trying to say!)

Then there is the whole question/debate of  NTI verses in-person learning at school . . . Wow are folks passionate about this one!

These are frightening – stressful – exhausting – deeply frustrating times.  Covid-19 has really – really messed up our world and thrown us all for a great big loop!

I too feel the “too many balls in the air” pressure of NTI – career – COVID-19 strangeness – keeping the house kinda-sorta cleanish – exercise – NTI – parenting – work – laundry – so – so many dirty dishes these days – maybe taking a minute or two to remember who I am and then back into the fray! 

It is easy to let the stress – the pressure and the fear begin to overwhelm us.  Some days it can feel like it is all just a bit too much.

But – Jason and I are also very conscious of the fact that our actions and our responses to these times are shaping our sons lives.  Jack and Will are most certainly watching us and learning from us and our actions and our responses to the stresses in our lives. 

Furthermore – we really don’t want their memories of these months (perhaps even years) to be memories of boredom – or fear and anxiety – or of just staring at their electronic devices or of stressed out – grumpy parents.  We want Jack and Will to have great memories of these months too.  We want our sons to have some genuinely happy memories of 2020.  We want Jack and Will to remember these months as a time when they felt loved – nurtured – safe – secure and treasured.

One of the ways we are doing this is by making sure that we do things our sons really and truly love doing.  We are setting aside times that are all about them just getting to be themselves with no expectations – no strings attached – no pressure.

Friday afternoon – after NTI wrapped up for both Jack and Will – both boys asked if we could go back to Broadrun Park to explore and to look for snakes (of course).  So once again – provisions were procured – water shoes and nets were gathered – and the backpacks were packed.  (We don’t travel lightly at the McFarland house.)  Jason bid us a fond farewell – because sadly his work week wasn’t quite over yet.  And soon the three of us set off in search of snakes and other glorious creatures!

And what a wonderful afternoon and evening we had together along the shores of Floyd’s Fork River. 

Magnificent memories were made. 

Fantastic frogs were found and befriended. 

Fish were netted.

Seriously – I am soooooooo proud of this picture!

And the slithering snakes – oh the stupendously superior snakes – we met!

We laughed big laughs and delighted in each others’ company.  (We don’t always – we are a totally normal family and there are times when we drive each other absolutely – positively NUTS!) 

We talked and talked and explored and explored some more.

We truly had a wonderful time.  I took pictures of snakes.  I even got brave enough to touch a wild snake. 

I would still much rather find river glass – but Friday wasn’t about me.  Friday was about my sons!  It was about delighting in them and their interests and their passions!   It was about leaving the stress and pressure of NTI and Covid-19 behind for a few hours and just letting them explore and delight and enjoy being themselves.

They needed to get away from all of the pressure and noise and tech that is their lives these days and we needed to make sure that happened for them.  As parents – we have the power to say – “enough!”  And sometimes – we do just that. 

I can’t recommend it enough!  Letting go of your worries and your work for a few hours is really good for your soul.  The laundry and the dishes and the whatever all waited for us.

We came home relaxed and refreshed with sand in our shoes and dirt on our knees.  We came home with new stories to tell Jason and with memories of just being thankful that we got to spent an afternoon exploring God’s creation together.

I know that seeking slithering snakes likely isn’t your thing or your family’s thing.  But there are so many – many ways to celebrate your loved ones and to delight in them and who they are. 

I encourage you to seek ways to make some positive memories in the midst of these strange times.  Be creative.  Be thoughtful.  Be adventurous and wise and safe.  Celebrate your loved ones and who they are and who you are together – even if you have to celebrate that togetherness while being socially distant.  And don’t be afraid to declare “enough is enough!” every once in a while.  The dishes and the NTI and the whatever – it waits.  Really it does – and if it doesn’t . . . you have some awesome new memories instead!

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

In Christ –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, September 20, 2020

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 145:1-8

I will extol you, my God and King,
   and bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
   and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
   and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
   and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Amen.

Philippians 1:21b-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

I don’t eat hot peppers – but I love their beautiful colors.

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

What were your greatest interests when you were a kid?  What intrigued you?  What were your passions?  What made you tick? 

Our nephew Nic loves Nascar.  He is an encyclopedia of all things Nascar.  Jack loved Legos – art and Minecraft.  Boy – did he love Minecraft!  Will loves boats and trains and terrifying animals.  Jason was a voracious reader.  I too loved reading and my dolls and justice.

Seriously – I am not kidding when I say that even as a kid – justice was a really big deal to me.  The pursuit of justice was my passion.  It gave my young life meaning.  Absolutely – positively every single time I uncovered an injustice in my world – I refused to rest until the situation was resolved fairly and justice prevailed.

Cool creature found!

I was like a mini-superhero.  (All I needed was a cool red cape!)  I was Justice Girl.  I had injustice x-ray vision.  I was a crusader and justice was my cause. 

But sadly I wasn’t some sort of mini-saint.  I wasn’t even close.  I was just a plain – old ordinary kid with sand in my sneakers – glue in my hair – and marker on my elbows!

I wasn’t concerned about the distressing social issues of the day.  Poverty – communist oppression – ongoing gender inequality and race discrimination weren’t even on my radar.

Nope – I was concerned with issues much – much closer to home.

In fact – the only issues of injustice that troubled me – were all about me.  It was my life’s mission to make things in my life as fair as possible – FOR ME!

Even cooler creature!

If we were allowed to have cookies for dessert – then the cookies needed to be the exact same size.  Anything else would have been a profound injustice. 

If I had to practice the piano for an entire miserable 30 minutes then I thought my brother needed to suffer the exact same amount of time too.  A second less and I was outraged.  I really – really hated playing the piano. 

I was an absolute stickler for justice – (for myself.) 

So I am quite certain our Gospel reading for today would have made my brain melt.  Jesus’ parable would have made no sense to me.  It would have seemed ludicrous.  Outrageous even.

Jesus tells us a parable about a landowner with some strange habits.  It was harvest time.  And it had been a wonderful year.  He had a bumper crop – which he needed help harvesting.  Lots and lots of help!

Our bumper crop this year was HOT peppers!

So early one morning – he heads off to town to hire workers to help him with the harvest.  He soon finds some folks who are looking for work.  They do a little bartering before settling on a fair wage for a hard day’s work.   And soon they are all hard at work. 

A few hours later the landowner heads back to town where he finds some more folks who are looking for work.  He hires them after promising to pay them what is fair.  And soon – these workers get to work too.

Jesus tells us the landowner did the same thing again at noon and 3:00 and then finally at 5:00.  Each time he hired a new group of workers – he promised to pay them what was fair.

Finally – as evening settles over the vineyard – it is time to pay the workers.  But the landowner gives his farm manager some rather strange instructions.  He tells him to pay the workers beginning with those who started working last and then to work his way backward through the day’s hires to the workers who started first. 

So – so many HOT – HOT – HOT peppers!!!

The last are paid first and the first are paid last!

Those were really strange instructions – but what happens next is downright shocking.  The vineyard owner paid the people who had worked only part of the day an entire day’s wage.  He even paid the workers who had only worked about an hour a full day’s pay.

Of course – when the people who had worked all day finally received their wages – they were expecting to be paid more money than those who had only worked for an hour.  After all they had worked so much longer.  But to their surprise and dismay they just receive the usual daily wage and not a single cent more.

Can you imagine their disappointment?  Their outrage?  Their indignation!  It was not fair for them to get the exact same pay as the lazy loafers who had only worked for an hour!

There were plenty of tomatoes too.

What happens next seems natural to us.  They voice their outrage.  They complain about how hard they worked all day in the blazing hot sun.  They assert it wasn’t fair that they received the exact same pay as the people who only worked for an hour.  They pointed out the incredible injustice. 

When the landowner hears their complaining and grumbling – he replies – “Friends – I have done you no wrong.  I paid you a fair wage for a hard day’s work.  You agreed from the start that what I planned to pay you was fair.  It is my choice to give the latecomers the same as I gave you.  Are you jealous because I am generous?”

Are you jealous because I was fair to you and generous to others?  That is a hard question.  A question that makes us squirm – because we know how we would react to this situation.  We know we would complain too – or at least grumble to ourselves. 

After all – how could it be fair for some folks to work 12 hours and others to work just 1 hour and receive the exact same pay?  That math doesn’t add up.

This parable stands in sharp contrast to what we think is fair and just.  So what are we supposed to do with this parable? 

Well – clearly Jesus is telling us God does shockingly surprising things.  Jesus is telling us our God is just – but more importantly – our God is deeply and profoundly and wildly and wonderfully generous.  Our God is gloriously gracious and truly merciful. 

With this parable – Jesus announces there is always room in God’s kingdom and in God’s heart for one more believer.  For one more beloved child of God!  In fact – what God yearns for most is that everyone in the entire world would come to know Him and His grace, love and mercy. 

Not only that – but Jesus tells us there isn’t a pecking order in heaven.  Those of us who have been believers since we were toddlers aren’t going to have a better place in heaven than those who came to faith on their deathbeds. 

There isn’t an elite club in heaven.  There aren’t bonus points or prizes for perfect attendance in heaven.

God does not love someone less because she comes to faith later than others do.  God loves us all the same and our heavenly reward will be the same. 

Our God is more than fair.  Our God is more than just.  Our God is wildly generous.  And blesses us more than we could ever deserve.

God loves us all with the very same perfect – gracious love.  The first – the last and those in the middle are all God’s beloved children.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

Restless and Roaming Around

I have been restless this week.  I get this way sometimes.  I don’t know why yet or what I need to do.  Or if there is anything that I need to do at all. 

I do know that it isn’t cleaning our house – I tried that.  My beloved offspring just messed up our house in 5 minutes flat!  We have lots of Legos and they travel seemingly of their own volition!!!  Anyway – Peggy and Marilyn already warned me against wasting precious time on such fruitless pursuits.  Life is far too short to obsess over the floors – so I don’t (much)!

A corner of our dining room table . . .

This restlessness may prove to be nothing profound at all.  It simply may be my response to the subtle – quiet – gentle shifting of the seasons.  It could be the months of living in this strange – new COVID-19 world.  It could be watching our sons grow and change.  It could be that I am just being me (like I said I get restless sometimes).

I woke up this morning at 5:30 with the lyrics of a Rolling Stones song running through my mind on a loop.  And I am not nor have I ever been much of a music person.  But still this is what my mind presented me with the first thing this morning:  “No, you can’t always get what you want.  You can’t always get what you want.  You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometime you find.  You get what you need.”  Thank you brain!?!?  I haven’t heard that in forever . . .

All I know is that I am restless.  My brain is hard at work on something.  And when that happens – yes – you guessed it – great big doses of nature and the great outdoors are called for.  I keep finding that I am drawn outside even more than usual.  And when I am outside I can’t even see the Legos or the dirty dishes – BONUS!

On Wednesday when the McFarland sons asked if we could go back to the river to look for more cool creatures – I didn’t even hesitate before answering with a great big YES (after work and school – I am still a responsible card-carrying adult)!

At 5:08 pm all 4 McFarlands were in the car – provisions in hand for an evening at the river. 

As we drew closer to our usual spot on the river – we discovered a very large – very NOT socially distant group of people.  The governor and the mayor would have been very disappointed in them.  Actually – so was I!  So we set off to find a new spot on the river where we could be safe and responsible and have fun at the same time.

We had luck.  We found a lovely spot and soon Jack and Will were hard at work seeking snakes and spiders and crawdads and other cool creatures.

It was a lovely evening.  While the McFarland sons explored – I watched the sun coming through the leaves on the trees.

I admired the bark on trees. (Intriguing – I tell you – truly – intriguing – if you just take a moment to notice all of the amazing patterns!)

I watched the sun sparkling on the river.

I noticed the first fall leaves drifting by in the river.

The colors are lovely – even though summer green and scorching heat will always be my one true love.

I chatted with Jason.

I listened to our sons talking to one another and I watched them explore the world together.  Really together.  Amazing.  Such an incredible blessing – especially when you consider the big age difference between them.

I heard the delighted shout of SNAKE!!!! from Will 2 times when he flipped over rocks to gleefully encounter water snakes.

And I heard the call of SNAKE! from Jack too.  Followed by – “This is a really big one!!” – from Will.   And then from Jack a moment later – “Hey Dad – do we have copperheads around here?”  Jack was calm – cool and collected.  He could have been asking if we had any snacks in the backpack . . .

Jason (cool as a cucumber in the refrigerator) “Yes – Jack.  We do.”

It was in this moment that Jack and Will decided to call a full retreat – but they did so in such a relaxed – easy- breezy manner.  They walked our way like there wasn’t a murderous – killer – monster snake right behind them!  Such strange people I am related to and they were smiling!?!?!?  I kid you not – they were smiling like it was Christmas morning!

There was much discussion of “THE SNAKE of great and stupendous awesomeness.”  It was the highlight of their day and likely Will’s month!  The snake was several feet long.  It was fatter around than the other snakes they had seen – but they didn’t see the head very well.  They were bummed!  I said a prayer of thanksgiving!!!  Jason thinks it was probably just another type of water snake – but I did some research and “copperheads can be found statewide in Kentucky.  Their preferred habitat includes rocky, wooded hillsides, lowland areas near streams, abandoned wood piles or rotting logs and mulch piles.”  We were on a rocky, wooded hillside and we were right beside a lowland steam/smallish river . . .

This much I do know – the McFarland family has a new story to tell and a new one-liner – because I will never – ever – ever forget seeing my two beloved sons peering into a pile of rocks along a riverbank and hearing Jack call out – “Hey Dad – do we have copperheads around here?”

Seriously – that has to be every mom’s dream right?

So – I am always extolling the awesomeness of God’s creation.  The glories of nature’s loveliness.  The way God makes his presence known to us in the beauty of the natural world.  He is!  He does!  God is there always!  But please be sure to watch where you step!!!!  It is a crazy – wild and wonderful world out there.

Anyway – I pray that you are safe and well.  I miss YOU!

Please know that you are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.

In Christ and with Love – Pastor Kerri

A Stupendously Superior Sunday with Creatures

How does your family bond?  What do you do with the people you love most in the world just for fun?  What delights you and your people?  How do you like to hang out together?

If you had the gift and the blessing of an entire afternoon to spend any way you wanted with your favorite people on the planet – what would you choose to do? 

Family bonding outside in Mexico.

Are sports your thing?  Do you look forward to tailgating before enjoying the big game together?  Followed by a lengthy – in depth discussion of each and every single significant play of the game.

Perhaps your family loves movies and delights in munching on popcorn while binge watching all of the latest Hollywood hits together?

Maybe your family looks forward to family game nights or to going to the mall in pursuit of the latest fashion trends.  Or is trying new restaurants together or enjoying music more your style?

Tennessee outside fun!

I love how different families do such different things and have such intriguingly different traditions. 

Our family bonds over exploring the great outdoors together.  The 4 McFarlands all have pretty diverse interests and passions and hobbies – but we can all agree that nature is fun and cool.  We can all come together around hanging out together outside.

Family bonding outside in Michigan . . .

On Sunday afternoon following worship – Jason and I asked William what he would like to do for the afternoon.  And Will quickly responded that he would like to “go to the river to look for creatures!”  So we laid in provisions and packed the backpack with supplies and headed to the river to look for “cool creatures.”

Will is both a very serious and a truly persistent creature seeker.  Will spent well over 3 hours playing in the river.  Some of the time he was playing with his sharks and boats – but most of the time Will was flipping rocks and peering into the water seeking river monsters.

Hmmmm . . .what is under here?

Will’s hard work and persistence paid off.  Sunday proved to be a truly excellent day for creature seeking and finding.  He found creatures galore which he ever so generously shared with Jason and me!

We were impressed and delighted by all that we saw and by the creatures we met on Sunday afternoon.

We saw crawdads.  We saw a tadpole with four legs – but it was moving far – far too quickly for us to capture its photo.  We saw not one – not two – not three – but FOUR water snakes!  (They were all cute little baby snakes.)  And I was able to capture two of them for posterity!!!! 

I never – ever – ever would have guessed before meeting Jack and Will McFarland how very excited I too could become about a snake sighting or that I would rush to take a snake’s picture!  Seriously – Will shouted “snake!  I found a snake!” and I grabbed the camera and hurried as quickly as I could to take some snake glamour shots!?!?

We also spent some time getting to know an adorable baby soft shelled turtle.  We watched it for a very – very long time.  I had never seen a soft shelled turtle before and neither had Will.  It was very cute.

We also saw butterflies – but only Jason and I thought those were intriguing . . .

Sunday afternoon was just what we needed after a long hard week of NTI and work and crazy commuting to and from the zoo and staying safe at home and missing our friends (the boys) and missing our family (all of us) and continuing to cope with all of the changes COVID-19 has brought into our lives and well – just being a family in 2020!


Nature and creature seeking is the McFarlands’ “thing.”  What is your thing?  What delights your soul?  What helps you cope with stressful times?  What helps you keep your perspective?  What gives you joy right down to your tippy toes?  What helps you feel just a bit closer to your loved ones?

How can you adapt and still do it even in this wild and weird COVID-19 world we are living in?

Hiding snake!

You might not be able to do it in the exact way that you used to do it – back before COVID-19 – but I bet if you put your thinking cap on and you are willing to adapt and to be agile and maybe to compromise just a bit you will be able to come up with a wonderful way of doing what makes your heart sing for joy!

Hiding turtle!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Good and Grumpy!!!

I try very – very hard not to focus on the negative (for too long anyway).  I try to be positive and to look for the good.  I try to seek the silver linings in life. 

It usually works.  I can almost always find the good in a situation.  I can stay pretty positive most of the time.

Stuck in line?  Oh well – that just means I have more time to knit.  Stuck in a traffic jam?  Oh well that just means – I have more time to knit.  The doctor is running really late again?  Oh well that just means – I have more time to knit.  (Are you sensing a pattern here?)   The commute to and from the zoo for Jack’s job taking a long time today?  This time with our oldest son is fleeting and precious.  Jack has become such an intriguing young man!  Will telling me about the Titanic for the billionth time today?  Wow – our youngest son is passionate about ships and soooooo knowledgeable too.  Will has taught me so much in his short life.

But sometimes life sends me for a loop, and I find myself grumpy and in a truly foul mood.  Sometimes I get stuck in a bit of a funk.

That very thing happened to me this weekend.  Jason and I had a lovely walk on Friday evening.  We enjoyed the beautiful late summer evening.  I talked Jason’s ear off about life and yarn and my current obsession – the sound of insects.  I think the chattering of insects is seriously intriguing.  Try sitting outside sometime and just listening to all of the sounds insects make.  Truly intriguing – I tell you – really and truly intriguing.

Anyway – after our walk – we stopped on our front porch to retrieve the mail. Jason reached his hand into the mailbox and pulled out a single piece of mail.  Jason looked at it.  He made an exclamation of dismay and then grimly handed the envelope to me.  And as he did so – he said – “I am so sorry . . .”

And in that moment I knew exactly what was in Jason’s hand – it was a stinking summons to serve on jury duty!  The last time I received a jury duty summons it was over Thanksgiving and I was 8 months pregnant with Will.  And now I get to serve on jury duty in the middle of a global pandemic while trying to do NTI with a 7 year old Will.  (Perhaps – I will just bring Will with me to the courthouse – if the kids are still doing NTI?!?!  I took Will with me the last time and it worked . . .)

I would be more than happy to do my civic duty – but I am not at all comfortable about being asked to do my civic duty in the middle of a pandemic.  Especially since the paperwork vaguely tells me that they are “taking precautions” to keep potential jurors safe – but it does not tell me HOW they plan to keep me safe!!!  I am a details person so I found their vague platitudes both troubling and rather insulting.  I want to know WHAT they plan to do to keep me, my fellow citizens, and our families safe.  After all – the last time I served on jury duty they packed us into the jury room like sardines in a can for 8 hours a day – 5 days a week for 2 weeks.  Even pre-COVID-19 – I thought the experience was rather germy!

So – I got good and grumpy.  Really – really – really grumpy.  By the time Will and I picked Jack up from work on Friday evening – I was really and truly “charming!”

Will suggested that Frostys from Wendy’s might help with my bleak mood.  (I can’t eat Frostys – lol!)  So Jack and Will got Frostys, and I got a tea.  And Will was right – treating my sons to ice cream did help my mood!  Life may be annoying – but ice cream is yummy and my sons are nifty.  Will is such a smart boy . . .

Saturday Jason, Will, and I did yard work and worked in the garden.  I got my hands in the dirt (which I love – love – love), and I felt the summer sun on my face.  I smiled every time I saw how hard Will was working to help us and I delighted in the beauty of God’s creation.  Again – I still am not thrilled about jury duty in the middle of a pandemic and NTI – but our flower beds are looking so much nicer and our garden is neater. 

Sunday after worship and taking Jack to work – the rest of us headed to Broadrun to spend some time exploring and adventuring.  And it was lovely there.  The sun came out – the flowers were in bloom – and I found myself relaxing and letting go of some (not all) of my concern and annoyance.  I spent some time actively seeking the good and the lovely and the beautiful.  And you know what – it was really easy to find!  It was all around me!  There was beauty everywhere I turned this weekend!

I still don’t feel at all comfortable about being asked to serve on jury duty in the middle of the pandemic.  I would like A LOT more information about safety protocols.   But since there is nothing I can do about it – I am going to try to look for the good.  I am going to seek God’s presence and keep my eyes open for the lovely.  I am – I promise!  Besides when I am in a foul mood and grumpy – absolutely nothing changes and I am miserable – and who wants that . . . 

And as Jack reminded me – the 6th Amendment of United States Constitution guarantees the right to a impartial jury.  (Boy – sometimes – wish we had never taught that kid to read!!!)  

So what do you do when life sends you for a loop?  How do you get yourself set to rights again?  When your feathers get all ruffled and you are feeling grumpy or frazzled or miserable what helps you feel better?

I remind myself that no matter what this life brings my way God is still God.  That I am never alone and that there is always beauty and good in this world – I just need to keep my eyes and my heart open to be able to see it!  Then I try to get out into the world and start looking for the good and lovely and the beautiful . . .

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, September 13, 2020

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

The Word of the Lord.

Brothers . . .Truly intriguing and amazing and a blessing!

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication
   and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
   his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
   nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
   so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.  Amen.

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 

But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Sometimes forgiveness is shockingly hard – isn’t it?  Earlier this summer I was confronted by just how difficult forgiveness can be.

This summer some absolutely – positively shockingly thoughtless human beings exposed my beloved brother-in-law to COVID-19 – through no fault of his own.  John was being careful and following the rules.  John was adhering to the CDC guidelines. 

But this entire family still knowingly chose to expose John to COVID-19.  Seriously – I am not kidding – when I tell you that they suspected they might have a potentially deadly virus and they willfully exposed other people . . .

They actually met with John right before their appointment to be tested for COVID-19! 

They met with John and then they all immediately went to be tested for COVID-19!  It was their next scheduled stop of the day!!!

When I learned of this I literally thought my brain might explode.  I normally have low blood pressure – but I didn’t that evening!  I worried my brain might just melt and leak right out my ears!  I was livid!  I was filled with white hot fury.   I was outraged!   I decided immediately that I really – really – really did not like these people – even though I had never met them. 

Their thoughtless – selfish behavior exposed my warm-hearted – kind – loving – hilarious – generous – practical joke loving brother-in-law to a deadly virus.  And if John tested positive – then Jason’s amazing sister and their awesome children were in danger too – as were Jason’s wonderful – loving parents.

My crazy – wonderful – wacky family right before a hike/bike ride in our favorite place in the world!

I was very worried and I was MAD!  I may have even suggested that John and Elizabeth’s priest ex-communicate the “COVID family.”  But John informed me – this particular form of wrathful vengeance was a “no go” – because “the COVID family” isn’t even Catholic . . . bummer. . .

I know I wasn’t thinking very “pastor-y” thoughts.  But pastors are human too.  And I was feeling very – very human in that particular moment!   Boy – was I feeling human!

Thankfully – John’s test came back blessedly negative and after a very inconvenient 14 day quarantine life got back to normal-ish for his family.  But this incident certainly did remind me of how hard it can be to forgive sometimes.

Brothers-in-law goofing around on Jason’s birthday. I think the 4 kids were acting more adult than Uncle was at the time!

Forgiveness is hard which may be why Jesus has spent so much time talking to us about forgiveness over the past few weeks.  Jesus knows how much we all struggle with forgiveness.

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus tells us we should forgive one another 77 times. 

But I think it would be a mistake to take the number 77 too literally.  What Jesus is telling us is – we are supposed to be forgiving people.  We are called to be gracious and merciful.  We are supposed to choose love – even when it is hard!  Even when it is REALLY hard!

And we all know forgiveness is hard.  There are even times when we feel we have been so wronged it would be impossible to forgive. 

We may even feel that by forgiving someone who has wronged us we would be telling them what they did was okay. 

So – we choose not to forgive. 

But forgiving someone is not saying you think what they did was okay. 

Rather forgiveness is about not holding someone’s past sins against them.  Forgiveness is about letting go and starting anew.  Forgiveness is about a fresh start for both of you.

We all struggle with forgiving others.  Forgiveness rarely comes easily for us.  And yet we have all had times in our own lives when we longed to be forgiven.

There is a story of a father and son who had horribly bitter arguments.  They argued about everything from politics to religion to what to have for supper.  They both said cruel – mean things to each other. 

And then – one night the son left home.  The son did not tell anyone where he had gone.  He just left.  He simply couldn’t take anymore of the fighting and the arguing and the hate and the anger.  It was just too much for him to take.

His father was devastated.  The man searched for his beloved son for months but could not find his son anywhere. Finally, in a desperate effort to find his son, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad simply read: “Dear John, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Dad.”

On Saturday 100’s of men named John showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their dads.

Forgiving someone who has wronged you is rarely easy – in fact offering forgiveness may be the hardest thing you ever do in this life.  But think of the power of forgiveness.  Think of all of those men named John who showed up at a newspaper office yearning for forgiveness and longing for reconciliation.  Think of the times that you have been forgiven and how you felt.

Think of how willing God is to forgive you . . .

The fact of the matter is that God is far more willing to forgive us than we are to forgive one another.  In fact – God was so willing to forgive us he sent his beloved Son into the world to die for the forgiveness of our sins. 

When we ask for God’s forgiveness God is ready and willing to forgive our sins.  And when God forgives our sins he does not hold our past sins against us.  God completely and utterly forgives us when we ask him. 

I love the way Isaiah (1:18 ) describes our God’s forgiveness –  “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

God does not hold our sins against us.  When God forgives us – he really and truly washes our sins away.  They are gone.  Forgotten.  Erased.  And since we have a Lord who is so willing to forgive us – we have been set free to forgive one another.  To forgive as God so generously forgives us.  Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Frazzled and Frayed – but Never Forgotten or Forsaken!

Be still, and know that I am God!
   I am exalted among the nations,
   I am exalted in the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge. – Psalm 46

I strive to be a stop and smell the roses and the lavender and the marigolds kind of person.  I will even stop to smell tomato plants.  Actually I really like the smell of tomato plants.  The smell of tomato plants reminds me of working alongside the love of my life on long summer evenings in our garden.

But these past few weeks stopping to smell much of anything has felt a lot harder for me.  I have been feeling a bit stressed and pressured and ever so slightly frazzled and frayed around the edges which just isn’t my style.  I just don’t do frazzled and frayed.  Just like I don’t procrastinate.  I have calendars and lists and plans.  Actually – every single week of my life begins with a nice tidy to do list.  Lists make me happy!

I don’t over-schedule myself or anyone else in my immediate family.  I make sure I have plenty of time to balance work and family and fun.  I get enough sleep.  I eat healthy food (most of the time.)  I exercise.  I knit and then I knit some more and then I knit again!  I used to go to the gym (and will again – once it feels safe to go back.)

I do all of  this just so I don’t become THAT mom.  The one everyone is just a little afraid of.  The one – even her husband – thinks is just one cup of coffee away from a great big rant about just how stressed out and busy and overworked and exhausted she is.

But ever since NTI 2.0 started – I have been feeling just a little frazzled and stressed.  I have been struggling a bit to stop and smell the roses.

It feels like I went from being a working mom to being a WORKING MOM!  COVID-19 already meant that I was doing some extra intense parenting.  But now – well now – well – I am feeling busy – busy – busy. 

And I know that I am not alone.  Everyone is in this boat with me.  Everyone is just trying to get through these strange – strange times.

And I am blessed.  I am so incredibly thankful for a life and a job that are flexible. 

And Jason is an awesome dad and husband.  In fact Jason keeps saying to me “Kerri – you aren’t in this alone.”  Which is a truly important reminder to me on so many different levels – I am not in this alone.

But NTI 2.0 with a 2nd grader is quite frankly a lot of work for the parents too.  Jason and I need to be around and attentive.  Will needs our help and attention and our care during his school day.  Will needs us.   So – we write sermons and computer code and help with reading and math assignments.  I proof read my newsletter article and oversee spelling words and phonics.  Jason trouble shoots something important for his office right before he gets Will logged on to his next Google meeting.  Our days have become a dance of parenting – work – school – work – parenting – and work.  And then parenting some more!  And it feels seriously INTENSE some days!  Good – but intense!

I love my life and I love my family and I love my career.  Truly I do – but by the time Labor Day rolled around it was time for me to spend some time practicing what I preach.

It was time for me to seek God’s presence.  It was time for me to slow down.  To slow way – way down.  So we headed off to one of our favorite places for the afternoon.

We spent the afternoon hiking the trails at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.  We love hiking there. 

It is truly beautiful and incredibly peaceful at Perryville.  It is so quiet there – you can hear the wind blowing through the tall prairie grass, and I delighted in listening to the sounds of the crickets/grasshoppers.  The crickets were feeling very chatty on Monday. 

We watched and listened and hiked.  We delighted and gave thanks for the blessing of God’s gifts to us.

Labor Day was a gift and a blessing to us in the midst of what has become an incredibly busy time in our lives.  It was quiet and peaceful and incredibly beautiful to be out in nature enjoying the sun and the wind and the blue skies. 

The fields were absolutely overflowing with all sorts of flowers.

I ended our hike feeling more grounded.  More thankful.  More blessed.  Much more peaceful.  Much – much more thankful!

What do you do when your life starts to feel too busy and you start to feel stressed and frazzled? How do you stop to smell the roses? How do you seek God’s presence in the midst of your own full – busy lives?  Where are you seeing God at work in your lives?

Apparently some Perryville wanted to come home with me!

God is here!  God is with us!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri