We needed an evening of good old fashioned messy fun at the McFarland house. After this long stretch of gray – blahhhhhhh days we all needed an evening activity that was engaging. We needed to shake things up a bit. We were getting into a rut!
I – for one – have felt inclined to act much more like a hibernating bear these last few evenings than an actual human being. As soon as work – NTI – and our evening walk (forced march) are over all I want to do is sit on the couch and read and knit. I have definitely become that object that needs to be acted upon by an outside force we learned about in physics in high school! Fall and winter always make me wonder if I am not part bear!
Gone are the lingering evenings spent outside. I haven’t taken a cup of tea to my favorite spot on the back step in weeks. No one has suggested a trip to the park in days and days. We all look at the gray sky and sigh. The three oldest McFarlands are not winter people, and we are all taking some time to adjust to fall this year too. I think we have a grudge against fall – because fall reminds us summer is over and winter is coming . . .
We needed something to engage our brains – to get us chatting and laughing and planning and plotting and up and about for a just a bit.
It was time to carve some of our pumpkins!
I love the mess and gloop and whimsy of carving pumpkins.
I love that the entire purpose of carving a pumpkin is simply to have FUN!
Jason and I have always approached pumpkin carving like we did finger painting when the boys were little – they are the bosses of this activity. We have hardwood floors and the floors wash and so do the boys! Messes are welcome. Who cares if some gets on the boy or the floor or both?
As we carved we laughed and chatted and remembered previous years’ designs. Jack has had some great designs over the years. I am sure that William will too – but he is really just getting started. Jason still handles most of Will’s carving – but Will does all of his own design work! Will is very good at telling Jason what to do!!!
While we worked we discussed our favorite candy. This is a great question to ask to get conversation flowing and people thinking.
Jack has decided that the 1,000 Grand is his candy bar of the year. But I noticed that all of the Smarties are missing from Jack’s tray of Trunk and Treat candy which means he must like those too. Will is really into those sour licorice sticks (thank you Grace for bringing those to Trunk and Treat!) and Jolly Rancher suckers this year. Jason likes chocolate with almonds. I like ALL of it. Seriously – I love – love – love sugary goodness. But I am trying something new to try to help ease my migraines – and have given up refined sugar. . . I may be grumpy and suffering from withdrawal – but my dentist should be pleased!!!!
What is your favorite candy? Inquiring minds want to know!
We had a wonderful time (or at least I did and the rest of them politely played along). We made a bit of a mess. We chatted. We were creative. We spent some time together.
It was just what we needed on a gray – misty – cool fall evening.
So what do you do – when you need to encourage yourself and your loved ones? How do you remind yourself that there is joy and light and fun to be found – even on gray days? What are your favorite fall activities? Where are you finding God’s presence these days?
Have you had any God sightings lately?
I saw God’s presence last night in bright orange pumpkins and the 100’s of seeds those pumpkins contained.
I saw God in the blessing of my family and our home.
Cheryl and I had been getting ready for weeks. We had been talking about this for months. Preparations had been made. Provisions had been acquired. Plans had been planned. I had been watching the long range forecast for days fearing rain might ruin all of our carefully laid plans. Our bags were packed and waiting by the door. We were so very ready, and I was incredibly excited.
Saturday was the big day!
Finally – after waiting and waiting and waiting Trunk and Treat was here!!!
Whooo! Hoooo! Yipppee!!!! Finally!!!!
So many events have been canceled or postponed this year. So much has changed in 2020.
I wouldn’t change this. (Well – of course – I would change Covid-19. I so wish Covid-19 had never – ever – ever happened.) I know we all need to be incredibly cautious and wise and as safe as possible. I am and will continue to be firm in my belief that following the advice of the CDC is the best course of action.
But I miss the “olden days.” I miss the casual ease of socializing and chatting and gathering with my sisters and brothers in Christ. I miss lingering for as long as we want while we talk and visit and share in each others’ lives. I miss smiles and seeing people’s entire faces. I miss being Saint Stephen Lutheran Church. I really – really miss that!!!
Relationships are at the heart of who we are as a Christian community. Relationships – caring – conversations – and connection. These were all things that drew Jason and me to Saint Stephen over 10 years ago now! Yes – that is right – you have been listening to me yammer on now for 10 years. I came for my interview(s) in the fall of 2010.
As soon as I met the Saint Stephen call committee – I was drawn in – because of their relationships with one another. Their genuine – caring relationships with each other delighted and intrigued me. They honestly cared for and about one another. They loved one another.
My first phone interview with the call committee was only supposed to last about an hour – but it just went on and on and on (in a really – really good way)! Once the interview was over – and I emerged from our home office – Jason asked me how the interview had gone. I clearly remember telling him – “I have found my people. I think I am in love!”
Yep – that’s right. It was love at first phone call!
Of course – worship and serving God and God’s people are at the heart of who we are as God’s people at Saint Stephen. But a huge part of our identity is our relationships with one another. It has been this way for as long as I have known you, and I am sure it has been that way for far – far longer than that.
2020 has been hard on us. And frankly – it is going to continue to be hard for a while. Our lives have changed quite dramatically.
It would be easy to let our relationships with one another begin to drift away. “Out of sight – out of mind!” To neglect these relationships – because we can’t see each other right would be pretty easy to do.
I want to encourage you to keep nurturing your relationships with one another. If you haven’t heard from someone in our Saint Stephen church family in a while – reach out. Send them a card. If someone comes to mind – give them a call to let them know you are thinking of them.
Send a text message or an email or a postcard to that sister in Christ you usually see every week – but now can’t see because of Covid-19. Let folks know you are thinking of them and praying for them.
That time you would have spent getting ready for in-person worship could be spent writing a note or two on Sunday morning! That time we would have spent singing hymns during in-person worship – you could use to call and check up with someone you haven’t seen in months. . .
Check in with each other. Nurture and care for one another. Don’t assume someone else is doing it. Don’t put it off until tomorrow or next week.
Relationships are important. Relationships are a huge part of who we are as Saint Stephen Lutheran Church. I encourage you to keep nurturing and tending your relationships with one another. They are truly one of God’s greatest blessings to us all.
I love being your pastor. I love being a part of your lives. I loved Trunk and Treat 2020 and I am already looking forward to Trunk and Treat 2021!
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The Word of the Lord.
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. Amen.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 8:31-36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We forget things all of the time!
We forget where we laid our keys and where we put our glasses and where we parked our cars!
We forget our passwords. I can’t tell you the number of times I have forgotten a computer password. Really – it is incredibly pathetic!
We forget birthdays, anniversaries, and what time it is.
We forget our grocery lists and wander the grocery store trying to remember what on earth we are there to get.
We occasionally forget our phones and our phone numbers.
On a bad day we may forget our children’s names or that we even have children.
We may even get so busy that we forget to eat lunch.
But I would guess most of you never – ever – ever forget a sin or wrong committed against you. That is something we simply never forget! Not ever!
Most of us can’t remember what we had for supper last night – but we will never – ever forget the wretchedly awful girl who made fun of our Halloween costume in the second grade.
We may not remember how many years we have been married to our truly beloved spouse (23 years – I did the math) – but that mean girl who said our rainbow jeans were “stupid” in the 6th grade – well we will never forget her or her horrible crime against us.
I wish I could say I lived on a higher spiritual plain – because that would be seriously cool.
I wish I wasn’t a great big – massive grudge holder. I wish I wasn’t a person who remembered sins against me – because that is what Jesus wants us to do.
But if I said I didn’t hold grudges or remember sins people committed against me that would make me a great big lying liar. Like all Christians – I am a great big massive work in progress.
The girl who made fun of my seriously awesome Richmond Red Devil costume – her name was Christy. And the mean girl who made fun of my equally awesome rainbow jeans was Amber.
When I think of the white hot fury that still simmers in my heart against my very first boss at Morrisson-Reeves Library – it surprises me – well maybe it doesn’t really. She was very – very mean! In fact – she publicly rebuked and humiliated me in front of my co-workers calling me both lazy and insubordinate! At 15 – I was many – many things – but I can assure you I was neither lazy nor was I insubordinate. Heck – I didn’t even know what insubordinate was until I looked it up in the dictionary!
Holding a grudge comes easily to so many of us. Forgiveness is hard. Actually forgiveness is very – very hard.
But thankfully – our God doesn’t hold grudges. Thankfully – our God is so much better at forgiveness than we are. Thankfully our God chooses grace – mercy – and forgiveness over wrath – revenge – and anger.
Because we all sin – over and over again. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. We sin each and every day of our lives. And the Bible tells us quite clearly that the penalty for our sins is death.
So if you and I got what we really deserved – we would all be condemned to eternal death. But thankfully this is not what we receive from our God. Instead of death and eternal punishment for our sins – we receive God’s love, his forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life spent with our Lord in heaven.
Our God rejects revenge and embraces mercy. Our God is a God of grace and forgiveness – not wrath and fury. Our God is merciful in a way that is hard for us even to comprehend!
Our God is really serious about grace.
God does not hold our sins against us. God doesn’t remember our sins to use against us at another time. Our God doesn’t get mad at us and throw our old sins up in our faces like we do when we fight and argue and bicker with each other.
When God is disappointed in us for taking his name in vain (again and again and again) or for sleeping in on yet another Sunday morning and skipping church. God doesn’t say – “well – remember the time you forgot our anniversary! Or you never stick around to help clean up at church or volunteer to be on any of the committees! Or you are constantly “forgetting” about the church work days!”
Nope – not our God. Our God doesn’t hold grudges or fight ugly!
Our God isn’t just fair. Instead our God is gracious and merciful!
In our first reading for this week – our Lord declares to us – “I will forgive their iniquities, and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Think about that. Really let these words really sink in.
When God forgives us – he really and truly forgives us. Our sins are gone forever. Truly forgiven and forgotten. Never to be remembered again!
I know that I quote the 1st chapter of Isaiah a lot – but I can’t help it. I love hearing our God proclaim “Come now, let’s settle this. Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
When God forgives our sins they are gone. Erased. Deleted. Washed away. Completely and utterly gone. Truly this is very Good News indeed – AMEN.
“What then are we to say about these things? . . . Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Roman 8:31 and 35-39
Some days it is just easier to see God’s presence in our lives – isn’t it? Some days it is a whole lot easier to see God’s presence. Some days God’s presence in our lives is so very obvious to us. We see God all around us. Everywhere we turn we see reminders of God’s loving – gracious presence in our lives. It is like we are tripping over reminders of God’s love for us. These days are glorious and awesome. I love these days!
And then there are those days – when it is so much harder to see God’s presence in our lives.
Life gets busy. Often life gets really – really busy. We get distracted. Sometimes we start to feel burdened by life and just how hard it can be to be a human being – or maybe that is just me . . . (It could just be me. It probably is just me!) We start to think we are in this life alone.
On days like these we just can’t seem to see God’s presence in our daily lives. One of my favorite seminary professors called this – “navel gazing.” I am really and truly gifted at navel gazing. I excel at navel gazing! I am soooooo good at shifting my focus from God and his blessings to me – to thinking only of myself and my problems and my concerns and my burdens. When I do this I enter a spiral of misery and woe and self pity. Navel gazing is so problematic – because we quickly lose our perspective on just about everything!
I have been struggling a bit the past few weeks. I am learning to live with an autoimmune disease and have dealing with a flare-up (again) the past few weeks. I simply don’t feel like myself. Nothing horrible – just a flare up that has triggered some bothersome – annoying symptoms – but enough that my focus shifted.
I have spent less time seeking God’s presence and more time feeling just a wee bit sorry for myself.
It occurred to me last night while Jason and I were walking that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t helping me feel any better. Honestly – it was making me feel a whole lot worse! My current flare up will just have to run its course like they always do. Some flare ups last weeks. Others last months. But focusing on how rotten I feel certainly isn’t helping anyone! And I doubt that it makes me a more delightful wife and mom . . .
I realized feeling yucky – had led me to ease up on my pursuit of God sightings which is the last thing I needed to be doing. The more challenging times in my life are exactly when I need reminders of God’s presence with me.
Hmmmmm. . . .it was time to make some changes!
So – I started looking and listening and thinking and trying to slowing – gently shift my focus.
As Jason and I walked – I heard Will and Jack’s laughter echoing through the evening air. They were hanging out in our backyard together and clearly having a wonderful time! Now that was a beautiful sound. A really – really beautiful sound (and yes as their mom I know that I am biased. I am so okay with this particular bias!)
I looked to my right and there walked Jason. Jason has been walking in that very spot for over 28 years now. That is a blessing from God – if I ever saw one!
I noticed what a nice job Jack had done of mowing our lawn that afternoon. We have a lovely home – a beautiful yard – and our teenage son is helpful and wonderful. He does a lovely job of mowing our lawn.
I then noticed all of the parts of my body that do feel okay and are working just fine. Sure not everything is okay – but not everything is wrong either.
It was sunny and almost 80 degrees while our entire family was outside. There was even a gentle breeze! That too felt like a blessing.
Is everything in my life just perfectly – perfect? Nope. But once I took a few moments to remind myself of God’s presence – I felt blessed and thankful. I also felt very comforted by the reminders of God’s presence in my life. This life isn’t easy. It can be bumpy and hard and stressful and exhausting and scary – but God is with us.
God is always with us. We are never alone. Not even when we have convinced ourselves that we are alone!
I hope that you all take some time today to seek God’s presence in your own lives. Be on the look out for a God sighting or 100!
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
– Isaiah 11:6-7
Our William is very – very into making lists of favorite things these days. I find adorable pictures of his favorite Godzilla forms that he has spent a very long time drawing on our dining room table. The same goes for his favorite trains and tragic boat sinkings.
But by far – Will’s favorite thing to do is to list his favorite things. And he loves to invite other people to join him in celebrating their favorites too.
On Thursday evening as we were driving home from a family adventure we heard from the backseat – “Let’s list our top five favorite snakes!”
“Okay” – Jason replied – “I am in – but this one will be rather hard for your mom. You know how she feels about snakes.”
So – so true. I am trying to like snakes – really I am – but in the end when I read to Will from his favorite snake books all I can think is – “Snakes are scary. Snakes are really – really scary! Snakes are so very scary.” And as Jason has pointed out – it doesn’t help that Will always chooses to have me read to him about the deadliest of the deadly snakes like the black mamba, the king cobra, the bush master and the eyelash viper! Snakes that can rear up and look you in the eye while spitting deadly venom at you are terrifying to me, but they are seriously cool to Will and Jason!!!
Listing our top five favorite snakes was followed by our top five favorite spiders and our top five favorite dinosaurs and our top five favorite battleships and then our top five favorite animals. Will wrapped up the listing of our favorite things with the absolute ultimate list of “top five favorite things in the whole wide world” just as we drove into Fern Creek and Jason pulled into our driveway.
I love making these lists with Will. Sometimes (rarely) I even get to pick the topic. Then I will pick topics like top five favorite foods. (The marketing folks at McDonalds would be thrilled with Will’s list. Everything started with “Mc” something or other!) Or top five favorite craft supplies or top five favorite ways to play outside.
When I stubbornly suggested top five favorite yarns and top five favorite flowers – I had to play those rounds alone . . .
I love the insight Will’s lists give me into his mind and his interests – Jack and Jason’s too. I learn something about my family almost every time we play the favorites game.
I think William has started a game that will be with our family for a very long time.
I especially love the positivity of Will’s game. Listing favorites. Listing things you like. Listing things that make you happy. Listing things that interest you. Listing things you enjoy. Listing things that delight you!
I have already thought of my next topic when we play our game again: “List five things you would like to learn more about!”
Or how about “List five things that make you happy.”
Or “List five things that intrigue you or inspire you.”
Or “List five things you think are nice.”
Or “List five things that are beautiful.”
Or “List your five favorite candies.”
So often we focus on what we don’t like in this life. We focus on the bad. We focus on what is wrong. We focus on what we don’t like and on what has us unsettled and upset. We focus on the disappointments and on what is missing from our lives. We keep our gaze on the bad – the ugly – the uncomfortable and the annoying. I think this is especially true during stressful – hard times like we are living through right now. It may simply be human nature to focus on the negative.
I know I can get this way. I will focus on the sore elbow (thank you strange symptoms caused by the autoimmune disease I am learning to live with) instead of the fact that the rest of my body is pain free and working just wonderfully! I will focus on the one tiny mistake in my knitting (that no one else can even see) instead of the 1,000’s of perfectly lovely stitches. I will focus on the glass the McFarland son left in the living room instead of the socks he remembered to put in the laundry hamper!
I am not a winter person – AT ALL. I don’t like the cold and the dark and the COLD and I really – really – really don’t like the lack of glorious green. So I tend to get rather grumbly and annoyed as fall descends. When other folks are delighting in all of the fall colors – all I can thinks is “the long dark night of the soul is coming!” Fall should be fine. But I hold a grudge against the entire season of fall because it keeps reminding me that winter is coming.
Anyway – this year I am working on my attitude. I am shifting my focus. I am going to focus much more on the things I love. I am learning from Will to make lists of things I love. I am making quick little lists in my head of God’s blessings to me.
I walk into a room and list five blessings that I see rather than five tasks that need to be accomplished. I cannot tell you what a change this makes in my attitude. Yes – I still see there are dishes in the sink and there is laundry – but I think of what a blessing it is that we have tons of food to eat and closets full of cozy clothing to wear. I am appreciating the fall colors more. I am enjoying the beauty of my life more. I am feeling far – far more blessed!
I encourage you to do the same. I encourage you to make lists of things that make you happy. Make quick lists in your mind of your blessings. Make a list at the end of the day of five nice things that happened to you. Make a list of your five favorite foods and then cook one of them. (Or in Will’s case – sweet talk your mom into going to McDonalds . . .) Make a list of your favorite ways to spend an evening and then do one of them!
Join me. Make a list or two or ten of your favorites. It can be a lot of fun. And it really can bring a smile to your face.
These are challenging times – but God is with us. And we have all been blessed.
1Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.
The Word of our Lord.
1Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. 2Sing to the Lord, bless the name of the Lord; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day. 3Declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples. 4For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods. 5As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but you, O Lord, have made the heavens. 6Majesty and magnificence are in your presence; power and splendor are in your sanctuary. 7Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord honor and power. 8Ascribe to the Lord the honor due the holy name; bring offerings and enter the courts of the Lord. 9Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before the Lord, all the earth. 10Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is king! The one who made the world so firm that it cannot be moved will judge the peoples with
equity.” 11Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that | is therein. 12Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy at your coming, O Lord, for you come to judge the earth. 13You will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with your truth. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
The Word of our Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 22:15-22
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Some things in this life just plain puzzle me like math and sweet potatoes. I just don’t understand either one!
Another thing that I don’t understand – is asking someone to guess what you are thinking. And trick questions are the worst!
I was always so dumbfounded by my friends in school who would play little guessing games with their boyfriends. As Valentines’ Day or an anniversary approached – their boyfriends would naively ask how they wanted to celebrate. Or what sort of gifts they would like.
Inevitably my girlfriends fell into 2 camps. First there were the ones who would profess – “I don’t want anything as long as I have your love. . .” And then there were the ladies who would declare – “Oh you – choose honey. Whatever you want to do will be perfect . . . “
And while I hate to say it quite so bluntly – both camps were a bunch of lying liars! Seriously!
I know this because the big day would roll around and their poor – innocent – deluded boyfriends would believe them and get them absolutely nothing for Valentines’ Day. Or they would opt to take them out for nachos and a pitcher of whatever was on tap – only to be met with a woman whose wrath can only be compared to that of a toddler being denied a cookie when she is both very – very tired and very – very hungry!
When my friends would share their outrage with me – I would ask – didn’t you guys discuss it? Didn’t you tell him what you wanted? (After all – I had been telling Jason for months that I wanted books and yarn at least twice a day!)
And inevitably they would reply – “I told him I didn’t want anything – BUT he should have known better . . .” or (my personal favorite) “He should have been able to guess what I really wanted . . . if he loved me . . .”
Wow – mean much?
Manipulating people is a pretty common way that we human beings interact. It is so unhealthy – but we love to do it. And that is exactly what is happening in our Gospel reading for today. The Pharisees and the Herodians are trying to manipulate Jesus. They were plotting to get Jesus into really big trouble.
Their plan is simple. They ask Jesus a question about taxes. This is a great place to start – if you want to get someone into trouble. After all – taxes always get people really worked up. And the Pharisees and the Herodians know this. So they ask Jesus if he thinks a good Jew should pay taxes to the Roman government.
This is a trick question. Because they know – no matter how Jesus answers the question – he will get into trouble with someone. If Jesus says – yes to paying taxes – then the religious leaders will condemn him. If Jesus says no to paying taxes – then he will get into trouble with the Romans.
To them it looks like no matter how Jesus answers their question – he is going to get into trouble. They think they have devised the perfect lose-lose situation for Jesus.
But Jesus knows what they are up to and doesn’t fall into their trap.
Instead Jesus asks to see a coin. Then he asks them whose picture is on the coin. And right on the front of that coin was a picture of the Roman emperor. So Jesus says: give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s.
Jesus is telling them and now us that we are called to honor both our government and our God.
But Jesus also wants us to know the government and God are never equals. Not even close! If we ever find ourselves in the truly difficult position of having to choose between our country and our God – Jesus tells us to choose God. God should always be first in our lives.
Actually – Jesus would tell us we should always choose God – no matter what the question is.
I think if you asked Jesus this question today he would ask you what is written on all of your money. And the answer is – of course – “In God we trust.” And then Jesus would say: believe your money. Trust in God.
But most of us don’t really believe the message on our money. We don’t put our highest trust in God. Instead we put our faith in our money and in the things our money buys. We put our trust in stuff. Rather than putting our trust in God. We cling to our money and our possessions. Rather than clinging to our God.
But we all know that money and possessions are fleeting. They just don’t last.
So Jesus reminds us we shouldn’t put our trust in things. Instead, we should put our trust in God who gave us those blessings in the first place. We should put our trust in the one who created us – in the one who is with us now and will be with us forever. We should put our trust in God.
Our God is trustworthy. Our God has proven this again and again. The Bible is one long – beautiful story about just how dependable and trustworthy our God truly is.
From the opening verses of Genesis to the very last lines of Revelation – the Bible tells us about just how dependable – trustworthy – and faithful our God is.
God was faithful to Adam and Eve – and to Sarah and Abraham. God was faithful to Joseph and all 11 of his brothers and their children and their children’s children’s children.
God was with the Chosen People on every step of their 40 year journey to the Promised Land – even when they didn’t trust God.
God was with the disciples on their good days and on their not so good days and each and every moment in between.
And God is with you too. God has been with you since the moment you came into being. God is with you today and will be with you tomorrow. And every single day for the rest of your eternal lives.
Our God is trustworthy. Our God and his love are more lasting than anything in this world. So believe what your money is telling you. You really can put your trust in God. AMEN.
I don’t know about you – but I have feeling much more stressed than usual lately. All of the stresses of 2020 just seem to be getting to me these days. All of those little things that didn’t bother me before – well – they are starting to make me feel just a wee bit stressed.
The pressure of having a full-time job plus sharing a second full-time teaching position with Jason is starting to show.
Our sweet Will is only 7 and there is absolutely no way he can do most of his assigned work on his own. And honestly – it would feel really mean to ask him to try when Jason and I can help him. Will needs us nearby to answer questions – to turn in his school work – to answer his questions – to keep him on task – and to answer his questions.
I often really enjoy this learning time with Will – but it has dramatically changed the shape of my days. Gone are the long – gloriously quiet hours for thinking – writing – making phone calls – and maybe even doing some professional reading. It feels like 1,000 years ago instead of just months ago!
I still do all of these things – but now I do them while holding my breath and waiting for the next interruption. For the next call of “Mom!” For the next “what am I having for lunch?” Or for my personal favorite – “Dad – where’s Mom?” Because you just know that Jason couldn’t answer the question!
Having less “alone” time is starting to make me a bit twitchy! A bit more snappish. A bit less me . . .
Quite frankly I am starting to fray around the edges. I am becoming someone I am less familiar with . . .
So yesterday I decided I would start getting up earlier. Jack is an early riser – so I will have some company – but still it is a lot quieter at our house in the early mornings hours. It is peaceful. I can drink my coffee and think and just breathe. I need to do some breathing. Lots and lots and lots of quiet breathing!
As I stood in the kitchen pouring my cup of coffee this morning – Jack walked into the kitchen and said – “Mom – you have got to come outside with me. There is a crescent moon and it is really beautiful. The sky is so clear! You can see so many stars.”
And so I grabbed my favorite warm – wooly sweater off of the back of the door and I headed outside with my beloved son and wow – was Jack right. We stood there in awe of the waning crescent moon and all of the twinkling stars shining in the early morning sky. Jack pointed out some constellations (because he is smart like that) and we just stood there together under the dark sky and took it all in. We let it wash over us.
My beloved son was my wise teacher and my gentle – loving pastor this morning. Jack was just what I needed today. He spoke the words of wisdom that I most needed to hear. Look Jack said to me – look at the awesome sky that our Lord – God created. Look and behold God’s mighty hand. Breathe – slow down – delight – focus – enjoy – appreciate – give thanks. You are not alone. We are never – ever alone. It is going to be okay. Really – it will be okay – because God is with us – even now in these strange – exhausting times.
And he might just have added – quietly – gently – in a whisper – because my Jack is a very – very nice boy – “Practice what you preach!”
But that’s the thing – my sermons – my preaching – my writing – my reading – my teaching are directed at the preacher too!
I always find it so odd – so incredibly puzzling that people think that pastors should be or are less flawed – less broken – less human than the rest of humanity.
When I was ordained I didn’t become less human. I simply publicly professed my faith in the Triune God and my willingness to share my faith in a very vocal – open way that lots of folks are not comfortable doing. I declared that I would be a lot more “out there” with my faith. But being called to be a pastor and ordained certainly don’t mean that I am less of a mess.
Pastors are people and because we are people – we flawed and stressed and broken too. All you have to do is ask my sons – they will tell you! Actually – I will tell you! I am feeling the strain of living in this Covid-19 world. I am tired of canceling things at church. I am tired of telling my sons “no” when they want to do something that was once okay – but now just isn’t safe. I miss coffee hours and fellowship and social activities at church. I miss committee meetings and planning exciting – glorious events. I miss letting my guard down. I miss my friends. I really – really – really miss Jack’s friends and Will’s friends too! I miss the casual ease of my old normal. I miss and long for quiet stretches to work and I know that Jason does too. I miss only having one job. I miss smiles. I really – really miss smiles.
But as Jack reminded me this morning we are not alone. God is with us. We are never – ever – ever alone.
As I stood on our front porch with Jack this morning the words from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans started running through my mind:
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:31, 35-39
Not even life can separate us from God. God has us. He promises us that he does.
So – I am going to make sure that I make time to stop and notice the beauty of the night sky and the blessings of my life. I am going to delight in the blessing of a patient – loving husband and two seriously nifty sons. I am going to give thanks for a vocation I have always loved. I am going to give thanks for Mrs. Mazzoni and Mrs. Graves and all of Will’s dedicated teachers and for all of the teachers who are supporting and teaching Jack during this wild time in our lives. I am going to breath and give thanks for my blessings. I am going to notice the blessings more and the stress-y stresses less.
Because there are far – far – far more blessings and beautiful moments than there are messy ones!
1O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.
6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Word of the Lord.
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. 2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. 3You restore my soul, O Lord, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake. 4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
1My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 22:1-14
1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What will the future hold?
I think this is a question a lot of us are asking these days. Maybe even over and over and over again. (Or that might just be me . . . It could just be me!)
What will the future hold for us and for our loved ones? For our friends and our neighbors? For our community and for our country? For the entire world?
What will the future hold?
We ask this question and we wonder and we worry. We ponder and we thoughtfully consider. And then – if you are anything like me – you probably worry some more!
After all – these are really and truly wildly bizarre times we are all living in right now.
What will the future hold?
Those of us with children and grandchildren going to school from our dining rooms – basements – and offices wonder when (or if) those great big – beautiful school doors will finally swing open to welcome our precious scholars back for in-person learning.
We likely could use a break from each other. All of this family bonding is taking an emotional toll on some of us. We love each other more than words can say – but all of this togetherness has gotten pretty intense!
Still others of us are deeply lonely right now and are feeling painfully isolated and alone because of the need to stay safe at home. Living alone can be really hard these days.
What will the future hold?
We want to know what the future holds for the economy too. Many of us are very worried about our jobs. Unemployment remains painfully high. Furloughs and lay-offs abound. So many of our friends – neighbors – and families are struggling and we want to know how long this is going to last. It already feels like it has been going on for 1,000 years now some days!
What will the future hold?
We are all asking ourselves what Thanksgiving and Christmas will look like in this Covid-19 world? How will we celebrate? Can we celebrate? With whom might we gather safely? After all – a Zoom Thanksgiving dinner lacks a certain sense of tradition.
What will the future hold?
All of us – no matter our circumstances – wonder when – or IF – we will ever get our former lives back. Lives that didn’t involve gallons of hand sanitizer – masks – social distancing – quarantines – isolation – and staying safe at home almost ALL of the time!
We want to toss our masks – hug our friends (and maybe even a friendly looking stranger or two) – while singing in public just because we can.
We want to throw an outrageously huge reunion celebration with no room for social distancing because we invited absolutely – positively everyone we know!
So what does the future hold?
Well – I can’t tell you when our kids and their dedicated teachers will head back to school for in-person learning. I don’t know when the economy will rebound. I have no idea how we are going to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas safely. (But we are working on a plan for Christmas Eve worship here at Saint Stephen.)
I may not be able to answer those questions – but I do know something seriously awesome about what the future holds. The prophet Isaiah told us all about it in our first reading when he gave us just a glimpse into what life in heaven is going to be like.
And it is such a gloriously amazing – beautiful – hope filled revelation of what awaits us in the future when we are reunited with our Lord in heaven.
Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah as he reveals to us just a glimpse of the awesome glories of heaven.
Let the words sink in . . . Imagine yourself there . . . Who do you hope will join you? What will you eat? What will you choose to drink at the heavenly banquet?
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:6-8)
I don’t know what tomorrow will hold or next month or next year. But I do know this – even now God is with us because he has promised to be with us always. God is our refuge and our shelter from the storms of this world. He is our shade from the scorching heat.
And finally – when the dead are raised to eternal life with God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – what an awesome celebration it will be!
It is going to be like the best family reunion – church supper – great big party you have ever been to! The food will be amazing. The wine will be awesome. And the companions will be simply too delightful for words! And best of all – death and dying and tears and suffering and pain and sin and disgrace and shame will be no more!
Imagine that! Just imagine that! Oh what glorious day of rejoicing that will be my sisters and brothers. And that is what our future holds! That is what awaits us all in heaven. Oh what a day of rejoicing it will be! Truly this is Good News – Amen.
I love flowers. I am absolutely passionate about wildflowers. When we hike I regularly force my poor – long suffering family to stop and look at ALL of the lovely wildflowers that we pass by. And the ferns that grow in the woods – well ferns both enchant and delight me! They come in so many shapes – sizes and shades of green.
I also love trees and the way the sun shines through their leaves. It is endlessly fascinating to watch the way the light dances and shifts and changes from moment to moment. I am a real – honest to goodness tree hugger in both word and deed!
I can and do watch the sky for a very long time and not get bored. The way the blues shift and change is mesmerizing. The clouds and the sunlight play together in ways that delight me. I find it all so very interesting.
I love walking and hiking. The feel of my feet hitting a trail just does something good for my soul. It always has.
I love getting dirt on my shoes! And I joke that you should never – ever trust a “hiker” wearing pristinely clean hiking shoes, because they clearly aren’t a “real” hiker. Real hikers are people with a smudge or two of mud someplace. Real hikers dig in and get messy!
I like mud and messes and dirt and dust and just about everything that comes with being outside.
I will gladly spend all day outside from dawn until dusk adventuring and exploring. Watching and listening and just taking it all in.
And thankfully Jason, Jack, and Will all agree with me. All three of my men also love a good day of adventuring in the great outdoors. They too like to dig in and really enjoy God’s creation – but they aren’t quite as delighted by pretty wildflowers as I am. Will gets tired of hiking long before the rest of us do. They may smile politely when I go on and on about the sun shining through the trees – because they are polite – kind men (but even I know when I have pushed my luck). They will look at the sky with me – but eventually they have their fill of that too.
But that’s okay. It isn’t all about me. Not even close. Families are about meeting the needs of everyone in the family.
And frankly – it totally stinks to be stuck in a family where only one person’s likes and dislikes determine what everyone else has to do all of the time. And you miss out on powerful opportunities to learn and grow as a human being when you insist on getting your way all of the time.
Sometimes you need to do something that is outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes you need to do something new and different. Sometimes you need to let someone else do the choosing and let someone else take the lead. Sometimes you need to have a brand new experience. Sometimes you need to ask someone else what he would like to do and then jump in with both feet and willing heart and soul!
Jason and I have been doing this with the McFarland sons their entire lives and wow have our sons taught us the coolest – most amazing things over the years. Things I would know nothing about if I hadn’t let them take the lead and let them teach me. My boys are excellent teachers and have been since they were just tiny guys. (Most children amazing teachers!)
For a long time now Will has been passionate about “creatures.” He is particularly intrigued by snakes and spiders. And when asked what he would like to do these days – Will wants to go searching for snakes and frogs and spiders and salamanders and just about any other sort of creepy – crawly thing the good Lord created.
So even though that really – really isn’t how I would choose to spend a day out in nature that is exactly what we do anyway. We set forth to seek snakes – because it isn’t about me. It’s about Will and Jack and the snakes! And thanks to Will and Jack’s incredible snake finding skills – we almost ALWAYS find snakes – and snakes – and more snakes.
I must say these days spent seeking snakes are some of my fondest memories of this time in my life. I absolutely – positively love it!
Seriously – I love going “snaking” with my sons.
I look forward to hearing Will yell – “SNAKE!!!!” And when he does I hurry toward Will and Jack and their newest snake as fast as I can – instead of away from them and their snake-y find!
I very much doubt that snakes will ever be my thing. I doubt I will develop a passion for snakes. But my sons love snakes. My sons are passionate about snakes. My sons are absolutely intrigued by them.
My sons are teaching me about snakes and they are teaching me “snake appreciation!”
And snakes – well – thanks to Will and Jack – snakes are kind of – sort of growing on me . . . but only a very – very – very tiny bit so far. I am pretty sure that the flowers and the sky and the trees will still be my “thing.”
So I will point out the flowers and they will take me snake seeking and together we will learn from one another. I think this is a truly wonderful arrangement. And I look forward to many more adventures and opportunities to learn from my sons. I often wonder what Jack and Will will teach me next?!?!
I encourage you to let someone in your life share her passion with you. Does your sister have a passion for modern art that has always left your scratching your head? Perhaps your husband’s love of football dumbfounds you or your daughter’s passion for sloths and newts stumps you. Does your best friend rave about tea and you think it tastes like weeds? Maybe you think your cousin is nuts to waste so much time playing Scrabble or Bingo or euchre. Does your neighbor spend hours staring through a telescope or maybe she is into miniature trains or restoring vintage cars?
We all know and love people who are intrigued by and passionate about wildly different interests from our own.
I encourage you to learn something new from someone in your life who is passionate about it. Instead of rolling your eyes when your crazy pastor talks about knitting and yarn yet again – ask her why she started knitting and why she loves to knit and really and truly listen. And if you can – give it a try. Learn about it. Learn something new.
You don’t have to be sitting in the same room with someone to get to know them better and to learn from them. You can chat on the phone or over Zoom and learn so much and grow and expand your horizons.
The world can be such an intriguing place and when we take the opportunity to learn from one another and to spend time with one another and to grow life is even richer and more blessed.
I look forward to hearing about your passions and your interests and about what you love and all about what makes you – you! And I hope that you will join me in exploring and adventuring and maybe finding a new interest or passion of your own. Who knows maybe Jack – Jason – Will and I will meet you at the river flipping rocks and you can join us on a snaking expedition in the spring!
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watch-tower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
The Word of the Lord.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted. Amen.
[Paul writes:] If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 21:33-46
[ Jesus said to the people:] ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
These are some really and truly strange times that we are all living through right now – aren’t they? Puzzling times . . . stressful times . . . exhausting times . . . frightening times.
It is awfully hard to wrap your mind around just how much our world has changed in such a short time.
People are doing all sorts of interesting things and having all sorts of intriguing responses to this Covid-19 world we are all living in.
Some folks are doing absolutely crazy – downright freakishly bizarre things like cleaning out their garages and their basements and their closets. I have read that donations to places like Good Will are way – way up thanks to all of this cleaning out that folks are doing! Apparently this spring garbage removal companies couldn’t keep up with the increased demand for their services!
Cleaning isn’t for everyone – so other people are exercising more and trying to eat healthier these days. Still other folks have decided that now is the time to start reading more. Apparently – reading is cool again! (Finally something that I love to do is cool!)
Other people are finding time for hobbies that they hadn’t made time for in the past – like baking sourdough bread – canning and sewing.
Some folks are taking the time to reconnect with friends from their past and more distant family members. Folks are calling and zooming with people they haven’t spoken with in years and sometimes in decades!
It is intriguing to hear about all of the ways we are responding to this strange new world we are all living in.
But one theme that keeps coming up in the conversations that I have been having over the past several months – is that living through a global pandemic has a lot of us pausing to reflect on what is really and truly important to us.
These are times that might just cause a person to stop and do some serious thinking about life and the meaning of life. Or at the very least – perhaps some reevaluation of the way we are living our lives.
We are thinking about what matters the most to us and our loved ones . . .
And reconsidering what our priorities really should be . . .
We are pondering how we want to spend our time . . .
And thinking about what kind of people we want to be in this world . . .
Our William calls this sort of thinking – “Thinking – Big – Thinks.”
In his letter to the Philippians – Saint Paul is doing just that. Paul is “thinking big thinks” about the meaning and purpose of his life. Paul is thinking deeply about what really and truly matters in this one – brief earthly life we are all blessed to live. Paul is asking himself – “what really and truly matters in this life?” He is asking himself what he wants to focus his life on.
As he does this – Paul reviews his life. Paul assesses what he has accomplished so far. He goes over his rather impressive list of accomplishments. And by the standards of his day – Paul had quite the impressive resume. Paul was already a bit of a rock star long before he became known to us as Saint Paul.
Paul was totally rocking it in the “great man of the faith department.”
But Paul says – he has come to an incredibly important realization! What really and truly matters to him has changed dramatically. Paul wants to be different. It is time for a change. Actually it is time for a seriously – big change in his life!
For years and years of Paul’s life what mattered the most to him was being an awesome Pharisee and an upholder of the Old Testament laws. He was so incredibly devoted to his Jewish faith that he actually worked to destroy the early Christian church and he helped persecute and even kill Christians.
But now – well – now – Paul boldly declares he has changed. Paul says nothing he is or does or will ever do in this life could matter more than knowing Jesus Christ his Lord!!!
Think about that – imagine that!
Imagine making such a bold statement of faith!
Imagine sharing that with the world – with your family – with your friends – with your co-workers – with your neighbors – with your faith community?!? Imagine putting that out there on social media for the whole world to read . . .
Paul boldly declares that Jesus is what matters the most to him now. That his priorities have shifted and changed. Now his focus will be on Christ Jesus his Lord from this day forevermore!
What matters to you?
What do you choose to center your life around?
What gives your life purpose and meaning?
What goal are you straining toward in this life and beyond?
Is your goal Christ Jesus your Lord? Is it really? Really? (I ask myself this – all of the time?!?!)
There are so many things in this life. So many interesting pursuits. So many ways to spend our days. But like Paul – I believe that true joy and true happiness and true meaning in this life are found when we make our goal Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.