O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
The Word of the Lord.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will your anger fume when your people pray?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
You have made us the derision of our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine upon us, and weshall be saved.
Let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one you have made so strong for yourself.
And so will we never turn away from you;
give us life, that we may call upon your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
One of my favorite things about being part of any family (my beloved church family – my wild and wonderful nuclear family – or the amazing McFarland clan) is the opportunity to see life from another perspective. I truly consider this to be one of my life’s greatest blessings. Yes – I may find myself shaking my head in wonder and even complete awe on occasion at another person’s perspective – but I do find other folks’ perspectives intriguing.
I delight in learning from other people. I love trying to see life through someone else’s eyes.
I only know what it is like to see things and experience life from my perspective. I only know what it is like to see things from my point of view – from my vantage point. I have absolutely – positively no idea what things look like from where you are standing. I have never walked in your shoes. I haven’t seen what you have or felt or heard or done what you have.
I know what I think is beautiful. I know what I think is delicious to eat and drink. I know what I like to read. I know how I like to spend a rainy afternoon. I know what I think is interesting and boring and tolerable and just plain wretchedly miserable.
And I find it so hilariously funny when something that I delight in – is someone else’s nemesis or vice versa!
For instance – few things in this life make me happier than a nice long hike along a beautiful woodsy trail. And I go to the mall to shop perhaps 4 times a year – if that. Hiking is my joy and heading to the mall – not so much. (Although Jason would argue otherwise – but he is soooooo cheap. I mean careful with money!)
And all throughout Covid-19 I have heard news stories about how people are “discovering” the Great Outdoors now that malls aren’t safe! Shockingly folks are finding that “it isn’t so bad out there in nature . . .” But I do get the sense once malls are safe – these folks will likely be returning the Great Outdoors to me! (I have seen some of them trying to explore the Great Outdoors and they look afraid of nature . . . sort of like me at the mall actually . . .)
Jack was sharing his trigonometry test score with me last night and it occurred to me that at 17 my oldest son has now had more math than me! And I got to thinking about how much both Jack and Will love – love – love math. I find math painfully – miserably – wretchedly boring. Drool comes out of my mouth when I have to do anything math-y. Math is their favorite subject in school. Math was my least favorite subject in school.
But Jack doesn’t enjoy reading and I love – love – love WORDS. I devour words. I read at least 3 books a week. I may not love math – but I love people who do. And I find that their perspective on life is just a bit different than mine and I can learn from them.
I love Bible study for the same reasons. I love how I will read a Bible passage and come to one understanding and Cheryl will offer another insight into the passage because of her understanding of the Bible passage. And then Marilyn will weigh in and then Peggy will share. Followed by a hard hitting question from Pat that gets us all thinking big thinks and on and on we go. Pat won’t see the text from the perspective of a 40 something mother – wife – and pastor – because he is none of those things and neither is Buddy. And I love this! I love hearing what others bring to the table and to the discussion. I delight in other folks’ perspectives and insights. I learn so much from other peoples’ insights and understanding and especially from their questions.
I invite and encourage you to consider joining us for Zoom Bible study. We meet most Sunday evenings at 7:00 pm. We are taking this upcoming Sunday off for Thanksgiving – but we would love to have you join us on Sunday, December 6th at 7:00 pm.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and praise the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant.
The Word of our Lord.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, praise his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Amen.
Second Reading Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, 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. Keep 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 our Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Wow – what a year we all have been living through. Seriously – what a year 2020 has turned out to be. This year has certainly been taking all of us on one wild – weird – and not so very wonderful ride – hasn’t it?
This year has been filled with all sorts of changes. And almost all of these changes are ones we wish we hadn’t needed to make.
The masks – the social distancing. Needing to stay safely at home day after day after day with the same people (or no people at all) for months now. The gallons of hand sanitizer. Working from home. Zoom Sunday school (which is actually a ton of fun.) School from the dining room and the basement or your bedroom.
No trips to the mall or the movie theater or anywhere really. No hanging out with friends. No sports.
We had hoped canceling in-person worship because of Covid-19 was behind us – but sadly – it is not.
That innocent sneeze or cough in the grocery store now causes everyone in the entire store to turn and stare.
And we have been at this for months now. (It has been 254 days and counting since March 13th when Jefferson County Public Schools sent the McFarland sons home to Jason and me. And told us we had to keep them – apparently FOREVER!)
It feels like we have given up so much this year. We have let go of so many activities and traditions that are dear to us. We skipped Easter worship and Easter gatherings with family. We said no to Derby parties and graduation celebrations. We toned down Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We passed up Fourth of July fireworks and picnics. We canceled vacation Bible school. We skipped summer vacations to the beach and our annual Labor Day cookouts.
But still the pandemic has spread and spread and spread some more.
And now Thanksgiving is upon us. I think most of us naively assumed – imagined – hoped this horrible virus would be under control by Thanksgiving. But the Covid-19 numbers continue to rise dramatically. Covid-19 is spreading. And more of our friends and our neighbors and our loved ones are getting sick.
So we are all being strongly advised to choose a different sort of Thanksgiving this year. We are being asked to sacrifice to keep our loved ones and ourselves safer. We are being asked to travel less and Zoom more. We are being advised to keep our masks firmly in place and our Thanksgiving gatherings very small.
We are being asked to make real sacrifices.
And so you may be approaching this Thanksgiving feeling not particularly celebratory. You may be feeling exhausted and just plain fed up with Covid-19.
You may be feeling grumpy and annoyed with staying safe at home.
You may be feeling sad – because your Thanksgiving won’t be anything like you wish it could be.
You may be just plain angry you can’t have the Thanksgiving you want to have with the folks you long to see.
Perhaps you simply aren’t feeling particularly thankful. You may even be wondering what on earth any of us has to be thankful for. . . After all living through a global pandemic has a way of making a person feel less thankful than usual.
And yet – here we are. Thanksgiving has arrived. Thanksgiving is upon us whether we are feeling happy about or pleased with the situation or not.
I suppose we could just ignore the holiday. We could just pretend Thanksgiving wasn’t happening and move right on to Christmas like all of the retail stores want us to. We could act like Thanksgiving simply didn’t make it onto our 2020 calendars. We could act like this upcoming Thursday was just another day in quarantine – but I would assert that we would do so at our peril. It would be a mistake to ignore Thanksgiving this year.
This year of all years – we each need to pause and to think deeply about what we have to be thankful for. We need to consider God’s blessings to us.
Yes – this year has been challenging. Yes – we have made so many changes. Of course the news is scary and sad. Yes – we are fed up. But none of this means our lives are devoid of God’s blessings. None of this means God has forgotten us or forsaken us.
None of this means we don’t have blessings from God for which we can be truly thankful.
Our Bible readings this week are all about giving thanks. And each of them remind us we are called to give God thanks throughout our lives. We are called to be grateful people. We are called to remember God blesses us over and over again. Even now – in the middle of this wretched global pandemic – our Lord has continued to bless us.
As God’s people we are called to give God thanks for his blessings to us.
And so I ask you when was the last time you gave thanks for all of those things we so often take for granted?
When was the last time we gave God thanks for the clothes on our backs – the air we breathe – the food in our refrigerators – the water we drink – the homes we live in and the people in our lives?
Or for our jobs, our church, our children’s faithful teachers, and our brothers and sisters in Christ?
When was the last time we thanked God for forgiving our sins?
When was the last time we remembered to tell God thank you for anything?
It is incredibly easy to forget to say thank you to God for all of the ways he has blessed us – especially now when many of us are feeling disappointed and stressed and sad.
It is easy to take God’s blessing to us for granted. And so I think today is a perfect time to think about all of the ways our Lord has blessed us. Thank God for the ways He has blessed you. Thank God for the big blessings in your life – but also for the small blessings. We are blessed. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” – Psalm 46:11
This is a letter I hoped never to write. When we resumed in-person worship in June, I hoped canceling worship at Saint Stephen because of Covid-19 was behind us. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 case numbers have continued to rise. Now they are rising dramatically. More and more of our dear friends, neighbors, and beloved family members are falling ill.
On Tuesday, November 17th, Gov. Andy Beshear again warned Kentuckians that we must take action to stop Covid-19, as cases are increasing rapidly in our commonwealth. Gov. Beshear has asked that we all come together and do our part.
The White House Federal Covid-19 Report for Kentucky explains that “there is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement, but rather further deterioration. Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to sustain our health care system. The current situation is worsening. All Kentuckians need to do their part to stop the spread of Covid-19. Hospitalizations and deaths will likely progress in the state if Kentuckians don’t take immediate action to flatten the curve.”
On Thursday, November 19th Bishop William Gafkjen strongly recommended that all of the ELCA churches in the Indiana-Kentucky Synod immediately suspend in-person worship.
The Saint Stephen church council has voted to do our part to try to slow the spread of Covid-19.
At our November church council meeting on Thursday, November 19th the Saint Stephen church council and I voted to cancel in-person worship at Saint Stephen through December of 2020 or until it is significantly safer for us to gather for in-person worship.
We know this is particularly difficult and sad as we approach Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, but we believe this is the proper course of action for our Christian community. As hard as it is – the health experts tell us – staying home is one of the very best ways we can help get this pandemic under control. We want to be wise and faithful stewards of our health and the health of our community. Canceling in-person worship is one significant way we can be faithful stewards of this blessing from God.
We will truly miss worshiping our Lord with you, but we firmly believe this is the right decision. It is important for all of us to remember we are doing this for the health of our entire nation.
We will keep you informed through email communication, a winter newsletter, and through updates on the church website: ststephen-louisville.com.
I am still working full-time. If you would like to talk please reach out and let me know. We can set up a time to talk on the phone. The church office phone number is (502)239-7778 and my cell phone number is (502)518-6528. If your computer has a camera – we can also chat on Zoom.
I will be actively posting on my blog pastorkerri.com. Every Saturday I will post scripture readings there for us to think about together. We will post sermons there each Sunday in both written and video formats. Throughout the week I will continue to share with you some thoughts about what God is up to in our world and in our lives. The blog has a place for you to comment. I encourage you to share your thoughts.
I also want to invite you to join us for Zoom Sunday school. We gather most Sunday evenings at 7:00 pm to study God’s Word, share in lively conversation, and generally to delight in being sisters and brothers in Christ. I send out a new link for Zoom Sunday school each week. Please consider joining us.
Please know you are all very much in my heart, thoughts, and prayers. I pray for you all daily. Like Saint Paul longed to see his brothers and sisters in Christ in the church in ancient Rome – I too long to see you.
One of my favorite quotations these days is – “The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.” – William Penn
I try to live this way. I try to live focused on the good and on God’s wonderful blessings – even (especially) when life is harder than I wish it were.
These words of wisdom have been a wonderful reminder to me that I am blessed ALL of the time – even when life is challenging. These words also remind me that I will be so much happier if I spend my life focusing on my blessings and on the good things that are happening in my life.
I really and truly do try to seek the best in a situation. I look for rainbows and silver linings!
I do this because I have found I am much – much happier when I am focused on God’s blessings to me. I am so much happier and more content when I am focusing my attention on the good things in my life. I have also found that other folks are happier to be around someone who is focused on the good in things and on God’s blessings.
I know I have mentioned it before – but I have lived the opposite way. I have lived with negativity and unhappiness and fault-finding. I was raised to look for the bad in things and most especially in myself. My parents were not positive or gracious people.
It was such a sad and small way of living. In college (thanks to Jason and my friends Bethany and Jen) I realized what life could be like when you had the freedom to focus on the good and on God’s blessings. This was clearly a much happier way of living.
I won’t say that I always get it right or that I am a rock star at gratitude. Far from it! But I do try to live gratefully and graciously and thankfully. And honestly when I do – I am happier.
These past months have been so hard on so many of us. Covid-19 has changed our lives in dramatic – uncomfortable ways. It would be easy to become focused on all of the bad news – because there is so much bad news out there. It would be easy to decide that we aren’t very blessed or blessed at all these days. It would be easy to decide to be miserable and sad all of the time. It would be easy to surrender to misery and despair.
But in spite of the wretched – awful – miserable pandemic that is raging and turning our lives upside down and inside out – I believe that we are still blessed. I believe God is with us. And we will be so much happier if we look for the good and the blessings and the bright spots in our lives.
One of the blessings of my fall has been Will’s teacher – Mrs. Mazzoni. She met Will for about 30 seconds in-person during a drive-thru orientation at Will’s school late this summer and yet she has formed a relationship with him. And she seems to have done the same with all of her students. You can tell from her interactions with them that she cares about them and knows what makes them tick. She also seems to be (almost) infinitely patient with these wild and wonderful little people. Herding cats and teaching second graders (on-line) seem to have a lot in common! I was concerned about how starting NTI with a teacher Will had never really met would work – but it has gone quite smoothly at our house. Mrs. Mazzoni is a blessing! I thank our Lord for Mrs. Mazzoni over and over and over again.
Cheryl is a wonderful blessing to me (and to our entire Christian community). From the moment I walked through the doors of Saint Stephen with my first box of books – Cheryl has been making my life easier and more pleasant and much more organized! Cheryl proofreads like the editor of a major publisher. Cheryl keeps track of Lutherans like a PI or member of an intelligence agency (but in a really loving – kind way). Seriously – her list of contact information is almost always up to date! She has the memory of a wise sage (but is clearly still a youth herself). She gives impeccable directions. She is generous and kind and most wonderfully of all – she is patient with me! (I know that I can take a lot of patience sometimes. I have seen it in Jason’s eyes and now in Jack’s eyes too . . ) Saint Stephen is so very blessed to have Cheryl Markley in the office and as a part of our Christian community.
I have been thinking a lot about how thankful I am for Buddy Zimmerman lately (and not just because he writes my paychecks)! Ever since Covid-19 started Buddy has been the one and only offering counter at church. Every week – without fail – Buddy counts the offering and makes the deposit. And he also stops by the church almost every day to check the mail and to make sure everything is okay. I am so thankful for Buddy’s loving dedication to our Christian community. I count Buddy as a blessing too!
Even in the midst of this horrible pandemic – I find that my life is filled with blessings.
I try to be a person who remembers to give God thanks for his blessings to me in my daily life. I try to be grateful. I try to pause every single day to give God thanks for all of the amazing blessings he showers upon me.
Some days thanksgiving comes so naturally and so easily. Thanksgiving and gratitude just flow out of me. Some days I remember to make my list of blessings and to tell God thank you.
Other days are harder. Other days I struggle to remember how deeply and abundantly blessed I am. Other days I am grumpy or sad or in pain or full of myself and not all that good at remembering to say thank you. Some days I am just plain selfish and self-centered!
But this much I know – I am much – much happier when I remember to give God thanks. I am kinder and more thoughtful when I live with an attitude of thanksgiving. Science backs me up on this. Studies have shown that people who list their blessings are happier and experience less depression and anxiety. And these daily lists of blessings don’t need to be long. Just listing three or four blessings each day is enough. Wow – now that is seriously cool!
I have been thinking about thanksgiving and gratitude even more than usual lately. And I have found that in spite of Covid-19 and migraines and learning to live with an autoimmune disease and the busyness of being a mom and wife and pastor and now teacher too – I am so incredibly wildly and wonderfully blessed. Seriously – so very – very – very blessed.
I am tripping over God’s blessings all day long when I open my heart to seeing God’s blessings to me. It really and truly is all about being open to seeing our blessings from God – because God’s blessings to us are literally everywhere!
Tuesday one blessing I kept noticing was the blessing of where I work. I love where I work. Not everyone gets to work in such a beautiful – peaceful – sacred space. I love Saint Stephen on Sunday mornings when it is full of Lutherans. I love Saint Stephen when it is noisy and busy and bustling – but I also love Saint Stephen when it is quiet and all I hear is the hum of traffic of Bardstown Road. I particularly love being able to watch the light stream through the stained glass windows.
As I worked in the sanctuary on Tuesday I noticed that our eternal candle was burning and our paraments and banners where the right colors for the church season. And I thought of Steve Sarson. I give thanks for Steven so often – because no matter what his work travel schedule is Steve makes sure the paraments and banners are changed. And when Covid-19 isn’t raging Steve travels a lot for work. This task can be time consuming – but Steven always does it with reverence and grace and care. I have been the pastor at Saint Stephen for almost 10 years now and I have never needed to change a single parament or banner – EVER!
Yesterday evening as one of my greatest blessings (my sweet William) and I left church for the day, Rod Firquin and Matt Young were standing in the church parking lot having an important discussion about the church rental house (from a safe social distance. I was very proud of their social distancing and I know our governor would be too!) And I thought to myself – wow – more blessings from God. Seriously. I know Rod and Matt are blessings to Brenda and Lori and to their beloved children and grandchildren – but both of these guys regularly make it onto my mental gratitude lists. They are blessings for whom I am truly thankful.
Rod has been the faithful church council president of Saint Stephen for almost seven years now and he is such an incredible blessing to our Christian community. Rod is willing to do everything around Saint Stephen from serving as the deacon to cleaning the restrooms! Rod reads those crazy Old Testament names boldly and with confidence and then he climbs up on the roof to check for hail damage. In the midst of Covid-19 – it has been such a blessing to know Rod is sharing the church leadership helm with me.
And Matt. Matt can fix anything or if he doesn’t have the time he knows who can! Matt is so willing to help – to pitch in – to come up with a solution – and to get the hard work at church done. Matt does it all with a smile too! I would not do some of the jobs Matt does for us with a smile . . . Matt’s talents and skills have been such blessings to our Christian community.
And Matt, Lori, and Chloe sit in the very front of the church almost every week so the deacon and I are not lonely way up there by ourselves! Matt says he hears better up front – but I prefer to think he and Lori are keeping me company. (William says Lori gives great back scratches too when my sermons get a bit long. So Lori must scratch Will’s back EVERY week!)
I am so blessed. I am deeply – wildly – wonderfully blessed. God showers me with blessings each and every single day of my life.
I am going to spend the next few weeks keeping my eyes peeled and my heart open to God’s blessings to me. I am going to try to remember that God is showering me with blessings all of the time. I am going to strive to see these blessings from God and to tell our Lord thank you. I invite you to join me.
Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests.
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.” Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.
The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
The Word of the Lord.
Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God. You turn us back to the dust and say, “Turn back, O children of earth.” For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night; you sweep them away like a dream, they fade away suddenly like the grass: in the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered. For we are consumed by your anger; we are afraid because of your wrath. Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance. When you are angry, all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone. Who regards the power of your wrath? Who rightly fears your indignation? So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
The Word of the Lord.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I will admit to being a bit of an odd duck. I know plenty of folks find me a bit “quirky.” What with the yarn and the tree hugging and the Jesus talk. Plus the hippy-dippy diet and all of those God sightings and then there is all of the yarn. Sometimes it is like I am a visitor from another planet!
And frankly there are plenty of times I just don’t understand the world we are all living in. Seriously – I just don’t get it at all!
For instance – I just don’t get all of the meanness. I don’t understand saying or doing hurtful things to other people on purpose just because you can. Of course – I understand how it might happen by accident. But on purpose . . . that I don’t understand at all.
Seriously – my brain just cannot comprehend the mean – hurtful way some folks talk to and about each other. Often over and over and over again.
Because I am painfully – even shockingly un-cool or whatever the cool kids are calling themselves these days – I don’t do much social media. I just can’t keep up so I don’t even try. But I do hang out on Ravelry. Ravelry is a social media website for yarny people like me.
And before you start rolling your eyes too much – I will have you know there are over 9 million members. (Yes – you heard me correctly – there are 9 million members and growing every single day.)
Anyway – Ravelry is full of folks’ knitting projects. Some of the knitting projects are so magnificently beautiful they leave me in awe. And some knitters’ projects just plain leave me wondering why?!? Why would anyone spend hours and hours of their lives laboring away to make that?!?
(Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.)
Is that pastel pink – wild orange – glowing red – and intriguing shade of brown sweater with an upside down reindeer on it – my style? Not at all. Would I spend 80 precious hours of my life knitting it? No way.
But would I tell the knitter who is proudly modeling her new creation with a huge smile on her face that her sweater is ugly and she looks ridiculous wearing it? No – of course not! Never – never – never!
That would be incredibly unhelpful – hurtful and just plain mean. And yet some people do just that.
And this sort of behavior is not limited to knitting. It is everywhere. Absolutely – positively EVERYWHERE! But why? Why spread hurt? Why intentionally choose to be mean? Why would this be the way you opted to live in the world?
Why treat others as if they were less human than you are? Or feel less deeply than we ourselves do? Why spread more hurt and meanness in the world? Isn’t life hard enough without – us making it harder by being mean to each other?
In our second reading for today Saint Paul calls us to be very – very different kinds of people. First Paul calls us to be people of faith – hope – and love. And then Saint Paul declares we are all called to “encourage one another and to build each other up. . .”
Think about those words. Let those words really sink in. As Christians – as God’s followers in this world we are all called to “encourage one another and build each other up . . .”
These words sound so simple – but their message to us is far from simple. Their message is actually radical. Their message is wildly counter-cultural. Paul is telling us that we are called to be different. We are called to be encouragers and people who spread love and kindness. We are called to build one another up!
Saint Paul declares to us that ALL of the words that come from our mouths and from our finger tips should be loving words – encouraging words – words that lift people up and make the world a better – kinder – more loving place. Paul tells us we need to think before we speak. We need to be careful and thoughtful. We need to be loving and gentle and different. We are called to be God’s people in this world.
And not just our words – but our actions too. We are supposed to be encouragers – and helpers – and people who actively spread God’s love in this world. We are supposed to be looking for opportunities to help other people and to be kind and loving to one another.
We are called to build one another up. We are supposed to be busy doing this!
When I took my first call as a pastor – the church president sat me down early one Monday morning and informed me that “No news was good news.”
“Pastor Kerri” – John declared – “If you don’t hear us complaining about you – you can assume you are doing okay and we are happy with you and the job you are doing . . .”
“Okay – sounds great!” I replied and I sincerely meant it.
But really – that isn’t the way we should be – is it? (And no I am not digging for compliments!!! Seriously – not digging for compliments at all.)
We should all be actively encouraging one another. We should be busy building one another up. We should be speaking words of love and thanks and appreciation and encouragement to one another.
Our God calls us to be different. Our God calls us to be encouragers. Our God calls us to be loving and kind and helpful.
So share those compliments! Encourage one another. Thank each other. Say nice things. Send those cards and texts and emails that spread love and kindness and appreciation. Make those phone calls that share God’s love and your own.
Be different. Be loving. Be kind. Be encouragers! Be who your God has called you to be. Amen!
I am a summer person. Summer is my season. My love for summer is deep and abiding.
I don’t mind the heat. It is very rarely too hot for me. When the rest of the world feels like they are going to melt from the heat – I am likely completely and utterly comfortable. I might even be chilly and be thinking about throwing on a cardigan!
I love the long days filled with glorious sunshine. Blue skies literally make me smile. Blue skies fill me with joy and make my heart sing!
I love gardening. I enjoy watering my plants. I don’t even mind weeding. One of my favorite evening activities is wandering through our yard puttering around looking at all of the flowers and vegetables we grow in the summer. The bees and I love all of my flowers!
All of the 100’s maybe 1000’s of shades of green of summer never cease to delight and amaze me. I constantly find myself transfixed by all of the green! I love – love – love the color green.
I feel more alive in the summer. I am pretty sure I am a much nicer person in the summer!
Fall and winter are hard for me. I do not like them. I suppose fall is okay-ish. But I do hold a serious grudge against fall, because fall means summer is over. And well – winter is just wretchedly – miserably awful.
I am always amazed/puzzled/left in complete and utter disbelief when people tell me that fall is their favorite season or that they just love winter. Why? WHY?? I wonder . . . what is there to like about those seasons when the nights are long and the days are so very – very short? How can anyone love all of that gray and brown and more gray? Everything is just so not GREEN! And don’t even get me started on the fact that I am cold to the core of my very being from Thanksgiving until Easter! There aren’t enough hats and scarves and wool sweaters in the world to keep me warm and I have knit A LOT of them.
I spend most of the fall mourning the end of my beloved summer, and I spend the entire winter longing for summer.
I was perfectly okay with this truly marvelous attitude of mine until my sons both pointed out my hypocrisy this week! (Yes – BOTH of them in the same week!!)
Will loves winter – because our sweet boy was born on the first day of winter. Also our Will has the best attitude of anyone I have ever met. Seriously – this kid is Mr. Bright and Shiny and Sunny! I totally want to be just like our Will when I grow up! He is optimistic in a way few other people on this planet are. He can even find the silver lining in winter!
Jack simply noted that God made ALL of the seasons . . . and perhaps I should try to see the good and the blessings in EVERYTHING God has made. Hmmm . . .
Boy – it can require some humility when your beloved children start to mature and get all wise and begin to teach you stuff!
I pointed this out to Jason. And his response was – “That sounds like a challenge!” After almost 30 years together – Jason knows I very – very rarely back down from a challenge.
Okay – then. The McFarland men have thrown down the gauntlet! They have issued a challenge! They have come awfully close to calling this annoying – whining – fall disliking – winter hating pastor/wife/mom a hypocrite. Clearly I shall now have to seek God’s presence even during the fall and the winter. Rumor has it that God is present with us ALL of the time – in every single season (even winter)!?!
Yesterday evening while William played outside and enjoyed the gloriously awesome, summery temperatures – I grabbed the camera and tried to find my “good” attitude and went seeking reminders of God’s presence in our world (even in the fall). . .
Wow – Jack – Will – and Jason are right (sometimes). God is present with us even in a season that isn’t summer! I just had to dig a bit deeper. I had to open my eyes a bit wider. I had to listen a bit longer. It obviously doesn’t have anything to do with God – just me and my brokenness and my bad attitude and my blindness. My human human-ness was showing again!
So – I shall keep seeking God’s presence- because I know I will keep finding our Lord. After all – God has promised us that he is always present with us.
Where are you seeking and seeing God’s presence in your own lives these days?
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The Word of the Lord.
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me! Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me. Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’ turn back because of their shame.
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’ But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay! Amen.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 25:1-13
Then Jesus said – ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Wow – this year has been a wild one hasn’t it? Sometimes it feels like I am living someone else’s life. Or that I have entered a really – really strange alternate reality (Why yes – I have watched a lot of Star Trek).
This just doesn’t feel like my life. I sometimes wonder if I will wake up and all of this craziness will have just been a seriously bad dream (fingers crossed on this one).
And I know that I am not alone in this. Lots of folks are feeling like 2020 has been the strangest year of their lives.
This time last year – most of us thought we knew what the future held – and I am guessing none of us were expecting a global pandemic! I know I certainly wasn’t.
I think one reason this year has been so hard for us – is because we just don’t know what to expect anymore. So much has changed and so much just keeps changing so very – very quickly.
It feels like we have had to change almost everything in our lives. And while not everything has changed a whole lot has changed. The way we worship our Lord has changed. The way we educate our children has changed. The way we buy our groceries has changed. The way many of us work has changed. The way we celebrate and the way we mourn have changed too.
All of this change and uncertainty can leave us wondering what on earth the future will hold for us and for our loved ones! It can leave us feeling unmoored and unsettled and perhaps even afraid of the future. The future that once seemed bright and hopeful and exciting – now feels dark – ominous and rather threatening for some of us.
No matter how you are feeling about your present and our future – I am guessing you are a bit curious about what the future holds. Curiosity about the future seems to be a pretty basic part of human nature.
People do all sorts of things to try to figure out what the future holds.
Some folks faithfully read their horoscopes every single day. But honestly whenever I read my horoscope – I am left feeling vaguely confused. They rarely make much sense to me.
That said – I must say that I really – really liked my horoscope for this past Tuesday. Because it declared that “I could do no wrong.” Seriously – that was the best horoscope ever! I am so totally getting that printed on a t-shirt!
When I shared this intriguing little tid-bit of information with Jason – his response was – “How is that different from any other day?” I knew I married a truly wise and brilliant man!
Some people go to fortune tellers to have their palms read.
Other folks think you can learn about what your future holds by having someone read the tea leaves in your tea cup.
Astrologers believe they can look at the stars and tell you what the future will hold.
And while we Christians believe that tea leaves are best used for making tea and that God created the stars to illuminate the night sky this doesn’t keep us from asking questions about what the future holds for us and our loved ones.
Being curious and having questions is an important part of being human. We have inquiring minds and we want to know.
And we aren’t alone in asking these sorts of questions. The same was true of the Christians living in Thessalonica in ancient Greece. They had lots and lots of questions too. In our second reading for today we learn they were asking questions about God and faith. They were asking questions about heaven and about what happens when Christians die.
Some of them were particularly worried about what would happen to their brothers and sisters in Christ who died before Jesus comes again. They worried these people of faith might be forgotten by God.
They want to know what happens to Christians when they die.
And I think we can all agree that – we wonder and worry about these very same things (or at least I do).
Saint Paul knows these are important questions. So when he learns of their questions and concerns about the future – he writes to them to encourage and to reassure them.
First Paul tells the Christians of Thessalonica – to remember that Christians are people of hope. And this hope makes us different – because for Christians death isn’t the end.
Yes – we will die some day. Yes – death is sad. Death breaks our hearts and makes us ache with sorrow. Yes – we miss our loved ones. But Paul says remember the empty tomb that first Easter morning. And remember what that empty tomb means for everyone who believes Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.
Remember when Jesus died on that Roman cross – Jesus did not stay dead. God raised Jesus’ from the dead that very first Easter morning. And when God raised Jesus from the dead – God destroyed the power of sin and death.
Paul says – remember death doesn’t have the last word with God – life has the last word.
Paul says to all of us – our God is more powerful than death. Our God has promised us that nothing in this life – not even death can separate us from his perfect love for us!
God has promised you the gift of eternal life with him.
And Paul goes on to say to us – yes – the world as we know it will end one day. But – even as the world ends our God will still be our God. God – the Father – who made heaven and Earth will still be in charge.
And Jesus will still be our loving Lord and Savior who has promised to love us with a perfect love forever.
Yes – one day we will die. And one day the world as we know it will end – but God will never end and God’s love for you is eternal.
Know this – believe this – your loving Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ will come again and when he does – the dead will rise and we will live with the Lord forever. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
These last months have certainly been interesting haven’t they?
One thing I have noticed is we are seeing a whole lot of the same people and the same places over and over and over again. It is the nature of staying safe at home. If we stay home a lot more we are much – much more likely to see a whole lot more of the people with whom we live!
I have had quite a few conversations over the past few weeks with folks who have said that all of this togetherness with the same person or same few people is starting to get a bit stress-y. I keep hearing variations of the same theme. “Pastor Kerri – I love him sooooooo much. BUT he is starting to drive me just a bit (completely and utterly) batty.” Then just to make things really entertaining her husband will often tell me the exact same thing!
One slightly stressed mom recently told me she wished someone would give her a “stinking time-out and send her to her room for about a week!” (Oh – good idea – I thought . . .)
Others have suggested they will no longer ever – ever – consider retiring with their beloved spouses – because they want to stay married!
All of this togetherness is complicated.
Then there is the added stress of spending so much time in the same place. Most of us are used to getting out and about so much more often. We are used to heading to work and to school 5 days a week. Before Covid-19 we would go out to eat or go shopping. We used to hang out with friends or go to the movies. We would play sports or we would go to the big game. We took trips to exotic places like the beach and the mountains or the mall! We would just leave the house and go places and do things and not think twice about it – because that is what we did.
Now that isn’t a wise option. Now we stay closer to home. Now we limit our trips out and about to protect ourselves and our loved ones and complete strangers too.
Now our worlds feel so small. And it can feel constricting and confining and exhausting and frustrating and annoying.
Yes – we are deeply and abundantly blessed. Our homes are lovely and we give thanks for them. But – WoW – just WOW – we have spent sooooooo much time at home since March!?!
I had a funny exchange in line at Sam’s last week with a complete stranger. The lady turned to me and said – “Hey we match!” (We both had jumbo packs of TP and chicken nuggets in our shopping carts.) Then she went on to say – “I have three kids who are all doing NTI right now. Scoring the jumbo pack of TP at Sam’s is the most excitement and fun I have had in weeks!”
As I drove home from Sam’s I realized that lady was right! I too had been awfully excited about scoring the jumbo pack of TP . . . That was not acceptable! TP is not exciting!!!!
So – when I arrived home – Jason and I hatched a plan to add just a bit of real – safe fun and excitement to our lives. We decided a change of scenery was in order. We decided to head to Clifty Falls State Park to explore and hike and adventure all in safety of the great outdoors.
We had not been to Clifty Falls since last year so it was a wonderful change of pace.
Our time there was balm for our Covid-19 weary souls.
Because Jack is a member of our family – we climbed some more.
There was running.
We were reminded of God’s presence in our lives – and God’s love for us.
We came home thankful and refreshed.
These days are not easy. We are all under a lot of pressure and stress. I encourage you to spend some time outside – even if it isn’t normally your thing! You might just find that the change of scenery is a blessing.
Where are you favorite places to go? Where are you heading these days when you need a break? Where are you seeking and seeing God’s presence in your lives?