Worship for Sunday, January 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

[Moses said:] The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 111

 Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
 Great are your works, O LORD,
  pondered by all who delight in them.
 Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever.
 You cause your wonders to be remembered;
  you are gracious and full of compassion.
 You give food to those who fear you,
remembering forever your covenant.
 You have shown your people the power of your works
  in giving them the lands of the nations.
 The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice;
all of your precepts are sure.
 They stand fast forever and ever,
  because they are done in truth and equity.
 You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever;
holy and awesome is your name.
 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
  all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

The Word of the Lord

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:21-28

[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The Gospel of our Lord

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

The ELCA prides itself in having well-educated pastors. Our seminarians take classes like: “Congregations as Catechetical Community ” and “Systematic Theology Part 3 – The Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Triune God.” (I actually really liked that last one . . .) Plus the ELCA requires 2 years of Ancient Greek and 1 year of biblical Hebrew.

I have heard seminary professors – bishops and my fellow pastors brag about all of the nerdy – academic stuff ELCA pastors are expected to know. And most ELCA pastors are pretty well-educated.

But I had been a pastor all of 15 seconds when I realized there were terrifyingly huge gaps in my education. Seriously – massively – huge gaps. Gaps big enough to drive a freight train through!

I discovered one of these wretchedly awful gaps in my education on the very first evening of vacation Bible school – the very first year I was a pastor.

For some unknown reason – kids started showing up way too early. And soon there were tons of bored kids needing to be entertained. The fine Lutheran lady who was in charge of VBS informed me – since I was the pastor – the hoards of children were MY PROBLEM.

I remember vividly the wave of horror that washed over me. There were no seminary classes on how to cope with bored children. I was prepared to debate theological questions – and how to conjugate Ancient Greek verbs. But I had no idea what to do with a massive hoard of bored kids. Besides that – kids terrified me. They always had.

“Run – Kerri – run!” was my only thought. But I was wearing sandals and everyone knew where I lived. It was hopeless. I was so totally stuck and terrified!

The church was big – but our yard was the size of a postage stamp. When I suggested a time of silent prayer in the sanctuary – the kids actually boo-ed!

I was completely and utterly unprepared. I didn’t have anything other than my own wits. And honestly I wasn’t so sure I had those anymore.

So I took a deep breath and prayed for enlightenment. Then – it happened. The one and only time in my entire life I have been divinely inspired! I shouted “All right – get in line and follow me.” And by some miracle every single kid got in line and followed me.

And so it began – we spent the next week playing “follow the pastor.” We stomped like giants. And roared like lions. We waddled like ducks. We hopped like frogs and slithered like snakes. If I did it – the kids did too. If I was a chicken – a long line of little Minnesotans clucked and flapped their wings too. It was awesome and fun and funny.

“Follow the Pastor” was our favorite VBS activity. But this game also caused me to reflect. These kids were ALL following me. They were ALL listening to me and doing what I told them to do – no questions asked. If I told them to do it – they did it. And honestly – that scared me.

Being a leader is serious business and so is choosing who you will follow.

We live in a society in which competing voices constantly pull us in opposite directions. Our leaders boldly make conflicting claims about facts and the truth ALL of the time.

When this happens – we are faced with serious questions like – Who is right? Who should I be listening to? Who is speaking the truth? What is the truth?

We are not alone in asking these sorts of questions. The people of Ancient Israel asked them too. They wondered who they should listen to and follow.

Today we read God’s answers to their questions. God tells us how to recognize true prophets. God tells the people of Israel what to be looking for in a leader.

One of Saint Stephen’s leaders wears a plunger on her head at VBS and takes way too many pictures . . . hmmm…

Moses had been their trusted – faithful leader for as long as most of them could remember. For decades Moses had told folks what they should and shouldn’t do. Moses proclaimed God’s Word to them. He was their pastor for worship and their general in war. Moses was like George Washington – Abraham Lincoln – the Attorney General – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Secretaries of Defense – Commerce – Health –Education and their bishop – all rolled into one.

But Moses won’t always be able to lead them. Moses is human and he will die one day.

God wants his people to know how to recognize the true prophets he will send to lead them in the future. God declares a true prophet will always have some very important characteristics. God lays out the requirements we should look for in a true prophet from God.

Thankfully Saint Stephen’s finance chair and the church secretary are wayyyy more dignified!

First – the Bible tells us God will raise up prophets from among their own people – just like Moses was. Moses was Hebrew – he understood their culture and he spoke their language.

Second – a prophet will speak what God commands – even if his message makes him unpopular. The prophet’s message won’t always be a message that makes folks feel good or happy – but he will speak it anyway.

Moses had to do this time and time again as he led the Chosen People. Moses rebuked and corrected folks even when it made them furious with him.

Third – what the prophet speaks will happen.

Our church council youth representative is a snake handler . . .

And again we see this in Moses’ life. When Moses warned Pharaoh that Egypt would suffer plagues of locusts – flies – hail – thunder – boils and death – all of these plagues happened just as Moses said they would. When Moses told the people where to find food and water in the wilderness – they found it.

We still seek to do the Lord’s will in our lives. We too want our church to be guided by God’s will. We want our lives to reflect God’s will for us. And so we are called to listen carefully for the voice of our Lord.

Our church president – he looks nice and normal!

And so today – I ask you to join me in praying for our community and for our church.

Let’s study God’s Word and read our Bibles. Let’s seek God’s will and God’s blessing for our lives – our community and our church. Let’s pray and listen for God’s answers to our prayers – because God is listening and God will answer. God will walk with us and God will guide us. God will care for us. We are not in this life alone! Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

The word not the Word . . .

God declared to Noah and to us –

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.” – Genesis 8:22

I am not someone who makes New Year’s resolutions anymore.  One of the biggest reasons I stopped making New Year’s resolutions is that they often seem so negative – so incredibly mean spirited.  All too often it is like New Year’s resolutions are just another reason to beat ourselves up and tear ourselves down.  I simply don’t want to start off the New Year kicking myself for yet another list of wretched failings or shortcomings.  I got enough of that when I was a kid – thank you very much.  And frankly – we ALL get more than enough of that just by being alive in this world in which we dwell each and every single day of our earthly lives.

But I do like having a focus for each year.  I do enjoy having a positive intention for my year. 

I thought it was so cool of our neighbors to write W’s for Will this morning as they left for work with their tires!

So for quite a few years now I have chosen a word to be my focus for the year.  Some years the word comes to me easily.  Other years finding my word takes time.  Some years finding my word takes a lot of time.  This year was one of those slow years.  This year I tried out word after word and none of the words I tried seemed like a good fit.  If a word is going to be my focus for an entire year – it needs to be a good fit.  And then – in the middle of January while Jason and I were out for our lunchtime jaunt through our  neighborhood – we hit upon my word for the year.  It was perfectly – perfect.  I knew as soon as I started rolling it around in my mind that I had found my word for 2021.

Explore.  My word for 2021 shall be explore. Explore is perfect. 

Explore is a good fit – because it will challenge me.  Challenges are good.  I like challenges (most of the time).  Challenges keep us from getting lazy and stuck in a rut.  Challenges can encourage us to see ourselves and God’s world in new ways.   We can all use that from time to time – can’t we?

Exploring will encourage me to try new things.  This will be good too.  I have noticed that in the midst of Covid-19 – I have been seeking the comfort of the familiar over and over again.  I have been re-reading favorite books and re-knitting favorite patterns.  And while there is nothing wrong with this – exploring new things/different things might be interesting too.

Explore.  Explore will be an excellent focus for 2021.

Explore has already proven to be an interesting focus for my year.  I have been much more intentional about getting out into God’s creation – even in the chilly/downright cold days of January.  I have been hibernating just a bit less this winter.

I have been trying to see the world from a different perspective.  I have been wandering aimlessly and ambling more. 

I have been heading outside just to see what I might discover.  I have been exploring and delighting and giving thanks for what I discover.

I have been looking and listening.  I have been wandering and wondering.

Sometimes I explore alone and sometimes I explore with my favorite exploring  companions. 

This morning I did some exploring all by myself.  I was dazzled by the beauty of the freshly fallen snow. 

I listened.  The snow made the world just a bit quieter.  There was a gentle hush over our neighborhood.  I listened to my boots crunch through the ice as I walked.  I listened to the wind whistling through my hat!

I watched the snow make the world around me sparkle and glitter.  I marveled at how different our world looked under a blanket of freshly fallen snow. 

Exploring.  It is good for the world weary soul (or at least for my would weary soul).

Perhaps exploring isn’t for you.  But how do you seek God’s presence?  How do you try to rest and regroup?  What do you do when your soul is feeling world weary?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

“The day is yours, and yours also the night;
    you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
    you made both summer and winter.”

– Psalm 74:16-17

Reflections on a Rainy Day

“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” – Psalm 130:1-2

I am so weary of this horrible – wretched pandemic.  I am exhausted by all of it.

This weekend we learned the devastating news that Covid-19 took the life of the dad of one of Jack’s friends.  Another parent with children he loved is gone.  Another dad with archery tournaments to sit through.  With graduations to attend and college visits to plan.  With hobbies to pursue and holidays and birthdays to celebrate.  With hopes and dreams and plans and so much love to give his family has died far – far too soon. 

I did not know him, but I knew one of his children.  We had waved and smiled a few times at archery tournaments.  We sat in the same bleachers on Saturdays and in the same parking lots waiting to pick up our children.  He took my son to the zoo and out for Chik-fil-A.  I bought his daughter pizza.  His youngest child and my oldest child dated for a bit. 

I did not know him – but I know he mattered.  He was deeply loved.

He was never a number.  He will never be just a statistic.  He was a beloved husband and he was a treasured dad.  He probably told dad jokes.  He has three children.  He mattered. 

He will be missed.  Our world and the lives of his loved ones will be so much less without him.  He mattered.

Life is sacred.  It is a gift.  Life is precious and fragile. 

You might think living through a pandemic would make us more likely to remember just how precious all human life is.  And yet it seems – we continue to take life for granted.  We take the value of human life lightly.

I have struggled throughout this pandemic with the way some folks dismiss those who die as statistics and numbers.  This way of thinking is frankly incomprehensible to me.  Each of the people who have died of Covid-19 mattered.  Not one of them was just “anything.” 

Think of your own loved ones.  Are they “just” anything?  Of course not.  Your loved ones are dazzling and delightful.  They are amazing and awesome.  They are loved and loving and lovely.  They are fun and funny.  They make this world a much better place simply by being here.  It is a comfort and a joy and a blessing just knowing they share this planet and this life with you.

Each of the people who have died of Covid-19 were also so many wonderful – amazing – glorious things.  Their loved ones delighted in knowing them and sharing in this life with them.  Our world is less without these precious folks.

It is easier to rattle off numbers and statistics.  We do it all of the time.  We use numbers and statistics as a protective shield.  Numbers don’t have families and friends.  Numbers don’t have hopes and dreams.  Numbers aren’t missed.  We don’t form lasting bonds with numbers and statistics.  Numbers numb us.  Statistics are safer.  Because of this – I believe they can be very dangerous.  Numbers and statistics can turn off our hearts and our empathy and our compassion and our imaginations.  Numbers and statistics can make us less human. 

It is so easy to say that by the end of February 500,000 Americans will have died of Covid-19.  Or that 773 citizens of Jefferson County, Kentucky have died of Covid-19 or that 3,687 Kentuckians have died of Covid-19.  These are numbers.

When we do this – it is easier for us. We don’t have to feel anything.  We are protecting ourselves.  We don’t have to acknowledge the humanity of numbers and stats.  But these are not numbers and they are not statistics. 

So when we rattle off these numbers – we need to remember these were people.  These were folks just like ourselves.  They were and are beloved children of God.  They have families and friends who love and miss them.  They had hopes and dreams.  They mattered.  We ALL are less without them.

And also when the doctors and scientists tell us that by social distancing and by wearing our masks and refraining from gathering in large groups – we can save 50,000 lives between now and April – those lives saved aren’t numbers and statistics – those are people with loved ones.  Those are hopes and dreams saved.  Those are hugs that will be given and bedtime stories that will be read and hands that will be held and Christmases that will be celebrated . . .

When we get frustrated about masks and exhausted by NTI and weary of being asked to make sacrifices for the greater good – we need to remember we are doing this for our fellow human beings.  People just like us.  People with loved ones.  People who laugh and dream and hope and celebrate and want to watch their children grow up and their grandchildren be born. 

Yes – this is exhausting and frustrating and annoying and a great big pain.  Yes – I absolutely wish it were all over with too.  But we are not better Christians by ignoring it or by pretending it isn’t happening or by trying to ignore the toll it is taking on our fellow human beings.

We need to remember that each and every person who dies of Covid-19 mattered. 

I encourage you to take some time this week to pray for those who are mourning and to pray for our healthcare workers.  And to wear your mask.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.” – Psalm 22:1-2

(Jesus prayed this Psalm while dying on the cross Matthew 27:46.)

Worship for Sunday, January 24, 2021

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

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

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 62:5-12

 For God alone I wait in silence;
  truly, my hope is in God.
 God alone is my rock and my salvation,
  my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken.
 In God is my deliverance and my honor;
  God is my strong rock and my refuge.
 Put your trust in God always, O people,
  pour out your hearts before the one who is our refuge.
 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath; those of low estate cannot be trusted.
  Placed on the scales together they weigh even less than a breath.
 Put no trust in extortion; in robbery take no empty pride;
  though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
 God has spoken once, twice have I heard it,
  that power belongs to God.
 Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord,
  for you repay all according to their deeds. Amen.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Two brothers along the shore of Lake Superior . . .

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

Can you even remember the “good” old days anymore? You know – like the fall of 2019 – way back when we could hang out in large groups? Back when we could go places other than the grocery store and the backyard and well – the other grocery store?

Back in those long ago pre-pandemic times – I vaguely remember that the McFarlands went places. Sometimes we even went really busy places. Places filled with other people like our local playground.

Often the playground would be packed with people. It would be a sea of humanity! Children would be running and jumping and climbing. Kids would be swinging and sliding and laughing and shouting. It was all delightful busyness.

Most of the parents and grandparents would be standing around in little clusters drinking coffee – chatting with one another and all too likely staring at their phones . . .

It would be all noise and movement and distractions – until – a distressed child cried out – “MOM!” Then every female human being within 100 yards of the playground would immediately stop whatever she was doing and start to scan the crowd of children – all the while preparing herself to spring into action if necessary.

Seriously – it looks like a game of grown-up freeze tag! Cups of coffee are held – frozen – mid-sip. Conversations cease mid-sentence. Facebook scrolling and updating stops mid-like. And tweets go un-tweeted. As every single mom in the entire park – assesses the situation and readies herself for action!

Is the person crying out – her person? How great is the need?

Is there blood? If so – how much?

Will there be a hospital bill this time? Will this be the time she has to call 9-11?

Even if it isn’t her person crying out in distress – did her kid – “heaven forbid” cause the cry of distress? (This is worse than a hurt kid!)

I wasn’t born a mom. There were almost 28 years of my life when I was perfectly and delightfully happy not being anyone’s mom at all. But after 17 years – being a mom has become deeply a part of my identity. It is a huge part of who I am and how I define myself. And so when the cry of “Mom” goes forth – I will be poised to act!

What about you?

There are times in all of our lives when someone calls us and just by hearing their call – we are reminded of who we are. Or of how much we are loved. Or of how important we are. Or to whom we belong.

That is exactly what happened in our Gospel reading for this week. When Simon – Andrew – James and John were called – they suddenly knew their purpose in this life and their identity in this world. They knew where they belonged and with whom they belonged.

The Gospel of Mark tells us one day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee – Jesus saw the brothers Simon and Andrew out fishing. Jesus walks up to these two men and says – “Come follow me – and I will make you fish for people.”

As soon as Jesus speaks these words to Simon and Andrew – they immediately leave their nets and follow Jesus. They answered Jesus’ call. Because after hearing Jesus’ call – they knew they belonged with Jesus.

The McFarland sons with their dad – Jason – hunting for sea creatures . . .

After Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to be his disciples – Jesus walks a little further along the shore where he encounters James and John. And he calls them to be his disciples too. The Bible tells us they immediately drop everything and leave their father Zebedee in the boat and follow Jesus. They too knew they belonged with Jesus.

Jesus called these four men to be with him and to share in his life and ministry and they dropped everything to be with Jesus.

These are just 4 of the people Jesus called. Jesus called all sorts men and women to join him. Jesus also called Philip – Thomas – Bartholomew – Matthew – Judas – Mary Magdalene – Zacchaeus and so many others to be with him and to share in his life and ministry.

Even after Jesus ascended into heaven – Jesus kept right on calling people. Jesus called Paul on the road to Damascus. Changing Paul’s life forever.

Jesus called and claimed each of them and said to them – you are chosen. You are mine – follow me. I love you. We belong together. These folks were all important to Jesus. He loved and cared for all of them. And they were important to his ministry.

But look at who Jesus called. Jesus called fishermen – who must have smelled kind of fishy. Jesus called tax-collectors who most people saw as nothing more than traitors and thieves. Jesus called tent makers who had persecuted Christians. Jesus called Peter who denied him three times and Thomas who doubted. Jesus sometimes called men and women with really bad reputations. Other times Jesus called pillars of the community.

Jesus called all sorts of people and not one of them was perfect. They all had flaws and faults. They all messed up and sinned – but they were important to Jesus and to Jesus’ ministry. They made an important difference in other peoples’ lives. And most importantly – they were all the beloved – redeemed – forgiven children of God.

And Jesus is still calling people today. Jesus is calling each of you. Jesus’ call to you is real. Jesus Christ is calling you. You are Jesus Christ’s own. You are the risen Lord’s beloved. You belong with Jesus. You are his.

Jesus loves you and he will always love you. You belong to Jesus. And that truly is Good News indeed. AMEN.

Thinking about Trash

I am a bit of a tree hugger.  Okay maybe I am a lot of a tree hugger!

I recycled back when it was harder to do.  I recycled when you had to sort your own recycling and you had to drive way out of your way to do it.  I recycled when it was just me and the other lady in her matching Birkenstock sandals and Greenpeace t-shirt at the recycling center (and our Birks weren’t even trendy or cool – just environmentally friendly).

My tree hugging ways are definitely intensifying with age. 

Gone are things like paper towels and paper napkins at the McFarland house.  I dislike storing food in plastic.  I ration zip-lock bags.  I regularly ask the baggie holder if he really  needs that baggie or if a lovely – reusable – environmentally friendly glass container would work instead?  I buy in bulk whenever possible, because it has so much less creation harming packaging. 

I feel some pretty serious guilt over those wretched foam take-away containers our favorite Mexican grocery uses for our Friday night tacos.  I wonder- if once Covid-19 is over – if I might be able to provide my own environmentally kinder containers – but I am sure the health department would have a fit.  (A lady can dream . . .)

As Christians I believe we are called to be good and wise stewards of God’s creation.  Creation does not belong to us.  I believe when God created humanity in Genesis and called us to be his caretakers that we were given an important task – a task we far too often don’t take seriously enough.  Or one we have far too often interpreted “as turn the Earth into our personal garbage dump.”  (Why yes – I do feel passionately about creation stewardship!)

“26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:26-28

The NRSV translation of the Bible uses the words “dominion” and “subdue” in Genesis chapter 1.  Unfortunately – we have far too often used those words as an excuse to abuse God’s gifts to us – to spread our trash everywhere – to use to excess – to not think about others. 

I see this all the time when I am out in nature – hiking – walking and exploring. 

Sometimes it is as simple as our next door neighbor’s refusal to recycle anything and her overflowing trashcan week after week.  Weekly we pick up her trash from our yard and the cul-de-sac.  It is a sad, but regular part of our Thursday walks.  (Today is was a McDonald’s bag blowing like a tumble weed through the cul-de-sac.)

This Christmas break our extended family collected over 40 huge black trash bags of trash from the woods up the mountain from where my in-laws have their mountain home.  Some homeowners are so shockingly careless with their trash and bears get into it over and over again.  This endangers the bears and leaves the beautiful mountains looking like a garbage dump.  So the Markward-McFarland clan cleaned it up several times.  Jack, Nic, Bella, and Will were amazing.   We were so proud of them!  Hopefully they are learning important lessons about stewardship of God’s creation and care of God’s creatures.

Here some of us are with our handy work!

Other times it is the trash that litters the sides of the trails we hike.  I am dumbfounded that anyone could hike along a trail drinking a soda and eating a bag of chips enjoying the beauty of nature and then upon finishing these “food” items toss the empty containers onto the ground beside the trail . . .

When Jack, Will, and I were exploring and delighting in the Broadrun Park and Floyds Fork River this week we saw evidence of humanity’s abuse of God’s glorious creation over and over again.

There were overflowing trashcans close to the river.  There was trash that had washed up along the river like plastic bottles and bags and those little yard flags. 

There were golf balls.

There were so – so many broken beer bottles.  Drinking beer and tossing the empties into the river must be the pass time of many an American! 

There were pieces of metal in all shapes and sizes.

As we explored and took it all in – we talked about what we were observing around us.  I didn’t even start this conversation. . .  We talked about the incredible beauty of nature and God’s creation and how ugly humanity’s garbage is. 

And then Jack pointed out that while the plastic and the foam stayed just gross and disgusting – the glass and the metal became interesting as God’s creation reclaimed it.  The broken glass bottle pieces shine and sparkle as the river washes over them. 

(The McFarland sons and I collected an entire tray of broken pieces of glass on Monday afternoon in just a couple of hours!)

The metal also becomes beautiful as it breaks down and returns to the elements of the earth from which it first came so long ago.

Truly there is beauty everywhere and in almost everything – but I don’t think that is an excuse to be bad stewards of God’s beautiful creation.

A steward is someone who cares for something that doesn’t belong to them.  None of this is ours.  We are just borrowing it for a bit.  Would any of us borrow a friend’s home for a while and leave behind a bunch of trash in our wake?  I would really – really hope not!  Why do we do this to God’s creation?

January is a great time to start new habits and try new things.  Perhaps one of those new things could be trying to be a better steward of God’s creation.  Maybe you could remember those reusable grocery bags and stop using those plastic grocery bags.  Maybe you could remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room (I am working on this one myself this year.)  Or could you turn down the furnace when you are sleeping?  Maybe you could start recycling if you don’t already.  Maybe you could put on some gloves and pick up someone else’s litter the next time you are out and about.  Or how about taking shorter showers or showers instead of baths? 

God has allowed us to live on a truly beautiful planet.  We are so blessed.  And there are so many ways we can be God’s stewards in this world – even now in the middle of this pandemic!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Cabin Fever

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.  Amen.

I needed a change of pace.  I had been spending way – Way – WAY too much time stuck inside.  I am not an inside kind of person.  I have a threshold of inside-ness and I had surpassed it days ago!  Thanks to our winter-y weekend weather I had a rather serious case of cabin fever.  

I was longing to be outside.  I needed to be immersed in nature.  I needed fresh air.  I longed for the sounds of nature.  I wanted to explore – to move – to seek.  I needed to feel the sun on my face. (This is seriously one of my favorite things in the entire world – I love – love – love it!)  I needed mud on my boots.   I needed trees – and lots of them.

I knew just where I longed to be.  I knew just where I needed to go.  I needed to go to the river.  It was time for a river glass hunting expedition!

So I got up a bit earlier than usual on Monday with a plan.  Will, Jack, and I were going to the river on Monday if at ALL possible.  Thanks to a National Holiday and no NTI – I was able to work with fewer interrupts than usual and achieved my goals for the day with a few hours of sunlight left!  Yippee!  Whoo-Hoo!

Warm hats – gloves – cozy coats – and sons were located and we were off!  We quite cruelly left poor Jason behind.  We are like that sometimes . . . I think he is getting used to it! 

As soon as we arrived I felt more at peace.  My soul – just sort of sighed with relief.  I was where I needed to be.  It was well with my soul! 

I am so often happier outside. (Unless it is raining – I despise getting wet from water that I did not request – yuck!)  And outside with lots of trees and a river or a lake is amazingly – perfectly awesome!

I feel more alive – more awake outside too.  And this time of year – I so often feel like I am constantly combating the desire just to surrender and hibernate until spring.  Some days I feel like I never really wake up all the way until I get outside for a walk!

We explored.

One of us threw stones.

Taking my littlest guy to the river means that rocks will be thrown.  I love listening to the sound of Will throwing rocks into the river.  I sometimes just close my eyes and listen.  It makes me smile.  What is it about children (and many adults) that makes them feel compelled to throw rocks into bodies of water?  I don’t personally feel the draw to throw rocks – but I love watching my sons do it.  I even love listening to them do it.  That glorious plop is very appealing.  Maybe I don’t throw stones – because Jack and Will do it for me!

Will climbed and climbed.  Will has been taught about climbing from an excellent teacher.  His beloved big brother is a serious climber.

We found tons of river glass.

Seriously – tons of river glass!

I listened to the river.

I watched the river and the trees.

I looked at the sun and the sky.

We chatted. 

We were quiet together too.

I let the beauty of the day and the blessing of the magnificent company wash over me.

We headed for home feeling refreshed and thankful and blessed.

Do you have a place or places that do this for you?  Where do you go when your soul needs a break?  Where do you find peace settling into your heart?

How are you taking care of your soul these days?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, January 17, 2021

Proverbs 9:9-10

9 Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 139:1-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

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

Galatians 6:7-10

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 5:14-16

14 Jesus said“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Gospel of the Lord.

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

I know many of us are emotionally exhausted right now.  Living through this pandemic is taking such an emotional toll on lots of folks.  Covid-19 has been reeking havoc on our lives for months now.  And honestly – we are fed up.  We are so tired of ALL of it.

I hear this fatigue in your voices when I talk to you on the telephone.  I see it written on your faces when we chat on Zoom.  I can even see it from a safe social distance on those rare occasions that I am able to see you in-person.  So many folks seem deflated.  Tired.  Weary.  So many folks are just plain worn out. 

And winter seems to be making it all so – so much worse.  We were already struggling with living in this strange Covid-19 world and then came the short – cold – gray days of winter in Kentucky.  Winter can be a bit of a slog during a good year.  We may need to dig pretty deep to make it through winter when everything is going smoothly.  And this year – well – this year is so very – very much harder!  Because it doesn’t seem like ANYTHING is going smoothly right now.  Zip – nada – absolutely nothing! 

Sure winters past have been a bit isolating as we hunker down at home to avoid the cold – but never like this!  We are so very lonely.  We are missing friends and our beloved family members.  We are missing classmates and colleagues.  We are missing our sisters and brothers in Christ.  We may even be missing our co-workers (or not) . . .  We are craving human interaction.  We need people and conversation and contact! 

And we are so tired of all of the other restrictions too.  We are tired of masks.  We are fed up with cancellations.  We don’t want to socially distance or isolate anymore.  We want to shake hands and hug and stand really close to each other!  

We have washed our hands until they look twenty years older than they did a few months ago.  We have sanitized everything in our lives. 

And NTI is hard!  Most of us aren’t educators for a reason – we stink at it!

Plus we are exhausted by the bad news. But it just keeps coming and coming.

We are fed up.  We have had ENOUGH!  Seriously – enough already!

We want to sing and laugh out loud.  We want to gather in large groups while standing very – very close to one another just because we want to.  We want to throw caution to the wind.  We want to be carefree. 

We are desperate to get back to our lives before Covid-19 invaded and turned our lives upside down and inside out.  We long for the good old days – when life was easier.  When life was less complicated and less frightening.  When life didn’t feel nearly so hard or so stressful or so disappointing or discouraging.

But Covid-19 isn’t over.  The pandemic is still spreading aggressively.  We are in the middle of a surge.

Our time of making sacrifices for the greater good isn’t over.  We cannot “grow weary of doing what is right.”  (Galatians 6:9)

I know there are those who believe and proclaim the most faithful action of a Christian is to continue to gather for worship no matter what.  I have heard and read that the Christian church didn’t close its doors for previous pandemics so why would we now?  I have seen church signs right here in Louisville proclaiming “Faith over Fear!” along with the message “still meeting for in-person worship this and every Sunday.” 

I passionately disagree with choosing to gather for worship when we are being advised by wise doctors and scientists not to.  It is simply not more faithful to gather for worship in the middle of a surge in this pandemic.  It is not more faithful to take such risks and perhaps spread a deadly virus.

In fact – I would assert the more faithful choice is to worship God from our homes where we do not endanger others.  The more faithful choice is to put others’ needs before our own wants and desires.  The more faithful choice is to sacrifice and live with the uneasy feelings and grief we must confront when we are unable to do what we want to do.  The more faithful choice is to think deeply and pray about why we struggle so much to protect others. 

We are not being unfaithful Christians by worshipping from home – by holding Zoom meetings and Sunday school.  We are being faithful Christians by not singing during our in-person worship until it is safer – by wearing our masks – and by social distancing. 

I know this is so very hard.  I know this is very uncomfortable.  I know we are all weary of the isolation.  I know we fear what our church will look like once we are finally able to gather together safely, but our God calls us to be people who make sacrifices for others.  God calls us to be courageous and patient and loving. 

We can do this.  We are doing this!

We will gather together for worship in our sanctuary again.  We will sing hymns of praise to our Lord.  We will share the peace.  We will hug and laugh and stand really – really close again.  We will have Holy Communion the way we used to.  We will have Vacation Bible school and in-person Sunday school.  We will have social gatherings and long lingering conversations.  We will fill the sanctuary and the fellowship hall with our sisters and brothers in Christ again. 

But not just yet.  This is our time to make sacrifices for others.  This is our time to dig deeper. 

This is our time to not “grow weary of doing what is right.” This is our time to “work for the good of all.”  (Galatians 6:7-10)

Our God is with us.  Even now – God walks with us.  As the Psalm promises – there is no place we can go that God will not go with us.  We are not alone.  You are all in my heart and you are in my prayers.  Amen.

Bravely Venturing Forth

Tuesday was beautiful here in Fern Creek, Kentucky.  The sun was shining.  Yes – the sun was really and truly shining and it wasn’t crazy cold outside.  The sky was so very – perfectly blue.  It wasn’t a summer blue sky.  It is after all  – January.  But it was very blue and so very pretty.

I was so excited!  I love blue – sunny skies! 

As soon as NTI and my work for the day were wrapped up – the McFarland sons and I headed outside.  I was drawn outside like a kid is drawn to a candy store or more precisely like a knitter is drawn to a yarn store.  Jack and Will headed outside because I made them . . . They are very good sons who listen to their mom almost ALL of the time.

Cleaning off the trampoline.

It felt so wonderful to be outside with the sun on my face.  The rest of me was swathed and swaddled in wool and my great big – glorious puffer coat.  It is still undeniably January.  I could almost feel my body start making vitamin D more efficiently!  The sun is quite the mood booster for this aging pastor.

I am always struck by the stark difference between the seasons.  Summer is lush and green and a riot of color.  Summer is noisy and bustling and hot.  Summer is bright and so very busy.

Winter is so – so much quieter.  The McFarland sons and I were the only people outside in our neighborhood at the time.  I think everyone else must be hibernating right now!  I know most evenings I feel like hibernating on the couch with a good book and my knitting. There was so much less activity going on outside.  Very few people – not many animals – no bugs at all. 

There wasn’t much color either – but I found some beautiful color. 

I am me after all and I was determined to find some colorful things somewhere.  Also – Will is my son and my littlest guy loves color.  If my Will is with me – then there is bound to be a colorful hat or bright orange coat or pair of shoes in a color few other folks would dare to wear!

Always with the orangey goodness and this fellow!

One thing I have always loved about winter is the shadows.  Shadows are amazing this time of year.  If you are looking for some truly affordable yet fascinating entertainment bundle up and head outside and play with your shadow on a sunny day in January – so much fun!  Seriously – you will never feel so tall or so thin or so elegant in your entire life (unless you are blessed to be those things on a regular day . . .)

Winter shadows have summer shadows beat hands down. 

I noticed the sun shining.  I played with my shadow.  I chatted with my sons.  I watched and listened.  I explored.  I delighted in the sun shining on my face. 

I was amazed and delighted to see just how hardy these flowers are – seriously still green in January. . .

I gave thanks.  I felt so very blessed.  The world we live in is amazing and beautiful and lovely.  And once I started to lose the feeling in my fingers because of the cold (fun symptom of my autoimmune disease) I headed inside and I felt blessed to have a cozy, toasty, warm home to retreat to.

I was reminded again and again of God’s presence in the 45 minutes I was outside on a sunny January afternoon.  Yes – it was chilly – but it was a delight and a pleasure and a blessing. 

I know nature may not excite and delight you as much as it does me – but science has proven again and again and again that it is very – very good for us to get outside and spend time in nature.  Nature improves our moods and our sense of well-being.  And we all could likely use that right now!

Where are you seeing God’s blessings and God’s presence in your life right now?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
  worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
  the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
  and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord
bursts forth in lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
  the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.
And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;
  the Lord sits enthroned as king forevermore.
11O Lord, give strength to your people;
give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace.  Amen.

Acts 19:1-7

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

All of our Christmas presents have been opened and the beautiful cards admired.  The Christmas carols have been sung.  Our ugly Christmas sweaters have been proudly worn. The gluttonous meals have been devoured.  The cookies and candy have been eaten or left to grow stale. 

By now most of our Christmas decorations have likely been tucked away for another year.  Or we really – really wish they were!

The big crystal ball is Times Square dropped over a week ago now.  The confetti flew.  The New Year has been very – very warmly welcomed.  Never have we been so happy to say good riddance to a year as we were to 2020!

Vacation is over.  Alarm clocks are buzzing.  Learning hopefully resumed this week.  Life is getting back to normal.  Or normal-ish by pandemic standards – that is!  

And now we can no longer ignore the reality confronting us.  It is abundantly clear.  There is no denying it.  It is winter.  The nights are long and the days are fleetingly short.  The air is cold.  And the wind is biting.  The land is dormant.  No green grass – no colorful flowers.  It is just gray skies and brown dirt with the occasional shivering squirrel. 

Winter has settled in for a nice long stay.  The outside world can look pretty dull and bleak this time of year.  

Not only do things look rather bleak.  It can feel pretty bleak too.  After all – we are facing a long slog through the dark – cold days of winter.  The hope of spring is still such a long way off.  

Sadly – the news is as bleak as the weather is.  The headlines proclaim that we are months away from getting back to life as we knew it.  Covid-19 continues to spread and to make so many people so very ill.  The vaccine is coming – but it will take time!

The economy is a mess.  Unemployment remains high.

The people we elected to lead our government act in their own interests time and time again.  What happened at the Capital this week is just plain heartbreaking.

All of these things can combine to make us feel as blah as the gray sky.  

But then – we turn to our first reading for today.  The opening verses of Genesis are bursting with life and hope and overflowing with amazing miracles.  Our God is busy creating the world and everything in it.  Where there was once nothing but darkness – there is brilliant light as God creates the sun – moon and stars.  

Where there was no life – God speaks and trees, plants, and flowers burst forth. Swarms of living creatures cover the earth.  Where there was nothing – there is life.  

These opening verses of the Bible are a powerful reminder to us of the awesome God we worship.  Our Lord created everything we know from nothing.  Our God speaks and the heavens respond.  Our God works amazing miracles in our world.  

The opening verses of Genesis tell us about God’s first miracles – but God’s miracles did not stop with the creation of the world.  Nor did God’s miracles stop when the Bible ended.  God’s miracles are not the work of a bygone era.  God continues to work amazing miracles in our midst – each and every day.  God is at work in the world.  Miracles are happening all around us.  

We just need to slow down a bit and open our eyes to see them.  We need to shift our focus from the headlines that proclaim bad news – to see these miracles.  God is at work in our world and in our lives!

One miracle most of you never have the opportunity to witness is the way I am able to put our social ministries fund to work doing God’s work in the world.  This money helps our sisters and brothers in Christ who are going through a difficult time.  Think of how these folks’ lives are blessed by the gift of groceries or help with rent.  That is a miracle.

Think of the groceries and toilet paper and toiletries we gathered together in the midst of this wretched pandemic to help our neighbors in need.  Month after month – I filled my car to overflowing with gifts for the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries.  

Think of the school supplies we gathered together this summer and the children who have been blessed by those school supplies this year.   

Think of the bags of food for Christmas dinners we collected.  

Think of the Red Cross Blood drives.  Many of us know someone whose life has been saved by a blood transfusion.  

Think of the meals our church has continued to provide at the Ronald McDonald House each month.  (Thank you Marilyn!!!)

Think of the multitude of ways God has continued to make himself known to you – in rainbows and gorgeous sunsets and special Christmas stars.  In friends and family and brothers and sisters in Christ.

These are all miracles too.  God is at work in our lives.  God is working in and through us.  

Miracles aren’t just found in the pages of our Bibles.  Miracles happen in our lives too.

We worship a God who is always busy working miracles and – doing amazing things.  Our God is at work in our lives.   Our God is an awesome God.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.