Worship for Sunday, February 28, 2020

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 22:23-31

You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
Stand in awe of the Lord, all you offspring of Israel.
For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the Lord‘s face hidden from them;
but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow before God.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
who rules over the nations.
Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the Lord.
Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying to them, “The Lord has acted!”  Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10

[Saint Paul writes] – 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.  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 Mark 8:31-38

[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?   Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

In our Gospel reading for this week – Jesus declares to his disciples and to a crowd of curious seekers – “If any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me!”

Wow! That is such a very different recruitment strategy than most of us are used to encountering in our daily lives – isn’t it?  So often we try to get folks to join us or to participate in our groups by telling them we have incredibly low standards and expectations.   We tell people we won’t require much of them. We declare we will ask very little of them.

We say things like “why don’t you join our committee?   We don’t do much . . . We don’t have many meetings or activities. We only . . . (fill in the blank.)” And we make very sure whatever we say it doesn’t sound like a very big commitment.  We tell folks if they join us it will be easy because we just won’t ask much of them.

We act like low expectations are a good thing. We think low expectations will be a draw – that they will appeal to people.  But why? Why would low expectations ever be appealing?

Honestly – this drives me batty. This sends the wrong message to folks. When we ask people to join our group or committee and promptly tell them we don’t do anything important or worthwhile – we have just told them we want to waste their precious time and talents.

I also think it sounds like we believe others can’t handle high expectations. Like we think other people don’t have the capacity to rise to the occasion.

At my first church some of my brothers and sisters in Christ would try to recruit folks to church committees and to the church council by saying things like – “You won’t have to do anything . . . All you need to do is show up for a meeting once a month . . . ”

Talk about making my brain melt and ooze out my ears. How sad! Honestly who wants to hear – “I was looking for someone to join a committee that doesn’t do anything of any real importance – and I immediately thought of YOU! You are perfect for a committee that is pointless and does nothing for our Christian community or for our Lord . . .”

“Well golly-gee I am so very thrilled that you think so little of me . . .”

(Also – the pastor in me wondered why in heaven and on earth the committee wasn’t doing anything!)

This is such a painfully common recruitment tool. I hear it far too often. And I would guess you have heard it too.

But Jesus is the complete opposite. In our Gospel reading for this week – Jesus boldly declares he has incredibly high expectations for his followers. Jesus declares that his followers need to be ready to work hard and to make big sacrifices! Jesus says his followers are going to need to be “all in” and deeply committed.

Jesus believes his followers are capable of truly great things.   Jesus declares his followers can serve God is powerful – amazing ways!

Take up your cross and follow me. Honestly – I think we just don’t understand how completely and utterly shocking those words would have been to the people who first heard Jesus speak them. We see crosses so very differently.

Yes – we Christians have crosses in our churches and in our homes.   We have cross bumper stickers and beautiful cross jewelry. We wear crosses on our t-shirts and some of us even have cool cross tattoos. For many of us – crosses are a part of our daily lives.

To us crosses point to incredible blessings. Crosses remind us of freedom and deliverance. Crosses remind us of the resurrection from the dead – mercy – and forgiveness. Grace – love – reconciliation and healing. This is what the cross means to us! To us the cross is a powerful symbol of hope!

This is not what crosses meant to the people in the crowd that long ago day. Crosses meant something very different to them. Crosses meant separation – punishment – incredible pain – humiliation – suffering – loss – grief – and death. Crosses were about hardship – not freedom.

I had a seminary professor who would read this passage – “If any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their electric chair and follow me!”

Hmm . . . well – now that way of reading this passage makes you hear it in a whole new way doesn’t it? That is certainly a different perspective . . .

It becomes really uncomfortable when you hear it that way – doesn’t it?!? And that is what many/most/all of the people in the crowd hearing Jesus preach would have heard him say.

Crosses in Jesus’ time were ugly – hard – difficult things.   Crosses were not pretty or adorned with flowers or made of gold. Crosses meant sacrifice. A cross meant the journey ahead was not going to be easy or smooth sailing.

So when Jesus declared – “if any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” – Jesus was inviting people to join him in a life of deeply committed service to God.   And he was letting folks know that following his wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take real commitment.

Jesus is telling us in our Gospel reading for this week that Christians are called to do hard things. Sometimes we are called to do really – really hard things. Jesus is telling us that being a Christian isn’t always easy or comfortable.

Jesus boldly declares that his followers will be called to make sacrifices and to put others first. We will be called to make sacrifices for the greater good and to serve others in God’s name.

But think of this – Jesus must think very highly of you if he believes you can do great things for God. Jesus must hold you in pretty high esteem.

And remember always that God promises you he is always with you.   God is always faithful. God will always be there for you to lean on and to look to for support. You are not in this alone and you can do great things for God! Truly this is Good News! Amen.

 

Putting a New Spin on the Spin Cycle

This goofy – outtake of our last family photo session is so my family and my daily life. Jason and Jack are smiling and Will and I have stuck our tongues out. Yep – living in the real world as we know it!

We all live in the real world – don’t we?

We work. We cook.   We clean (some of us more than others.)   We do laundry (again – some of us more than others). We wash dishes (so – so – so many dishes). We run errands. We care for our families. We pay our bills and our taxes (I hope). We do all of those mundane – often rather boring – or at least routine – tasks over and over again.

Some days I find myself wondering how many times I have washed the very plate or bowl I am currently holding in my hands. Actually – maybe I don’t really want to know. Jason and I purchased most of our dishes right after we got married 3,000 years ago. Our plates and bowls have seen a lot of use over the years.   I have washed them many – many times. So many times . . .

I try to keep my perspective on all of these more mundane tasks I do each day. After all – they are a huge part of my daily life. If I hate them – then I am going to spend a whole lot of my life awfully miserable. I find a reality check from time to time really does help.

Someone didn’t put the vacuum away this morning . . . she just left it right there in the middle of the living room!

I remind myself I am blessed to have a vocation I love. Yes – I absolutely miss doing my job the “old” way. I am a Lutheran and change is hard for me. In fact – Jason occasionally needs to remind me that “change” is NOT actually a four-letter word. So I remind myself the new way is nice too. I have learned so much over the last 12 months and learning is fun (sometimes it is challenging – but fun). Learning new things also helps prevent things like dementia which is a huge genetic threat in my family of origin!

When I am cleaning our house for what feels like the millionth time that week. I remind myself I am cleaning a house with a furnace that blows warm air into my world all day – every day. Seriously – think about that for a moment. My home has a heat source in the basement that requires NOTHING of me except that I push a little button on the wall to make it turn on (and pay the gas bill). I don’t have to go outside and chop down trees and gather wood. I have never – ever burned a dried buffalo or cow patty for heat either.   But our foremothers and forefathers did. I do not have to work hard to keep toasty warm on these cold winter days.

I can’t find any exact research on the temperatures inside homes before central heating – but I do read a lot. Many books anecdotally talk about being able to see your breath inside the house/cabin in the mornings before the fire was going or about waking to frost or even snow on the bedcovers. I have never been able to see my breath inside our house – not even when our furnace broke in December a few years ago and we had to wait 10 days for the new furnace to be installed!

I really do think our furnace is lovely and amazing!

I may not love going to the grocery store (I do not particularly enjoy any shopping other than yarn shopping) – but it is so much easier than being a hunter-gatherer. Seriously – sometimes I laugh at myself for complaining about having to go to the grocery store – because it sounds so ridiculous when I think about it. I am whining about having to get my food all from the same place at the same time where it has been carefully displayed and kept at the proper temperature so that my family and I don’t get sick when we eat it! It takes me about 2 hours a week to hunt and gather the food for my family . . . That sounds way more like a blessing than a burden when I put it into writing.

One of the nicest ways I keep my perspective is I give thanks for the blessings in the moment. Seriously – I try to see the blessings in the moment as I am living it. No – I don’t do this all of the time. I am a real – honest to goodness human being. (Wow – am I human . . . ) This is just one way I try to remember how blessed I really and truly am. This is one way I try to appreciate and give thanks for my blessings from God.

There is always another load of laundry to be done!

It really can change your perspective or at least it changes my perspective.

All of those dishes in the sink mean I do not live alone. I will give thanks for the blessing of my beloved family.

Making yet another breakfast/lunch/supper. I will give thanks for the healthy growing sons who make food disappear at such a rapid rate. I will also give thanks for the incredible abundance of safe – healthy – nutritious food in my home. I think we forget just how blessed we are by the safety and variety of the food we all have access to each and every day of our lives. Those of us who grow gardens grow them because it is fun. If our gardens fail – no one will be deprived of vegetables. Life will go on.

Heat. Wow am I grateful not to have to heat my home the way our ancestors did.   Seriously – we are rarely actually uncomfortable in our homes these days.

The size of our homes. Have you ever toured a settler’s cabin? Those cabins were often the size of most our living rooms or smaller! Imagine spending the last year/your entire life in a space that size with your entire family. . . I try to give thanks for the incredible blessing of my home. Even though – we have spent so very much time inside these four walls these last few winter-y months – our homes are incredible blessings.

One of my blankets is currently laying in the middle of our living room floor. It is the scene of a terrible boat accident/shark attack!

That not at all fancy smartphone I have is so seriously cool.   It allows me to communicate with the rest of the world whenever I want. Instead of complaining that my phone isn’t as awesomely cutting edge as it might be – I delight in what it allows me to do. I am strange (yeah – you totally knew that already) and perfectly content with a phone that is almost as old as Will is.

It is easy to feel discontent. It is so easy to long for more or for something new or for something different and exciting. After all – we live in a society in which we are constantly bombarded with advertising.   And the singular goal of all of   that advertising is to make us discontent and unhappy with what we already have. Advertising wants us to long for more and more and more. To believe what we have isn’t enough. It brainwashes us into thinking what we have isn’t good enough. It tricks us into believing what we already have is junk. That we can’t be happy with the blessings we already have.

Or worst of all – it blinds us entirely to the blessings we already have! It fills us with longing and discontentment.

Advertising and marketing take advantage of that longing that fills our hearts. And advertisers are masterful at doing their jobs.

Our “coffee table” in the living room. Will and I made origami boats last night right up until bedtime and we neglected to put our toys away – AGAIN!

I try to stop and give thanks for my blessings over and over again each day.

Giving thanks for my blessings helps me appreciate the blessings I have so very much more. Noticing and giving thanks helps me see the blessings I already have. I feel so much happier and more content and more blessed.   When I give thanks for the blessings I have – I begin to see other blessings too. It is like the blessings begin to multiply. Of course – the blessings were there all along . . . I just wasn’t noticing them.

I suggest you give this a try today. As you go about your daily life give thanks for your blessings as you encounter them. Be on the lookout for blessings. Put “blessings-spin” on your daily life and tasks.

Instead of seeing that millionth supper you are about to prepare for your family as an annoyance look for the blessings in it. The fact that you have food to prepare for your family – that is a blessing. That the food you are about to prepare is safe and will not make you ill – blessing.   The safe – abundant – clean water you will use (too often even without thinking about it) as you prepare your meal and clean it up – that is a huge blessing. The safe ways our food is preserved like in freezers and refrigerators – blessing. Yes – I do actually do this. It can be fun.

In his favorite spot in the house. This spot is always in disarray!

It can make cleaning – laundry – making supper way more interesting.   It can make these activities prayerful – thoughtful – thankful – blessed.

Give it a try. You might just uncover some unexpected and truly delightful blessings and a whole new way at looking at that pile of laundry and those breakfast dishes!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Stay with us Lord . . . Mid-week Lenten Worship for Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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

All:  Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies, and God of all consolation.

Pastor:  Seek the Lord our God while he may be found.

All:  Call upon him while he is near.

Pastor:  Let the wicked abandon their ways,

All:  and the unrighteous their thoughts.

Pastor:  Let them turn to the Lord for mercy,

All:  to our God, who is generous in forgiving.

Pastor:  All you who are thirsty, come to the water.  You who have no money, come receive bread, and eat.  Come without paying and without cost.

All:  Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies, and the God of all consolation.  Amen.

The Prayer of the Day

Pastor:  Let us pray.  O Lord, you led your ancient people through the wilderness, and brought them to the Promised Land.  Guide now the people of your Church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the peace and joy of the world to come; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed

Pastor:  God has made us his people through our baptism into Christ Jesus.  Living together in trust and in hope, we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed:

All:  I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.  Amen.

“Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery”
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship #334)

Verse 1:
From the dawning of creation you have loved us as your own; stay with us through all temptation, make us turn to you alone.

Verse 2:
In our call to be a blessing, may we be a blessing true; may we live and die confessing Christ as Lord of all we do.

Verse 3:
Living Water of salvation, be the fountain of each soul; springing up in new creation, flow in us and make us whole.

Verse 4:
Give us eyes to see you clearly; make us children of your light. Give us hearts to live more nearly as your gospel shining bright.

Verse 5:
God of all our fear and sorrow, God who lives beyond our death, hold us close through each tomorrow, love us near as every breath.

Readings

Genesis 1:1-2 and 26-31

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the 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.

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.’
So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.
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.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 139:1-14

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,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works. Amen.

Isaiah 49:13-16a

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
   break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
   and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
   my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
   or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
   yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 14:16-20

Jesus said – “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.   I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Homily

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

“Stay with us” . . .

Those words speak to our deepest longings don’t they? Truly – this is our prayer and our plea. This is the cry of our very human hearts.

Who among us has not known the longing for a hand to hold? Or for the comforting presence of someone who loves and cares for us?

From our very first moments on this earth we find ourselves longing for the comfort that only another’s presence can give. We all long for that hand to hold.

Human babies are even born with a reflex that makes them grasp and hold tightly onto things placed in their tiny newborn hands. It is primitive and primal and begins developing long before we are even born! The Palmar grasp reflex goes away when we are still infants – but our longing – our deep – deep need for companionship does not go away.

“Stay with us” . . .

Oh how we all need that hand to hold. That friend to lean on. That loved one to support us. That special someone who shares the perfect words of encouragement when life is tough – who laughs at our jokes – and cheers us on when life is amazing.

“Stay with us” . . .

Covid-19 is such a cruel disease. It makes some folks so very – very ill. Covid-19 has taken so many precious lives.

But the cruelty of Covid-19 isn’t just the illness itself which is wretched and horrible – but the separation. Over the last 12 months so many of us have experienced so many separations that make our hearts ache. That fill us with a deep longing.

Grandparents long for their beloved grandchildren.

Spouses have been separated from one another.

Parents from their children.

Friends and colleagues from each other

Teachers from their students.

Brothers and sisters in Christ from one another.

This hurts our hearts and fills us with such intense longing. The separations are so hard to bear. They make our lives so much harder.

“Stay with us . . .”

We have all known friends or loved ones or sisters and brothers in Christ who have faced frightening trips to the ER alone this year without that precious hand to hold. Or lonely hospital stays surrounded by strangers.

“Stay with us . . .”

We have heard story after story that bring tears to the eyes of even the most stoic among us of people dying alone. Or if not alone – without their beloved families.

“Stay with us . . .” Stay with us Lord – because we do not want to be alone in this life.   Because being alone is just too hard to bear. Because we need you so.

Draw near to us Lord and hold us close. Remind us of your promises to us from your Holy Word.

“Stay with us . . . Lord” – and remind us that “from the dawning of creation you have loved us as your own.”

Our lives have been turned upside down and inside out. We are exhausted and we are   afraid. We are all yearning for hope. It feels like our world is a great – big – scary place. We are lonely in ways most of us have never been before.

“Stay with us . . . Lord.”

Jesus tells us today in our Gospel reading from Saint John that there is Good News – comforting news – reassuring news. We are not alone in this world. We are never – ever alone in this world. Jesus’ words can fill us with hope. Because Jesus reassures us that he won’t leave us alone. That our Lord will never forget or forsake us.   That our Lord will “stay with us” always and for all eternity.

Think about that for just a moment. Jesus promises us that we will not be orphaned – that we are never truly alone.

In the book of Isaiah – God boldly declares to us – “I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15b-16a) Think about that! Let those words really and truly wash over you. Let those words sink in. God carries you in the palm of his hands. Is there any place better – safer – more cared for than in the very hands of our God?

“Stay with us . . . Lord” – and remind us that “from the dawning of creation you have loved us as your own.”

You are never alone.   Not even now during these frightening times. God is always faithful and you are always in God’s perfect loving care. God holds you in the palm of his hand. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Lord’s Prayer

Pastor: Lord remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

All:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,  now and forever. Amen.

or

All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Blessing

Pastor: May the Lord bless you and keep you this day and all the days of your eternal lives. Amen.

 

 

 

Welcome to Lent

Lent began last week on February 17th. The church season of Lent always begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter morning when Christians joyfully celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Lent is 40 days long – not including Sundays. Technically Lent is 46 days long – but the number 40 is highly symbolic for Christians – so we like to focus on the 40. Think of the rains that fell during the flood in Noah’s time for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4). Israel ate manna in the desert for 40 years during their journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land (Exodus 16:35). Think of Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights of fasting and prayer in the desert right before he began his earthly ministry. Jesus remained on earth for 40 days following his resurrection from the dead (Acts 1:3). There are many other interesting times the number 40 comes up in the Bible.

(And yes – Bible nerds like me do love this sort of stuff – why do you ask?)

Lent is a solemn time. A time for penance and repentance. We don’t count Sundays because Sunday is the day our Lord and Savior was raised from the dead. For Christians Sundays are always days of joy and celebration.

The dates for the season of Lent and Easter are closely linked to the Jewish celebration of Passover, because Jesus was arrested the very evening he ate the Passover meal with his disciples. In fact – the very first Holy Communion took place during a Passover meal. (Matthew 26:17-30 – Mark 14:12-26 – Luke 22:7-23 – John 13:1-20)

Passover is a lunar holiday which makes Easter a lunar holiday too. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox. Christian Church calendars state that the spring equinox always falls on March 21st. This year – the first full moon after March 21 will take place on March 28. This means Easter is on Sunday, April, 4, 2021. (I am so glad someone other than me figures this out every year!)

(Again with the nerdy church stuff – but I can’t help myself sometimes. My Bible nerd just leaks out!)

Lent is traditionally a time in the year when Christians pause in the midst of their often busy – bustling lives to focus on their relationship with their Lord.

Jack noticed on Sunday afternoon that the stained glass windows were reflected in the baptismal font.

We spend extra time focusing on getting right with God. We focus on our need to repent. We tell God all about what we have done wrong and we tell God we are sorry. Sorry we have hurt others.   Sorry we have broken His commandments.   Sorry we have fallen short of God’s hopes and expectations of us.

We make sacrifices and give things up for Lent. At our house this year – we are giving up purchasing yarn – eating M & M’s – eating chocolate in ANY form – and ice cream.   Sacrifice – giving up something we love – has been a way Christians throughout the centuries have tried to draw closer to our Lord. By making our own sacrifices we remember more clearly the incredible sacrifice Jesus made when he died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Another way Christians have traditionally honored the season of Lent is by spending more time with our Lord. I invite you to join me in this spiritual practice. Each Saint Stephen household received at least one Lenten calendar in the mail recently. These calendars include a thought for each day of Lent for us to ponder as well as a brief passage of God’s Word for us to read. These Lenten calendars make daily Bible reading and reflection a very approachable discipline.

I would also like to invite you to join me each Wednesday right here on the blog (pastorkerri.com) for a brief Lenten worship service. The theme this year for our Lenten worship is the hymn #334 from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship: “Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery.” Each week we will focus on one of the five Lenten verses of this truly beautiful hymn.

“Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery”

Evangelical Lutheran Worship #334

Verse 1:

From the dawning of creation you have loved us as your own; stay with us through all temptation make us turn to you alone.

Verse 2:

In our call to be a blessing, may we be a blessing true; may we live and die confessing Christ as Lord of all we do.

Verse 3:

Living Water of salvation, be the fountain of each soul; springing up in new creation, flow in us and make us whole.

Verse 4:

Give us eyes to see you clearly; make us children of your light. Give us hearts to live more nearly as your gospel shining bright.

Verse 5:

God of all our fear and sorrow, God who lives beyond our death, hold us close through each tomorrow, love us near as every breath.

I am joining with four other local ELCA pastors to bring you these Wednesday Lenten worship services. Pastor Ken Boehm from Ascension – Pastor Ron Poisel who was the pastor of Christ Lutheran in Jeffersontown for many years before retiring – Pastor Andy Rutrough from Saint John’s in Saint Matthews – and Pastor Claire Ackleow from Faith Lutheran across the river in Jeffersonville, IN.

The preacher for the first week will be familiar to you – but in the following weeks we will be blessed to hear from new voices and to hear new perspectives. Please take a few minutes each week to join us on this Lenten journey.

I encourage you to draw closer to your Lord during this Lenten season.   Throughout the Bible God promises that he is with us always. We are not living through these challenging times alone. Our Lord is with us. He will strengthen us and care for us and surround us with his love.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

 

Worship for Sunday, February 21, 2021

Genesis 9:8-17

God said to Noah and to his sons with him,  “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be put to shame,
  nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame;
rather let those be put to shame who are treacherous.
Show me your ways, O Lord,
  and teach me your paths. 
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.
            Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
  for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
You are gracious and upright, O Lord;
  therefore you teach sinners in your way. 
You lead the lowly in justice
and teach the lowly your way.
All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness
to those who keep your covenant and your testimonies
.  Amen.

1 Peter 3:18-22

Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And 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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

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.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

“Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.” – Psalm 25:7

I am guessing I am not the only person – in our midst – who has prayed that particular verse of Psalm 25 with great earnestness from time to time!  I can’t be the only one among us – who has a slightly checkered past.  Who among us hasn’t sinned and fallen short of the glory of God a time or 10,000?

Honestly – I have to admit to having a slightly checkered present too!  Sometimes my very human humanness just smacks me right upside the head so hard it takes my breath away!

More than once – I have wondered just how long a person can get away with claiming to be a youth?  How old is too old to be a youth?  Does young at heart count?  Is 46 years old too old to be considered a youth?  Boy – I really hope 46 isn’t too old – because I so totally need God to “remember not the sins” and transgressions of some of my more recent days too!  You know like yesterday and today for example . . .

Perhaps 46 or even 106 isn’t too old!  After all – the oldest man in the Bible was Methuselah and he lived to be 969 years old.  So compared to Methuselah I really am just a mere youth.  Compared to Methuselah I am barely getting started in this life!

Or when you think about eternal life – well – at 46 – I am a mere newborn!

No matter how hard we try to get it right – we end up making a great big mess of our lives from time to time.  We hurt ourselves and we hurt our loved ones.  We are all so very human. We all sin each and every single day of our lives.  We all fall short of the glory of God. 

Often when we make a mess of things we find ourselves in need of making an apology.  And – oh – my – apologizing is hard.  Apologizing is so very – very hard!

Apologizing doesn’t come naturally to us.  Most of us loathe apologizing.   Some folks never seem to be able to do it. 

Having to admit to yourself and to someone else that you have done something wrong is so hard.  It has a way of putting us in our place like few other things in this life can.  Apologizing is so humbling.

It is hard to admit we have done something wrong.  It is hard to admit we have made a mess of things – yet again . . .   It is hard to stop justifying our actions, and making excuses for our sins.

Apologizing is so much harder than figuring out yet another way of justifying our bad behavior to ourselves and others.

And we Christians know no matter how hard apologizing is – it is good for us.  ALL of us need to apologize.  So – every week when we gather together for worship – we confess our sins.  We repent just like our Gospel reading calls us to do.

We tell God about what we have done wrong and we tell God we are sorry.  Sorry we have hurt others.  Sorry we have broken His commandments.  Sorry we have fallen short of God’s hopes and expectations of us.

And we ask God to forgive us all of our shortcomings – our mistakes – our sins and our missteps.  For the ways we mess up each and every day of our lives.

Confession is an essential part of our worship each week.  But during Lent – we spend extra time confessing our sins and apologizing and humbly asking for God’s forgiveness. 

We do this because Lent is a time when we focus on getting right with our heavenly Father.  We focus on our need to repent.

Repentance is about being honest with ourselves and with God. 

When we repent we are facing up to the truth – that we are all messed up sinners who fall short of the glory of God.  We fail to obey God. 

When we repent – we admit that we have sinned and made a mess of things. 

Repentance also means acknowledging that we clutter our lives with all sorts of obstacles that keep God from being the center of our lives.  We let work or school or sports or money or our hobbies come between us and God.

Repentance means taking an honest look at your life and admitting that you need God’s help – that you need God’s grace and mercy.

Repentance is also about feeling really and truly sorry for your sins. 

Repentance is good for us.  It helps us see the error of our ways and hopefully to choose new directions for our lives in the future.  Repentance helps us focus our lives on God and on what God wants for our lives.  And the best news of all is that when we confess.  When we repent and when we ask for forgiveness – God forgives us.  God promises us that he will always forgive us because he loves us.  And truly that is very good news indeed.  Amen.

Joy! Delight! Laughter! and Awe!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises. – Psalm 98:4

Joy!  Joy is that glorious feeling that fills your heart and soul to overflowing with delight.

I am not talking about contentment or happiness.  Being content is lovely.  Being happy is nifty – even great.  But contentment – happiness and joy are not the same things.  Contentment – happiness and joy are different.  Joy is happiness taken to the next level.

I am often content.  I am pretty easily pleased.  Give me a good book – a cozy nook for reading and knitting and I am fine for hours (days . . . weeks . . . millennia).  Take me for a walk in our neighborhood so I can get fresh air and I am good too.

The light was terrible on Tuesday – but Will was grinning from ear to ear!

Most days I experience moments of true happiness also.  Simply being with Jason, Jack, and Will makes me happy.  Sunshine makes me happy.  I love the feeling of sunshine on my face and seek pools of sunshine whenever I am able.  Exploring – hiking – and spending time in nature makes me happy too.

But joy.  Joy is different.  Joy is a bolder emotion.  Joy is belly laughs.  Joy means huge grins.  Sometimes those grins are so big the muscles in your face begin to ache!

Joy bubbles up and out of you.  Joy spreads.  Joy is contagious in the best possible way.  You really can’t keep joy to yourself.  And why would you want to?

Twice this week I had the incredible blessing of experiencing moments of joy.  Both involved the McFarlands being the McFarlands.  In other words – it involved us being outside.

Even almost-adult boys/men love snow – its seems!

After the snow had been half-heartedly falling on Monday for a bit – Jack and Will set off on a brotherly adventure.  They do this from time to time.  They go for walking expeditions together in our neighborhood and beyond. 

Once Jason and I were done working at our desks for the day – we too bundled up and  set off for our evening walk.  (Well – I bundled up.  Jason put on a fleece and a pair of gloves.  My beloved has anti-freeze in his veins!)   As Jason and I walked we spotted our two snow-covered adventurers coming toward us down the street.  Just as the McFarland sons met up with us – a hawk swooped over all of our heads not just once – but TWICE!  Seriously – as my non-exaggerating husband is my witness – the hawk flew right past us and then swooped by again.  We all just stood there in the falling snow – laughing and talking and reliving the awesome moment for a good five minutes. 

There may be more snow on the boy than the front yard!

Our hearts were filled with both awe and joy!

My second encounter with joy this week was of a vicarious nature.  I caught joy from my joyful sons.  More specifically I caught joy from watching Jack and Will play in the snow.  Wow – just – wow – did those two have a blast in the snow on Tuesday afternoon!  It was a delight and a blessing to see their glee.  To hear their laughter.  To see their radiant smiles.  To experience their joy. 

Some of being brothers I don’t understand.  I don’t understand the joy of filling someone’s boots with snow – but apparently this is hilariously funny to both participants.  I would NOT want anyone to tackle me or to trip me or to run and jump on me – but all of these things fill Jack and Will’s brother hearts with JOY.  Seriously – those two laughed and smiled and laughed and smiled the entire time.  Actually they laughed and grinned from frozen ear to frozen ear!

Their joy quickly became my joy.  I laughed and smiled and laughed some more.  Their joy truly was contagious and such a blessing.  I am pretty sure I will treasure memories of their laughter and joy in my heart for a very – very long time.

What makes you joyful?  What fills you with joy? 

It may not be soaring hawks.  It probably isn’t watching Jack and Will fill each others’ boots with snow. 

But have you considered the answer to those questions?  What makes your heart sing?  What makes you thankful to be alive?  What makes you joyful . . .?

Now the next set of questions may be harder – how could you seek more joy in your life?  How might you make more room in your life and in your heart for moments of joy? 

When you experience moments of joy do you notice them and give thanks for them?  

Do you ever take the time to relive your favorite moments of joy?  Reliving favorite “joy” moments might just bring a smile to your face and a warm feeling of being blessed to your heart.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Ash Wednesday 2021 Worship

Greeting

Pastor: May the Lord be with you.

All: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Pastor: Let us pray.  Almighty God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who ask for your forgiveness.  Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

First Reading:  Joel 2:1, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people. Sanctify the congregation.

Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 51:1-12

 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

            in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

 Wash me through and through from my wickedness,

            and cleanse me from my sin.

 For I know my offenses, and my sin is ever before me.

 Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;

            so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment.

 Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,

            a sinner from my  mother’s womb.

 Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,

            and would have me know wisdom deep within.

 Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

            wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.

 Let me hear joy and gladness;

            that the body you have broken may rejoice.

 Hide your face from my sins,

            and blot out all my wickedness.

 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

            and renew a right spirit within me.

 Cast me not away from your presence,

            and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

            and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.  Amen.

Second Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:20-21

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Ash Wednesday is traditionally that one day in the Church year when we pause to think deeply about our own flaws – our own humanity – our brokenness – our very human humanness. 

Ash Wednesday is the day when we try to see ourselves for who we really are – the good – the not so great and the stuff we just don’t like to admit even to ourselves . . .

On Ash Wednesday we pause in the midst of our often busy – bustling lives to reflect on our desperate need for a Savior.  Because we know – we ALL so desperately need a Savior. 

Ash Wednesday is the day we mark our bodies with ashes.  These ashes are a sign of both lament and hope.

And oh – my sisters and brothers in Christ – how fitting that is for this year of all years.  These past 12 months have left our hearts filled to overflowing with lament.  Even the most hopeful and sunny or stoic among us are beginning to feel the ache and the grief and pain of the last 12 months.  Our hearts cry out.  We are exhausted.  We are grieving.  We are broken and sad.  We feel so much loss and pain and hurt.  And perhaps anger.  Anger and frustration are a part of lament too.  Sometimes anger and frustration are deeply a part of lament.

We have spent the last 12 months looking our humble – messy humanity in the eye.  And it has been hard.  So – so very – very hard!   Because what we have seen has often been such a messy mess.  We have seen our brokenness and our flaws and our sinfulness and our selfishness.  We have seen our fear and our very human humanness.

And this is HARD!

So yes – this year we understand the lament and the ashes.  Many of us understand them in a way we never have before. . .

And oh how we long for hope.  Oh – how we need hope.  Our hearts and souls cry out for even a glimmer of hope these days. 

Verse 1 of Psalm 42 has been running through my mind recently.  It seems so very fitting for times like these.  I think we can all relate to these words – “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”  This verse seems to capture so much of what we are feeling these days.  We are all so filled with longing. 

We long for comfort and joy.  We long for better times.  We long for healing.  We long for spring and reunions and a return to what was.  We long for a brighter future.  Most of all – we long for hope!

And if we look in the mirror today – that is exactly what we see.  (Nope – I am not talking about finding hope in ourselves and in the eyes gazing back at us.)  Rather I am talking about turning your gaze just a bit further north to that black mark right in the middle of your forehead.  Because that black mark is not just a careless smudge.  It is not a slash or a line or merely a mark made of ash to declare:  “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  No – that mark on your forehead is a cross.

There in the cross is the answer.  There in the cross is our hope!

Yes – the ashes do remind us of our brokenness and our sinfulness and our very human humanness.  But those ashes form the shape of the cross of Christ Jesus who is our Lord and Savior.  Who is our hope!

We are all so messed up aren’t we?  We are all broken and struggling and sinful and just so very human!  No matter how hard we try – none of us can save ourselves. 

And thank goodness we don’t have to.  Well actually – thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we don’t have to save ourselves, because Jesus did that for us when he willingly chose to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Jesus died in our place for us – so that we don’t have to die an eternal death for our sins.

Yes – on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of just how messed up and sinful and broken we all are.  And we are marked by our brokenness and our sinfulness because of the black – crumbling – falling apart – gritty – messy – ashes that we all wear on our foreheads. 

But we are also marked by our greatest hope because we wear crosses on our foreheads! 

These crosses are bold – beautiful reminders of God’s forgiveness and the promise of resurrection to  eternal life lived with God the Father in heaven. 

Know this – you are the beloved – cherished – forgiven – redeemed children of God – today – tomorrow and for all eternity.  And truly that is very Good News indeed.  Amen.

Invitation to Lent

Pastor:  Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today we enter the time of remembering Jesus’ journey from death to life.

We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance and our need for God’s mercy.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor. I invite you, therefore, to the discipline of Lent – self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love – strengthened by the gifts of Word and sacrament. Let us continue our journey through these forty days together with our Lord.

Confession of Sin

Pastor: Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and one another.

Silence is kept for reflection and self-examination.

Pastor: Most holy and merciful God,

All: we confess that we have sinned by our own most grievous fault, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

Pastor: We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.

All: Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us.  We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Our past unfaithfulness, the pride, envy, hypocrisy, and apathy that have infected our lives, we confess to you.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Our self-indulgent ways, and our exploitation of other people, we confess to you.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to share the faith, we confess to you.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Our neglect of human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, we confess to you.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Our false judgments, our uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, we confess to you.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Our lack of concern for those who come after us, we confess to you.

All:  Have mercy on us, O God.

Pastor:  Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.

All:  Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.

Imposition of Ashes

Pastor:  Almighty God, you created us out of the dust of the earth.  May these ashes be a sign of our mortality and penitence, reminding us that only by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ are we given eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Pastor:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  (Genesis 3:19)

At this time you are encouraged to mark your foreheads with ash crosses.

Prayers of Intercession

Pastor:  Let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God’s creation.

A brief silence.

Pastor:  Help us return to you with all our hearts.  God of mercy,
            All: hear our prayer.

Pastor: Now is the acceptable time for us to learn your way of peace. Plant peace in our hearts, in our homes, and in every nation, that it might sprout and flourish. God of mercy,
         All: hear our prayer.

Pastor:  Grant comfort and endurance to all those who suffer. Bring healing to the sick, and rest to the weary (especially). God of mercy,
            All: hear our prayer.

Pastor:  Center our lives in you Lord. Take away any obstacles standing in the way of serving our neighbor. God of mercy,
            All: hear our prayer.

Pastor:  As we remember the saints who have gone before us, fill us with hope.  God of mercy,
           All: hear our prayer.

Pastor:  Into your hands, God of abundant grace, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Holy Communion

The Words of Institution

Pastor: In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:  Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, Jesus took the cup, he gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.  Do this in remembrance of me.

Pastor:  Lord remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

All: Our Father, who art in heaven,

            hallowed be thy name,

            thy kingdom come,

            thy will be done,

                        on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

            as we forgive those

                        who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

            but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

            and the power, and the glory,

            forever and ever. Amen.

Invitation to Holy Communion

You are welcome at the Lord’s Table.  We encourage you to gather wine and bread or grape juice and crackers and join us in celebrating Holy Communion.  Jesus used what he already had to celebrate Holy Communion at the Last Supper.  Jesus literally picked up the bread and the wine that were on the table right in front of him and used those.  Jesus did not order anything special.  Jesus used what was available to him.  We can do the exact same thing.  We can use what we have in our homes. 

Prayer after Communion

Pastor:  Merciful God, accompany our journey through these forty days.  Renew us in the gift of baptism, that we may provide for those who are poor, pray for those in need, fast from self-indulgence, and above all that we may find our treasure in the life of your Son,  Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Blessing

Pastor:  May Almighty God, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you now and forever.

Dismissal

Pastor:  Go in peace. Remember the poor.

All: Thanks be to God.


Ice -Joy – and an Invitation

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

I like to think I am the sort of person who makes lemonade out of the lemons life sends my way (from time to time anyway).  I like to think I enjoy a good adventure (as long as I can take my knitting with me).  I flatter myself by thinking I enjoy exploring and seeing life from a different perspective. 

I think I do this successfully sometimes – but I know my sons are experts at it!  Jack and Will are highly skilled at seeing the world in new and different ways.  They are gifted at exploring and adventure! 

Sunday evening is a perfect example.  Jason asked Jack and Will to finish cleaning the thick layer of ice off of their beloved trampoline in our backyard.  So the McFarland sons bundled up and headed outside.  And – because I am me (nosy) – AND I had some incredibly essential tasks to accomplish in the kitchen I watched them through our kitchen window.  I knew they were going to be far more entertaining than my book (and it is a good read).

They climbed and explored.  Will went whooshing down his ice-covered slide at a super sonic speed.

Just a boring old table – but NO! Not so. Not boring at all!

They looked under things and together they discovered that the underside of the table on our patio is covered in 100’s (perhaps 1000’s) of icicles.  And it is so beautiful and amazing under there!  Seriously – delightfully beautiful.  I missed that when I was exploring.  See – I told you that they were better at exploring than I am! 

The McFarland sons threw chunks of ice for the pure joy of watching them fly through the evening air and then listening to them crash onto the frozen ground.  When did I get so boring and grown-up that I stopped throwing chunks of ice just because it is fun?

Of course – they threw stuff at each other!  Jack and Will are brothers after all.  And I felt compelled to share the reminder that throwing chunks of ice at one’s brother could result in the need for a trip to the ER and stitches.  (I am a mom – after all.)  Yes – our sons delight and amaze me – but a trip to the ER would have been neither delightful nor amazing.

They wrestled and they laughed.  They put ice down eat others’ backs (oh the horror)!

They even cleaned off their trampoline!

What I witnessed was a delight to my heart and soul.  My sons reminded me over and over again that life isn’t just good – life is awesome and amazing and beautiful and fun and funny and hilarious and sweet.  Will and Jack explored and adventured and laughed and reveled in being alive and they did it all in their own backyard in a mere 45 minutes!

This sort of joy and fun isn’t just for our children.  Enjoying life isn’t just for kids.  Even grown-ups can have fun and laugh and explore.

When was the last time you played?  When was the last time you threw a snowball or made a snow angel?  When was the last time you tossed a stick or a rock into a river?  When was the last time you did something just for the fun of it?  When was the last time you explored or went for an adventure?  When was the last time you took a moment just to be glad you are alive?  Really – honestly – when was the last time?

This earthly life is a gift and a blessing to us from our Lord.  It is a treasure to be delighted in and enjoyed.  (And yes – I know it is hard being alive too.  I live in the real world right along with you.  I understand the gravity of being a very human human in this world – but there is joy and beauty and fun here too.)

I encourage you to make time today to play.  Do something just because it is fun.  Do something for no other reason than it is fun.  Celebrate and give thanks for the gift and the blessing of this precious earthly life!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

PS – Thank you to Jack McFarland for taking these pictures for us.

Worship for Sunday, February 14, 2021

2 Kings 2:1-12

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.  Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.  The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”


Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.  The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”


Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.  Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.  Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.


When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”  As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.  Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 50:1-6

The mighty one, God the Lord, has spoken;
calling the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty,
  God shines forth in glory.
Our God will come and will not keep silence;
with a consuming flame before, and round about a raging storm.
God calls the heavens and the earth from above
  to witness the judgment of the people.
“Gather before me my loyal followers,
those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.”
The heavens declare the rightness of God’s cause,
  for it is God who is judge.  Amen.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 9:2-8

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

The Gospel of the Lord.

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

Sometimes life is just plain surprising.  Sometimes life actually takes your breath away.  Sometimes life dazzles you and leaves you feeling blessed and thankful.

This very thing happened to Jack and me just last Sunday afternoon.  As we were getting out of the car in our driveway we noticed a flock of starlings.  I know – starlings are everywhere in Kentucky.  But what caught our eye was the fact that these particular starlings didn’t fly away when we got out of the car.  Starlings always startle so easily.  In fact – Will loves startling starlings.  Clapping at a flock of starlings and watching them all take flight simultaneously delights Will.  So Jack and I were puzzled by the starlings that didn’t startle.  We even talked about the unstartled starlings as we unloaded the car.

But then – as we walked toward the house there was a sudden WHOOSH as 100’s of starlings took flight and flew right over our heads.  The sky turned dark as we stood frozen in our tracks under a cloud of starlings.

And then Jack exclaimed – “Mom – look!” 

And soaring above our heads was a gorgeous hawk with its wings spread wide in the afternoon sun! 

Jack and I just stood there – in awe – with our eyes transfixed by the hawk soaring through the perfectly blue afternoon the sky.  Our hearts were filled with wonder.  We were dazzled and amazed! 

We both exclaimed aloud at the awesomeness of what we had seen.  But it took us just a moment to process what an incredible blessing it was that we had received.  It took a moment for us to process just how close we had stood to that soaring hawk.  We could see the individual feathers fluttering in the wind as it soared by us (and I wear tri-focals)!  Wow – just wow!  Talk about a God sighting!!!

Now try to imagine what Peter, James, and John were feeling after their God sighting in our Gospel reading for this week!?!

It all started out normally enough.  Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to join him for a hike.  It probably sounded like a wonderful break from the stress and busyness of healing the sick and teaching and casting out demons and feeding the hungry and sharing the Good News of God’s grace, love, and mercy. 

But after climbing a mountain – quite suddenly – amazing things happen.

The Gospel of Mark tells us Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”  And just as suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.  Then, God declares – “This is my Son – the Beloved – listen to him!” 

Moses and Elijah – were two of the greatest prophets in the whole history of Israel – but – both of them had been dead for 100’s of years.  And now – they stop by for a visit and a chat?

And God speaks to Peter – James and John from heaven – directly!?!

Is it really any wonder that Peter – James – and John – are shocked and terrified?  Who wouldn’t be? 

Peter – James – and John are simply overcome.  It is a bit too much for them to take in and process all at once.   They are frozen with shock and awe by all they have seen and experienced.  Peter does suggest they stay put right there on the mountain.

As tempting as it probably was to stay in that amazing place – Jesus knows they cannot stay there.  Jesus knows God wants them to return to the world – because they have work to do.  They have a very important mission.

So Jesus gets them moving again.  He helps them process what they are experiencing.    And then Jesus leads the disciples back down the mountain and they return to their  ministry of healing, preaching, and teaching. 

Just as God revealed Jesus’ true identity on that mountaintop – Jesus reveals our true identity and mission in this world when he returns to his earthly ministry. 

I know these are strange times.  And you are probably saying to yourselves and to me – but Pastor Kerri – Covid-19 has us all locked up at home.   We can’t go anywhere.  You and the church council won’t even let us have in-person worship!  But staying safe at home and social distancing don’t mean you can’t do God’s work in this world or that you can’t serve God and God’s people. 

We all just need to be more creative than we have been in the past!

Go for a walk – wear some disposable gloves and pick up litter. 

Call someone.  And just check-in and chat.  Most folks are longing to hear from someone different.

Call someone little and offer to read them a favorite picture book.   Or just tell them a story.  Zoom is free for the first 45 minutes.  But you don’t need Zoom.  When Jack was little I would read his favorite stories to him over the telephone all of the time.  This was long before Zoom.  He needed to hear the sound of my voice and I love to read – it was perfect.  And it made us feel closer when we were apart. 

Write a letter or a note to someone.  Reach out.  Tell someone you miss them and are thinking of them.  We all need a reminder that we are not alone right now.

Send a note of appreciation to someone like your child’s teacher or principal.  If your children’s teachers are anything like Will’s 2nd grade teacher – then they are working very hard these days and I would guess when they hear from most parents it is because parents are angry or annoyed.  Send a note of appreciation and spread love and kindness.

Make a donation to the Fern Creek-Highview United Ministries.  They always need our donations – but they especially need them now. 

If your family can afford it – sponsor one of the monthly meals at the Ronald McDonald House.  For $100 you can sponsor the monthly meal.

Pray for your sisters and brothers in Christ.

Use your imaginations.  Listen for God’s call.  Be open and willing to serve. We can all serve God and God’s people in our daily lives.  We can all make this world a more loving – more gracious place.  There is work to be done and we are the folks God has called to do it!  Truly this is God’s News for us.  AMEN.

Listening and Looking

The view of my beloved oak tree early this morning.

Jason and I are still in the intense years of parenting.  Not as intense as those baby and toddler years were.  Now those were some seriously intense years!  But still – we are in the thick of parenting.  And – of course – Covid-19 seems to have added to the intensity of this time in our lives.

More than anything I have noticed how I am very rarely alone anymore.  Seriously – I am almost never alone.  Once upon a time (like in February 2020) I had great big – glorious stretches of alone time.  I was seriously spoiled.  Not so much anymore.

I regularly remind myself that someday – I will have huge swaths of alone time.  Someday the McFarland sons will live elsewhere.  Someday our sons will set off into the world to pursue their own amazing hopes and awesome dreams.  Someday my home will be quiet and Lego-free and Godzilla-less.  Someday no one will be wrestling on my living room floor or asking me to watch his favorite PBSkids show with him.  Someday no one will be updating me on his NTI progress for that minute or asking about lunch options.

I remind myself of the glorious blessing that I am never – ever lonely!  I remind myself to appreciate and give thanks for this time in my life – because I am deeply blessed. 

I love my family more than words can say.  Seriously – I do.  But I miss silence and quiet.  I am an introvert.  Too much stimuli drains me.  It always has. 

So I have started getting up early in the morning (for me).  I get up between 5:00 AM and 5:30 AM most mornings.  (I know this isn’t early for some of you – but for me this is pretty early.) 

I love the quiet and the solitude of my early mornings.  I drink coffee.  I bask in the solitude.  I write sermons.  I plan worship (on-line worship takes more planning than you might think).  I think about lots of things.  I drink even more coffee.  I keep an eye out for the sunrise.  I am a big fan of watching the sun rise.

And I listen.  I love listening when the world around me is quiet(-ish).  The hush of the early morning is a delight to my introverted soul.

This morning the world sounded very different.  Long before the sun rose and I could see all of the ice – I could hear the ice.  I could hear that our world was different. 

I could hear the creaking.  I could hear the heaviness of the ice.  I could hear that the huge two hundred year old oak tree in our backyard was weighed down with a layer of ice.  My ears told me the ice was there long before I could see it. 

Once the sun rose I could see that ice was coating everything.  The world glistened and shined and sparkled.  Ice is messy and dangerous – but it is breathtakingly beautiful too.

Because I am me and I can’t stay inside – I headed outside to explore with great care and much caution.  I could really hear the ice then.  The creaking and crunching and the groaning of the ice was delightful and amazing and intriguing.

I know this ice storm has made a mess of things for some people.  I know the ice will damage things.  I know ice is dangerous – but it is so beautiful.  Really – really stunningly beautiful.  Awesomely beautiful.  Dazzlingly beautiful.

I have been thinking about finding the beauty in the messy moments in life.  On finding the beauty in the storms of life.  So much of our time these past months has been spent on just getting through – on making it.  So much of our energy has been spent focusing on the bad and on what we don’t like and on what stinks about the situation in which we find ourselves.  We focus on what we don’t like and on what we miss and on what we wish were different. 

I understand.  I do.  It is natural to grieve loss.  Plenty stinks about living through a global pandemic.  I know we all need to let off steam.  Venting can be very helpful – but I wonder if we don’t focus a bit too much on how much this stinks some days?  I wonder if sometimes we aren’t getting just a bit lost in the wretchedness of it?

Perhaps we need to shift our focus a bit and look at things from a different perspective?

Perhaps we should look for the good and the beautiful?  Can we look for the blessings?  Can we find beauty where we are right now – in this very moment?  This is life for us now.  Can we find joy and good in what we do have?

I will start. 

I have two delightful sons who love (and even seem like) me so much they want to hang out with me.  That is seriously cool.  That is something I will give thanks for.

Coffee.  I love coffee.  Coffee is my morning bestie!  It quietly keeps me company every single morning.

A busy – bustling home.  Seriously – I haven’t been lonely in a year!

Dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.  All of those dishes mean our family has lots of nutritious food to eat and plenty of delightfully clean water to wash those dirty dishes with.  I find this also helps with dirty laundry!  It also helps to remember that when I do laundry I load it into automatic machines that do most of the work for me.  My foremothers took their laundry to the river . . .

I miss a lot from our lives 12 months ago – but there are a multitude of blessings in my present too.  I give thanks for those.

Where are you seeing God’s presence in your life?  Where are you seeing God’s blessings to you?  How are you trying to remember to give thanks?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri