Seeking the Silver Lining on a Gray Day

I try to live my life looking for the positive in things. I really do. I find feels so much more joyful and blessed when I look for the positive in even the smallest moments in my life.

Life is more fun with when I look for the positive.

This choosing the positive is often a conscious decision for me.   But each time I choose to seek the good and the positive and the delightful in a situation – the easier it gets the next time. Practice does makes things easier. For me – positivity is a skill I am working on each and every day of my life.

Wednesday afternoon when I headed to the bus stop to wait for the littlest McFarland – it wasn’t raining cats and dogs. It was raining Kentucky Derby horses. The rain was coming down in sheets.

Will does not like getting wet from the rain. I am not a big fan of getting wet from the rain either.   But – rather than focus on the fact that my jeans were getting wet from all of the rain – I shifted my focus. I decided I didn’t want to be “that kind of person” yesterday afternoon. I didn’t want to be negative and grumpy and focused on myself when I met my child after his busy day of school. Actually – I never want to be “that kind of person” even though it sometimes happens.

So – I chose the positive. I chose to seek the good and the positive and the delightful and the beautiful even while standing in the pouring rain on a gray Wednesday afternoon.

I quickly noticed there is a lot to be intrigued by and delighted in while standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain. Seriously – I am not kidding or exaggerating.

I noticed the sound of the rain pounding like a drum on my umbrella.   It was intriguing. And I wouldn’t have noticed that amazing sound if I had been whining and complaining to myself about how much I dislike the rain.

I watched the rain slip off my umbrella and I watched the way some of the drops dripped off the umbrella. Individual rain drops are gorgeous.

I delighted in the way the splashing rain drops made pretty circular splashes in the puddles at my feet. I smiled a huge smile as I remembered jumping in mud puddles with both of the McFarland sons when they were little guys. (And yes – I did jump right into the puddles with them.   Puddle jumping is tons of fun!)

I noticed with a smile that the Amazon delivery man carefully slowed down so that he didn’t splash me as he drove by. That was very nice of him. (Thankfully I NOTICED the UPS man in his big brown truck because he almost drove over me and my umbrella as I jumped into our neighbors’ yard . . . The positive in this was that UPS trucks are very loud and I heard him coming and had plenty of time to jump into Mary and Brian’s yard!)

Yes – everything was wet and soggy. Even I was a bit wet and soggy around the edges in spite of my trusty polka dotted umbrella – but by the time my sweet little guy’s bus came driving down our street I had a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

Seeking the positive doesn’t have to come naturally to you for you to decide to do it. Seeking the positive doesn’t need to happen on a day that is lovely – it was pouring outside. Seeking the positive doesn’t have to happen when you feel great – I wasn’t. Seeking the positive is a choice you can make. It is a practice – a skill that can be grown and refined. I keep trying and trying and working on this one!

Try it. Try seeking the good and the lovely and the beautiful. Try challenging yourself. Trying stretching a bit. Walk into a room and see the beauty instead of the dust. Wait in line and see how hard the clerk is working instead focusing how put out you feel about having to wait. Graciously socially distance and wear your mask and give thanks that someone cares enough about you to try to keep you safe.  Stand in the rain and watch the world around you transform.

Look for the good. Seek the blessings and the positive. You might just find yourself doing it more often just for fun!

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

In Christ –

Pastor Kerri

Getting Ready!

I think it is going to rain!

On a seriously rainy – gray rather blahh looking Saturday morning a small – but truly mighty and dedicated group of Lutheran Christians gathered at Saint Stephen. (Our Saint Stephen work day groups always tend to be pretty small. This must be a “city” thing. You should see the work groups a farming community can put together!) We gathered for a truly important and exciting twofold purpose.   We were getting ready. We were getting ready to welcome new renters to our rental house early next month. AND we were getting ready to return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

The Lutheran Christians gathered in spite of the gray skies that were threatening rain.

Some of us painted and cleaned the church’s rental house to prepare the house for its new occupants who will be moving in very soon. They are rather excited and looking forward to calling our rental house their new “home sweet home.” We are excited we will have friends of Saint Stephen living right next door again.

Others of our group rolled up their sleeves and cleaned and spiffed up Saint Stephen to make our beloved church all bright and shiny for our return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021. Both the rental house and the church were busy – bustling – hustling – happening places on Saturday morning and into the afternoon.

Multi-generational cleaning – Marilyn and Lilly hard at work together.

Folks were cleaning and scrubbing. Lutherans could be found dusting every nook – cranny and crevice of the sanctuary and meticulously running the vacuum.

Thank you Glenn!

Communion kits were prepared. Trash was taken to the dumpster.

Floors were mopped. Baseboards were cleaned until they sparkled.

Cheryl’s door was not white when she started.

Painting and painting and then more painting took place. Did I mention our group of volunteers painted almost an entire house on Saturday?!?!? Impressive. Seriously so very – very impressive!

When our 18 dedicated – gracious – amazing – wonderful – dazzling and perhaps slightly weary volunteers hung up their brushes – wrapped up their cords – folded their cleaning cloths and headed for home on Saturday they left behind a smiling pastor and a very – very – very clean church and a rental house almost ready for its new tenants.

I have several pictures of Peggy Zimmerman doing exactly this at all sorts of church functions. She must love the sink in our church kitchen!

We are ready. Saint Stephen has been cleaned. The liturgies and communion kits have been prepared. The readings have been folded and placed carefully on your seats in the sanctuary.

We are ready to return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 10:00 am.

If you plan to join us for in-person worship, we ask that you wear your masks over both your mouth and your nose as long as you are in the building (even if you don’t like masks or have been fully vaccinated). Wearing a mask is such a small sacrifice when so many have sacrificed so very – very much more . . .

Lilly is modeling her mask perfectly. Can you see in her eyes that she very clearly thinks that her pastor and her pastor’s camera need to retire or at least go bug another hardworking Lutheran?

For now – Saint Stephen worship services will look much like worship did last summer and fall. We are continuing to follow as many of the health department and CDC guidelines as possible. This means Holy Communion from our places in the pews – no singing – limited worship servers and volunteers – wearing our masks and maintaining social distancing inside the building with those outside of our “bubbles/family units.”

We will continue to record and post Saint Stephen’s worship services on-line each week for our sisters and brothers in Christ who prefer to worship in this manner.

Solving the world’s problems – packaging communion kits – and catching up!

We truly do look forward to throwing open the doors of Saint Stephen and welcoming our sisters and brothers in Christ back to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 10:00 am.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, April 25, 2021

Acts 4:5-12

The next day [the] rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders: it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

The view of one of my favorite valleys on a dark, snowy Christmas morning.

1 John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 10:11-18

[Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

What a strange – color coded journey we have all been on for the past 14 months or so. It has in no way resembled the fun of those color coded trips we took as kids through Candyland or around the Monopoly board.

The colors that have marked our journey through this past year have been warnings to stay alert and to remain cautious. To care for ourselves and our neighbors.

Red – orange – then far – far too much RED – before finally making our way back to orange. We briefly encountered yellow but then we were sadly right back to orange again.   Hopefully our journey will be taking us quickly back to yellow very soon. And then on to GREEN – glorious – blessed – beautiful – hope-filled – healthy GREEN!

This has been a journey of divisions. Passionate and sometimes painful divisions have arisen in our communities and our families and our country.

To mask or not to mask.

To socially distance or not to socially distance. Three feet – six feet or no feet? Who is right? How can we know?

Is our governor a public health advocate or a tyrant? Is he simply keeping us safe or is he simply a menace to our most basic rights and freedoms?

To get immunized or perhaps – not?

To gather together or not?

To travel or to stay home for a while longer?

To hug or not?

Is it just another flu or not?

Whose advice should we follow? When will it be safe? What is safe? Is it already safe?

What is right? Who is right? How should we proceed?   When we hold different opinions what should we do?

Names are called. Ultimatums are issued. Lines are drawn not just in the sand but in the setting concrete. Divisions are made. Relationships are changed.

This isn’t UK verses U of L silliness. This isn’t coffee verses tea. This isn’t morning lark verses night owl. This is huge and hard and painful. These divisions matter to us. And these divisions run deep.

This journey has been difficult and it continues to be difficult.

And this doesn’t even touch on the loss and the grief and the sorrow. So many precious lives have been lost to this dreadful disease.

So much pain and hurt. So much loss and grief. This has been a truly difficult journey.

We are exhausted and frustrated and sad. It hurts. We feel burdened. This journey is too long.   We are tired. Our hearts are heavy and weary.

Enough of the orange and the red and the yellow. Enough illness. Enough of the grief and the sorrow and the fear. Enough of anger. Enough of the pain and the suffering.

Enough of these horrible divisions that drive us apart when we could be (when we SHOULD be) drawing together to work for the greater good.

Our very souls cry out – enough is enough already!

It is at times like these when we need to hear Good News. When we need to be encouraged and lifted up.   When we need to be reminded we are not on this journey alone. And this is exactly what we hear from our Psalm for this week.

Our Psalm for this week is Psalm 23 which is familiar to most of us.   We have heard it many – many times.   Many of us have even kinda – sorta – almost memorized Psalm 23. We may have absolutely no idea what the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Mark says (Hint – Mark ends after 16 chapters.) – but we are pretty sure we have the 23rd Psalm covered.

We are pretty sure we know exactly what the 23rd Psalm says. But I would encourage you to listen Psalm 23 with new ears. With your listening ears – like we tell our little ones when we really want their attention.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

The words of the 23rd Psalm can be balm for our souls during times like these.

Yes – life in this world can be exhausting and painful and stressful and hard. Yes – the journey we are on has been long and it is far from over. Yes these days – it feels like we are in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.

But the Good News is we are not in this alone.   Our Lord boldly declares to us that he is with us. And not only that – our Lord is leading us through these dark times to better times.   Think of how wonderful the word “through” is. God is leading us through this dark valley. We aren’t staying here. This isn’t permanent. We aren’t going to be here forever. This is just part of our journey. A difficult part – most definitely. But this is just part of the journey.

And we journey through this difficult time following our Lord who leads us through to the other side. We walk with our God who loves us. And promises to love us always.

You are not alone. Your Lord is with you. In fact – God promises to be with you each and every step of the way.   Your traveling companion is your Lord.

God is with you now. And God promises he will be with you for all eternity. You are never alone. The Lord loves you and is with you always. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

 

It Hadn’t Happened in 120 Years!

I knew the weather was going to take a winter-y turn this week.   Even without the wise counsel of the Weather Channel folks you could feel the change was coming on Tuesday evening.   As Jason and I took our Tuesday evening walk the wind felt cooler – much cooler.   “Bummer” I thought – “but it happens . . .”

I watch the weather this time of year, because I have three huge beloved hibiscus plants I have over-wintered and babied for years now.   They are truly part of our family!   Jack has been graciously moving/lugging them in and out of the house for me for weeks now depending on the weather forecast.

Thanks to Jack my precious hibiscus plants spent a cozy night all nestled up in our dining room safe and sound from the nippy weather outside.

But – I somehow missed the forecast for snow. SNOW in April flew right by me with a zoom and a whoosh.   It was probably just a simple case of denial. I likely read there was a chance for snow but just refused to log that possibility into my brain. I did this because I did not want it to happen.   Snow in April – NO THANK YOU.

I moved away from northern Minnesota years ago.   There winters are fierce and go on FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER. To live up North you really do need a touch of anti-freeze running through your veins! In Minnesota snow in any month other than August felt like part of life. But I live in Kentucky now. In Kentucky our winters are gloriously short and wimpy in comparison and I love it that way. Snow should NOT happen in April here in the beautiful Bluegrass state.

But SNOW did happen. Actually quite a bit of snow happened. According the weather folks we received a whopping 1.8 inches of snow in Louisville between Monday evening and Tuesday morning breaking a record previously set in 1901!!! 1901 I tell you and so did the Louisville Courier Journal.

Wednesday morning as I descended the stairs my brain said to me – SNOW?!?!? Snow in APRIL?!?!? But it was 5:00 am and still quite dark outside so I thought “No way – Kerri – you just need coffee.” Well I did need coffee – but even fortified with coffee the snow was still there. . .

After some coffee – I decided to embrace the snow for a bit.   I went exploring. I wanted to see what there was to see. I like to do this. I like to explore. I like to go slowly. I like to listen and look and simply see what there is to see with an open mind and an open heart. I think we would ALL benefit from going slowly and noticing more and appreciating more and being more present in the moment.

Wow – did the world look different. I quickly noticed that April snow looks very – very different from the snow that falls in the winter. April snow is HEAVY! April snow has serious heft to it. April snow weighs everything down. The world looked saggy and soggy.

I also noticed how color was peaking out everywhere. Little – bright bursts of color popped out of the snow.   I found those bursts of color absolutely enchanting.

The snow stripped the pretty – puffy dandelions of their seeds.   Just the night before many of the dandelions had such lovely – fluffy halos but now their halos were gone.

When I first headed outside sky looked heavy too. But the longer I was outside – the brighter and brighter and bluer and bluer the sky became. I enjoyed watching the sky go from this . . .

to this!

I am not a winter person. I am not a snow person. I don’t find cold exhilarating or all that fun. But I was delighted and enchanted when I headed outside on Wednesday morning into the snow and the cold.

We can learn and see and experience so much if we simply allow ourselves to try different experiences and new things. We can see beauty in unexpected places. We can grow from trying something different.

I encourage you to explore – to go slowly. To look at your own world with new eyes. It is important that you head out with eyes that are uncritical. Don’t see problems and mistakes and weeds and bad stuff. Look for beauty. Look for what intrigues you.   What sparks your imagination?   What inspires you? What makes you pause and look just a moment longer?

God’s world is waiting. Get out there and explore! You will be blessed – especially if you are brave enough to go with a slightly more open mind and open heart . . .

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

Lavender is Not My Favorite Color . . .

I am fascinated by the multitude of greens in this picture.

As I have said many times before my favorite color is green. I love the color green. Green in all of its various hues – shades – tints and tones delights and amazes me.

But honestly – color (all color) just simply fascinates and intrigues me.

I find it so interesting why we choose to surround ourselves with the colors we do.   Why we wear some colors but never – ever – ever other colors.   Why some folks wear every color in the rainbow and others go for the monochrome look.

If you want to entertain yourself when you are out and about sometime – put your phone down for a bit and “people watch.” Notice the colors. Is there any orange or bright neon pink in the room? How about gray – khaki and black? What is the estimated ratio of monochrome colors to bolder – brighter colors? How does your brain react when it sees the orange or that bold pink? Were you drawn to that neon yellow or did you recoil just a bit? How about pastels? Do you like pastel colors?   Do you wish in your heart-of-hearts that you were brave enough to leave the house wearing a rainbow of color?   Or does wearing gray feel like you are cutting loose and going wild?

These are currently my favorite jeans. Just look at all of that glorious GREEN!

I am intrigued by other people’s favorite colors. Just this week I was visiting with Ms. Rylee F..   While we were catching up on life, she informed me that her very favorite color in the whole wide world is lavender. Lavender . . .

Lavender isn’t a color I tend to be drawn to. Generally – I am not someone who particularly likes pastel colors. I tend to go for bolder – brighter – zingier colors. But – the way Rylee’s eyes sparkled with delight and the smile that spread across her face when she just thought of the color lavender filled my heart with joy too.   Rylee’s love for her favorite color is contagious! Rylee reminded me that lavender is indeed a very wonderful color.

These beauties belong to our delightful neighbor Henrietta.

In college I wrote several papers on the meaning and symbolic use of color. So – when I got home on Thursday afternoon – I hurried to the computer and did a bit of research on the meaning of the color lavender and what lavender tends to symbolize. I simply love research and reading and learning.   (Why yes – I am a nerdy nerd and deeply proud of it.)

Lavender symbolizes tranquility and springtime. Lavender also symbolizes renewal and rebirth.   The color lavender has strong ties to Christianity and has been used for centuries in Easter celebrations. Cool – right?!?

The tree in our backyard . . .

Lavender . . . Lavender has been on my brain ever since my conversation with Rylee. Rylee is correct and wise! Lavender is a truly amazingly delightful color – a color I have been overlooking and neglecting for far too long.

Since chatting with Ms. Rylee F. about what a glorious color lavender is I have been noticing lavender and the multitude of different shades and hues of lavender there are in my world. I have been noticing how lavender shifts into purple – sometimes in the very same flower. I have been delighted and blessed to see lavender and purple all around me this weekend. The springtime world is absolutely bursting forth with lavender and purple and all sorts of in-between shades and hues.

These iris grow outside Will’s elementary school.

Take a walk or when you are out and about running errands look around.   Look for lavender and purple.   Where do you see lavender and purple in your world? Can you allow someone else’s favorite color to delight and inspire you? It doesn’t have to become your favorite color for you to appreciate something.

I have noticed that so often – we only see the world from our own limited perspective. We close our hearts and our minds to other folks’ perspectives and understandings of the world. We reject what we do not like or prefer and call it wrong (or even worse).

I encourage you to try to see the world from a different perspective.   To try to learn from someone else.   To shift your view of things a bit.   To look at things differently now and again. Try seeing beauty in a color you never really liked. Try a food you have never eaten (be adventurous)! Listen to a different opinion – don’t judge – just listen . . .   Listen to new music with an open mind (your children’s music or your grandchildren’s music – perhaps). Watch a movie that you have never seen before. Pat Markley tells me that EVERYONE needs to see “Harvey” starring Jimmy Stewart at least once in a lifetime and Marilyn Mills wholeheartedly agrees.

Try seeing the world from a different perspective. You might just learn something. You might grow. You will likely be blessed. You might be delighted and surprised. You might find yourself smiling unexpectedly and even giving our Lord thanks for the adventure we call this earthly life. . .

Thank you Rylee for this wonderful blessing. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to something new.   Thank you for helping me see the world in a different way! Thank you for shifting my perspective and for teaching me. Thank you for the adventure I have been on this weekend.   I have had so much fun looking for your favorite color and delighting in how beautiful lavender is!

Thank you for blessing me. I am wiser and far more blessed for knowing you – Rylee.

Today I give thanks for Rylee and for lavender and for learning!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, April 18, 2021

Acts 3:12-19

[Peter] addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 4

Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause;
you set me free when I was in distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory;
how long will you love illusions and seek after lies?”

Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful;
the Lord will hear me when I call.

Tremble, then, and do not sin;
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed. 

Offer the appointed sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.

You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when grain and wine abound.

In peace, I will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me rest secure.  Amen.

1 John 3:1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among [the disciples] and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

“Have you anything here to eat?” How many times have you heard this question? Only at your house it might sound more like – “What’s for supper?” or “Whose turn is it to cook this evening?” or “Do we have any ice cream?” or “Who ate the last slice of pizza?

“Have you anything here to eat?” This is the question our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ asks his beloved disciples after what must have been the longest – hardest – most   painful – confusing – and most mind meltingly wild week of the disciples’ lives.

And keep in mind these 11 men had already seen some pretty amazingly – stupendously impressive miracles during the 3 years they had spent with Jesus!   Seriously – they had seen Jesus walk on water and turn water into wine. The disciples had seen Jesus cast out demons and help blind people see.

But this past week – well – this past week – the disciples had experienced glorious moments of joy that took their breath away. And they had the wind knocked right out of them.

The beauty of the first Palm Sunday had been awesome. Huge crowds of people shouted Jesus’ praises – while boldly proclaiming Jesus was their Lord and Savior.

But then – just a few days later – came Judas’ shocking betrayal.   We all expect Judas to betray Jesus.   We know the betrayal is coming.   But imagine how the other disciples must have felt about Judas’ betrayal. Judas had been one of them! Judas had lived with them and worked with them and served with them.   Judas had been their friend – their brother! Judas didn’t just betray Jesus – Judas betrayed all of them!

And then came the horror of Jesus’ arrest. Followed quickly by the nightmare of Jesus’ trial – conviction – crucifixion and death.

Those painful events knocked the disciples to their knees.   Jesus was dead – and so were their own hopes and dreams for the future.

But then – just 3 days later – the women came back from Jesus’ grave with the wild – incredible news that Jesus was alive.

What a week it has been for the disciples!

There is so much for them to process. Feelings of sorrow and joy. Of fear and hope. Confusion and wonder.

And then – as they are all gathered together trying to make sense of all that has happened over the past week – Jesus comes to them himself

“Have you anything here to eat?” – Jesus asks his disciples . The very human humanness of this question stops me in my tracks every single time I encounter it.

“Have you anything here to eat?” – that is a question I can relate to. I understand this question. This question sounds so much like life at my house these days with two sons who seem to be growing faster than the speed of light. Seriously – so fast and so much eating!

“Have you anything here to eat?” Jesus asks his beloved – exhausted – confused – curious – awestruck disciples.

Food. Gathering around food. Feeding people. Eating and drinking together.   Cooking. Buying groceries. Comfort food.

This is something we have all done over and over and over again in times of crisis and pain and grief and suffering – isn’t it? It is how we try to make sense of the world when things don’t make much sense . . .

We have all gathered together around food.

“Have you anything here to eat?” Why yes – yes – we do.

We have gathered together for funeral lunches.

We have met for countless cups of coffee and heart to heart conversations.

We have shared our hearts over iced tea in camp chairs in the backyard or at the kids’ soccer game.

We have done the same thing over a couple of beers or bourbons and some barbeque.

Most of us have made a lasagna for a grieving friend or neighbor.

This is what we do. Or at least this is what we did before this pandemic year. Before Covid-19. And this is what we all long to do again.

We are just like Jesus and his disciples. After the worst week of their lives they longed to be together.   They longed for the comfort of each other. They longed for those who loved them and for those who would understand.

They longed for one another!

And after this long – hard – often exhausting – year of living in a world with Covid-19 and all that living through this pandemic has meant – we too long for one another. We long to see our sisters and brothers in Christ. We long for the comfort and the consolation of our church family

Soon – my sisters and brothers – soon. The time is coming. (Wear your masks and get those vaccines!)

And as we wait – I encourage you to reach out to one another.

No – a note or a phone call or a text or a card is not the same as a hug or a pat on the back or a long lingering conversation in the fellowship hall.

But a note is lovely. A phone call can be an incredible blessing. A text can be a wonderful reminder on a busy or a lonely day. A card means you have taken the time to share your love. An email is thoughtful. A phone call can be such a wonderful blessing!

Just because these things are different does not make them bad.   Or worthless. Or a waste of time.

Different is not bad or less valuable or less worthwhile. Different is just that. It is different.

We are called to love one another. We are called to nurture and support one another in the risen Christ’s name.

Share and show Christ’s love. Be kind. Be gracious. Be loving.

Reach out. Renew your relationships. Be Christian community to one another. Be sisters and brothers in Christ to one another. Be loving and supportive.

Even now as we wait to gather together in person – we can share and show God’s love. We can encourage one another. Console one another. Love one another. We can be sisters and brothers in Christ. Amen.

Right Outside My Front Door!

Apparently Americans are feeling deprived and miserable and downright forlorn. All because we are just so incredibly and horribly bored – Bored – BORED! At least that is what the authors and reporters of some of the news stories I have heard and read have been declaring.

Apparently we are tired of being “stuck at home” for such a long time because of Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions. We are fed up with being stuck in the same place for so many months.

These stories have given me food for thought.

Honestly – I am very rarely bored. The McFarland men joke that if I have a couple of sticks and some string I am happy for hours.   They are correct. This is absolutely – positively true. I do find knitting – making and being creative endlessly entertaining. And reading – oh – I could read and read and read and read some more.

But I don’t actually need yarn or a good book to be entertained.   Well – perhaps I do need yarn to be entertained . . . I will just never understand how non-knitters can just sit there and do nothing while reading or watching television or while waiting in line or riding in the car or talking on the phone or sitting through a meeting.   So much wasted time! So much wasted creativity! So much wasted potential! But I digress. (Digression is one of my super powers!)

Another way I entertain myself is by simply paying attention to the world around me. I notice things. Actually – I love to notice things. I delight in really paying attention to the world around me.

I look. I listen.   I watch. I observe. And I am so blessed.

This week I have challenged myself to delight in and to explore the places closest to my own front door. I want to see these places with new eyes. I want to look at the places I go most often with fresh eyes.   I want to explore and adventure really – really close to home.

I want to appreciate the things I see over and over and over again!   I want to be the opposite of BORED.   I want to be engaged and alive and thankful and blessed and everything those authors don’t want me to be. (And yes – I think they were being sensationalistic and way – way too dramatic!)

This has been so much fun. I have been noticing even more than usual. I have been seeing more. I have been hearing more. I have been delighting so very much more!

I have been appreciating more. Really I have been appreciating my neighborhood and my twice daily walks so much more. I have appreciated my home and my yard and even my very own family more!

My front yard in intriguing these days. It is amazing what a change in perspective and a shift in your attitude can do.

I have noticed just how many of our neighbors smile and wave to Jason and (hopefully) me on our walks. I have taken the time to appreciate and give thanks for these kind smiles and waves and nods from our neighbors. We don’t know most of their names nor they ours – but they know us by our twice daily habit of walking. (I didn’t take any of their pictures – because they already think we are weird enough because of all of the WALKING!)

I have noticed all of the busy – busy – busy birds. We have a pair of nesting hawks who live very close by.   I love to watch our hawks hunt and soar.

I have also noticed how much happier the squirrels seem these days.   In the winter the squirrels make the most wretchedly awful noises. (You should listen to them next winter. . .) I haven’t heard that miserable sound lately.   They must be a lot happier these days.   I don’t blame them. It is so lovely outside right now!

And I have noticed all of the stunningly beautiful flowering trees and spring flowers and green leaves.

Seriously – it is just plain dazzling right now.

Just for fun I looked for some really and truly spectacular beauty within 150 or fewer steps from my very own front door. (And why yes – I did actually count my steps. I find things like this delightfully entertaining.   This is probably why I am so rarely bored.)

Just a mere 8 steps from my front door I found this . . . Jack chose to plant these when we revamped all of the flower beds when we moved into our house 9 years ago. I think of them as “Jack’s flowers.”

14 steps from my front door I encountered this delightful sea of stripe-y goodness! Jack chose these too.

Our whole cul-de-sac is filled with the glorious scent of lilac this week thanks to our white lilac bush that is located a mere 31 steps from our front door.

These lovely dogwood blossoms are gracing the tree in our neighbor’s yard just 55 steps away.

59 steps from our house are these lovely maple trees that are just covered with HELICOPTERS! I loved playing with helicopters when I was little. I look forward to playing with them again this year!

63 steps from my front door I encounter these stunning beauties.   Some might call them weeds – but I call them FLOWERS. Look at those delightful – delicate leaves. Aren’t they amazing? And to think – I might have missed them if I had not been paying attention and taking the time to explore my world.

68 steps in the other direction I encountered these lovely white blossoms on our neighbors’ tree. I was transfixed.

Are you craving some spring color? Color can be found 115 steps from my front door in these brilliant red buds just waiting to burst open in the spring sunshine.

Or 129 steps away in these delicate pink blossoms that are absolutely covering this tree.

Try looking at your world with new eyes. Try a fresh perspective. Try NOT being bored. Try being engaged and intrigued! Try being open to awe and wonder!

Where do you see beauty? What is intriguing right outside your front door? Where do you uncover blessings? What catches your eye?

I find being intrigued by the world around me leaves me feeling so much happier and more content and blessed.

And it is just plain FUN!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Saint Stephen for Sunday, April 11, 2021

Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 133

How good and how pleasant it is,
when kindred live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron, flowing down upon the collar of his robe. 

It is like the dew of Hermon flowing down upon the hills of Zion.
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing: life forevermore.  Amen!

1 John 1:1 – 1 John 2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Our sermon this week is preached by Pastor Dan Fugate. The Rev. Dr. Daniel Fugate serves our Lord as an assistant to the Bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod for Discipleship.  Thank you Pastor Fugate for the blessing of sharing God’s Word with us today!

Yellow! Glorious – Amazing – Awesome – Delightful – Yellow!

I love color. I have long been fascinated by color.

My favorite color is green.   I am enchanted by the color green and all of its various shades and hues.   Green is also Jason and Jack’s favorite color.

Will is the outlier in our family. Will’s favorite color is orange. He has loved orange since he was old enough to express his opinion and Will has been expressing his opinions since he was a tiny guy! Will delights in telling people that he has taught his family to love and appreciate the color orange. This is true. Before Will and his passion for all things orange – I had very little appreciation for the color orange.   Now I appreciate orange and can see its beauty.

Orange will never be my favorite color. Orange is a bit too “something” for me (bold – bright – shocking – startling – orange) – but orange is a lovely color. I give thanks that my youngest son has opened my eyes to the beauty of the color orange.

But the color I have been obsessed with lately has been yellow!   Yes – yellow. Yellow has been on my mind for weeks now. Actually the color yellow has been on my mind for months.

Yellow has been my goal and aspiration. Yellow – yellow – yellow!

I have been thinking about yellow. I have been talking about yellow. I have been searching and seeking for the color yellow on maps of Kentucky. I have been praying about yellow!

Jason and I gave each other daily updates on how close we were to yellow and then celebrated joyfully when we finally achieved YELLOW – glorious – amazing – delightful – blessed – YELLOW.

Now we update each other on how yellow the yellow is!

I am – of course – talking about the Covid-19 color coding warning system for counties. Red – orange – Yellow and GREEN.

The Saint Stephen church council decided that after Jefferson County had returned to the Yellow category and stayed there for 3 weeks we can return to in-person worship.

Well – let the countdown clocks and calendars start – because Jefferson County, Kentucky is finally in the YELLOW. Whoo-hoo! Hallelujah!   Yippee! Finally!

We will plan/hope/pray to return to in-person worship at Saint Stephen at 10:00 am on Sunday, May 2nd.

(Jefferson County is barely in the yellow as I write this.) https://govstatus.egov.com/kycovid19

We will still be social distancing and wearing our masks. The Saint Stephen church council and I are adamant about being wise stewards of our health and the health of everyone in our community.

I look forward to seeing you in person – from a safe social distance – on Sunday, May 2nd!

We will continue to provide on-line worship for our sisters and brothers in Christ who prefer to worship in this manner.

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

In Christ –

Pastor Kerri

Easter Worship, Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Worship for Sunday, April 4, 2021

Isaiah 25:6-9 (Glenn Eisenbrey)

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all people,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 (Cheryl Markley)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord acts valiantly.’
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the acts of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Amen.

Acts 10:34-43 (Marilyn Mills)

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 16:1-8.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus’ body]. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The Gospel of the Lord.

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

Today we all joined Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James for an early morning walk. But this wasn’t three friends enjoying a walk together for pleasure or for exercise. They weren’t setting off to the market to shop for food or to the well for water.

This was a walk these women never wanted to take.   Because our early morning journey took us to a cemetery. These women have come to Jesus’ tomb. They have come to anoint Jesus’ dead body – because there just hadn’t been enough time to complete this sad task on Friday evening before the sun set and the Sabbath began.

They have come to finish the heartbreaking task of burying their beloved friend – their teacher . . . and their Lord (?) – Jesus of Nazareth.

They had thought. They had hoped. They had prayed that Jesus was their long expected Lord and Savior. That Jesus of Nazareth was the one who would deliver them . . . that he was the one who would save them . . .

This was work they never expected to need to do for Jesus. Jesus wasn’t supposed to die like this. Not at just 33 years old.   Not on a Roman cross.

Not a man who helped so many. Who gave so much. A man of love and kindness and generosity. A man who fed the hungry and healed the sick.   A man who was good and gracious and merciful. A man who had even raised his friend Lazarus from the dead!

And yet – Jesus had died on a Roman cross.   They had seen Jesus’ lifeless – dead body with their own eyes. Jesus was dead. . .

It felt like their world had ended. Their hearts were broken. Their hopes were crushed. Their souls were so very heavy with the weight of grief. They ache for the one they had hoped was their Lord.

Their hearts and their feet probably feel like they are made of lead. We know this – because we too have walked in similar processions. Our feet have walked these paths. We know . . . oh yes – we know . . .

Maybe we haven’t actually prepared a loved one’s body for burial like these women set off to do that morning. But we have all walked those slow – heavy steps into the funeral home to say goodbye.

We have all wrapped our arms around the shoulders of a grieving friend.

We have needed to be wrapped in loving arms when the pain feels like it might just completely overwhelm us this time.

We have all struggled to absorb and comprehend really bad news.

We have been to funerals. We have heard the pastor say “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” over the grave of a loved one. Most of us have been to far too many funerals and heard these words spoken far too many times. . .

We have all felt the weight of grief. We know what it is to ache and long for just a moment more with a loved one.

So we can imagine what these women were thinking and feeling that long ago morning. Because we too know sorrow and grief. We have been there. We know this.

This year – of all years – taught us that.   This year taught us about grief and disappointment and heartache. These past 13 months have taught us you don’t always get what you want or expect from this life. This year taught us the storms of this life can come out of nowhere and leave you reeling.

But when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome arrive at Jesus’ tomb their world is turned upside down and inside out – again. Because – nothing is as it should be.

Jesus’ body isn’t in the tomb . . .

Instead – a stranger is waiting for them in Jesus’ tomb. And this stranger boldly declares to them that Jesus “has been raised from the dead. Jesus is not here.”

Jesus has been raised from the dead! Jesus is not dead! Jesus is risen!

What could this mean? What does this mean?

Jesus’ empty tomb means death has been destroyed.   And sin has been defeated.   Jesus’ own innocent death on the cross and his resurrection three days later broke the bonds of eternal death forevermore.

In Jesus’ empty tomb – we see that God’s grace, love, and mercy have triumphed over sin and death.

God’s love and God’s mercy are stronger than sin and death.

Talk about Good News! Well actually – this is awesome – amazing – earth shattering – life transforming – angel chorus singing – mind blowing news! There is simply no news better than this.

Sin and death have been defeated!

Death does not have the last word with God.   Life is the last word. Just as Jesus lives you too shall live.

And so today is a day for celebration.   Today is a day for smiles so big that our faces begin to ache. Today is a day for belly laughs – boogie dances and whoops of delight.

Today is a day for alleluias and amens. Today is a day for hallelujahs and whoo-hoos and lots of them!

And maybe – just maybe – today is even a day for some hootin’ and hollerin’. (We do live in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky after all!)

Even for Lutherans – even for God’s beloved “Frozen Chosen.”

Death and sin have been conquered.

Truly this is very – very Good News – indeed! AMEN!