Worship at Saint Stephen for Sunday, May 30, 2021

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. 

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

the Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord
bursts forth in lightning flashes.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 

The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.
And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forevermore.

O Lord, give strength to your people;
give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace. Amen.

Romans 8:12-17

Saint Paul writes – “Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

This weekend Julia Davis is sharing with us about a powerful ministry in which her family is involved.

Julia and her family are active participants in the ministry of Compassion International. Compassion International is a Christian charitable organization whose goal is to help children around the world who live in poverty. Compassion International began its work and ministry over 65 years ago in 1952 when a pastor first developed a special program to help support Korean War orphans. In the decades since – Compassion International has grown and expanded their ministry to many more countries around the world.

Compassion International shares the Good News of God’s love and helps with essentials like food, education, mentoring, and medical care while working directly with local churches.

Compassion International offers the opportunity for those who wish to sponsor an individual child on an ongoing monthly basis. When you sponsor a child you are able to exchange letters and send pictures. You can learn about the child you sponsor and hear about their life as you correspond with one another over time.

You may also make a one time gift to support the ministry of Compassion International. You can pay for a baby’s medical care for the first 12 months of her life ($60).   You can give a child living in poverty the opportunity to experience beauty and joy through art classes ($50).   You can give the gift of drought relief – education and seeds ($30). Or there is always the Saint Stephen favorite of chicks ($40)!

Thank you Julia for sharing about your family’s involvement in this inspiring ministry!

Following in His Footsteps

My first real job was at Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Where was your first real job?

Before that I had done a lot of babysitting – lawn mowing – some dog sitting and I would cover a friend’s paper route for 3 weeks every summer while her family went on vacation in exotic Minnesota. But – my first real job was at the Library.

I was hired to work as a “shelver” in the adult department.   This meant every day after high school and on Saturday mornings I would hang out with lots and lots of wonderful – glorious – lovely – amazing – intriguing – beautiful books. Patrons of the library would check books out of the library and when they returned the books I would put the books back where they belonged so other patrons could check them out again. (People who came to the library weren’t just people.   They were “the patrons of the library.” Sounds kinda fancy – doesn’t it?)

What did you do at your first real job?

I loved my job. Seriously – my job was the perfectly perfect job for me. Books and restoring order to the universe. I was in heaven!

Did you like your first job?

Soon my best friend was hired to work in the same department with me so it just got even better! Before too long we started meeting the other student employees of the library and “hanging out.” And then one day I met a student employee from the children’s department named Jason McFarland . . . (Seriously – I have know Jason – FOREVER!)

Who did you work with?

I loved the Library and I knew it like the back of my hand. I could find almost any book or periodical there. I knew where the librarians liked to hide from the patrons. (Yes – there were days when my bosses hid from the patrons.) I knew which librarians were awesome and which were to be avoided at all costs. I knew which patrons would “helpfully” re-shelve books in the wrong place all of the time!!! I quickly learned who wanted help finding the Chilton Auto Repair Manuals – who was seeking a new thriller and who was simply there to wander the aisles and hang out with the books.

I still smile when I think of those years at Morrison-Reeves Library.   It was one of the first times in my life that I had found “my people.”

Who are your people?

I asked them to take this photo and they obliged me. . .

These days I watch as Jack sets off for his first real job at the Louisville Zoo. Jack loves working at the Louisville Zoo the way I loved working at Morrisson-Reeves Library. Jack is passionate about the animals the way I was passionate about the books. Jack knows the Zoo the way I knew the Library. He knows the Zoo’s quirks – bonuses – sweet spots and flaws. In short Jack knows what makes the Louisville Zoo the Louisville Zoo.

This week Jack took us for a guided tour of the zoo. Having our own expert docent was such a delight and a joy. I highly recommend the experience!

Jack declared that I too should stand in front of a GIANT frog for a photo session. Every family needs one or two of those!

Jack knows all of the animals’ names (both their species names and their cute “human-ish” names too).

He knew I would be absolutely enchanted by the butterfly exhibit and I was . . .

It was hot enough that everyone was slightly jealous of the tiger’s swimming pool!

Jack knew if we were patient the tiger would very likely come say “Hi!” and he did! He also knew that the tiger was scratching his back when he was hanging out down by the metal door.

He knows the Polar Bears and the Grizzly Bears rotate in the exhibit.   He can tell the difference between the different seals (they all looked big and gray-ish and wet to me . . .).

Jack also knows where to purchase the best brownies and the most varieties of Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream can be located. This is – of course – absolutely essential information when touring the Zoo and cannot be found on the Zoo maps or guides . . .

This poisonous little guy was Will’s favorite creature of the day.

Jack knew once Will stepped into the recently reopened HerpAquarium his brother would never – ever – ever want to leave (and he didn’t)!

Most importantly we got to “meet” Jack’s favorite animals and to hear all about his adventures at the Zoo. We got to see the Zoo from an insider’s perspective. We got a glimpse of Jack’s life when he is working at the Zoo.

I have always enjoyed our visits to the Louisville Zoo – but seeing it from Jack’s insider’s perspective was so intriguing. I loved every minute of our special tour.

Jack is particularly fond of these little fellows. I concur that their shells are gorgeous.

Have you asked a loved one to share about her passion lately? Have you expressed genuine interest in something someone else delights in recently?

Have you asked a question and just listened while a friend explained about his delight and joy in something you know nothing about? Have you expanded your horizons a bit? Have you let someone teach you something?

Have you learned something new from an insider or an expert? Have expanded your mind? Have you let someone else shine while you took a backseat?

Another of Jack’s favorite fellows these days . . .

Give it a try! It is such a blessing and a joy!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Seeking Snakes and Solace

Life has been intense around our house lately.

Jack is busy wrapping up his junior year of high school.   There has been plenty of Calculus homework and a huge final project for Biology which involved many hours of research. Plus Jack has been taking a whole slew of advanced placement tests. I remember these delightful AP tests from the Dark Ages when I was in high school   – they are INTENSE!

William is in 2nd grade and he is just DONE. He has worked so hard this year and has made tremendous progress. Will is like Jack. They are math guys. Reading – not so much. But this year was the year reading just “clicked” in Will’s brain.   He has gone from being a kinda-sorta reader to a little guy who reads EVERYTHING. It is such a joy and a delight to hear him read. He reads signs and boxes and labels and books and sermons and computer screens. If there are printed words our littlest reader is reading them to us. But Will needs a break from school and I don’t blame him one bit!

Jason and I are ready for a break too. This school year has meant far – far more juggling than previous years as we have both worked full-time and shared being Will’s full-time educators and I have been dealing with some serious health problems as well.

This year has been a year of compromises and juggling and tagging in and out and letting things go and looking our limitations square in the eye.   There have been more weeds in the flower beds and more Legos on the floor as we have navigated our way through this very strange year.

Last week was busy and hard and intense. We just needed a break. So we did what our family does when we need a break – we headed outside.   We sought the solace of green and nature and God’s creation. We went to Floyds Fork River and explored and what a wonderfully glorious afternoon we had!

Seriously – nature was just showing off on Saturday! We delighted and reveled in it. We gave our Lord thanks for the blessing of all of it!

As we were chatting and chattering along the path to the river we spotted a beautiful deer running across the field right in front of us!   I tried to take her picture – but she didn’t want to stand still for a photo shoot. She was more of an athlete and less of a diva – I guess! But if I could run as elegantly and as effortlessly as she runs – I too would run more often!!!

If you get out your microscope you might just see the deer we spotted!

Once we arrived at the river we moved away from the crowds – further down the river – to a quieter area to do some serious exploring. And what an afternoon of exploring we had.

A massive crawdad!

We found crawdads of all sizes from teeny – tiny little guys to great big lobster-sized guys.

Will bravely allowed this crawdad to pinch his finger!

Will worked and worked and worked until he finally caught a fish in his net all on his own.

He was tremendously persistent and I admired his fierce determination.

Don’t worry – we IMMEDIATELY – returned this sweet little guy to the safely of the water!

Will also had the glorious opportunity to admire an adorable little toad up close.

Will is currently fascinated with frogs and toads and very much wanted to see a toad or frog in its natural habitat. This close encounter of with a toad delighted Will and was the highlight of his day.

And it was a most excellent day for snakes. It was finally hot enough for some snake-y encounters and my oh my did we encounter some snakes!

I saw a baby water snake happily swimming down the river.   William flipped a rock and discovered not one but FOUR snakes hanging out together. We saw snakes many – many snakes.

Jack’s quick reflexes always dazzle me and his patience with both the snake hunting and his little brother are impressive!

There was some plane spotting too!

The black rat snake is laying on that thick dead tree branch and you can see its tail loop hanging below the branch!

Finally as the afternoon turned to evening – we reluctantly decided it was time to head for home. As we walked back up the trail we heard what sounded like a branch falling from a tree – but it wasn’t a branch it was a snake. In fact it was a very – very BIG black rat snake!

I gathered river glass on Saturday afternoon. The McFarland sons collected snakes and crawdads and other cool nature-y stuff – but we are a strictly catch and release kind of family.

The things we took home from the river on Saturday were a bag of river glass (technically trash/litter) – memories – and whole lot of blessings.

We explored. We delighted. We rested. We just were for a while. An afternoon at the river was just what we all needed.

Where do you seek solace when you need a break? Have you been there recently? Can you go this week? Or soon-ish?

We left the river rested – restored – blessed and thankful. I pray you are able to experience these same blessings in your own lives.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Pentecost, Sunday, May 23, 2021 at Saint Stephen Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

How manifold are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, with its swarms too many to               number,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you made for the sport of it.
All of them look to you
to give them their food in due season. 
You give it to them; they gather it;
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are terrified;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
O Lord, rejoice in all your works. 
You look at the earth and it trembles;
you touch the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will praise my God while I have my being.
May these words of mine please God.
I will rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Hallelujah! Amen.

Romans 8:22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

[Jesus said,] “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

The sanctuary wall on Pentecost morning . . .

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

I absolutely – positively love words and I am rather fond of talking too. In fact – to say that I am a bit of a talker is like saying the Grand Canyon is pretty deep or that Mount Everest is rather tall. I use many – many words every single day.

The University of Arizona did a study and discovered that on average we humans speak about 16,000 words a day.

If I had been in their study I totally would have skewed their data.   Seriously – just ask Jack or Cheryl or Rod or Jason or the nice lady at the grocery store . . .

Words – words – words. I am just so full of words.

Yes – I love to talk – but I also like to listen too. And I have been doing a whole lot of listening lately.   I have been listening and watching and observing and just plain delighting in Lutherans since we resumed in-person worship at Saint Stephen.

I have been listening to all of you and it has been an awesome blessing. I have been marveling at this wild and wonderful Christian community we call Saint Stephen Lutheran Church.

You ALL – certainly know how to make a joyful noise unto the Lord and you have been doing just that since May 2nd. Walking down the hall from my office on Sunday mornings – I hear you before I see you. And that is just the early morning warm up. Following worship – is when you guys really get rolling!

After worship the air is literally charged with happiness and joy and excitement as you all delight in being reunited with one another after so many months apart. There is laughter and chatter. I have heard guffaws and exclamations of delight and joy! There are important conversations taking place in every area of the sanctuary and narthex and hall and spilling into the church parking lot.

Truly it feels like our cups runneth over just a bit! And this is just a partial-reunion. Not everyone is back yet!

To someone else it might seem chaotic or messy or too noisy for church.   But I know all of this is perfectly perfect and awesome and amazing. I know this is one of life’s greatest blessings.

And I am so thankful to be a part of this noise and busyness and (some might even say) chaos that is our Christian community.

Messy – chaotic times in life can be moments when we receive our greatest blessings. Sometimes messy chaotic things change the world forever. We see a powerful example of this is our reading from Acts for this week.

Our first reading for this week started in a small – crowded – upstairs room where 120 of Jesus’ disciples had gathered together when suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house.

This mighty wind was the Holy Spirit coming into our world with all of His strength and power. This wind could not be contained or controlled – but it was not destructive.   This wind was an incredible – life changing blessing.

The second symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence that day was fire.   There were tongues of fire “which separated and came to rest on the heads of each of the people.”

The Holy Spirit just like wind and fire is really and truly powerful.   And the Holy Spirit came into the world to begin a mighty work. An amazing transformation started that day. From that moment until this very moment the power of the Holy Spirit has been shaping our world and changing lives.

As soon as the Holy Spirit arrived an amazing miracle happened.   The disciples all started speaking in a multitude of languages. Languages up until that very moment they did not know.

Imagine the disciples’ excitement as they discovered this amazing blessing from God. They must have been so noisy as whole new languages poured from their lips.

The disciples rushed into the streets of Jerusalem speaking all sorts of languages. And then things got even noisier and more chaotic as folks from different countries heard their native languages being spoken by the disciples. There must have been shouts of joyful recognition as they heard their own languages being spoken. What a sight it must have been – with so many people and so many languages and so much excitement.

The disciples’ lives were changed forever and so were the lives of the people who heard them.   Because when folks heard the Good News of Jesus Christ for the first time in their own languages many of them became Christians and were baptized.

So many people were blessed by the bold – brave ministry of Jesus’ disciples that day. And the world was changed forever.

Sometimes – we get the idea that God is done calling people to serve him. That God doesn’t really want or need our help. Or that God is okay with us not doing all that much to serve him or his people.

But that’s not true. You never get too old to serve God. You never graduate from serving God. You never get to say – my work is done here. Christians don’t retire from serving God. That’s not how the life of a Christian works.

Imagine if the disciples had ignored Jesus’ call to share the Good News of God’s love. Imagine if the disciples had decided they would leave it up to someone else to share the Gospel.

Imagine if the disciples had rejected the call of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine if Peter had decided he was just too busy fishing to help out.

Imagine if Thomas had declined to keep serving because he had already done his part.

Imagine if Philip declared he had retired and was done with God stuff now.

If the disciples had kept the Good News of Jesus Christ to themselves – none of us would be here today. None of us would know about God’s love. None of us would have ever even heard of Jesus.   None of us would be Christians.

God has blessed you all with unique gifts and talents. Our Christian community and the world need you. God wants you to use your gifts and talents to serve him, his church, and his world.

Imagine how you can help God with his work in this world.

Imagine how your own gifts and talents could help share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

God is never done with us. We are always called to serve God. We always have a purpose. We are always needed. And truly this is Good News – AMEN.

 

 

 

Quite the Attitude . . . !

April 2021 rainbow

I have noticed over the years that so much in life is determined by what we choose to notice or pay attention to. Will I notice the beauty in a moment or will I focus on what displeases me? Will I seek the positive or the negative in a situation? Will I look for the blessings or contemplate what I think is lacking? Will I search for the good or will I focus on the negative?

Will my dislike of rain blind me to the beauty of the rainbow in the evening sky?

Will my body’s intolerance of even a trace amount of gluten and dairy keep me from enjoying the delightful aroma of baking brownies? Will I begrudge others the fun of brownies just because my body will not permit me to do so anymore?

Saint Patrick’s Day 2021 rainbow

Will I enjoy the blessing of my sons keeping me company at church on a Wednesday afternoon in May? Or will I complain because they make noise and talk to me while I work?

Will I focus on the flaws or will I see the beauty in the moment?

We have a choice. Our attitudes shape what we notice. Will I be positive or will I be negative? Will I choose kindness or not? What will I focus on?

Our attitudes shape how happy we will be. AND our attitudes shape how happy the people around us will likely be!

I can choose to notice the beauty or I can choose to notice the negative in a situation. I can choose to focus on what makes me happy or on what makes me unhappy.

In almost every moment in our lives there is good and bad – positive and negative.

Nothing is perfect. No moment is without blemish. You can always find something that is lacking. BUT you can always find something to rejoice in and celebrate and give thanks for too. You can usually find something beautiful and lovely and good. Or at least you can usually find something interesting or that you can learn from a situation.

October 2020 rainbow

I know this to be true – because I do this all of the time. I live my life this way. I experience plenty of yuck and junk and sorrow and pain – but I try not to get stuck there. I focus on the beauty and the blessings in life as often as I am able. This is very – very intentional.

Stuck in a traffic jam = more knitting time!

Another sink full of dirty dishes = what blessings because we have an abundance of food and 2 healthy growing sons!

A broken tooth (this is the one I am working on this week) = at least I will get into my dentist on Friday and we have dental insurance!

Do I always succeed at this? Nope . . . but I have noticed I am so much happier when I do. And the people around me are also much happier when I seek the good and when I look for blessings and stay focused on the positive.

What we choose to focus on matters a lot. It shapes our lives. I am seeing this again and again as we emerge from our Covid-19 restrictions.

Spring rainbow in the TN mountains 2020

Some folks are focusing more on what we do not have yet. On the negatives and on what we are still waiting for. On what we lost out on because of Covid-19. On what is missing. They see a lot that is wrong or troubling.

While others are focused more on the joys of what we are regaining. On what they learned because of Covid-19. On what we are regaining and not on the continued inconveniences.

I think this is so interesting. We human beings have such different approaches to the same situation in life.

We respond so differently. Some of us see the glass half empty and others see the glass half full. Some of us see the rain while others see the rainbow.

But I believe we can shift our focus. I was raised to see the world very – very differently than I choose to live now. My parents specialized in fault-finding and negativity and I was raised to do the same. My mom could walk into my home and find something to critique and criticize in 60 seconds and believe me she did! I was trained to do this from infancy – but eventually realized living this way made me sad. So I decided to quit. It has been a lengthy process. But I have spent years looking for rainbows and flowers and the good and will say I am a happier person for it.

We are on a long journey. Emerging from Covid-19 is going to take time. Life is going to look and feel different for a while.

I would encourage you to seek the blessings in these moments. To seek the beauty and the good and what is pleasing. Reemerging safely from Covid-19 is going to take time. It is going to be a process and we might as well try to enjoy the journey.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Emerging

My first hibiscus blossom of the year!

Last week I met up with some of my dearest girlfriends. We are all finally fully vaccinated against the threat of Covid-19 so we decided to convene a gathering of the sisterhood.   It was time!

It was so incredibly lovely. We talked and we chatted and we laughed. Oh – how we laughed. We laughed and we laughed and we laughed some more. Some of us laughed so hard our faces glowed bright red!

We shared tales of our beloved children and grandchildren. (No – I don’t have any grandchildren yet – but many of my coolest friends do!)

We delighted in the ease and joy of an evening with beloved friends.   Time flew by like it had wings.

We reminisced. We all have history together (some of us more than others). And we reflected on how we have all been changed by Covid-19.   This pandemic has changed us. We are different. Our families are different. We see the world differently now and we likely always will.

We have all learned things about ourselves and our loved ones during this pandemic! Some of the things we learned were intriguing – some were inspiring and some were simply learned and endured . . .

The 1st rather messed up – messy looking cone flower of the year.

I noticed how we have been changed by Covid-19. Covid-19 has changed our unconscious patterns – habits and actions.

All of us are thrilled to be fully vaccinated. We talked about the relief we all felt two weeks following our second vaccination. Science tells us we all have a pretty significant immunity to Covid-19 and likely cannot catch or spread Covid-19. And yet . . . we all brought our own chairs and we set them up in a socially distant circle. We sat at least 6 feet apart from one another the entire time!

We did not touch one another. Not a single hug was exchanged. Nary a pat on the back was given. I spotted hand sanitizer being used and the moment I climbed into my car I used my own.

We did not wear masks – but that was our single concession to being fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The world feels different. It has changed and many of us have been changed right along with it.   We have been changed. We are different.

This rose is happy hanging out close to the house too . . .

Just like it took time to adjust to wearing masks and to remember to stand at a safe social distance – it is going to take time to readjust. It is going to take time to edge closer to others again. To trust the invisible protection offered by our vaccinations. I think this is especially true of folks like me.

I have always been cautious by nature. My children wear helmets on their bikes and scooters and while skateboarding – because I insist. I won’t drive if I have had a single adult beverage. I wear my seatbelt to move the car from the driveway to the curb. We eat organic. I look both ways multiple times before crossing the road. I always – always use my turn signal even when in the turn lane!   I dress in layers and always opt for sturdy walking shoes.   I simply do not throw caution to the wind.

I know that I – at least – have always been this way. I never enjoyed roller coasters – scary movies – driving fast or breaking the rules. The most rebellious thing I have ever done is marry and stay married to the same man for 23 years and counting (long story – sad family of origin).

So I and those like me are going to need time and grace. We are the cautious ones. We are the folks who didn’t mind wearing masks and kept to our Covid-19 bubbles. We may be feeling a bit protective of our little ones who are not able to receive life-protecting immunizations yet. This is who we are.

My sweet William flowers always make me smile. They are bright and bold like my William!

We will meet you in the coffee shop and at the restaurant – eventually – but maybe not just yet. Perhaps for now we can get our coffee to go and we can go for a walk together!   Walking is lovely and it is safe and outside . . .

We are all going to emerge from Covid-19 at different paces and in different styles. Your style might just be the polar opposite of your brother in Christ’s style. What you long for and what makes sense for you might make your sister in Christ nervous. We are all so very – very different from one another. I encourage you to be patient and gracious with one another. Remember what makes sense to you may seem uncomfortable to your neighbor.

These 2 blossoms are growing right next to each other. They look so different . . .

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

 

 

Worship for Sunday, May 16, 2021

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 1

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night.
 
They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.
It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall be destroyed. 
Amen.

1 John 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 17:6-19

[Jesus prayed:] “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Over the past 7 weeks – incredibly dramatic – even downright shocking changes have rocked the disciples’ world.

First came their exciting – exhilarating – gloriously triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the very first Palm Sunday when it seemed like everyone in entire nation of Israel was singing Jesus’ praises. People finally got it! At last they were proclaiming Jesus to be their Lord and Savior!

But then just a few days later – their joy was crushed by Judas’ heartbreaking betrayal. Yes – Judas betrayed Jesus. But Judas betrayed the other disciples too . . .

All of this was followed by the horror of Jesus’ arrest – crucifixion and death.

For 2 horrible days the disciples mourned Jesus’ death. They were heartbroken – lost and so very – very alone in the world.

But then – with the dawn of the very first Easter morning – came the wildly wonderful news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Jesus was alive! From death came life! From tragedy came hope! From sorrow came incredible joy!

For the next 40 days – the 11 remaining disciples spent time with Jesus.   Jesus taught and encouraged them.   And prepared them for what was to come.   And then – Jesus ascended into heaven to be with God the Father.

Now in our reading from the book of Acts – Peter realizes it is time for the disciples to get reorganized. The disciples have incredibly important work to do.

So Peter calls everyone together. The first order of business is to find a replacement for Judas whose betrayal and death left a huge gaping hole in their small community.

But before Peter takes any nominations – he lets folks know this job is for a mature Christian with a history of faithfulness. The new apostle should have witnessed Jesus’ baptism and worked with Jesus. This new apostle should have known and learned from Jesus.

After putting their heads together– they nominate two men for the job – Barsabbas and Matthias.

Once the nominations were closed – the church gathered for prayer and then they cast lots to see who would get the job. By casting lots they were seeking God’s will.

As far as I know – the only church that still casts lots to choose their church leadership is the Amish Church. (The rest of us resort to begging – pleading – tears – bribes and emotional blackmail!)

The Bible tells us the lot fell to Matthias.

Imagine – being called by God to fill the position vacated by Judas – the man who had betrayed the Savior of the world! Imagine the pressure Matthias must have felt to be an exceptionally faithful apostle.

But the thing is – Matthias is never mentioned in the Bible again – not even once. A few of the apostles like Peter and John are mentioned over and over again in the Bible. But we don’t really know what happened to the others like Philip – Thomas – Bartholomew – and Matthias.

Our lack of details about the rest of his life isn’t some sort of indictment of his abilities. Just because he didn’t become as famous as Peter and Paul doesn’t mean Matthias was a crummy apostle.

I think it is safe to assume that Matthias served God faithfully.   That Matthias shared the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy and did the work God called him to do. That Matthias got on with the job. Matthias answered God’s call to serve.

The world is full of Christians – who aren’t famous – but like Matthias – serve God faithfully and through their service make the world a much better place.

My own life has been touched by the powerful – yet humble ministry of countless – Christians. None of these folks are famous. Yet they have all blessed me – by sharing God’s grace – love – and mercy with me.

I remember and give thanks for my very first Sunday school teachers – Mrs. Clauson and Mrs. Ridgeway. They were amazingly patient – kind – loving – creative women who shared the Good News of God’s love through absolutely riveting flannel board stories about Jesus and Moses and Adam and Noah. Through coloring pages and crayons. Through sparkling glitter and glue. And most especially through songs about Jesus loving me and letting my light shine.   Oh how I loved those songs!

Even though – Mrs. Clauson and Mrs. Ridgeway never became as famous as Billy Graham or Saint Peter – their ministry was a beautiful reflection of God’s love. I learned so much about God and his grace – love – and mercy from them. They were a life changing blessing to me. I am different because of their ministry to me.

Who shaped your faith?   Who shared God’s love with you? Who pointed you toward God?

Was it your parents? Or your grandparents? A special Sunday school teacher or youth group leader or camp counselor? Perhaps – it was a neighbor or a friend or a co-worker. Maybe it was your first boyfriend?

My guess is each of you can point to people who shaped your faith.   They probably aren’t famous for their faithfulness – but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is they answered God’s call and served him.   What matters is they shared the Good News of God’s love with you. What matters is they helped you understand you are a beloved child of God!

Whoever these people are and whatever they did to shape your Christian faith – they gave you the most precious gift in the world. They showed you God’s love.

We should give God thanks for all of the faithful folks who heard God’s call and served God. We should give God thanks for their faithfulness and love.

And as we give God thanks for those who have shown us Christ – let us also remember that we too are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Remember Matthias and follow in his humble example.   Answer God’s call and serve so   others too might know the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy. Because God’s grace – love – and mercy really and truly are too amazing to keep to ourselves. AMEN.

Savoring a New Perspective

Everyone has things they value and hold in esteem. Everyone has some things they are drawn to more than others in this life. Everyone has things that are simply more important to them than others.   Sometimes much – much more important to them.

I have noticed far too often we struggle to see the value in things we do not appreciate or delight in ourselves. Often we undervalue – under appreciate – dismiss – and disregard things we don’t like ourselves or understand.

I see this happen all of the time. Unfortunately I do this myself.

I have been working on this. I don’t want to be closed minded – but this can be incredibly hard.   Growing is difficult!

But I realized I don’t have to like something to see it gives others joy. This has become my personal touchstone. I can take joy from others’ joy in something without being interested in it myself. Nascar – basketball – the Kentucky Derby – shopping at the mall – Pokemon – hunting – golfing – car anything – phones – Apple stuff – all not my thing – but I can delight in others’ delight. I can find joy in their joy.

Am I suddenly going to be transformed into someone who wants go to the mall to shop? Nope.   I find malls rather horrifying.   But – I have friends who love to shop and I love to hear their tales of shopping glory.

Every time Will spends time with his cousin Nic – he comes home inspired with a love for cars!

I fell sound asleep at the one Nascar race I attended. Not even knitting could keep the boredom at bay that day – but I delight in listening to our nephew Nic talk about racing. Nic’s joy is truly contagious in the best way! Nic’s joy can become my joy when I am open to it.

We have neighbors who clearly love sports of all sorts. They also love hosting gatherings of their friends.   Derby party – yes! Super Bowl party – of course! Basketball play-off gathering – every single game!!! World Series – they wouldn’t dream of skipping those and neither would their friends. It is a delight to see them gathering around the huge television in their garage to cheer on whoever is being sporty that day.

This is so not my thing – but I love witnessing their joy. It makes me smile every time I see them gathered with those they love to enjoy another sporting event.

Jason’s mom loves to cook. Linda is a magnificent cook. Most meals coming from her kitchen are elaborate and generous and they are all delicious! She delights in trying new recipes along with our family’s favorites. Thankfully we can load the dishwasher and head out to climb some mountains so we do! If we didn’t – a visit to Mimi and Papa’s would result in shocking weight gain . . .

I cook from scratch so it might appear that I too delight in cooking.   (Yes – we eat lentil tacos – roasted chickpeas and our refried beans don’t come from a can.) But I do not love to cook! I cook from scratch because it is healthier and contains far fewer chemicals. But honestly – I cook to stay alive. Cooking is neither my joy nor delight.

This week I decided I would focus my heart and my eyes on what Will – Jack – and Jason are drawn to over and over again. I want to appreciate what gives them joy and delights them and soothes those I love after a long day of work and school.

I want to learn to appreciate their joys more. I want to appreciate them more. I want to give thanks for what makes them who they are.

And you thought TWA went out of business in 2001. Nope – this TWA flight landed at my house just last night!

I want to listen to the click of the Legos as Will builds another amazingly awesome Lego plane. I want to appreciate Will’s delight in that moment. I want to see the beauty and not the mess. I want to see Will’s engineering skills and his glorious creativity.

I want to smile along with Jack as he listens to an amusing podcast on his earbuds. Of course I will have no idea what he is listening to – but I can take joy from his laughter and his smiles. His joy is a delight. I give thanks for this joy.

I cannot read Coptic (and very much doubt that I ever will) – but I can take joy from the arrival of Jason’s new Coptic texts. Why yes – I did give my beloved husband “Introduction to Sahidic Coptic” for his birthday earlier this month . . . doesn’t everyone?!? Jason also received “Coptic in 20 Lessons.” And you thought I was nerdy . . . I joke but this is a huge blessing of being married to Jason. He is just so interesting. He reads other languages and studies other cultures.   We are never without something intriguing to discuss on our walks.

I will stop to listen and watch as Will plays with wild abandon in our yard with Annabelle and Hannah. I will appreciate their joy and their happiness even though I have zero interest in Pokemon. What matters is their joy and their interest.

I can delight in my family delighting in being who they are.

Life is so – so much bigger than us and our own interests and our own passions. Or at least it can be if we let it. We have to be open to this joy to experience it. This is a joy we can miss by simply closing ourselves off to it.

I encourage you to spend some time this week appreciating the interests and passions and joys of your loved ones and friends.

Just in case you ever need to know the Coptic for ignorant or immortal!

You may never want to learn to read Coptic yourself – but you can take delight and joy from the sparkle in your beloved’s eyes when he talks about learning a new language.

Rather than rolling your eyes the next time your daughter begins to tell you all about the joy she receives from a trip to the mall try listening and catching her excitement. Or when your son wants to chat about gaming try to catch his joy.

And you thought – I would go an entire blog post without a nature picture. Nope – I managed to work one in!

You may never want to knit or play Pokemon or read 8 books in one week or garden or walk endlessly while taking pictures of the clouds or flowers or both – but try catching the joy from those who do delight in these things.   Be interested. Be open. Learn.   Delight. Enjoy! Savor.

I think you will find delight and blessings in these moments.   Life is richer and more blessed when we make our hearts and our minds and our lives bigger.

Your loved ones might just notice your interest and your kindness and your patience too! They might feel more appreciated and more loved . . . More heard – more understood – more seen!

I encourage you to try catching some joy this week. It is a delight and a blessing.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, May 9, 2021

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 98

Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
O Lord, you have made known your victory,
you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations.
You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. 

Sing to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the king, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it,
the world and those who dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to judge the earth.
The Lord will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples with equity. Amen.

1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

A few weeks ago – on a perfectly – perfect spring day – I escorted the McFarland sons to the Louisville Zoo.

Yes – the McFarlands head to the zoo a lot these days – because Jack works there. Jack has been one of the helpful guys in blue at the zoo for almost a year now.

But this trip was different. Jack wasn’t going to work. This trip was just about fun! Jack and Will had plans for a McFarland brother adventure. They were going to eat jumbo orders of Dippin’ Dots – slurp Icees and hang-out with the animals.

I too had big plans. I was going to sit in the shade and read and knit while drinking coffee. And if I ran out of coffee – I had a back-up tea.   Honestly – I hoped Jack and Will stayed at the zoo a long – long time.

While Jack and Will had a marvelous time devouring ice cream and hanging out with the animals – I watched approximately 100,000 human children make their way into the zoo. In fact – I think every single child in Jefferson County was at the zoo that day.   There were small humans everywhere.

Most of the kids were happy to be at the zoo. But there was one little girl who was not happy. Actually – she was MAD! Like fire shooting out of her eyes – MAD. And even though she was one furious little lady – I liked her right away.   In fact – I could tell we were kindred spirits. Maybe even soul mates.

She was sporting a messy bun/up-do that looked like it had been styled in a blender and so was I. She was wearing jeans and a springy – yellow hoodie and so was I. Plus she felt the exact same way about bossy – domineering people that I did when I was 4! (Okay – I still feel this way about bossy – domineering people . . .)

Because there she stood in the middle of the busy – bustling zoo crosswalk – crossing her sweet little arms – stomping her foot – setting her jaw – and declaring with great passion to her entire extended family (grandparents included) and to anyone else within earshot that they should “ALL JUST STOP TELLLING HER WHAT TO DO!”

And even though I am a bossy britches – mom – I found myself cheering for her in my mind! “Preach it little sister!” – my soul declared. “You take your stand. You make yourself heard. You tell that bossy – domineering big sister of yours just to give you some room to breathe!”

(I could – of course – think these thoughts of solidarity – because I wasn’t the mom – standing in the busy zoo crosswalk having a face-off with my stubborn – outraged child!)

I think we all can relate to that little girl. We don’t like to be bossed around. We don’t like to be told what to do. And we often rebel when someone tries to do just that.

Instead – we want to be in charge.   We want to be the boss. We want to make the rules.

Wow – has he grown over the last decade . . .

And yet – here we are – being challenged once again by our Lord and Savior. Because in our Gospel reading for today Jesus tells us he has a new commandment for us. Please note that Jesus doesn’t say he is giving us a new recommendation. A new suggestion. A new tip. Or some sage advice for us to consider when we feel like it.

Nope – Jesus tells us he has a new commandment for us. It is something he expects us to do

And this commandment isn’t an easy commandment. Jesus’ commandment is hard. It hits home. Because Jesus tells us his commandment is that we are supposed “love one another as he loved us.”

Seriously . . . Oh – how I wish Jesus had said – “I give you a new commandment – you are to tolerate one another.” Or “I give you a new commandment – you are to put up with each other!” Or even – I am asking you to kindly consider loving one another – when and if you are in the mood . . .

I don’t think I would try to tell this guy what to do!

That would have been a whole lot easier. We might even get that commandment right once in a while.   Tolerating people is so much easier than loving people. But Jesus didn’t say tolerate or put up with each other – he said love.

Love one another. Jesus commanded us to love one another. That is hard. That is not for the faint of heart.

When Jesus said we are supposed to love one another – he meant we are supposed to love absolutely – positively everyone on the planet. EVERYONE! Really – EVERYONE!

Of course – Jesus meant we are supposed to love the people who are easy to love. You know – the people who are like us and agree with us and are nice to us. The folks we like. And consider likeable.

But Jesus also meant we are supposed to love our enemies – and people who annoy us – and people who don’t seem very loveable.   We are supposed to love the people who get under our skin and drive us batty.

Everyone means EVERYONE with Jesus.

Thankfully Jesus showed us how to love others. Jesus showed us how to keep this commandment.

Loving one another does not mean we are always going to agree with each other. Jesus disagreed with plenty of folks. But – Jesus loved them anyway.

And the same is true for us. We are called to love even the people with whom we disagree. Even those people who don’t have their masks on or who are careless about social distancing or who disagree with us about how to handle the pandemic. Jesus showed us quite clearly through his own words and actions you can passionately disagree with someone and still treat them with kindness and love.

Jesus loved everyone – yep – that’s right – everyone. Jesus loved Judas – even after Judas betrayed him.   Jesus loved Peter even though Peter denied knowing Jesus when Jesus needed him the most. Jesus loved the men who were crucified with him and the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross. Jesus loved everyone!

And the same is true for us. We are called to love all people – even people who disappoint us – even people who annoy us – even people with whom we passionately disagree!

Jesus shared what he had. He fed the hungry – healed the sick – and cared for people. Jesus knew a very important part of loving others was sharing yourself and your possessions with them. And we are called to do the same thing. Jesus was generous and we are called to be generous too!

Most importantly Jesus showed us loving other people means telling them about God’s love, grace, and mercy. Jesus knew the most loving thing you could ever do for someone was to tell her about God. And the same is true for us.

This commandment asks a lot from us.   Jesus’ expectations are high.   And Jesus promises us if we do these things and have love for one another – then everyone will know we are his disciples. Truly that is Good News.  Amen.

Greetings from our Bishop

Dear People of God,

Have you been vaccinated? Which one did you get? How’d you feel afterward?

Who among us ever imagined a year ago that such questions would become standard entry-points for conversation? Yet here we are, nearing what we hope and pray is the far side of the coronavirus wilderness, with vaccines playing a major role in whether, when, and how we can gather in-person safely and comfortably.

Medical experts tell us that achieving a high percentage of vaccinated people (70% or more), along with continued compliance with established health and safety protocols, is the key to unlocking the doors of our isolation from one another. Yet, as of April 30th only 31% of Kentuckians and only 26% of Hoosiers were fully vaccinated. Kentucky is 25th in the country by percentage of people vaccinated. Indiana is 45th.

If you have been vaccinated, thank you for – as John might put it – expressing your trust in Jesus and love for your neighbor by enduring the poke or pokes in the arm. If you have not been vaccinated (and you are able to receive the vaccine), please get vaccinated as soon as you can. Please also help others get their vaccinations. Perhaps someone you know needs help navigating the appointment scheduling system, or needs transportation or comforting accompaniment to a vaccination site, or needs an encouraging nudge from a friend to overcome their indifference or resistance. Being vaccinated, like continuing to observe other health and safety protocols and helping our neighbors to do so, is love beyond word or speech taking flesh “in truth and action.”

The latest recommendations from the CDC also suggest that as we work our way toward the majority of folks in this country being vaccinated, it is important that we also continue on the cautious and patient path toward in-person gatherings and ministry, including worship. The CDC’s latest chart of guidelines is included as an addendum to this message. That chart makes it clear that attending a full-capacity indoor worship service and singing in an indoor chorus are among the “least safe” activities for people who have not been vaccinated. In addition, for now, fully vaccinated people should still wear masks in such situations.

As disappointing as it may be after more than fourteen months of care and caution, the most prudent path forward toward in-person ministry, including worship, will be shaped by continued careful adherence to recommended protocols, slow and thoughtful movement toward flinging wide the doors and flinging off the masks in our life together, and care-filled attention to the most vulnerable among us, even to the point of “laying down” our own desires and demands for one another, so we can all get to the other side.

The answers are not easy. All involve some form of trade-off. Let us all seek kindness toward all, including congregations who may make different decisions about different forms of ministry as long as they are not endangering the lives or health of others.

The answers certainly are not easy. And they will likely vary from context to context. Thankfully, as the author of 1 John suggests, we make these decisions together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit at the intersection where trusting in Jesus meets loving our neighbor.

In this spirit, the Synod Executive Committee has affirmed that the suspension of synod staff travel will continue through the month of May, with a few exceptions. We will use the month of May to discuss and discern guidelines and practices that will shape our ministry with you in the new world that is emerging.

Finally, beloved of God, on this far edge of the coronavirus wilderness I trust that along with synod leadership you and the leadership of your local congregation or other mission center are not only carefully planning for in-person ministry, but also dreaming, discussing, and discerning together the ways God is shaping and guiding you to be church in the emerging world.

What have you learned from the journey through this wilderness that might offer direction for the ways you will engage gospel ministry together and with others into the future? What have you discovered that you can do without or do differently to faithfully follow Jesus, share the good news with others, and serve the neighbor? What new skills, perspectives, or practices have you picked up along the way that will serve well into the future? How can you continue to reach, serve, and accompany those who became connected to the congregation and its ministry in new ways over the last year? How might this sojourn in the wilderness shape the ways you will express your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and love one another, just as God has commanded us?

May the Spirit of the crucified and risen One fill you, surround you, and empower you, that you may find rest for your weariness and renewed purpose in your heart as you continue walking together in the Spirit toward God’s promised and emerging Easter world.

Peace be with you,