A Toad in the Road and other Adventures!

Everyone (I hope) has those things they delight in doing.   Those activities that make them feel more alive – more appreciative – more thankful – more aware.

Walking and hiking and being in nature – surrounded by God’s great and glorious creation is one of those activities for me. I don’t just like or enjoy hiking in nature I absolutely – positively LOVE it.

My soul actually needs green and nature and sunshine and blue skies the way my body needs food and coffee (I mean water) to survive.   Hiking and walking outside feed my soul. They are essential to my life – happiness – and well-being.

When we left for Tennessee this summer – I declared – “I want to walk the Cades Cove Loop. My knees can handle it . . .”

For quite some time there – I wasn’t so sure I was going to be able to do this hike this year. I have struggled all year with joint pain (especially in my knees and shoulders) – nasty muscle spasms and chronic inflammation thanks to a particularly stubborn autoimmune disease flare-up. These wretched symptoms have made hills my nemesis – but the Cades Cove Loop is paved and not so very hilly.

I have these growing in my flower beds at home and they grow wild in Cades Cove.

Plus I had handled some hills at both Broadrun Park and Joe Creason Park. But then on Saturday came a setback. I slipped and fell. I fell really – really hard onto a wooden floor thanks to a very badly cleaned up spill in a restaurant. I fell so hard I heard everyone in the area gasp. I fell so hard the manager was afraid that we might sue . . . I fell so hard complete strangers asked if I needed medical assistance . . . (What I hope is both a first and a last for me!)

It was humiliating and it hurt. And I knew there would be consequences (my left knee – it is always my left knee!) But I was able to walk/limp away – which honestly felt like a victory.

Thankfully by Wednesday (the day the Cades Cove Loop is closed to all vehicle traffic) I was not only up and walking – I was up for a biggish hike!

This year Jason – Elizabeth – Linda – and I walked the Cades Cove Loop. Bob is still recovering from major back surgery so he and Will opted to stay home and keep the pets company.

Jack and Bella road their bikes (speed demons . . .) – but we oldsters hiked.

It was amazing. We were blessed with a truly perfectly perfect day for our hike through Cades Cove.

The sun was shining!

So beautiful. So peaceful. So lush and green and gorgeous.   So dazzling and lovely and everything I love about nature and hiking!

There were wild flowers galore.

We spotted a soaring eagle carrying breakfast in its talons. We met a turkey. And he stood very still while I took his picture and let me chatter away at him!

There were blooming rhododendron trees.

We lingered by mountain streams and watched the minnows and fish swimming in the crystal clear water.

We listened to the wind blowing through the trees and the meadows.

I watched the clouds. Oh how I love to watch clouds and gaze at the sky.

I looked a moss and ferns and tree bark.

We met a teeny – tiny orange toad in the middle of the road!

I chatted and chattered and Jason listened – because the love of my life is the best listener in the world (he would have to be to be married to me!)

We reminisced about previous trips to “The Cove.”

We gave thanks for God’s creation and for the opportunity to delight in God’s abundant blessings to us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021 was truly one of the best days of my life.   It wasn’t fancy. We didn’t spend a lot of money or buy more than an iced tea for me and an ice cream cone for Jack. I watched clouds and talked to my husband and walked 10 miles in the mountains.   I will remember and give thanks for this day for a very long time . . .

What makes for a “good and blessed day” in your life?   What memories do you savor? What memories do you delight in and give thanks for?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

It Has Been 29 Years . . .

I was just 17 years old the first time I went to the Smokey Mountains National Park with the McFarlands. (That was 29 years ago this summer.) Jason and I have our very own 17 year old these days. (That happened so quickly!) And now I have been an official card carrying McFarland for 24 years myself. (That happened rather quickly too!)

It was love at first sight. I was enchanted and dazzled and downright smitten. I was in love with both the McFarland family and the mountains and I still am!

That first trip to Tennessee we climbed Chimney Tops and Laurel Falls. We summited Le Conte. We drove the Cades Cove loop (more than once) and we went to Clingmans Dome. We played mini-golf at Hill Billy Golf (which is sadly no more) and hung out in the Village. We ate at the Apple Barn which way back then was actually out in the country! It was truly a “greatest hits” sort of trip.

In Cades Cove long before my hair turned white . . . but Jason’s very trendy jeans were bleached almost white – very 1992!

I spent the whole trip thinking – “These people are so cool!” “I love their family vacations. This is what I will do when I am the boss of my life. . .”

(It is so kind and generous that they just kept right on inviting me!)

Linda (Jason’s mom) has been going to the Smokey Mountains National Park since she was in kindergarten. She and Bob have been taking Jason and Elizabeth their entire lives. Now Jason and I have been taking Jack and William to Tennessee their entire lives and Elizabeth (Jason’s sister) and John (our seriously awesome brother-in-law) take Nic and Bella (our nephew and niece).

My people . . . my crazy – awesome – beloved – treasured people!

The Smokey Mountains National Park is our special place. The McFarland clan gathers there to be together. We laugh A LOT. We chat and chatter. We tell terrible – seriously goofy jokes. (John tells them.  Then Will attempts to retell them – badly. . .)  We watch the sun rise and the sun set. We hike and we walk. We reminisce and share plans for the future. We amble and some of us (okay – just Jason and me) read and read and read some more. We play in rivers and streams. We admire nature and settle into a slightly slower pace of life.

We open our eyes and our hearts to God’s presence in our lives. We give thanks for the blessing of God’s glorious creation and the blessing of family. We savor life. We make memories. We delight and celebrate. (This year we even curled each others’ hair . . . Covid-19 quarantining left some of us with more hair than others!)

This is perhaps my favorite view of the world. Blue sky spotted through tree branches. It never – ever fails to intrigue and delight me!

What are your treasured family traditions? What do you delight in doing?

What draws you closer to your loved ones and to your Lord?

Are they the same things? Is there overlap?

Now that our lives are starting to resume much more normal patterns can you plan to do something with your loved ones that you ALL love doing?

Don’t get so busy returning to the new “normal” that you forget to see God’s blessings to you. Don’t get so busy you miss the joy and the good stuff!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, June 27, 2021

Lamentations 3:22-33

22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

25The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
26It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27It is good for one to bear
the yoke in youth,
28to sit alone in silence
when the Lord has imposed it,
29to put one’s mouth to the dust
(there may yet be hope),
30to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.

31For the Lord will not
reject forever.
32Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 30

1I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
2O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.
3You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
4Sing praise to the Lord, all you faithful;
give thanks in holy remembrance. 
5God’s wrath is short; God’s favor lasts a lifetime.
Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.
6While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
7You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.
8I cried to you, O Lord;
I pleaded with my Lord, saying,
9“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
10Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me;
O Lord, be my helper.”
11You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
12Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.  Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 5:21-43

21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Love . . . love is such an incredibly strange emotion – isn’t it?

Yes – love is one of life’s greatest blessings. Love brings us massive amounts of joy and happiness.   Love can give our lives purpose and meaning. Love is a delight and a joy!

Sometimes love leads us to take great big risks.

Love makes us incredibly vulnerable. And we all know love can break our hearts too.

And love . . . well – sometimes love makes us downright nuts.   Seriously – as nutty as a pecan tree in September! (You harvest pecans in September. I looked it up!)

I think this is especially true of the love we feel for the little ones in our lives – whether they be our children – grandchildren – nieces and nephews – younger siblings – or our sisters and brothers in Christ. We want to protect the little ones in our lives – because we love them so very much. And we will go to great lengths to do just this.

Several years ago while our family was on vacation in the Smokey Mountains – I was reminded of just how far I will go to protect the children I love.

On this particular morning – Jason’s mom made bacon for breakfast.   Bacon smells so yummy.   Apparently – black bears think so too.

I know this for a fact because on this bacon-y morning I looked up from pouring myself a cup of coffee and saw a HUGE black bear standing at our front door. Our front door was designed to showcase the mountain views. It was not designed to keep out hungry bears. Our front door was all glass – with an easy to open French door handle. And I knew the door was unlocked.

The HUGE black bear made it abundantly clear – he was planning to join us for breakfast. He was working on the handle like a pro. He totally knew what he was doing.

My mind began racing. “The children. The children must be protected from the HUGE bear!” So what did I do . . .? Well I did what any loving – devoted – deeply committed mom would do in that situation. I looked Jason square in the eye and I boldly declared “That bear is trying to get into the house and the door is unlocked!!!!!!!”

And then I jumped right behind Jason and let Jason lock the door!

(I used to tell Jack and Will I would throw myself in front of a bus to save them. But now we ALL know the truth. I would throw Jason in front of a bear to save them!)

These were the 4 precious people Jason saved that morning!

When you love someone – you want to keep them safe. And you will go to great lengths to protect them.

Our Gospel reading for today told us about a man named Jairus.   He was a ruler of the local synagogue.   He was highly respected. And he was a man of power and influence.

But what really mattered was Jairus was a dad. And his beloved daughter was really sick. With each passing day she grew sicker and sicker.

Then one day – he started to hear rumors about Jesus. This Jesus was doing amazing miracles in God’s name.   Jesus was healing the sick and casting out demons.

Then Jairus heard the best news of all – Jesus was coming to his town.

So Jairus was waiting for Jesus when his boat came ashore. The very moment – Jesus stepped out of the boat – Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet. Jairus lay there – begging for help for his daughter. Jairus did not care what it looked like or what people thought of him.   His love was greater than his pride.   His only thoughts were of getting help for his child.

Jairus cries out to Jesus – “My daughter is dying. Come and lay your hands on her – so that she may be made well, and live.”

Then Jairus took Jesus by the arm and led him as quickly as he could toward his home.

But there was a huge crowd of people. The people followed Jesus so closely – it was human gridlock.

Caught in the middle of that huge crowd Jairus must have felt such despair. He knew the longer they were delayed the more likely it was his daughter would die before he and Jesus could get to her.

And that delay did prove to be horribly costly. Messengers came with heartbreaking news. His daughter was dead.

They were too late. Now there was no need to hurry. Now there was no need to bother Jesus. There was nothing more anyone could do but weep and grieve and cry out in pain and anguish.

But Jesus completely ignored the news. Jesus went to Jairus’ house anyway.

At Jairus’ house the mourning had already begun. The flute players and the mourners were there.   Everyone was weeping and wailing for the little girl.

Seeing all of this happening around him – Jesus asked “What’s all the commotion about? Why are all of you weeping and wailing? Why do you mourn? The little girl is not dead – she is asleep.”

After hearing Jesus – the people laughed at Jesus. They laughed because they knew the little girl was dead.   They knew the difference between a nap and death. They laughed, because Jesus sounded so crazy.

Rather than arguing with the people who have laughed at him – Jesus and her heartbroken parents go into the little girl’s room. Jesus approaches her still body, takes her by the hand and speaks to her. “Talitha koum – Little girl, get up.” And she does just that. She rises from her death bed as if she were getting up from a nap.

Make no mistake about it – Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.   She had died.

When Jesus calls this little girl forth from death into life – we see the depth of God’s love for his beloved children. And we catch a glimpse of the future and of God’s promises in action in our world. God’s promise to each of you is death is not forever.

Jesus conquered eternal death on the cross.

Jesus lives and because Jesus lives you too shall live. Yes – we must all experience the pain and sorrow of death – but we have a promise made to us by the risen Lord. Jesus Christ has promised each of you that he has conquered death.

This promise is for you. Just as Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead – you too will be raised to share in eternal life with God.

And that my brothers and sisters in Christ – is very Good News – indeed. AMEN.


Worship for Sunday, June 13, 2021

Ephesians 4:29-32

[Saint Paul writes] – 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 100

1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all you lands!

       2Serve the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with a song.

3Know that the Lord is God, our maker to whom we belong;

we are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.

   4Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving and the courts with praise;

            give thanks and bless God’s holy name.

5Good indeed is the Lord, whose steadfast love is everlasting,

whose faithfulness endures from age to age. Amen.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 11-13

[Saint Paul writes] – 1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends.

11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 13:34-35

[Jesus said to his disciples -] “‘34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

We have all been living through a global pandemic. And it is abundantly clear Covid-19 has taken a significant toll on all of us. We are different. We are changed. None of us has come through these last 15 months unscathed.

Covid-19 has left its mark on our community – our families – our hearts and our lives. I doubt any of us will ever be the same again. There was just so much stress and change. And there were too many long months of social distancing and masking and NTI and waiting and worrying and staying safe at home.

The pandemic and its consequences have taken a toll on us.   Weariness – frustration – hurt – grief and even anger abound. These painful emotions are simmering right on the surface these days.

And because of this – patience is in short supply.

We are stressed. This year has been so hard on us.

So many of us are just plain exhausted. (I know I am.) The intensity of the past year has been incredibly difficult. Our lives changed so quickly. Our jobs changed. Treasured relationships changed. NTI – Zooming – social distancing and change after change took their toll.

And then there was the constant pressure to try to please so many different people with so many different opinions. This meant – of course – almost no one was ever happy.   Personally – I was always disappointing someone. I was always letting someone down or making someone angry or unhappy. And I know I was not alone in experiencing this over the past 15 months. I have heard this same tale of hurt and frustration from other pastors – teachers – principals – grandparents – parents and students . . .

Others are so very frustrated by Covid-19. Frustrated by the restrictions. Frustrated by the masks and the social distancing and by the changing recommendations from health officials. Frustrated by losing the freedom to do the things we love to do the most. Frustrated by how long this horrible pandemic has been making a mess of our lives.

And think of all of the loss folks have experienced . . . This pandemic asked a lot of us. We have been asked to make sacrifices for the greater good and to do things for people we don’t even know. In some ways it continues to ask a lot of us.

And we are just so fed up with Covid-19. Enough is enough already . . .

But we are still living with it and its effects.   You just can’t get away from it!

We are hurting.

So many people died far too soon. Over 600,000 Americans have died. That is more people than live in the entire state of Wyoming . . . And around the globe people are still dying.

Even those of us who did not lose loved ones to this cruel pandemic have lost things we love and cherish.

Some of us lost hopes and dreams. Plans for the future were lost.

Businesses were lost.

Friendships were lost.

Jobs were lost. Income was lost.

Education was lost.

Proms – graduations – family gatherings – Thanksgivings – Christmases – birthday parties – and all sorts of beloved celebrations and traditions were changed or lost.

As we look around our sanctuary today – we see empty spots in the pews and we wonder and we worry. Will these sisters and brothers in Christ return or are they yet another painful loss of the pandemic?

When will the losses stop coming? How can we stop them? Where can we hide from the loss and the hurt?

We are changed. We are different people than we were 15 months ago. Even if Covid-19 never entered our homes – this pandemic has taken a toll on us.

No matter how you responded to the pandemic. No matter where you come down on vaccines – masking or social distancing. No matter how you feel about the pace of reopening. There is no denying that we are hurting. We are grieving. We are exhausted and frustrated and in pain.

As we continue to re-emerge I am seeing this more and more.   It so often expressed as   impatience and annoyance with one another. Sometimes even in anger.

In those first weeks we were so excited to see one another that all we did was rejoice in seeing other people. We gloried in the reunions. We delighted in one another.

But now – we are becoming less patient with each other. Now we are offering one another less grace.   Now we are struggling to understand why others’ make decisions that are different from our own.

Our humanness is showing. Our brokenness is on full view. We are hurting and weary and grieving. Our reserves are very low. And this hurt often shows up as a lack of patience and understanding and frustration with one another.

This is sad – but not shocking. It makes sense.

We are hurting and grieving for what we lost. We are exhausted by the demands placed on us over the past year. We are hurting because there are empty places in the pews. We are frustrated because the pace of the return to “normal” and “what was” isn’t going at the rate you wish it were.   Because Covid-19 made a mess of our lives.

This past year hurt. It has been exhausting and frustrating and many of us are just plain exhausted.   Some of us want to forget this wretched pandemic ever happened. We want to move on.

And we are beginning to do just that. We are beginning to re-emerge. To move forward. To shift our focus.

As we move on – we need to remember we are God’s people. Yes – we are human and we are bit “threadbare” and weary right now – but that does not change the fact we are called by our God to be gracious – kind – loving and patient.

We are called to assume the best in one another. We are never all going to agree on much of anything this side of heaven – but we can be gracious and kind.

We can be gentle and loving – even when we disagree – especially when we disagree. And we are going to disagree and disappoint one another. After all – we are broken – sinful human beings.

Our Lord calls us to be people of grace and love. Especially now – when we are all feeling so exhausted and hurt and frustrated and filled with pain.

We can do this.

The way forward – the kindest way through this strange and difficult transition back to what we think of as normal will be with grace and love and lots of patience and understanding.

And as we continue this journey into the future – we go knowing our God promises to walk with us. We are never alone. Truly this is Good News. Amen.

The Elephant in the Room!

I want to talk about the elephant in the room.

(Speaking of elephants – there is a seriously cool way to tell African elephants apart from Asian elephants – their ears! African elephants have large ears shaped like the continent of Africa! Asian elephants’ ears are smaller and shaped like India. Awesome – right! Jack taught me this on a recent trip to the zoo.)

So back to the proverbial elephant in the room. This year was hard on us.

I find myself standing here in June 2021 looking back over the past 16 months and being so thankful these particular “Covid-19 months” are behind us.

To be blunt this year has been hard for me. I am quite simply exhausted. My reserves aren’t just low. I am beginning to suspect my reserves might just be almost empty.   I am feeling drained and depleted. It wasn’t just Covid-19 and living through the pandemic – but Covid-19 certainly didn’t help!

This happens. I know.   Life is full of twists and turns and ups and downs. That’s why when we get married we promise to hang in there with each other “for better or for worse!”

Life is complicated. Sometimes life is incredibly complicated. “It is what it is” – is a phrase we use around our house when we are working on accepting something we would rather not accept. I have used – “it is what it is” quite often lately . . .

I am well aware that these past months have been complicated for most of us. We have been living through a global pandemic. There were going to be complications and stresses and messes and hurt.

This past year took a lot out of us. I am not alone in feeling exhausted. Person after person I talk to tells me that they are tired – worn down – feeling spread thin – exhausted . . . We had to dig deep to get through 2020 and into the spring of 2021. These past months have left so much hurt and grief and pain and disappointment and distress in their wake.

And now as we re-emerge from Covid-19 – all tired and worn out by what we have been through – many complicated – conflicting emotions are coming with us too.

Yes – we are so thrilled to see folks again! Our hearts are filled with joy over these reunions.   Hugs – there have been actual hugs and pats of the back! And smiles have been spotted too! Laughter has been heard. Lots of conversations and chattering and chatting.

It is so wonderful to feel a bit freer again. Safer out there in the world. I went mask free with a friend the other day – so cool!

It feels so good to be talking of putting this wretched monster of a virus behind us. But this monster of a virus hurt us. Covid-19 wounded us.

We are still healing. And it would be a huge mistake to pretend otherwise.

Of course we are happy to be emerging from quarantines and staying safe at home. Of course we are delighted to be wearing our masks less. Of course we give thanks for life-saving vaccines. Of course we give thanks for reunions and a return to the new normal.

But . . . I have been noticing

We are sad. Covid-19 made a massive mess of our world and our lives.

We are tired – even exhausted. Covid-19 asked us to dig really deep. We had to work harder and learn new things and do more.   We had to change A LOT! And it is so tiring to change anything and we change many – many things. It is depleting to miss loved ones. It takes a real toll on your heart and soul.

We are disappointed. We missed things we delighted in doing. Some of us missed “once in a lifetime” events like proms – graduations – and special moments with family and friends. We all missed something or someone. Many of us missed many things and many people.

We are grieving. Covid-19 took people we loved from us. Covid-19 took jobs – income – businesses – friendships – opportunities and TIME!

We are easily annoyed – even angry. I think we need to remember we are angry at the virus and not at other people! It was the virus that made a mess of our lives and our world. Covid-19 deserves our wrath not the sales clerk at Target – the school teacher – the health expert who says something you didn’t want to hear – the person who is slow to accelerate through green light – the person who holds an opinion that is different from our own (preaching to the choir on this one – sigh) . . . It was the virus that messed up our lives and took so much from us.

And we are impatient – so impatient. We want to return to what was NOW! RIGHT NOW!

We are many – many things.

Life is complicated.

We are not unscathed. We have been changed.

We are healing. Healing takes time. Healing is a process. Often healing takes work – intentional – thoughtful work.

And we all know if you deny an injury or illness or if you try to skip the hard work of recovery – you just end up hurting yourself even more.

The elephant in the room is we are hurting and we don’t want to be.   We want to act like we are fine now.   But are we? Are you?

Try being patient. Patient with yourself. Patient with others. Patient with the process of re-emerging and reopening. This is going to take time.

Offer grace. Grace isn’t just good. We know that grace is awesome.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, June 6, 2021

Genesis 3:8-15

[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths
I cry to you, O LORD;
O LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If you were to keep watch over sins,
O LORD, who could stand?
Yet with you is forgiveness,
in order that you may be feared.
I wait for you, O LORD; my soul waits;
in your word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning, more than those who keep watch for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD, for with the LORD there is steadfast love;
with the LORD there is plenteous redemption.
For the LORD shall redeem Israel
from all their sins. Amen.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 3:20-35

[Jesus went home;] and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

You have probably noticed that Jason and I have 2 sons. You have also likely noticed there is a pretty significant age difference between the McFarland brothers. In fact – there is almost an entire decade between Jack and Will McFarland. Which means Jack spent the first 9 years – 4 months and 2 days of his life as an only child.

Being an only child all of those years had some clear benefits for Jack. He got tons of 1 on 1 attention (whether he wanted it or not.) For almost 10 blissful – glorious years Jack didn’t have to share his toys – his yard – his computer – or even his parents.

For over 9 years – the entire backseat of the car was ALL Jack’s and so was every present from Santa Claus and piece of candy from the Easter Bunny. He didn’t have to share the last piece of cake. Jack didn’t have to negotiate with a sibling about what to watch on Netflix or over what toppings would go on the kids’ pizza.

There were clear benefits to being an only child.

But – there was always a part of me that felt just a bit sorry for Jack. Because there were some pretty obvious disadvantages too!

How long until he gets fun?!?!

For instance – Jack never had anyone to blame for the mishaps – catastrophes and general mayhem that come with being a kid.

So someone knocked ALL of the stitches off of Kerri’s knitting needles. (In case you were wondering – this is bad – very BAD!!!) If Jason didn’t do it – then that just left Jack . . .

That collection of candy wrappers on the coffee table? Totally the kid’s fault because both of the elder McFarlands have a strange fondness for trash cans. . .

Poor Jack had no one to blame. No one at whom to point the accusing finger. No one to hide behind.

When you are an only child the Legos on the floor – your fault. The dirty dishes in the living room – your fault again! The broken whatever – yep that’s so totally your fault too! It is pointless to deny having committed the heinous crime – when everyone in the family knows who did it.

My brother and I – on the other hand – were able to deny all sorts of sins and transgressions when we were kids. And we did!

Finally someone to share the blame!

Sure the vase was clearly broken. Yes – someone under the age of 40 had glued it back together with Elmer’s Glue – but which child was the criminal?

Or who had left the gate open allowing our dogs to escape? There were 2 kids standing there looking innocent – and neither was confessing. So who was the culprit?

Getting into trouble stinks. So we avoid it at all costs! And it isn’t just kids who try to pass the buck. Adults aren’t big fans of confessing our sins and dealing with the consequences either.

Our first reading for this week is a perfect example of this sad – sometimes painful truth.

In the opening verses of Genesis we are told God created the entire world. Then God turned all of it over to Adam and Eve to care for and delight in. It was beautiful – peaceful – and perfect. It was Paradise.

Shaking sodas mommy bought for the youth group at church . . .

God only gave them one rule to follow – they weren’t allowed to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warns them if they break this rule – the punishment will be immediate death.

Sadly – we know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent (Genesis 3:6). Adam and Eve both eat the forbidden fruit. And through their actions – sin and all of its devastating consequences enter the world.

God is well aware of Adam and Eve’s sins. God knows what has happened. But God comes to them and asks them about it. God wants to hear the truth from Adam and Eve.

When God talks to Adam – he doesn’t confess and ask for God’s forgiveness – rather Adam immediately points his finger at Eve and declares – “it is all HER fault! She made me do it.”

Then when God talks with Eve – her response is just as evasive. She blames the serpent and his tricky ways for her sins.

Neither Adam nor Eve will admit to or confess their sins. And we can relate – because we feel the same way. Think about the way we act when we are confronted by our sins. We are so quick to look for an out. We obfuscate. We justify. We make excuses.

Let’s scatter some dog food ALL over the kitchen!

I was in a hurry. . . The light was still orangey-red . . . I was just going with the flow of traffic . . . Everyone else was doing it . . . I just wanted to fit in . . . It wasn’t that much . . . No one got hurt. . . I wasn’t that late . . . The only person I am hurting is me . . . I didn’t want to look different . . .They tempted me . . . The devil made me do it!

Yep – we make all of these excuses and so many more – don’t we? We struggle to admit our sins.

We see sins in others – but are so quick to justify them in ourselves.

Confession is hard. Admitting we have messed up or done anything wrong is hard.

Thankfully for all of us – God embraces forgiveness.

Yes – God tells us there will be consequences and punishments for our sins – but God offers us forgiveness too.

From the very beginning of time – God has rejected revenge and embraced mercy. The Bible tells us quite clearly the penalty for our sins is eternal death. So if we got what we deserved – we would all be condemned to eternal death. But this is not what we receive from God. Instead of death and eternal punishment for our sins – we receive God’s love – care – forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.

God does not hold our sins against us. God doesn’t remember our sins to use against us at another time.

I love the way Isaiah (1:18) describes our God’s forgiveness – “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

When God forgives us – he really and truly washes our sins away. They are gone. Forgotten. Erased.

Think of the immeasurable difference between what we deserve and what God gives us. God gives us far more than we could ever deserve.

Even on your very worst days – God stands before you and proclaims. You are my beloved child. I have loved you from the beginning of time – I love you today and I will love you for all eternity. Nothing you do and nothing you say will change that. You are mine. I love you. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Sharing God’s Love with TP and PB and J

These past 16 months have presented all of us with so many different and varied challenges – haven’t they?

Most of us had to dig deep in some way.

Some folks experienced loneliness and isolation. Covid-19 quarantines asked all of us to limit quite dramatically the number of people we spent time with. Some folks went weeks – even months without seeing their family members and friends. There were long – lonely months for many.

Some families experienced the stress of seriously intense family togetherness. Parents and grandparents suddenly became educators – playmates – counselors – chefs – coaches – companions – activity directors – and so much more. All while trying to work from home or from the office. Some days the juggling was exhausting and stressful.   Some days just felt overwhelming.

We all missed our friends. We missed our sisters and brothers in Christ. We missed casual conversations. We missed feeling safe around people outside of our Covid-19   “bubbles.”

There were missed holidays – graduations – proms – promotions – vacations and family gatherings.

Worship services were canceled. Vacation Bible school was canceled. The Kentucky Derby was moved. Thunder Over Louisville was “virtual.”

Most of us are weary of Zooming and Google Meeting and being agile and adapting and social distancing and masking.

We all missed so much. It was hard and stressful and exhausting. Our patience is wearing thin. Or perhaps it is just plain gone . . .

For the folks working and volunteering at the Fern Creek-Highview United Ministries the past 16 months have presented all sorts of challenges – hurdles and stresses too. The need for food assistance and help with toiletry items in our community increased dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Month after month FCHUM saw record numbers of folks who needed their – OUR help.

Month after month the folks at FCHUM helped. They faithfully and lovingly moved mountains of nutritious food from their shelves into our neighbors’ homes. They answered Jesus’ call to feed his sheep (The Gospel of John 21).

FCHUM has been caring for God’s beloved children throughout the pandemic. They have been sharing God’s love. They have been feeding our neighbors and offering them the dignity of those toiletry items we are all so quick to take for granted.

When was the last time you paused to give thanks for shampoo? Or TP? Or a bar of soap or a bottle of dish soap?

I doubt – if we are honest – in most of our homes and lives that we give much thought to a bar of soap or dish soap or TP (as long as there aren’t shortages caused by hoarding). These are simply the essentials of modern life. We use them. When we need more – we purchase our favorite brands and go about our daily lives.

This isn’t the case for everyone. Not everyone can afford that bottle of shampoo or that pack of TP we purchase without batting an eye. Some of our neighbors don’t have the income to pay for dish soap or toothpaste and government assistance doesn’t help with these items.

When I receive the “needs list” from FCHUM each month they always need toiletries. They always needs toothpaste and toothbrushes. Deodorant and TP. Dish soap – laundry soap – and bars of soap. Shampoo and razors.

Thank you for your donations in May. Thank you for thinking of others.

We collected 246 rolls of TP – 27 bottles of shampoo – 51 bars of soap – 43 toothbrushes – 26 tubes of toothpaste – 12 sticks of deodorant – 12 razors and 21 containers of assorted cleaning supplies.

Thank you for sharing your blessings with others.

In June we are shifting our focus to kid friendly foods. FCHUM is asking us to have a laser focus this month and so we will collect peanut butter and macaroni and cheese.

Please join us in answering Jesus’ call to ALL of his disciples to feed those who are in need.

You may place your donations on the table in the narthex.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri