I have been thinking a lot about things like happiness and joy and delight lately. Probably because it seems like happiness and joy are in short supply these days.
These months (soon to be years) of living through a pandemic have been challenging. Sometimes incredibly challenging. Many of us are feeling so very weary. All of the changes and adjustments and modifications and whatnots have been hard on us. Our lives have changed and changed again and again and yet again. The new normal never seems to stay the same for very long. All of this change can be overwhelming.
Some folks are more than weary. Some are just plain exhausted. (I hear these feelings are called “change fatigue.” That seemed like a very polite way of putting it.)
Others are angry. Some seem to be furious. Others are outraged.
Grief and frustration and pain abound. But happiness and joy seem to be unfortunately scarce these days.
And yet – it is happiness and joy I have been pondering and seeking and contemplating. Happiness and joy have been on my radar and have been my focus.
I don’t want to demand joy or happiness when folks are feeling neither joyful nor happy. I don’t want to try to force emotions upon anyone. (Not even myself.) But I do think we can seek the good in challenging times. And happiness in the hard. And beauty in imperfection. And light in the darkness. (Or maybe we can find beauty in the darkness itself?)
I do think we can (should) seek the lovely in life even when life is bringing us low.
As I have thought about seeking joy and beauty and delight and happiness – I have spent time thinking about the happiest people I know.
You know those people I am thinking of. The joy bringers! Those folks who make the world a better place simply by being here with us. The people you are drawn to again and again because they are themselves.
You finish a conversation with these folks with a smile on your face (and in your soul). You leave them feeling lighter and less burdened. These people are a delight to know and to share this planet with.
It occurred to me the happiest people I know don’t have easy – breezy lives. Their lives aren’t smooth sailing and never have been. Their don’t live lives without pain and heartbreak and grief. Their lives have plenty of all that makes us so very human. And yet – they are happy – joyful even.
What makes these folks different is they are able to see the beauty and the good in life – even when life is hard. They are able to find blessings – even in the midst of challenges. Sometimes incredibly difficult challenges!
Yes – they see and experience the negative and the pain and the bad and the ugly. (They are human.) But they don’t dwell there. But they don’t constantly point to the negative in the way some folks always seem to do. They shift their focus from the negative to the positive.
They don’t let themselves get stuck in the mess and the mire of life.
They don’t “navel gaze” as my seminary professor used to call it!
They focus on what they DO have. Rather than on what they don’t have.
They see and give thanks for their blessings.
I have been thinking a lot about happiness and joy and delight because . . .
Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and our beloved commonwealth has turned red again . . . World peace feels more distant than ever . . . Nature is both beautiful and shockingly turbulent . . . Our world is complicated and so are the people who live here . . .
So I am looking for beauty in the broken. I am looking for God’s presence in the messy messes. I am looking for joy in the jagged. I am looking for silver linings and rainbows.
I am keeping my eyes and my heart open. I am seeking and searching. I delighting and sometimes I am even dazzled.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be blessed or beautiful. Life doesn’t have to be flawless to be happy or good or rich. Life doesn’t have to be ideal to be sweet or delightful.
I think when we wait for perfection – we miss out on the greatest blessings of all. We miss out on the present. We miss out on the here and now. So I am trying to appreciate this moment. This time in my life. These days I am living. The blessings of today.
What are some of the blessings you are experiencing in your life right this very moment? Where do you see God in your life today? What makes your life good and rich – even though your life isn’t perfectly perfect?
I am sorry but there will not be a video recording of our worship service for this week. We recorded our worship service – but the sound did not record properly. We don’t learn of these disappointing things until it is too late to change them . . . so onward we go.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.
You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.
The Word of the Lord.
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
Who may abide upon your holy hill? Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart;
they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil to their friends;
they do not cast discredit upon a neighbor. In their sight the wicked are rejected, but they honor those who fear the Lord. They have sworn upon their health and do not take back their word.
They do not give their money in hope of gain, nor do they take bribes against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be overthrown. Amen.
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around [Jesus], they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Has a trusted teacher or professor or pastor or friend ever floated an idea by you that changed the way you lived your life? Or has someone ever shared an idea with you that changed your perspective on life entirely?
When I was a college freshman I read the actual Bible for the first time in my entire life. (Yes – I had already been going to church my whole life. But like many/most Christians – I hadn’t done much real Bible reading.) And I will be honest – some of what I encountered on the pages of my New Revised Standard Version of the Oxford annotated Bible was downright shocking to me. Seriously – a lot of the people you meet in the pages of the Bible are a WHOLE lot more human than my Sunday school teachers ever let on. Shocking – I tell you – just plain shocking!
I will never forget our professor declaring to our class of good Christian girls and boys who had just finished reading Genesis from cover to cover – “Oh my sweet – naïve little scholars – you haven’t seen anything yet?!? You just wait until we get to 1st and 2nd Samuel . . .”
And – wow – was Dr. Champion right! Reading the real Bible changed my life forever!!!
What about you? Have you ever heard something from a trusted leader or teacher that was so surprising you were actually shocked?
In our Gospel reading for this week – Jesus does just that. With a single sentence – Jesus shocks – every single Jewish person listening to him preach. Because – Jesus boldly and brazenly dared to declare – “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile – but the things that come out are what defile.”
Are you shocked? Has your world been changed forever? Probably not. Jesus’ declaration doesn’t sound like a big deal to us. But to the folks in Jesus’ audience this was shocking.
With that single statement – Jesus turns the Old Testament food laws upside down and inside out. And in doing so – Jesus turns these peoples’ lives upside down and inside out too.
Because the Jewish people had been faithfully observing these food laws for centuries. During the Exodus – God gave them laws to govern their lives. And as a part of these laws God declared some foods okay to eat – but some foods were just plain off limits for them.
These food laws were an important part of their daily lives. They carefully observed these laws their entire lives. These laws were a part of their identities and dictated how they interacted with the rest of the world.
These laws weren’t like following a diet prescribed by your doctor after she tells you to cut the salt because your blood pressure is high or to cut out desserts because your BMI is unhealthy.
Rather – these laws were an important part of their relationship with God. Following these laws was a way of honoring and serving God in their daily lives.
Each time they avoided an unclean food – they were making a public proclamation and profession of their faith in God. Every time they meticulously prepared their food – they were expressing their devotion to the one true God.
What Jesus said to these folks would be a bit like him telling you to stop making public proclamations of your own faith in God.
It would be like Jesus telling you to stop praying aloud before meals.
To stop saying – “God bless you” when someone sneezes too.
You would need to stop displaying symbols of your faith. So no more cross necklaces or cross tattoos. No more angels in your gardens. No more pictures of Jesus. No more Thrivent t-shirts. The Christmas trees – Advent wreathes and nativity scenes would need to go too.
All of these symbols of our faith would need to go because we wear and display them as a way of reminding ourselves we are God’s children. And as a way of proclaiming our Christian faith to others.
This is similar to why Jews observed food laws.
It is no wonder folks were troubled by Jesus’ words. Jesus was telling them to change their relationship with God. And this is something folks NEVER take lightly. We certainly wouldn’t!?!
With all of this talk about food laws – it might seem like we got a free pass this week. After all – we don’t feel compelled to remember if shrimp, rabbit, or camel are clean or unclean.
And who here hasn’t enjoyed a cheeseburger or 822?
But Jesus makes it abundantly clear he is talking about something much deeper. Because Jesus goes on to say – “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, envy, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’”
This is where we get to the heart of our Gospel reading. This is where – Jesus gets ALL of us right where we live. Jesus wants us to know what we eat is of little significance – if our hearts are in the wrong place.
Jesus tells us our words and our actions reveal to God and to the whole world what is really in our hearts.
Our words and actions matter. Our words and actions can and do shape the lives of other people – sometimes perfect strangers. How we live and interact with other matters A LOT!
As much as I hate to admit it – the most powerful sermon any of us could ever preach isn’t given from the chancel steps or from a pulpit. Rather it is preached in the way we live our lives.
We are God’s ambassadors each and every moment of our lives – with everyone we meet and everywhere we go. We are Christians all of the time and not just when we are at church or when it is convenient.
We are Christians at the grocery store – even when the line at the checkout is really long and we are in a hurry. We are even Christians when the wonderfully lovely person in front of us has 97 items in the 20 items or less lane . . .
We are Christians when we are stuck in rush hour traffic and we can’t understand how the driver in front of us was ever issued a driver’s license. And we really – really want to use some non-verbal communication . . .”
We are Christians when we are at work and when we are in school.
We are Christians when we are tired and stressed out and disagree with someone so passionately we think our heads might just explode.
We are Christians when we are sick and tired of living through a global pandemic.
There is no time when we get to call a time out. We are Christians – period.
Our words and our actions can and do shape the lives of other people – sometimes perfect strangers. The way we live our lives matters.
When we live our lives for God other people can see the Good News of Jesus Christ in action. We can share and show God’s love. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
I am intentionally an optimistic person. This is a choice I make each and every day of my life. Often many times each day. I was not born an optimist.
I have met truly – delightfully optimistic people and they absolutely – positively dazzle me. Optimists are joy bearers and rays of sunshine in an often dark – difficult world. Seriously – I stand in awe of these amazing folks and the joy they bring into the world. True optimists are rare. True optimists are a blessing to know and simply to be around.
I am not one of these folks. (Although I really – really wish I were . . .) I must work at being optimistic and positive. Honestly – frankly – bluntly finding the good in things and being optimistic doesn’t always come naturally or easily to me. It took me years and years to get to where I am today.
I was not raised to be optimistic or to look for the good. I was raised in a sea of negativity. I was taught to look for the bad and the disappointing and the error and the shortcoming and the flaw (whether it was there or not).
I didn’t want to be like this. I didn’t want to be focused on the negative. I didn’t want to be mean and miserable and miserly.
So I taught myself to look for the good. I learned to seek rainbows and silver linings and the light at the end of the tunnel. I look for beauty in the mundane and the lovely in weeds. I try to find the good in the difficult.
This God seeking business of mine is very intentional. It is a learned behavior. I choose this.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is from the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph had a wretched – broken – hideous relationship with his brothers. This relationship was so awful Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. And yet years later when they are reunited – Joseph is able to declare – “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
Joseph sees God at work in what was one of the very the darkest moments of his life. God didn’t want Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery – but once they did – well – God used it for something great and good.
Wow – just WOW. . . Joseph is a hero of optimism (in my mind.)
Joseph can see that God worked in and through a great big – wretched – rotten human mess and when God was at work in the world – good came out of it.
Did God want Joseph to be sold into slavery? Of course not. But even after Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery – well – even then God could act in that horrible situation and good things could (and did) result from the situation.
I have been thinking about Genesis 50 quite a bit for the past few weeks. We humans certainly seem to be making a great – big – massive – horrifying mess of our world right now. When all else fails you can depend on humans to make a mess of things with our humanness. We are constantly tripping over our human humanness. (See I told you I wasn’t an optimist!)
As the news grows bleaker. And the pandemic sinks its cruel teeth into our nation and our beloved commonwealth even more deeply – I wonder and worry about the future.
I have sighed huge sighs.
And honestly – I have more than mumbled and grumbled at the television and at news stories that fill me with indignation.
I have worried and wondered and ranted to myself and to my beloved.
But I noticed that sighing big sighs and ranting at people who couldn’t hear me didn’t change anything. In fact – it just made me unhappy. These folks don’t care what I think AT ALL. I know this. I am not new to this planet. I am well aware that talking to the television won’t change anyone’s perspective. Because they can’t hear me?!?
But there are some things I can control (at least to some degree). I can control my attitude. I can control the way I approach life and the way I try to engage the world.
I can and will be a seeker of God and good. Even now. Even in the midst of this messed up – messy – sinful – broken world we live in – I will seek the good. Because I firmly believe God and good are here. I will look for beauty and rainbows and light.
It feels a bit like the world is turning up the yuck right now. So – I am turning up the sunshine seeking these days. I am looking for the good with extra intensity. I am going full-Pollyanna (well not really). But I am working extra hard to look for the good and the lovely and the beautiful.
There is plenty out there in the world that will outrage me or sadden me or infuriate or exhaust me. (I am pretty well informed. I read and have a favorite news source or 80! I still live on this planet with the rest of you.)
I am digging deep – really deep some moments. Especially on the days when I feel rotten and the pandemic is wretched and war rages and natural disasters cause so much suffering . . .
But the thing is – I am finding beauty and good and wonder and awe all around me. I am finding reminders of God’s presence in the midst of this messy mess we call life.
I am choosing to be a God and good seeker at least for today.
I know these are hard times. I know the stress is through the roof. I know pain and grief are abundant. I am neither naïve nor clueless. I am aware. But I choose to keep looking. I choose to dig a bit deeper. I choose to seek. And when I seek – I always find.
Sometimes it just takes a while . . .
As the news feels so oppressive and the pandemic continues to hold our world so stubbornly in its cruel grips I encourage to take time to seek the good and God. God is with us – even now.
Keep both your eyes and your hearts open. You are not in this alone!
Ever since Jack was born I have called Jason and Jack (and then Will) “the McFarland men.” I really like the way this turn of phrase sounds as it rolls off my tongue. It likely has to do with the appeal of the alliteration. I find alliteration alluring – awfully agreeable and absolutely amusing. (Okay – I will stop now.)
For years there was – of course – irony in this statement. The irony made calling them the McFarland men even more fun. I could use alliteration and be ironic all at the same time = win-win.
I like to be whimsical and lighthearted. Life is has more than enough serious junk in it. It is delightful to be able to bring some whimsy and irony to the table from time to time.
Some of this ended on Thursday. Yes – I am still calling Jason – Jack – and Will “the McFarland men.” I probably always will. Yes – I am still looking for opportunities to be lighthearted and whimsical. (And frankly – I hope I always will.) Nope – what changed was the irony.
Our son Jack turned 18 on Thursday. Jack has officially joined the ranks of adulthood! Our boy is no longer a boy.
Jack is a legal adult. Jack is a man. He can vote and I hope he never – ever misses voting in a single election. (Our right to vote shouldn’t be taken lightly!) He doesn’t need our permission to do things that he used to. He can sign his own forms now. He can be his brother’s emergency contact person and Will’s legal guardian. (I hope beyond hope that this is never necessary. . .) He can be mine too for that matter.
This is wild and wonderful and weird. But mostly it is just plain amazingly wonderful. Wonderful because I have had a front seat for the most wonderful journey in the world!
In the nights leading up to and just after Jack’s mid-August birth – I remember going for long walks late at night with Jason and Jack to watch the Northern Lights. They were amazing that year. Jason and I had lived in Minnesota for years – but we had never seen the Northern Lights before. I was dazzled and amazed and filled with awe watching those eerie yet glorious flashes and waves of green move across the dark night sky. The Northern Lights were one of Jack’s first God Sightings.
The God Sightings have just kept rolling in over the years. Again and again Jack has reminded me of God’s presence in the world and in my life. Often unintentionally. Usually just by being himself. Just by being a kid who is interested in exploring the world around him. Just by being curious and inquisitive and inquiring.
Just by being Jack McFarland and who God created him to be. . .
Just by being a kid . . .
Children are often so much – much better at God Sightings and at seeing God’s presence in our lives.
This probably because kids are far better at slowing down and seeing things. At noticing and taking the time to see and smell and touch and taste than adults are.
Kids are gifted at exploring and savoring and delighting.
We adults get so busy and full of ourselves. We lack the humility to truly stand in awe of a flower or a butterfly. We are convinced we are too busy – too important – too bored – too something to be impressed by a mere weed or heaven forbid – a worm. So we don’t seek and explore and search and investigate and pursue. We are too busy being adults! And wow – do we miss out on the good stuff and the fun!
Thankfully – blessedly children are less so.
Jack reminded me of this. Again and again and again my firstborn has reminded me that worms are intriguing. That life is too short NOT to wait outside long enough to watch the fireflies dance in the night sky. That frogs – snakes – and toads truly are AMAZINGLY AWESOME! That mud is so much fun. That puddles are for jumping. That markers are for marking. That life is too short to miss the blessings and the good stuff.
I learned these lessons from Jack. He doesn’t even remember teaching them too me. Jack thinks I taught these lessons to him. He thinks I am the one who started this off in our family. Jack thinks this God Sighting business started with me . . .
But I know. Because I remember. I remember following a wee toddler around the yard and answering his every question as he inquired and asked – “What that Ma? What that?” And I remember the day he tasted mud and laughed and laughed! He did the same thing the day he kissed the dog. And I remember the day he became a Junior Park Ranger in the Great Smokey Mountains. I remember the hours spent exploring and seeking and searching.
My boy – my son – he is a man now – and he has taught me great lessons.
God Sightings – aren’t they just the best?
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hold our world in its grips – it can feel hard to see God’s presence in our lives. We are exhausted and frustrated and hurting – but God promises us that he is with us always. I encourage you to take some time this week to seek God. Seek reminders of God’s presence. Look for God. Seek him. He is with you. God is faithful. God is always faithful.
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
The Word of the Lord.
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,
and God’s ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to erase the remembrance of them from the earth.
The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them
and delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed.
Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers them from every one. God will keep safe all their bones; not one of them shall be broken.
Evil will bring death to the wicked
and those who hate the righteous will be punished. O Lord, you redeem the life of your servants, and those who put their trust in you will not be punished.
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 6:56-69
[Jesus said,] “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are times in all of our lives when we just need to be reminded of who we are and whose we are. When we need a reminder of our identity.
Well – some of us anyway. Because I – for one – will have you know that there is a certain small-ish human being in my life who reminds me of my identity ALL of the time. Seriously – ALL OF THE TIME! William McFarland has made it his life’s mission and primary goal to make sure that I never – ever forget that I am his MOM!!! This might actually be Will’s superpower.
Typing away on the computer with a look of deep concentration on my face – this is the time to remind Kerri McFarland that she is a mom over and over again!
On the telephone attempting to have a conversation with someone other than him – also an excellent opportunity to remind Kerri McFarland – that she is a mom!
Caught trying to read a book before Will’s bedtime – well Kerri McFarland most definitely needs to be reminded 3,000 times that she is a MOM.
Trying to have a thought all her own – also an excellent time to remind her that she is his mom – Mom – MOM!
It is also essential that I be reminded of my mom-ness while brushing my teeth – watching anything on television and even while hiding in the closet!
If Will is around then he wants me to remember who I am and whose I am!
Actually – Will wants me to remember that I am his mom when he isn’t around too – because he leaves little reminders of himself everywhere! But that’s okay – because I am his MOM and that’s important to both of us.
(But I do hope that someday – Will has a child who is just as intense he is and stalks – I mean – lovingly reminds him of his “dad-ness” just as often as Will reminds me of my “mom-ness!”)
We all need reminders from time to time. After all – this world is full of distractions and things that would have us forget who we are and whose we are.
And we aren’t alone in needing these sorts of reminders. We see this very same thing happening in our First Reading for this week from the book of Joshua.
When we meet up with the Chosen People this week – we discover exciting things are happening in their lives. Finally – after 40 very long – hard – exhausting years – filled with challenge after challenge – their journey through the desert is almost over. They are almost home. They can literally see the Promised Land. Soon they will be starting their new lives in the land God has promised them and their descendants.
But before they begin their lives in their new homeland – their leader Joshua calls everyone together. It is a time for the people of Israel to reflect. To refocus. To remember who they are and whose they are. And to make plans for the future. Because this will help them start their new lives out on the right foot.
First Joshua reminds them of who their God is and what their God has done for them. Joshua reminds them of their long history with their God. Joshua reminds them of the many ways God has lovingly cared for his people over time.
Joshua recounts the way God first called Abraham and Sarah and then faithfully and lovingly cared for them and their children and grandchildren.
Next Joshua reminds them of how God responded to their own desperate cries for help when they were still slaves in Egypt. Of how God parted the Red Sea allowing them to escape the cruel pharaoh and his menacing army.
And how God lovingly cared for them during their 40 year journey to the Promised Land. God fed them when they were hungry and gave them water when they were thirsty. God defeated their enemies and protected them each and every step of the way.
And now God is about to give them a beautiful country – rich in resources.
Joshua declares this is the God to whom they belong. This faithful – loving – awesome and almighty God is their God.
And then Joshua boldly proclaims that he and his family are going dedicate their lives to serving and praising and worshipping this God.
Next – Joshua – says to the People of Israel – now it is your turn. You must choose if you will follow the one true God? Or will you serve other gods – false gods? You must decide – who will be your God?
Clearly – Joshua’s reminder of who God is and who they are – works – because the entire nation of Israel declares they too will follow the one true God. They will serve God and be his people.
Just as it was incredibly important for the Chosen People to remember who they were and to whom they belonged – it is equally important for us to remember who we are and to whom we belong.
We need reminders of our true identities. Because we too are the beloved children of the one true God. But it can be so very easy to forget this and to lose our way. After all – our world if full of distractions and temptations and things that would lead us away from our God. Our lives are just as filled with false gods.
There are many things we can do to strengthen our relationship with our Lord. One important way is by reading God’s Word. Your Bibles are filled with reminders of how much God loves you. The Bible is all about God’s love for you.
The Bible also tells us about how God wants us to live our lives in this world. God’s Word reminds us who of we are and whose we are.
Another important way we learn more about who our God is and what it means to be God’s children is during worship. Each week during the confession – we are reminded we are the forgiven – redeemed – beloved children of God. In the hymns we sing – the prayers we pray – and in the preaching of the Word – we learn more about God’s love for us and we hear God’s call to us to serve others.
In the sacrament of Holy Communion – we can actually taste and see that our Lord is good and that we are forgiven and loved.
When we gather together for Bible studies, Sunday school, youth group meetings, and fellowship times we are reminded of who we are and whose we are.
You are the beloved, redeemed, called and claimed children of the one true God. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
The kitchen window in our home in Wabash looked out onto the alley we used to access our garage – backdoor – and our across the alley neighbors’ yard. It wasn’t a wretchedly awful view – but I didn’t find myself gazing out the window all that often while I worked in the kitchen. In fact – we had a television in our kitchen in those days. And I would often turn the TV on while I worked in the kitchen.
We don’t have a television in our kitchen these days. We don’t need one – because now our kitchen window looks out onto our backyard. And I find myself regularly gazing out the kitchen window just to take in a moment or two or 22 of nature. I am the sort of person who finds nature – even the nature that shows up in a suburban backyard – endlessly fascinating.
The McFarland sons are well aware of my nature gazing ways. They know their mom loves to look out of the kitchen window (well just about any window with a view of something green and nature-y). And so they regularly come to our kitchen window to wave or to say a quick hello. Other times they will motion for me to raise the window so we can have a quick (or not so quick) chat – because it is such a LONG way to walk to the back door to come into the house for a chat . . .
I don’t really mind. Jason and I encourage our kids to spend as much time outside as they will agree to. Seriously – the kids these days and their obsession with staying pale like vampires and inside all of the time totally creeps me out! (Insert massively huge generational divide here . . .)
Anyway – kitchen window communication at the McFarland house is a thing we do. I find it amusing and generally endearing. And it works for us.
Wednesday evening I was in the kitchen rinsing out a dyeing experiment. (I bet you thought I was going to say that I was cooking. But nope – I cooked on Tuesday night so we still had plenty of healthy – nutritious leftovers for Wednesday. I do NOT cook every single day. Craft every day – absolutely. Cook from scratch – no way!)
Anyway – as I was rinsing my crafting experiment – Will came to the window and gestured wildly to get my attention. He needed to share something very important with me. Of course – my hands were totally covered with purple dye. (It was supposed to be navy blue – but was looking very – very – very purple – SIGH.) Eventually I managed to raise the window and learned he had made a great and glorious discovery. He and Craig the Kitten had found a bright red mushroom.
I laughed and smiled (in spite of the purple that was supposed to be navy dye) because my youngest son knew just who to share his discovery with. Will knew exactly who would not just care but care a lot about his discovery and would hurry to grab the camera and take tons of pictures of his bright red mushroom. Will knew his mom would care and come and ohh and ahh over his bright red mushroom. Will knew I would be delighted and I would be impressed. Will knew that I wouldn’t pretend to be interested (like adults sometimes do when kids are talking). Will knew I would be really – honestly interested.
And – of course – that is exactly what I happened!
There were pictures of Will’s mushroom. Then we decided if there was one mushroom in the yard then there might just be more mushrooms so we decided to go exploring. After all – we finally got some rain this week and rain makes fungi grow . . .
We found more red mushrooms. These made Will think of some cool – deadly mushrooms that he has learned about – but those had white spots too and grow someplace more exotic than our backyard in Kentucky (thank goodness). Will loves a good nightmarishly horrific tale of doom. I – on the other hand – do not . . .
Then we found this much bigger – much paler mushroom and we spent time contemplating and pondering it. Had it once upon a time been a tiny bright red mushroom that had just kept growing and growing and growing and therefore gotten significantly paler or was it a different sort of mushroom altogether? These are the sorts of questions that can arise when one goes exploring in nature. We didn’t reach a firm conclusion – but we did decide that it was pretty cool too.
Up next was a pit stop in the garden to take in the strange squash /gourds we are growing there this year. Way back in the spring we bought adorable little plants labeled “zucchini squash” at the nursery. These are clearly NOT producing zucchini – but they sure are producing something that looks cool.
Then William tried touching some thorns on the rose bushes to see just how sharp and pointy those thorns really and truly are. Well – guess what? The thorns are sharp and pointy! He was unscathed but thinks the rose bush pruning and general care can remain mine forever and ever and ever!?!
William and Craig the Kitten flipped paving stones while seeking creatures. Every single stone that Will flipped there was Craig helpfully sticking his little pink nose in to see what there was to see.
Will found an impressive cicada shell. This shell was not from the brood X guys who came for a visit much earlier this spring/summer. Nope – this guy was from one of the annual cicadas. His shell was a lot bigger and we spent some time discussing the differences. (Yes – I am nerdy. I wear it as a badge of honor. Always have – always will!)
William and Craig spent time bonding together. The patience of this kitten shocks and amazes me. I am in awe of Craig. Craig loves Will in spite of the fact that Will regularly carries him around like he is a sack of flour. This drives Jack (and me) batty and we advise Will strongly against this behavior. But Craig really and truly doesn’t mind. And as Jason says – “Craig is a cat. If Craig really minded he would let Will know.” (Jason is always one to bring LOGIC into EVERY situation!) It is true Craig comes fully equipped with plenty of pointy claws to let anyone know he is displeased.
Will goofed and I admired both the beauty of our boy and the tree.
Will and I had a wonderful time exploring and adventuring and hanging out in our yard. We wandered and we wondered and we took the time to enjoy God’s blessings.
Wednesday was a busy day for all of us in the McFarland household. It was filled with school and work and dishes and dinner and laundry and lawn mowing and daily exercise and all of the stuff that makes up our lives.
It was a good day.
And it was made so much better and so much richer and much more blessed because Will and I took the time to stop and touch some roses and delight in some red fungi and laugh at our kitten and smell some lavender and just be.
We gave thanks. We explored. We wandered. We had some nifty God sightings. And then we went back inside and I made supper and cleaned up the kitchen and did all of the stuff that needed to get done around the house to keep our lives running kinda – sorta smoothly.
Taking time to explore and wander and wonder and seek God’s presence doesn’t have to take a long time. You don’t have to spend hours doing it (although that is amazing too).
Take those short moments when they arise in your life. Take those invitations to delight and enjoy and revel in God’s blessings when they arise naturally. Try not to always be too busy – too hurried – too scheduled – too tied to your phone/devices – and give yourself the blessing of seeking and seeing God’s presence in your world.
My home congregation the entire time I was growing up was Trinity Lutheran Church in Richmond, IN. Our pastor was Pastor John Stuck for most of my childhood. I remember thinking he was pretty old at the time. After all – he had gray hair and his children Gretchen and Eric were in high school and college. I realize now that Pastor Stuck was likely younger than I am these days . . . (Holy knitting needles – that is painfully humbling!)
Pastor Stuck had bad knees. I remember thinking that he had worn out his knees kneeling to pray. The truth was he had destroyed his knees playing sports. So – he had hobbies other than praying . . . who would have thought that pastors did anything so interesting!?!
I was baptized at Trinity in the winter of 1975 (so way back in the Dark Ages). Trinity had an old school baptismal font. It was marble and seriously heavy. I remember being impressed by its heft in my youth. I thought our baptismal font could likely withstand even an F-5 tornado without budging so much as an inch. And yes these thoughts did occur to me in my youth. I grew up in the middle of corn country and I sat through a lot of sermons – a whole lot of sermons!
I learned to be a Christian at Trinity Lutheran Church. I learned what it meant to be a beloved child of God at Trinity. I learned what it meant to be a part of a Christian community at Trinity Lutheran Church.
I learned and I was loved and I grew and I explored and I decided being a pastor was for me while I was a part of Trinity.
I went to Sunday school at Trinity Lutheran Church week after week from the time I was in preschool until I headed to college.
My very first Sunday school teachers were Dianna Clauson and Judy Ridgeway. These two ladies were saints. Seriously – they were saints who walked among us.
I can vividly remember walking down the stairs into my Sunday school classroom with my Sunday school offering in my hand and a smile of anticipation on my face. Sunday school at Trinity Lutheran Church in the 1980’s was fun.
There were flannel board stories from the Old Testament and there tales of Jesus’ amazing miracles. I loved those flannel board characters. I can still see them when I close my eyes. . . The sheep and Moses and the Chosen People. Jesus and the disciples. Mary and Joseph and so many – many more folks from the Bible. They all came to life right there in our classroom on our very own flannel board as we learned about their lives and their adventures.
(We didn’t learn about their misadventures. I learned about those in college and seminary once I started reading the actual Bible!?!)
We colored. We crafted and we filled in worksheets about our Bible lessons to take home with us.
In those early years we sometimes used actual paste rather than glue. Paste is not cool. Paste is gloopy and pretty wretched for actual crafting – but we made sacrifices for Jesus.
I know Elmer’s Glue had been invented (1947 – FYI) – but Lutherans are thrifty (cheap). And if there was leftover paste in the Sunday school crafting cupboard then we were going to use it all up before getting new fangled things like Elmer’s Glue!
We also sang. We sang a lot. Oh how we loved to sing! We may not have been very skilled – but boy were we loud. We took very seriously the psalmist’s call to make a joyful noise unto the Lord!
Mrs. Clauson played the piano beautifully and Mrs. Ridgeway taught us amazing songs about Jesus and God’s love for us.
Mrs. Ridgeway would carefully write all of the words to all of the songs we sang out on poster board after poster board. She was meticulous and her printing was beautiful. Even when I was 5 – I was impressed by Mrs. Ridgeway’s dedication and her willingness to serve our Lord and his people.
I learned to sing “Jesus Loves Me” – “Hear the Pennies Dropping” (our children’s offering song) – “If I were a Butterfly” – “Jesus Loves the Little Children” – “Zacchaeus” and so many more truly wonderful songs from these two saints of the Lord.
Oh and there were Birthday Crowns! Every year on the Sunday closest to your birthday you were permitted choose and then wear a beautiful construction paper and glitter crown. These crowns were amazing and deeply coveted. Choosing and wearing your crown made you feel so incredibly special. And then everyone in the ENTIRE church knew it was your birthday and they would wish you a very Happy Birthday over and over and over again! My parents weren’t the indulgent sort to let me wear the crown during worship – but still people saw my crown and smiled and wished me a Happy Birthday and it reminded me that I was a part of a great big Christian family.
I learned so much from attending Sunday school each week at Trinity Lutheran Church.
Yes – I learned Bible stories and I believe biblical literacy is incredibly important. I learned those basic foundations of the Christian faith that every Christian should know. Like the 10 Commandments and the story of the Good Samaritan and the feeding of the 5,000. I learned about Noah and Jonah and Ruth and Gideon too. I met Paul and Peter and Lydia and all of the Marys (there are quite a few). I walked in the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane.
And I also got to ask some really big questions about faith as I grew a bit older. I learned that there was room for me and my big questions in the church. (Thankfully there still is room for me and my big questions in the church – because I am absolutely full of big questions!)
I am so thankful for these memories. I am so thankful for the men and women who taught me and gave so generously of their time and talents. I am so grateful for the opportunities I had to learn and grow as a Christian in this world.
Did you go to Sunday school when you were a kid? Who were your Sunday school teachers? What was it like? Did you enjoy Sunday school or did you attend under duress?
How did you first learn about being a Christian in this wild and weird and sometimes wonderful world we all live in?
Will you be joining us for Sunday school at Saint Stephen this fall? Sunday school isn’t just for kids. Sunday school at Saint Stephen is for EVERYONE! We all need to study God’s Word. We all need to dust off our Bibles and actually READ them (crazy concept – I know). We all need to grow as people of faith!
Sunday school starts at Saint Stephen on Sunday, September 12th at 9:00 am with a super special welcome back celebration breakfast in the fellowship hall.
Then on Sunday, September 19th at 9:00 am everyone (ALL of the Sunday school classes) will meet in the fellowship hall for a reunion game of Bible Trivia just to knock the dust off both our Bible knowledge and our relationships with one another.
I look forward to seeing all of you there and to making wonderful new memories with all of you.
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
The Word of the Lord.
Fear the Lord, you saints of the Lord,
for those who fear the Lord lack nothing. The lions are in want and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.
Come, children, and listen to me;
I will teach you reverence for the Lord. Who among you takes pleasure in life and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?
Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from lying words. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Amen.
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 6:51-58
[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; or my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Honestly – bluntly – frankly – there are just some things you simply can’t understand until you have been around a while. Until you have lived long enough so you are starting to show some wear and tear. Until you are starting to fray around the edges. Until you are starting to fall apart a tiny bit.
Like the Fountain of Youth. You simply cannot understand the appeal of the Fountain of Youth when you are still young and healthy and fit and running around in a perfectly – perfect body.
I am so very – very sorry but no amount of empathy or imagination or sympathy will cover it. You simply can’t comprehend the draw of the Fountain of Youth when you are a youth.
Or at least I didn’t. For years I was completely and utterly clueless to the true appeal of the Fountain of Youth and why so many folks had spent so much time thinking – writing – dreaming about – and seeking it.
And why folks like Homer called old age “loathsome.” And William Shakespeare called it the “hideous winter.” Seriously – not the “golden years” – but the “hideous winter!”
But my time was coming . . . I was warned by fine Lutherans who went ahead of me. These courageous men and women of faith would look at my thick brown hair – and see my springy step – and listen to my tales of caffeine drinking in the afternoon and laugh and say ominously – “your time is coming Pastor – oh – your time is coming . . .”
They would say things like aging isn’t for the faint of heart . . . and aging well – aging is less than pleasant (I shall refrain from direct quotations here because we are in the sanctuary and there are youths present . . .)
And now – I know that these wise Lutheran sages were right. It takes some age spots and thinning hair and achy joints and a calendar with more doctors’ appointments than social events for the Fountain of Youth to really start to make sense.
But once your joints do start to creak. And your hairline heads north. And your metabolism comes to a grinding halt and you find yourself standing in the church kitchen comparing specialists and prescriptions and ailments – then you get it. Then you get the appeal of the Fountain of Youth and why folks have been traveling the world for centuries seeking its healing – restorative waters.
This glorious (but sadly mythical spring) allegedly restores the youth of anyone who bathes or drinks from its waters. And apparently there are no known side effects!
The Fountain of Youth would certainly be the answer to many – many prayers. After all – who hasn’t wished to turn back the hands of time? Who wouldn’t want to go for a swim that would take away your aches and pains and leave you feeling healthier and younger?
Who wouldn’t like to be able to run as fast as they could when they were 7?
Who hasn’t come down with a miserable cold and wished for remedy quicker than lots of rest and plenty of fluids? Imagine skin free of sun damage. Hair without gray roots.
Imagine diseases and chronic health conditions simply disappearing. Or the pleasure of leaving your cane in the corner. Imagine tossing your pills.
Lots of us wish we could turn back the hands of time and return to the days when we were healthier or stronger or simply felt just a bit better.
So, I don’t think Jesus could have come to us with a more exciting invitation than the one he brings us today – the offer of eternal life. Jesus tells us – he is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” And “whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
And when Jesus talks about living forever – he is not talking about merely existing forever. Jesus isn’t saying he wants us to live eternally – as we are – struggling with our sinfulness and our brokenness. Jesus isn’t just offering us more of the same. He isn’t offering us more days living as we are in this broken – sinful world – filled with struggles and problems.
Jesus tells us, he “came that we may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
The abundant life Jesus is telling us about is life made up of those moments when you smile so much you can feel it in the muscles in your face. When you wish time would stand still. All those moments when you think to yourself, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” That is abundant living, and that’s what Jesus is offering us.
What Jesus is offering us is life with our heavenly Father in Paradise.
So what does the Bible tell us about this heavenly Paradise? First and probably most importantly – the Bible tells us God created heaven and God’s will is done in heaven. Jesus called heaven Paradise and the Kingdom of God. And after Jesus’ earthly ministry was complete the Bible tells us Jesus ascended into heaven.
Revelation chapter 21 tells us heaven isn’t going to be somewhere up in the sky – but rather heaven will be right here on earth. God is going to make a new earth and he will live there with his beloved children.
Revelation (14:13) also tells us we will rest from our labors and we won’t feel sorrow or pain and we will shed no more tears – and Saint Paul promises us we will finally have full understanding of God and God’s plans.
Again and again heaven is described in the Bible as a wonderful feast with good wine and lots of delicious food. Sort of like our church gatherings – only even better!
These are just a few examples of what the Bible tells us about what eternal life in heaven will be like.
Will there be golden streets – pearly gates – puffy clouds – harps and halos? Perhaps.
Will heaven be beautiful? Most certainly.
Will God be there? You bet.
As for the rest of our questions about heaven – well – we are all just going to have to wait to see. But we do know this – it is going to be wonderful.
Heaven will be perfect – and our cups will run over with God’s great blessings. And we will live with our Lord forever. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.
I remember so vividly doing the math when we were expecting Will and realizing our youngest son would be in third grade the year our oldest son was a senior in high school.
Hmmmm . . . I thought – okay then?!? This could be interesting.
It seemed so very strange at first. A 9 year age difference seemed vast. The 9 year gap between the McFarland sons worried me in the beginning.
I wondered if the McFarland brothers would be close. If they would even like one another. If they would have anything in common at all other than their parents and our last name.
And yes – they are close-ish. (Seriously – I live in the real world and don’t expect these two dudes to be tiptoeing through the tulips together!) They do kinda-sorta like one another most days. And they have a fair bit in common. This is all so much more than I could have ever hoped for in those months while we waited for Will to be born.
I also wondered what it would be like to be almost 50 (really old) and have a little guy in elementary school. For the record – I absolutely love it. Being a “grown-up” mom is pretty cool. I highly recommend it to anyone who asks.
But I have had to accept that I will be occasionally mistaken for Will’s grandma when visiting him at school or hanging out on the playground at the park (this has never happened with Jack). I was warned about this “whole grandparent thing” long before it actually happened. Pat Markley told me this was very likely coming my way and he was right about this and so much more (just not the Excel spreadsheets).
I am sometimes called Will’s grandma. And honestly that’s okay(-ish). I am well aware what year I was born. Even I can do the math on this one. It would be tight – but yes I could be Will’s grandma. (It would have trashed the whole college and seminary thing – but it is possible.)
But the thing is – I am William McFarland’s mom.
And this week William McFarland started 3rd grade. So I carefully wrote his name on all of his school supplies and loaded them into his backpack. I listened to him talk non-stop for 72 hours as he grew both increasingly excited and nervous about starting the new school year (adorable – but slightly exhausting)!
And I was the one who helped him tuck in his shirt on the first day of school. I packed his lunch. I double checked that he had his mask and remembered his new teacher’s name.
I took his picture and promised I would send it to his Auntie and Mimi. (William knows who the charter members of his fan club are!)
I drove Will to school for his first day of 3rd grade and reminded him how much he was loved (probably more than he needed – but I erred on the side of too much rather than too little).
I dropped the littlest McFarland off for his first day of 3rd grade and I smiled.
Will McFarland started 3rd grade this week.
And the thing is – I am William McFarland’s mom. I get to be Will’s mom! I am so very blessed to be William’s mom. I am honored to share in this journey to adulthood our littlest guy is taking.
I get to share in his life.
I get to watch and listen and shepherd and guide and help and pray and laugh and support and likely pull out my hair (along with Jason). I get to love this delightful blessing from our Lord.
William McFarland started 3rd grade this week.
Who in your life is a blessing? Who in your life is a surprise? Who delights you? For whom do you give thanks?
Because I am a pastor – I spend a fair bit of my life with wise women and men of faith. Lutheran sages generously share their wisdom with me. I have the honor of learning from others (or at least the opportunity to learn if I am willing . . .) And Lutherans are wise. They know many – many things about a vast array of topics. And I get to learn from them. I love this about being a pastor. I love learning and listening and growing and expanding my mind. It truly is an intriguing blessing.
Jim Gronbeck taught me how to be a pastor. He was my internship supervisor. I thank Jim for his patience and his willingness to listen to such bad sermons (mine – not his). I followed Jim almost everywhere for 12 months like a puppy or a piece of stubborn lint. I learned and learned and learned. And I fell in love with being a pastor!
I have learned how to make authentic Norwegian krumkake. Not once but twice. First Monica and Marlene taught me how to make these delightful – crispy – heavenly – sweet – cookies of great joy while we lived in Minnesota. And then Yvonne and Jim Kuhens gave me a refresher course during our years in Wabash. And they also gifted me with an entire tin of these delicious delights to take home with me. (Jim and Yvonne were truly some of the most generous folks I have ever been blessed to know.)
Susan Tjornham taught me standing up to mean people is incredibly important. She taught me having some steel in my spine is a good thing. She taught me that Christian (woman/daughter) doesn’t mean doormat. I needed this lesson. I really – really needed this lesson. It took me years (decades) to fully absorb her lessons – but I think I finally understand what she meant. She saw what I could not see . . . what I wasn’t ready to see . . . She was very wise indeed.
Peggy Zimmerman has almost taught me to crochet. I can kinda – sorta – almost crochet. Crocheting and I are working on our relationship . . . my relationship with Peggy is great (I hope)!
Marilyn Mills and Pat Markley keep offering to teach me to use Excel spreadsheets (so does Cheryl) – but I just run in the other direction. I can be wily when I want to be!
Lutherans know things. Lutherans know important things. And Lutherans are often very willing to share these important things they know.
I remember being offered wisdom from Lutheran sages when Jack was still very tiny and brand new to this world. Back when Jason and I were beyond exhausted – because Jack honestly believed sleep was for other babies. I was so exhausted I was actually walking into walls and falling asleep mid-conversation. We were just so tired it hurt some days.
(And yes – I know all about how much newborns are supposed to sleep. My oldest son did not sleep. Jack still sleeps far less than is typical of other folks his age. My teenager doesn’t sleep until noon on Saturday. My teen is up by 6:00 am on Saturday and Sunday – ON HIS OWN! My oldest believes and has always believed that sleep is boring and a waste of life . . . See – I told you . . . Jack needs less sleep than average.)
I am not bitter. I love our boy with all of my being and would not change anything about him.
Anyway – I would talk to wise Lutherans and they would gaze lovingly and longingly at my precious baby boy and say things like – “Oh Pastor Kerri – treasure these days. They are just going to fly by.”
Or they might say – “They are only tiny for such a short time.”
Or “Oh how I miss those baby years.”
Or “You are just so very – very blessed. I bet you and Jason just spend all of your time thanking Jesus for this little sweetie!”
And I would stand there in my sleep deprived state with baby barf on my clergy shirt – dreaming of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep and think – “You have got to be kidding me!?! This kid is going to kill me! Treasure these years. I just want to survive these years! I doubt I will ever become so addled that I will be able to treasure barf – sleep deprivation – diapers – and crying (both Jack’s and mine). And these days are NOT flying by. They are dragging – slowly – excruciatingly slowly. Did I mention – I think Jack is trying to kill me?!?”
But the thing is – these wise Lutheran sages were right after all. Time did fly by . . . Time zipped and zoomed right by me and before I knew it our beloved boy was starting kindergarten.
Jack went from an 8 pound 10 ounce newborn to a 6 year old kindergartener standing on our front porch in the blink of an eye. Whoosh – went those years . . . And I realized the wise Lutheran sages were right. Time does go so very – very quickly (but it might be because you are too tired to notice the passage of time!?!)
Our baby was gone and a boy stood in front of me . . . wearing glasses and an adorable school uniform.
That first day of kindergarten was special and terrifying for both Jack and me. As always Jason was completely and utterly unflappable. (I so want to be more like Jason when I grow up!)
Jack’s backpack looked huge and so did his sweet brown eyes. He smiled bravely – and so did I!
I remember thinking I wouldn’t be emotional about kindergarten. Jack had been going to school and daycare for years. (I had always declared I didn’t get a Master’s of Divinity to stay home. And so I didn’t stay home. My choice – no judgment if you did the exact opposite!)
But as I stood in the parking lot of Saint Bernard’s Elementary School in Wabash, Indiana and Jack got into line with his kindergarten class and walked away from me – the tears began to flow down my cheeks in a steady stream. And I heard all of the Lutheran sages saying – “it goes so quickly Pastor . . . it just goes so quickly . . .”
Jack was off to learn to read and do math and write stories and make new friends and have all sorts of exciting adventures. I was thrilled and terrified and proud and petrified and I also knew that it would be okay. Jack didn’t go alone. God walked with him. And I wasn’t standing alone either – because God was with me too. AND I had all of those wise Lutheran sages whispering in my ear. Whispering wisdom and encouragement and love and blessings . . .
I did vow that day to remember that it does go so very – very quickly. It does go by with a whoosh and a zoom . . .
Jason and I have tried to live our lives at a different pace. We try to continue to savor life as often as we are able. To stop and enjoy the everyday “good stuff.” To appreciate our blessings. To delight. To give thanks. To pause and listen and observe. To simply enjoy our sons for who they are in this moment – messy messes and loud noises and big appetites and all.
Because life has continued to go so very quickly. (Except for those months when we added another newborn into the mix. Newborns always slow down time . . . This seems to be their superpower!)
And today – well – today – our oldest son – started his senior year of high school.
Today a man walked out our front door and into the world . . . and I tried really hard to be brave and not to cry – but well I am me . . .
This year Jack will study things I can barely understand or may never really understand at all. But the truly awesome thing is – Jack is learning to be a Lutheran sage himself. Jack teaches me things now. I learn new and amazing things from my boy.
I know a new sage. He is wise and patient and kind and generous. He is a delight and I am so thankful I know him.
Lutheran sages . . . oh how I give thanks for their wisdom and the blessings they bring into my life! For the things that they teach me and joy that they share.
Our boy has grown up. And another wise Lutheran sage stands in front of me. I know that I am blessed and thankful. So very – very thankful.
Who are the wise people in your life? Who do you learn from? Who blesses you and helps you? For whom do you give thanks?
Have you taken the time to listen and learn lately? Have you tried hearing from someone new?
Our Lord sends all sorts of wonderful people into our lives. People who bring gifts – talents – wisdom – and blessings to share.
I encourage you to take a long lingering moment to appreciate someone special. To listen and learn. Life is too short to stop learning and growing . . .