Worship for Sunday, October 31, 2021

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
     Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
     and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea;
though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
     There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
     the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be shaken;
God shall help it at the break of day.
     The nations rage, and the kingdoms shake;
     God speaks, and the earth melts away.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
     Come now, regard the works of the Lord,
     what desolations God has brought upon the earth;
behold the one who makes war to cease in all the world;
who breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.
     “Be still, then, and know that I am God;
     I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold. 

Romans 3:19-28

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.  Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 8:31-36

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I spent some time this week reflecting on God’s blessings to me.   I know my life is absolutely – positively full of blessings from our Lord. Seriously – full to the brim – cup runneth over with blessings from God.   I know this. And I do try so hard to be aware of God’s blessings to me and to have a truly thankful heart.

But when I am busy and in the hustle and bustle of living my daily life – I can start to forget just how blessed I really and truly am. I can begin to lose my perspective a bit (or a lot)!

For example – I know I take my sons for granted.

Before Jack and Will were born – I spent hours and hours praying they would be happy and healthy. And now they are both wonderfully and delightfully healthy.   (And relatively happy – when I am not talking about them in my sermons . . .)

But – of course – I complain about their robust health and happiness and shocking growth of a regular basis. They both eat an absolutely ridiculous amount of food every single day. Which means I have to go to the grocery store ALL of the time.

And then they dare to put all of this food onto dishes which makes for many – many dirty dishes that need to be cleaned and put away.

And the dirty clothing! Seriously – school cloths – work uniforms – church cloths – play cloths – pajamas! Piles and piles and baskets and baskets of dirty clothing that isn’t even mine!?!   And it all needs to be laundered!

I prayed our sons would be happy and healthy and thrive and now they are! And because of all of this health and well-being – my life is busy and full and I have been known to complain about it

What about you? What blessings from God do you take for granted? For most of us that list is probably pretty long.

And I would like to add one more item to the list.   One blessing we ALL take for granted is access to God’s Word. We take our Bibles for granted all of the time.

Sure – we have them around the house. But we don’t actually read them very often – do we?

This caviler attitude about God’s Word would have appalled Martin Luther and the other leaders of the Reformation. They would have been shocked that we could take easy access to God’s Word for granted.

Martin Luther did many impressive things during his earthly life.   He preached 1,000’s of sermons.   He composed dozens of hymns and wrote entire books. He taught countless students and started churches. He even helped his wife brew beer! But perhaps the most important thing Luther ever did was translate the Bible from Latin and ancient Greek into every day German.

For centuries God’s Word had been off limits to most folks because the Bible was written in languages only a few – very highly educated people could still read. God’s Word was for the elite. For the rich and the powerful. For the privileged few.

Average people like us had absolutely no idea what the Bible said.   But Martin Luther changed that.

When Luther’s German translation of the New Testament was published in 1522 – ordinary folks like us could finally read and understand God’s Word.

Luther’s translation of the Bible spread like wildfire. And soon could be found in almost every German home. These Bibles weren’t gathering dust. People were reading them – studying them – and discussing what they found there.

One scholar of Luther’s day complained that “tailors and shoemakers, even women and ignorant people who could read only a little German – studied the Bible. Some committed it to memory, and carried it around with them wherever they went. Such people deemed themselves so learned they were not ashamed to discuss faith and the gospel not only with other laymen, but even with priests and theologians.”

Martin Luther changed the lives of Christians forever. No longer is God’s Word inaccessible to folks like us.   No longer is the Bible the exclusive property of theologians – professors – and kings.

We all have access to God’s Word.

The Bible has been translated into over 700 languages.

There are Bibles in our church library. In the courtyard room and in our Sunday school rooms. You have Bibles in your homes. You can find Bibles at bookstores – big box stores – and in hotel rooms.

When you Google on-line Bibles millions of web-sites are just a mouse click away.

You can download your favorite translation of the Bible to your phone. And if you are too tired to read it yourself – someone will read it to you.

Martin Luther opened God’s Word for us and placed it boldly and firmly into our hands.

But the question remains of – what have we done with this incredible gift?

When was the last time you actually read your Bible? Do you read God’s Word? Or is your Bible sitting on a bookshelf gathering dust?

Can you imagine what your relationship with God might be like if you actually read the Bible? Or if you read it more often?

Imagine if you and your brothers and sisters in Christ were coming to Bible Studies and Sunday school classes in droves – simply because you were just so excited about reading – studying and discussing God’s Word?

Would we be changed? Would our church be changed? Would our community be changed? How about our world?

God’s Word is a blessing to each and every one of us. The Bible guides us – encourages us –and teaches us.   The Bible tells us the powerful story of God’s ongoing relationship with his beloved children and reveals to us God’s grace – love and mercy.

Yet we so often take God’s Word for granted.

So I encourage and challenge you – don’t take this blessing for granted.

Read your Bibles – engage God’s Word and talk about what you discover there – in our church – in your homes and maybe even with a friend or neighbor.

This much I know for certain – God’s Word is powerful and it will change your life for all eternity. AMEN.

Twitchy Toes

Jason and I walk outside (almost) every day. It takes some pretty seriously inclement weather to keep us inside and stuck walking on our treadmill in the basement. As in gale force winds and a driving rain.   But rain will do it – because I do not like rain of any sort. And I especially despise walking in the rain – yuck – Yucky – YUCK! (I am seriously inclined to believe that I am part cat.)

We walk because my brain works better after I have moved. I feel so – so much better if I walk a fair amount during the day. Being sedentary is my nemesis.   Being sedentary makes me feel dull and sluggish and just plain blahhhhhhh. I am pretty sure that sitting for an extended period of time lowers my IQ.

So we walk. We walk at lunch time. We walk at 5:05 pm. We walk during Jason’s 15 minute breaks twice a day too.

We walk because we like walking and we always have. Walking together is “our thing.” (As I sit here at my desk typing at 1:26 pm on a sunny Wednesday in October my watch pedometer reads 10,211 steps – because we just finished our lunchtime constitutional.)

For me walking makes almost everything better. I would humbly suggest that our world leaders stop meeting at round tables (or any tables at all) in their expensive suits and start taking a hike together while they work on the world’s problems.   (Jason thinks they should all just take a hike – but he is cynical that way . . . ) Then they might finally get something done. If nothing else – they would be just a little bit healthier!

I crave fresh(er) air. I crave the sky and nature and green and movement.

I can get these great and glorious things by walking in our neighborhood (sort of). I can get by with trips out my front door and I do. But what my nature loving heart and soul really and truly long for are the “good stuff.” Sometimes I just need more than what our (rather boring) suburban neighborhood has to offer.

I need honest to goodness nature! I need trees! I am a huge fan of TREES!!! I need to look at really and truly intriguing things. Thankfully Jason is always happy to oblige this particular request (obsession) of mine. In fact – all I ever have to say is I need trees and trails and nature and my beloved responds – “where and when . . . ”

And so – this weekend – Jason and I headed for some nature and trees.

We spent a few hours walking amongst the trees. I gazed at the sky and admired the way the light was streaming through the trees. We watched birds soar in the bright blue sky.

We took in the changing colors (but I will always very – very stubbornly assert that green leaves are the best and loveliest of all).

We took note of how busy the bees are right now. The bees seem to be quite hard at work these days.

We gloried in a stunning field of wildflowers. It was truly ablaze with color. Pink – purple – fuchsia – white – yellow – orange. It was dazzling! My wildflower loving heart did lots of oohing and aahing.

We were only gone 4 or so hours. We didn’t walk that far or for that long – but it was good for my soul.   I felt lighter – refreshed – happier – more joyful – more centered – more blessed and just plain good.

Nature and trees are my happy place. Walking and hiking fill my heart with joy and peace.

I give thanks for these gifts – for these moments away – for these times that refresh my soul.

What about you? What fills you with joy? What do you enjoy? What delights you? What is “your thing?”

Even Better Than They Promised!

During my first interviews with the call committee I learned all sorts of delightful – intriguing and interesting things about the Saint Stephen Christian community.

I learned Saint Stephen has a deep bond with the Fern Creek/Highview United Ministries. I also learned our members have been preparing a monthly meal for the families of Louisville Ronald McDonald House for years and years. Clearly feeding people is an incredibly important way we minister to and care for our neighbors.

I learned about Saint Stephen’s Thanksgiving dinner of great and glorious awesomeness! And the Christmas and Easter traditions too – more yummy food. (We DO talk about God’s love and Jesus around here too!)

But what really sparked my interest and imagination were the descriptions of the Halloween gatherings. WOW – the Halloween celebrations sounded like a riotously – amazingly – glorious celebration of Christian community and fun and delight and joy!

I was coming from a church that was “Halloween divided.”   Some of my members were very anti-Halloween and honestly I was so deeply weary of the people who seemed so set on stealing the joy from everything to do with kids and candy and costumes.

Then the Saint Stephen call committee declared – “Halloween is a big deal for Saint Stephen!”

“Whoo-Hoo and Awesome” – I thought.   “Finally” – I sighed to myself. I was in like Flynn! This was going to be amazing! And October after October it has been just that.

I look forward to our Halloween gatherings every year. Saint Stephen’s Halloween celebrations feel like family reunions (The good kind of family reunions that are fun and exciting and joyful. Not the painfully boring ones some of you may remember. I have been to some real clunker family reunions myself over the years . . .)

The decibel level in the fellowship hall is always high and I can NEVER get everyone’s attention for the blessing for our meal!

Lutherans! Lutherans’ friends! Lutherans’ family members! Candy!   Trick or Treating!   Pumpkins! Costumes! Haunted Houses! Candy! Laughter! Smiles and delight!   Decorations! Chili! Candy! Fellowship!   Noise! Hustle and Bustle! Chaos and Candy!

This is the good stuff. These are life’s blessings on full display to be reveled and gloried in and celebrated.

Sunday evening was our 2021 Halloween gathering.

I had been looking forward to this gathering of Lutherans for weeks (okay – months). And it was awesome!

Yes – this year’s Halloween gathering was a bit different than previous years. Covid-19 has changed just about everything in our lives. But our Halloween gathering was still a delight and a blessing.   The fellowship hall was still full of friendly folks. There was chili. There was an abundance of candy.   There was laughter – fellowship and chaos and noise! There were smiles! There was conversation and chatter and joking.

We gathered together. We laughed.   We ate too much candy. We caught up. We celebrated and gave thanks for Christian community and for our sisters and brothers in Christ.

It wasn’t just good. It was great and glorious and amazing and awesome. It was abundant and lavish.

I left feeling so thankful and so very – very blessed! My heart was full. This is the good stuff. This is the joy. This was one of those “cup runneth over moments.”

Worship for Sunday, October 24, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses of the Negeb.
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. 

Hebrews 7:23-28

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.   For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:46-52

As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.   Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Wow – life has been intense lately – hasn’t it? Life just keeps bringing it these days – doesn’t it?   The tough stuff just keeps coming and coming and coming . . . And then coming some more!

It would be so nice to catch a break – to get a lull – to have a moment to come up for air – wouldn’t it? It would be such a relief to be able to catch our collective breath. To have a pause before getting hit again.

These past months (closing in on 2 years now) have been hard on all of us. This pandemic is taking a toll.   It is leaving permanent marks on our lives and our hearts and our very souls.

We are different. We have been changed.

I keep thinking of those “before and after” photo montages the news folks always seem to put together of our US presidents as they are about to leave office.

First up are the “before” pictures. In those pictures we see the happy – exultant – youthful – beaming man our great nation has just elected to lead us for the next 4 years. Those “before” pictures radiate vigor and optimism and vitality and joy.

Next up are the “after” pictures. And what do these “after” pictures reveal?   Well – our fearless leader is a mere shadow of his former self. His hair is thinner and much – much whiter. There are dark circles under his eyes that even make-up can’t hide – and deep – deep frown lines have embedded themselves around the corners of his mouth.

Once upon a time – this man looked ready to take on the world – now he looks ready to take a nap!

I walked by my very own “before” picture this week.   Cheryl has it posted in the hall outside the church offices. It is a “before the pandemic photo.” And I just stood there with a cup of coffee in 1 hand and a jumbo container of Pinesol in the other and sighed a big sigh. I had brown hair once . . . and then I went back to sipping my room temperature coffee. . .

Living through a pandemic has been many things. And I think it is safe to say that it has been challenging for most of us.

And – of course – all of the other things that have always made our lives complicated and challenging have kept right on happening too. It’s not like the pandemic started and we were just able to focus on coping with Covid-19. Nope – that didn’t happen. Covid-19 just added to the stress and complexity of our already very human lives.

The illnesses – the accidents – the arguments – the disappointments – the assignments – the bills – the diseases – the deaths – and all the rest just kept right on coming and coming and coming.

And all while we are trying to handle surges and waves and variants and change after change.

Life tends to be pretty complicated as it is and when you add in a global pandemic – well – it can all begin to feel downright overwhelming!

You know things are getting bumpy when an 8 year old sits you down for a heart to heart and he starts off by reminiscing about “the good old days.” I wasn’t sure that Will was old enough to have “good old days” yet?!?   But – that is exactly what happened at our house this week when the littlest McFarland had suffered one Covid-19 disappointment too many.

Will needed to unburden himself. So we talked about “the good old days” – back when he was still 6 years old and none of us had even heard of Covid-19. Back when masks and vaccines and quarantines and pandemics and waiting weren’t part of our daily lives and lingo.

It broke my heart to hear someone so young longing for better – easier – less complicated times.

All of this hurt – all of this sorrow – all of this very human humanness can get just plain exhausting. It can wear us down. It can feel overwhelming.

It can make us feel lost and all alone in the world.

And yet – as Christians and people of faith – we know we are not alone in this world. Not even now in the midst of these especially difficult days.

Our God is with us! Our God is always with us!

The powerful words of the prophet Jeremiah remind us today (and every day) that our God will never leave us or forsake us or forget us. God is our loving – faithful father forever and always – even when (especially when) life is difficult. We are not in this life alone!

Yes – life in this very human world is filled with difficulties and diseases and pain and pandemics. Yes – life can be incredibly difficult sometimes – but God promises us that he is with us. That he will watch over us and deliver us.

Our God promises us hope. Hope for a brighter future. Hope for better days ahead.

God promises us that the stresses – difficulties – sorrows and pain we face in this time – in these more difficult days – do have the last word with God.

Our God promises us hope for the future.

Our Psalm for today boldly declares this hope to us (and for us).

Our God shall fill our mouths with laughter and our tongues with joy!   And our weeping and our tears will be no more!

Let those words wash over you . . . laughter – joy – delight – gladness!

Your God is with you now. And God promises he will be with you for all eternity – leading you into the bright and glorious future that he has planned for you.

Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

Watching My Shadow Grow

I have had a shadow for my entire life. (I’m NOT a vampire . . .) I know this to be true. It is an unequivocal fact.

But once my sweet William was born I gained a whole different sort of shadow! Our youngest son (even at almost 9 years of age) is quite often my shadow – my companion – my sidekick – my little buddy – and my right hand man.   Will and I spend a lot of time together – because he likes it this way.

Will’s first sentence was “I GO!” And those two short words very clearly meant – “I am going with my mom wherever she is going and please for the love of all that is good and holy don’t get in the way!”

And he meant it. Will likes to keep an eye on me. He seems to consider it his assigned duty and responsibility.

Perhaps even as a toddler Will knew just how bad my sense of direction is and he feared I would wander off and get lost forever and ever if he didn’t keep a careful watch over me . . . And honestly that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

My sense of direction is terrifyingly – wretchedly – shockingly miserable. Some days it feels like I could get lost in my own backyard . . . One of Jason’s primary and most essential roles in our family is helping me find my way home. I don’t use GPS – I call Jason – because only Jason can understand the predicaments I get myself into on especially bad direction days.

William is also the only extrovert in our family of 4. While Jason – Jack – and I will gladly sit in silence for hours (together or alone) – Will likes/wants/needs to be in on the action.   He is happiest when he has companionship (me).

Will is always up for an adventure and he delights in coming to church with me (especially during the week). It is one of his favorite things to do. Will asks to do this for fun. He even has his own desk in my office. These trips to the church feel cozy and nurturing and welcoming to him.   Will gets alone time with his mom and there is always the added excitement of the possibility of another Lutheran dropping in for bonus entertainment.

Please overlook his indulgent beverage . . . he was on a VERY RARE “coffee break.”

Last weekend Will was thrilled when Jason and I announced that Saturday was a church property work day and we would be spending the WHOLE morning at church. He couldn’t wait until it was time to leave for the church. Will was ready and waiting at 6:10 am when I escorted Jack to the vet clinic where Jack works each weekend.

Later when Will and I set forth closer to the appointed time – he was bouncing with excitement and glee. We were going to church on a Saturday morning – for the whole morning and people were coming (we hoped . . . ).

And seeing Rod – Peggy – Buddy – Cheryl – Ella – and even his dad arrive thrilled his little extroverted soul! People after his own heart. People who love coming to church. People who love helping and serving!

As we worked – I thought to myself – my sidekick is growing up.   He is becoming really and truly helpful.

Will helped decorate the church fellowship hall for the upcoming Halloween Party. Will collected a vast array of sticks from all over the church yard. He helped clean up the piles that his dad made from trimming the bushes around the church property. And he pitched in and helped out and he did it all with a huge smile and a willing spirit!

I think I can learn a lot from my little guy . . .

“The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat; the calf and young lion and fatling will be together, and a little child will lead them.

– Isaiah 11:6

Shadows

I have long been intrigued by light and shadows and the dance they do together on a sunny day. For that interplay of light and darkness.

I have been known to play with shadows for embarrassingly long periods of time.

I am always on the lookout for a good shadow. For that unique outline. For that eye-catching shape. For the interesting change of perspective. For the opportunity to see something with fresh eyes.

Fuzzy shadows . . . Sharply defined shadows . . . Wide shadows . . . Long – lean shadows . . . They all spark my imagination.

And I find great shadows in the most surprises places. While pumping gas. While folding bulletins. I spotted a cool shadow just yesterday while having blood drawn at the lab. (Seriously – not kidding – and it was a nice distraction.)

I remember “taking my shadow for a walk” when I was just a little kid. I was mesmerized by how tall my shadow could become when I was still so small!   I loved how tall my shadow-self was. It was fun pretending to be a great – big giant. (Actually – it still is fun to pretend to be a great – big giant!)

Some of the very best spots in my world these days for spotting seriously impressive shadows are the Saint Stephen narthex and sanctuary on a sunny day. (I know that our church windows can be pretty annoying when the white-hot burning sun is blinding you during worship on Sunday mornings. I have seen your anguish and your genuflections   and your sunglasses!) But – on the upside – the shadows in there will knock your socks off! Seriously – sometimes there are shadows combined with dancing rainbows caused by the prisms in our church windows. AMAZING!!!

The shadows in our sanctuary and narthex move and dance beautifully. The interplay of light and darkness is dazzling and delightful!

As fall settles in around us – our world is changing. The light is shifting. The shadows are lengthening and becoming much more prominent.

Can you take a quiet moment to watch? To observe? To stand in awe? Simply to be impressed?

I am trying to remember to watch and to wonder and to take the time to seek beauty.

You are all in my heart – thoughts and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, October 17, 2021

Isaiah 53:4-12

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 91:9-16

Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
and the Most High your habitation,
no evil will befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your dwelling.
For God will give the angels charge over you,
to guard you in all your ways.
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion cub and viper;
you will trample down the lion and the serpent.
I will deliver those who cling to me;
I will uphold them, because they know my name.
They will call me, and I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and honor them.
With long life will I satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.  Amen.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Our Gospel reading for this week – opens with the brothers James and John coming to Jesus with an incredibly bold request.

And they didn’t want any witnesses. So they waited until the other disciples aren’t around before making their bold request.

They want a tangible sign of just how important they are. James and John want a sign so obvious – no one can miss its meaning. James and John want to sit at Jesus’ right hand and his left hand in glory.

James and John want positions of power and honor and incredible prestige. They want everyone in both heaven and on earth to know just how important they are!

This must have been one of those moments in Jesus’ earthly life that made him want to weep. Or beat his head against the nearest wall. Or stomp his feet in frustration while throwing a hissy fit. Or to send James and John back to being fishers of FISH.   Or simply to quit in despair.

Seriously – after working and learning and studying and SERVING with Jesus for years – James and John come to him with a request like this?!?   Jesus must have wondered where he had gone so wrong . . .

But Jesus doesn’t have a hissy fit or quit or cry or fire James and John.

And Jesus doesn’t grant their bold – completely clueless request either.

Instead – Jesus informs them – they clearly don’t understand what they are asking for. They have completely misunderstood what Jesus has been up to in the world.

Jesus’ response must have been crushing for these ambitious brothers.

And things don’t get any better for James and John. Because when the other disciples hear about their gutsy request – they are furious with them.

Jesus sees trouble is brewing. So – Jesus gathers ALL of his disciples together – and informs them – that – “whoever wants to become great must become a servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

That probably wasn’t what ANY of the disciples were hoping to hear.

It isn’t like servants were held in higher esteem back then.   Serving wasn’t more honorable in Jesus’ time than it is in ours. People looked down on servants then too. Servants were nobodies who did the worst – hardest – most backbreaking jobs. And in many cases – they were actually slaves.

Yet here Jesus stands telling the disciples they are called to be servants and slaves.

Once again – Jesus is calling us to do something hard.   Service just doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Serving others takes humility. Most folks prefer glory and honor like James and John. Or at the very least not having to do too much hard work.

There is a story about a company of soldiers from the American Revolutionary War that speaks to our tendency to look down on serving.

These soldiers had been working day after long – hard day constructing a fort. All of the work was done by hand with just a few rudimentary tools. The work was truly difficult and the men were exhausted. As the men worked – their captain stood nearby shouting orders – but offering no help.

Finally – the end was in sight. There were just a few huge logs for the men to heft into place. As the men wrestled with these final logs – it was clear they were nearing their physical breaking point. But still their captain refused to offer any help.   Instead – he just stood there yelling at them and shouting insults.

The more the men struggled – the louder their captain yelled. But he never made a move to help them.

Suddenly a stranger rode up on horseback – and seeing the soldiers struggling – he stopped and asked the captain why he wasn’t helping his men.

“I AM AN OFFICER. OFFICERS DO NOT DIRTY THEIR HANDS IN THAT MANNER” – was the captain’s snooty reply.

Upon hearing that – the stranger quickly got to work helping the men place the final heavy logs.

And the helpful stranger – well – rumor had it – It was George Washington himself the COMMANDER of the Continental Army . . .

A good leader serves others too. Leading means pitching in – helping out and offering support. The best leaders are helpers and companions and co-workers.

James and John did not understand this. They didn’t want to get their hands dirty. They wanted glory and not a bunch of hard work.

Clearly James and John hadn’t been watching Jesus very carefully.   Because Jesus had been showing them day after day that being a follower of God means serving others.

Just look at Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus put other people first. Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus cast out demons and raised people from the dead.

Jesus taught and healed and preached the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy – because that is who Jesus is.

Jesus helped and served to show the world God’s love and that is why we serve too. We serve to show the world God’s amazing love for everyone.

When you volunteer at a local school or bring in food for the food pantry at FCHUM – or send a card to someone – God’s love shines through you.

When you donate blood – support Sunday school – pitch in with cleaning the church – or help out with our church Halloween Party – you are sharing God’s love.

When you pull a few weeds in the church flower beds – go to the Ronald McDonald House – drive a neighbor to the doctor or to the store or rake some leaves for a shut-in – you are sharing God’s love.

When you make a pot of chili – pray for someone on the church prayer list – help on a church work day – or serve as a reader during worship you are being just who God called you to be.

Jesus called you to serve. And when you do – you are sharing God’s love.   Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Worship for Sunday, October 10, 2021

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.   Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 90:12-17

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry?
Be gracious to your servants. 
Satisfy us by your steadfast love in the morning;
so shall we rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you afflicted us
and as many years as we suffered adversity.
Show your servants your works,
and your splendor to their children.
May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us;
prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. Amen.

Hebrews 4:12-16

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.   Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:17-31

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

When my brother was in high school he and his friends all loved the song “I Wanna Be Rich” by the R and B duo Calloway. It was so totally early 1990’s – and they absolutely loved it.   I remember Matt and Perez and Todd and Derek all rocking out to “I Wanna Be Rich” while wearing their super cool M C Hammer pants!

Matt and his best buds all “wanted to be rich! They wanted lots and lots of money. They wanted the pie in the sky. Yes – they wanted to be rich!” And on and on and on. Over and over and over again.

As far as I know none of them have become multi-millionaires just yet – but there is still time.

What about you – are you rich?

I would guess that all of you gathered here today would answer that particular question with a great big old – “NO WAY!”

Or “an are you kidding me?!? Rich – I wish!”

According to one study I read this week – only 28% of people with assets of between 1 and 5 million dollars consider themselves to be rich.   In fact only 60% of folks who have assets of more than 5 million dollars think that they are wealthy. Seriously . . . 5 million dollars and they still don’t feel wealthy?!?

So what does it take for someone living in the United States of America in 2021 to think of themselves as wealthy?

My family makes me feel wealthy!

Well – another group of researchers learned it takes about 2.4 million dollars on average for someone in our country to feel really and truly wealthy. But that varies from city to city and region to region.

Another pretty consistent pattern about wealth is – we always think our money concerns will go away if our income would simply double what it is now.   So if I make $30,000 then I believe all will be perfectly perfect in my world once I am making $60,000. The problem with this is – once we start making that $60,000 we find ourselves yearning for $120,000 and on and on and on.

Making memories with my people = life’s greatest riches!

We are never content for very long. We always want more and more and more!

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus tells us – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Hearing Jesus say that – sort of makes you feel sorry for all of those poor rich people who are going to have such a hard time getting into heaven – doesn’t it?!?

After all – I doubt many of us would call ourselves rich. Honestly – most of us never feel like we have enough money. Like our resources are always being stretched thin . . .

Sure we might be comfortable – but rich just doesn’t describe us. . . Jesus couldn’t be talking about us – could he?

Well – Jesus would say – that he is absolutely – positively talking to us. Jesus would say – we are all rich! That we are all wildly and wonderfully and gloriously rich!

More memories with people I love!

Me – rich? Yeah right – you are probably thinking to yourself – but I ask you to stop for a moment to think about all of the material blessings in your lives.   Think about the clothes in your closets – the car you drive – the shoes on your feet – your home – the food in your refrigerator – the abundant clean water that flows from your faucets – the heat that blasts from your furnace – the electric lights that illuminate your lives – your access to health care and education – and all of those other things we have in our lives that we are all so quick to take for granted.

Now think about this – more than 600 million people currently live on less than $2 per day.

Imagine earning less than 700 dollars a year.   Hearing that sort of makes you rethink the whole rich thing doesn’t it?

When was the last time you were really hungry for longer than the time it took to zap something in the microwave or to go through the nearest fast food drive through?

800 million people in the world are hungry right this very moment. 800 million people – might eat sometime today – but it won’t be enough to satisfy their hunger.

600 million people don’t have access to clean water.   While each of us will use about – 150 gallons of water just today.

900 million people around the world have no access to electricity. And I complain about replacing a lightbulb!?!

Can you imagine life without enough food?   Without clean water?   Without electricity? What would your life be like without those things we think of as necessities but others must live without?

Frankly – we are all rich beyond most peoples’ wildest dreams. We are some of the richest people who have ever lived in human history! Ever!!!

And so – I think we can be pretty sure Jesus was talking to us in our Gospel reading for today when he said – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are aren’t just rich. We are crazy rich! All of us.

But know this too – Jesus isn’t telling us all is lost. Nor is he condemning.   Rather Jesus is warning us.   Jesus wants us to know having so many material blessings can be dangerous. It can make us arrogant. We can get so comfortable and so self-confident that we forget we need God.

All of the wealth that surrounds us – all of our possessions – all of our successes – can make us feel powerful – invincible – even immortal.

Our wealth can cause us to think that we are god-like. We can start to depend on and rely on our material wealth more than we depend on our God. We can start to put the stuff of this world before God.

And this is what Jesus wants us to be aware of.   Jesus wants us to know our wealth cannot save us.

Only God can save us.

The Gospel reading for this week is not a condemnation – rather it is a loving reminder.   God can and will save us – but we do need to remember we need him! And we do need him and his grace – love – and mercy. AMEN.

Waiting in Silence

I am usually so full of words. Words tend to pour out of me. Most days words flow and flow and flow in what must seem like an endless stream to those who love me most.

I often find I have almost as much to write. (Again with all of the wordy words!)

Words are my solace and my joy. Words delight and amuse me. Words – words – words. Words!   I delight in words!

But not so these past days.

I find that the words are not flowing.

Instead I find myself listening. And praying. Oh how I am praying. And I am thinking. And I am seeking time for silence and contemplation. And observing and listening some more.

These have been hard days. It has been a long week. A heavy week. A painful week.

My heart is so weighed down and filled with grief. Our Christian community is grieving. My sisters and brothers in Christ are hurting.   Our hearts are broken. We are sad. We are grieving.

This is hard. This is sad. This is so wretchedly awful it is hard to put it into words . . .

And so I listen. And I pray.   And I wait in silence. And I sigh those sighs Saint Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans and depend on the Spirit to intercede for me with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26).

I hear scripture rolling around in my mind. God’s Word comes back to me. All of that time writing sermons and reading and preparing Bible studies and doing church-y things is blessing me.

I have verses that my mind returns to again and again when I need comfort and solace and strength for the journey.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. . . even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Yes – through – not into forever but through.   Yes – I needed to be reminded that the dark valley isn’t where we stay. It isn’t our permanent residence.

And again I return to Romans 8 – to be reminded of God’s love and care when I am heartbroken.

 “What then are we to say about these things? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Life is hard. Saint Paul really hits the nail on the head when he lists life as one of the things we all fear might separate us from God – doesn’t he?   We all need this reminder that God won’t let anything come between us – not even life in this broken – sinful – incredibly human world. God’s love for us is bigger than even this life!

And Isaiah 49:16.   “See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands.” This image of being in God’s hands . . . this strengths me.

And Psalm 46. I turn to Psalm 46 again and again. The silence part is great – but my favorite reminder is that the God of our ancestors is faithful and with us.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” – Psalm 46:7

Our God doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen to us or those we love. Our God promises us that we are not alone. God is with us in the storms of life. Our God is with us.

I have been seeking and listening and praying and waiting in silence.

What are the verses from God’s Word that strengthen you? That offer you comfort and solace?

What offers you comfort?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

Worship for Sunday, October 3. 2021

Genesis 2:18-24

18The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 8

1O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!—
2you whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children;
you have set up a fortress against your enemies, to silence the foe and avenger.
3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
4what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them,
human beings that you should care for them? 
5Yet you have made them little less than divine;
with glory and honor you crown them.
6You have made them rule over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet:
7all flocks and cattle,
even the wild beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
9O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,9but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark the 10th chapter.

2Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus boldly declares to us that we all need to have faith like children if we want to be able to enter the Kingdom of God.

This particular statement from Jesus is almost certainly guaranteed to capture our attention – because who here doesn’t want to enter the Kingdom of God? Who doesn’t want to go to heaven? Who doesn’t want to spend eternity in Paradise with our Lord?

This declaration from Jesus has certainly captured the imagination of more than a few preachers and been the topic of many sermons over the years.

Lots of these sermons begin by carefully and thoughtfully describing children. The children these preachers know are truly amazing – even downright dazzling creatures.   These children are simply delightful.   They actually verge on being angelic.

These children never – ever roll their eyes or make faces at their parents. Or use more than their fair share of the family data plan or hog the Wi-Fi. These children would never express annoyance about the sage advice their moms lovingly offer!

These children eat all of their vegetables with smiles on their faces and gratitude in their hearts.

A mom could dress these children in white clothing with confidence because they would never dream of wrestling with each other or rolling around on the floor like a pack of wild animals!

And the apparent awesomeness of these sweet – angelic – grateful – vegetable eating children doesn’t stop here . . . Oh – no there is more.   These children also have a completely and utterly trusting faith in God.

These children have no doubt – no questions – and absolutely no uncertainty. Just unwavering faith. The faith these children possess is just as unblemished as their spotless white clothes are.

After hearing these sermons – I am always left scratching my head in puzzlement. Because the children these preachers describe are nothing like ANY of the children I know. Seriously – NONE!

Maybe it is a denominational thing . . . Perhaps it is just Lutheran children – who have these sorts of “issues?” Maybe other children are less “intense.”

Maybe Catholic children are more agreeable and compliant.

Could it be that Methodist children are less probing and Baptist children are less inquisitive?

Perhaps – Episcopalian children are less opinionated.

Because – all of the Lutheran children I have ever met are incredibly spunky creatures. They all seem to be born with strong opinions. And they ask hard questions.

Even really young Lutherans have inquiring minds and they all want to know – absolutely – positively EVERYTHING!

Vacation Bible School – is hands down the most terrifying week of my year. The questions our brilliant young Lutherans ask could make even Martin Luther quiver with fear.

Sometimes the questions are fun like – “Did Adam have a bellybutton since he didn’t have a mom?” Or “why did God think mosquitoes were a good idea?” “Or how do you justify the existence of the paid clergy? – yes I really got that question once . . . ”

But other times – the questions take my breath away and leave me speechless.

Like the day 6 year old Jessie asked me– “If Jesus loves me – why did I get brain cancer?”

Or Erica – who was just 12 when her dad died – She wanted to know why God let her dad die when she still needed him so badly.

Questions like these are enough to make a pastor think about early retirement or a career in just about anything else.

Real – children are inquisitive. They are full of questions. Questions pour out of them all of the time. And many of the questions they ask are hard questions.

Questions just like we ask. Because questions and questioning are part of being human.

But far too often we equate faithfulness and belief in God with a lack of questions. We act like a really and truly faithful person isn’t going to have questions or at least a truly faithful person isn’t going to have tough questions for God.

But I assert with great conviction that questions – even really hard questions about God – and faith – and being a Christian in this broken – sinful world are part of having faith.

God doesn’t ask us to leave our questions behind when we become Christians. Nor does God want us to leave our inquisitiveness at the door when we enter the church.

Some of the most faithful people have asked really hard questions.

Think of all of the questions the disciples asked Jesus.   They asked Jesus hard   questions.

They wanted to know why bad things happened to good people.

They wanted to know why Jesus had to die on a Roman cross.

They wanted to know how to pray and about what heaven was going to be like.

They too wanted to know the meaning of life. And they asked hard questions about divorce too.

Or think of Martin Luther. Think of the hard questions he asked and the ways his hard questions changed the world forever.

I think that when Jesus tells us we should have faith like a child – Jesus is encouraging us to ask questions – to be inquisitive – to dig deeper.   To be seekers and questioners and thinkers.

True faith isn’t the absence of hard questions. Faithful people have all sorts of questions.   Even hard questions.

So ask your hard questions – and seek answers.   Read your Bibles. Pray and talk to God. Come to Sunday school and participate in worship. Listen to God’s Word and listen for God’s answers.

And know this – in our Gospel reading for today – Jesus is telling you – you and your questions are welcome here.   Because God loves you and your questions. And truly this is Good News!   Amen.