Worship for Sunday, January 30, 2022

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 71:1-6

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.

In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;
incline your ear to me and save me.

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe;
you are my crag and my stronghold.

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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

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

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.   When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.   And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 4:21-30

Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.   There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

There are so many odd – strange and downright bizarre things in this world. Things that are almost impossible to explain like – platypuses. Seriously – egg laying mammals. What’s up with that!

Or who decided that naming any color “puce” was a good idea.   Really – “puce!” (Just in case you were curious – apparently it was King Louis 16th of France who named the color – puce. He thought the color puce looked like a flea or the color of the dried blood from a flea bite! And puce was his wife’s favorite color . . .)

Or what about calling competitive eating – “a sport.”   It hardly seems all that sporting or particularly athletic to see how many Twinkies or hot dogs you can stuff into your face in 5 minutes. Frankly – competitive eating seems like an anti-sport to me!

And speaking of food – I just don’t understand eating wings (or any food for that matter) that is so hot you might need medical intervention.   People have literally died from eating incredibly spicy food. In 2019 a British man died from eating a super spicy fishcake! Seriously . . .

There are so many incredibly strange things in this world – but perhaps the strangest thing of all is love.

I am absolutely – positively convinced love is one of the strangest things in the entire universe. Love is even stranger than egg laying mammals and the so-called sport of competitive eating.

Think about it. Love is really and truly bizarre. Love leads otherwise completely rational human beings to do the craziest – most completely and utterly irrational things.

Think about some of the things you (or people you know and respect) have done over the years all because of love.

Love for new parents means they willingly give up sleep for months – if not for years of their lives when their children are young. Seriously – I am not kidding or exaggerating on this one.   Researchers at the University of Warwick in England found that new parents face almost 6 entire years of sleep deprivation following the birth of a child. . . 6 YEARS – not 6 months!!!

There are international laws against depriving prisoners of war of sleep. And yet – because we love our babies – we deprive ourselves of sleep night after night – month after month – often for years!

Love for parents also means we share our homes with people who eat all of our food – makes massive piles of laundry – spend all of our hard-earned money – and make really big messes wherever they go.

My basement is currently the scene of at least 5 or 6 devastatingly horrific Nascar accidents and a few Godzilla attacks. I wouldn’t let just anybody – trash my home like this. But love means Will McFarland can trash my basement anytime.

Love for quite a few spouses later today – may mean watching a football game or 2 they care absolutely – positively nothing about.

Love means we put up with temper tantrums – hissy fits and sulking silences – sometimes all on the same trip home from church. (My family puts up with a lot from me!)

Love also means putting up with clueless parents who just don’t get it.   And shockingly annoying siblings.

Sometimes love is a gritty determination to hang in there with someone because you made a promise to love them NO MATTER WHAT!

Sometimes love means standing by someone who is just plain annoying.   And loving someone who isn’t very lovable.

Yes – love means bear hugs. But love can also mean almost unbearable heartache.

Love isn’t all roses – and chocolate – and smiley faces – and laughter.

Love in the real world (where we all live) is far more complicated than your average Hollywood rom-com or sitcom would have us believe. . .

And yet – I am sure you have all felt this sort of love for someone else. That you have loved someone no matter what they did. No matter how frustrating or annoying or just plain human they were. That you have loved someone even when you did not like them very much. That you loved someone because you were just plain determined to keep on loving them NO MATTER WHAT!

This sort of love is amazing. This sort of love is downright impressive. Love like this makes the world a better place. Love like this is an incredible blessing.

But this sort of love is only a very dim reflection of the love God the Father has for each of you.

God’s love for you is so perfect – it is hard for us to comprehend.   God’s love for you is so perfect – it boggles the mind.

Hear again the way Saint Paul describes God’s love for you in what is perhaps the most famous passage about love that has even been written.   Listen carefully to the way Saint Paul describes God’s love and remember this is the way God loves you!

God’s love for you “is patient. God’s love for you is kind. God’s love for you is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. God’s love for you is not irritable or resentful – it does not rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in the truth. God’s love for you bears all things – believes all things – hopes all things – endures all things. And most wonderfully of all God’s love for you never ends.”

That sort of love – is a love in which we can find great comfort and hope. That sort of love changes our lives forever and redeems us for all eternity. That sort of love reveals to us the beauty and joys of heaven.

And this is the way God loves each of you.

God’s love for you is perfect. God’s love for you is unending. God promises to love you forever and ever! Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Not Very Friendly – So Far

Sunrise on a Sunday morning in January,

Last week as we drove home from an errand Jack and I were chatting about life and this and that and about what has been going on in our lives since Christmas. As our conversation concluded – I declared that “this January was so totally NOT a month I would vote to relive – repeat – redo – or re-anything!!!! Frankly I wouldn’t mind being able to fast-forward through the rest of January 2022. . . ”

(Boy – I bet Jack was super-duper thrilled to be hanging out with his mom right about then. . . Poor guy drew the “short straw” that afternoon – didn’t he? Oh well – he got a trip to the craft store out of it!)

Nope 2022 has not launched in the manner I was hoping it might when the New Year dawned. . .

As of today – I am not a fan of 2022 in the least. To date – I am of the belief it was a mistake to leave 2021 behind and even to start 2022. I am thinking 2022 should have come with a warning sticker or a hazard sign or an orange cone or something to warn the naive or the unwary of what was around the bend!

Seriously so far – 2022 is proving to be a bit of a villainous mean-y pants.

Not the same picture – see the way the sky is changing.

I am usually all for savoring life and seeking the good and looking for God’s blessings in my daily life.   I can be a bit of a Pollyanna. I actively look for the good in situations and people. I am all about the rainbows and the flowers and the appreciation and the beauty.

I thought my word for 2022 was going to be “embrace.”   Now I am strongly – strongly reconsidering – because I haven’t felt like embracing most of what 2022 has had to offer so far . . .

Or perhaps I may have simply misunderstood. Maybe my word for 2022 started with an “E” – but it is actually “endure . . .” Oh – I hope not?!?!?!?! Enduring life and embracing life are two very – very difference concepts and paths.   Embracing life sounds like fun or at least interesting. Enduring life – well – not so much . . .

Honestly this January has been pretty hard. I am feeling a bit beaten and battered and tossed around.   I started off the month with surgery.   (It was thankfully and blessed successful!)

But by Wednesday of that very same week – I had discovered the reason the anesthesiologist had me sign that very lengthy release form filled with all of the lawyerly legal-ease before I was intubated for surgery. I had a broken tooth. A really broken tooth I learned when I visited my dentist.   I left the dentist’s office exactly one week after my surgery with a root canal and a temporary crown.

(Wow – do root canals hurt! “Minor discomfort” – my eye!)

It is amazing. Look at the changes that take place in just seconds!

I walked in the door of our home after the dentist glued my new fake (but temporary) tooth into my throbbing face and declared – “I am hiding in the basement next Monday with a helmet on my head – under a blanket. I will NOT be leaving this house! Seriously – next Monday is looking like a day to be feared!?!?!?!” (January 10th = surgery – January 17th = root canal – January 24 = who knows – but I wasn’t willing to risk it?!?!?!?)

To which Jason sagely and wisely and calmly responded – “Makes sense to me.”

(My beloved totally gets me! Jason is fluent in Latin – Ancient Greek – and Kerri! His Spanish is decent too.)

I may not be a big fan of 2022 so far – but there have been blessings.   (See – I can’t help myself. I have trained my brain and my heart and my soul to seek the good and to find the blessings. Even during the tougher days. I am such a freak!)

My surgery wasn’t an emergency surgery – but it needed to happen on a pretty zippy schedule to prevent an emergency.

This meant I didn’t have much (any) time to get things at church ready for my absence. This was way – Way – WAY outside my comfort-zone. This is so not the way I choose to live my life. I am a planner. I work ahead. I don’t procrastinate. I am prepared. I proofread things 3,000 times.   I stock-up and I organize. But it turns out kinda-sorta emergency surgeries happen sometimes and there isn’t anything you can do about them.   Seriously not a stinking thing . . .

The colors dazzled and delight.

But the most wonderful thing happened – I sent just one email to Rod Firquin and the generous offers of gracious – kind – truly thoughtful help began to flow immediately. I emailed Rod and within minutes I had help. Lots of wonderful help. Rod assured me that – the Lutherans of Saint Stephen “had this.” Worship and the sermon and communion and Sunday school and church council and un-decorating and communicating were all handled by my sisters and brothers in Christ.

Then Brenda gave me a pep-talk and she listened and she cared and she was my sister in Christ. Talk about a blessing!

Soon the words of encouragement began to flow from our Saint Stephen church family. And so did the prayers and offers of even more help. And the text messages. And the cards. My sisters and brothers in Christ were praying for me when I needed it the most . . .

I was reminded once again of the blessing of Christian community.

Nope – still not a big fan of 2022. BUT I am a huge – Huge – HUGE fan of Christian community and my sisters and brothers in Christ!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, January 23, 2022

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

All the people [of Israel] gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,

their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun.

It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat. 

The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.

The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever;
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 

By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can detect one’s own offenses?
Cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be  acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Most of us have a character flaw or 2. Unfortunately – I have more like 2,000! One of my character flaws is “talent envy.”   I have been afflicted with talent envy for as long as I can remember.

Even in pre-school I struggled with talent envy. When I was 4 – my very best-friend in the whole wide world was bi-lingual. I remember wanting to speak Spanish so badly I would babble total gibberish just so I could sound super cool like David.

By the time I was in elementary school my talent envying heart – coveted my friend Kevin’s ability to roller skate backwards while doing ALL of the hand motions to the YMCA song. (It was the 1980’s.) He was REALLY good. I wanted to be just like him gliding around the skating rink with the wind blowing his mullet in the breeze. But all I got for trying to copy Kevin was a bruised ego to match my bruised EVERYTHING else!

My talent envy didn’t stop there. In college – Jason was the Classics Department’s golden boy.   Flawless Latin and Greek would flow forth from Jason filling our professors with joy and pride. When I opened my mouth – our professor tried not to cry! I butchered Greek for 3 solid years.

Now Jason is learning Coptic – “just for fun?!?!?!”” Seriously – I kid you not . . .

Our professor told me more than once that he really admired my willingness “to stick with it.” Which meant – I was a total foreign language IDIOT and he couldn’t believe I kept coming back for more suffering. But one of my talents is STUBBORNESS!

I am still afflicted with talent envy every single time I hear anyone talking about math-y stuff. Because numbers are so totally NOT my thing.

I am not proud of it – but talent envy has been a lifelong affliction for me. And while you may not be as badly afflicted with talent envy as I am – I think many of us have experienced some talent envy at least once or twice.

It is totally fine to admire other folks’ talents. (After all – the world is full of impressively talented people who can do really cool stuff.)

As long as – your admiration doesn’t blind you to the value of your own gifts and talents. Because God gave us unique gifts and talents for a reason. God has an amazing plan and we are all a part of it.

William makes really cool Lego creations with just a pile of Legos and his imagination.

Imagine if we all had the very same gifts and talents as everyone else.   Imagine if we could all sing like the Bee Gees (or angels if you prefer.) If we could all could like cook like Rachel Ray and Jamie Oliver. And if we could all hold onto a football like Jerry Rice and Walter Peyton.

Well – our hymn singing would be totally groovy. We would have amazing chili cook-offs (but we already do).   And we would be incredibly graceful and agile – so we wouldn’t drop stuff. But what if those were our only gifts and talents?

Who would read the scripture? Who would acolyte?   And deacon?

Who would play the organ and the clavinova for worship?

Who would pay the bills – balance the checkbooks – count the offerings and make the offering statements for us?

Jack can climb anything. This is surprisingly handy in a church setting . . .

Who would teach Vacation Bible school and Sunday school?

Who would decorate the sanctuary and change the paraments?

Who would greet our visitors and visit our shut-ins?

Who would trim the bushes – mow the lawn – pull the weeds – shovel the snow and fix things when they broke?

Who would do all of those other things that need to be done at Saint Stephen and in God’s world?

It is so easy to think other’s gifts and talents are more important or better than our own. But – God gave us a variety of gifts and talents for a reason. God did this so we could ALL work together to do God’s work in this world.

No talent is unimportant or unnecessary. Our Christian community and the world need you and your talents.

If you can teach – then help with Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.

The VBS snack talent!

If God has given you the gifts of listening and conversation – visit people who are lonely.   pick up the telephone and give someone a call.

So many folks have told me lately how much they miss coming to church and how they wish they could be here. Especially now that this pandemic has made such a mess of our lives for such a long time!

If you like to write – send cards to people who could use a message of love and support.

If you feel comfortable speaking in public – serve as a deacon or a lector.

If you enjoy cooking then volunteer to help cook for the folks at the Ronald McDonald house. That is powerful ministry.

If you feel called to pray – then pray. There can never be too many people praying for us.

Elvis sometimes stops by Saint Stephen for a visit! So do Marcus and Peggy. All 3 of them are pretty cool!

If you can fix things – Rod and Matt would be delighted to hear from you.

Using your gifts and talents is a blessing to our Christian community and makes the world a better place.

Don’t say to yourself someone else will do it or I’ve done my part.   Because God gave you talents for a reason. God gave you gifts so you would use them. Without your gifts and talents our church is missing something important we all need.

You are a part of the foundation of this church. You are needed. God is calling each and every one of you to serve. Truly this is the Good News. AMEN.




A Message of Encouragement from our Bishop

Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek…(Exodus 17:8-11)

Dear People of God,

Covid fatigue. 

The phrase is working its way into public and private conversations as we enter the third year of walking the coronavirus wilderness. The symptoms of covid fatigue are also working their way into our public life, into our individual and family lives, and into our life together as the body of Christ.

We are tired of all the twists and turns, like eating out or going to school or worshipping in-person one week, one day, and then rushing back to “virtual” life the next. We are weary of wearing masks, deciding which masks, keeping distance, and washing hands. We are exhausted by having to make complicated and quick decisions about in-person, virtual, and hybrid worship, communion, and other aspects of our life together as the body of Christ. And, in our exhaustion we are turning on one another, crying out at our leaders and others with exasperation and blame borne of exhaustion, much like our ancestors in faith did on their weary way through the wilderness, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Some of us, like those ancestors, even cry out in the silence of our weary hearts, “Is the Lord among us or not?” [See Exodus 17:1-7]

Covid fatigue: weariness borne of walking the wilderness, fighting the seemingly indefatigable virus, living in limbo, losing sight of hope’s horizon again and again. It is so tempting to lower our hands like Moses, to stop doing what has been so important in winning this battle, and to live as if the virus were not spreading at record rates and pushing medical facilities beyond their limits yet again.

But, dear people of God, we cannot do that, not if we are going to make it to the other side of this wearing wilderness with as many of us as possible. It’s time to let go of bickering, bellowing, and berating and to be Aaron and Hur for one another.

It’s time for us to lift each other’s hands by reminding each other of God’s powerful, promised presence – by being God’s loving, compassionate, humble, hopeful presence for one another. We hold each other up when we support each other in making (again) the pivots in our personal lives and in our life together as the body of Christ that will protect the most vulnerable among us, including our children. We are Aaron and Hur for one another when we remind each other of how, by God’s grace, we’ve done what we’ve needed to do before and that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do it again and for as long as need be…because we hold each other up and go forward together.

We lift each other’s hands when we wear a mask, get fully vaccinated if possible, and, like Jesus, who for the promised joy that was set before him endured the cross, accept the limitations and losses that increase the chances that we will win the battle against the virus itself as well as its insipid determination to rend our life together.

Beloved people of God, as we lift each other’s arms in this wearying wilderness, we join Aaron and Hur and generations of God’s people (like those listed in Hebrews 11) who in times of peril and challenge entrusted themselves to the God of promise and gave themselves to assisting others to get through and beyond.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) 

Peace be with you,

The Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen, Bishop

Worship for Sunday, January 16, 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 36:5-10

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the strong mountains, your justice like the                 great deep; you save humankind and animals, O Lord.
How priceless is your love, O God!
All people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.
Continue your lovingkindness to those who know you,
and your favor to those who are true of heart.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.   Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Being a wedding guest can be a lot of fun. You see the beautiful bride in her gorgeous wedding dress and the handsome groom in his debonair tux. You admire the flowers. You witness the happy couple professing their love and faithfulness in their vows and celebrate the glorious blessing of love.

At the reception you chat and laugh with great company. Maybe you enjoy a slice of yummy cake. You toast the happy couple. You celebrate love – life – and happiness.

Being a wedding guest is fun and relaxing and just plain delightful.

But when it is your wedding or your child’s wedding – I have noticed weddings tend to be less fun. Being the boss of the wedding is serious work. It is often downright stressful!

Take my own wedding for example. Our wedding was beautiful. And almost 25 years later I remain incredibly thankful I was able to talk Jason into marrying me. But there were a couple of hours during our rehearsal dinner that were just plain stressful.

The wedding rehearsal at the church went off without a hitch.

And then we all headed for Jason’s parents’ house for the rehearsal dinner. As we pulled up to their house everything looked perfectly perfect. The June weather was glorious. The lawn was perfectly manicured. The flowers were gorgeous. My in-laws’ yard isn’t a yard – it is a garden oasis right out of Southern Living.

Everything may have looked perfectly – perfect. But EVERYONE was not perfectly perfect. As we walked into the house – we quickly noticed Jason’s parents were wearing VERY fake smiles.

Then Jason’s sister Elizabeth mouthed an exaggerated “follow me.” So we casually followed her into the basement where she dropped the bomb. There was no food. Our caterer was a “no show.” We had hungry guests and no food to feed them.

We held an impromptu family meeting and decided Elizabeth would keep working the phones while the rest of us tried to dazzle and distract our guests with witty conversation – lots of smiley smiles – and drinks for another 30 minutes. And then we would just order pizza if we were still foodless.

Not exactly the menu we had planned – but Jason and I are not – nor have we ever been fancy – smancy people. And who doesn’t like pizza?

Just as Jason’s folks had started ordering pizza – the caterer arrived full of apologies – with most of the food. She had gotten the date wrong!

Something almost always goes wrong with a wedding – no matter how much careful planning you do!

In our Gospel reading for this week we heard about Jesus – his mom – and his disciples going to a wedding. It is early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. This was before most folks knew Jesus was the Savior of the world. It was even before Jesus had done any miracles.

It sounds like this wedding was joyful and fun. It started off smoothly – but then – there was a problem.   The hosts ran out of wine before the party was over.

Imagine being in the hosts’ position. They had invited all of their friends – family members – neighbors – co-workers – and everybody from their synagogue.   Plus they had invited the bride’s entire family and her neighbors – and her friends and everybody from her synagogue and even her mother’s best-friend since she was three years old. And now they had run out of wine before the wedding celebration was over.

It would have been so embarrassing. It would have been like announcing to their entire community that they were too poor to host a nice wedding feast. Or at the very least that they were really bad wedding planners.

It would have made them bad hosts. And no one wants to be a bad host.

Seriously – think about how we would react – if we ran out of food at a church dinner! Or at a Christmas party! We would be mortified!

When Jesus steps in and turns those six huge stone jars of water into wine – it is his first miracle and we learn so much about our Lord and Savior.

First – we learn that even the Savior of the world listens to his mom.   It was Mary who let Jesus know about the whole “wine problem.” And it was Mary who let Jesus know she thought he could most definitely solve the problem. Mary told Jesus she believed in him and that she believed it was time for him to make himself known.

When Jesus was a little reluctant – Mary encouraged Jesus.

Second – we see just how gracious and compassionate our Lord and Savior truly is. Running out of wine at the wedding feast they were hosting would have been a really embarrassing situation for this family.

Imagine having to stand up in front of all of your family – friends – neighbors – co-workers and your worship community and your brand-new spouse’s family – friends and neighbors and say – “Sorry folks – we didn’t buy enough supplies for the party. We are all out. We are just plain broke.   Thanks for coming. Have a nice evening.”

When Jesus turns the water in those water jugs into wine – it is an act of grace – kindness – and compassion.   Jesus didn’t want the groom and his family to suffer the embarrassment and humiliation of being seen as bad hosts. This is an act of mercy!

This miracle also reveals to us that the Lord and Savior of the world cares about every day ordinary people and their every day ordinary problems.

Sometimes – I think – we don’t believe our God could possibly care about the small stuff we worry about – not with the big problems in the world.   But this miracle shows us our Lord does care about what we care about – even running out of wine at a wedding reception!

And we also see in this miracle Jesus doesn’t do anything halfway!   Jesus’ first miracle was to make wine so good even a snooty wine steward commented on how good it was! Which means this must have been some seriously awesome wine! Jesus makes amazing wine!

When Jesus chose to begin revealing himself to the world as our Lord and Savior – he chose to do this through a miracle of kindness – grace – and compassion. It was a miracle that solved a pretty commonplace problem which reveals to us that our Lord cares about us and our common – every day – run of the mill problems.

Your Lord can do mighty and amazing miracles and your Savior cares. He gets it and he loves you. Truly this is Good News. Amen.

Very Merry Indeed!

Barely awake – but VERY excited!

Jason and I awoke at 5:00 AM on Christmas morning. We were surprised and delighted to discover that we were the only McFarlands who were stirring in our household. Both of our sons tend to be early risers on regular days – so we didn’t expect this whole sleeping thing to last very long.

We quickly and wisely closed our eyes and drifted back to sleep expecting to be reawakened very soon. So – we were even more surprised/shocked/just plain flabbergasted that Will slept until after 7:30 AM and had to awakened by Jack! Yes – our 18-year-old woke up our 9-year-old ON CHRISTMAS MORNING!?!?!

Waiting to wake up his brother!

Santa Claus had come!

But it would seem that Santa had his work cut out for him at our house. Because Jack and I didn’t get home from church until almost 1:00 AM on Christmas morning. And Will had a really – really – really hard time sleeping and claimed to be awake for most of the night. So – there was only a very small window of time when a McFarland wasn’t wide awake at our house on Christmas night/morning. Thankfully Santa Claus is wise and talented and was able to slip in and out during that teeny-tiny window of time when all 4 of us were asleep.

The Christmas stockings had been filled to the brim with good things.   Chocolate and more chocolate and trains for Will and Sweet Tart ropes in every flavor known to humankind for both Jack and William.

There were presents wrapped in red for Will. Santa must know that orange is Will’s favorite color and red is pretty close to orange. So red Christmas paper just makes perfectly perfect sense when you think about it (long enough).

And green wrapping paper for Jack – because green is Jack’s favorite color.

This year Santa brought Will lots of really impressive ships.   He got the Yamato and the Bismarck and the Hood and the Illustrious and some other seriously awesome additions to his naval fleet. And a wooden AmTrak train set too. Our Will can be both a navy admiral and a train engineer depending on his mood.

Jack’s favorite gift was a Saint Francis of Assisi bracelet. Saint Francis is the patron Saint of those who love and care for animals. (Jack is a devoted animal lover with plans to become a veterinarian.)

Jason and I were impressed with how well Santa Claus knows our sons!

The rest of Christmas Day was blissfully relaxed and quiet. Will played with his new toys. And then he played some more. I read and read and read and knit and knit and read while drinking tea – awesome! Jack did teenager-y stuff and then went to a movie. And Jason read too – but skipped the knitting which is fine. More yarn for me!

I loved every single minute of our “do nothing – totally relaxed Christmas Day.”

Monday – was our ever so slightly bigger family Christmas gathering.

Early (really – really early) on Monday morning we set forth into the December darkness for some family togetherness and a 9:00 AM hair appointment with Melissa. Melissa is a treasured family friend and the family hair-whisperer. Melissa has been tending and taming the McFarland/Markward family locks for decades. Melissa isn’t merely the person who knows and cares for my kids’ hair – Melissa is a family institution (in a very – very good way). We have vacationed together.   Her daughter was in my in-laws’ wedding. This isn’t a casual – she cuts our hair kinda relationship!

I think the only one of us who she hasn’t gotten her hands on is Jason.   No surprises there. His hair is longer than mine these days and I am sooooo jealous!

You may think that Jack’s hair looks effortless and easy-breezy. It is not!

This hair takes care and time! This hair takes road trips!

In our rather quirky defense – we know for a fact we are not the only Richmond ex-pat parents to return to Richmond to have their children’s hair done by Melissa. At least one of Jack’s classmates at Manual does the exact same thing. We may be riding the crazy train – but at least we have company!?!?!?!?! And we always get to see Jack and Will’s Mimi and Papa after a handsome-ification with Melissa. Who doesn’t want to see their Mimi and Papa? We ALWAYS want to see Mimi and Papa! Our Mimi and Papa rock like rock stars!

After the handsome-ification – it was time for the family bonding to begin. We were off to Mimi and Papa’s house to see our people!!!!!!

This is what Nic – Uncle – Auntie and Bella look like when they are behaving themselves for a photo!

The rest of Monday was a glorious blur of laughter and happiness and chatter and chatting and joking and jesting and eating and playing and delighting in the joys of being with the people you love most in the world!

And this is Uncle showing his real side! Such a GOOF!

We introduced Caitlyn to the extended family. (She survived!) We feasted. (My mother-in-law is a fabulous cook!) We opened presents! We played a rousing game of family Bingo. We talked and caught up and made plans. We laughed. We are big on laughing.

Caitlyn cuddling Craig the Cat wearing a hat knit by Kerri. Wow – does this lady fit in with our clan!

We gave thanks for laughter and joy and happiness. We gave thanks for the blessing of family. We gave thanks for one another.

We had a very Merry Christmas indeed!

This smile says it ALL!

Christmas 2021 was gone in a blur and a flash and a zip and a quick trip to see Mimi and Papa. Truly time does fly stealthily by – but I have my memories of the laughter and the joy and the people I love the most in this world.

What was your favorite Christmas blessing this year? What will you remember long after the decorations have been stored away for the season and your life has returned to its more normal patterns and routines? What was the greatest gift of the season for you?

These are the Bingo prizes! Yes – we take our Bingo seriously!?!?!?!?!

Reflections on Christmas Eve

Almost all families have Christmas traditions. Some families’ traditions are a bit more flexible.   Other families’ traditions are set in concrete – carved in stone – chiseled in granite and perhaps even tattooed on their forearms. (I can’t see their arms to confirm this suspicion right now. It is winter and we are all covered up. I will need to try to remember to check on this during the summer.)

People take Christmas very seriously. And their Christmas traditions even more seriously.

Do not try changing any Christmas-y traditions. Even the nicest of Christians will gleefully and gladly rip your soul out and dance on it if you are unwise enough to attempt such a change! (Nope – this has never happened to me . . . I am wise enough never even to consider such a foolish thing. But I have heard rumors about that other deeply foolish – truly silly pastor down the road . . . who now wanders the earth soul-less because she suggested a change or 2 to the Christmas Eve worship schedule! I pity her and pray for her daily . . . )

Our family has Christmas traditions too.

I work a lot!

Being busy during Advent does not come as a surprise. When I went to seminary and got that Masters of Divinity degree and then went on to seek ordination – I knew what I was getting into. Working for Jesus means – working on Christmas Eve and Easter.

I joke being troubled by this whole “working on Christian holidays gig” would be like a doctor being bothered by all of the sick people that keep showing up in her office! Or a lifeguard being annoyed by all of the water. Some things just come with the territory – like parenthood and barely controlled chaos (or maybe that’s just us/me?!?!?!)

Besides – I am a big fan of church-y stuff. I was a church nerd long before I was ordained. (I bet that surprises NO ONE!)

I may work a fair bit during December – but Jason and I do make sure we have plenty of special Christmas-y moments for and with our sons too.

Part of those traditions means hanging out with their mom at church even more than usual. Both Jack and now Will do a lot of behind the scenes work at church in December.   They prep and fluff and clean and light and serve and do and generally make my life easier and smoother.

At home the chocolate flows a bit more freely. And there are gingerbread houses. And Christmas crafts (I bet this too surprises NO ONE!)   I love a good Christmas craft or 8,000.   We have special Christmas cups and mugs and of course – we decorate our house for Christmas.

Christmas Eve itself starts casually at the McFarland house.   This year we had a lazy beginning to the day and then we opened presents with Caitlyn. And even better we played Clue together and laughed and chatted and teased and joked and ate silly snacks.

Then I was off to church. I love the quiet calm of the church before worship. The hush . . . The anticipation . . . The time to prepare . . . And Christmas Eve – well on Christmas Eve – it is even better – because the candles flicker and the trees sparkle – and the incredible joy of the Savior’s birth is about to be proclaimed. The only thing better is Easter! (I am such a sucker for the whole – “He is Risen! He is Risen! Indeed!” – bit.)

Christmas Eve worship is always such a joy and a delight. The Gospel readings – familiar and yet always so powerful. The music – so glorious! The Lutherans – so filled with smiles and joy and delight! Christmas Eve is good for our hearts and our souls – it knocks the dust and the rust off!

Back at home – between the worship services – I snuggled on the couch with our kitten and Will for a bit with a cup of awesome tea (thanks Markleys) and read and knit. And promptly fell asleep. I am soooooo totally NOT an evening/night person!

Then it was time for Will to write his note to Santa and leave Santa a glass of milk with a treat. This year Will decided Santa would prefer some chocolates over cookies. So – yummy – delicious chocolate candy was left for Jolly Old Saint Nick along with a carefully written note from our newly minted resident 9-year-old.

Loving the up-do!

I tucked our sweet boy into bed – bid Jason a Merry Almost Christmas – and set off into the balmy – surprisingly warm winter’s night to celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Will has learned to “kid” spell. And – of course – he included a train. Trains are Will’s current passion and joy!

Caitlyn and Jack joined me for the second “Great Christmas Eve candle lighting of 2021!” The sweet girl had a candle lighter slapped in her hand and was put right to work.   Hanging out with a clergy family (or this clergy family) often means laboring for the Lord! Caitlyn fits right in. She is an awesome helper-outer and pitcher-inner.

The faithful Lutherans convened. The carols were sung. The Word was proclaimed. And the Good News was very good indeed!

Christmas Eve quietly became Christmas Day as Rod Firquin and I blew out the candles and locked the church doors and turned off the lights.   Rod is an awesome helper-outer and pitcher-inner too!

Jack – Caitlyn and I walked through a quiet – peaceful – dark church one last time. Checking doors – thermostats and light switches. Enjoying the peace of the moment. The hush and the calm. The gentle – grace of a church well-loved and used.

And then we headed out into the night – early Christmas morning.   Home to Jason and a hopefully sleeping Will. . .

As Jack and I walked through the door – my beloved greeted me with a warm smile and a Merry Christmas. And as he hugged me – he said – “You did it! You made it to Christmas again this year!”

“No. . .” I said with a happy sigh. “We did it again this year. We did it.”

Every family celebrates Christmas Eve in their own unique way.   This is our way. This is what works for us and what we love and delight in doing. Lots of church-y stuff and candles and liturgies and carols and some casual family time and notes to Santa too.

When I am hopefully an even stranger and quirkier and odder and really – really – really old lady (I am just sorta old now) I hope I will remember these days with a smile and a laugh and so much joy. I do treasure these memories and these people in my heart.

What are your favorite Christmas Eve memories?   What do you treasure in your heart?   What and for whom do you give God thanks?