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?