Worship for Sunday, February 27, 2022

Exodus 34:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 99

The Lord is king; let the people tremble.
The Lord is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake.

The Lord, great in Zion, is high above all peoples.

Let them confess God’s name, which is great and awesome;
God is the Holy One.

O mighty king, lover of justice, you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord and fall down before God’s footstool;
God is the Holy One.

Moses and Aaron among your priests, and Samuel among those who call upon your name, O Lord, they called upon you, and you answered them,

You spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;
they kept your testimonies and the decree that you gave them.

O Lord our God, you answered them indeed;
you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds.

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord and worship upon God’s holy hill;
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke 9:28-43a

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.   They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”   When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.   I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I love to be outside – to walk – to hike – and to climb over hill and dale. I have even been known on REALLY good days to hike up and down a mountain. (Not Mt. Everest or anything nearly so impressive.) But I do love nature-y things. And from time to time – after spending a day in God’s great and glorious creation – I end up glowing just a bit.

Sometimes – I glow because I forgot to apply sunscreen and I get a sunburn. Wow – does this lady of Irish and German descent “glow” after a day in the sun without sunscreen!   If I am careless – I end up looking like a commercial for aloe vera lotion and Advil.

Parents use me as a cautionary tale. They warn their kids – “wear sunscreen or you will look just like that sad – red – crying lady over there.” And as soon as their children see me – they beg for sunscreen in SPF 10,000 and great big – goofy sunhats.

Other times I glow because I am huffing and puffing from a hike up a steep hill. Or these days – maybe just a walk up a modest incline. My knees simply aren’t what they used to be. Actually – neither are my lungs or my calves or my shoes!?!? Sometimes I “glow” bright red because of physical exertion and I am just plain out of oxygen!

Still other times I glow because of joy. Because I am so happy – I just can’t stop smiling. Nature has that effect on me. I find myself grinning from ear to ear because of a gorgeous blue sky or a lovely flower or a graceful butterfly or the delight I feel when I happen upon a turtle sunning itself in the afternoon sun.

In our first reading for today from Exodus – we heard Moses also experienced a special glow after hiking up and down a mountain. But Moses’ glow was very – VERY different!

Moses had been up on Mount Sinai spending time with God for 40 days and 40 nights.

Moses often spent time with God the Father. They had a very special relationship.

But this meeting was even more important than usual. During this meeting – God reaffirms the covenant he had made with the Chosen People. God promises he will continue to be their God. That he will be faithful to them. He will guide them. And care for them. And lead them into the Promised Land. God promises to defeat their enemies and to watch over them on their journey.

God reassures them. God makes it clear he is in this relationship for the long haul.

God also gave Moses the 10 Commandments. So – Moses descends Mount Sinai carrying the 10 Commandments on two stone tablets at the end of this very important meeting with God.

But that isn’t all Moses leaves Mount Sinai with.   Moses also leaves with clear evidence of his time spent with God. Evidence that stays with Moses for the rest of his life! The Bible tells us Moses’ face glowed. His face shined. Moses reflected God’s glory!

Moses was physically changed by the time he spent in God’s presence.

Can you even imagine what Moses must have looked like? What does a person look like whose face actually shines with the glorious light of God?

Moses must have been a truly amazingly awesome sight to behold!

Yes – Moses’ face glowed. But Moses’ glowing face had absolutely nothing to do with anything Moses had done. Rather it was all about God the Father. Our God is so glorious – so wonderful – so amazing – so incredibly awesome that just by being near God – Moses was changed forever.

Moses’ shining face was a clear reflection to the world of our God’s amazing awesomeness. Moses reflected God’s glory!

Moses was changed forever by the time he spent with God. And Moses is not the only person who has been changed by encountering the one true God.

Saint Paul was changed forever by his encounter with the risen Lord too. Before Paul became a Christian – his name was Saul. And honestly Saul was a wretchedly awful human being. He was mean and cruel.

Saul spent his days persecuting and killing Christians and his nights plotting to stop Christianity from spreading. Saul hoped to destroy Christianity. In fact – later in life Saul called himself Christianity’s number one enemy.

But all of that changed one day when Saul encountered his risen Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ – as he was traveling to the city of Damascus.

One moment Saul was a cruel – blood thirsty – hate-filled man focused on destroying the Christian faith. And the next he was a Christian named Paul – spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And spread the Christian faith – he most certainly did. Paul spent the rest of his life sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and starting Christian churches.

Almost 2,000 years later Christians are still reading his letters and are still being inspired by his words. In fact – we read part of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians this morning.

Paul was transformed by his encounter with Jesus.   One moment – he was Christianity’s greatest enemy and the next – he was a faithful follower of Jesus and a Christian missionary. Paul went from hating Christians and all they stood for – to giving his life to Christ.

And the amazingly awesome thing is – Paul is not an exception. Paul is most definitely not the only person whose life was completely transformed by encountering the Lord.

Paul’s life story is amazing – but what is even more amazing is the fact he only one example of the billions of folks whose lives have been transformed by encountering God.

Because everyone who encounters God – everyone who meets Jesus – everyone who hears the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy is changed forever.

When we meet God – God changes us. God transforms us. God makes us different.

When we encounter God – we become God’s children and we become people of hope.

Yes – we are all still sinners who fall short of the glory of God each and every day of our earthly lives. Yes – we are still in desperate need of God’s grace – love and mercy. But when we meet God we are transformed into his children.

We aren’t perfect. We aren’t sinless. We are not even almost sinless.

BUT meeting God transforms you forever into his redeemed – forgiven – and saved children.

You have all been transformed from lost sinners into children of God.

You are all God’s beloved children. Today – tomorrow – and for all eternity. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

I Had Been Waiting and WaitING and WAITING

I had been waiting and waiting and waiting.   I had been hoping and dreaming and anticipating and hoping some more. My heart was filled with a deep longing for this moment. I was a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas or the first day of summer break.

I was waiting for an incredibly – gloriously important event.   But I wasn’t waiting for a date on the calendar. I didn’t even know the exact date I was waiting for.

Rather – I had been waiting and watching and longing for the very first – really nice – sunny – and warm-ish weekend day of the year. I had been waiting and hoping and longing for that very first Saturday or Sunday when I could spend hour upon hour outside – in the sunshine – without a hat or a coat or mittens or a scarf and still feel perfectly – gloriously comfortable.

I wanted nothing more than to walk and walk and walk in the sunshine without feeling like the cold of winter was sinking deep into my bones.   I wanted to walk until I was tired of walking – not until I was tired of being cold. I get tired of being cold so – so – so much faster than I get tired of walking!

Sunday was the day I had been dreaming of for months now. Sunday was perfectly – perfect. Sunday afternoon was warm. It was NOT raining! Sunday afternoon was SUNNY. There literally wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sky was so perfectly cloudless and blue that my camera refused to take a picture of it (something to do with the auto-focus . . .)

The only way I was able to capture the incredible blue of the sky was to catch a bird soaring through the unbroken blue.

Winter tends to leave me feeling kinda blaaaahhhh and sleepy.   The gray of winter makes me feel perpetually drowsy. I have been told by some folks this makes them feel cozy and content. That they like this feeling. Well – I do like a nice over-sized sweater and I love to knit BUT this perpetually sleepy feeling simply annoys me. I want to feel AWAKE! I prefer to save cozy for bedtime not mid-day.

I have been yearning to feel wide awake for what feels like months (years – decades – centuries – okay millennia) now!

Finally on Sunday afternoon – I felt so gloriously – vibrantly awake. It was wonderful. Jason and I walked and walked and walked and walked.   And every 2 or 3 minutes I exclaimed over the beauty of the blue sky and the sunshine.

I was in awe of the vividness of the blue. The sun was awesome. And the sound of the wind filled my heart with joy. I adore the sound of wind (especially when it isn’t making me cold)!

It is still very much winter here in Kentucky. The world is still looking winter-ish and a bit monochromatic.

The trees are bare.

The fields are brown.

The flowers have dried up.

But they all look so different surrounded with a brilliant blue sky and under a shining sun!

And there was hope in the air and in my heart on Sunday. The sun is slowly returning to our part of the globe.   Slowly – slowly – slowly. And maybe – just maybe – I will make it through yet another long – dark – night of the soul. I mean winter . . . Yep – that’s right I meant winter!

Have you been exploring lately? Have you been able to get out and about? Have you felt the sun on your face or noticed the robins’ return?   Have you been watching – and listening – and observing?

Exciting things are afoot. . . Or they will be soon . . .

Worship for Sunday, February 20, 2022

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.   Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’”   And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

Do not be provoked by evildoers;
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.

For they shall soon wither like the grass,
and like the green grass fade away.

Put your trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and find safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord,
who shall give you your heart’s desire.

Commit your way to the Lord; put your trust in the Lord,
and see what God will do.

The Lord will make your vindication as clear as the light
and the justice of your case like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently.
Do not be provoked by the one who prospers, the one who succeeds in evil schemes.

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not be provoked; it leads only to evil. 

For evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who hope in the Lord shall possess the land.

In a little while the wicked shall be no more;
even if you search out their place, they will not be there.

But the lowly shall possess the land;
they will delight in abundance of peace.

But the deliverance of the righteous comes from you, O Lord;
you are their stronghold in time of trouble.

You, O Lord, will help them and rescue them;
you will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because in you they seek refuge. 

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.   It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.   Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.   But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 6:27-38

[Jesus said:] “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.   If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Hate scares me. It is dangerous. Bad things can and do happen when we hate. Especially when we allow ourselves to hate other people.

Hate twists our hearts and our souls.   Somehow hate makes us smaller and less human.

Hatred changes us. Hate can make us mean and cruel and small. It can blind us to the very humanity of other people. Hate can make us treat other human beings like they do not matter at all.

Think about road rage. People literally hurt and sometimes kill one another over who had the right-of-way at a stop sign or whose turn it was to merge onto the interstate. I know these situations can be terribly annoying – but no one should die over them!

I read just this week about the dramatic increase in traffic fatalities in our nation since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our country is currently enduring the most dramatic increase in traffic fatalities since the 1940’s!   Researchers think anger – even rage – are at the heart of many of these accidents.

I tried to remember a time when I have felt white – hot anger toward another human being. To remember a time when I was filled with actual rage and fury.

We have neighbors who thoughtlessly toss trash into our yard almost every week. They also have two big – aggressive – very badly trained dogs. I find our neighbors and their dogs deeply annoying – but I don’t hate them.

I think drivers who speed through school zones are infuriating and think they are unbelievably selfish and self-centered – but I don’t hate them.

I didn’t like the scary lady who yelled at me in a parking lot this winter. And I will admit I hope I never – ever see her again! But – I didn’t hate her either.

But then I remembered the three guys who had the dorm room directly above mine – my senior year of college. Just remembering them makes my blood pressure go way up! Those guys were the worst – most evil – most vile neighbors in the entire universe. I was pretty sure they were Satan’s servants!

I had gone to college hoping to learn something.   But they had gone to college to party – very – very loudly in the middle of the night. ALWAYS in the MIDDLE of the night!

I can remember trying to sleep at the crazy hour of 3 o’clock in the morning – while they played a rousing – game of drunken basketball in their room which was directly over mine.

The next night – just to keep life interesting – they would try drunken bowling – using their empty beer bottles as the bowling pins.

Other nights it was playing their music really loudly while they jumped up and down over and over again – doing something they called dancing.

They were so dedicated to their work as Satan’s minions they partied loudly – in the middle of the night – 7 days a week.

Soon – I loathed and despised them. I hated them with every fiber of my being. If thoughts could kill – I would have been in really – really big trouble. I started to think of them as my enemies. I wished them ill – night after night. Honestly hatred changed me. It was a blight on my soul.

Wishing people ill does that to us. It damages our souls. It darkens our hearts. It makes us less kind – less loving – less gracious.

Hating people is downright dangerous.

Sadly – hating our enemies and wishing them ill comes as naturally as breathing does to most of us.

But in our Gospel reading for today – Jesus tells us to reject hate. Our Lord doesn’t want us to see other people as our enemies. God doesn’t want us to have enemies at all.

God wants us to love everyone – even folks we might be tempted to call our enemies. God wants us to excel at love.

It may sound totally impossible to you to love your enemies – but it can be done. It has been done. Jesus did it. Jesus loved his enemies.

So how did Jesus show love?

Well – Jesus prayed for his enemies and Jesus tells us God wants us to pray for our enemies too!

Think about that. When was the last time you prayed for your enemies? When was the last time that you prayed for someone who was mean to you? Or hurt you? Or persecuted you? Or just plain made you incredibly angry?

And loving one another does not mean we are always going to agree with each other. Jesus did not agree with the Pharisees and Sadducees on much of anything. But Jesus loved them anyway. And the same is true for us. We are called to love even the people with whom we disagree.

Jesus showed us quite clearly through his own words and actions that you can disagree with folks very – Very – VERY passionately and still love them.

Jesus loved everyone – yep – that’s right – everyone. Jesus loved Judas – even after Judas betrayed him.   Jesus loved Peter who denied Jesus when Jesus needed him the most.   Jesus loved the men who were crucified with him – even though they were criminals.   Jesus loved Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross. Jesus loved all people – even people who hurt and disappointed him.

And the same is true for us. We are called to love all people – even the people we call our enemies.   Jesus loved everyone and God wants us to love everyone too.

Jesus spent time with all sorts of people. Even people who others would have run from.

Jesus made time for people. Jesus knew a very important part of loving other people was getting to know them and letting them get to know you too.

Most importantly Jesus showed us loving other people means seeing them as God’s beloved children too.

And the same is true for us. Part of loving people is remembering that God loves us all equally.

We are all God’s children. Each and every one of us. And truly that is Good News. Amen.

 

 

In Praise of Playdough and Pausing

How do you nurture your relationships with your loved ones? How does your family bond? What are your favorite ways to hang out with one another?   What are your patterns?

When our whole family wants to spend time together – we head for the woods or the river. Jason – Jack – Will and I may not all agree that hiking is awesome (our sweet Will remains steadfast in his dislike of this particular pastime . . . We love him anyway!) But we all love exploring nature. We all delight in getting outside and feeling the sun on our faces – hearing the wind in our ears and getting a bit or a lot muddy. Nature is good for our souls. Nature is good for our relationships with one another too!

Ohhh! Clue! Thank you Caitlyn!

Thanks to our friend Caitlyn – the McFarlands have discovered the awesomeness that is the board game – Clue! We have had a blast playing Clue! this winter. I won my first game of Clue! on Valentine’s Day and have been wearing my victory like a badge of honor all week! It was Professor Plum with the revolver!?!?!

If I want to spend time with Jason all I need to do is vaguely mention going for a walk and my beloved is all in. Jason and I walk. We walk together. Jason and Kerri walk. We have been walking together for over 30 years now.

Yes – I can match my embroidered jeans to the weather . . .

If I want to spend time with Jack – thrifting is the way to go.   Jack has taught me the joys of exploring Goodwill and especially of Goodwill Bins. Jack knew this way of shopping would appeal to my hippy-dippy – tree hugging heart. (Jack may have heard a few rants from his mom about the damage fast-fashion and over-consumption are doing to our planet over the years . . .) I love rescuing cute clothes at bargain prices. I was already into visible mending and embroidering my jeans. Now I get to do both for far less money. And spending time with Jack – well that is quite simply amazingly awesome!

Will is my sidekick. Will and I spend lots of time just hanging out together. We keep each other company. (I am never – ever – ever lonely!) At 9 – Will still invites me into his world of imagination and fun and creativity.   I am not as good at these things as Will is though. I am too grown-up – and just a bit too orderly and neat and linear. But I try. I really – really do try!

Such thoughtful concentration!

Last night Will invited me to play with playdough with him. I try to remember what an honor it is to be invited to play with playdough or to make a craft or to simply hang out with him.   I try to say “yes!” more than I say “sorry not right now . . .”

I don’t know that I will have many fond memories of doing the dishes or sweeping the floors or staring at my phone. But I know for certain I will treasure my memories of watching my sons create artistic masterpieces at our dining room table over the years. I know I will treasure hanging out with my guys.

A sculptor hard at work!

I love watching Will create and make and design.

What Will makes is such a delightful – glorious reflection of who he is and of his personality. It would never occur to me to make most of what Will decides to make and design!

Will chose to use the bright orange playdough (no surprise there).

Will made a ship with funnels and hatches and all sorts of details.   Will then made a tsunami wave and created a tragic disaster at sea . . .

The ship broke apart and the captain bravely went down with his ship!

(I made hearts – because it was close to Valentine’s Day and I am boring and old and lack imagination . . . sigh.)

When I was on internship – there was a group of ladies in my congregation who did all sorts of things they wished they had done sooner or more often.   They were rebels with a cause.   They were bold ladies who had no problem with being seen and heard. They wore bright colors. They went on adventures. They stopped to smell the roses. They left dirty dishes in the sink at home – if they wanted to. (They never left dirty dishes in the sink at church!)   They tried things they had always wanted to try. They said – YES! when saying YES! sounded like fun. And they said “NO thank you” when that sounded better. They embraced life and living and people.

I think of those ladies often. And I so – I say yes to playdough and to walks and to thrifting and to knitting and to reading and to games of Clue! and to as much joy as I can.   And while I am saying yes – I try really hard to be present. To sink into the moment. To revel in it. To absorb it. To listen and delight. To watch and to chat and chatter. To give thanks.

Life can get so busy. So full.   So noisy. So full of mindless distractions. So full of electronics and updates and demands.

I give thanks for the opportunity to spend a quiet hour with my little guy. To watch and to listen.   To learn and observe. To delight and to give thanks.

(The dishes got done and the laundry . . . Well – the McFarlands all found clean clothing to wear this morning so skipping that load of laundry was fine too!)

Much – Much More than a Meeting!

The Lord went in front of [the people of Israel] in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

– Exodus 13:21-22

What a wild – weird – and often not so very wonderful journey we have all been on these last 2 years! So often it feels like we too have been on a never-ending journey through a   desert wilderness just like the Chosen People experienced all those centuries ago as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. Their journey took them 40 very long – often incredibly challenging years. Our journey is wrapping up its 2nd year – but there are days when it feels like this Covid-19 journey is also taking decades (centuries – millennia)!

Will this wretched pandemic ever end? Or will we be stuck in this strange pandemic reality forever and ever and Ever and EVER? Some days I start to wonder . . . I really do!?!?

I remember those early days of the pandemic. Remember those . . .?

Go home! Stay safe.   Socially distance. Make a support bubble with a few extra-special folks to help get you through the trying times. Quarantine for just a few weeks. And then we can all have our lives back . . .

But this pandemic was/is mean – determined – nasty – insidious – and hateful. Covid-19 has held on and On and ON!

It is hard to keep track of all of the challenges we have faced and the changes we have made in our lives because of Covid-19. We make one change and then we need to make another change. Then it feels like we are asked to make yet another change!   There have been so many changes we have lost track of all of the changes we have made in our lives.

We may have lost track of all of the changes we have made over the past 2 years because of Covid-19 – but we are all well aware of the effects of the pandemic and the effects of all of the changes and challenges. We see those all around us. We feel those deeply. There is so much hurt – pain – frustration – anger and grief in our world these days.

When Covid-19 finally does leave – it will leave a whole lot of wreckage in its wake. So much wreckage – pain – loss – and brokenness.

Over 900,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Nearly 6 million people have died world-wide.   The death of so many precious – loved folks is hard to comprehend.

As we emerge from what we hope and pray were the worst months of the pandemic – we see the scars. All of the social distancing and quarantining have taken a toll on us – our communities – our organizations – and on our families.

These past 24 months have taken a significant toll on our own Christian community too. Our church is different. In many ways – it feels like those of us who continue to gather together at Saint Stephen are a remnant of some previous time. A time that was better – brighter – shinier – happier – easier – just plain better.

Every time we gather together – there is a sense of loss – because people we have loved and cared for are missing from our midst. There are empty places at the table. Empty places in the pews. Empty chairs in the Sunday school rooms. Empty spots on the committees. Empty places in our hearts.

Our sisters and brothers in Christ are missing. Some are ill. Some are with our Lord. Some simply aren’t ready to return just yet (but will we pray). Some – quite honestly – seem to have drifted away leaving behind questions and an empty place in our hearts. Some may return in time. Others we know will never return.

They are all missed. We notice their absence and we wish they were with us.

2 years is a long time. 24 months means a lot of changes. 104 Sundays . . .

People change. Needs change. Lives change. Life never stays the same for more than a moment.

We know this – but it doesn’t keep us from missing the folks who used to fill those spaces. It doesn’t keep us from longing for their company. From wishing they were here. From remembering so and so used to sit there. Or that so and so would always say such and such or do that thing that made everyone laugh or groan or sigh . . .

Sunday was our annual meeting and chili cook-off at Saint Stephen.   I wasn’t sure what to expect.   (One never really does!?!?!) I am always just a little fearful that Rod – Buddy – Pat and I will be the only folks who stay for the meeting . . .

Sorry about the terrible lighting – but it is February in Kentucky. We feel blessing to see the sun for 5 minutes once a week!?!?!

But what actually happened was – I walked into the fellowship hall with Jason – Jack and Will and there literally wasn’t a place for us to sit!   ALL of the places at ALL of the tables in the entire fellowship hall were filled with chatting – chattering – talking – laughing Lutherans! It was glorious and awesome and amazing and a blessing and balm for my Covid-19 weary soul!

It felt so wonderful to see that there wasn’t any room for our family.   I loved it and so did the rest of the McFarlands.

Buddy graciously hustled and set up an “annex table” for the McFarlands. But honestly – we would have been happy to stand or to sit on the floor.

All hail our soon-to-be elected church president and two of her proud children!

I may have high-fived Jason and first-bumped Jack . . . I was pretty excited!

I enjoy solitude. I find comfort in the quiet of an empty church. I love listening to the sounds of our church on a Monday morning when it is just me and our Lord.

But I really – really love the sound of Lutherans delighting in the blessing of Christian community. I adore a fellowship hall full of chatting – chattering – chili eating Christians.   And that is exactly what happened on Sunday morning!

Was it just like it was 2 years ago – before Covid-19? Nope – it was most certainly not. We are different. We are changed. Our church has changed too.

Will there be challenges ahead? Yes – there will be challenges galore. But life is – was – and frankly always seems to be full to the brim with challenges. Challenges come with being alive in this world.

But there was joy and laughter and friendship and fellowship and prayer and planning and conversation and joking and fun. There was chili and dessert and community and noise and love.

We crowned a new chili-champion. Congratulations Tammy!

We were blessed and I was and am so very thankful. I am thankful for Christian community. I am thankful for the opportunity to share this life with others. I am thankful for my sisters and brothers in Christ!

Worship for Sunday, February 13, 2022

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse — who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 1

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall be destroyed. 

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.   Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Growing up going to church most Sundays – I am sure I heard the beatitudes many times over the years. But the first time – I really – honestly paid attention to the beatitudes and what they actually say – I was a freshman in a college theology class.

Our professor had us take turns reading each of the beatitudes aloud in class.   He asked us to pause for a moment after each verse was read to let the words sink in.

“Blessed are you who are poor . . .”

“Blessed are you who are hungry . . .”

“Blessed are you who weep and mourn . . .”

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they defame you and when they exclude you and revile you . . .”

After we finished reading – one of the bolder – more outspoken guys in our class – laughed sarcastically and declared– “Yeah – thanks – but no thanks! If that is what Jesus means by the word ‘blessed’ – then you can just count me out!”

And honestly – don’t we all feel at least a bit that way. Even if we might not say it out loud – (especially in church) – we are probably thinking it. Jesus’ words sound totally bizarre and absolutely outlandish!

What on Earth was Jesus thinking!?!? The disciples barely knew Jesus. They had only been Jesus’ disciples for a few days. They hadn’t had time to form trusting relationships with Jesus yet. They were all still getting to know one another.

And yet – Jesus sits his brand-new – still wet behind the ears – disciples down and informs them it is “better to be poor – hungry – sad – hated and defamed than it is to be rich – well-fed – happy – and respected.”

Seriously?!?!? What was Jesus thinking?

I am surprised Jesus had any disciples left after making a speech like that. After all – what Jesus calls a blessing is the exact opposite of the way we hope to live our lives.

When was the last time you heard about a famine and thought to yourself the people living through the famine were “blessed?”

I doubt any of you have ever wished you could be hungry!   Thinner – sure. Thinner sounds awesome to lots of us – but hungry – no thanks!

Have you ever felt blessed because people were gossiping about you and saying nasty things about you behind your back?

Of course not – because we all know being gossiped about feels absolutely horrible!

Can you imagine feeling blessed because you were reviled and hated?

Yeah – me neither . . .

I doubt anyone who is mourning feels very blessed by their grief – heartache and sorrow. The death of someone we love is heartbreaking. These losses change our lives forever. Jesus – knew this too. When Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus died – Jesus really mourned.

And there are so many other losses we find ourselves grieving throughout our lives. Life in this broken – sinful – messed up world is filled with loss.

Many folks know the loss that comes with the end of a marriage.   Divorce hurts.  Divorce is often heartbreaking.

In our families we experience the losses that come when our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews grow up. No matter how proud we are of their amazing successes and accomplishments – their growing up can feel like a loss too.

The longer we live – the more losses we all experience. The loss of our health. Perhaps the loss of our hearing or our eyesight or both. None of us recover from injuries and sicknesses as quickly as we did when we were younger. Some of us will battle memory problems. Some of us will lose jobs and careers we loved.

We experience loss over and over again. Because life is full of losses.

So – if Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus and knows how painful it is to mourn – how could Jesus ever say people who mourn and experience loss are blessed?

Why would Jesus say poor people are more blessed than rich people?   Or people who are gossiped about are better off than people who are respected?

What is Jesus up to here?

Well – I think we need to remember that although Jesus is concerned about life here on earth – Jesus is even more concerned about our eternal lives.

And let’s face it – when things are going smoothly in our lives – we all tend to take God and his blessings to us for granted. When our bellies are nice and full and we are happy – content – and otherwise pleased with our lives – it is so easy to forget about God.

When things are going smoothly – it is easy for us to take all of the credit for our successes and to let God slip into the background. It is so easy to think we did it all ourselves.

When everything is going great – we tend to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. To take a bow for totally rocking it at this life business! It is so easy to think we simply do not need God. We can get awfully arrogant and full of ourselves . . .

But when things are not going all that smoothly – sometimes – we are better able to see God and our need for God.

I am not saying God causes our suffering. GOD DOES NOT CAUSE OUR SUFFERING – but God can and does use our difficulties to draw us closer to him.

God does not cause us to suffer or to struggle – but God can use these times to help us see him and his presence in our lives more clearly.

We all need to be careful not to take God – God’s blessings to us – and God’s love for us for granted.

So perhaps the best thing for us to say to ourselves this morning is blessed are the people who remember they need God – ALL of the time.

Blessed are the people who are humble enough to know and to remember that everything they have and everything they are comes from God the Father.

EVERYTHING! AMEN.

Sharpie Tatoos – Time Together and Family Fun

Our family has been known to bond over picking up other peoples’ trash . . . strange – we know!

Every family seems to have their thing that binds them together.   That activity they do together that cements their bond with one another.

For some families it is music. Some families are just plain musical. Music is part of who they are and what binds them together. Perhaps they all sing together or they all play musical instruments. Or maybe they all love going to concerts and listening to their favorite bands together.   (Jason and Jack enjoy this – but concert tickets are so totally wasted on tone-deaf me.)

Other families may bond over another kind of American heavy metal and find that everything NASCAR is what binds them together. They love to talk all things racing and bond over days spent in the stands listening to the roar of engines and watching the blur of cars flying by them. They can and do debate and discuss pit stops and tires and numbers and team owners and drivers and crew chiefs for hours. (Will regularly goes through “NASCAR phases” and our beloved nephew Nic is positively encyclopedic about all things NASCAR!)

Cousins hard at work designing their own NASCAR track.

Some families are sporty and athletic. Sports are what bind them together. Not just talking sports and watching sports on television – but actually participating in sporty activities. They play soccer together or they run together. I have heard of families that train for and run entire marathons together! (Or perhaps this is just an urban legend to make the rest of us feel lazy and slovenly . . . )

Some families bond over food (okay that would probably be ALL of us – at least the EATING part). They enjoy cooking together. They delight in trying new ingredients. New recipes. Foods that are new to them fill their hearts (and stomachs) with joy. Exploring the world and other cultures through their palates is how they bond. They don’t have favorite family recipes or favorite restaurants that they return to time after time because they are always trying something new and exciting and adventurous. (I have far too many food allergies to do this – but I really – really wish I could!)

The McFarlands’ “thing” is nature. We all enjoy exploring nature. I wish I could say it was hiking – but the littlest McFarland isn’t a huge fan of hiking. (Wow is that a serious understatement). Our sweet William still views hiking like a forced march – as something to be endured and suffered through until his mean-y pants parents stop with the cruelty. . .

But Will does love to explore nature. He does love to climb over logs and flip rocks and toss stones and look into holes in the ground. Will does love to explore and so do his parents and big brother. All of us could spend hour after hour in the woods and we do. We are all a bunch of tree hugging – nature nuts at heart.

Another thing that binds us together is art.

From the moment Jack was old enough to hold a crayon – Jason and I have made sure that our sons had access to an abundance of art supplies.

This was incredibly important to me. It was one of my parenting “non-negotiables.”   My kids would have access to art supplies galore and they would have free-reign with them (well almost) – I declared long before they were even born.

Godzilla by Will age 9

Yes – it has led to some interesting results. Jack gave himself some pretty intriguing/surprising tattoos when he was in preschool with Sharpie markers. I was especially fond of the Spiderman webs that covered both of his arms and most of his torso for over a week! Jack also taped his fingers together so well – it took both of his parents to remove the tape while we watched his fingers quickly lose circulation and get cold to the touch. (FYI – Scotch tape makes a shockingly good tourniquet!?!?!?!) And there was the time one of our golden retriever puppies chewed on a green Sharpie marker and turned herself Saint Patrick’s Day green for weeks . . .   Even bright green she was adorable – but I would have gladly skipped cleaning up that mess!

Goofy mishaps aside – I absolutely delight in the joys and blessings and gifts that come from the creativity that results from having art supplies all over our house. Seriously – we have art supplies all over our home. The art supplies are part of what makes our house a home.

Doodles by Jack

There is a metal bin full of Sharpies and a wooden container of cardstock in the middle of our dining room table ALL of the time. Some folks have a fancy – tasteful – seasonal centerpiece on their dining room table – we have Sharpies and cardstock. (I think this is beautiful. It is literally a dream come true for me.)   We keep tape and scissors there too.

Our living room has a cozy corner where I keep yarn for the knitting and crocheting projects I am ALWAYS working on. But I also keep yarn in the living room in baskets for inspiration – because I like yarn and yarn makes me smile. We have embroidery supplies in the living room too. (Jack and I prefer to keep supplies close at hand. You never know when inspiration will strike!)

Our basement looks like an art teacher’s craft supply room. We have canvases – paint – beads – wire – clay – duct tape in a wild array of colors – balloons for balloon animals – origami paper – glue in many forms – pipe cleaners – ribbon – magnets – washi tape – ship models and paracord too. Everything I wasn’t allowed to do or have when I was a kid – my sons have in triplicate! (My parents were obsessed with making sure that my childhood home looked like NO children lived there – ever. It was freaky weird . . .)

Mario by Will age 9

Jack has a corner of the basement set up for his screen printing and I have most of my yarn stash lovingly stored (hidden) down there too.   We have a whole room in the basement we call “the Lego Room.”

When we travel – the art supplies are the first things the McFarland sons pack. The idea of being away from their favorite craft supplies for any length of time is apparently incomprehensible to them! (I have trained them well and am so proud!)

Someone is always making something at our house. It is who we are.

Jack doodles and draws and embroiders and sews and screen prints and this year he has discovered the incredible joys of black and white photography.

Will loves to draw and makes Lego models and creations that leave me in awe. He also creates some seriously nifty models with tape and scissors and paper and lots of patience.

Our front door.

Jason builds models.

I play with string. I will do just about anything crafty – but yarn is my one true crafting love (okay – obsession). I return to making with yarn every single day.

What about you? What is your special “thing?” What fills you with joy and delight? What binds you just a bit closer to the folks you love most in this world? What makes your heart sing? What do you and your loved ones love to do together? What is that common thread that ties you all together?

These things are such wonderful blessings. I encourage you to celebrate them. To give thanks for them. To focus on them and delight in them. And – of course – to talk NASCAR – listen to music – share a meal – play cards or board games or your favorite on-line adventure – or go for a swim – hike – jog – stroll – or whatever it is that strengthens your bonds with those you love most in this life!

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worship for Sunday, February 6, 2022

Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 138

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast love and faithfulness;
for you have glorified your name and your word above all things. 

When I called, you answered me;
you increased my strength within me.

All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the Lord,
that great is the glory of the Lord.

The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly,
perceiving the haughty from afar. 

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.

You will make good your purpose for me;
O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Bemidji, Minnesota has been the home of a massively huge Paul Bunyan statue and an equally gargantuan statue of Babe the Blue Ox since 1937.   These iconic works of American folk art have stood on the shores of Lake Bemidji through sunshine and wind and rain and lots and lots of snow for almost 100 years.

It seems so very fitting that these beloved statues who are based on heroes of exaggerated tall tales stand on a lakeshore – because everyone I met while living in Minnesota had a tall tale or 200 about fishing. Seriously – EVERYONE had a fishing tale of glory or almost glory!

Most card-carrying Minnesotans can regale you with a story of the day the BIG one got away. Usually over and over again. Swapping fishing tall tales was a favorite sport in my congregations in Minnesota.   I heard multitudes of these fishing “tall tales.”

I loved listening to folks make these stories up (I mean share their adventures) and hearing the way they would change with each re-telling. It was endlessly entertaining.

Our next-door neighbor Duane hooked a fish that was so big – it pulled a boatload of 4 men around Bass Lake for 3 days before the line snapped and the fish got away.

A lady in my Bible study told me – she caught a fish in Battle Lake that was so big she had to let it go – because her freezer simply wasn’t big enough to hold that many filets! Apparently – she still had a lot of venison left over from deer season . . .

One of my Confirmation students told me he caught a fish that was so big and strong – he was able to go water skiing behind it all afternoon before he decided to cut the line and let it go – because he wanted pizza for supper.

And speaking of fishing stories – our Gospel reading for today has an incredibly impressive fishing story in it too. But it doesn’t start off that way.

Think about how Peter – James and John must have felt the morning of our Gospel reading. They had spent the entire night fishing without catching a single fish. Not even one fish had landed in their nets in spite of hours of back-breaking – physically demanding labor.

They must have been both exhausted and discouraged. And then Jesus tells them to put their heavy nets into the water yet again. It probably felt so hopeless. But they have nothing to lose. So – they drop their nets into the water one more time.

This time – when they cast their nets into the water – they catch so many fish their nets begin to rip apart from the weight of all of the fish they have caught. They catch so many fish – their boats begin to sink.

That is a lot of fish. This has to be the best fishing story I have ever heard.

The Bible tells us these fishermen caught a whole bunch of fish that morning and then Jesus caught Peter and James and John. And turned them into fishers of men.

If you don’t fish or won’t even eat fish – you can learn some very important lessons from our Gospel reading for today. In fact – thinking a little bit about fishing can help us learn about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.

Any fisherman worth her tackle box will tell you the most important part of fishing is going to where the fish are. You can’t go fishing from your living room or from your pew at church and expect to catch any fish.

Sure – you can put on your lucky fishing hat at home. You can polish your lures in your living room.   You can rig up your fishing pole where it is comfortable and familiar. But – if you want to catch any fish you need to be next to the water or in the water or on the water.

The same is true about sharing the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy.

Jesus didn’t stay at home in Nazareth and expect people to come to him.   Jesus knew to bring people to faith – he needed to go to them. So – Jesus went to where people worked. To where they shopped and ate. Jesus went to their homes. Jesus went to where people gathered and to where they hung out. To where they lived their lives.

The same is true for each of us. If we want to be fishers of people – we have to take ourselves and the Good News of Jesus Christ to where the people are. We can’t expect people to come to us.

After all – if they have never heard the Good News – are they going to feel comfortable coming to church or even realize they might like it here?

If we want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – we have got to share the Good News with people where they live their lives.

We also need to remember this takes time and patience. A fisherman doesn’t plan to go fishing for a few minutes and hope to catch a bunch of fish.

And fishing for people takes even more time. Fishing for people isn’t about handing out little Bibles to strangers as they leave the grocery store or about sticking a pamphlet about our church in someone’s mailbox inviting them to church. It isn’t about ads or posting something nifty on Facebook. It isn’t about signs or billboards or websites.

Sharing the Good News of God’s love – is all about forming relationships. It is about meeting people where they are and getting to know them and then inviting them to know Jesus.

This takes time. Lots of time. Most people come to church and become Christians because someone took the time to get to know them and spent time sharing God’s love with them.

Think about it for a moment – how many of you became Christians because of a website or because of a fun post on Facebook? Or because of a church sign?

It is my guess that most – if not all of you – are Christians because someone took the time to get to know you and to share with you the Good News of Jesus Christ – personally. Because someone mentored you. Because someone prayed for and with you. Because someone loved you and cared for you and spent time with you.

We are ALL called to share the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy.

Invite someone you love and care about to meet Jesus. Invite them to worship with you. But don’t just invite them. Sit with them – help them follow our worship – answer their questions. Introduce them to your brothers and sisters in Christ – invite them to Sunday school – invite their kids to Vacation Bible School – tell them about why you love Jesus.

After all – the Good News of Jesus Christ is too good to keep to ourselves – AMEN.

 

Bringing the Joy and the Wisdom

I have been meeting with the coolest – niftiest – most intriguing group of people on Sundays after worship for the past few weeks.   Seriously – these are 4 amazingly interesting – inspiring human beings with so much to offer the world. I am downright dazzled by them. I look forward to our time together all week.

As the oldest (by decades) person in the room and the person with the most letters in front of and after my name – I am supposed to be teaching them and imparting wisdom to them. I am their pastor and teacher (and in Will’s case – his mom). I have far more formal education than they do. I have more degrees – more gray hair – and more life experience. I have read the Bible – both of Martin Luther’s Catechisms (the Small and the Large/snooze fest) – War and Peace (loved it) – and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (about 1,000 times).

And – yet these 4 elementary school-aged folks teach me something new every single time we gather together. They help me see our faith – our God – and the world in which we all live with new eyes and from a fresh perspective. I love hearing their take on everything from God to Covid-19 to snacking to eternal life.

This week the focus of our First Communion class was God’s love for us.   We started off chatting about the folks who love them. They are very loved individuals. They all came up with nice – long lists of people who love them and people they love in return. And they kept thinking of new people to add to their lists (adorable).

We talked about God’s love for us. And how much God loves each and every single one of us more than words can say. We thought about how much you would have to love someone to die on a cross for them (A WHOLE LOT)!!!!!!!   And we talked about how when we take Holy Communion – it reminds us that God loves us with a love that goes on and on forever and ever and ever.

We did a heart craft to remind ourselves God loves us and will always love us no matter what.

Then it came time for us to explore our church. We were going on a scavenger hunt with a purpose. Our goal was to find things around Saint Stephen that reminded us God loves us.

We started off in the fellowship hall. I thought it was going quite well. I was having fun. Then I heard – “Ummm – Mom – I think it would be A LOT more fun if you went back to your office and we did this by OURSELVES.”

Okay then. Not so subtle hint heard and received. They aren’t babies and didn’t need me or my help. They so totally had this assignment under control.

So – I went to my office like a relatively obedient clergy-person . . . But I kept my door open and I wandered around the church A LOT (I can be rebellious like that).

And the mighty-foursome set forth into Saint Stephen all by themselves to find things that reminded them of God’s love for them.

They laughed. They giggled. They played tag. They goofed. They may have galloped a time or thirteen. They hurried and hustled and hopped around. They were silly and happy and joyful and very – very – very juvenile.

And they came up with a wonderful list of things around their church that make them think of God’s love for them.

– The crosses. (They pointed out there are A LOT of crosses around Saint Stephen.)

– The Jesus statue on the wall

– The shepherds in the nursery

– The hearts in Ms. Tammy’s room

– The Communion on the chairs (the grape juice and wafers)

– The colorful windows

– The hearts in the crosses (Luther’s Rose/Luther’s Seal)

– The posters about God and Jesus that we have “all over the place”

As they were exploring and laughing and playing and goofing and delighting in being alive – I couldn’t help but think to myself that the 4 of them – themselves – were wonderful reminders of God’s love.

All week I have remembered the blessing of their laughter – their joy – their delight.

And I have kept my heart and eyes open for reminders of God’s love as I worked at church. As I was running errands. As I walked with Jason in the early evening. As I puttered around our house doing this and that. As I watched the rain fall.   As I wondered just how much ice we would get later this week?!?!?!?!?

I didn’t have my friends around to turn it into a joyful – joyous – rousing game of tag – but I have still seen so many wonderful reminders of God’s love for us this week. I have been blessed. I am thankful.

Where have you seen God’s presence lately? How have you been reminded of God’s love for you? Have you been looking and listening and watching?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri