Wearing Pink while Turning Blue!

Our poor Jack has been living quite a few of those moments that his mom wants to remember for the rest of her life.

Those moments I want to hold onto.

Those moments I want to tuck into that special “mom” spot of my heart and mind.

Those moments I know I will look back on with a smile and perhaps the tug of nostalgia in the future.

So as these moments are happening – I strive to remember to be fully present.  I try to be really there. To put aside the distractions. To pay attention. To watch.  To listen. To take it ALL in. To linger in the moment. To be mindful that I/we are living a moment that will soon become a memory. To be aware that whatever is happening is going to matter to me in the future.

And to be thankful. I am trying so hard to remember to be thankful for these moments. And to express this gratitude. To tell both my loved ones and our God – “thank you.” Thank you for sharing this wild – wonderful – and often weird journey through life with me. (And yes – I do know I am the one bringing the weird!   I am always the one who brings the weird. My family very graciously  accepts this.)

Jack is incredibly patient with his quirky – eccentric mom and her mindful – grateful – memory making. Jack understands my need to hug him a bit longer – to look deeply into his eyes – to thank him for allowing me the honor and privilege of being his mom.   Jack is more than just a guy with great hair. Jack is kind and gracious and considerate.

VBS with his mom . . . on his day off from work!

Which is good – because these past months have been filled with so many moments – so very many of those moments I have needed to linger over and to take pictures of in my mind. (I have a rule. This rule is a firm rule.   If the use of an actual camera will mess up the moment – I skip it. NO CAMERA.   I just take a picture in my mind.   I refuse to miss a moment of life’s good stuff – because I was looking at my phone or messing with my camera.)

There have been many moments this year . . .

Jack plans to be a veterinarian so landing a job at the Jefferson Animal Hospital and Regional Emergency Center last summer was a pretty big deal.   It is the perfect place for him to begin learning the ropes.

The first day of his senior year of high school. (Wasn’t it – 15 minutes ago he was starting kindergarten at Saint B.’s in Wabash, IN wearing a backpack that was almost as big as he was . . . ?!?!?!?!)

College visits.

Followed by college acceptance letters.

Even more exciting – an awesome scholarship to Morehead State University (his absolute – hands down – favorite – first choice – university).   I truly hope I will always remember the look of pure joy mixed with a fair bit of shock on Jack’s face when he announced he had received Morehead State’s Honors Scholarship. I cried . . . Seriously – tears of joy and pride ran down my face.

Getting his first car.

Getting his driver’s license.

His first car accident (NOT HIS FAULT – BTW). I didn’t want to remember this one (or even have this memory) – but it is burned into my memory with laser accuracy. That memory is NOT going anywhere.

And this weekend – going to senior prom.

The McFarland brothers

I loved helping Jack get ready for his special night with Caitlyn.

I am a “guy-mom.” There was no all-day hair and make-up at our house.   No hairspray. No glittery anything. No mani-pedi appointments. This is good – because I do not speak that language any more than I speak Coptic or Gaelic. The prom prep was delightfully minimal (just my style and well within my comfort zone).

So COLD and So WINDY!  I love Caitlyn’s ability to laugh while turning into a human icicle!

The suspender alignment was all Jack wanted/needed a consult on – but it was nice to be asked. Really – Really – REALLY nice to be asked. As Jack stood in front of me looking so adult – so tall – so handsome – I thought – this is a memory. Jack and I are living a beautiful memory.

Then I just took a moment . . . I lingered . . . I took a moment to be thankful . . .

And then we were off. Off to Broadrun Park for prom pictures. Well – actually we were off to Broadrun for a photo shoot. When Jason and I went to prom together 3 million years ago a few pictures were snapped before we hurried out the door. Jack and Caitlyn had an actual photo shoot with their own adoring entourages and photographers!

Jack and Caitlyn looked so very beautiful in their coordinating pink.   They also looked COLD! So – so – SO very – Very – VERY cold!

Spring fled Kentucky this week and winter returned with a vengeance.

It was crazy – cold out there on Saturday – but Jack and Caitlyn bravely endured. They smiled while enduring the early stages of frostbite! Their teeth chattered. They got goose bumps on top of their goose bumps. Their lips started to turn blue. But they bravely smiled for their moms and their dads and their brothers!   (I told you they had their own entourages . . .)

And we made memories. And we laughed. And we lingered as much as we dared!

And then Jack and Caitlyn were off. Off into the world to be beautiful and young and happy . . .

Glad I didn’t have to walk in her shoes . . .

And Jason and Will and I went to the playground where Will immediately made new friends (wow is that kid extroverted) and Jason and I walked.

And I made another memory – because walking with Jason and watching our littlest son play – well those moments are sweet and glorious too!

Worship for Sunday, March 27, 2022

Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 32

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile! 

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. 

You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;
I will guide you with my eye.

Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;
who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.”

Great are the tribulations of the wicked;
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord;
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.   And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.   He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

We have all heard our Gospel reading for this week called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” our entire lives. But I think we have the name all wrong. The name we have been using totally misses the point of the parable.

This parable is needs a new name – a better name – a more accurate name.

We should start calling this parable: “The Parable of the Faithful Father” or “The Parable of the Doting Dad” or even “The Parable of the Man who Never Ever – Ever Gave Up!”

Because this parable isn’t really about what a misguided – messed up – sinful son does wrong. Rather this parable is about what a faithful – loving dad does right!

Jesus tells us there was a dad with two sons.   This dad’s sons are as different as night and day. As different as east is from west. As different as winter is from summer. Or as I am from any of the Kardashians or somebody else who is really cool and trendy.

A prodigal child of God (Did you know that prodigal means – spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant? It doesn’t mean shockingly sinful!)

The older son is level-headed and responsible.   He is solid and dependable. He is a rock. He gets things done on time – all of the time – every single time.

The older son is the guy you call when you need help. He shows up when you need him.   This guy is a pitcher-inner and a doer.   He comes to church work days. He is on the church council and the PTA at his kids’ school. You wish there were more guys like him in the world.

But the younger son – well – honestly – he is impatient – impulsive – and irresponsible. You wouldn’t call him if you needed help – because he wouldn’t show up.   He would never come to a church work day. He always has an excuse.   He is selfish and self-centered.   His life is all about him – all of the time.

The full extent of the younger son’s selfish – self-centered character is revealed the day he goes to his dad and demands his inheritance immediately. Basically – he tells his dad he is tired of waiting for him to die. And he wants his money right now.

A couple more prodigal children of God – saved by God’s grace!

With a heavy heart – the dad agrees to give his younger son his inheritance. And a few days later the younger son packs his bags – takes his money and heads out of town – without looking back.

Soon the younger son is busy living it up.   He parties and plays and quickly squanders his inheritance right down to the very last penny.

And once all of the money is gone – his so-called friends disappear.

Then a famine strikes.

Soon – he is so desperate he takes a job slopping pigs. A job no good Jewish person would ever consider. Before long – he gets so hungry the pigs’ slop looks yummy to him.

The younger son is all alone – far from home – penniless – and starving.

Meanwhile – back at home – the dad tries to carry on – but you know he carries on with a really heavy heart.

Another prodigal and his prodigal pastor – both saved by the grace of God!

This dad is a realist. He knows his son got tired of waiting for him to die. He knows his beloved son loved his money more than he loved his dad – his home or his family.

He also knows what his son has been up to.   He knows his son didn’t wisely invest his inheritance in a farm or in a small business. He knows his son isn’t feeding the hungry – clothing the naked – or caring for widows and orphans.

Nope – his son is squandering his dad’s hard-earned money. This father isn’t naïve or clueless. He gets it. He knows what his son is up to and what he wanted the money for.

But this knowledge doesn’t harden this dad’s heart. He doesn’t stop loving his child. He doesn’t plot revenge while licking his wounds.

Rather Jesus tells us – this father spends his days hoping and praying his precious son will come home. He longs to be reunited with his beloved child.

This dad waits with his eyes on the horizon.   His eyes search the road for any sign of his son. He waits with his eyes peeled and his heart full of love for his lost child.

Prodigal daughters of God – smiling because they know they are saved by God’s grace!

Until one day – it happens. The longing of his heart and the answer to his prayers appears on the horizon. His son has come home. And when he does – Jesus tells us – “the father was filled with compassion. And the father ran” to his long lost son.

Yes – the father drops everything and runs to his beloved son. Then he pulls his beloved boy into his arms and gives him a great big bear hug and a noisy – smacking kiss as tears of joy stream down his face.

His boy is home! Thank you – Lord!   A moment of heaven right here on Earth!

This father’s heart overflows with love and joy.   He rejoices that his lost son has come home. His joy knows no bounds.

This dad doesn’t make his son beg for forgiveness.   This dad doesn’t welcome his son home on a trial basis. Nor does he demand a truly sincere apology. He does not seek revenge. Nope – not this dad. This dad is all about unconditional love.

A whole family of saved prodigals!

This dad throws a great big party and invites everyone he knows to help him welcome his precious boy home!

And this is why I think this parable should be called “The Parable of the Loving Dad” or “The Parable of the Faithful Father.”   Because this parable is way – Way – WAY more about a dad whose love knows no bounds than it is about an ungrateful – selfish – misguided son. This parable is about a dad who loves his son no matter what.

This parable is about a love that is so deep and so passionate it will never fade. It is about love with no strings attached.

The father in this parable isn’t just any father.   This is our own heavenly Father.  This is how much God loves you.

Smiling because of God’s grace!

God’s love for you is bigger than your own brokenness and your sins. God’s love is more enduring than your rebellion and more passionate than your willfulness.

God loves you in spite of all you do to push him away.

Our God loves you – passionately and fiercely.   One might even say that God loves us in spite of ourselves!

Your sin – your rebellion – and your selfish behavior won’t stop God from loving you because God loves you with a love that will endure forever. With a love that will never give up on you. With a love that knows no limits. With a love that will last for all eternity. Truly this is very Good News. AMEN.

Richer with My People

Life is better in community.

I have found that life is more joyful with your sisters and brothers in Christ. That the boring “stuff” is less of a snooze-fest with your people. That the journey is richer with traveling companions.

Almost everything in this life is simply a bit or a whole lot more fun with one’s friends.

Peggy is on it!

Seriously – think of all of the things in this life that are made better by companionship . . .

Waiting – waiting is made so much better with a buddy. Waiting time simply speeds up and my patience increases exponentially when I have a companion or 2 or 9. (Yes – often my waiting buddy is the author of the book I am currently reading – but still – a treasured buddy all the same.)

Serving his Lord and tolerating his annoying pastor/mom/the nutty camera lady all at the same time!  Truly a Jack of all trades . . .

Joy is more joyful and even more awesome when shared with friends!   Think of all of those glorious moments in your life that were made better – more joyful – more blessed – more wonderful because you were able to share them with your people. Baptisms – First Communions – weddings – graduations – birthdays – births – new jobs – retirements – good report cards – new homes – holidays – and sometimes just making it through another week/day/minute.   (I can’t be the only person who has those kinds of days . . . Please – please tell me that I’m not alone in that!?!?!?)

Rod looks like he is questioning the day he signed off on the purchase of my camera . . .

And work – work is made easier – lighter – more joyful – more fun when done in the company of friends. Especially those big – time consuming – daunting tasks we all must face from time to time. I find it is especially wonderful to have a friend or 6 or 7 when faced with those sorts of tasks!

Buddy votes to BAN all GLITTERY clothing and ribbon from the sanctuary for all eternity!

On Thursday evening a few of us (the usual suspects – so very – very – very thankful for them) gathered to spring clean the church and to begin preparing Saint Stephen for Holy Week and Easter. We dusted and vacuumed and removed tape from windows and mopped and cleaned windows and filled Easter eggs with candy and wiped and sanitized and attacked lingering cobwebs and fixed toilets until Saint Stephen sparkled and smelled heavenly. (I love the smell of cleaning solutions . . . Especially the fake citrus-y ones! The fake citrus-y ones are my absolute favorite.)

No cobwebs were left behind!

I haven’t had this much fun cleaning my office is ages! Dusting with someone to chat and chatter with made the task zip by. Taking out the trash with a brother in Christ was a lot of fun! Catching up with some of my church family is always a blessing and serving my Lord at the same time was a double blessing.

Illuminated by the light of the Lord!

Thank you – Marilyn – Barry – Peggy – Buddy – Jason – Jack – and William.   And a very – very – very special thank you to Rod for coming and working with an injured and very sore left shoulder!   Rod cleaned and helped and served with his shoulder in a sling. (Talk about being someone who is willing to serve his Lord with humility and faithfulness . . .)

TWO church president-types plotting . . . I was kinda nervous. But then decided that world peace was likely in the works!

I give thanks for the blessing of companionship and folks who help lighten the load and share the journey and swap stories and chat and chatter and clean and dine and gather on a Thursday night to serve their Christian community and their Lord.

Filling Easter eggs for the annual Easter egg hunt!

Thank you. Thank you – Marilyn. Thank you – Barry. Thank you – Peggy. Thank you – Buddy. Thank you – Rod! Thank you – Jason. Thank you – Jack. Thank you –  William. You make my life richer and you are truly a blessing from our Lord.

So – so – so many Easter eggs!!!!!!

Not the Blog Post I Was Expecting to Write . . .

Sorry – Jack – but sometimes this is who my heart still sees when I think of you . . .

Jack got his driver’s license on Wednesday – March 16th at approximately 3:00 pm.

While Jack took his driving test – I stood next to the building at Bowman Field and did what I do best. I knit and I prayed. (You thought I was going to say – I knit and I talked – didn’t you?) With each stitch I knit – I prayed for our oldest boy (who – I know – is now a man). “Please Lord be with him. Please Lord watch over our Jack. Please Lord keep our beloved boy safe. Lord hold Jack in the palm of your hand. Please Lord be with him. Lord shelter him. Lord be his rock and refuge in this crazy world. Lord be Jack’s stronghold.”

I prayed without ceasing for my boy. Our boy who arrived on a hot August night in Fergus Falls, MN while the northern lights flashed their brilliant green light across the dark sky.   Our son who has become a man so very quickly. Our boy who has grown so tall and so wise. Our boy who leaves for college in the fall. Our boy who drives cars and plans to be a vet and knows so many things I don’t know and is just plain nifty.

I prayed without ceasing for this man who I love so very much.

Brothers driving?!?!?!?

I wasn’t just praying about the test. I know the driving test was a HUGE deal to Jack. (I was excited for him – truly I was.) I hoped Jack would pass the driving test on the first try.   Jack had been practicing his parallel parking and can parallel park like a master. (I cannot! This is just one of those things Jack knows that his mom does not know . . .)

You see – I was praying for what would come next. For life as a licensed driver. For life out in the WORLD. For life on the roads without his dad or his mom in the passenger’s seat.   For Jack’s life with other drivers.   For protection from speeding cars and fast moving traffic and careless – thoughtless folks who don’t love him the way his special people do. For life in the REAL world.

I have been out there in the world. I know what it is like. It isn’t always a safe – welcoming place. Especially on the roads!

So our Jack took his test and I knit and I prayed.

And then they were done. Jack and his driving evaluator were back.

Taking Nic and Bella for a spin!

As the driving evaluator gentleman walked by me – he said – “John passed. John did a good job. Your son is a good driver.” (Yeah – we named him John – but the John still throws me sometimes too!)

I kept my Amen – Whoo-hoo – and Hallelujah to myself. But I thought them REALLY loudly. I also did a boogie dance and an Irish jig in my heart.   On the outside – I just looked slightly eccentric with my knitting and my wildly embroidered jeans. But on the inside – I was having Palm Sunday parade of jubilation and an early Saint Patrick’s Day Parade too.   I was thrilled. Jason and I had achieved freedom! Freedom! FREEDOM!!!   Oops – I mean JACK had achieved freedom! Freedom! FREEDOM!!! That’s right – Jack . . . This isn’t about Kerri and Jason. It is about Jack.

I took the driving evaluator’s comments as high praise.   After all – these comments had come from a man with some serious frown lines who had just 30 minutes before stalked into the testing office declaring that his last driver had blatantly and knowingly lied to him. “Oh great” – I had thought – “Jack’s driving test evaluator is in a bad mood.” (Cue ominous music here . . .)

But – Jack passed his test! Jack got his license and we gleefully texted Jason and Caitlyn the super-duper good news before heading home. Jack drove and I knit. Nice arrangement!

Jack celebrated by driving HIMSELF to go rock climbing with his buddies in his car. I celebrated by going to a Worship and Music Committee meeting. Jason celebrated by NOT driving anyone anywhere! Will celebrated by being stupendously proud of his big brother.

On Saint Patrick’s Day bright and not quite as early as usual – Jack drove himself to duPont-Manual for the very first time. Driving would mean leaving for school at 6:45 AM rather than 6:06 AM when the bus drives by our cul-de-sac. More sleep – awesome! Perhaps another Amen – Whoo-hoo – and Hallelujah were called for. . .

Jack sent a text letting us know he had arrived safely and with time to spare. The commute from Fern Creek to duPont-Manual can get intense – even for an experienced driver. So another – prayer of thanksgiving. And an exhale. He did it!

Then Jason and I went about our Saint Patrick’s Days. We wore our green. We worked. We enjoyed the spring weather by going for a walk during our lunch break. We worked some more.

At precisely 3:10 PM – the following text arrived on the McFarland parents’ phones – “I just got into a car accident, I’m okay. But my car is not drivable.”

NO! No!  NO! No! NO!  No! NO! No!  NO! No! NO!  No! NO! No!  NO! No! NO!  No! Nope! Just NO!

While my brain was still attempting to comprehend/absorb the text – my phone started to ring. It was Jack. Our boy . . .

“Mom – it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t cause the accident. I didn’t do anything wrong. He hit me.” – our beloved son declared before I could say more than – “Jack – it’s Mom.”

“Where are you? Are you really okay? We love you! We are coming! We love you so much. You’ve got this. We love you.” This is what I told our boy – declared to my son – to our child. That is what needed to be said.

Year’s ago when I was a much younger woman – my car’s engine blew on the interstate in southern Wisconsin. I was terrified and alone. I was far from home and my fiancé. I called home to my parents. I called seeking comfort and solace and support BUT my mom did not ask me how I was.   My mom did not tell me she loved me.   My mom did not care about me or my heart. Instead – she declared – “how could you do this to us . . . ?!?!?!?”   Seriously – “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO US?” (That is a summary of my childhood and my life with my mom . . . )

And so I vowed (26 years ago) – NO – NEVER to be so heartless – so cruel – so selfish – so cold. No.   I would be different. Better. I would profess love. I would have compassion and empathy. “I love you. Are you okay? We are coming! Dad is on his way! You’ve got this. You are loved.”

Jason went. I stayed.   The littlest McFarland was due to get off the school bus. Someone needed to welcome him home warmly too.

It was not Jack’s fault. The man who hit Jack was driving thoughtlessly – carelessly – wildly – recklessly. This and I am quoting here – “was the first time he had caused an accident that didn’t involve injuries . . .”   What?!?!?!?!?!? Seriously – time to take a driving class.   Or how about riding a bike or the bus? (Just a thought.)

Jack’s cute car is totaled. The car will never be driven again. 24 hours of freedom and our boy’s wings have been clipped until we can jump through all of the insurance hoops and over the hurdles and locate another car.

See – he is okay.

Thankfully – Jack has a wonderful – trusted friend who is really good at this car stuff because none of the McFarlands are! (Waves at Matt Doyle and says – thank you – wise and talented car sage!)

The car was broken – but Jack is okay. When the other car smashed and crashed into his car – the seatbelts locked. The airbags deployed. The heavy camera lens flew into the windshield and not into Jack. No one was broken. Jack will drive again (he already is).

The broken – battered – sad car sits in front of our house.   Every time I see it – my breath catches. My son was in that broken car when it was broken. My boy – our boy . . .

And I pray – “thank you Jesus. Thank you for Jack. Thank you for all he has taught me and will teach me. Thank you for his beauty and wisdom. Thank you for the joy he brings. Thank you. Just thank you!”

And I pray – “Please Lord be with him. Please Lord watch over our Jack. Please Lord keep our beloved boy safe. Lord hold Jack in the palm of your hand. Please Lord be with him. Lord shelter him. Lord be his rock and refuge in this crazy world. Lord be Jack’s stronghold.” And please Lord do all of these things for Jack’s baby brother too . . .

This isn’t the blog post I expected to write – but Jack is okay and for this we give thanks!

Going GREEN!

“May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.” – an Irish Blessing

Everything is turning GREEN glorious – gorgeous – lovely – beautiful – thrilling – joyful – green.   Green – GREEN – Green! The world is turning green – and I am not just talking about the fact that spring officially arrived here in the northern hemisphere yesterday at 11:33 AM EDT. (BUT – my spring and summer loving heart is completely and utterly ecstatic about that too!)

Nope – I am talking about the great and glorious fact that Jefferson County, Kentucky is in the GREEN concerning Covid-19 spread according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s data states that Louisville finally made it into the GREEN zone after such a very – Very – VERY long time. In fact – central Kentucky and much of our nation are green – glorious green too.

This is such wonderful news. We have been waiting and Waiting and WAITING to hear this sort of good news.   Oh how we have longed for this sort of good news over the past months/YEARS. Our hearts have cried out to hear good news like this.

(AND YES – I do know this glorious green-ness may not last. I am well aware of the news that there is yet another nasty – rude – mean – annoying – troublesome variant of Covid-19 that is making scientists and epidemiologists and the public health folks nervous. I am neither naive nor clueless – just hopeful – merely clinging to my optimism in a cynical world – folks. . . )

Good news like this needs to be celebrated and toasted and welcomed and lauded and warmly embraced. Good news like this needs to be celebrated with a person’s friends and one’s sisters and brothers in Christ. Goods news like this deserves a party! And that is exactly what we did on Saturday evening at Saint Stephen.

We celebrated. We gave thanks. We dined on delicious delicacies. We delighted. We laughed. Oh how we laughed! We chatted and we chattered.   We were very merry indeed. We gabbed. We ate and snacked and nibbled. We played. We talked and swapped stories and caught up on one another’s lives. We may have even reveled just teeny – tiny bit!

We delighted in the blessing of being a Christian family reunited after being apart and masked for so very – Very – VERY long. We delighted in being able to gather together.   We delighted in one another. We delighted in having something to celebrate and in just simply being TOGETHER!!!!! (Remember back in the olden days – how we would take the blessing of being together for granted? Nuts right!)

We truly gave thanks from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes!   And it was GLORIOUS and FUN and joyful and maybe just a little teeny – tiny bit silly . . .

And what was the theme of this party to celebrate going green?   Why it was Saint Patrick’s Day – of course!

Saint Patrick is one of the three patron saints of Ireland and he is known all over the world for sharing really – really Good News (and for the color green – shamrocks – and these days Guinness beer and Irish whiskey.)   Okay maybe the last 2 are less about the saint and more about the way folks like to celebrate being Irish or being of Irish descent [waves hand wildly in the air] or having met someone from Ireland once or having an Irish acquaintance or liking the color green [waves hand again] or simply having heard of Ireland or Saint Patrick!

Anyhoo – Saturday at Saint Stephen we celebrated Saint Patrick and going green by wearing lots of green and learning a few fun facts about Saint Patrick and Saint Patrick’s Day and playing some games and eating (of course) and sipping a dram or 2 of Irish whiskey. (It had to be done. We didn’t want to be disrespectful of our Irish ancestors or anyone else’s Irish ancestors for that matter . . .)

We learned our leprechaun names. Mine is Blarney O’Bourbon and Jason’s is Greenie O’Bourbon.   Shockingly/puzzlingly/oddly/strangely – most folks thought that my leprechaun name was “a great fit . . .” Not – sure what folks meant by that?!?!?!?

Buddy Zimmerman absolutely – positively crushed the competition in the Saint Patrick’s Day trivia. Frankly – it was a little painful to watch someone with a GERMAN last name   dominate so thoroughly at the Saint Patrick’s Day trivia – BUT then I remembered that Buddy’s birth certificate name is Forrest. And I had a total ah-ha moment. Anyone named Forrest is destined to shine on a holiday so deeply linked to the color green!

Such concentration . . . They must have been good students!

We tried our luck at a coin toss game. This game . . . FLOPPED like a belly flop off the high-dive at the swimming pool in August. Splat – big fail – bombs away – complete and utter miss – won’t be doing this one EVER again – like that’s all folks. Oh – well – you can’t win them all . . . and it didn’t matter to me.

Thank you – thank you – thank you – thank you – thank you. Jenga saves the day!

The failure of the game likely has to do with the fact that I possess absolutely NO competitive instinct when it comes to ANYTHING remotely sporty or athletic. I don’t get it. I am clueless about this stuff.   I am devoid of that burning desire to win. I approach sporty things expecting to stink at them. I am a born – WHATEVER kinda gal when it comes to sporty things.

The Jenga wizard and the St. Patrick Trivia champ discuss solutions to world peace or gaming strategy.

BUT when it comes to nerdy – intellectual stuff that’s where my killer instinct resides. I wanted to have the best grade point average in the room – the highest class ranking – the best test score. Basketball – snooze-fest . . . Scrabble marathon – sign me up!

She is an engineer – of course she’s good at Jenga!

Perhaps someone else needs to be in charge of the “games”/entertainment next time . . . You know – like someone who doesn’t think a goodtime is Scrabble – knitting – weeding – writing sermons – hiking in the woods – watching grass grow . . .

Amen – sister! Amen!

Thankfully Sean and Wendi brought their jumbo Jenga set and that is ALWAYS a hit and tons of fun to play with a group of folks. Yay – Wendi and Sean for saving the day! Seriously – so – so – so I was so grateful and thankful and happy. Because jumbo Jenga is a blast.

Lots of Lutherans!

The Lutherans had a seriously delightful time celebrating going GREEN and Saint Patrick’s Day and the blessing of friendship and companionship and Christian community.

I wish MY knees did that. She was TOTALLY showing off!

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

“May the Good Lord take a liking to you, but not too soon!” – an Irish Blessing

Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law bonding. They are both really good at this game!

“May your troubles be as few and as far apart as my grandmother’s teeth!” – an Irish Blessing

Worship for Sunday, March 20, 2022

Isaiah 55:1-9

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place,
that I might behold your power and your glory.

For your steadfast love is better than life itself;
my lips shall give you praise.

So will I bless you as long as I live
and lift up my hands in your name. 

My spirit is content, as with the richest of foods,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the night watches.

For you have been my helper,
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

My whole being clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast. 

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. [Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Why do bad things happen to good people? I would guess you have ALL asked – that very same question more than once in your life. Probably more than once this week!

The people in our Gospel reading for today are asking Jesus this question too. They hope Jesus can explain – why bad things happen to good people.

They start their discussion with Jesus by bringing up a recent tragedy that folks had been talking about. Some of Pontius Pilate’s soldiers had murdered a group of Jewish worshippers who were offering their sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.   It was a shocking act of cruelty.   These folks had been murdered as they worshipped the Lord!

Then Jesus points out a 2nd tragedy. 18 people had died when the tower of Siloam suddenly collapsed.

Jesus knows these folks are not just updating him on the local news.   Nor are they simply sharing their pain and heartache about the cruelty of their Roman oppressors.

Jesus knows – what they really need is for him to explain what these people did to deserve their fate. They want to know why these people died so tragically.

Jesus also knows they suspect he will say these folks really weren’t so “good” after all. They suspect Jesus will blame the victims for their fate. They expect Jesus to say these people deserved what happened to them. That they or their parents or even their grandparents had done something that had earned God’s wrath and judgment.

They expect this – because it was very common at this time for folks to explain that bad things happened to people because they deserved it.   People rigidly connected sin with suffering and punishment.

Was your child born with a birth defect? Then you must have committed a terrible sin to deserve such a punishment.

Did your neighbor die in an accident? She must have done something to deserve it.

And honestly – we aren’t all that different from these folks. Not really . . . When bad things happen – when tragedies strike – we try to make sense of them too. We look for patterns in the randomness of life. We search for answers to our questions of why? too.

Think of the way we responded to Covid-19. We tried to make sense of the wretched awfulness that was a new virus and ended up blaming its victims for their suffering. We were especially cruel to the 20% of folks who become seriously ill after contracting Covid-19. We were so quick to place the blame for their problems squarely on their shoulders.

Well – they must have pre-existing conditions. It had to be their fault for getting so outrageously sick. We want – NO – we NEED – their catastrophic illnesses to be their fault. So – we blame them for their illness.

They brought this on themselves – we imply.

They could have prevented this – we sigh.

We desperately need this to be true. Because then we will be safe. Then our loved ones will be protected. Then life won’t be so random and so terrifyingly uncertain.

If only they had taken better care of themselves. If only they didn’t have high blood pressure – diabetes – a heart condition – cancer – asthma. If only they weren’t overweight. If only they weren’t over 60 . . .

But wait a minute . . . asthma . . . that’s almost 8% of us.

Diabetes . . . that’s 11% of us.

Over 65 – that’s about 17% of Americans.

High blood pressure? That’s almost half of the adults in America!

Overweight . . . that’s 73% of the adults in the US!

Hmmm . . . okay!?!?!? That really changes things doesn’t it? Now we are talking about ourselves. Now it is not so easy for it to be an “us verses them” kind of dynamic.   Now we can’t stand outside of this.   Now we find ourselves in the middle of this messy mess.

We soon realize we  are pointing the finger of blame and shame at folks who are like us. Who have committed no greater sin than being alive and human in this broken world.

It would be so much easier if folks just got what we think they deserved.   If there was a cosmic balance sheet.   If each consequence could be traced back to a sin. Then the world would make more sense.

This is a lot like what we see happening in today’s Gospel reading. These folks expected Jesus to declare – the Galileans and the folks at Siloam got what they had coming to them. They deserved their fate. They want bad things to happen to bad people. Because then they will be safe. Their loved ones will be safe.

But that isn’t what Jesus says. Instead – Jesus responds – “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way – they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” And then Jesus answers his own question with a firm – “NO.”

No – these folks weren’t extra sinful.   This wasn’t the hand of God crushing them for their sins. This wasn’t a heavenly smack down.

Yes – the Galileans were sinners and so were the people at Siloam. But so is EVERYONE who has ever lived – except Jesus.

These people did not die because God was mad at them. God doesn’t work that way.

Jesus suggests we can make sense of the senseless – not by blaming the victims of tragedy – but by considering our own mortality – and our own sinfulness. And by considering God’s grace.

Sin has consequences. And we all suffer because of sins – but God doesn’t have a great big – heavenly score card on which he tallies up our sins and when we reach a certain number of sins – he punishes us. God isn’t waiting to zap us after we earn enough demerits to deserve punishment.

But God doesn’t erase the consequences of our sins either. Our actions – and our sins have consequences.   We can and do hurt people and ourselves by our sins – but those are our human actions not God’s.

Our God is not a thrower of lightning bolts. Or a tormenter of sinners.

Jesus’ message – is yes – all of us do deserve punishment – because we all sin. But God does not seek our deaths. God does not delight in our suffering.   Rather God loves us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from ourselves. To deliver us.

What we deserve and what we receive from God are complete opposites.   We deserve eternal death and punishment – but God gives us love – forgiveness – and gift of eternal life.   Truly this is the Good News – AMEN.

Making it Through to the Other Side

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom;

they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. “

– Song of Solomon 2:10-13

We did it! We survived! We made it through. We refused to be defeated or crushed or to surrender to despair or to dismay or to our creeping dystopian fears.

Nope – I am not talking about the Covid-19 pandemic. Although it looks like we might make it through that too. I just checked the Team Kentucky website and Jefferson County, Kentucky is still in the green zone! Woo-Hoo and Hallelujah!

(Yes – I know some folks assert we shouldn’t say hallelujah during Lent. Some folks even ritually bury their hallelujahs on the Sunday before Lent. I politely disagree – especially when the news is this gloriously AWESOME!   So I will say it again – Woo-Hoo and HALLELUJAH!)

Anyway – back to my original point (before I got distracted by the wanderings of my own mind . . .) – we endured. We withstood. We triumphed. We outlasted another long – dark – miserable – cruel – night of the soul. I mean – winter.   Yep – I mean – winter.   We did it!   We survived another winter. And I think that deserves a Woo-Hoo and HALLELUJAH too!

The only things I personally look forward to about winter are:   celebrating the birth of our sweet William who was born on the 1st day of winter – Christmas – and wearing my hand knit scarves. But I would gladly skip the scarves and just knit wash cloths and towels if it meant I could skip months and months of winter weather and winter darkness! The rest of my favorite parts of winter can be covered in less than 1 week . . . I would gleefully and gladly vote for a winter of 7 to 14 days – but clearly NO ONE asked me!

Winter is just so cold and gray and brown and COLD and lacking in sunlight. I am big on sunshine and heat and COLOR. Basically- winter is my kryptonite. Not that Superman and I have a lot in common . . . Wouldn’t that be cool – but that’s a blog post for a different day!?!?!?!

Spring – oh how I love spring. (And I love summer even more. SUMMER rocks like a rock star!)

And spring is here. Spring has arrived. Yes – I do know it is technically winter until Sunday, March 20th.   What I am talking about is the return of LIGHT and LIFE and WARMTH and COLOR to the world in which we dwell.

I am talking about the world reawakening and coming out of hibernation.

If I close my eyes I can hear spring. The birds are returning and bringing with them their noisy chatter.   Jason and I heard and then spotted a pair of woodpeckers this morning during our mid-morning walk. We also heard and then spotted a pair of ducks!   Very exciting indeed!

I also hear Will playing with his best buddies. Suddenly the trampoline in our backyard is popular again and so are the swings and the shed full of toys and tools. Their laughter and their shouts and their chattering chatter carries through the evening air. I love the sound of kids playing outside. I am especially fond of the sound of my kid playing outside!

I see signs of spring everywhere I turn. Spring is such a feast for the senses – but especially for the eyes.

I am seeing neighbors I haven’t seen in months. Jason and I are hardcore walkers. We walk almost every single day. We walk because walking is part of who we are. We ARE walkers. We are compelled to be outside. We walk because being inside all of the time makes our souls start to shrivel up and die! (I will absolutely be that 3,000 year old lady at the nursing home driving the nursing staff crazy trying to escape . . .   We all know I will NOT just behave myself and stay in my room watching The Price is Right!)

Escape is this way . . .

But we have neighbors who only go for walks in these first few weeks of spring. We will see them almost every evening for a few weeks on these first gorgeous spring evenings – but once Kentucky turns up the heat of summer – they will retreat inside until next spring!   The calls of the internet and the television are strong indeed . . .

And I am seeing the first spring flowers. Oh how I love daffodils. Those first – brave – bright yellow – glorious messengers of spring!   I have this urge to thank daffodils for being such faithful – devoted – resolute messengers of good news.   Daffodils put up with a lot that would simply crush other flowers. Snow – frost – SNOW – ice – drizzle – and all that early March in Kentucky can throw at them and still they endure and look so gorgeous doing it!

Trees are budding. And I am starting to notice the glorious green haze trees get right before their leaves burst forth. I love that green haze. I could (and DO) gaze at that neon green haze for hour upon hour.

(I am a cheap date . . . tacos from the taco truck at the corner of Watterson Trail and Bardstown Road or from Supermercado Guanajuato on Bardstown Road and a walk so I can see budding trees.   If you splurge and get the jamaica [the “j” is pronounced as an “h”] I am in heaven!   Seriously – this is what heaven must be like!)

I pulled my first pile of weeds this week. And I got a kick out of that too. I enjoy weeding and delight in working outside in my flowerbeds.

We need to spread mulch – so right now the weeds think they might just win this year. The weeds don’t know Jason and I have already planned to order 10 cubic yards of mulch again this year. We take mulching VERY seriously at the McFarland house and consider it a right of passage to spread THICK layers of mulch on our flowerbeds. No wimpy layers of mulch at our house. No wasting our time with a light scattering.   Mulch isn’t for decoration or ornamentation around here. Mulch works at my house. Mulch has a full-time job here. Soon the weeds will suffocate under 5 or 6 inches of dark – natural – hardwood bark mulch while our flowers smugly thrive.

I spotted slugs this morning too. They were making their slow – methodical way someplace important and I wished them well as long as they stayed away from MY garden and MY flowerbeds!

Spring is here! We did it!   We made it through winter to the other side. My soul rejoices and my heart sings with happiness. I just can’t seem to get enough of all of this glorious springy spring-ness!

Everywhere I turn I see another reminder of God’s presence in the world. Another reminder of God’s activity. Of our Lord’s creativity.   I am dazzled and amazed and in awe.

Where are you seeing God’s presence these days? What is God up to in your life?

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

– Isaiah 43:18-19

Worship for Sunday, March 13, 2022

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.   And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers close in against me to devour my flesh,
they, my foes and my enemies, will stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear.
Though war rise up against me, my trust will not be shaken.

One thing I ask of the Lord; one thing I seek;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek God in the temple.

For in the day of trouble God will give me shelter,
hide me in the hidden places of the sanctuary, and raise me high upon a rock.

Even now my head is lifted up above my enemies who surround me.
Therefore I will offer sacrifice in the sanctuary, sacrifices of rejoicing; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.

My heart speaks your message— “Seek my face.”
Your face, O Lord, I will seek.

Hide not your face from me, turn not away from your servant in anger.
Cast me not away—you have been my helper; forsake me not, O God of my salvation.

Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in.

Teach me your way, O Lord;
lead me on a level path, because of my oppressors.

Subject me not to the will of my foes,
for they rise up against me, false witnesses breathing violence.

This I believe—that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord and be strong.
Take heart and wait for the Lord! 

Philippians 3:17–4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.   Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Wow! It just keeps coming and coming and coming – doesn’t it?

These past few years sure have been something – haven’t they!?!?

For so many of us – these past months have been just plain challenging.   And it appears that the challenging times in our lives are far from over.

In fact – it is kind of starting to feel just a wee bit “biblical” out there in the real world – isn’t it?

Natural disasters . . . flooding and tornados and hurricanes and wildfires that are so frequent and so massive – it shocks and saddens and frightens us. Natural disasters on a scale that gets the attention of even the most jaded and calloused among us.

A global pandemic that has made a mess of our lives and our world.   A global pandemic that has laid bare our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities and our very human humanness.

Then just to keep life interesting – there have been all of those strange supply chain issues.

Now gas prices have soared to near record highs. Economists warn us of a looming global recession. But all of that seems like small potatoes when we hear phrases like “World War 3” being bandied about on the evening news. Seriously – World War 3?!?!?

Nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons and nuclear war . . .

These are never the things we want to hear about in the news – NEVER – EVER – EVER!

And so the world holds its collective breath as the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine makes the news again. We didn’t think it could get worse than the last time Chernobyl made the international news back in the 1980’s – but now we wonder and we worry and then we worry some more. Perhaps it could get worse . . . much – much worse . . .

We hold our breath as Vladimir Putin threatens the world with nuclear weapons. What does “special alert status” mean to Mr. Putin? What does “special alert status” mean for us?   For our future? For the world?

It kind of makes a Christian wonder doesn’t it . . . ?

What were those signs and warnings Jesus cautioned us about when Jesus spoke of his Second Coming in the Gospels? What should we be watching for again? What were those signs that would appear in the skies?

And what about the books of Daniel and Revelation? Don’t they foretell the End Times too? What were those 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse again?   Don’t those 4 riders represent – conquest – the violence of war – famine – and widespread death?

Hmmm . . . alrighty then – those horsemen are sounding just a bit too familiar aren’t they?!?!

Are we okay? Are we going to be okay?

Honestly – sometimes it just doesn’t feel okay! And sometimes we may find ourselves worrying that it will never be okay again.

The world we are living in right now can feel so big and so scary and so strange and so unsettled.

Sadly – all of these things are true. The world is unsettled right now. We are living in difficult times. We do face great – big challenges as a world and as a nation and a community and even as a church. To deny this would be just plain naive.

But as Psalm 27 so powerfully reminds us this morning – we do not face these challenging times alone. Our God is with us. Our God is always – ALWAYS faithful to us.

Psalm 27 boldly declares – “The Lord is the stronghold of my life!” And later in verse 5 – we hear the incredible reminder – “for in the day of trouble God will give me shelter!”

Hear those incredibly powerful words. Let them wash over you and sink in. God is our stronghold. God is our shelter in this uncertain world. God is our source of strength.

Our Lord promises us that he will care for us and be faithful to us – even when life in this world is frightening and unsettled and incredibly challenging.

God is our light in the darkness. Our salvation. Our sanctuary and our resting place.

God’s Word tells us again and again that God is ALWAYS faithful and God will help us in our times of need.

God promises he will never forget or forsake us. Because we are his beloved children.

The rest of the world may crumble around us. But our God will always be there for us to lean on and rest in.

The future may seem uncertain and difficult – especially now.   But – God will continue to be with you.   God will be your constant – loving – faithful companion. God will care for you and provide for you and watch over you. God promises to be your source of strength.

No matter what the future holds – know this – remember this – God is with you. Your God is – was – and will always be your shelter and your stronghold. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

Worship for Sunday, March 6, 2022

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty—

you will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom put my trust.” 

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
and the Most High your habitation,

no evil will befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your dwelling.

For God will give the angels charge over you,
to guard you in all your ways.

Upon their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone. 

You will tread upon the lion cub and viper;
you will trample down the lion and the serpent.

I will deliver those who cling to me;
I will uphold them, because they know my name.

They will call me, and I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and honor them.

With long life will I satisfy them,
and show them my salvation. 

Romans 10:8b-13

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”   For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.   For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Temptation – oh sweet – sweet – often delicious temptation! It feels like temptation is absolutely – positively everywhere! Like we are being bombarded by temptation everywhere we turn – every single – solitary moment of our entire lives!

And – of course – the incredibly tricky thing about temptation is that it is – so – very – very tempting. Temptation is so appealing. Which means it is often shockingly easy to give in to temptation.   Sometimes you have surrendered to temptation before you even realize you’ve done it!

You hear your phone buzz or chirp or chime letting you know you have received a text while you are driving. You know texting and driving is ALWAYS against the law BUT you decide to send a quick text while you are driving anyway. Because you are an exceptionally good driver. Your driving skills are far above average!

Plus – you bargain with yourself – you will be VERY careful.   You won’t swerve all over the road like those “other drivers.” You won’t sit through a red light. You won’t cause an accident.

And anyway – those laws are just plain draconian and an outrageous infringement of your civil liberties.

Talk about tempting . . .

Or it is so tempting to tell that lie because sometimes lying is just so much easier than telling the truth is.

“Sure – Dad – my homework is all done. I totally rocked it like a rock star!”

Or “no – Mom I have no idea who ate the last scoop of ice cream and put the empty container back in the freezer. Maybe it was Dad. . . or aliens. . . Yeah – either Dad or aliens!?!?”

Or perhaps you might be tempted to act like the able-bodied gentlemen I saw this week who was far too busy to return his grocery cart to the cart return. So he parked his cart right in the middle of a handicapped parking spot. I try not to be too judgy – but seriously leaving a cart in the middle of a handicapped parking space . . . so NOT okay!

Temptation is incredibly – often shockingly appealing. Temptation looks really good to us. If it didn’t – it wouldn’t be so tempting – now would it?

Unfortunately – temptation by its very nature – is bad for us too.

And often it is bad for the other people in our lives also.   Surrendering to temptation can   leave a path of destruction in its wake.

I have never – ever heard anyone say – “oh my – that celery just looks so tempting!”

I whole “herd” of yummy temptation!

“Or Pastor – I have to confess – I surrendered to temptation last night and gave $400 to the church mortgage fund!”

Nope – temptation is about the stuff that makes a mess of our lives and hurts us and hurts other folks too.

Sadly – temptation is a part of the human condition. Even Jesus – himself – faced temptation.

Right after his baptism – the Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness where Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. As this time comes to an end – the devil comes to Jesus with some seriously tempting temptations.

First the devil suggests that Jesus – “Turn a stone into bread.”   Well – what is so wrong with bread?   Bread seems harmless. It’s not like the devil suggested Jesus turn the stone into a nuclear weapon. Frankly some bread would have probably tasted really – really good to Jesus after not eating for such a long time.

This temptation seems so harmless to us – but Jesus knows it isn’t harmless or benign. So – Jesus said no.

This toddler succumbed to temptation. The temptation to trash the place. We didn’t let him drink the soda . . .

Next the devil says to Jesus – “I will give you all of the kingdoms of the world if you just bow down and worship me.” Well – wasn’t Jesus sent here to win over all of the kingdoms of the world? It would be so easy to quickly bow and then the world would instantly belong to him.   And without all of the work of preaching and teaching and healing and feeding and calling disciples. It would have been so much faster. So much easier!

But – Jesus said no this time too. Jesus knew this temptation was NOT harmless.

Finally – the devil tries one more temptation. The devil takes Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem where he suggests Jesus jump off the very top of the Temple.

It is important for you to know the Jews of this time thought the Messiah would reveal himself to the world by suddenly appearing at the very top of the Temple.

Well – if that was what folks were expecting – why not just go ahead and do it? What could be so wrong about showing everyone he really was the Messiah with some real pizzazz and flare?

Surrendering to the temptation to tackle one’s brother!

But Jesus knew this temptation was not harmless. So – Jesus said no again.

To us – it is not all that surprising that Jesus said no to temptation.   After all – we know Jesus is our Lord and Savior. We know Jesus could see these temptations were dangerous.   Jesus knew giving in would have derailed God’s plan for salvation.

But it is important to remember these temptations were really and truly tempting to Jesus. These temptations were tempting! And yet – Jesus didn’t surrender.

So how did Jesus resist temptation? Well – Jesus did not rely on himself. Jesus relied on God the Father. Jesus did not rely on just his own wisdom and willpower – Jesus relied on the Word of God. Jesus resisted temptation by turning to God and God’s Word over and over again.

This is true for us too. When we face temptation we can turn to God and his Word for help and guidance. God will always help us do what is right.

Sadly – we are flawed – sinful human beings. And because of this – there will be times when we give in to temptation. We will all fall short of the glory of God.

What Mimi and Papa did when Jack and Nic surrendered to temptation one too many times! (Just kidding the boys did this to themselves!?!?!)

For most of us – there will be many – many – many times that we give in to temptation! No matter how hard we try – we will mess up. And unfortunately – not even the perfect role model is going to keep us from giving in to temptation all of the time.

Thankfully – when we give in to temptation there is still hope for us.

Jesus knew we were going to need a lot of help.

So first – Jesus showed us how to resist temptation by giving us an example – which is an amazing blessing to all of us. But Jesus did not stop there. Jesus gives us an even greater blessing. A Savior.

Jesus gave us the help we need when we surrender to temptation.   Jesus took our sins upon himself and died in our place. He died for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus has offered us all forgiveness. Through the cross Jesus saves us from ourselves. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday Worship – March 2, 2022

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 51:1-17

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my offenses,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment. 

Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom deep within.

Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my wickedness.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. 

Let me teach your ways to offenders,
and sinners shall be restored to you.

Rescue me from bloodshed, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

For you take no delight in sacrifice, or I would give it.
You are not pleased with burnt offering.

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will not despise. 

2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:2

[Saint Paul writes:] We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.   For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

[Jesus said to the disciples:]   “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.   But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Have mercy on me O Lord! Have mercy!

Yes! Yes please!   Our hearts cry out for mercy.   For relief . . .   For a break . . . For something to go our way . . .

It feels like we come to this Ash Wednesday in a particularly fragile place. These are such fraught times.   Many of us are just plain weary.   Others are sad or grieving or hurting.   Some of us are frustrated or disappointed.

Still others are simply fed up. Enough is enough. If we cry “uncle” – will it finally stop?

This is not the world we want to be living in.

First – it was the relentless pandemic that has gone on and On and ON.

Covid-19 has changed us. Yes – Covid-19 revealed some of our strengths. It has shown us how resilient we are and how innovative we can be.   Covid-19 has revealed our creativity for better (and unfortunately – for worse . . .)

Covid-19 has also exposed so many of our weaknesses and our flaws and our brokenness. Covid-19 has revealed just what a horrible mess our world is in. What a mess we are in . . . Covid-19 has shown ALL of us just how human we are. This has been hard for us to see. Hard for us to live. Very – very hard.

Covid-19 has been painful. And likely will be painful for years to come.   We have a lot of healing to do.

Our hearts cry out – “have mercy on us O Lord! Have mercy!”

And now Russia has invaded Ukraine. We watch what is happening in Eastern Europe and we hold our breath.

Russia is a sleeping giant no more. Russia demands to be heard! Russia isn’t saber rattling. Russia is shouting and roaring to the world with their nuclear weapons!

We cry out – “Have mercy on us O Lord! Have mercy!”

We are a broken – hurting – messed up bunch of folks living in a broken – hurting – messed up world.

Oh – how we need our Lord’s mercy. Oh – how we ALL need hope.

We long for comfort and joy. We long for better times. We long for healing. We long for a brighter future. Most of all – we long for hope!

And if we look in the mirror this evening – that is exactly what we will discover. (No – I am not talking about finding hope in ourselves and in the eyes gazing back at us.)

Rather I am talking about turning your gaze just a bit further north to that black mark right in the middle of your forehead. Because that black mark is not just a careless smudge. It is not a slash or a line or merely a mark made of ash simply to declare: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” No – that mark on your forehead is a cross.

There in the cross is the answer to our deepest longings. There in the cross is our hope! There in the cross is the answer to our cry for mercy!

Yes – the ashes do remind us of our brokenness and our sinfulness and our very human humanness. The ashes do remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

But those ashes form the shape of the cross of Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Savior.   Who is our hope! Who is God’s answer to our cry for mercy.

We are all so messed up – aren’t we? We are all broken and struggling and sinful and just so very human!   No matter how hard we try – none of us can save ourselves.

And thank goodness we don’t have to. Well actually – thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we don’t have to save ourselves. Jesus saved us when he willingly died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus died in our place for us – so we don’t have to die an eternal death for our sins.

Yes – on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of just how messed up and sinful and broken we all are. And we are marked by our brokenness and our sinfulness because of the black – crumbling – falling apart – gritty – messy – ashes we all wear on our foreheads.

But we are also marked by our greatest hope because we wear crosses on our foreheads!

These crosses are bold – beautiful reminders of God’s forgiveness and the promise of resurrection to eternal life lived with God the Father in heaven.

Our God has heard our cry. Our God has blessed us with his grace – love and mercy!   And truly that is very Good News indeed. Amen.