Our 3-Ring Circus

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,
 and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being. – Job 12:7-10

There were sooooo many outtakes of this photo!

We are big on learning and experimenting and giving things a whirl at our house. Jason and I encourage at-home science experiments – messy art projects and forts in the living room.   The Legos (and the yarn) – well – those are almost everywhere around here!

I joke our house is decorated in early modern Lego with yarn-y accents. But honestly – that isn’t much of a joke.

Messy messes don’t phase me at all. Kids and chaos and all that come with it – clean up (most of the time).   And if it doesn’t – well then – we have a lasting memory and a story to tell. I am proud of the fact our dining room table has acrylic paint dots and stray Sharpie marker marks on it (even after a serious scrubbing with hot – soapy water and a hand-knit washcloth).   The paracord stuck WAY up in the tree out in our backyard makes me smile every time I see it.

The exploding baking soda volcanoes – dyeing experiments – painting – goo – slime – elephant toothpaste – rockets – beads – beans – paracord – forts – duct tape – PVC pipe – boards – models – the messes and the barely controlled chaos are some of the things that make up our weekends and our evenings.

Trying things – giving things a whirl and experimenting are an important part of who we are. I try to have a – “why not?” and a “sure – let’s give it a go!” attitude.

But our home isn’t a free-for-all. There are definite limits. We clean up after our experiments and artistic endeavors. I am BIG on organization.   I may have paint in my hair and embroidery on my jeans – but my paint is stored neatly in bins by color and so is my embroidery floss . . .

And both Jason and I are BIG on reading and research. This helps in so many ways.

And wow have I been reading and researching a lot lately – because we have entered completely new territory for our family! And with it has come some seriously intense experimentation and chaos and goofiness and messy messes . . .

Our latest endeavor is pets.

Note the dog is ON the couch . . . sigh . . . some battles were lost immediately. Pick your battles – Kerri – pick your battles . . .

Yes – we have had pets before. We have raised adorably goofy golden retriever puppies into beautiful dogs.   Zoë and Katherine were even respectably (if not impeccably) trained dogs. Okay – Zoë did eat an entire HOT pizza out of the oven where I left it warming when Jack was a toddler and Katherine was so stubborn it made our brains ache! But still . . . for the most part – Zoë and Katherine weren’t too annoying to us or the rest of the world.   Their behavior was not generally shocking or shameful.

But now – we are exploring new territory. We are tilling new soil. We are venturing into places we have never gone before. Because we have added not 1 but 2 shelter/rescue pets to our family. And WOW – are rescue pets different creatures!?!?!? Shelter pets are a whole different story. Both Doug and Gracie came to us with significant baggage.

Gracie is our silent pet – our stealth cat. We rarely see her or hear from her. But – at least – our Gracie has moved out of Will’s closet (significant progress) and into the basement. Gracie will now sit and sleep in the middle of a room on a comfy nest (she particularly likes sleeping on the boys’ backpacks) – but she does not like our company yet. She tends to walk away from me on silent feet with wary eyes.

She prefers life under tables and away from me . . .

Gracie does like Jason . . . At night – after everyone else goes to bed Gracie comes upstairs. And then Gracie and Jason hang out together in Jason’s office. Gracie will even allow Jason to pet her. (Why yes – Will – Jack and I are massively jealous!)

Jack did catch Gracie purring contentedly last evening – BUT – she was all by herself in her favorite spot in the basement. Gracie purrs and meows for Jason too . . . Gracie clearly knows Jason is the quietest – least obnoxious member of our clan and finds his steadiness reassuring (we all do actually).

“Go away crazy camera lady – GO AWAY!” – I can read Gracie’s mind.

Gracie still avoids Doug the dog and Ash the kitten and the crazy chaos that is the main floor of our house when we are all hustling and bustling around during the day and evening. But – slowly – Slowly – SLOWLY our sad – grieving cat is adjusting to her new home and her new people. We tell Gracie we love her and we are here for her – but we are also well aware Gracie needs her space. We are letting Gracie be Gracie. We read this is the wisest – kindest – most loving way to care for a sad – traumatized – grieving cat.

Gracie is the epitome of low maintenance!

We are Doug the Dog’s 3rd family. And so far – we have discovered he is sweet and smart (very) and terrified of cameras and anything with a motor. Trash trucks and UPS trucks and BUSES are super-duper scary!

Doug hates car rides. Our Doug is very – Very – VERY afraid once he leaves home – he may not be allowed to return home. If we walk by our house on a walk – Doug does everything in his power to try to GO BACK HOME IMMEDIATELY! Wow – does this dog have some abandonment issues (not surprising after being dumped by 2 other families).

Doug is a blank slate when it comes to training. A total formless void. We have made a start of it – but this dude absolutely – positively loses his mind when he sees/hears/smells another dog. This makes for interesting walks and he can’t be in our backyard when our neighbors’ dogs are in their yards – because I value my garden and   flower beds and sanity!

Note my serious face – Doug the dog and I were having a heart to heart and Jack found in amusing.

I have informed Douglas more than once that I am in fact “the boss of him!” But after 14 days – his thoughts on this are “Hmmmm . . .   but I am CUTE.” “So are my sons! But we still made/make them behave themselves. NO MONSTERS ALLOWED!” – is my response to this line.

And Ash – our spoiled – diva of a kitten – well – the lion hasn’t laid down with the lamb at our house yet. The fur still flies when Ash pushes Gracie too far. But Ash doesn’t puff up like a giant puffer fish anymore whenever she sees Doug the dog and she has returned to napping in her hammock in the sun and lounging on the back of her favorite chair – and generally bossing me around loudly.

I have stopped asking Jason “what were we thinking?!?!?!” Every 15 minutes (now I only do this once an hour . . .)

What were we thinking . . .

If nothing else Jack will have some street-cred with the other pre-veterinary medicine majors at Morehead State. What self-respecting pre-vet major could come from a home that wasn’t a total zoo/three ring circus?!?!?!? So – I suppose we are just doing our parental duty as people raising a future veterinarian. I just hope and pray Jack doesn’t decide to go into exotic animal care. I don’t think I am up to a tiger or a python or a polar bear!

What a goof!

But seriously – we are all slowly beginning to get along and to trust one another and to build relationships and we are all learning a lot.

PS I don’t care how sad or how cute the ????? is. Besides I can’t hear you over our barking dog and the hissing cats and the sound of my brand-new pet-hair collecting dust buster!

Making a Mess – Just for Kicks . . .

I have been fascinated with art and artists and making art and crafting and craftspeople for as long as I can remember. I enjoy almost all art – but I especially love folk art.

I love art with bold colors. (Monet is undeniably lovely but not really my cup of tea . . . Just a bit too pastel . . .) I love whimsical art. Art that surprises. Art with a twist. Art that isn’t an exact representation of the world as it is – but rather as the artist sees the world (or perhaps even wishes it were) really draws me in.

When we visit Valladolid, Mexico – the docents at the folk-art museum there quickly begin to recognize the quirky lady with the knitting needles and yarn from Louisville, Kentucky who just keeps coming back over and Over and OVER again. If you ever find yourself in Valladolid – Casa de los Venados (House of the Deer) should be on your trip agenda. It is so totally amazing!

Anyway . . . I love art the way some people love their I-phones.   I find it mesmerizing. It draws me in. It captivates me.

I always wanted to make art. But my childhood home was an odd place. It wasn’t the sort of place where one made art or messes or did whimsical things. Messes were not welcome or tolerated. I learned from a very early age to color literally and metaphorically inside the perfectly straight – rigid lines VERY carefully. Orderliness and perfectionism were worshipped even more than Jesus. (And Jesus was a really big deal.   My parents raised not 1 but 2 pastors!)

Perfect was the only acceptable result of anything – even art projects. And well – I was no Rembrandt or Michelangelo. Nor would I ever be. So – I quit making art.

I did other things I enjoyed. I read. I knit.   I occasionally experimented with beading. I gardened. Eventually – I embroidered.

I pretended that I didn’t want to make art. And everything I did make was all very neat and orderly and tidy.   I colored inside someone else’s lines.   It was safer and easier that way.

Except the flowerbeds – my favorite flowerbeds are chaotic and overflowing with color and plants. Flowers planted in neat little or long rows bore me. I delight in chaotic swirls of growth – the way nature does it. My flowerbeds have always been wild masses of flowers and greenery.

But recently – well – recently – my brain and my fingers got restless. Coloring inside the lines wasn’t working for me anymore. I love to knit. I will always be a knitter – but suddenly – shockingly I realized knitting simply wasn’t enough!?!?!?!   It was too neat. Too orderly. Too linear.   I needed another creative outlet . . .

I was craving something messier. More colorful. Less confining.

Trying new things isn’t easy for me. But I decided to be brave. To ignore my childhood programming. I decided to play. To have fun. To make messes. To throw caution to the wind and to make some art.   No judgment. I just gave it a whirl. I tried something new to me.

I bought paint and some canvases. I dug the boys’ paint brushes and palates out of the craft zone in the basement.

And I started painting.

I am having a blast. I am just playing around – having fun – making messes and chaos and letting color happen on canvas with paint. I am goofing off. I get paint in my hair and on my hands and elbows. Doug the dog keeps me company and Ash the kitten has walked through my wet – paint-filled palate twice now – but this is about having fun and being creative.   Besides – I am giving painting outside the lines a try these days. Often – WAY outside the lines!

My paintings will certainly never make it onto a museum’s walls.   I will never have a gallery showing.   No one (other than Will – Jack and Jason) will encourage me to hang my paintings on their living room walls. I won’t be quitting my career to pursue my art.

But . . .

Making art is fun. Playing is incredibly important for everyone. Trying new things is just plain good for us. Unstructured play makes us smarter and more creative and less likely to be a narcissist (seriously research backs this up – I read a lot!). Even/especially really old-ish people like me benefit and grow from play and being creative.   Scientists and researchers say learning new thing as we age helps with memory function and staves off dementia!

But it also does great things for our hearts and our souls!   Trying new things that we enjoy brings happiness and discovery and delight and joy and growth. These are such glorious blessings.

So – have you tried anything new lately? Have you done anything just for fun? Have you played? Have you experimented? Have you given anything a whirl just for kicks?

It isn’t about being the best or rocking it like a rock star (but maybe your dream was to BE A ROCK STAR?!?!?) It is about allowing yourself to discover new things – to explore – to try – to fail with a laugh or a sigh – to have fun and simply to delight in being alive.

Was there something you always wanted to do when you were a kid – but couldn’t do? Or perhaps it was something you loved doing when you were a kid and stopped doing for some reason. Can you give it a whirl now? If you think you can’t give it a go – is that really – honestly true?

I think of this as sabbath for our souls. We ALL need to rest and to delight and to be creative and to do things just because they are fun!

Worship for Sunday, April 24, 2022

Acts 5:27-32

27When they had brought [the apostles,] they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 118:14-29

14The Lord is my strength and my song,
and has become my salvation.
15Shouts of rejoicing and salvation echo in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!
16The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!”
17I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord. 
18The Lord indeed punished me sorely,
but did not hand me over to death.
19Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them and give thanks to the Lord.
20“This is the gate of the Lord;
here the righteous may enter.”
21I give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and you have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23By the Lord has this been done;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25Hosanna!   O Lord, save us!
We pray to you, Lord, prosper our days! 
26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27The Lord is God and has given us light.
Form a procession with branches up to the corners of the altar.
28You are my God, and I will thank you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
God’s mercy endures forever.

Revelation 1:4-8

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.

8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,  and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Names matter. Sometimes names matter a lot. Deciding what to name your child matters because – your child will go through her entire life bearing whatever name is bestowed upon her. Which is why so many expectant parents spend so much time thinking about – discussing – pondering – and debating baby names.

You want her name to match who she will become. You think – I want my son to have a name that will serve him well. Or we want our daughter to have a name that will stand the test of time. Or we want to give our child a family name – an ancestor’s name. Or a name that reflects your Christian faith so you choose a name from the Bible. There are so many reasons for choosing the perfect name.

Most parents put a lot of time – effort and thought into naming their children. But then – well – then – other people happen. Nicknames happen . . .

You name him Keith – but he answers to Bussy. It started as Buster – then somehow eased into Bussy – although he never drove a bus even once in his life!

Her birth certificate says her name is Kerri – but she goes by Manning because she had at least 2 other friends named Carrie for over a decade.   And Carrie – Kerri and Carrie just got so wildly confusing!

You proudly named your son Moses – but everyone calls him “Stinky!” Yes – your beautiful Moses answers to Stinky because of one awful night at sleepover camp when he had an unfortunate encounter with a skunk.   Even his work shirts say Stinky and so do his business cards!

Nicknames can be awesome or awful.

Speaking of names – think of the Disciple Thomas. Thomas is a nice name. Maybe – folks called him Tom sometimes. But – whether he was Thomas or Tom – he had a nice name until – he got saddled with a doozy of a nickname!

Doubting Thomas. We call him – Doubting Thomas . . .

We just read the Gospel that gave Thomas this nickname that has stuck for centuries!

In fact – the only thing most folks know about Thomas is his nickname. But – we are being incredibly unfair when we call him – Doubting Thomas.

So – what does our Gospel reading tell us about Thomas?

Today we meet up with the disciples on the very first Easter evening. It has been a wretchedly horrible week for the disciples. Jesus has been killed. And the disciples – fear they will be next. They are afraid they will be killed too. So they are in hiding – when suddenly Jesus appears in their midst.

One moment they are alone – terrified and grieving and – the next – there stands Jesus. No knock on the door. Or tap at the window. No warning.   Just out of nowhere – there Jesus is.

The disciples were shocked.   And probably concerned. After all – they had all abandoned Jesus in his time of need.

But Jesus’ first words to them are – “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus shows them his hands and his side to prove – it is really him.   Jesus is alive!

The disciples go from fear to faith. All of them – except Thomas. Because Thomas wasn’t there.

Imagine how excited the disciples must have been when Thomas returned. Jesus was alive! Jesus had been raised from the dead!

But Thomas didn’t share their excitement.   He didn’t get swept up in their joy.   He couldn’t believe them. In fact – Thomas declares – “Until I see those marks with my own eyes and touch those scars with my own hands – I won’t believe it.”

And so a nickname and a reputation for doubting are born. With those few words –Thomas becomes Doubting Thomas.

But there is more to him than this moment.   The Bible tells us the very next week Jesus again appears to his disciples and this time Thomas is there.   Again – Jesus declares – “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus says to Thomas – “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt – but believe.”

And Thomas believes! Thomas was a doubter for seven days – a week – and then he saw Jesus and believed for the rest of his life.

And yet we insist on calling him – Doubting Thomas. This is so unfair. Thomas doubted for a WEEK!   (But – who among us hasn’t doubted or questioned?)

So – what did Thomas do after he became Believing Thomas again?

Church tradition tells us Thomas was a devoted teacher – preacher – and missionary. Thomas traveled and preached in the region of modern-day Iran and Iraq.   Then he journeyed to India.

In fact – when Portuguese explorers landed in India in the 1600s – they found a group of Christians already living there who traced their roots back to Thomas. Clearly – there was more to Thomas than one week of doubting.

So why do we call him Doubting Thomas – when Believing Thomas is much more fitting?

Well – honestly – I think it is human nature.   We focus on the negative. We prefer to focus on the mistake or the sin – rather than on the good.

Who here doesn’t know someone – like Thomas – who has been branded by one mistake or a single moment in their lives?

The student who got caught cheating – becomes the cheater.

The person who stole – becomes – the thief.

The person who told a lie – becomes the liar.

The person who hurt your feelings – becomes the enemy.

We give each other names that are small.   Names that don’t fit.

Thankfully our God is not like us. God is more forgiving and more loving than we are. Rather than calling us a bunch of hopeless sinners – God calls us his beloved children.   God focuses on the best parts of us rather than the worst.

And we should do the same thing.

Don’t stick one another with names that are small.   Don’t put people in boxes. Don’t think only of a person’s shortcomings.   Don’t focus on the mistake – don’t focus on the sin – don’t focus on the flaws.

See folks for who they really are. Focus on the truth – we are all the beloved children of God. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

63,504,000 seconds

Last Tuesday I did some prep work at Saint Stephen for Maundy Thursday – Good Friday and Easter. I organized and putzed and puttered. I was seeking and finding and generally getting ready for the BIG THREE DAYS. I was climbing ladders and in and out of the storage closets and the sacristy and opening and closing boxes over and over and over again. I filled candles with oil and spent about 100 years getting those horrible sticky price stickers off some other candles. (I detest those wretched labels!) I was making sure everything was ready to go.

I was in my element. I simply adore this sort of work. I love making things neat and tidy and orderly. I revel in prep work. I delight in anticipation. I find joy in these quiet “before” moments.

As I happily worked away – preparing to celebrate Holy Week and Easter with my sisters and brothers in Christ – I realized that it had been over 2 years – 735 days – 105 weeks – 17,640 hours – 1,058,400 minutes or 63,504,000 seconds since we were able to celebrate Holy Week and Easter with in-person worship in our sanctuary. (No wonder all of our Holy Week and Easter decorations and paraments seemed a bit dusty . . . )

Covid-19 crashed and bashed into our world in the spring of 2020.   So – two years ago we were all in shock and still trying to come to grips with this whole “global pandemic” thing at Easter. Two years ago – we were far from the miracle of Covid-19 vaccines. We were still in the early days of NTI and lockdowns and quarantining.   Two years ago – we were deciding on who we should/could/would safely include in our Covid-19 bubbles.   Two years ago there were PPI and TP shortages and unemployment was heartbreakingly high. Two years ago our governor was asking/begging us to do our Christian duty and worship our Lord from home. Two years ago – we were pretty united in our need to stay home and protect one another from Covid-19.

Once Easter 2021 arrived – we had vaccines (Whoo-hoo! – Amen! – and Hallelujah!) – but only some of us had received them. And by then the fractures and the frustrations were showing. We weren’t united anymore. Exhaustion and anger were setting in. Enough was enough already.   A few threats and ultimatums were issued. “If you don’t – then . . . ” Our brokenness was on full display. We were ALL showing our human humanness and our desperate need for a Savior!

And this year . . . well – we still desperately need a Savior! Our human humanness is still very much on display.   Wow – are we human!?!?! (This is probably – because we are – in fact – a bunch of human humans.) BUT this year we celebrated Easter TOGETHER at Saint Stephen! And it was absolutely – positively – awesomely – amazingly GLORIOUS!

So many Lutherans! And we were just getting started!

This year we went all out. This year we threw open the doors of the church (and our hearts).

This year there were Easter lilies in the chancel and there were Easter hats.

There were hymns sung with gusto and played with incredible talent.

This year there was special music.

There were bold declarations of “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

There was hustle and bustle and tons of glorious noisy noise.

There was laughter and there were hugs and chatting and chatter.

There were very special Easter surprises followed by tears of joy!

We had a delicious Easter breakfast in the fellowship hall that fed our bodies (thank you generous and talented fellowship committee) and we gathered for worship in the sanctuary to feed our souls.

The pews were filled with folks. We had so many sisters and brothers in Christ for worship that we ran out of prepared elements for Holy Communion and had to get more very quickly! (Thank you – Marilyn – Kenna and Sean!)

Everywhere I turned there were Lutherans! Smiling – happy – dressed up – dapper Lutherans.

Following worship (which I loved every single minute of and didn’t want to end. I was so excited – I tried to repeat the final hymn . . . ) – we had an amazing Easter egg hunt on the church lawn.

Thank you – Jack for hiding ALL of the eggs.

We had Easter eggs and more Easter eggs and even more Easter eggs.   I stopped counting eggs when I reached 800. And I know I filled more eggs than that!

There were so many eggs – the kids ran out of room in their bags – baskets – and buckets!

There were so many eggs some of the littlest ones got tired and quit before they had collected all of their eggs!?!?!?!

Pat – Jason and I had our own post-Easter egg hunt – Easter egg hunt!

We celebrated the resurrection with joy and laughter and fellowship and music and worship and fun and community and food and love!

After everyone left and it was just Will and his mom (that’s me) at Saint Stephen – I wandered around taking in the mess and the chaos that had been left behind. I listened as quiet settled back into the building after a morning of noise and laughter and chatter and singing and celebration and worship and joy.

I puttered and I putzed and I organized. I smiled . . . My heart was full. My pastor’s heart was running over. . .

Because finally – after 2 years – 735 days – 105 weeks – 17,640 hours – 1,058,400 minutes or 63,504,000 seconds there were bulletins and worship booklets scattered around the sanctuary – the narthex – the fellowship hall and the chancel. There were dirty cups and coffee spills. There were dishes on the kitchen counter drying. There was trash that needed to be taken to the dumpster.   There were plastic eggs and grass clippings on the floor and even on some tables.

We kinda – sorts trashed the joint! How totally amazingly awesome is that?

Happy Easter! Our Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Whoo – Hoo!   Amen! Hallelujah!

Easter Worship 2022

Acts 10:34-43

34Peter began to speak to [the people]: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
God’s mercy endures forever.
2Let Israel now declare,
“God’s mercy endures forever.”
14The Lord is my strength and my song,
and has become my salvation.
15Shouts of rejoicing and salvation echo in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!
16The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!”
17I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord. 
18The Lord indeed punished me sorely,
but did not hand me over to death.
19Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them and give thanks to the Lord.
20“This is the gate of the Lord;
here the righteous may enter.”
21I give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and you have become my salvation. 
22The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23By the Lord has this been done;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 24:1-12

1On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

When was the last time you were really and truly astonished by something? When was the last time you felt honest to goodness awe and wonder? Awe that stopped you in your tracks and left you dazzled and amazed?

When was the last time you felt moved to the core of your being by anything?

Has it been a while since you were moved by the awesome wonder of something?

Frankly most of us – especially us grown-up types – stink at this whole “awe-business.” By the time we can vote – we have become jaded – even cynical.

Awe gets lost in the bill paying and the working and the lawn mowing and the laundry folding and the errand running.   Who has time for awe when there is Wordle and web surfing and Facebook scrolling to keep us busy and distracted?

Perhaps – we might find time for a little awe – once a year – when we are on vacation – but probably not. Besides it feels like awe is for naive toddlers and pre-schoolers.   That awe is for poets and quirky artist types. But awe isn’t for card-carrying – responsible adults like us.

But we miss out on so many of life’s blessings when we shut our hearts and souls off to awe.

Our God wants us to experience awe and wonder and amazement.

Think about the beauty of a gorgeous sunrise.   It can be VERY easy to miss a beautiful sunrise as you hurry around getting ready for your day. But if you take just a moment – to pause – to watch and observe – you might just be blessed by a moment of awe and wonder as you watch the sky turn a dazzling rainbow of colors.

Or think of an actual rainbow. There was a stunningly beautiful rainbow over Fern Creek just two weeks ago that had me standing in awe on our front porch watching the colors ebb and flow and brighten and dim and change and shift.   It was glorious! And it was just what I needed on what had been a pretty tough day.

Or how about the wonderful delight of a delicious piece of Easter candy. If you take the time to appreciate it – even a single piece of candy can be pretty amazing.

What about the sound of laughter? Have you listened to how beautiful it is when someone you love gives a great big belly laugh? It is so cool! Seriously – it is awesome!

Or how about simply taking a moment to notice the amazing wonder that is your own hand. Look at your hand! Open and close it. Pick something up. Think about all of the wonderful things your hands will help you do today – this week – this year. Seriously – your hands work hard all day – every day – doing thousands upon thousands of things for you. Hands are awesome and amazing and they just hang-out down there at the ends of our arms 24-hours a day ready to help us whenever we need them. Most of the time we don’t even think about them.   But I assert our hands are amazing – awesome miracles!

What about Easter? Have you thought about the awesome miracle of Easter lately?

We Christians need to be very careful that we don’t miss out on the awe of Easter – just because we have heard the Easter story once or twice or 40 or 60 times before.

It is easy to do. We can get used to things. We take the familiar for granted.

The Gospel of Luke tells us when Peter arrived at the empty tomb on the very first Easter morning and after he saw the linen cloths by themselves – Peter went home “amazed” at what had happened.

Peter was amazed by the empty tomb. Peter was awestruck by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

What about you? Are you amazed by what happened that very first Easter morning?

Are you awestruck? Are you amazed by the empty tomb?

Are you moved by Jesus’ death on that Roman cross?

Are you dazzled by the awesome miracle of your Lord and Savior being raised from the dead by God the Father?

Are you capable of being rocked to the core of your being by these wondrous – amazing – awesome events?

Think about it for a moment. Jesus died on a cross for the forgiveness of your sins.   Not for his sins – but for your sins.   Jesus loves you so much that he willingly chose to die for you. Imagine being willing to die for someone else. Imagine that kind of love. That kind of love is hard to comprehend. That kind of love is truly an awesome miracle.

And the miracles of Easter are just getting started with this amazing – dazzling gift of love and sacrifice. Because the empty tomb means Jesus did not stay dead.

On that very first Easter morning – God the Father raised Jesus from the dead to eternal life.

And in this we see a glimpse of our future and of God’s promises to us.

Death has been conquered. And sin has been defeated.   Jesus’ own innocent death on the cross and his resurrection three days later broke the bonds of eternal death forever!

In Jesus’ empty tomb – we see that God’s grace – love – and mercy have triumphed over sin and death. God’s love and God’s mercy are stronger than sin and death.

Talk about awe inspiring Good News!

Well actually – it is awesome – amazing – earth shattering – life transforming – mind blowing news! There is simply no news better than this.

Sin and death have been defeated!

Death does not have the last word with God.   Life is the last word. Just as Jesus lives you too shall live.

And so today we are celebrating Easter.

Today is a day for awe and amazement! And joy and celebration! And laughter and smiles!

Death and sin have been defeated!

And that is some seriously AWESOME news!   AMEN!

Introducing Douglas . . .

Jack and Douglas right after we had signed the official adoption paperwork.

Jack met his sidekick yesterday. His companion and his best bud.

It was absolutely love at first sight.

Jack’s new bestie is Douglas. But we call him Doug and “Good Boy!”

Doug is a beautiful – 13-month-old Australian Shepherd with very striking eyes. Like many Aussies – Doug’s eyes are more than one color. Doug’s eyes are both blue and brown. Not swirl of blue and brown like our Will’s hazel eyes – but divided into distinct blue and brown sections. One eye is half blue and half brown and the other eye is blue with a vertical brown stripe right in the middle.

Doug matches our dining room perfectly!

Doug’s coat is a wild array of white – red and tan. Sort of like a giant calico cat!   He is actually called a red merle tri-color – but that sounds just a bit pretentious . . . Doug is far too goofy to be pretentious!

Doug has been living in Frankfurt, Kentucky for the last month or so.   Before that he was living on a farm.   We learned that before the farm there was another family . . . Doug has not been blessed with faithful people – but this has changed. Doug is in his forever home now. Jack promised and so did Jason – Will and I. Douglas is totally stuck with us and so far – he doesn’t seem to mind.

What a total goof?!?!?

Doug is a really sweet boy who needs training (don’t we all).   Thankfully – he wants to please.

Our Douglas is full to the brim with energy (which is why we are home number 3). Australian Shepherds are.   He is a herding dog. Doug is not a lap dog. He was bred to run and to work and to be busy. But the McFarlands are a relatively active family. Jason and I love to walk and hike. And Jack likes to walk – hike and JOG/RUN! We can and will keep Douglas busy. Doug has already been on 5 walks and he has only lived with us for 18 hours and 1 of those was spent in the basement for a tornado warning and another 8 we were all sleeping . . .   If anyone can wear this guy out – we can!

Doug and I need to work on the lighting!

We worried about how our newly adopted cat – Gracie – would feel about our Doug. We assumed she would hate Doug with a white hot passion. We assumed our traumatized girl would feel some very big – very negative feelings. Would she take up residence in Will’s closet and never leave? Would she make a break for it out the front door? Perhaps she would petition for a return to the shelter or for a new home with far less chaos? (But just like Doug – Grace is stuck with us. We are Gracie’s forever family.)

Gracie surprised us. Actually – Gracie shocked us. She LIKES Doug and his presence in our home is helping draw her out of her shell! She is chatting with us a bit more and even doing that slow – luxurious – swirling – dance between our feet that happy – relaxed – content cats do.

Clearly our Gracie has lived with a dog before. Dogs are familiar territory for our slightly less-sad orange girl.

Our Ash – on the other hand . . . Well – Ash – despises – hates – abhors and generally dislikes Doug. Here was the white – hot fury (not furry). Her reaction was to swell to 4 times her normal size – to hiss – and to growl! We have never heard her growl before – but she can hiss and growl loudly. Ash has had more than one hissy fit! She was growling so loudly I thought my phone was ringing in my purse (on vibrate). Seriously – she sounded just like my phone does when it is buried at the bottom of my purse and vibrating away.

Poor Jack . . . holding Satan . . .

Ash has been pouting in the basement – filled with indignation and outrage! She is like a furious toddler issuing unreasonable demands. Our Ash is still a kitten (she and Jack both have August birthdays) and is just going to need to get over herself . . . BUT we didn’t give her the middle name of Napoleon for nothing!

Jack is over the moon. Will is pleased as punch. Jason is Jason. And me – well – it is pretty fun watching our sons’ dreams come true!

Our home has truly become a zoo. Or perhaps a circus . . .

But thankfully laughter reigns along with lots of love and a whole – whole lot of grace/Gracie/Ash/and now Douglas!

Ash used to look like this!

Gracie Found Her People!

Jack with Ash when she was just a tiny kitten.

Our Jack loves animals.  Jack loves animals the way I love Lutherans and serving Jesus and talking about God stuff.  When I picture our oldest son as an adult I see him with an animal entourage.  Jack McFarland will have his own pack someday.  Jack’s pack will most certainly adore him – and the feelings will be mutual.

Jack plans to be a veterinarian.  Serving and caring for animals is Jack’s calling in this life.  Animals give Jack joy and a deep sense of purpose.

And Jack isn’t naive about what it means to answer the call to be a veterinarian.  Jack knows it will take some serious work to achieve his career aspirations.  (It is even harder to get into vet school than it is to get into medical school.)

Jack also knows his patients will bite him and snap at him and shed on him and get their bodily fluids all over him.  He knows his patients will often be grumpy and stressed and not very happy to see him.  He knows they will die.  He knows their people will behave very badly.  Sometimes shockingly badly.  Jack knows ALL of this – because he has been working at the Jefferson Animal Hospital and Regional Emergency Center since last August and he loves it.  Jack’s love of animals just grows and grows with exposure to the realities of life at a vet clinic rather than diminishing.

Jack with Mimi and Papa’s cat.  Notice how when there is an animal around Jack is always looking at it and NOT his mom and her lovely camera!?!?!?!

Jason and I have watched Jack’s calling to serve animals with pride and awe and joy.  It is a seriously cool experience to watch your child discover his calling in life – his passion – what makes his heart sing – how he will serve his Lord and his neighbor.  It is even better than watching his first steps or hearing him call you “Ma” for the first time!

Jack loves animals – but has lived in an animal-free home for years now.

When I started getting sick and my migraines got totally out of control – one of my doctors strongly advised us to become a “pet-free home.”  It made us very sad – but at the time I had been living with a migraine for months.  Yes – one long – unrelenting migraine for months.  The pain was exhausting and nothing was helping.

So we tried being a pet-free household.  Our gorgeous – sweet – golden retriever – Katherine went to live with Jason’s parents.  (Have I mentioned how awesome my in-laws are?  Seriously – AMAZING!)  But being pet-free changed nothing.  The migraine just went on and On and ON.  What finally helped was a fancy new migraine maintenance medication – allergy shots – and learning that I have an autoimmune disease.

Jack is wise.  Jack listens.  Jack knows my health problems are NOT caused by furry friends and fluffy family members but by a dysfunctional immune system.  So the petitioning began.   Jack yearns for a dog.  A goofy – sweet – walking – running – sidekick.  And Jack reminds his parents – that we walk ALL OF THE TIME.  Our walking and hiking family should definitely have a dog.  All of those walks are wasted without a dog companion.  We could be/should be sharing the joy.  It might even be our moral obligation to be sharing the walking joy with a canine companion?!?!?!

Last week Jason told Jack to start looking.  Jack/the McFarlands may have a dog.  (But the dog must be a family/kid friendly breed.  Nothing too exotic.)

Immediately the search began.  Jack declared that he would be adopting from a shelter.  Jack also wants his dog to be a dog.  Not a puppy.  And he wants to rescue his dog.

Jack and Jason began searching and seeking and scouring the local and local adjacent pet rescues and shelters.  And this is where we hit a snag.  This where we got into trouble.  This was our downfall . . .

You see – when I was a kid – I wanted a cat.  I really – Really – REALLY wanted a cat.  But my parents absolutely – positively refused to get a cat.  My parents always had dogs but refused to get a cat (until I was in college . . .) Dysfunctional much?

Anyway – I like dogs (especially big – goofy – dunderheads) – but I have a “thing” for cats.  I particularly love tabbies and that sweet “M” they have on their foreheads.  I am especially drawn to orange tabbies.  And I have always wanted a FEMALE – orange tabby.  But most orange tabbies are boys.   Only 1 in 5 orange tabbies are girls.  Not exactly as rare as male calico cats (1 in 3,000) – but still – most orange tabbies are boys.

This gorgeous orange tabby cat is a boy. He is Mimi and Papa’s cat.

Jason knows I long for a female orange tabby.  Jason knows our household will one day have a least one female orange tabby cat.  Jason accepts this the way he accepts the yarn – the embroidered jeans – the sass – the strong opinions on the ordination of women and the craft supplies (with grace and a knowing nod).

ANYWAY – while Jason looked for dogs – somehow – he got lost and wandered into the sad cat section of a shelter web-site.  And there – well there – he found Gracie the sad orange tabby.  Gracie is 5 or 6 years old and her owners died this winter leaving her all alone in the world.

Jason told me with a slightly reluctant sigh that he had a link to show me and then before you could say “Jack get the cat carrier!” – we had adopted a sad – lonely – grieving – orange tabby cat named Gracie.

This is our Gracie.

Gracie needed people.  Gracie needed love.  Gracie needed a family.  Gracie had been at the shelter for 2 long – sad months waiting for me/us (I mean – waiting to be adopted by a loving family).

And our Gracie is still sad.  But she is getting a bit less sad each day.  A week after coming to live with us she is slowly – slowly easing into life in her new home.  But as Will told his 3rd grade teacher – “We have a new cat named Gracie who is recovering from a trauma.  It will take time for her to trust us.”  (I love Will’s perceptive description of our Gracie.)

Gracie still prefers life in the shadows . . .

For now Gracie walks like she is being stalked by a predator. (Okay – perhaps Ash the kitten – may be stalking her just a bit.  Ash really – Really – REALLY wants to be friends!)  Gracie hides in corners and sticks to the perimeter.  BUT Gracie came out of Will’s closet which feels like huge progress.

Gracie is not a fan of me and my camera . . . She keeps slowly moving away from me and my camera.  She is going to fit in really well around our house!

Gracie doesn’t know it yet – but she is surrounded by people who love her so very much.  Who will always love her.  Who want to pet her and spoil her and chat with her and hang out with her and nap with her on rainy Saturday afternoons.  Gracie has found her forever home.  Gracie has found her people.

Gracie is home – she just doesn’t know it yet.

So welcome to the nutty family Gracie.  We love you!

Palm Sunday Worship – April 10, 2022

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 22:14-23:49

When the hour came, [Jesus] took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.  [Jesus] said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.   For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. I am among you as one who serves.

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And [Simon Peter] said to [Jesus], “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

[Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

[Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to [Jesus] and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

While [Jesus] was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?”

Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.   But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

Then they seized [Jesus] and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”   They kept heaping many other insults on him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought [Jesus] to their council.   They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”   All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.”   Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.”   But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent [Jesus] back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”

Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!”   (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.)   Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.   A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.   When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.   Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.  And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”   The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”   [Jesus] replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.   Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Life is full of all sorts of unexpected twists and turns – isn’t it?

Life has a way of handing us surprises we never saw coming.   Surprises we didn’t ask for.   Surprises – we simply did not want!

Sometimes life can still shock even the most jaded and cynical among us.

There are times when life can leave us feeling broken and battered.   One moment everything seems fine and dandy and the next moment our lives have been turned upside down and inside out.

A phone call. A knock at the door. An accident. A test result that is anything but positive. A diagnosis. A divorce. A fall. A job loss.   A global pandemic.

We have all been there. We have all experienced that.

One moment it feels like everything is right in your world and the next – you find yourself standing over the wreckage of your former life wondering what on earth just happened. The disciples experienced this too.

In our first Gospel reading – the disciples are part of a glorious celebration. After 3 years of grueling – hard work – people finally recognize Jesus for who he really is! Jesus is welcomed as the Savior of Israel. Finally – Jesus is getting the recognition he deserves.

People are singing Jesus’ praises! People are boldly declaring Jesus is their Lord and their Savior who will deliver them from their Roman oppressors! Jesus is their king!

The people of Jerusalem have a great – big – glorious celebration!   They hold an impromptu parade and spread palm branches and their coats on the road to welcome Jesus. They cheer and shout and cry out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38)

The disciples were probably high-fiving and fist-bumping and woo-hooing and goofy grinning from ear to ear. They were likely alleluia-ing and hallelujah-ing and whooping with joy and glee.

Life was GOOD! So very – very good!

Until their world came crashing down around them. Because everything went from gloriously awesome to terrifying horrible in the blink of an eye. Things changed so quickly – it must have given them whiplash. It must have felt like the rug was pulled out from under them.

In less than a week the people who were singing Jesus’ praises were now calling for his death. Talk about a shocking turn of events. To go from singing Jesus’ praises to demanding his crucifixion in just days . . . .

This was incomprehensible. This was hard. This was terrifying. This was crushing. And yet – this was exactly where Jesus and the disciples found themselves.

What were they supposed to do or to think? What did all of this mean?

Even though this turn of events seemed so shocking – Jesus knew it was coming. In fact – Jesus had been trying to prepare them for years. Jesus had been telling them this was coming. That his entire earthly ministry was leading up to this very moment.

Remember – a few weeks ago when Jesus declared to his disciples and to all of us – “If any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – (Luke 9:23). Jesus was talking about making very real sacrifices. And in his case the ultimate sacrifice – his life.

Or when Jesus declared that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering – and be rejected by the elders – chief priests – and scribes – and be killed – and on the third day be raised.” – (Luke 9:22).

Jesus knew he had to die on that Roman cross. Jesus knew this was coming.

Because Jesus knew we need him to save us. Jesus knew we need a Savior.

Yes – our Gospel reading is about Jesus and his disciples. And it is also about us. It is about our own broken sinful selves and our desperate need for salvation.

These events took place because of us. All of this was for you.

And know this too – Jesus underwent all of this for you willingly.   Jesus chose this – because of you – because he loves you. Amen.



Napoleon is Getting a Sister

It is spring break for the McFarland sons.

Will is hanging out in Richmond with our awesome extended family.   Will is playing with his beloved cousin Nic – gaming with Bella – and being doted on by Auntie and Mimi. Will is laughing at Uncle’s “dad” jokes and watching sports with Papa.

(In our family the boys’ Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle John often just go by Auntie and Uncle. Auntie and Uncle are so cool. So exceptional in their awesomeness. So amazing that they just need one name like Cher or Madonna or Beyonce. The boys have another aunt and uncle – but when a McFarland son says Auntie or Uncle – we know exactly who they are talking about.   Because Auntie is Auntie and she is just plain awesome! Uncle is Uncle and he is unparalleled!)

Oh – and did I mention that there are kittens? Yes – there are kittens at Mimi and Papa’s house. There are currently 5 adorable – fluffy – precious – toddling – exploring – sweet kittens living on Mimi and Papa’s sun porch with their beautiful mama – Lexie!

Some people are dog people. Some people are cat people.   Some people are parrot people. Some people are pet rock people! Our Will is 100% a cat person. Will has loved cats for as long as I can remember. (And at this point – I can still remember almost all of Will’s life . . . )

So – our Will is currently experiencing a glimpse of heaven right here on Earth. Seriously – Mimi – Papa – Nic – Bella – Auntie – Uncle – 5 sweet – fluffy – exploring KITTENS and NO school!   Life simply does not get much better than this.

Jack and Will call this one Smudge. She has an adorable smudge on her nose.  I would call her Lily.

Plus – Will has our blessing to adopt one of the kittens.   Will chose our gray kitten – Ash – for us last fall and did a marvelous job. Ash is hilarious and delightful and bossy and curious and a total diva.   We have all fallen in love with the demanding dictator who stalks around our home these days. We don’t own Ash. Ash owns us.

(Ash’s middle name is “Napoleon.” Ash is small for a cat – but wow is she bossy. Seriously – gloriously – delightfully – endearingly bossy. We are truly and forever smitten with this kitten and her HUGE attitude!)

The queen of the universe herself. Sitting on Jason’s desk – right in front of both computer monitors while I type – right where she is NOT supposed to be . . .

It is time for Ash to have a sister and playmate. It will be good for her to have someone else to play with (eventually). But just ONE feline sister. JUST ONE MORE CAT because I refuse to become a crazy cat lady (although some in our household [Jason] assert that ship has sailed . . .)

Just one more kitten because I have other hobbies. I knit. I walk. I embroider. I read. I started painting this spring. I hike.   I do not wish to add zookeeper to the list of hobbies I spend my free time exploring.

We would name her Ember . . .

Our future veterinarian leaves for college this fall – and Jack can’t take any pets with him to live in the dorm. We are capping the McFarland cat quota at 2. Yes – 2 cats. I don’t care how cute the kitten is. Or how heart-meltingly sweet her face is . . . Or how precious her eyes are . . . Or how much you love her . . . Nope – stop looking at me like that – I mean it – we are just getting ONE more kitten!?!?!?!?

(Wish me luck! I think I am going to need it!?!?!?!?!?)

Worship for Sunday, April 3, 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
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.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses of the Negeb. 

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14

[Paul writes:] If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.   But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)   Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Moderation verses extravagance. What is your approach to life? Your philosophy?

I am firmly and resolutely a member of “camp moderation.” I tend to be pretty frugal. Okay – well honestly – I am a complete and utter cheapskate.

I drove my last car for 16 years and 240,000 miles.

I kept my last cell phone for almost a decade.

I buy store brand everything from salsa to soap to socks. I just can’t bring myself to pay for Nike swooshes and Adidas stripes. Those logos never help me hike further or burn more calories. I don’t look taller or younger or thinner while wearing them . . . Just poorer . . . lots poorer . . .

During Covid – Jack initiated me into the awesome world of thrifting and Goodwill. I have fallen hard for thrifting. Thrifting rocks!

Yep – I am just plain cheap – except for the yarn.   With yarn – I go for the good stuff.   Actually – with yarn – I go for the REALLY good stuff. I have been known to import my favorite cotton yarn from the UK and I’m not talking about getting it from Lexington . . .

The debate between moderation and extravagance is at the heart of our Gospel reading.

This morning we heard that Jesus and the disciples have been hanging out with their friends Mary – Martha – and Lazarus.   These friends do what most of us do when we hang out with our best friends. They ate – talked – and relaxed. They delighted in the blessings of companionship.

Until Mary does something totally unexpected.   Mary kneels in front of Jesus and pours an entire jar of incredibly expensive perfume onto his feet. Then Mary wipes up the leftover oil with her own hair.

Sure – in a dry – dusty climate where everyone went barefoot or wore sandals – a gracious host usually offered her guests a way to wash their feet. But this was different. This was extravagant. This was totally over the top.

Judas demands an explanation! He wants to know why Mary wasted all of that money.   Judas wants to know why Mary didn’t sell the perfume and give the money to the poor.

Judas has a point. The perfume Mary poured onto Jesus’ feet was worth A LOT of money – about 300 days’ wages. The puddle at Jesus’ feet was worth about $17,000 today.

$17,000 is a ton of money! This is serious money. That would have fed a lot of hungry people! It would have cared for lots of widows and orphans.

Is it any wonder Judas was shocked?

How would you react if our Worship and Music Committee spent $17,000 on perfumed oil? What if the only explanation we gave was we wanted to show our love for Jesus in an extravagant way? I am guessing – we would have a new Worship and Music Committee around here pretty quickly! (Don’t get any crazy ideas – ladies!)

We are practical people. Most of us even follow Jesus in a level-headed – sensible way.   Yes – we are Christians – but we are not all wild and wacky about it. We don’t go too far. We praise moderation in all things – even in our faith in God.

The problem with moderation in all things is – it can keep us from really knowing and understanding our Lord. Because Jesus wasn’t very practical or moderate.   Jesus was extravagant and excessive and totally over the top. Jesus is generosity incarnate!

In fact – I think Judas’ practical approach kept him from knowing and understanding Jesus. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus started long before that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. It began with an approach to faith that rejected Jesus’ wild generosity.

Just like Judas – we miss the point of Jesus’ life – ministry – and death – when we insist on living out a sensible and practical faith when Jesus calls us to live extravagantly and generously and graciously.

We can see from the Bible that the saints of our faith are at their very best when they are living out their faith excessively – generously – wildly – and abundantly. When they are being totally over the top. When they are ignoring moderation.

Think of Noah building an ark when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It wasn’t raining when Noah built that huge boat and gathered together all of those animals!

Think of Abraham and Sarah clinging to hope that they would become first-time parents when their peers were great-great grandparents!

Or Moses – a man with a speech impediment and a fear of public speaking – leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

Or Mary saying yes to being the mother of the Savior of the world – even though she was just a poor – teenage girl. And Joseph agreeing to marry – her even though she was pregnant with a child who was not his.

These men and women were not being practical or logical. There was nothing moderate about their actions.

Saint Paul summarized this approach to faith and life – when he declared – “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” – 1 Corinthians 4:10

There have been other fools for Christ. So – so many. So many role models for us!

Saint Francis giving up all of his worldly possessions to serve the poor.

Martin Luther was facing a death sentence but still he declared – “God help me. Here I stand – I can do no other.”

Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer returning to Germany during WW II to suffer and die with his people.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew he was risking his life when he became a Civil Rights leader.

Fools for Christ are not practical. They do not live moderate – reasonable lives. Rather they live generous – extravagant lives.

And God calls all of us to be like them. To be less sensible – less moderate – less practical.

To love generously. To give freely. To be gracious and merciful and kind. To boldly and bravely share the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy.

In the Gospel reading – Jesus defends Mary.   Jesus understands Mary’s impractical – wildly generous love – because Jesus was not practical or moderate.

Jesus certainly wasn’t moderate when he died on the cross for you. Jesus’ gift to you is truly extravagant and totally over the top.

So maybe – just maybe – we can be more like Jesus and choose to live lives of extravagant love for our God and for others.   After all – since our Lord is so extravagant with us – we can respond with some extravagance of our own.   AMEN.