A Tale of Two Hikes!

I know there are plenty of folks who head to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and surrounding area and never take a hike or go for a walk.   I have seen them. I have overheard them mock folks like me in my muddy hiking shoes and backpack looking disheveled after a long morning navigating a mountain trail. Little do they know that I ALWAYS look that way! (Disheveled – not muddy. . .) I have watched in amusement as they have baled out of an easy walk in the woods because of all of “the bugs and dirt” or because they “don’t do nature?!?!?”   I grew up in a family that proudly went to national parks and state parks – but DROVE around in them rather than hiking or walking in them. . .   (Oh – the shame and the horror!)

Not me. Not Jason.   We would never drive – if we didn’t need to in order to survive life in the modern world. Walking and hiking are our preferred forms of mobility. We walk and hike a fair bit even in a biggish city like Louisville. And honestly – walking and hiking in a city (any city) isn’t what makes our hearts sing.   We are both tree hugging – nature nuts who live in a city because that is where the work – I love is . . .

Heaven on Earth!

Hiking and walking in the woods and walking and hiking in nature. . .   These feed – restore – and revive my soul. These are essential vacation pursuits.

Sometimes we walk and hike with the ENTIRE family. And sometimes we hike and walk just the two of us.   Both are delightful and joyful and filled with blessings – BUT they are very – Very – VERY different pursuits. So different . . .

Hikes with the whole family start later in the day. Often significantly later! All 4 Louisville McFarlands are morning people. But not all of our beloved – extended family members are morning folks. A few of them are very – very firmly planted in the “night owl” camp!   (Vacationing with our extended family reminds us of the importance of compromise and accepting others as the good Lord made them! We hope they feel the same way about us.)

And these family hikes are hilariously chatty – chattery – teasing – joking – storytelling – NOISY reminiscing affairs.

Jason and Douglas on the Gatlinburg trail.

We play the “Remember when game . . .” Remember when John hid behind that huge tree up there and jumped out at scared Linda so badly – she screamed? (John does this a lot.) Remember when Will was so small Jason wore him in a backpack carrier the whole way up and down the mountain? Remember when we saw all of the rattlesnakes? Remember when Katherine (one of the dogs) laid down in the trail and refused to walk another step? (Yes – she does that EVERY year!)

There is A LOT more cajoling – coaxing – encouraging and general persuading. Some in our clan are still in the training (brainwashing) stage of this whole hiking business and spend FAR too much time during these hikes lobbying to quit so we can go to the arcade . . . or play in the river for a month. (They often win on the river but NEVER on the arcade.   Arcading only happens AFTER the hiking is done and dusted!)

Family insanity in the river. Will was tangled in Doug’s long leash. Auntie and Debbie were quick to come to the rescue. I opted to take pictures and laugh . . .

We don’t see a lot of wildlife on these hikes (our extended family IS the wildlife). But we do make so many memories and we laugh and catch-up and listen and enjoy being together. We delight in the blessings of family and God’s creation.

Caitlyn during the chaos. I like HER style . . .

We do savor these times together.

When Jason and I hike together. It is so – So – SO much quieter! We start much earlier. We often set off before anyone – but Will and his Mimi are awake.

And we almost always choose a trail “less traveled.”   We have a greatest hits list of favorite trails that are much less popular with those folks who don’t really know the National Park very well. We tend to skip Laurel Falls and the Alum Cave Trail and the Trail to Chimney Tops because those trails are jam-packed with hikers. They are lovely trials. We have hiked all of them multiple times – but so is EVERYONE else in the universe these days!

Experience has taught us that there are much – Much – MUCH better options for us. Options that suit our need for peace and quiet and solitude. Options that offer far less humanity and far more stillness.

My current favorite trail is the Schoolhouse Gap Trail. It meanders by a mountain stream for a while and isn’t particularly popular with other humans. I think we saw 4 other hikers on the trail the entire time we were out.

I could walk here all day – every day!

And the very first time Jason and I hiked this trail we saw twin bear cubs! (So – the nature sightings have been awesome on this trail!) We didn’t see any bear cubs this hike – but we saw so many other wonderfully beautiful – nature-y sights.

The rhododendron bushes/trees were blooming.

The raspberries were ripening (probably why we saw bears back this way . . .)

The ferns were lush.

The wildflowers were lovely.

And the moss – I love moss!

I never wanted to leave – but Jason said I had too . . .   Something about having a 9-year-old son we needed to finish raising and a mortgage and 3 cats and a big-girl job?!?!?!   (He can be such a meany-pants . . .)

Anyway – nature and hiking and hanging out in the woods is my happy place! What is yours?

They Threw a Parade in Her Honor . . .

Our Caitlyn is a HUGE Dolly Parton fan. Dolly Parton is Caitlyn’s Moody Blues. (Jason is a serious Moody Blue fan.) Caitlyn has even written school reports about Dolly Parton and her book “Coat of Many Colors.”

So – Caitlyn was thrilled to be traveling to Sevier County – Tennessee – Dolly Parton’s birthplace – the land of Dolly Parton.

Caitlyn tormented . . . oops – I mean delighted Jack with a carefully curated Dolly Parton playlist in honor of our trip to Tennessee. Jack was thrilled to be able to hear “Jolene” and “Islands in the Stream” and “Dumb Blonde” to name just a few . . . There were   more – so Many – MANY more!

I know I had a blast joining Caitlyn in serenading Jack. It was such a delight to sing along to my very favorite Dolly Parton song “Islands in the Stream.” (It was written by the Bee Gees and I am a HUGE Bee Gees fan!)

Caitlyn was happy just to be in Sevier County – Tennessee but when she learned a trip to Dollywood was on the agenda – she was ALL in. She was one happy lady. (You would have thought she was going to a yarn store or something!!!!)

Someone needed to stay behind to watch all FOUR dogs. So – Jason and I gladly opted for dog walking duty.   We are much better dog walkers/wranglers/herders than we are amusement park attendees. Mountain walks are much more our style.

Not long after our wild and wonderful family arrived at Dollywood – Elizabeth sent us a text. It read – “Dolly is here today!!!”

To which I replied – “Has Caitlyn exploded yet?!?!!!!”

“Yep!” – came multiple replies from the family texting group. Yes – she has.

Our family has been going to Dollywood for years and years and years.   Our family has been going to Dollywood multiple times each year. Our family has been to Dollywood in the summer and in the spring and even in the winter for Christmas – but they have never – ever seen Dolly Parton at her namesake amusement park.

But – the VERY FIRST TIME – Caitlyn goes to Dollywood – Dolly Parton is there for a surprise visit and they are throwing a parade in her honor.   (Dolly’s – not Caitlyn’s.)

Caitlyn and her entourage had front row spots along the parade route to ensure that the Dolly sighting was optimal.

There Caitlyn is waving to Dolly!

And Caitlyn was able to see her hero and idol in person!

Apparently (and thankfully) it was absolutely – positively amazing and glorious and awesome and wondrously stupendous.

I have never – ever wanted to go to Dollywood. BUT I would have loved to have seen Caitlyn waving to Dolly.   I would have loved to have witnessed Caitlyn’s joy and her smiles and even the tears that rumor has it she may have shed . . .

But part of loving people is sharing them with others. And I have a great imagination – I think I have a pretty good idea of what she looked like!

Friday was a really Good Day and it will definitely go down in McFarland/Markward history as a “remember when day. . .”

Remember when we went to Dollywood and saw DOLLY PARTON in a parade?!?!?!?

25 years . . . 300 months . . . just over 1304 weeks . . . 9131 days . . . 219,144 hours . . .

Jason and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary while we were on vacation with the McFarland/Markward clan.

25 years . . . 300 months . . . just over 1304 weeks . . . 9131 days . . . 219,144 hours . . .

That’s a fair bit of shared history. That’s a pretty respectable amount of time.

It felt like an occasion worthy of celebration. 25 years of marriage felt ever so slightly momentous.

Some people throw great big parties to celebrate 25 years of marriage.   (This is great – for THEM – but is so NOT our style! Two introverts do not combine to make big party goers or throwers.)

Some folks go to fancy restaurants for supper. Jason and I prefer the authentic Mexican tacos from our local Mexican grocery store. The tacos are super-duper yummy and remind us of our trips to Mexico. Win – win!

Some people get silver. But I already have the only silver I will ever want: a set of antique silver flatware we use every day.

Some people renew their vows. That sounds like my day job to me . . .

So – we did a very Jason and Kerri McFarland kind of thing. We took a hike! Yep – we hiked to the top of Clingmans Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

We hiked with Jack – Will – Caitlyn – Nic – Bella – Linda – John – Elizabeth and Debbie (It was sooooo incredibly romantic! Just the two of us – our sons – and most of our extended family. . .)

Clingmans Dome is beautiful. (Our family is too!)

The trickiest/hardest part was finding a parking spot! Wow – were there a lot of people wanting to join us on our special anniversary hike to the top of Clingmans Dome on Tuesday. But once we found a parking spot (actually we needed 3 spots because there are so many of us these days) – we were rewarded with stunningly beautiful views.

The skies were just plain gorgeous on Tuesday.

Just the McFarland/Markward clan and the rest of Tennessee off for a quick hike!

The hike from the parking lot to the top of Clingmans Dome is only about a half-mile (on a paved trail) but it is a pretty steep climb the whole way to the tippy top of the mountain.

At the top of Clingmans Dome – we were standing at 6,643 feet above sea level which is the 3rd highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi and the highest point in both Tennessee and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Once we got to the top – we were able to see for miles and miles and miles.   On clear days – you can see for up to 100 miles!!! And it was actually a perfectly – perfect clear day – a rare occurrence on Clingmans Dome.

The views were simply stunning.

We spent a long time at the top taking in the views and chatting and chattering and ooohhhhing and aaaahhhing! And taking pictures. Lots and lots and lots of pictures.

Brothers-in-law bonding

We have made this hike many – many times over the years and this year’s weather fell into the best ever category. So many times – it is foggy or hazy at the top of Clingmans Dome – but not this year. This year the skies were crystal clear.

Once everyone was ready to head for the parking lot – we were off.   Down – down – down – we hiked.

At the bottom – Jason and I found Jack at the top of some massively huge boulders. (No surprise there. Jack has been climbing to terrifying – death-defying heights his entire life!?!?!)   Jack loves climbing stuff I simply walk around or avoid . . .

Will and Debbie’s reward for being such great little hikers was a trip to play in the Little Pigeon River at the Chimney’s picnic area.

Playing in the river at Chimneys is an absolute must on any McFarland family vacation to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. (In the summer – we usually skip playing in the river in the winter . . .) Jason and Elizabeth played here when they were little and now our kids play here year after year.

I love listening to the sound of the water – the wind in the trees – and voices of my family. (Perfect knitting conditions!)

I also spend a ridiculous (some might think – but I don’t) amount of time watching the sun shine through the leaves on the trees. I love – love – love to do this. And I particularly love to do this at the Chimney’s picnic area.

This year Will caught his biggest crayfish EVER!

He was very – very – very pleased and proud.

And then – tired and dirty – we headed back up the mountain to the cabin after a truly glorious day in the woods and the mountains with our special people.

25 years . . . 300 months . . . just over 1304 weeks . . . 9131 days . . . 219,144 hours . . .

We spent our 25th wedding anniversary in a place we love with the people we love doing things we love.

This was the perfect way to celebrate our anniversary. We are so blessed and so thankful!

The Remember When . . . Game

I have been making annual (at least) treks to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park for exactly 30 years now.

My very first trip with the McFarland clan to the mountains of Tennessee was during the summer of 1992. Jason had just graduated from high school – and I was preparing to start my senior year. I was 17 years young (almost 18). Jason was 18. In other words – we were about Jack and Caitlyn’s age.

Jason and I were just babies in this picture!

The mountains of Tennessee are filled with treasured memories for our entire extended family.   Linda (my mother-in-law) has been going to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park since she was a little girl with her parents and siblings.

Almost every trail we hike – road we drive – restaurant we dine in and even the arcade where our kids squander our hard-earned money is infused with a memory or 300 or 3,000. Seriously – Jason and I wasted money in Fannie Farkles Arcade on the main drag of Gatlinburg in our youth and now Jack – Nic – Bella and Will do too.

The day our Jack became a junior GSM park ranger. All 4 of the cousins have done this!

Every time a waitress asks us if – “we have dined with them before?” We answer in a cacophony-like chorus of “Yes! Yes- we have!” Likely many – many times.

We play a lot of the “remember when . . . game” when we are all gathered together in Tennessee. We delight in playing the “remember when . . . game.”   Remember when John . . . Remember when Jack . . . Remember when Bella . . . Remember when we . . . Remember when . . . Oh how we delight in our remembering!

Little Jack and Tiny Nic playing in the National Park together.

Going over our favorite memories is one of this life’s greatest blessings. I have noticed my brother-in-law – John and I are particularly fond of this “remember when . . . game.” (Perhaps – John and I are the sentimental ones in the clan. I know I certainly am! Or perhaps it is our way of grounding ourselves in the clan . . . of proving we DO belong . . . of staking our claim . . . of claiming our place in this family we love so much.)

The tales and stories and memories flow as freely as the mountain streams we hike beside. We remind ourselves and our children of who they are and who we are. And now that our children are older – they too join in the storytelling and the remembering.

2 Junes ago before we all set off to hike or bike around the Cades Cove loop.

Our stories are important because they remind us – we are people who love one another deeply and unconditionally – BUT you can expect to be teased and the butt of the occasional joke. (No one in our clan is allowed to take himself or herself too seriously! A stuffed shirt of a person would REALLY NOT fit-in with our crew . . .) We are people who laugh a lot. And – we laugh AT ourselves!

We are people who make room at the table and in the family photo for more folks! We are never too full to make room for more folks. This year we added Debbie and Caitlyn to the crazy clan. (It was their first deep dive into life with ALL of us! Such brave – fearless young women!)

At the top of Clingmans Dome. Only Papa is missing. (Bob is still recovering from back surgery and hikes like that simply aren’t in his regimen just yet.)

We are people who hike A LOT!!! We are encouragers and loving and we leave no man – child – woman or lazy – stubborn dog behind. But there will be hiking. There is ALWAYS hiking.

We talk and chat and chatter and BARK loudly! We don’t necessarily talk loudly – but the barking – well that is always LOUD!

We are goofy. Sometimes really – really goofy!

Did I mention the walking and the hiking?

We are happy to let people be themselves. I have never – ever been to Dollywood or the adjoining water park and NEVER plan to go. Neither are my cup of tea. Most of the clan goes every – single year (usually multiple times in one vacation).   They love the crowds and riding the roller coasters and the pork rinds. I like none of those things. So – I stay home with the dogs – my books and my yarn. But there is no guilt – no emotional blackmail. Just – “happy knitting and reading!”

I love spending time in the mountains of Tennessee with our family.   I love that our sons know the blessing of extended family. That Will and Jack spend day after day bonding with their Auntie and Uncle – their cousins and their Mimi and Papa. That they know this kind of unconditional love and acceptance and joy.

It is so grounding. So wonderful to be reminded that these are “our people” who love us no matter what life brings. That these people share some of the very same memories. That they delight in some of the same history. That we are a family. That being family doesn’t always mean sharing the same last name or genetics. Sometimes family is a choice.   The choice to love and laugh and make and share memories. The choice to accept and care and nurture and walk with.

Family . . .

Our time together in the mountains Tennessee helps life make a bit more sense. It is grounding. It reminds us of who we are and whose we are.

It is one of my life’s greatest blessings.

Last week we added more stories and more memories for the telling and the treasuring.

“The day Mimi bought Aunt Kerri THE PIN . . .” The roar of laughter from every member of my family when I received my special gift from my mother-in-law is something I will NEVER forget! The PIN will go down as a new family story for sure.

Laughing so hard I couldn’t stand up straight!

“Seeing Dolly Parton IN PERSON at Dollywood!” That will certainly make it into family lore too.

I love living a good story. I love telling a good story. I really love re-telling a good story!

What grounds you? What reminds you of your place in the world? What fills you with joy?

Worship for Sunday – June 19, 2022

Isaiah 65:1-9

1I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that did not call on my name.
2I held out my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
3a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
4who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
5who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
6See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps.

7their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together,
says the Lord;
because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.
8Thus says the Lord:
As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, “Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,”
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.
9I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 22:19-28

19But you, O Lord, be not far away;
O my help, hasten to my aid.
20Deliver me from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog.
21Save me from the lion’s mouth!
From the horns of wild bulls you have rescued me.
22I will declare your name to my people;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
Stand in awe of the Lord, all you offspring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the Lord’s face hidden from them;
but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever! 
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
who rules over the nations. 

Galatians 3:23-29

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 8:26-39

26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

When we have Good News – we love to tell other folks ALL about it. We tell our family – friends – co-workers – neighbors – and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We may even tell total strangers – if our Good News is good enough.

We tweet – post – chat – text – blog and talk about it. Sometimes endlessly. We put it on yard signs – bumper stickers – coffee mugs and t-shirts.   All – because sharing good news is just so much fun!

Sharing our good news never seems to get boring or old or dull or tedious.

In our Gospel reading for today we met a man called Legion who ended up having some incredibly – wildly – wonderfully awesome Good News. But not at first. Because when – we first meet Legion – his life is wretchedly – miserably horrible. Absolutely – positively nothing – about Legion’s life can be called good.

Legion first met Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee just moments after Jesus and the disciples arrived in the country of the Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus steps out of the boat – there is Legion – a violent – terrifying and likely terrified outcast from society. He is shouting and naked and boldly questioning Jesus.

This wild – tumultuous man calls himself Legion.   But Legion isn’t the name his parents gave him. Rather the name – Legion – points to the incredible depth of his suffering and torment.   He calls himself Legion – because he is possessed by that many demons!

A Roman legion was made up of about 6,000 soldiers. And these men were well-trained – tough soldiers. They were terrifying. Roman legions crushed their enemies. They destroyed them. They decimated their enemies.

The demons are doing this to Legion. They are crushing and destroying him. They have turned his life into a wasteland of despair – misery – and endless suffering.

Consider the pain and suffering Legion faced each moment of his life. Image 6,000 demons tormenting you.

These demons have stolen Legion’s happiness – dignity – his family and friends – his safety – and freedom. They have taken everything from Legion (even his name!) and left him with almost NOTHING!

Until – the day Legion meets Jesus. And Jesus commands all of those horrible – evil – vile – wretchedly cruel demons to leave Legion. In that moment everything changes for Legion!

The next time we see Legion – he is sitting at Jesus’ feet. He is clothed and peaceful. He is happy and content. Gone is the wild man who ran naked through the tombs. Gone is the man who was so violent he could tear apart shackles and chains. Gone is the man who terrified everyone – except Jesus!

Thanks to Jesus – Legion has a new life. A happy – peaceful life!

As Jesus prepares to leave – Legion begs to go with him. Legion wants to stay with the man who saved him from such misery and torment.   But Jesus tells him – NO?!?!

But why? Why would Jesus tell him no? Legion has suffered so much – and endured such horrors. Why would Jesus deny Legion this simple wish?

Jesus says no – because he has important plans for Legion. Jesus wants Legion to tell his family and friends about the amazing things God has done for him.

So – Legion does just that. Legion told everyone he met about Jesus.

Today’s Gospel reveals the amazing power – incredible compassion – and the glorious love of our Lord. We see that our Lord is powerful – loving – kind and merciful.

And we can see something else.

Legion’s story is also about being touched by the power – compassion and love of our Lord and then responding by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with other folks.

Legion had Good News to share. So – he shared it. Legion told others about the love – grace – and mercy he had experienced when he met Jesus. Legion did not keep the Good News of God’s love to himself.

And we too have seriously awesome news to share.   Jesus is our Lord and Savior.   Who heals our brokenness. Who redeems and forgives us. Who saves us from eternal death. And promises to love and care for us for all eternity.

There is no denying our news is awesome news – and just too good to keep to ourselves.

But unfortunately – most of us will act like the Good News of Jesus Christ is the Sorta Boring News of Jesus Christ.

We won’t tell anyone – about Jesus and what he has done for us. We won’t tweet or text or post about it. We won’t chat about Jesus with our families. We may even forget to say a quick thank you to God before devouring lunch.   Which is just so sad.

Imagine if Legion and the disciples had never bothered to tell anyone about Jesus and his love. Imagine if they had kept silent. Imagine if they had left it up to someone else to spread the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy.

If they had done that – none of us would know about God’s amazing grace – love and mercy.

What would your life be like if you did not know about God’s love for you?

So – don’t act like the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy is the Sorta Boring News of Jesus Christ. Don’t keep such Good News to yourself.

Talk about your faith. Share the Good News of God’s amazing grace – incredible mercy – and powerful love with the people you know and love. Invite someone special to church or to Vacation Bible School or to the spaghetti lunch here at church next month so that they can meet your church family.

Because the Good News of Jesus Christ is just too good to keep to ourselves. And truly that is very Good News indeed.   AMEN.

One of His Favorite Things

Our Will goes through very – very distinct phases with his interests.   These phases go in cycles. (But the cycles don’t have a pattern Jason and I have been able to discern. And believe me – Jason and I have looked – searched for – and sought a pattern! Will likes to keep us guessing and just a bit on edge – especially around his birthday and Christmas . . .)   Trains – NASCAR – ships – planes – Godzilla – and then maybe a brief foray back to NASCAR before a deep dive back into ships.

Whatever the phase – Will is ALL in. And I mean ALL IN. To the exclusion of ALL other toys and interests.

If Will is into trains – he eats – sleeps – reads – watches – TALKS and thinks exclusively of trains. Trains will be his obsession. His joy and his delight. His singular interest and talking point.

Do not waste your precious time and energy trying to interest William McFarland in ships – because it absolutely – positively will NOT work.

Seriously – I have tried and Tried and TRIED suggesting to the youngest McFarland that he could like and enjoy both trains and ships at the SAME time.   That would be a hard NO in Will’s world and mind. No way.   Not working for this guy. Trains just trains. Nothing but trains. ONLY trains – thank you very much!

And then whammo – out of the clear blue – it will be planes. No warning. Now we are on to planes and trains are dead to him! Sometimes he will switch mid-day!

I feel like I should send out text alerts to our family and friends.   “Warning – Will’s phase has changed. DO NOT approach Will wishing to discuss TRAINS. It is PLANES NOW! WE ARE NOW ON TO PLANES!   Trains are dead to him. Brush up on AIRPLANES.”

I love this picture Will snapped of Jack. It looks like Jack is texting – but – he is immersed in his passion for photography. He is using his phone to take a light reading!

Will is into AIRPLANES right now (with a slight foray into Rubik’s Cubes). Jason tells me that Rubik’s Cubes don’t count as a full-on double interest because they simply aren’t THAT interesting! I would have to agree on that one . . . Rubik’s Cubes simply don’t have what it takes to survive a Will McFarland “deep dive” of interest.   This kid gets downright encyclopedic about his interests. (But consider yourself warned – he can and will talk your leg off about Rubik’s cubes.   The different versions and sizes and patterns!)

Anyway – planes – especially World War II planes are Will’s primary interest these days.

The lighting of the picture isn’t great – but he finished it at 9:30 pm!

Two weekends ago – Jason put together an entire 1,000-piece puzzle for William of WW II planes in 48 hours. Seriously – just 48 hours (and he slept too!!!!) Talk about a dad’s love for his child. Will and I helped some – but I had cool yarn to knit and Will is 9 . . . The puzzle was Jason’s endeavor and he rocked it like a rock star. (Jason may have wanted to finish the puzzle while Will was still interested in planes!)

Will has a special fondness for the B-17 Flying Fortress.

Can you imagine riding into enemy territory or any territory in THAT?

And Jason – being Jason (the man is the reigning McFarland family emperor of research) – learned a WW II B-17 and a JRB-6 were going to be at the Clark Regional Airport in Sellersburg this week. And there were going to be tours!!!

Seriously – Will’s FAVORITE plane in the whole – great – big – glorious universe was going to be in the neighborhood! Awesome! Amazing!   Wonderful! Whoo! Hoo!

Unfortunately – the only days and times they were giving tours were during the busy work day (clearly this event was planned by retirees) – BUT Will’s big brother is an actual card-carrying ADULT. Will’s big brother has a car and is responsible and loves Will as much as his parents do.   And Jack wasn’t scheduled to work on Tuesday!!! Jack was perfectly happy to take his little brother to Indiana to see planes even on a day that was so hot it melted the asphalt patches on the airport runway!

So – on a melty hot June afternoon the McFarland brothers set off to the land of the Hoosier to see a WW II B-17 Flying Fortress and a JRB-6.

And they had a wonderful time. They arrived in time to see the Flying Fortress land after giving some seriously – hard-core fans an actual flight in the B-17.

Then they were able to take a tour of both planes.

Will was very – Very – VERY impressed.

Then they were able to watch the B-17 take to the skies.

There were pictures and videos and so – so – so many smiles and stories and tales of adventure! We call this “brothers bonding” at our house.

The McFarland brothers had a wonderful day together. Memories were made. Joy was found. Life was good!

This is the good stuff! This is what matters. This is truly a reason to give our Lord thanks!

Thankful!

Our family celebrated Jack’s high school graduation on Sunday.

We love him because he is our Jack. And we LIKE him too (such an incredible blessing)!

We are truly proud of our son.

His grades in high school were excellent. AND he took such bizarre classes – things like Calculus and Chemistry and advanced Biology. Jack actually likes those classes . . . strange . . . very strange indeed!

Jack made wonderful friends. His best buds – Kyle and Jacob are just plain great guys. These 2 young men (3 including Jack himself) are truly delightful! They have been and continue to be such amazing friends.  Jacob and Kyle are a blessing to our Jack!

Kyle – Caitlyn – Jack – and Jacob all dressed up and ready for senior prom!

Caitlyn – well – she is a joy! Jason – Will – and I feel so blessed and thankful to know her too.

Jack has big plans for the future. He will be off to college in August to continue making those plans and dreams his reality.

A high school graduation is a big deal. A truly important and significant accomplishment. We needed to celebrate. To share the joy. To laugh and reflect and delight!

A party! A party was called for – even in our quiet – reserved – introverted family. (Will is our extroverted outlier.)

Yes – a great – big – hopefully fun party was called for. A party with party food: cupcakes and brownies and soda and chips and those sorts of yummy things you allow yourself to eat when you are celebrating and rejoicing and cutting loose just a bit.

A party with decorations and balloons.

A party with friends. With family. With our sisters and brothers in Christ.

A party with our people! With the people who have loved and cared and supported and listened and cheered and hugged and watched and helped and prayed for and with us and shared the journey with Jack and his family.

That is exactly what happened on Sunday. We celebrated and gave thanks with our people. And it was glorious.

The day was full of blessings and reminders of God’s presence in our lives.

It started as most Sundays do for the McFarland family – with worship.   I had the wonderful honor of welcoming a new sister in Christ into our Lord’s family through baptism.

Such a beautiful – sweet – very deeply loved – baby girl. All big – blue eyes – snuggled up in her loving daddy’s arms! She was surrounded by her people on Sunday too – by her family. By the people who will laugh and love and hug and listen and nurture and support her in the years to come. She was with the people who will pray for and with her. The people who will grow with her.   The people who will come to HER high school graduation party in 18 shockingly zippy years!

After worship – there was a church council meeting. As I said in my sermon – there are only 2 ways I get out of a church council meeting: surgery and childbirth. I don’t plan on doing either of those again – EVER! So – I went to the church council meeting like a responsible adult.   Thankfully – the church council had mercy on me – and the meeting was run with great efficiency. Perhaps they saw the mental “still to do list” running through the back of my mind on an endless loop!

Soon – Kelly was seconding Marilyn’s motion to adjourn our meeting and I was off like a mom with a party that started in less than 3 hours!   There were pickles to be poured and cheese to be plattered and chips to be opened. I needed to locate every single pair of tongs that Saint Stephen Lutheran Church owns!

I was a mom with a list and guests on their way! But much – much more importantly:

I needed to chat with Caitlyn’s mom and meet her aunt and laugh with Caitlyn and chatter with her grandma Doris.

I needed to admire Caitlyn’s baby pictures and take a minute to remember baby Jack and the way it felt when he FINALLY fell asleep with his head on my shoulder.

I needed to remember and to be present in the moment and to smile at Jason and hug our sons. I needed to give thanks for my incredible blessings!

And then – the party started. Our family and our friends and our sisters and brothers in Christ arrived.   They filled our church fellowship hall.   They chatted and chattered and laughed and talked. The fellowship hall got nice and noisy! It was absolutely – positively wonderful.

Owen – Todd (Jason’s cousin and the best man in our wedding 25 years ago) – and Jason

John Stuart McFarland is our son. Jason and I may have done a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to raising this nifty guy. We have loved and cared for him and walked with him and listened and nurtured. But we did not do it alone. We did it with our Lord and with our people. With our family and our friends and our sisters and brothers in Christ.

As I stood in the fellowship hall on Sunday afternoon – I remembered what Jack had asked me with just a touch of fear on Saturday evening as we prepared for his party.

“So – Mom – do you have a prepared talk for the graduation party?”

“Nope – I don’t. Should I?” was my response.

“NO – but you are the lady who writes a 15-minute-long sermon every week and I just thought you might have something prepared that you wanted to say.”

Hmmmmmm . . . .

Our nephew Nic – Debbie – Auntie Liz – Will and Uncle John

I didn’t have a prepared talk. But if I had – this is what I would have said.

Thank you. Thank you so very – Very – VERY much! Thank you for seeing our Jack in a world that so often doesn’t see or value other people. Thank you for caring.   Thank you for loving him. Thank you for listening and watching and cheering him on. Thank you for showing up.   Thank you for being present.   Thank you for the laughter and the friendship and for each kindness (both big and small) and hug and high-five and fist bump.   Thank you for adding to our joy and making our lives richer and more blessed. Thank you for everything! We are so blessed and so thankful and so filled with gratitude.

Jacob – Jack – and Kyle

My heart is so very – very full. My cup of blessings is running over!

My heart is full. (And so is our refrigerator! Rebecca and I went A LOT overboard when we prepared the food . . .)

Thank you my friends and my family and my sisters and brothers in Christ. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We are so blessed and so thankful and so filled with gratitude. Thank you!

Trinity Sunday – June 12, 2022

https://vimeo.com/720052515

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

1Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.

22The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 8

1O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!—
2you whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children;
you have set up a fortress against your enemies, to silence the foe and avenger.
3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
4what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them,
human beings that you should care for them? 
5Yet you have made them little less than divine;
with glory and honor you crown them.
6You have made them rule over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet:
7all flocks and cattle,
even the wild beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
9O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

Romans 5:1-5

1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 16:12-15

[Jesus said,] 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Because I am a pastor – I write more sermons than your average Christian.

I probably spend a whole lot more time hanging out in empty churches during the week than most “normal” folks do too.

Being a pastor means – I have been known to say Jesus’ name pretty loudly – even when I’m NOT super-duper angry about something . . .

I have learned from experience that it takes childbirth or surgery to get me out of a church council meeting!

And – I hear my sisters and brothers in Christ ask – what are mere mortals that you – O Lord – should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?” A WHOLE LOT – Psalm 8:4

Seriously – this question comes up ALL of the time. I hear folks I love ask this question over and over again.

When folks ask this question – it doesn’t sound exactly like Psalm 8 verse 4 does.   It sounds more like – “In the grand scheme of things – why on Earth would God care about me? Certainly – God must be way too busy to care about me!”

Or folks will declare – “Seriously – wars – famine – global pandemics – genocide.  God must already have his hands pretty full dealing with those HUGE messy messes! Aren’t all of those really BIG things going to take precedence over me and my problems?”

Or – “Why would the Almighty Creator of the Universe – care about someone as insignificant and as unimportant as me? I mean seriously – there are something like 7.9 billion other people in the world!”

So many folks simply assume God must be too important and too busy handling the really significant issues of the day to be interested in them and their lives and problems and concerns.

Too many of us assume – God’s to do list is just too long for God to have time for us and what is on our hearts and minds.

But the awesome – glorious – amazing thing is – the Creator of the universe – does care about you and your concerns and worries. The God who created the world and everything in it – loves you. You matter and are important to God.

Psalm 8 declares to us that – yes – God is majestic and powerful and the creator of all that is – was and will ever be AND God cares about – and even honors – mere mortals just like us.

Again and again throughout God’s Word – we hear that God cares a lot.

Psalm 138 declares to us that – “the Lord is high – yet God cares for the lowly.”

God cares for the lowly. . .   Isn’t that wonderful news?

And more than just caring for and about us – God calls us his beloved children!

First John chapter 3 reminds us of this incredible gift. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” – 1 John 3:1

We are all the beloved children of a loving – attentive Father.

I understand how we can all find ourselves asking along with the writer of Psalm 8 – what are mere mortals that you – O Lord – should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?

After all – God is almighty and powerful and triune. God is the creator of all that is – was – and will ever be.

I like to think of our relationship with God the Father – the Creator of Heaven and Earth in this way.

Most of us live busy – full – sometimes hectic lives.   Our to do lists are long and rarely finished. We work. We commute. We volunteer. There are errands to run.   So many chores to do! Cleaning and cooking and laundry. Mowing and weeding too. We need to exercise for our health. There are appointments and meetings. If your house is anything like ours is – the groceries just seem to evaporate and must be replaced with a terrifying frequency.

BUT – when someone you love needs you – you are all in. Am I right?

If your child needs you – you don’t say – “Let me finish paying the bills and then I will be with you.” Nope – you hear her cry for help – drop everything – and you move like an Olympic sprinter going for the gold.

If your friend calls to say her heart is breaking and she needs someone to listen – you listen. You don’t tell her that her broken heart isn’t as important as the war raging in Ukraine and to get over it. You hold her hand – wrap her in a hug and tell her she is loved!

If your brother drops by for a chat – you push the piles of shoes out of the way – laugh off the Legos – tell the dog to make room for him on the couch and pour him a cup of coffee. You don’t tell him to come back when the house is cleaner and you aren’t so busy.

This is what you do when you love someone. You make room. You find the time. You are available. You listen. You are present.

Seriously – are you ever too busy – too tired – too hungry – too under-caffeinated – too overwhelmed with work to be present with a loved one who needs you? Of course not! And we are just a bunch of sinful – broken – messed up human humans!

So – to answer the question in verse 4 – what are mere mortals that you – O Lord – should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?

You are God’s beloved children. And God promises to love and care for you – today – tomorrow and for all eternity.

Truly this is very good news indeed. Amen.

Seven Snakes and a Toad!

Spring and summer are my seasons of great joy. I revel and delight in them. I feel like I am just a bit (a whole lot) more alive during these warmer months. It is rarely too hot or too humid for my liking. I will vote to skip the A/C until it is in the 80’s in our house.   (Some of the other McFarlands just LOVE this . . . ) When I hear other folks complaining about the summer heat – my brain and my heart and my soul just can’t relate – because I just plain love it. The heat energizes me.

But this has been a strange spring for me. I lack pep in my step and zip and vim and vigor.

First – I felt yucky because I needed surgery.   Then for a bit – I felt yuckier because I had experienced the joys of not one but two surgeries.

I feel like I am just a bit behind on many things. Except for the reading – I have been doing tons and tons and oodles and oodles of reading. I am NOT behind on my reading!

Much to my daily – hourly – minutely annoyance – I still am in the midst of the healing process. I know this because I get tired much more easily and I walk soooooo slowly on our last walk of the evening.

I joke with Jason that this is foreshadowing of what walking with me will be like every single day in 50 years – to which he always responds with one of his patented “patient smiles.” Being married to me has perfected Jason’s patient smile. (Jason and I have been hanging out together for over 3 decades now – so I am pretty sure he is really thinking – “this would be a nice pace for a 97 year old – but you are not 97 years old yet. So let’s pick up the pace!” But my beloved doesn’t say that – because Jason McFarland is gracious and kind and takes our marriage vows very seriously!)

Anyway – I am making progress. I am picking up the pace. I am back to walking/plodding a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. I have planted some pots of flowers and weeded the front flower beds (please avert your eyes should you wander into our backyard . . . )

And I took Will to the river for an adventure! And what a wonderful adventure we had.

The weather was perfectly perfect. The sun was shining. The skies were blue and dotted with lovely wispy – white clouds. The grass was green.   The wildflowers were blooming – and I had my little guy for company.   Life just doesn’t get much better than this.

As we walked the path to the river – we expressed our shared sorrow and lament for poor Jason and Jack who weren’t able to join us for this truly glorious adventure. Jack was working a shift at the vet clinic. And Jason was working even harder! Jason was digging out the raised garden beds – moving the cement pavers and keeping an eye on Doug the demon dog who has officially demonstrated that he can jump the fence in our backyard . . . SIGH! (Is it any wonder that I am a cat-person? Seriously – the demon dog jumps the stinking fence . . . I understand now why we are Doug’s THIRD family! Doug can be very – Very – VERY hard to like sometimes – but I suppose that is true of most of us . . .)

The river did not disappoint. William and I had a wonderful time together.

Almost as soon as we arrived – Will grabbed a net – flipped a promising looking rock and found 2 adorable baby water snakes! Will caught one with his net and I caught the other WITH MY BARE HANDS LIKE A CRAZY WOMAN! Seriously – I am not kidding or exaggerating or lying – I caught a snake with my hands like Coyote Peterson! I feel like I took my “nature nuttiness” to the next level.

Will looked at me and said – “Wow – Mom – that’s cool. I don’t think I could do that.”

“Yeah . . .” I replied (snake in hand) – “I didn’t think I could do this either!”

Seriously – I caught a snake on purpose – with intention – and was happy about it. Yes – it was very small – but still – I CAUGHT A SNAKE AND IT MADE ME SMILE WITH JOY AND PRIDE!?!?!?!?

It was an awesome day for observing baby snakes. In the end – we met at least 7 baby water snakes.

William and I spent hours exploring and playing up and down the river.

I looked for river glass. I listened to the wind in the trees and the water in the river and the birds singing. I chatted and chattered with my littlest boy. I knit a bit.

I delighted in the beautiful surprises we found along the shore – the perfect purple shell – the wildflowers – lush clumps of wild grasses.

I watched Will play and explore. I could feel his brain growing!

Will is keeping an eye on this crayfish. He was a BIG sucker!

Will found a huge crayfish.

We met a gorgeous toad.

We followed him around for quite a while.

We found a stagnant cove with 1,000s and 1,000s of newly hatched tadpoles.

William explored this stagnant cove and did NOT find the slimy – oozy – gloopy – green stuff that grows there to be to his liking! (I loved this face!)

We spent time together – my little guy and I. We just were for a while and it was glorious!

I felt deeply and abundantly and richly blessed. My cup runneth over! My heart was full. It was a good day. I was thankful.

I kissed his sweet head as we walked to the car to head home to Jason and our zoo and I thanked him for being my boy. I told Will I love him and I am so thankful for all that he is teaching me. After all – this boy – this second son of mine – has taught me to touch snakes!

I am trying to say thank you more often. And not just thank you – but why I am thankful. I find the more I say and feel thankful – the more gratitude I feel. And it is a wonderful feeling.

Why are you thankful today? For whom are you thankful?

Worship for Pentecost – Sunday – June 5, 2022

Acts 2:1-21

1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

24How manifold are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, with its swarms too many to number,
living things both small and great.
26There go the ships to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you made for the sport of it.
27All of them look to you
to give them their food in due season.
28You give it to them; they gather it;
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
29When you hide your face, they are terrified;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
30You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.
31May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
O Lord, rejoice in all your works.
32You look at the earth and it trembles;
you touch the mountains and they smoke.
33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will praise my God while I have my being.
34May these words of mine please God.
I will rejoice in the Lord.
35bBless the Lord, O my soul.
Hallelujah!

Romans 8:14-17

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 14:8-17 [25-27]

8Philip said to [Jesus,] “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

[25“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”]

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I don’t care what anyone else may say – I have always believed that digging into the Bible is totally cool. I know from experience that spending time reading the Bible can be both intriguing and just plain awesome.

And reading the Bible with other people is even better! Seriously – I am so not kidding! Sunday school is often the highlight of my work week. And I absolutely – positively love hard questions. Hearing other folk’s thoughts on and interpretations of tricky Bible passages brings me great joy.

And I am constantly amazed how 2 people can hear such different things from the very same Bible passage.

I am intrigued how we can have such different perspectives on what we have read.

Over and over again – I find myself declaring – “Wow – I never thought of that.” Or thinking – “I have read that verse at least 50 times over the years and I never saw that. That’s so cool!” (Or – maybe – every once in a while – “that’s totally bananas . . .” But – I only ever think that every once in a blue moon . . . Pat . . .)

Digging in and engaging with God’s Word is incredibly important because we can learn so much about our God there. We meet our God in the pages of our Bibles. We learn about who our God is. What our God is like. And how other people of faith have experienced God and God’s presence in their lives.

Our God doesn’t have to be a distant stranger to us!

Some verses in the Bible speak to us about God’s love. Think of those powerful verses in Saint Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. [Love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [Love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.   [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

That is the way God loves you!

John 3:16 boldly declares to us that our God is so gloriously merciful and gracious and filled with love that he willingly sacrificed his beloved son for us . . . Think about that . . . Try to really image that!

John 3:16 will really blow your mind if you listen to it with an open mind and heart – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish – but may have eternal life.”

Our God’s grace really is AMAZING! God did that for us!

The 23rd Psalm reminds us of our God’s steadfast faithfulness even when we are faced with the loneliness and heartache of death. God the Father is our Good Shepherd who is with us no matter what! Who is present and walks with us always and forever.

Still other verses like the opening chapters of Genesis and the book of Revelation tell us so beautifully and vividly of our God’s magnificence and mighty power.

I could go on and on about what the Bible has to teach us about our God (and you all know that I HAVE!)

But the point is – we get to know God better as we explore God’s Word.

And over time – many Christians find there are verses and sections of God’s Word that they are particularly drawn to. That they return to again and again.

For me – Psalm 104 is one of those special parts of scripture. I especially love verse 26 – because it speaks such a powerful message to us about our God. A message we all need to know – to absorb and to remember.

Verse 26 of Psalm 104 declares – “There go the ships to and fro – and Leviathan – which you made for the sport of it.”

The NIV translates this verse – “There the ships go to and fro – and Leviathan – which you formed to frolic there.

And the Message translation says this – “Ships plow those waters and Leviathan your pet dragon – romps in them.”

It would be easy to miss if you were zoning out a little bit or reading pretty quickly – but Psalm 104 declares that our God made a pet dragon just for fun!

I love this verse because – it reminds us that although our God is amazing and awesome and powerful and mighty and strong – God can also be whimsical.   Yes – our God is all of those fancy words like omnipresent and omnipotent and triune. AND our God has a playful side too.

Psalm 104 tells us that sometimes – our God does things simply because it is delightful and joyful and whimsical and fun!

Our God values fun and joy and happiness. I mean seriously – a pet dragon – created just for fun?!?!?!?   That seems to me to be a bold declaration of a being who deeply values joyfulness and creativity and happiness and fun.

Yes – our God makes serious demands of us. Our God calls us to be his disciples in this world. To feed and care for those in need. But – there is more to faith and our God than that.   There is joy – laughter – happiness – fun and even whimsy from time to time too.

I encourage you to remember that our God is many things.   God is gracious. God is merciful. God is calling you to do his work in this world. God is very demanding of us and has high expectations.   And our God is fun and joyful and whimsical too!

Our God is many – many things. Truly this is Good News! Amen.