Emerging

My first hibiscus blossom of the year!

Last week I met up with some of my dearest girlfriends. We are all finally fully vaccinated against the threat of Covid-19 so we decided to convene a gathering of the sisterhood.   It was time!

It was so incredibly lovely. We talked and we chatted and we laughed. Oh – how we laughed. We laughed and we laughed and we laughed some more. Some of us laughed so hard our faces glowed bright red!

We shared tales of our beloved children and grandchildren. (No – I don’t have any grandchildren yet – but many of my coolest friends do!)

We delighted in the ease and joy of an evening with beloved friends.   Time flew by like it had wings.

We reminisced. We all have history together (some of us more than others). And we reflected on how we have all been changed by Covid-19.   This pandemic has changed us. We are different. Our families are different. We see the world differently now and we likely always will.

We have all learned things about ourselves and our loved ones during this pandemic! Some of the things we learned were intriguing – some were inspiring and some were simply learned and endured . . .

The 1st rather messed up – messy looking cone flower of the year.

I noticed how we have been changed by Covid-19. Covid-19 has changed our unconscious patterns – habits and actions.

All of us are thrilled to be fully vaccinated. We talked about the relief we all felt two weeks following our second vaccination. Science tells us we all have a pretty significant immunity to Covid-19 and likely cannot catch or spread Covid-19. And yet . . . we all brought our own chairs and we set them up in a socially distant circle. We sat at least 6 feet apart from one another the entire time!

We did not touch one another. Not a single hug was exchanged. Nary a pat on the back was given. I spotted hand sanitizer being used and the moment I climbed into my car I used my own.

We did not wear masks – but that was our single concession to being fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The world feels different. It has changed and many of us have been changed right along with it.   We have been changed. We are different.

This rose is happy hanging out close to the house too . . .

Just like it took time to adjust to wearing masks and to remember to stand at a safe social distance – it is going to take time to readjust. It is going to take time to edge closer to others again. To trust the invisible protection offered by our vaccinations. I think this is especially true of folks like me.

I have always been cautious by nature. My children wear helmets on their bikes and scooters and while skateboarding – because I insist. I won’t drive if I have had a single adult beverage. I wear my seatbelt to move the car from the driveway to the curb. We eat organic. I look both ways multiple times before crossing the road. I always – always use my turn signal even when in the turn lane!   I dress in layers and always opt for sturdy walking shoes.   I simply do not throw caution to the wind.

I know that I – at least – have always been this way. I never enjoyed roller coasters – scary movies – driving fast or breaking the rules. The most rebellious thing I have ever done is marry and stay married to the same man for 23 years and counting (long story – sad family of origin).

So I and those like me are going to need time and grace. We are the cautious ones. We are the folks who didn’t mind wearing masks and kept to our Covid-19 bubbles. We may be feeling a bit protective of our little ones who are not able to receive life-protecting immunizations yet. This is who we are.

My sweet William flowers always make me smile. They are bright and bold like my William!

We will meet you in the coffee shop and at the restaurant – eventually – but maybe not just yet. Perhaps for now we can get our coffee to go and we can go for a walk together!   Walking is lovely and it is safe and outside . . .

We are all going to emerge from Covid-19 at different paces and in different styles. Your style might just be the polar opposite of your brother in Christ’s style. What you long for and what makes sense for you might make your sister in Christ nervous. We are all so very – very different from one another. I encourage you to be patient and gracious with one another. Remember what makes sense to you may seem uncomfortable to your neighbor.

These 2 blossoms are growing right next to each other. They look so different . . .

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

 

 

Worship for Sunday, May 16, 2021

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 1

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night.
 
They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.
It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall be destroyed. 
Amen.

1 John 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 17:6-19

[Jesus prayed:] “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Over the past 7 weeks – incredibly dramatic – even downright shocking changes have rocked the disciples’ world.

First came their exciting – exhilarating – gloriously triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the very first Palm Sunday when it seemed like everyone in entire nation of Israel was singing Jesus’ praises. People finally got it! At last they were proclaiming Jesus to be their Lord and Savior!

But then just a few days later – their joy was crushed by Judas’ heartbreaking betrayal. Yes – Judas betrayed Jesus. But Judas betrayed the other disciples too . . .

All of this was followed by the horror of Jesus’ arrest – crucifixion and death.

For 2 horrible days the disciples mourned Jesus’ death. They were heartbroken – lost and so very – very alone in the world.

But then – with the dawn of the very first Easter morning – came the wildly wonderful news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Jesus was alive! From death came life! From tragedy came hope! From sorrow came incredible joy!

For the next 40 days – the 11 remaining disciples spent time with Jesus.   Jesus taught and encouraged them.   And prepared them for what was to come.   And then – Jesus ascended into heaven to be with God the Father.

Now in our reading from the book of Acts – Peter realizes it is time for the disciples to get reorganized. The disciples have incredibly important work to do.

So Peter calls everyone together. The first order of business is to find a replacement for Judas whose betrayal and death left a huge gaping hole in their small community.

But before Peter takes any nominations – he lets folks know this job is for a mature Christian with a history of faithfulness. The new apostle should have witnessed Jesus’ baptism and worked with Jesus. This new apostle should have known and learned from Jesus.

After putting their heads together– they nominate two men for the job – Barsabbas and Matthias.

Once the nominations were closed – the church gathered for prayer and then they cast lots to see who would get the job. By casting lots they were seeking God’s will.

As far as I know – the only church that still casts lots to choose their church leadership is the Amish Church. (The rest of us resort to begging – pleading – tears – bribes and emotional blackmail!)

The Bible tells us the lot fell to Matthias.

Imagine – being called by God to fill the position vacated by Judas – the man who had betrayed the Savior of the world! Imagine the pressure Matthias must have felt to be an exceptionally faithful apostle.

But the thing is – Matthias is never mentioned in the Bible again – not even once. A few of the apostles like Peter and John are mentioned over and over again in the Bible. But we don’t really know what happened to the others like Philip – Thomas – Bartholomew – and Matthias.

Our lack of details about the rest of his life isn’t some sort of indictment of his abilities. Just because he didn’t become as famous as Peter and Paul doesn’t mean Matthias was a crummy apostle.

I think it is safe to assume that Matthias served God faithfully.   That Matthias shared the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy and did the work God called him to do. That Matthias got on with the job. Matthias answered God’s call to serve.

The world is full of Christians – who aren’t famous – but like Matthias – serve God faithfully and through their service make the world a much better place.

My own life has been touched by the powerful – yet humble ministry of countless – Christians. None of these folks are famous. Yet they have all blessed me – by sharing God’s grace – love – and mercy with me.

I remember and give thanks for my very first Sunday school teachers – Mrs. Clauson and Mrs. Ridgeway. They were amazingly patient – kind – loving – creative women who shared the Good News of God’s love through absolutely riveting flannel board stories about Jesus and Moses and Adam and Noah. Through coloring pages and crayons. Through sparkling glitter and glue. And most especially through songs about Jesus loving me and letting my light shine.   Oh how I loved those songs!

Even though – Mrs. Clauson and Mrs. Ridgeway never became as famous as Billy Graham or Saint Peter – their ministry was a beautiful reflection of God’s love. I learned so much about God and his grace – love – and mercy from them. They were a life changing blessing to me. I am different because of their ministry to me.

Who shaped your faith?   Who shared God’s love with you? Who pointed you toward God?

Was it your parents? Or your grandparents? A special Sunday school teacher or youth group leader or camp counselor? Perhaps – it was a neighbor or a friend or a co-worker. Maybe it was your first boyfriend?

My guess is each of you can point to people who shaped your faith.   They probably aren’t famous for their faithfulness – but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is they answered God’s call and served him.   What matters is they shared the Good News of God’s love with you. What matters is they helped you understand you are a beloved child of God!

Whoever these people are and whatever they did to shape your Christian faith – they gave you the most precious gift in the world. They showed you God’s love.

We should give God thanks for all of the faithful folks who heard God’s call and served God. We should give God thanks for their faithfulness and love.

And as we give God thanks for those who have shown us Christ – let us also remember that we too are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Remember Matthias and follow in his humble example.   Answer God’s call and serve so   others too might know the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy. Because God’s grace – love – and mercy really and truly are too amazing to keep to ourselves. AMEN.

Savoring a New Perspective

Everyone has things they value and hold in esteem. Everyone has some things they are drawn to more than others in this life. Everyone has things that are simply more important to them than others.   Sometimes much – much more important to them.

I have noticed far too often we struggle to see the value in things we do not appreciate or delight in ourselves. Often we undervalue – under appreciate – dismiss – and disregard things we don’t like ourselves or understand.

I see this happen all of the time. Unfortunately I do this myself.

I have been working on this. I don’t want to be closed minded – but this can be incredibly hard.   Growing is difficult!

But I realized I don’t have to like something to see it gives others joy. This has become my personal touchstone. I can take joy from others’ joy in something without being interested in it myself. Nascar – basketball – the Kentucky Derby – shopping at the mall – Pokemon – hunting – golfing – car anything – phones – Apple stuff – all not my thing – but I can delight in others’ delight. I can find joy in their joy.

Am I suddenly going to be transformed into someone who wants go to the mall to shop? Nope.   I find malls rather horrifying.   But – I have friends who love to shop and I love to hear their tales of shopping glory.

Every time Will spends time with his cousin Nic – he comes home inspired with a love for cars!

I fell sound asleep at the one Nascar race I attended. Not even knitting could keep the boredom at bay that day – but I delight in listening to our nephew Nic talk about racing. Nic’s joy is truly contagious in the best way! Nic’s joy can become my joy when I am open to it.

We have neighbors who clearly love sports of all sorts. They also love hosting gatherings of their friends.   Derby party – yes! Super Bowl party – of course! Basketball play-off gathering – every single game!!! World Series – they wouldn’t dream of skipping those and neither would their friends. It is a delight to see them gathering around the huge television in their garage to cheer on whoever is being sporty that day.

This is so not my thing – but I love witnessing their joy. It makes me smile every time I see them gathered with those they love to enjoy another sporting event.

Jason’s mom loves to cook. Linda is a magnificent cook. Most meals coming from her kitchen are elaborate and generous and they are all delicious! She delights in trying new recipes along with our family’s favorites. Thankfully we can load the dishwasher and head out to climb some mountains so we do! If we didn’t – a visit to Mimi and Papa’s would result in shocking weight gain . . .

I cook from scratch so it might appear that I too delight in cooking.   (Yes – we eat lentil tacos – roasted chickpeas and our refried beans don’t come from a can.) But I do not love to cook! I cook from scratch because it is healthier and contains far fewer chemicals. But honestly – I cook to stay alive. Cooking is neither my joy nor delight.

This week I decided I would focus my heart and my eyes on what Will – Jack – and Jason are drawn to over and over again. I want to appreciate what gives them joy and delights them and soothes those I love after a long day of work and school.

I want to learn to appreciate their joys more. I want to appreciate them more. I want to give thanks for what makes them who they are.

And you thought TWA went out of business in 2001. Nope – this TWA flight landed at my house just last night!

I want to listen to the click of the Legos as Will builds another amazingly awesome Lego plane. I want to appreciate Will’s delight in that moment. I want to see the beauty and not the mess. I want to see Will’s engineering skills and his glorious creativity.

I want to smile along with Jack as he listens to an amusing podcast on his earbuds. Of course I will have no idea what he is listening to – but I can take joy from his laughter and his smiles. His joy is a delight. I give thanks for this joy.

I cannot read Coptic (and very much doubt that I ever will) – but I can take joy from the arrival of Jason’s new Coptic texts. Why yes – I did give my beloved husband “Introduction to Sahidic Coptic” for his birthday earlier this month . . . doesn’t everyone?!? Jason also received “Coptic in 20 Lessons.” And you thought I was nerdy . . . I joke but this is a huge blessing of being married to Jason. He is just so interesting. He reads other languages and studies other cultures.   We are never without something intriguing to discuss on our walks.

I will stop to listen and watch as Will plays with wild abandon in our yard with Annabelle and Hannah. I will appreciate their joy and their happiness even though I have zero interest in Pokemon. What matters is their joy and their interest.

I can delight in my family delighting in being who they are.

Life is so – so much bigger than us and our own interests and our own passions. Or at least it can be if we let it. We have to be open to this joy to experience it. This is a joy we can miss by simply closing ourselves off to it.

I encourage you to spend some time this week appreciating the interests and passions and joys of your loved ones and friends.

Just in case you ever need to know the Coptic for ignorant or immortal!

You may never want to learn to read Coptic yourself – but you can take delight and joy from the sparkle in your beloved’s eyes when he talks about learning a new language.

Rather than rolling your eyes the next time your daughter begins to tell you all about the joy she receives from a trip to the mall try listening and catching her excitement. Or when your son wants to chat about gaming try to catch his joy.

And you thought – I would go an entire blog post without a nature picture. Nope – I managed to work one in!

You may never want to knit or play Pokemon or read 8 books in one week or garden or walk endlessly while taking pictures of the clouds or flowers or both – but try catching the joy from those who do delight in these things.   Be interested. Be open. Learn.   Delight. Enjoy! Savor.

I think you will find delight and blessings in these moments.   Life is richer and more blessed when we make our hearts and our minds and our lives bigger.

Your loved ones might just notice your interest and your kindness and your patience too! They might feel more appreciated and more loved . . . More heard – more understood – more seen!

I encourage you to try catching some joy this week. It is a delight and a blessing.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, May 9, 2021

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 98

Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
O Lord, you have made known your victory,
you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations.
You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. 

Sing to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the king, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it,
the world and those who dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to judge the earth.
The Lord will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples with equity. Amen.

1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

A few weeks ago – on a perfectly – perfect spring day – I escorted the McFarland sons to the Louisville Zoo.

Yes – the McFarlands head to the zoo a lot these days – because Jack works there. Jack has been one of the helpful guys in blue at the zoo for almost a year now.

But this trip was different. Jack wasn’t going to work. This trip was just about fun! Jack and Will had plans for a McFarland brother adventure. They were going to eat jumbo orders of Dippin’ Dots – slurp Icees and hang-out with the animals.

I too had big plans. I was going to sit in the shade and read and knit while drinking coffee. And if I ran out of coffee – I had a back-up tea.   Honestly – I hoped Jack and Will stayed at the zoo a long – long time.

While Jack and Will had a marvelous time devouring ice cream and hanging out with the animals – I watched approximately 100,000 human children make their way into the zoo. In fact – I think every single child in Jefferson County was at the zoo that day.   There were small humans everywhere.

Most of the kids were happy to be at the zoo. But there was one little girl who was not happy. Actually – she was MAD! Like fire shooting out of her eyes – MAD. And even though she was one furious little lady – I liked her right away.   In fact – I could tell we were kindred spirits. Maybe even soul mates.

She was sporting a messy bun/up-do that looked like it had been styled in a blender and so was I. She was wearing jeans and a springy – yellow hoodie and so was I. Plus she felt the exact same way about bossy – domineering people that I did when I was 4! (Okay – I still feel this way about bossy – domineering people . . .)

Because there she stood in the middle of the busy – bustling zoo crosswalk – crossing her sweet little arms – stomping her foot – setting her jaw – and declaring with great passion to her entire extended family (grandparents included) and to anyone else within earshot that they should “ALL JUST STOP TELLLING HER WHAT TO DO!”

And even though I am a bossy britches – mom – I found myself cheering for her in my mind! “Preach it little sister!” – my soul declared. “You take your stand. You make yourself heard. You tell that bossy – domineering big sister of yours just to give you some room to breathe!”

(I could – of course – think these thoughts of solidarity – because I wasn’t the mom – standing in the busy zoo crosswalk having a face-off with my stubborn – outraged child!)

I think we all can relate to that little girl. We don’t like to be bossed around. We don’t like to be told what to do. And we often rebel when someone tries to do just that.

Instead – we want to be in charge.   We want to be the boss. We want to make the rules.

Wow – has he grown over the last decade . . .

And yet – here we are – being challenged once again by our Lord and Savior. Because in our Gospel reading for today Jesus tells us he has a new commandment for us. Please note that Jesus doesn’t say he is giving us a new recommendation. A new suggestion. A new tip. Or some sage advice for us to consider when we feel like it.

Nope – Jesus tells us he has a new commandment for us. It is something he expects us to do

And this commandment isn’t an easy commandment. Jesus’ commandment is hard. It hits home. Because Jesus tells us his commandment is that we are supposed “love one another as he loved us.”

Seriously . . . Oh – how I wish Jesus had said – “I give you a new commandment – you are to tolerate one another.” Or “I give you a new commandment – you are to put up with each other!” Or even – I am asking you to kindly consider loving one another – when and if you are in the mood . . .

I don’t think I would try to tell this guy what to do!

That would have been a whole lot easier. We might even get that commandment right once in a while.   Tolerating people is so much easier than loving people. But Jesus didn’t say tolerate or put up with each other – he said love.

Love one another. Jesus commanded us to love one another. That is hard. That is not for the faint of heart.

When Jesus said we are supposed to love one another – he meant we are supposed to love absolutely – positively everyone on the planet. EVERYONE! Really – EVERYONE!

Of course – Jesus meant we are supposed to love the people who are easy to love. You know – the people who are like us and agree with us and are nice to us. The folks we like. And consider likeable.

But Jesus also meant we are supposed to love our enemies – and people who annoy us – and people who don’t seem very loveable.   We are supposed to love the people who get under our skin and drive us batty.

Everyone means EVERYONE with Jesus.

Thankfully Jesus showed us how to love others. Jesus showed us how to keep this commandment.

Loving one another does not mean we are always going to agree with each other. Jesus disagreed with plenty of folks. But – Jesus loved them anyway.

And the same is true for us. We are called to love even the people with whom we disagree. Even those people who don’t have their masks on or who are careless about social distancing or who disagree with us about how to handle the pandemic. Jesus showed us quite clearly through his own words and actions you can passionately disagree with someone and still treat them with kindness and love.

Jesus loved everyone – yep – that’s right – everyone. Jesus loved Judas – even after Judas betrayed him.   Jesus loved Peter even though Peter denied knowing Jesus when Jesus needed him the most. Jesus loved the men who were crucified with him and the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross. Jesus loved everyone!

And the same is true for us. We are called to love all people – even people who disappoint us – even people who annoy us – even people with whom we passionately disagree!

Jesus shared what he had. He fed the hungry – healed the sick – and cared for people. Jesus knew a very important part of loving others was sharing yourself and your possessions with them. And we are called to do the same thing. Jesus was generous and we are called to be generous too!

Most importantly Jesus showed us loving other people means telling them about God’s love, grace, and mercy. Jesus knew the most loving thing you could ever do for someone was to tell her about God. And the same is true for us.

This commandment asks a lot from us.   Jesus’ expectations are high.   And Jesus promises us if we do these things and have love for one another – then everyone will know we are his disciples. Truly that is Good News.  Amen.

Greetings from our Bishop

Dear People of God,

Have you been vaccinated? Which one did you get? How’d you feel afterward?

Who among us ever imagined a year ago that such questions would become standard entry-points for conversation? Yet here we are, nearing what we hope and pray is the far side of the coronavirus wilderness, with vaccines playing a major role in whether, when, and how we can gather in-person safely and comfortably.

Medical experts tell us that achieving a high percentage of vaccinated people (70% or more), along with continued compliance with established health and safety protocols, is the key to unlocking the doors of our isolation from one another. Yet, as of April 30th only 31% of Kentuckians and only 26% of Hoosiers were fully vaccinated. Kentucky is 25th in the country by percentage of people vaccinated. Indiana is 45th.

If you have been vaccinated, thank you for – as John might put it – expressing your trust in Jesus and love for your neighbor by enduring the poke or pokes in the arm. If you have not been vaccinated (and you are able to receive the vaccine), please get vaccinated as soon as you can. Please also help others get their vaccinations. Perhaps someone you know needs help navigating the appointment scheduling system, or needs transportation or comforting accompaniment to a vaccination site, or needs an encouraging nudge from a friend to overcome their indifference or resistance. Being vaccinated, like continuing to observe other health and safety protocols and helping our neighbors to do so, is love beyond word or speech taking flesh “in truth and action.”

The latest recommendations from the CDC also suggest that as we work our way toward the majority of folks in this country being vaccinated, it is important that we also continue on the cautious and patient path toward in-person gatherings and ministry, including worship. The CDC’s latest chart of guidelines is included as an addendum to this message. That chart makes it clear that attending a full-capacity indoor worship service and singing in an indoor chorus are among the “least safe” activities for people who have not been vaccinated. In addition, for now, fully vaccinated people should still wear masks in such situations.

As disappointing as it may be after more than fourteen months of care and caution, the most prudent path forward toward in-person ministry, including worship, will be shaped by continued careful adherence to recommended protocols, slow and thoughtful movement toward flinging wide the doors and flinging off the masks in our life together, and care-filled attention to the most vulnerable among us, even to the point of “laying down” our own desires and demands for one another, so we can all get to the other side.

The answers are not easy. All involve some form of trade-off. Let us all seek kindness toward all, including congregations who may make different decisions about different forms of ministry as long as they are not endangering the lives or health of others.

The answers certainly are not easy. And they will likely vary from context to context. Thankfully, as the author of 1 John suggests, we make these decisions together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit at the intersection where trusting in Jesus meets loving our neighbor.

In this spirit, the Synod Executive Committee has affirmed that the suspension of synod staff travel will continue through the month of May, with a few exceptions. We will use the month of May to discuss and discern guidelines and practices that will shape our ministry with you in the new world that is emerging.

Finally, beloved of God, on this far edge of the coronavirus wilderness I trust that along with synod leadership you and the leadership of your local congregation or other mission center are not only carefully planning for in-person ministry, but also dreaming, discussing, and discerning together the ways God is shaping and guiding you to be church in the emerging world.

What have you learned from the journey through this wilderness that might offer direction for the ways you will engage gospel ministry together and with others into the future? What have you discovered that you can do without or do differently to faithfully follow Jesus, share the good news with others, and serve the neighbor? What new skills, perspectives, or practices have you picked up along the way that will serve well into the future? How can you continue to reach, serve, and accompany those who became connected to the congregation and its ministry in new ways over the last year? How might this sojourn in the wilderness shape the ways you will express your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and love one another, just as God has commanded us?

May the Spirit of the crucified and risen One fill you, surround you, and empower you, that you may find rest for your weariness and renewed purpose in your heart as you continue walking together in the Spirit toward God’s promised and emerging Easter world.

Peace be with you,

A Shift in Perspective

This year I am trying to explore more. I want to be more open to exploration and adventure and seeking and seeing. I want to try things and see things from a new perspective. I want to explore with an open mind and a willing heart.

Life is more interesting when I am willing to explore a bit.   Even just a little bit of exploring makes life so much more interesting.

I don’t want to become one of those folks who gets stuck in a rut.   I don’t want to come to the end of my earthly life and have spent all of my free-time watching television and sitting on the couch. Although knitting and reading are delightful!

And I really and truly do understand staying on the couch. Couch sitting has delights all its own.   Believe me – I understand the great and glorious appeal of the couch. (The fatigue I am battling these days thanks to the autoimmune disease I live with makes me so – so tired.) Believe me – I understand the appeal of the couch!

It is easy to get stuck when your world gets smaller. And for so many of us – we have needed to pull in this year. We have needed to stay closer to home thanks to Covid-19.   We haven’t been as “out there” as we have been in previous years. We have also seen far – far fewer other people.

This is the wise and gracious course of action. This has protected ourselves and others while we waited for the blessed protection granted by our vaccinations. This has been one important way we have answered Saint Paul’s call to us to work for the greater good of all of humanity.

“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:10

Most of us have stayed closer to home this year and likely will for a bit. Thanks to all of this extra time at home for most of us – home has likely started to feel so very – very familiar. Home can feel so familiar that we stop even seeing it! After all – we see our homes all of the time. We have been there and seen that over and over and over again so we tend to become blind to its beauty and its blessings.

But I have found again and again – you don’t need to set forth to exotic destinations to have great adventures. Although – I am dreaming of the forests and Mayan ruins of Mexico . . .   (Oops – I digressed again!) All you need is an open mind and a willing heart.   Seriously – I am not kidding. An open mind – a willing heart and perhaps a spirit of adventure are all you need to go exploring and to make amazing discoveries.

Just last week I had a wonderful adventure in my very own yard thanks to Jack. Jack was out on a biking adventure of his own when he sent me a text. It was simple. “You need to get outside. You will love it out here.”

Oh how well our oldest son knows me! That was all the temptation I needed. Before you could say – “yarn sale” – I threw on some shoes and headed outside. There I was met by the most glorious sunset on the western horizon.

And to the east – the moon was just plain gorgeous.

I was transfixed and in awe of the beauty that filled the evening sky.   I wandered and watched and noticed how the sky changed as the sun continued to set.

I listened as some of our neighbors also noticed the glorious sunset and beautiful rising moon. And I delighted in their reactions and their oohs and aahs! It was so much fun to hear their delight and awe. They were delightfully delighted. I absolutely loved hearing their joy!

As I explored I caught the sunset from a different perspective that evening. I often watch the sunset appear as I clean up the dinner dishes out of our kitchen window. That evening I saw the sunset reflected in the kitchen window. It brought a smile to my face to see the sunset from a different point of view.

I did not go far. In fact – I didn’t even leave our cul-de-sac for this adventure – but I did have a wonderful adventure. I saw incredible beauty. I delighted in God’s blessings. I felt awe and wonder. I was reminded of God’s presence in our lives. I saw my life from a slightly different perspective. I was blessed as I explored.

I encourage you to give this a try. Try exploring with an open mind and a willing heart. Try exploring just because it is fun. Trying seeking and seeing and looking. Give awe and wonder a try.

You don’t need to go far. Wonder and awe and beauty can be found right at home! Reminders of God’s presence are all around us.

You are all in my heart – thoughts and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

 

Worship for Sunday, May 2, 2021

Acts 8:26-40

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 22:25-31

From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow before God.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
who rules over the nations. 
Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the Lord.
Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying to them, “The Lord has acted!” 

  Amen.

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 15:1-8

[Jesus said:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

There are many – many ways to get a Lutheran all worked up.  I know this to be true because I have been a card-carrying Lutheran my entire life!

First – you can skip the coffee during coffee hour.  Coffee is the unofficial 3rd sacrament of the Lutheran Church.  Lutherans have been taking coffee seriously since long before it  was so trendy.  We love our coffee and doughnuts.  And our coffee and cake.  And our coffee and cookies.  And well – our coffee and our coffee!

It is the rare Lutheran who won’t at least warm her hands around a mug of coffee on a chilly Sunday morning (even if she can’t stand the actual taste of coffee)!

And change.  Wow – does change really get Lutheran Christians all worked up!  There are certain folks (who shall remain nameless) who still refer to me as “the new pastor” of Saint Stephen.  And I have been hanging out with you guys for over 10 years now.  Seriously – 10 years!

Speaking of our issues with change – – “We’ve never done it that way before . . .” is an incredibly common Lutheran refrain.  Lutheran Christians say that phrase almost as often as we say “and also with you.”

Pastor Plunger-Head!

If you think I am kidding or exaggerating – let me pour you a cup of coffee and I will tell you all about the time I naively (some might say foolishly) suggested that 20 minutes between worship services at my 2-point parish in northern Minnesota wasn’t enough time to make the commute between my 2 churches safely.  Think very curvy country roads – surrounded by vast open fields – drifting snow – spotty cell phone reception and lots of lakes.  All I wanted was an extra 10 minutes . . .

I was told “it hadn’t been done that way before.  Furthermore – it hadn’t been a problem for the other (male) pastors.”  And that “I should just drive FASTER!”

Seriously – the 2 church councils voted unanimously for speeding and law-breaking over a 10 minute time change.

Coffee is sacred to us.  And change is an abomination in most Lutheran churches.

But if you really want to get Lutheran Christians all worked up and seriously bent out of shape – all you need to do – is merely suggest anything that even hints at “works righteousness!”

Seriously – if you want to send Lutherans into a full-on tizzy suggest their eternal salvation might depend on them “doing a little service for their Lord . . .”  I absolutely – positively guarantee the metaphorical fur will fly!

Grace – grace – GRACE the Lutherans will declare (perhaps even shout!)  We are saved by God’s great – glorious – awesome – amazing – merciful GRACE alone!  We are NOT saved by our own human choices and actions.  Nothing we do or say could ever save us.  Nope – salvation is ALL about God.  There is absolutely – positively NOTHING we can do to save ourselves.  God saves us.

Not even Saint Paul – Saint Francis – Saint Stephen or Mother Teresa could save themselves and they were all seriously impressive Christians.

Nope – we human beings cannot save ourselves.  Salvation is God’s great and glorious gift to us.  God saves us from ourselves because he is gracious and merciful.  God saves us because he loves us.

This is what we boldly declare whenever someone dares to suggest or to hint that human beings might need to do something to earn salvation or God’s favor.

And I wholeheartedly agree.  Salvation is God’s blessed – awesome – gracious gift to us.  We don’t earn salvation or choose salvation.  Salvation is a gift.  Salvation is a blessing.

But – far – far too often we get comfortable.  We get complacent.  We get just plain lazy.  We take God’s gifts and blessings to us for granted over and over and over again.

Yes – our salvation is taken care of.  No – we don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love or our place in heaven.  Those are God’s gifts to us.  But that doesn’t mean we should be sitting around doing nothing or next to nothing.  God calls ALL of us be his disciples in this world.

And disciples do stuff.  Disciples do lots of stuff.  Disciples feed the hungry.  Disciples help the sick and the downtrodden and the grieving and the weary.  Disciples clothe the naked.  Disciples share the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy.  Disciples share and show God’s love.

Disciples makes sacrifices for the greater good.

It is not works righteousness to respond to God’s blessings.

It is not works righteousness to share and show God’s love.

It is not works righteousness to help others and make a difference in this world.

It is not works righteousness to serve our neighbors and our church in God’s name.

Jesus declares to us in our Gospel reading for this week – “My Father is glorified by this – that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

We should ask ourselves – are we bearing fruit in God’s name?  Are we living as Jesus’ disciples in our daily lives?  Are we living generous lives?  Are we really and truly making time to serve our neighbors and God’s church?

Or do we instead find ourselves making excuses . . .

We are called to bear fruit.  We are called to be branches that grow and flourish and do things in this world for our God.

You can do this.  You can serve.  You can answer God’s call to be generous people.  You can share your blessings.  You can be God’s disciples.  You can bear fruit.

Truly this is Good News.  Amen.

Seeking the Silver Lining on a Gray Day

I try to live my life looking for the positive in things. I really do. I find feels so much more joyful and blessed when I look for the positive in even the smallest moments in my life.

Life is more fun with when I look for the positive.

This choosing the positive is often a conscious decision for me.   But each time I choose to seek the good and the positive and the delightful in a situation – the easier it gets the next time. Practice does makes things easier. For me – positivity is a skill I am working on each and every day of my life.

Wednesday afternoon when I headed to the bus stop to wait for the littlest McFarland – it wasn’t raining cats and dogs. It was raining Kentucky Derby horses. The rain was coming down in sheets.

Will does not like getting wet from the rain. I am not a big fan of getting wet from the rain either.   But – rather than focus on the fact that my jeans were getting wet from all of the rain – I shifted my focus. I decided I didn’t want to be “that kind of person” yesterday afternoon. I didn’t want to be negative and grumpy and focused on myself when I met my child after his busy day of school. Actually – I never want to be “that kind of person” even though it sometimes happens.

So – I chose the positive. I chose to seek the good and the positive and the delightful and the beautiful even while standing in the pouring rain on a gray Wednesday afternoon.

I quickly noticed there is a lot to be intrigued by and delighted in while standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain. Seriously – I am not kidding or exaggerating.

I noticed the sound of the rain pounding like a drum on my umbrella.   It was intriguing. And I wouldn’t have noticed that amazing sound if I had been whining and complaining to myself about how much I dislike the rain.

I watched the rain slip off my umbrella and I watched the way some of the drops dripped off the umbrella. Individual rain drops are gorgeous.

I delighted in the way the splashing rain drops made pretty circular splashes in the puddles at my feet. I smiled a huge smile as I remembered jumping in mud puddles with both of the McFarland sons when they were little guys. (And yes – I did jump right into the puddles with them.   Puddle jumping is tons of fun!)

I noticed with a smile that the Amazon delivery man carefully slowed down so that he didn’t splash me as he drove by. That was very nice of him. (Thankfully I NOTICED the UPS man in his big brown truck because he almost drove over me and my umbrella as I jumped into our neighbors’ yard . . . The positive in this was that UPS trucks are very loud and I heard him coming and had plenty of time to jump into Mary and Brian’s yard!)

Yes – everything was wet and soggy. Even I was a bit wet and soggy around the edges in spite of my trusty polka dotted umbrella – but by the time my sweet little guy’s bus came driving down our street I had a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

Seeking the positive doesn’t have to come naturally to you for you to decide to do it. Seeking the positive doesn’t need to happen on a day that is lovely – it was pouring outside. Seeking the positive doesn’t have to happen when you feel great – I wasn’t. Seeking the positive is a choice you can make. It is a practice – a skill that can be grown and refined. I keep trying and trying and working on this one!

Try it. Try seeking the good and the lovely and the beautiful. Try challenging yourself. Trying stretching a bit. Walk into a room and see the beauty instead of the dust. Wait in line and see how hard the clerk is working instead focusing how put out you feel about having to wait. Graciously socially distance and wear your mask and give thanks that someone cares enough about you to try to keep you safe.  Stand in the rain and watch the world around you transform.

Look for the good. Seek the blessings and the positive. You might just find yourself doing it more often just for fun!

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

In Christ –

Pastor Kerri

Getting Ready!

I think it is going to rain!

On a seriously rainy – gray rather blahh looking Saturday morning a small – but truly mighty and dedicated group of Lutheran Christians gathered at Saint Stephen. (Our Saint Stephen work day groups always tend to be pretty small. This must be a “city” thing. You should see the work groups a farming community can put together!) We gathered for a truly important and exciting twofold purpose.   We were getting ready. We were getting ready to welcome new renters to our rental house early next month. AND we were getting ready to return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

The Lutheran Christians gathered in spite of the gray skies that were threatening rain.

Some of us painted and cleaned the church’s rental house to prepare the house for its new occupants who will be moving in very soon. They are rather excited and looking forward to calling our rental house their new “home sweet home.” We are excited we will have friends of Saint Stephen living right next door again.

Others of our group rolled up their sleeves and cleaned and spiffed up Saint Stephen to make our beloved church all bright and shiny for our return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021. Both the rental house and the church were busy – bustling – hustling – happening places on Saturday morning and into the afternoon.

Multi-generational cleaning – Marilyn and Lilly hard at work together.

Folks were cleaning and scrubbing. Lutherans could be found dusting every nook – cranny and crevice of the sanctuary and meticulously running the vacuum.

Thank you Glenn!

Communion kits were prepared. Trash was taken to the dumpster.

Floors were mopped. Baseboards were cleaned until they sparkled.

Cheryl’s door was not white when she started.

Painting and painting and then more painting took place. Did I mention our group of volunteers painted almost an entire house on Saturday?!?!? Impressive. Seriously so very – very impressive!

When our 18 dedicated – gracious – amazing – wonderful – dazzling and perhaps slightly weary volunteers hung up their brushes – wrapped up their cords – folded their cleaning cloths and headed for home on Saturday they left behind a smiling pastor and a very – very – very clean church and a rental house almost ready for its new tenants.

I have several pictures of Peggy Zimmerman doing exactly this at all sorts of church functions. She must love the sink in our church kitchen!

We are ready. Saint Stephen has been cleaned. The liturgies and communion kits have been prepared. The readings have been folded and placed carefully on your seats in the sanctuary.

We are ready to return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 10:00 am.

If you plan to join us for in-person worship, we ask that you wear your masks over both your mouth and your nose as long as you are in the building (even if you don’t like masks or have been fully vaccinated). Wearing a mask is such a small sacrifice when so many have sacrificed so very – very much more . . .

Lilly is modeling her mask perfectly. Can you see in her eyes that she very clearly thinks that her pastor and her pastor’s camera need to retire or at least go bug another hardworking Lutheran?

For now – Saint Stephen worship services will look much like worship did last summer and fall. We are continuing to follow as many of the health department and CDC guidelines as possible. This means Holy Communion from our places in the pews – no singing – limited worship servers and volunteers – wearing our masks and maintaining social distancing inside the building with those outside of our “bubbles/family units.”

We will continue to record and post Saint Stephen’s worship services on-line each week for our sisters and brothers in Christ who prefer to worship in this manner.

Solving the world’s problems – packaging communion kits – and catching up!

We truly do look forward to throwing open the doors of Saint Stephen and welcoming our sisters and brothers in Christ back to in-person worship on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 10:00 am.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, April 25, 2021

Acts 4:5-12

The next day [the] rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders: it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

The view of one of my favorite valleys on a dark, snowy Christmas morning.

1 John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 10:11-18

[Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

What a strange – color coded journey we have all been on for the past 14 months or so. It has in no way resembled the fun of those color coded trips we took as kids through Candyland or around the Monopoly board.

The colors that have marked our journey through this past year have been warnings to stay alert and to remain cautious. To care for ourselves and our neighbors.

Red – orange – then far – far too much RED – before finally making our way back to orange. We briefly encountered yellow but then we were sadly right back to orange again.   Hopefully our journey will be taking us quickly back to yellow very soon. And then on to GREEN – glorious – blessed – beautiful – hope-filled – healthy GREEN!

This has been a journey of divisions. Passionate and sometimes painful divisions have arisen in our communities and our families and our country.

To mask or not to mask.

To socially distance or not to socially distance. Three feet – six feet or no feet? Who is right? How can we know?

Is our governor a public health advocate or a tyrant? Is he simply keeping us safe or is he simply a menace to our most basic rights and freedoms?

To get immunized or perhaps – not?

To gather together or not?

To travel or to stay home for a while longer?

To hug or not?

Is it just another flu or not?

Whose advice should we follow? When will it be safe? What is safe? Is it already safe?

What is right? Who is right? How should we proceed?   When we hold different opinions what should we do?

Names are called. Ultimatums are issued. Lines are drawn not just in the sand but in the setting concrete. Divisions are made. Relationships are changed.

This isn’t UK verses U of L silliness. This isn’t coffee verses tea. This isn’t morning lark verses night owl. This is huge and hard and painful. These divisions matter to us. And these divisions run deep.

This journey has been difficult and it continues to be difficult.

And this doesn’t even touch on the loss and the grief and the sorrow. So many precious lives have been lost to this dreadful disease.

So much pain and hurt. So much loss and grief. This has been a truly difficult journey.

We are exhausted and frustrated and sad. It hurts. We feel burdened. This journey is too long.   We are tired. Our hearts are heavy and weary.

Enough of the orange and the red and the yellow. Enough illness. Enough of the grief and the sorrow and the fear. Enough of anger. Enough of the pain and the suffering.

Enough of these horrible divisions that drive us apart when we could be (when we SHOULD be) drawing together to work for the greater good.

Our very souls cry out – enough is enough already!

It is at times like these when we need to hear Good News. When we need to be encouraged and lifted up.   When we need to be reminded we are not on this journey alone. And this is exactly what we hear from our Psalm for this week.

Our Psalm for this week is Psalm 23 which is familiar to most of us.   We have heard it many – many times.   Many of us have even kinda – sorta – almost memorized Psalm 23. We may have absolutely no idea what the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Mark says (Hint – Mark ends after 16 chapters.) – but we are pretty sure we have the 23rd Psalm covered.

We are pretty sure we know exactly what the 23rd Psalm says. But I would encourage you to listen Psalm 23 with new ears. With your listening ears – like we tell our little ones when we really want their attention.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

The words of the 23rd Psalm can be balm for our souls during times like these.

Yes – life in this world can be exhausting and painful and stressful and hard. Yes – the journey we are on has been long and it is far from over. Yes these days – it feels like we are in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.

But the Good News is we are not in this alone.   Our Lord boldly declares to us that he is with us. And not only that – our Lord is leading us through these dark times to better times.   Think of how wonderful the word “through” is. God is leading us through this dark valley. We aren’t staying here. This isn’t permanent. We aren’t going to be here forever. This is just part of our journey. A difficult part – most definitely. But this is just part of the journey.

And we journey through this difficult time following our Lord who leads us through to the other side. We walk with our God who loves us. And promises to love us always.

You are not alone. Your Lord is with you. In fact – God promises to be with you each and every step of the way.   Your traveling companion is your Lord.

God is with you now. And God promises he will be with you for all eternity. You are never alone. The Lord loves you and is with you always. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.