Marveling at God’s Creation

I love so very – very many things about being a parent.  One of the things that I particularly love about being a mom is all of the wonderful things that Jack and Will teach me.  Just by knowing and loving these two nifty human beings I have learned to appreciate so many things that I never did before. 

Thanks to Will I see the beauty of trains.  Until Will developed his passion for trains – trains were just an annoyance to me.  I didn’t see trains as awesome or cool.  I most certainly did not see trains as a reason to get excited.  Rather – I saw trains as something to be avoided.  Now I keep my eyes open for trains and get surprisingly excited when I see a train gliding down the rails.  I smile and point and exclaim and ooohh and aaahh.  Seeing a train brightens my day thanks to Will.

Thanks to Jack I am always on the look out for things that have the potential to be climbed.  Jack loves to climb.  I – on the other hand – am afraid (terrified) of heights!  When we are hiking – Jason and I take note of good climbing trees, because we know our boy and his passion for climbing.   Jack is drawn to climbing like I am drawn to yarn and knitting.  Climbing is simply an essential part of his being. 

Let no tree go unclimbed!

When we were in TN the last time Jack climbed a tree for his Papa and did a spot of tree trimming!  Yes – that’s right – my beloved – cherished – precious son climbed a tall tree on a mountain with a handsaw and trimmed a tree to improve the mountain view from his grandparents’ deck!!!  Even Jason (who has a much higher tolerance for Jack’s climbing) was less than pleased about that one.  I know this, because Jason actually rolled his eyes and sighed deeply (two things Jason only does when his family is pushing him to the very limit of his patience).

Another thing that the McFarland men have taught me is “zoo appreciation.”  I was never much of a zoo person until I started hanging out with Jack and Will.  I just didn’t see the appeal of zoos – but thanks to these two I can see the appeal. 

My appreciation for zoos has only grown further this summer, because Jack is officially an employee of the Louisville Zoo.  Now we are getting behind the scenes information about zoo life.  Now I get to hear recordings of the tigers roaring that Jack made himself.  I get to hear about cool things that the animals do.  Like – Amber the Orangutan is nosy and wants to know what people have in their pockets.  It seems that Amber is endlessly entertained by what we human beings carry around with us.  I hope that I get to show her my knitting later this summer!

One of the particularly wonderful perks of being a zoo employee is that Jack can take a guest into the zoo with him – even with all of the COVID-19 restrictions.  So – this week Jack took Will to the zoo for an adventure while I sat in the car and worked (one of the perks of motherhood – I suppose)!  They had a wonderful time “brother-bonding.” They returned a few hours later with all sorts of tales of their adventures together. 

And I must say – they had many – many God Sightings during their morning at the Louisville Zoo!

Jack and Will thought that you might like to join them on a quick tour of some of the highlights of their morning at the Louisville Zoo.

First up were the penguins.  They are called Little Penguins – because even the full-grown adult penguins are pretty little guys.

This is one of the Louisville Zoo’s Giant Tortoises.  Giant tortoises are among the world’s longest-living animals, with an average lifespan of 100 years or more.

This striped fellow is a tapir.  Tapir’s are herbivores which Will tells me means that they don’t like cheeseburgers or chicken nuggets. 

Meet one of the Louisville Zoo’s tigers.  Jack tells me that the tigers tend to be very talkative.  He has heard it “meow” like a house cat – only much – much more loudly!  When the tigers roar – you can hear them all over the zoo grounds.  One of the tigers at the zoo is missing an eye.  Just today Jack spent most of his work shift hanging out with him.

This is a Canadian Lynx.

This is a Puma.  Did you know that there are 200 different names for these giant cats?  They are also called deer tigers, catamounts, and painters. (I won’t list all of the other names!)

I love her pink blankie!

This is Sunny the Two-toed Sloth.  Her companion is named Sebastian. 

This is a Snowy Owl.  It looks like it is straight out of Harry Potter doesn’t it?

Isn’t this Snow Leopard stunning?

This is one of the zoo’s gorilla’s.  Apparently – he wasn’t in the mood to talk to Will and Jack!

It seems the polar bear wasn’t either!

Meet one of the zoo’s Pygmy Hippos.  Both Jack and Will were awfully jealous of his nice cool looking swimming pool.  It was very hot on their morning at the zoo.

This is a meercat.

Meet Fritz the Louisville Zoo’s baby African Elephant. 

Will was very impressed that anything this BIG could be a baby!?!  Actually I am too for that matter.

This horned fellow is an Addax Antelope. It is also just a baby.

And these are Bongos (not the drums). 

Clearly our God loves to create!  The variety of God’s creation is truly magnificent and dazzling!

Thanks for joining us.

Jack, Will, and Pastor Kerri

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his host!


Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!


Let them praise the name of the Lord,
   for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
   he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.


Praise the Lord from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
   stormy wind fulfilling his command!


Mountains and all hills,
   fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
   creeping things and flying birds!


Kings of the earth and all peoples,
   princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
   old and young together!


Let them praise the name of the Lord,
   for his name alone is exalted;
   his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
   praise for all his faithful,
   for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Worship for Sunday, July 5, 2020

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12

 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
 Lo, your king comes to you;
  triumphant and victorious is he,
 humble and riding on a donkey,
  on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
  and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
 and the battle bow shall be cut off,
  and he shall command peace to the nations;
 his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
  and from the River to the ends of the earth.

 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
  I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
  today I declare that I will restore to you double.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 145:8-14

 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
  slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
 LORD, you are good to all,
  and your compassion is over all your works.
 All your works shall praise you, O LORD,
  and your faithful ones shall bless you.
 They shall tell of the glory of your kingdom
  and speak of your power,
 that all people may know of your power
  and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures throughout all ages.
  You, LORD, are faithful in all your words, and loving in all your works.
 The Lord upholds all those who fall
  and lifts up those who are bowed down. Amen.

Second Reading: Romans 7:15-25a

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.’

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I am a home body. Which is why I have found the oldest McFarland son to be so downright puzzling over the years. Jack and I have many – many things in common (sorry about that – honey). But one big thing Jack got from his dad is an amazing spirit of adventure. Ever since he was a tiny guy (and I do mean tiny) Jack has accepted every invitation he could to hang out with his extended family.

Jack was just 9 months old the first time he gleefully accepted an invitation to spend an entire week with his Mimi & Papa and Auntie & Uncle. Jack hadn’t yet mastered walking – but he boarded a plane in Fargo, North Dakota and flew all the way to Indiana with his Papa and Uncle and never looked back. That was 900 miles away from me at just 9 months old – and none of them missed me – AT ALL!

Jack has even conspired to teach his little brother to accept these invitations. And together the McFarland sons accept many – many invitations. So much so – that there are people who think their Auntie and Uncle have 4 children! (I am not kidding.) And I find myself saying things like – “Actually – those 2 over there. Yes – those 2. The ones who look like my husband! They actually are NOT John and Elizabeth’s kids. They are MINE!”

They even bribe my sons with adorable puppies!

Or sometimes I find myself standing toe to toe with John – (and he is a big guy – something like 6 ft. 5 in. tall) and saying – “Give us back our children – NOW!”

But sadly – I usually lose because Auntie and Uncle are way – way cooler than I am!

Having a blast with Auntie, Uncle, Nic, and Bella

Even if we aren’t quite as busy with invitations as the McFarland sons are – we all receive invitations from time to time. (Or at least we used to receive invitations before COVID-19 . . .) So we can remember what it was like to receive invitations.

Remember our amazing Big Band Nights at church?!!

We have received invitations to birthday parties and to anniversary celebrations like the wonderful gathering Phyllis and Charlie Boston had here at Saint Stephen last year to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary and events like our Big Band Nights at church.

Rod and Brenda having fun at Big Band Night.

We have received invitations to weddings and graduation celebrations and baby showers.

Check out Barry and Marilyn’s smiles!

And now – in this COVID-19 world many of us are being invited to Zoom meetings. Or to socially distant hangouts which may seem a bit strange – but are a welcome opportunity to see a few of our long lost friends our hearts have been longing to see for months now!

Pat and Cheryl looking so happy and relaxed!

No matter how an invitation arrives – every invitation has the same purpose. Invitations encourage you to be a part of something – they extend a warm welcome – and let you know you are wanted.

Check out these cool cats from Pittsburgh, PA . . .

In our Gospel reading for this week we all heard an incredibly important invitation from our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ. Jesus declares this invitation is for anyone who is weary – or carrying a heavy burden. It is for anyone whose soul needs rest.

And I am guessing that when you heard those words from Jesus – (if you were anything like me) – you said “Yes – please. Count me in! I am sooooo totally there!”

Clearly – Jesus’ invitation is for every single person in the entire world. Because who hasn’t been weary? Especially after these past three and a half months!

I – for one – am exhausted. I am so stinking tired of living in a world in which COVID-19 exists. I have had enough of social distancing and masks and hand sanitizer and careful isolation and missing my friends. And missing my sisters and brothers in Christ! I am tired of doing risk assessments in my head every time one of my sons asks to do something. I want to sing the Happy Birthday song at an actual birthday party and not just because I am washing my hands for the 10,000th time that day! I am weary of worrying. I am – well – I am just plain weary.

I wear my mask not just to protect myself. I wear it to protect others – but I really long for the day when we don’t need to wear them!

And I doubt I am alone in having these feelings. Who isn’t carrying at least one heavy burden? Who can say their soul doesn’t need rest?

And so – know this – Jesus is inviting you to come to him. Your Lord and Savior is inviting you to draw near to him.

And if you accept Jesus’ invitation to come to him – Jesus promises you that he will gently and humbly care for you. Jesus wants you to know if you come to him and you are weary or carrying heavy burdens – he will give you rest. Jesus promises to surround you with his love.

Jesus sends you this amazing invitation, because he loves you. And because he knows what it is like to be a human being. Jesus knows what you need and what you long for most. He knows what is in your heart and on your mind. Jesus gets it. After all – Jesus is just as human as you are. Jesus has walked in your shoes.

Will was very – very – very WEARY of walking in his shoes on this day!

Jesus knows what it is like to have a family. Jesus knows the joys and the stresses of having parents and brothers and sisters.

Jesus has spent a whole lot of time with the same people. Day after day after day with the same people . . .

Will and I are officially WEARY of EACH OTHER in this picture!

He knows what it is like to have friends and neighbors and co-workers who expect a lot from you. Jesus knows what it is like to be surrounded by people who need or want something from you ALL OF THE TIME!

Jesus knows what it is like to have an incredibly demanding job. Jesus knows what it is like to feel like your work is never done!

My father-in-law making supper for all 10 of us. Cooking for our clan of 10 means the work is NEVER done!

He knows what it is like to have people angry with you because you do not meet their expectations or do what they want you to do.

Jesus knows what it is like to be frustrated – tired and weary.

Jesus knows what it is like to suffer and to be afraid.

Jesus knows what it is like to mourn when a loved one dies.

Jesus has dealt with the burdens of being human in this broken – messy – complicated – often painful world. Jesus knows. He understands. Jesus gets it.

And Jesus cares. Jesus cares a lot! Jesus loves you so much that he invites you to share your life and your burdens with him. Jesus promises to help you carry your burdens – so they will not be so heavy. Jesus promises to be your partner in this life – to help you – to share in each and every moment of your life.

To believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior – does not mean your life will not be touched with difficulties – sorrow – and pain. Jesus does not promise you that – but Jesus does promise to be present with you throughout your lives.

Jesus will share your greatest joys – your deepest suffering and sorrows and everything in between. Jesus will strengthen you and encourage you. Jesus has promised to be with you for all eternity. You are never alone – not even for a second! Your loving Lord is with you always. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

Serving and Saving Lives on a Thursday Afternoon

On Thursday afternoon Saint Stephen was a hustling – bustling place.  I haven’t had so much wonderful company at church during the week in months and months.  I must say that I found it to be incredibly exciting!  It felt like the good old days – only with masks and lots and lots of hand sanitizer – of course.

Getting checked in and signed up. Our church president truly leads by faithful example!

I have missed our vibrant Christian community while we have all been staying safe at home because of COVID-19.  I have missed chatting in the fellowship hall.  I have missed hearing about your children and grandchildren and your pets and your personal lives.  I have missed hearing about your jobs and your favorite hobbies.  I have missed getting health updates and the opportunity to check in with one another.  Quite simply I have missed all of you.

Chloe and Lori hiding under those nifty masks. Lori came on her wedding anniversary to donate blood!

I have also missed the opportunity of welcoming the wider community into Saint Stephen and the opportunity of serving our Lord by serving God’s people.

Catching up!

All of those things happened on Thursday afternoon during our first Red Cross Blood Drive at Saint Stephen of the year. 

She was so patient with the crazy pastor and her camera who was stalking her while she was trying to do her job!

There is no substitute for blood.  When a patient receives blood, it was given in advance by a generous donor.

No HIPA violation here. I asked for and received Lori’s permission!

Every 2 seconds someone in the United States needs blood.

Marilyn says “Hi!”

1 blood donation can potentially save up to 3 people’s lives!

You can see Susan is enjoying her summer. Her eyes are twinkling with delight! Or maybe that is because we were talking about her amazing grandson . . .

Red blood cells must be used within 42 days of donation.  Therefore there is always a need for donors.

Dorothy just came from work. What a total rock star!

We had 21 people come to the blood drive hoping to give blood.  17 of those potential donors were successful! 

Thank you to everyone who volunteered!  Thank you for being so incredibly generous!  Thank you for being so willing to give of yourselves to help others!  Thank you for being a blessing!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Why I Keep Posting so Many Pictures of Puffy Clouds and Pretty Flowers

Not all that long ago – someone very important to me – asked me why – in the middle of a devastating global pandemic I keep seeking beauty in the everyday.  She asked me why I persisted in seeking God’s presence.  Why I look for flowers – rainbows – laughing little boys and beautiful skies with so much determination day after day after day?  She said – you stubbornly insist on looking for the good and the lovely and these are not good or lovely times . . .

Yes – that is right.  I do.  I am.  And I shall persist!  I am stubborn – just ask Jason!

I do all of this because of this – I firmly believe our attention really and truly is like a magnifying glass.  Our attention always expands and enlarges the importance of what we are thinking about.  And I want to spend as much of this life as possible focused on beauty and kindness and our God’s presence in this world.

Years ago (well actually decades ago now) I decided I was going to spend my life focusing on the good.  That I wanted to seek beauty.  That I wanted to be a kind – loving – positive and if possible – gentle person.  (And yes – I have met myself and am well aware that I am a work in progress!)  This was a very conscious decision.  And I have had to work very hard at it.  I am not naive.  I am no Pollyanna.  I am not blind.  I live in the “real” world.  But in college I vowed I was going to be different.

The household I grew up in just was not a very happy place.  It was a negative place.  When I was a kid – I didn’t realize just how negative it was.  After all – it was all I knew.  It was my normal.  I thought all kids lived immersed in a sea of negativity.  And from the outside looking in – I am sure most people thought everything was fine and dandy  – but it wasn’t.

My parents did not give compliments.  They handed out criticisms instead.  If you mowed the yard – they never just said “hey thanks kiddo.”  Or told you that you had done a nice job.  Instead they pointed out how you had failed to live up to their impossible standards.  There was always a crooked line in the lawn or there were a few untidy grass clipping left in the street or a spot you had missed.  The same went for cleaning your room or cleaning up the supper dishes or ironing a t-shirt or your confirmation report on Martin Luther.  Nothing was ever good enough.  Nothing received a compliment without a sharp verbal barb or two.

And it wasn’t just their children who couldn’t meet my parents’ standards. 

It is true that children learn what they live.  And so by the time I escaped to college I knew how to play the game.  I was good at being negative and cynical and even two-faced.  After all – I thought that was what everyone did. 

Then freshman year – one of my best friends and I were walking across campus and I made some sort of snotty comment about another friend who wasn’t there at the time.  I did it – because that was what I had learned to do.  That was how I had experienced the world up until that moment.  No one was ever good enough.  No one was complimented.  Everyone got torn apart when they weren’t in the room.  You smiled while sliding the verbal knife into everyone’s back.  That’s what everyone did – didn’t they?

But that night – Jen stopped dead in her tracks and looked me deeply in the eyes (honestly she looked right into my broken, damaged soul) and said – “Oh Kerri – that was so mean!  I hope you don’t talk about me like that when I am not around.”  I saw such hurt in my dear friend’s eyes.  Hurt that I had felt so many times when I had been criticized and humiliated.

And in that moment I vowed to be different – to change.  I vowed to stop being that person who brings hurt into the world.  I vowed to start looking for beauty and love and kindness.  I was baptized as an infant and had gone to church almost every Sunday of my entire life – but that was really and truly a “come to Jesus” moment for me.

Of course – I still get it wrong all of the time.  I am a broken – sinful human being in need of God’s grace – love and mercy – but I keep on trying to seek God.  To see the beauty in this life and to live with kindness.

So that is why I keep showing up in this space – week after week – month after month in the middle of a global pandemic with all of the pictures of flowers and puffy white clouds and bumble bees. 

I am being not naive.   I know that we live in a broken, sinful world.  I am not blind to the suffering around me.  I see it.  I know. 

Instead I am keeping a vow I made over 25 years ago.  I am choosing to spend as much of my life as I can focusing on the good – even in the midst of a global pandemic.

What will you focus on today and in the weeks and months to come? 

I am going to be wandering through this life with Jason – Jack and Will seeking the good in this wild – messy – sometimes terrifying – and occasionally beautiful life.  Thank you for joining me and thank you for sharing in even a moment of it.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, June 28, 2020

Jeremiah 28:5-9

5The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

1Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing;
  from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2For I am persuaded that your steadfast love is established forever;
  you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
  I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
4‘I will establish your line forever,
  and preserve your throne for all generations.’ ” 
15Happy are the people who know the festal shout!
  They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence.
16They rejoice daily in your name;
  they are jubilant in your righteousness.
17For you are the glory of their strength,
  and by your favor our might is exalted.
18Truly, our shield belongs to the Lord;
  our king to the Holy One of Israel.  Amen.

.

Romans 6:12-23

12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.


20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Word of the Lord.

Matthew 10:40-42

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

The innocent little one I am honored and blessed to spend the most time with . . .

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

When I was a little girl – we had an amazing neighbor named Mrs. Browning.  We were next-door neighbors – but our yards were separated by a dense – thick hedge of pine trees and honeysuckle bushes.  And as much as I liked Mrs. Browning – I liked her hedge even more.  Actually – I loved her hedge – because it was one of the very best places in my world to play. 

As the bushes had grown over the years – they formed wonderful – nooks and crannies that made perfect play houses that were just the right size for a little girl and her imaginary friends.  During the summer when the leaves hid me from view – I spent hour after hour playing in her hedge.  In Mrs. Browning’s hedge – I entered worlds spun from my vivid imagination. 

Some days I was a pioneer living in a sod house struggling to survive a raging winter blizzard.  Other days I was an intrepid explorer discovering incredible new worlds.  And sometimes I was an orphan bravely living in the world helped only by my wits and ingenuity. 

We are a multi-generational bush hiding family . . .

I must have talked to myself out loud a lot (even back then) – because more than once when I was a pioneer whose food and water supplies were running dangerously low – Mrs. Browning would bring me life-saving provisions.  By generously placing a few chocolate chip cookies and grape Kool-ade on the stoop of my sod house – Mrs. Browning gave me the strength to carry on.

If I were shipwrecked on a scorching hot desert island – she might provide me with the only nourishment I had received in days in the form of a truly refreshing Popsicle or two. 

More than once – Mrs. Browning saved me from freezing to death during a wickedly nasty August blizzard.

I didn’t even ask him to climb into this bush – he did it on his own!

Mrs. Browning knew all about hospitality.  It was such a part of her life that she even offered hospitality to the quirky little girl and her imaginary friends hiding in her bushes.

Who do you think of when you think about hospitality?  Who or what comes to mind? 

When I think of hospitality – I think of people like Mrs. Browning who have welcomed me warmly and cared for me.  Who opened their hearts and made room for me in their lives.   I think of people who were patient and loving and gracious.

Dictionaries say that hospitality is the “act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward.” 

But what about Christian hospitality? What is Christian hospitality and what does it look like? 

As always – the best place to look for answers to questions about our faith is the Bible.  So let’s turn to God’s Word.  The Bible has a whole lot to say about hospitality. 

Most of us tend to think of hospitality as having good manners and being polite when someone stops by for a visit.  We think that hospitality means offering our guests something to drink and something yummy to eat.  But the Bible tells us hospitality is more than good manners. Hospitality is an act of worship.  Hospitality is our sacred duty.

In ancient times – hospitality was literally a life and death matter.  After all – people lived in a world without hotels, restaurants, rest stops, debit cards, and 24-hour grocery stores. 

Folks depended on the hospitality of complete strangers for survival as they traveled from place to place.  If a traveler were not shown hospitality by a stranger – he was very likely going to spend the night hungry and thirsty and quite possibly in considerable physical danger.

Hear the words God shared with his people in Leviticus (19:33-34) – “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” 

God is reminding his people that they were once the travelers and the strangers and the people who needed help.  God is reminding his people to look to their own history as the strangers in a new place and to be loving and gracious and compassionate. 

Saint Paul declared to the Romans (12:12-13) that they should – “Contribute to the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.” 

It is so very – very easy just to save our hospitality and kindness and generosity for our friends and loved ones.  But our God wants us to remember that as his followers we are called to help everyone – even complete strangers!

First Peter (4:9-10) includes the call to Christians to “be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”  Seriously – without complaining?!?  But most of us are just so good at complaining . . .

Easter dresses for FCHUM!

Jesus knew the importance of hospitality from firsthand experience. Jesus regularly depended on the hospitality of strangers as he had traveled all over Israel and the surrounding countryside sharing the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy.

Hospitality is deeply tied to our faith in our God.

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus revealed something very important about Christian hospitality – when Jesus said – “Whoever welcomes you – welcomes me and whoever welcomes me – welcomes the one who sent me.” 

Jesus tells us that he and God the Father are present in every single person whose path crosses ours.  So when we open our hearts and homes and our church and lives to others – we are opening our hearts and homes and lives to our Lord. 

Jesus wants us to see the people who pass through our lives and to be aware of their needs.  God wants us to be compassionate – loving and generous.  God wants us to open our hearts to his world and to ALL of his people.  And by doing this Jesus tells us we will be loving God – caring for God – and serving God. 

This is amazingly good news for us – when we serve others we serve our God. 

Hospitality is worship and praise.  Through hospitality we are given the opportunity and the privilege to be used by God for incredibly important things.  Hospitality is a way of thanking God for his blessings to us. 

The church council working together so that we can worship as a community again!

When you welcome others into your heart you are welcoming Jesus. 

When you are generous to others you are being generous to your Lord. 

When you welcome that new family into the neighborhood – you welcome Jesus.

Long time members of Saint Stephen spending time with newer members of Saint Stephen.

When you thank that front line worker – you are thanking Jesus.

When you make the stranger who is visiting your church feel at home – you are welcoming God.  

When you help by donating nutritious food to Fern Creek/Highview Ministries – you are feeding Jesus. 

When you stand in solidarity with the oppressed – you are standing with Jesus. 

When we feed a stranger we are feeding Jesus.

When you live lives of hospitality – you are serving God and you are being who God has called you to be.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

Catching up with Easton and Grant

Extroverts intrigue me – because they are just so different from me.  I find extroverts absolutely – positively mystifying.  They are so – well – they are so energized by things that exhaust me!

I am an introvert.  I crave quiet and solitude.  I love long stretches of being alone with nothing but my own thoughts and a ball of yarn and some knitting needles.  Nothing makes me happier than an entire weekend (my weekend = Friday and Saturday) when the only people I see are Jason, Jack, and Will. 

Once Will asked me why we don’t have parties at our house like his beloved Auntie and Uncle do.  Will is the family extrovert and he thinks parties are really fun!  Jason and Jack just laughed, and answered for me – “because Mommy’s brain doesn’t work that way!”  Seriously – my brain doesn’t work that way.  The last time I threw a party – was 19 years ago when we lived in Minnesota and it was for the church council.  I threw that party and thought “nope that is not for me!”  I was exhausted and completely stressed by the entire experience.

More than once someone in the McFarland household has commented that staying safe at home because of COVID-19 hasn’t dramatically altered our family’s way of living.  And it is true.  It really didn’t.  Our lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much, because I am an introvert who is married to an introvert.  We are happiest in the woods or the garden or with our noses in a good book.  A wild night for me is a Worship and Music Committee meeting at church. 

But as time went on I did notice that even this dyed in the wool introvert had enjoyed enough quiet time.  Buddy would come in to pay bills at the church and I would hold poor Buddy hostage until I had received a full and I mean FULL report from him on how everyone in his entire family was doing from Peggy right on down to Paige. 

Marilyn would stop by to drop off her offering at the church and I would realize that chatting with her and getting an update on the fence she and Sarah were building had been really and truly exciting to me.  Poor Marilyn probably was exhausted from building that fence and just wanted to get home and put her feet up – but first she had to spend 18 hours talking to me! 

Jason and I would see Marcia while we were on a walk in the neighborhood over our lunch break and we would chat so long Jason would have to remind me that he needed to get home because he needed to get back to work. . . okay then.

I would run into a Lutheran in the grocery store and we would have a socially distant conversation that lasted so long the McFarland sons’ ice cream started to melt!

For years and year and years – all I dreamed of was having great big – glorious uninterrupted swaths of uninterrupted family time.  And thanks to COVID-19 boy – oh boy did I get it! 

I do give our Lord thanks for Jason – Jack – and Will and for all of the time we have been able to spend together over these past months.  They have been and continue to be such a gift and a blessing. 

But I must say – it has been wonderful to be able to see and hear from other folks too.  I have been absolutely – positively craving news about how other folks are doing.

Today – I want to share a update with you from the Lynch family.  Beth, Michael, Easton, and Grant have not been able to join us for in-person worship just yet.  Imagine – if you will – trying to keep a mask on an eight month old baby . . .

Grant is 8 months old now!  Grant is crawling everywhere so Beth never – ever – ever gets to sit down now!  Michael probably doesn’t ever sit down either.  And we all know that Grant and Easton don’t ever sit down!!!  Grant is also teething so Beth and Grant aren’t sleeping much either. . .

So much handsome – gorgeousness in one photo collage!

Easton is busy thriving and growing and being just plain extraordinary and amazing! 

He is looking very mature!!!

Beth, Michael, Easton, and Grant are all well and say hi!  They are looking forward to seeing everyone as soon as they are able.

Brothers Bonding!

Thank you to Beth for sharing these wonderful pictures of Easton and Grant.  They have both changed so much.  3 months is almost a lifetime when you are little. . .

I would love to share more updates and similar God sightings so please send them my way! 

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

In Christ and with Love,

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, June 21, 2020

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13

7O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
 you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
 I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
8For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
  I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”
 For the word of the Lord has become for me
  a reproach and derision all day long.
9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,”
 then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones;
 I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
10For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around!
 Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
  All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.
 “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him,
  and take our revenge on him.”
11But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
  therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.
 They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed.
 Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.
12O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind;
 let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord!
 For he has delivered the life of the needy
  from the hands of evildoers.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18

7Surely, for your sake I have suffered reproach,
  and shame has covered my face.
8I have become a stranger to my own kindred,
  an alien to my mother’s children.
9Zeal for your house has eaten me up;
  the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.
10I humbled myself with fasting,
  but that was turned to my reproach. 
11I put on sackcloth also,
  and became a byword among them.
12Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,
  and the drunkards make songs about me.
13But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O Lord:
  “In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help.
14Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
  let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters. 
15Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up;
  do not let the pit shut its mouth upon me.
]  16Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind;
  in your great compassion, turn to me.
17Hide not your face from your servant;
  be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.
18Draw near to me and redeem me;
  because of my enemies deliver me. 

Amen.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

1bShould we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 10:24-39

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.


32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.


34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.


35For I have come to set a man against his father,
 and a daughter against her mother,
 and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.


37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our father and from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

In his acceptance speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, Holocaust survivor Sir Elie Wiesel perfectly demonstrated his understanding of today’s lessons for us all. He so eloquently stated “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” In such a simple phrase, this Jewish man, who  -as 15-16 year old boy- had survived the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he lost both of his parents and his younger sister to the whims of pure evil, perfectly encapsulated the message of Christ in today’s Gospel, the faith of Jeremiah in our first lesson and the words of encouragement by St. Paul in his letter to the newly forming church in Rome as well as any pastor, Pope, philosopher or even Luther himself ever could.

Stand up. You are blessed. You have been called. Do not be ashamed nor afraid. Speak. Act. Fight for those who cannot. It is not about you.

Our Lord could not be more clear in his message for us today with his words quoted in the book of Matthew. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Peace is easy. Peace is acquiescence, Peace is complicitness. Yet the sword that Christ yields is not one to kill, maim or control others but is instead the sword of God’s eternal judgment of those who oppose him and resist His will for us in our time on this earth. Sitting passively on the sidelines while others are being oppressed is very clearly not an option. 

Doing our fallible best to obey the 10 Commandments so as not to harm others in our daily lives is admirable and a solid cornerstone for a functioning society. Jesus himself knew well and often spoke of the merits the “old laws” that were mostly divinely inspired and written long before his arrival. Yet when directly challenged as to which was the most important, three of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke recount that he did not waver: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” He did not leave it there, however. Those same three Gospels, along with the addition of John explicitly state that Jesus quickly followed his declaration with his own “new” directive. “Love your neighbor” -not only as you love yourself- but also “as I have first loved you.” 

Wow. Those are powerful words. The most palatable and sanitized interpretation of that seemingly simple directive is summarized in the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The essence of this maxim has been around since times long before the birth of Christ. It is pretty simple to grasp, “If you wouldn’t want it to happen to you, don’t do it to anyone else.” But that is not what our Lord has said. He said “Love your neighbor AS I HAVE FIRST LOVED YOU.” Model my love for you in the way you treat others occupying this planet with you. And, just to be clear, he is not only speaking of the people with whom you have chosen to live next door, across the street, down the block or even in the same part of town. They don’t have to think like you, look like you, live anywhere near you or even believe the same things you believe. They alone are not all of our “neighbors.” The neighbors Christ refers to are ALL of those individuals that share the basic property of being human on this big blue planet spinning around our sun as a part of billions and billions of galaxies in God’s universe. Every race of people in every corner of this planet has no more than 1/10 of 1% difference in their DNA. We all are one people. Jesus knew nothing about genetics, but he absolutely knew this.

His directive for us was not simply “Do no harm.” That is easy. No, Christ’s message is to love other people, including those that we do not even know, AS HE AS FIRST LOVED US. There should be no misinterpretation in understanding that he means caring for others so strongly that we would be willing to lay our very lives on the line to give them a chance for theirs to be better. That was the love He showed to us. He had no interest in His personal gain. He was sent to Earth to be a model of love for us to emulate. His love for everyone, even those who actually killed him, led to his death. But, of course, that was part of God’s plan.

So when Jesus challenges us as in today’s Gospel to “take up the cross and follow me” while fully acknowledging that those who do so will put themselves, their lives and even others they personally love in peril, he does so knowingly, emphasizing the significance of the instruction. When He says “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” he is saying that when you know in the deepest part of your soul that something is wrong, you MUST speak out and even act against it. Do not keep silent. But do so with the assurance that you are acting under the complete shelter and comfort of a faith in the one true God that has blessed us all with eternal protection for doing his will. He doesn’t promise that there will be no consequences for doing so; only that we must do it.

In the second lesson today Paul assures us that the lives we live as baptized believers in and workers with Christ are lives that have been blessed through the trials He faced. And through His resurrection over death ours are therefore lives that are to be dedicated to doing the will of God here on Earth. 

Doing the will of God.

For the overwhelming majority of us, my friends, this is a terrifying notion. Most of us have found or even labored extensively to create pockets of great comfort for ourselves and those we know and love in our own personal worlds. The idea of putting those treasures at risk to speak out against injustices for people we do not even know, or instances we barely understand is nothing short of horrifying. Yet, may we all find the faith of Jeremiah as demonstrated in our first lesson. While Jeremiah is lamenting the mockery, derisions and physical risks that are cast upon him by even his closest friends for speaking God’s will amongst an unreceptive audience he does so with a faith and confidence that he knows God sees his heart and will reward him in the end.

We are Lutherans. Specifically, we are Lutherans as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In some ways, since the formation of the ELCA by consecutive votes in 1982 and 1986 (the first of which was held here in Louisville coordinated by my father and our former Pastor Tom Swasko and the second one I got to attend as a youth delegate in Milwaukee) I’ve skeptically questioned the inclusion of the word “evangelical” in that name. You see, as a stereotype, Lutherans are not really known for our will to “evangelize” in the active sense of the verb. 

Evangelize: to spread the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.

We’re more of a “We’re so glad you’re here! Please come back and see us and we’ll share more of God’s love with you when you do! (But please don’t sit in “my” seat when you come back.)” kind of church. As a “rule” speaking out is not our forte. That is not to say there are not some AMAZING individuals actively doing God’s will and publicly sharing God’s love in His name on a daily basis. As a whole, however, we as Lutherans just don’t tend to do it in a way that frequently garners attention.

Yet our national church is very clear, and our Church Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has issued a call to us to do just what our Gospel today commands. Look within. Stand up. Speak out. We are blessed. Her words to us this week specifically referenced the unnecessary tragedy here in Louisville that took Breonna Taylor’s life. She then went on to call us to not be silent; for silence is acceptance. “As church, together we must work to condemn white supremacy in all forms and recommit ourselves to confront and exorcize the sins of injustice, racism and white supremacy in church and society and within ourselves as individuals and households.” Those are uncomfortable words. “Within ourselves? OUR households?” – Not me! – I don’t think…  But empowered by the unfathomable love that Christ has freely given to us we are blessed with an unmeasurable ability to dig even deeper and find that place from which we can share that love with ALL of God’s people. If we do not work in our own ways to undo injustice when we see it in front of our own faces, we are in the words of Elie Wiesel, “helping the oppressor” and “encouraging the tormentor.” In the words of our Lord in todays’ Gospel, that silence is walking past the cross laying on the ground and not taking it up to follow the will of God.

To close with a final quote from Sir Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”

Stand up. You are blessed. You have been called. Do not be ashamed nor afraid. Speak. Act. Fight for those who cannot. It is not about you. God calls us.

And now, may the peace and LOVE of God, which surpasses ALL our understanding, keep your hearts, minds, words and deeds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

  • written and shared by Dr. Paul J. Kiser
I could not find a picture of Paul on my camera – but did have a picture of Paul’s youngest daughter from years ago when she was being dropped off at church camp. Kayleigh is the one in the middle. (young Ella Markley and Jack are also featured)

Taking a Great Big, Deep Breath!

Far – far too often life just plain hurts.  Sometimes we hurt for ourselves.  Sometimes the pain we feel is physical.  Our pain can be fleeting but incredibly intense.  Like when we hit our funny bone.  (And we all know there is absolutely – positively NOTHING funny about hitting your funny bone!)

Sometimes physical pain lasts and lasts and lasts.  And we must learn how to cope and live with the pain.  We have discover how we will endure.  How we will find joy and meaning in life – even when it hurts – a lot.  I know that so many folks in our Christian community live with chronic ailments.  Personal experience has taught me that living with chronic pain is hard – hard work.  You have to dig really deep.  Some days you have to dig so deep you are pretty sure you might just end up at the center of the Earth – right there in the iron and nickel alloy core.

Sometimes the pain we must confront is emotional or spiritual or both.  Our hearts are broken.  We experience incredible loss in this life.  Loving people means being so very – very vulnerable.  People hurt us.  They disappoint us.  Sometimes they break our hearts by being just as human as we are.  Sometimes they break our hearts by getting sick.  Sometimes they break our hearts by dieing.

Sometimes the pain we feel is because our hearts are breaking because people we love are hurting.  This pain – this empathy – hurts too.  It can take your breath away to watch a loved one hurt or struggle.  We hurt because our loved ones hurt.  To know that your sister in Christ is heartbroken can break our hearts too.  To know that your friend is reeling makes us reel too.  To know that your brother in Christ is aching makes us ache too. 

I was having one of those days today.  One of those days when my heart was breaking for someone whose heart was breaking.  And like everything – it seems to be so very much worse because of COVID-19.  Because we can’t throw our arms around each other.  Because we can’t offer a hug or a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold.  Because phone calls just don’t seem sufficient. 

I was feeling so frustrated with the stupid virus.  For the way it feels like COVID-19 has robbed us of so much.  For the way that it feels like it has robbed us of community.  For the way that COVID-19 has made such a stinking awful mess of our lives.  And then I looked up and I saw this . . .

A cross – thank you Lord. 

Thank you Lord for being patient with me.  For being gracious to me.  For being so incredibly merciful!   For holding us all in the palm of your hand.  For the reminder that you are with us always.  Thank you Lord for hanging in there with all of us and for never leaving us alone.

I grabbed the camera and went on a scavenger hunt a while back on an afternoon when we needed to use our seeing eyes.  William and I looked for crosses and we found them all over the place!

I encourage you to do the same. 

Look for crosses . . .Look for them in your house. . .Look for them outside. . .Look for them in the grocery store.  They are everywhere!  Just like our God is everywhere.

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Headed to the Cove

Everyone has a happy place.  That special place on the planet that fills their heart with joy.  For me the Great Smoky Mountains will always be one of those special places.  I love spending time in the mountains.  I especially delight in going for a nice – long hike in the mountains.  And I really and truly love going for a hike in the mountains with my very favorite people in the universe.  

On Wednesday I got to do a lot of just that when our family headed to Cades Cove in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Cades Cove was an isolated valley – but now it is one of the most popular spots in the entire National Park.  Cades Cove has an 11 mile one-way loop road that is incredibly popular with tourists.  

Normally I am not a very big fan of the Cades Cove loop – because it involves a lot of driving/sitting in the car.  (Actually – I have never liked going for “rides” in the car.  I am deeply and profoundly scarred from my childhood.  Oh how I hated being forced to go along for those pointless and truly horrible family drives when I was a kid – so painfully boring.  Those rides were torture to be dreaded like a trip to the dentist! I vowed I would never inflict those on my own children or myself ever again. Yuck – just yuck!)

But on Wednesdays the Cades Cove loop is closed to all vehicle traffic for the entire day.  So cool!  The only wheeled traffic that is permitted is bikes.  Jack and Isabella Grace took their bikes and rode the loop.  Jack and Bella flew like the wind – because they are young and so very strong.  Actually Jack rode around the loop 2.5 times because he is 16 and he could.  Again with the young and strong!

Mimi and Papa took Nic and Will and went on an abbreviated loop hike.  Mimi is still recovering from a total knee replacement this spring and was only up to hiking about 5 miles on her new knee!  We were all very impressed and very proud of her.  Talk about making strides in her physical therapy!  She is such an awesome role model of fierce determination for her grandchildren and her children and in-laws for that matter.

When I met Linda when I was a teenager – I remember being so impressed with a mom who could hike mountains.  I didn’t know any women who were strong and powerful enough to hike mountains until I met her.  Now Linda is a grandma who hikes mountains!  I hope I can continue to follow in her strong – gracious – loving footsteps.  Onward and upward or at least onward!

John, Elizabeth, Jason, and I opted to hike the entire loop.  It was so amazingly beautiful from start to finish.  We had perfect weather for our hike. And we were in a parenting-free zone (unless you count the 5 whole seconds we saw Jack as he zoomed by us on his bike).

The four of us have been hiking together in the Smokies for 23 years this summer.  I have been hiking with Jason and Elizabeth for 28 years now.  It is wild to think that Elizabeth was younger than our Jack when I started dating Jason!  

This was taken on my first trip to Cades Cove . . .

So many years and so many miles together. . .So much history and so much laughter . . . So many great stories. . .

Taking in the wildlife and no I don’t mean our children. They were looking at snakes!

We saw snakes . . .

Actually we saw 6 snakes . . . 

We saw wild flowers.

Lots and lots of wild flowers.

We saw deer.

Some of our fellow hikers thought this was an elk . . .

We saw a bear.

We saw mountains.

Did I mention the wildflowers?

The wildflowers are always my favorite.

Oh how I love the wildflowers!

This year has been wild and weird and painful and frightening.  It has been exhausting and bewildering too.  But it has also been filled with wonderful blessings and so much beauty.  It has been filled with love and laughter and good things too.

I give thanks for the journey – especially because I get to walk with these interesting people who are my beloved family!

Who are you giving our Lord thanks for these days?

What are you giving our Lord thanks for today?  

Even now – our Lord is with us.  We do not walk alone.  

You are in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Yellow-ish

I have always gotten a huge kick out of symbolism and its meaning.  Some of my favorite papers in college and seminary were explorations of an author’s use of symbolism in their writings.  (Why yes – I have always been a great big nerd!). I loved searching out meanings and uncovering messages and exploring clues that authors had left for their readers to discover and uncover.  These hints and nudges from the author intrigued me.  Actually they still do.  

Sometimes authors use color to draw their readers’ attention to something.  (Everyone knows what a woman wearing red means . . . that’s right it is Pentecost Sunday and she is on her way to church!)

Sometimes authors use food to evoke a certain thought or emotion.  Milk and honey for instance are likely going to make a person who has recently read Exodus think of the Promised Land.  While someone else might immediately think of helping her grandmother make homemade biscuits on her summer break.

I have read that scent is actually our most powerful sense.  And just the hint of a smell can pull up a powerful memory.  I am that way with the smell of wood smoke.  As soon as I smell it – my brain travels back to my sabbatical in Mexico.  I smell a wood fire and I am no longer in Louisville or in my in-laws’ backyard.  Nope – I am in the rural Yucatan of Mexico.

Life is full of things that make us think of other things.  Of things that point us to other things.

That is what I am trying to do when I seek out God sightings in my daily life.  I am seeking to remember that God is present with us all of the time – that God is active in our world all of the time.  That God is with us in our daily lives.

This week while I have been walking, hiking, and out exploring God’s creation – I decided to choose a color each day and to spend my day looking for that color.  

Yesterday I chose yellow.

Yellow – is the color of optimism, happiness, creativity, and joy.  I like yellow a lot.  It is such a fun color.  All day long I was on a yellow scavenger hunt.  I saw lots and lots of yellow out there in God’s great big – amazing – glorious creation.

I encourage you to join me in seeking God’s presence in your daily life.  Pick a color (maybe your favorite color) and start seeking.  What do you see?  Where do you see it?  What surprises do you uncover?  Where does God send you little reminders of his ongoing – steadfast presence in your life?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri