Worship for Sunday, October 17, 2021

Isaiah 53:4-12

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 91:9-16

Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
and the Most High your habitation,
no evil will befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your dwelling.
For God will give the angels charge over you,
to guard you in all your ways.
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion cub and viper;
you will trample down the lion and the serpent.
I will deliver those who cling to me;
I will uphold them, because they know my name.
They will call me, and I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and honor them.
With long life will I satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.  Amen.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

Our Gospel reading for this week – opens with the brothers James and John coming to Jesus with an incredibly bold request.

And they didn’t want any witnesses. So they waited until the other disciples aren’t around before making their bold request.

They want a tangible sign of just how important they are. James and John want a sign so obvious – no one can miss its meaning. James and John want to sit at Jesus’ right hand and his left hand in glory.

James and John want positions of power and honor and incredible prestige. They want everyone in both heaven and on earth to know just how important they are!

This must have been one of those moments in Jesus’ earthly life that made him want to weep. Or beat his head against the nearest wall. Or stomp his feet in frustration while throwing a hissy fit. Or to send James and John back to being fishers of FISH.   Or simply to quit in despair.

Seriously – after working and learning and studying and SERVING with Jesus for years – James and John come to him with a request like this?!?   Jesus must have wondered where he had gone so wrong . . .

But Jesus doesn’t have a hissy fit or quit or cry or fire James and John.

And Jesus doesn’t grant their bold – completely clueless request either.

Instead – Jesus informs them – they clearly don’t understand what they are asking for. They have completely misunderstood what Jesus has been up to in the world.

Jesus’ response must have been crushing for these ambitious brothers.

And things don’t get any better for James and John. Because when the other disciples hear about their gutsy request – they are furious with them.

Jesus sees trouble is brewing. So – Jesus gathers ALL of his disciples together – and informs them – that – “whoever wants to become great must become a servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

That probably wasn’t what ANY of the disciples were hoping to hear.

It isn’t like servants were held in higher esteem back then.   Serving wasn’t more honorable in Jesus’ time than it is in ours. People looked down on servants then too. Servants were nobodies who did the worst – hardest – most backbreaking jobs. And in many cases – they were actually slaves.

Yet here Jesus stands telling the disciples they are called to be servants and slaves.

Once again – Jesus is calling us to do something hard.   Service just doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Serving others takes humility. Most folks prefer glory and honor like James and John. Or at the very least not having to do too much hard work.

There is a story about a company of soldiers from the American Revolutionary War that speaks to our tendency to look down on serving.

These soldiers had been working day after long – hard day constructing a fort. All of the work was done by hand with just a few rudimentary tools. The work was truly difficult and the men were exhausted. As the men worked – their captain stood nearby shouting orders – but offering no help.

Finally – the end was in sight. There were just a few huge logs for the men to heft into place. As the men wrestled with these final logs – it was clear they were nearing their physical breaking point. But still their captain refused to offer any help.   Instead – he just stood there yelling at them and shouting insults.

The more the men struggled – the louder their captain yelled. But he never made a move to help them.

Suddenly a stranger rode up on horseback – and seeing the soldiers struggling – he stopped and asked the captain why he wasn’t helping his men.

“I AM AN OFFICER. OFFICERS DO NOT DIRTY THEIR HANDS IN THAT MANNER” – was the captain’s snooty reply.

Upon hearing that – the stranger quickly got to work helping the men place the final heavy logs.

And the helpful stranger – well – rumor had it – It was George Washington himself the COMMANDER of the Continental Army . . .

A good leader serves others too. Leading means pitching in – helping out and offering support. The best leaders are helpers and companions and co-workers.

James and John did not understand this. They didn’t want to get their hands dirty. They wanted glory and not a bunch of hard work.

Clearly James and John hadn’t been watching Jesus very carefully.   Because Jesus had been showing them day after day that being a follower of God means serving others.

Just look at Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus put other people first. Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus cast out demons and raised people from the dead.

Jesus taught and healed and preached the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy – because that is who Jesus is.

Jesus helped and served to show the world God’s love and that is why we serve too. We serve to show the world God’s amazing love for everyone.

When you volunteer at a local school or bring in food for the food pantry at FCHUM – or send a card to someone – God’s love shines through you.

When you donate blood – support Sunday school – pitch in with cleaning the church – or help out with our church Halloween Party – you are sharing God’s love.

When you pull a few weeds in the church flower beds – go to the Ronald McDonald House – drive a neighbor to the doctor or to the store or rake some leaves for a shut-in – you are sharing God’s love.

When you make a pot of chili – pray for someone on the church prayer list – help on a church work day – or serve as a reader during worship you are being just who God called you to be.

Jesus called you to serve. And when you do – you are sharing God’s love.   Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Worship for Sunday, October 10, 2021

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.   Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 90:12-17

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry?
Be gracious to your servants. 
Satisfy us by your steadfast love in the morning;
so shall we rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you afflicted us
and as many years as we suffered adversity.
Show your servants your works,
and your splendor to their children.
May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us;
prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. Amen.

Hebrews 4:12-16

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.   Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:17-31

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

When my brother was in high school he and his friends all loved the song “I Wanna Be Rich” by the R and B duo Calloway. It was so totally early 1990’s – and they absolutely loved it.   I remember Matt and Perez and Todd and Derek all rocking out to “I Wanna Be Rich” while wearing their super cool M C Hammer pants!

Matt and his best buds all “wanted to be rich! They wanted lots and lots of money. They wanted the pie in the sky. Yes – they wanted to be rich!” And on and on and on. Over and over and over again.

As far as I know none of them have become multi-millionaires just yet – but there is still time.

What about you – are you rich?

I would guess that all of you gathered here today would answer that particular question with a great big old – “NO WAY!”

Or “an are you kidding me?!? Rich – I wish!”

According to one study I read this week – only 28% of people with assets of between 1 and 5 million dollars consider themselves to be rich.   In fact only 60% of folks who have assets of more than 5 million dollars think that they are wealthy. Seriously . . . 5 million dollars and they still don’t feel wealthy?!?

So what does it take for someone living in the United States of America in 2021 to think of themselves as wealthy?

My family makes me feel wealthy!

Well – another group of researchers learned it takes about 2.4 million dollars on average for someone in our country to feel really and truly wealthy. But that varies from city to city and region to region.

Another pretty consistent pattern about wealth is – we always think our money concerns will go away if our income would simply double what it is now.   So if I make $30,000 then I believe all will be perfectly perfect in my world once I am making $60,000. The problem with this is – once we start making that $60,000 we find ourselves yearning for $120,000 and on and on and on.

Making memories with my people = life’s greatest riches!

We are never content for very long. We always want more and more and more!

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus tells us – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Hearing Jesus say that – sort of makes you feel sorry for all of those poor rich people who are going to have such a hard time getting into heaven – doesn’t it?!?

After all – I doubt many of us would call ourselves rich. Honestly – most of us never feel like we have enough money. Like our resources are always being stretched thin . . .

Sure we might be comfortable – but rich just doesn’t describe us. . . Jesus couldn’t be talking about us – could he?

Well – Jesus would say – that he is absolutely – positively talking to us. Jesus would say – we are all rich! That we are all wildly and wonderfully and gloriously rich!

More memories with people I love!

Me – rich? Yeah right – you are probably thinking to yourself – but I ask you to stop for a moment to think about all of the material blessings in your lives.   Think about the clothes in your closets – the car you drive – the shoes on your feet – your home – the food in your refrigerator – the abundant clean water that flows from your faucets – the heat that blasts from your furnace – the electric lights that illuminate your lives – your access to health care and education – and all of those other things we have in our lives that we are all so quick to take for granted.

Now think about this – more than 600 million people currently live on less than $2 per day.

Imagine earning less than 700 dollars a year.   Hearing that sort of makes you rethink the whole rich thing doesn’t it?

When was the last time you were really hungry for longer than the time it took to zap something in the microwave or to go through the nearest fast food drive through?

800 million people in the world are hungry right this very moment. 800 million people – might eat sometime today – but it won’t be enough to satisfy their hunger.

600 million people don’t have access to clean water.   While each of us will use about – 150 gallons of water just today.

900 million people around the world have no access to electricity. And I complain about replacing a lightbulb!?!

Can you imagine life without enough food?   Without clean water?   Without electricity? What would your life be like without those things we think of as necessities but others must live without?

Frankly – we are all rich beyond most peoples’ wildest dreams. We are some of the richest people who have ever lived in human history! Ever!!!

And so – I think we can be pretty sure Jesus was talking to us in our Gospel reading for today when he said – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are aren’t just rich. We are crazy rich! All of us.

But know this too – Jesus isn’t telling us all is lost. Nor is he condemning.   Rather Jesus is warning us.   Jesus wants us to know having so many material blessings can be dangerous. It can make us arrogant. We can get so comfortable and so self-confident that we forget we need God.

All of the wealth that surrounds us – all of our possessions – all of our successes – can make us feel powerful – invincible – even immortal.

Our wealth can cause us to think that we are god-like. We can start to depend on and rely on our material wealth more than we depend on our God. We can start to put the stuff of this world before God.

And this is what Jesus wants us to be aware of.   Jesus wants us to know our wealth cannot save us.

Only God can save us.

The Gospel reading for this week is not a condemnation – rather it is a loving reminder.   God can and will save us – but we do need to remember we need him! And we do need him and his grace – love – and mercy. AMEN.

Waiting in Silence

I am usually so full of words. Words tend to pour out of me. Most days words flow and flow and flow in what must seem like an endless stream to those who love me most.

I often find I have almost as much to write. (Again with all of the wordy words!)

Words are my solace and my joy. Words delight and amuse me. Words – words – words. Words!   I delight in words!

But not so these past days.

I find that the words are not flowing.

Instead I find myself listening. And praying. Oh how I am praying. And I am thinking. And I am seeking time for silence and contemplation. And observing and listening some more.

These have been hard days. It has been a long week. A heavy week. A painful week.

My heart is so weighed down and filled with grief. Our Christian community is grieving. My sisters and brothers in Christ are hurting.   Our hearts are broken. We are sad. We are grieving.

This is hard. This is sad. This is so wretchedly awful it is hard to put it into words . . .

And so I listen. And I pray.   And I wait in silence. And I sigh those sighs Saint Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans and depend on the Spirit to intercede for me with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26).

I hear scripture rolling around in my mind. God’s Word comes back to me. All of that time writing sermons and reading and preparing Bible studies and doing church-y things is blessing me.

I have verses that my mind returns to again and again when I need comfort and solace and strength for the journey.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. . . even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Yes – through – not into forever but through.   Yes – I needed to be reminded that the dark valley isn’t where we stay. It isn’t our permanent residence.

And again I return to Romans 8 – to be reminded of God’s love and care when I am heartbroken.

 “What then are we to say about these things? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Life is hard. Saint Paul really hits the nail on the head when he lists life as one of the things we all fear might separate us from God – doesn’t he?   We all need this reminder that God won’t let anything come between us – not even life in this broken – sinful – incredibly human world. God’s love for us is bigger than even this life!

And Isaiah 49:16.   “See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands.” This image of being in God’s hands . . . this strengths me.

And Psalm 46. I turn to Psalm 46 again and again. The silence part is great – but my favorite reminder is that the God of our ancestors is faithful and with us.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” – Psalm 46:7

Our God doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen to us or those we love. Our God promises us that we are not alone. God is with us in the storms of life. Our God is with us.

I have been seeking and listening and praying and waiting in silence.

What are the verses from God’s Word that strengthen you? That offer you comfort and solace?

What offers you comfort?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

Worship for Sunday, October 3. 2021

Genesis 2:18-24

18The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 8

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

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,9but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark the 10th chapter.

2Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus boldly declares to us that we all need to have faith like children if we want to be able to enter the Kingdom of God.

This particular statement from Jesus is almost certainly guaranteed to capture our attention – because who here doesn’t want to enter the Kingdom of God? Who doesn’t want to go to heaven? Who doesn’t want to spend eternity in Paradise with our Lord?

This declaration from Jesus has certainly captured the imagination of more than a few preachers and been the topic of many sermons over the years.

Lots of these sermons begin by carefully and thoughtfully describing children. The children these preachers know are truly amazing – even downright dazzling creatures.   These children are simply delightful.   They actually verge on being angelic.

These children never – ever roll their eyes or make faces at their parents. Or use more than their fair share of the family data plan or hog the Wi-Fi. These children would never express annoyance about the sage advice their moms lovingly offer!

These children eat all of their vegetables with smiles on their faces and gratitude in their hearts.

A mom could dress these children in white clothing with confidence because they would never dream of wrestling with each other or rolling around on the floor like a pack of wild animals!

And the apparent awesomeness of these sweet – angelic – grateful – vegetable eating children doesn’t stop here . . . Oh – no there is more.   These children also have a completely and utterly trusting faith in God.

These children have no doubt – no questions – and absolutely no uncertainty. Just unwavering faith. The faith these children possess is just as unblemished as their spotless white clothes are.

After hearing these sermons – I am always left scratching my head in puzzlement. Because the children these preachers describe are nothing like ANY of the children I know. Seriously – NONE!

Maybe it is a denominational thing . . . Perhaps it is just Lutheran children – who have these sorts of “issues?” Maybe other children are less “intense.”

Maybe Catholic children are more agreeable and compliant.

Could it be that Methodist children are less probing and Baptist children are less inquisitive?

Perhaps – Episcopalian children are less opinionated.

Because – all of the Lutheran children I have ever met are incredibly spunky creatures. They all seem to be born with strong opinions. And they ask hard questions.

Even really young Lutherans have inquiring minds and they all want to know – absolutely – positively EVERYTHING!

Vacation Bible School – is hands down the most terrifying week of my year. The questions our brilliant young Lutherans ask could make even Martin Luther quiver with fear.

Sometimes the questions are fun like – “Did Adam have a bellybutton since he didn’t have a mom?” Or “why did God think mosquitoes were a good idea?” “Or how do you justify the existence of the paid clergy? – yes I really got that question once . . . ”

But other times – the questions take my breath away and leave me speechless.

Like the day 6 year old Jessie asked me– “If Jesus loves me – why did I get brain cancer?”

Or Erica – who was just 12 when her dad died – She wanted to know why God let her dad die when she still needed him so badly.

Questions like these are enough to make a pastor think about early retirement or a career in just about anything else.

Real – children are inquisitive. They are full of questions. Questions pour out of them all of the time. And many of the questions they ask are hard questions.

Questions just like we ask. Because questions and questioning are part of being human.

But far too often we equate faithfulness and belief in God with a lack of questions. We act like a really and truly faithful person isn’t going to have questions or at least a truly faithful person isn’t going to have tough questions for God.

But I assert with great conviction that questions – even really hard questions about God – and faith – and being a Christian in this broken – sinful world are part of having faith.

God doesn’t ask us to leave our questions behind when we become Christians. Nor does God want us to leave our inquisitiveness at the door when we enter the church.

Some of the most faithful people have asked really hard questions.

Think of all of the questions the disciples asked Jesus.   They asked Jesus hard   questions.

They wanted to know why bad things happened to good people.

They wanted to know why Jesus had to die on a Roman cross.

They wanted to know how to pray and about what heaven was going to be like.

They too wanted to know the meaning of life. And they asked hard questions about divorce too.

Or think of Martin Luther. Think of the hard questions he asked and the ways his hard questions changed the world forever.

I think that when Jesus tells us we should have faith like a child – Jesus is encouraging us to ask questions – to be inquisitive – to dig deeper.   To be seekers and questioners and thinkers.

True faith isn’t the absence of hard questions. Faithful people have all sorts of questions.   Even hard questions.

So ask your hard questions – and seek answers.   Read your Bibles. Pray and talk to God. Come to Sunday school and participate in worship. Listen to God’s Word and listen for God’s answers.

And know this – in our Gospel reading for today – Jesus is telling you – you and your questions are welcome here.   Because God loves you and your questions. And truly this is Good News!   Amen.

93 Days, 15 Hours, and 49 minutes

Summer 2021 is over. This summer flew past in a blur of marigolds and black-eyed Susans and hibiscus blossoms.   It flew by in a whirl of a laughing little boy jumping on his trampoline and riding his scooter and swinging on his swing set and talking to me about how much he loves planes and ships. And a frolicking orange kitten chasing fireflies and many – many trips to the zoo and walks with my beloved.

I tried to slow it down. To stop and smell the roses and the lavender and the freshly mown lawn.   To delight in the blue skies and the way the hot sun felt on my shoulders. I tried to remember to give thanks for the deliciously long days when the sun rose early and didn’t set until our sweet Will’s bedtime.

I tried to remember to sit outside under the shade of my oak tree with my knitting and a good book as often as I could.

I tried to remember to linger outside in the summer air. To take it all in. To watch the white clouds dancing across the vividly blue skies.   To listen to the cicadas’ noisy chatter. To watch the bumble bees busily working and the ants too.

I made time for trips to the river. And I even took a moment now and then to watch the heat radiating off the pavement.

I wanted to appreciate all of it. To soak the blessings of summer in. Because summer does not last.

Summer is so fleeting. And I love summer so. But sadly summer is here and gone so quickly every year.

Today is the first day of fall.

It feels like summer is over. It feels like the first day of fall. Everyone (except Jason) at our house is bundled up in a sweatshirt today.   Jason won’t need long sleeves until late November and only then if he is outside.

It is rainy and gray and cool.

Fall arrived today, Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 3:21 pm and I am trying really – really hard not to be too disappointed.

But I am a summer person. Summer is glorious and amazing and balm for my soul. Summer is vivid – riotous color and baking heat and sunshine.   Summer means growing things and 8,000 shades of green!

I am always just a bit surprised when folks complain about the heat of summer – because I love it so very much. In fact when people complain about the heat of summer I always – always think to myself – “Seriously?!?! January is coming.”

As I sat at my desk today – dressed for fall – listening to the rain fall outside – I lamented the end of summer. Spring 2022 is 6 whole months away . . . 186 days . . .

That is a lot of time. I will have plenty of time to tell my beloved family just how much I abhor winter and dislike fall because it is so close to winter . . .

So today I will close my eyes and remember and reflect and give thanks for my favorite season. I will give thanks for the blessings of the summer of 2021.

I will give thanks for the sun on my shoulders.

I will give thanks for vividly blue skies.

I will give thanks for sons jumping on trampolines.

I will give thanks for walks with my beloved.

I will give thanks for noisy cicadas – so noisy sometimes the sound almost hurt my ears.

and for flowers

and for bees

and for butterflies

and for afternoons spent reading under my favorite tree

and for a funny orange kitten

and for late sunsets and early sunrises

and for green grass and gardens and the heat that I love so . . .

I will give thanks for my favorite season – for all of its blessings – for all that it held. I will try to remember that fall is some folks’ favorite season. And if nothing else I will remember that spring is just 186 days away . . . (and it is supposed to be 81 degrees and sunny on Monday!)

 

Watching More than the Grass Grow

Jason and I go for a walk almost every day. Usually more than once a day.

For years now Jason and I have walked as soon as our work day was over.   Jason would get home from work and off we went for a walk.

Now that Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down and inside out – we often walk together during our lunchtime break from work too. (We have both noticed how much better we feel when we are less sedentary. It is so much easier to work and to think after some exercise!)

In our neighborhood – we have a reputation for being folks who walk.

Just this week one of our neighbors stopped us to ask how many pairs of shoes we wear out each year. He was being silly – but the truth is I walk through about 3 or 4 pairs of sturdy   hiking shoes each year. I walk the tread right off my walking shoes.   It seems asphalt is hard on whatever my shoes are made of.

Walking together long ago became a daily habit for us. It is quite simply part of who we are and how we live in this world.

We have 3 walking patterns that we have developed over the years that fit our family’s needs. Sometimes we can wander further afield and other times we need to stay closer to home.

But our neighborhood is not particularly large by Louisville standards. So – no matter which walking pattern we choose – the paths we walk are very – very well trod. We see the same things over and over and over again on our walks. The same homes – the same yards – the same flowerbeds – the same trees – the same EVERYTHING. Day after day – month after month for almost 9 years now.

At first one might think this would be painfully boring. That seeing the same things over and over and over again would be mind numbingly dull. But thankfully it isn’t. There is joy to be had in knowing something really well. I have found it can be a blessing to be deeply familiar with something.

And over the years I have learned that even when things are deeply familiar – there is so much to see.

First – I have favorite things I look and listen for on our walks.   There is a pair of nesting hawks in our neighborhood. Watching our hawks soar and swoop and hunt and listening to them call and scream is a highlight of our walks. I am quite smitten with our hawks.

I am all about watching clouds. I can and do watch clouds for a very long time. I find the sky to be fascinating.

But what truly captures my attention are the small things. I notice so many little changes in my world.   The minutiae. Those things you would never notice when you were driving by in a car or if you were staring at your smartphone or just simply not looking for them. These are often the things that delight and amaze me the most.

This week it was fungi. Seriously – I kid you not. It was fungi that caught and kept my attention. Fungi were popping up in yards all over our neighborhood. And there was a truly intriguing assortment.

I was mesmerized and delighted and intrigued and amazed.

And this array of fungi grew and spread so quickly. Sometimes there would just be hours between our walks and yet in that time – the fungi would be visibly different. It was amazing to watch them grow and spread and change.

There are 75,000 scientifically identified species of fungi!   And scientists think there are likely a million more that they haven’t yet identified!?! Talk about intriguing . . .

I had no idea what I was looking at – but it didn’t matter. What I was looking at was beautiful and elegant and lovely.

Look at those shapes . . . and colors . . .

Look at the way they contrast with the green of the grass . . . Amazing – right?

I try to keep myself open to surprises and things that might just delight me. I have developed an eye for detail. I notice subtle changes.   I see the little things. I let my eyes wander while my feet pound the pavement and I see amazing things. Beautiful things. Humbling things.   Blessings . . .

I find that many of the greatest blessings in my life are the blessings I might not even notice if I weren’t open to seeing them – to noticing them – to being delighted by them.

It would be easy to miss them – to walk right on by – to be too absorbed – too busy – too hurried – too harried – too distracted . . .

(And I know I am missing so – so many blessings because I am often too absorbed – too busy – too hurried – too harried – too distracted – too arrogant – too lots of things . . . )

This one was literally as big as my head!!!

Have you tried slowing down lately? Have you tried noticing and looking and listening? Have you tried watching for something surprising?

What have you noticed? What have you seen? How have you been blessed?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship for Sunday, September 19, 2021

Jeremiah 11:18-20

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 54

Save me, O God, by your name;
in your might, defend my cause.
Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life,
those who have no regard for God.
Behold, God is my helper;
it is the Lord who sustains my life. 
Render evil to those who spy on me;
in your faithfulness, destroy them.
I will offer you a freewill sacrifice
and praise your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For you have rescued me from every trouble,
and my eye looks down on my enemies. 

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

The Word of the Lord.

Mark 9:30-37

[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I have heard that actual families exist in the universe where the siblings don’t fight – argue – bicker and fight some more. I hear there are families in which everyone keeps their hands to themselves ALL of the time. That there are families where sibling rivalry doesn’t even exist. And the children actually manage get along with each other – even when they are in the same room for longer than 30 seconds in a row.

And while I don’t deny these families may actually exist – a huge part of me believes these families are as rare as unicorns and mermaids.

And just like unicorns and mermaids – these families sound beautiful and lovely and gloriously amazing – but I haven’t had the honor of meeting any of them personally.

My own sons are nifty people – but they delight in messing with each other and in pushing each others’ buttons. And I most certainly didn’t grow up in a family like this. My brother and I fought – argued and bickered daily. In fact – we could get into an argument about anything. And we did – over and over and over again!

If I liked something – Matt hated it. If I thought something was fun – Matt thought it was stupid. If I thought something was interesting – Matt thought it was boring.

Almost all of our arguments were petty and ridiculous. But if we could think of a way to turn something into an argument – we did! It was a sad super-power to possess but it was ours . . .

In our Gospel reading for today the disciples are bickering with each other just like my brother and I used to do. The disciples are arguing about which one of them is the most important. About which one of them is Jesus’ favorite. About which one of them – Jesus loves the most.

And they are having a hard time settling their disagreement. Because – they all believe themselves to be incredibly important. After all – they were ALL called by Jesus to be his disciples.   They are ALL part of an elite group of 12. They are ALL insiders.   They are Jesus’ closest companions and his dearest friends. They ALL believe themselves to be very special . . .

Clearly – the disciples have gotten pretty puffed up and full of themselves.

But when Jesus asks the disciples what they have been arguing about during their walk to Capernaum – they are silent.   They are too embarrassed to tell Jesus.   Because they know – their conversation had been completely and utterly inappropriate.

But they don’t have to tell Jesus what they have been wasting their time arguing about. Jesus already knows what they have been up to.

Jesus knows they have been arguing about which one of them is the most important. Jesus knows they have gotten too puffed up for their own good . . . So Jesus decides to answer the question they aren’t brave enough to admit to debating.

Jesus sits the disciples down for what you might call a “come to Jesus moment.” And he declares – “If anyone wants to be first – he must be the very last – and servant of all.”

This was NOT what the disciples wanted to hear Jesus say!

Then Jesus illustrates his point by gathering a child into his arms and telling the disciples – “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me – welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

With those simple words – Jesus really disappointed the disciples and he turned their world upside down and inside out.   Jesus’ statement was shocking.   Seriously – welcoming a kid – is like welcoming God? Really?   Come on?

That wouldn’t have made any sense to the disciples.   But it makes a lot of sense to us.   Because we live in a world where even the bibs we put on our babies declare them to be royalty.

You have all seen and likely purchased those t-shirts for kids that say things like –   “Princess” – “I Rule Daddy’s Heart” – “Super Star” – “Awesome and I Know It” – “The Next Big Thing” – “Super Hero” – “Check Me Out” – “The Boss” and on and on and on.

We make a really big deal out of our kids.   We hover and dote and pamper.   We treat our kids like royalty.   We quite literally put crowns on our kids and not just at Halloween. Just this week I saw a little princess marching around Target in a crown while also carrying her very own scepter. And she was quite clearly the boss of her mom if the temper tantrum she was throwing was any sign of their relationship . . .

But the world Jesus and the disciples lived in was very different. In Jesus’ world children were nobodies. Kids weren’t just second-class citizens – they were property.

And yet – here Jesus is – telling the disciples if they welcome a complete and utter nobody – they are welcoming both Jesus and God the Father.

So what was Jesus’ point? Why did Jesus tell his disciples that – if anyone wants to welcome God – they must welcome – a bunch of insignificant nobodies?

Well – once again Jesus wanted his disciples to change their way of looking at the world. Jesus wanted his disciples to know everyone is important to God. Yes – God loves kings and queens and faithful disciples. God loves presidents and presiding bishops and prophets – but God also loves children and poor people and folks who the world thinks of as insignificant and unimportant.

To God all people are important and all people are valuable. We are all children of God and we are all equally valuable in God’s eyes. We all matter to God.

No one is insignificant. All people are the beloved children of God – no matter what their social status is or their life circumstances are.

God loves and values the homeless person sleeping rough as much as he loves the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA – Elizabeth Eaton.

God loves and values the drug addict as much as he loves the church deacon.

God loves and values the person who is making decisions we just don’t understand as much as God loves and values us.

God loves and values the person who is in prison as much as he values Pope Francis.

And so should we.

God wants us to show all people the same respect and kindness we show God. God calls us to open our lives and our hearts to the people our society is far too quick to reject. God wants us to love society’s outcasts as much as we love folks we see as loveable.

And God tells us that when we do this we are expressing our love for him. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

There are No Do-Overs

I came across these words from a song by Kate Wolf last week:

These Times We’re Living In

“There are no roads that do not bend

And the days like flowers bloom and fade

And they do not come again

We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

These four simple lines of poetry struck me deeply. And have lingered in my brain for days. I keep coming back to them again and again.

I did not know who Kate Wolf was. I assumed she was a modern poet I had missed by majoring in theology and ancient Greek in undergrad rather than English (one of the great sorrows of my life . . .) Oh well – life doesn’t come with “do-overs” – does it? If it did – I would so totally major in English in college and minor in theology and Greek. I got plenty of theological stuff in seminary – PLENTY!

Anyway – Kate Wolf was a folksinger and song writer. She is described as a musician with a poet’s heart.   She died far too young of leukemia.   She knew much about appreciating the blessing of the time we do have.

Something many of us – don’t . . .

“We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

Wolf’s words express a wisdom about time and this life so many of us fail to see. Those of us who believe we have all of the time in the world are often so very – very careless and cavalier with time and with our lives. We are blind to the powerful blessings of the present moment and time.

We act like time is an infinite resource.

Honestly – there is much in this life (in my own life) that I wish were different. I could go on for days/weeks/months about what I would like to change. My regrets. What I don’t like. What annoys – disturbs – troubles and bothers me. I am a very human – human.

I do not like living through a pandemic. I do not like the divisions in our society. I do not like the apathy and anger and exhaustion I see (and experience). I do not like living with autoimmune diseases and all of the strange – annoying symptoms that come with them. I do not like war. I do not like pain and sorrow and suffering and sin. I do not like celery or sweet potatoes either (just saying).

But . . . but this is the life and world and these are the times I am living in. This is my life. These are my experiences.   This is it . . . This is what I get . . .

This is my life. My time on this earth is finite.

These days with Jason – Jack – and Will – they are finite too.   And it just so happens that Will’s 8th year of life – Jack’s 18th and my/Jason’s 46th – well they are being lived in the midst of a global pandemic.

“We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

I can complain about my life and be miserable and angry and filled with bitterness and resentment that my life isn’t what I wanted/hoped/expected it to be. Who hopes for a pandemic?   Who hopes for disappointment? Who longs to live in a world filled with so much brokenness and pain?

No one longs for these things. But these are the times we are living in. It is what it is . . .

I can choose a different mindset. A different way of being in the world. I can choose to appreciate what I have. I can seek the good. I can look for beauty. I can work really hard to rise above the ugliness. I can choose not to focus like a laser on the bad and the awful and the disappointing and instead focus like a laser on the good. I can choose contentment with the blessings I have – because my life is filled with a multitude of blessings.

I know it can feel hard to find much that feels good or lovely about this time in our lives. Living through a global pandemic is hard and stressful and exhausting. There have been so many disappointments. I will be the first to say that I think it has caused real rifts in our society. Our lives have changed – perhaps forever. . .

But – when we open our eyes and hearts and really look – there is much to appreciate. Much to give thanks for. Much to stand in awe of. There are blessings. There is beauty. There is good.

It isn’t all rubbish . . . It isn’t all wretched and misery . . . It isn’t all ugliness and disappointment and disaster.

“We’ve only got these times we’re living in . . .”

This is the one life we have to live. These times will not come again. There aren’t any do-overs.

This week after I spent time in lament – I wanted to spend time giving thanks too. Not fake thanks. Not thanks I wasn’t feeling.   I didn’t force it. I just let it come. I found that lament and thanksgiving could co-exist in my heart.   I am thankful (just not thankful for everything . . .)

Lately I have stood in awe of health care professionals. Their willingness to help and care for and make huge sacrifices for people with Covid-19 without judgment or condemnation moves me deeply. I truly am awed by these people.

I give thanks for the people of Saint Stephen who have stepped up during the pandemic and helped me over and over again. Saint Stephen exists because of the faithful volunteers who serve our Lord. These folks have blessed our Christian community and me in profound ways these past months. Without them Saint Stephen could not/would not exist.   Some stepped way up.

I give thanks for the crossing guard at Will’s school. She literally takes her life into her own hands every single day protecting young children from reckless – selfish drivers who speed through the school zone in front of Will’s school.

I give thanks for my family. And it is an amazing blessing to be surrounded by people who are good and kind and loving. I did not grow up in a family like this.

I give thanks for sunshine. I love – love – love sunlight.

I give thanks for nature. It is mighty and can be fierce and terrifying – but it is also incredibly – wildly – gloriously beautiful.

I could go on and on and on. And perhaps I should. It is far better for my heart and my soul to focus on the good than to focus on the yuck and pain and difficult. But I will spare you my list . . .

What is good in your life? Where have you been blessed? What can you give thanks for? Who can you give thanks for?

Rally Sunday

This Covid-19 world we live in is filled with all sorts of disappointments both big and small. And moments that make your heart ache. Or moments when your hopes are dashed.

Sunday morning was NOT one of those times for me!

I had been looking forward to this particular Sunday morning for weeks.   Honestly – for months. Rally Sunday! I had been hoping big hopes about Rally Sunday. (Not too big – I know Covid-19 has changed the world and the way people feel about coming to church.) I was keeping my hopefulness within the realms of reality. But I was hopeful all the same.

I had been keeping a close eye on the sign-up sheet in the narthex.   Each time a new name was added I would smile with relief. People were planning to come. People were willing to participate. People are still willing to be a part of our Christian community.

I am used to being in the church alone. I am used to quiet time with our Lord. I like solitude and time for reflection – but Covid-19 has given me far – far too much alone time in the church . . .

One notices things like this when one has lots of alone time in the church.

I was longing for some noise caused by someone other than my own children or by me talking to myself. I was hoping for some hustle and bustle. Maybe even a bit of chaos. Or a cacophony. A cacophony would be nice.   I hadn’t heard one of those in the fellowship hall in a while.   Our Christian community used to be really good at those!

When Jack – Will and I arrived at church hours before the scheduled start of worship – there were cars already parked in the parking lot! The lights were on and not because someone had forgotten to turn them off. The air conditioning was running. There were delicious smells wafting through the air. And best of all there were Lutherans in the church kitchen – the church office – and the fellowship hall!

YUM!

Saint Stephen was abuzz and I wasn’t even doing any of the buzzing (yet)!

I was grinning from ear to ear from the moment my key hit the lock.   There were Lutherans in the church and they beat me here! Whoo-hooo!!! Hallelujah!!! This was glorious and wonderful and awesome and truly a delight for this pastor’s world weary – Covid-19 exhausted soul . . .

Gene and Dolores were hovering over a huge pot on the stove in the kitchen like magicians concocting something glorious to delight our taste buds.

Deb and Marilyn were blurs of activity as they hurried between the ovens and the stoves and the refrigerators preparing a feast for both our stomachs and our souls.

And Pat Markley was in the church office – faithfully cooking the books in preparation for the church council meeting scheduled for later that morning.

It was so much fun. It was like the “good old days.” Like the before times.   Those days I took for granted before the pandemic. Before Covid-19 made a mess of our lives. Before staying safe at home was necessary. Before quarantining was commonplace.

And the Lutherans just kept coming and coming and coming.   Ellen was next. Followed quickly by Elaine and Grace. Then Marcia and Madelyn. And Connie and Buddy and Barry and Peggy and Kenna and Ella and Cheryl and before I knew it the fellowship hall was full of Lutherans.

It was noisy and amazing. It was almost like the before the pandemic times – of course – there were more masks. But I find masks to be such a small sacrifice (if you can even call them a sacrifice at all) to make for fellowship and conversation and protecting my young sisters and brothers in Christ. I will gladly and happily wear a mask to protect others (even when it fogs up my glasses) – because it is the right thing to do. And while wearing a mask I receive blessings like fellowship – time with people I love – seeing the twinkle in someone’s eyes as they tell me a story – and so much more. So bring on the masks . . . masks are such a small sacrifice to make when others are making much – much bigger sacrifices.

I talked and I talked and visited and caught up.

I heard from William Beckman about his daring exploits on the football field. Will is fearless and terrifyingly brave. Jodi must hold her breath and pray the entire time her precious boy is on the field!

Jason and I swapped stories with the Beckmans about life way up North. I went to seminary in Minneapolis- Saint Paul and my first call was in northern Minnesota – almost to North Dakota. It is fun to swap stories about life where winter starts in October and is so real – you think it might just kill you! Winter here in Kentucky is barely winter at all when I remember winter up there . . .

Jordan shared about life at Seneca and updated me on his class schedule. I think he is taking every freshman honors class Seneca offers! Clearly Jordan is one smart fellow.

Kenna and I chatted about weddings and bishops and extremely conservative Methodist clergy (why yes – our conversation was far-ranging). Ella and I talked shoes.

I heard Marcia and Elaine’s gloriously – awesome – amazing good news. They are going to be GREAT-GRANDMAS in the spring!!!

Deb shared an update on the house she and Duane are building in Wisconsin and I was happy for them and sad for us . . .

I could go on and on and on.

It was so wonderful to be with my church family – moving from table to table and group to group and person to person. Chatting and chattering. Talking and discussing. Listening and learning. Catching up and fellowshipping.

I loved every single minute of it. It was balm for my soul. It was just what I needed and what I had been longing for – for months.

Thanks to masks and vaccines we were able to gather together again. We were able to fellowship and spend time in conversation with our sisters and brothers in Christ. We were able to delight in the blessing of Christian community.

Sunday school started with Rally Sunday at Saint Stephen on Sunday!   It was such a gloriously wonderful blessing to see and hear and just be with my sisters and brothers in Christ.

I hope I never take the blessing of community lightly again. I hope I never forget to appreciate the noise and the chaos and cacophony and fun and joy of a Christian family all gathered together.

Because I think we did. Before Covid-19 – we did. Before the pandemic – we took the blessing of our Christian community for granted. We took the ability to gather together for granted. We assumed our church would always be here. That we would always be able to gather together – until we couldn’t . . .

The Elephant in the Room

We all have that first memory of hearing about Covid-19 (or whatever they/we were calling it at the time). I was in Tennessee with Jason at the tail end of our Christmas vacation.   Our boys were at Disney having a blast with their Mimi and Papa and cousins and Auntie and Uncle.

Several times each day we would get adorable updates of their adventures together. Our phones would buzz and we would see Will on the monorail with Auntie or Jack having lunch with someone famous like Mickey Mouse or the whole family eating Dole Whips under the bright Florida sunshine. Our beloved family was clearly having a wonderful time together.   And I wasn’t having to stand in a single long line or to navigate any bustling – noisy crowds. This arrangement was this introvert’s dream come true!

Our extended family had just celebrated a wonderful Christmas.   Our sons were with people who love them as much as Jason and I do and spoil them way – way more than we do. I still had some vacation time left to enjoy.   It truly felt like all was right in the world!

I was gloriously and wonderfully relaxed.

The worst thing that happened (I thought) during those final days of my vacation was breaking a favorite knitting needle. And it was quickly replaced at the local yarn store.

I knit and read and watched the mountains. Jason read and walked the dogs and watched the mountains.   Very occasionally we would read the news. It was during those rare forays into reality that we happened upon a few news stories about a new cornavirus that had appeared in China. It seemed this new virus was causing some concern with virologists and public health doctors. But I wasn’t concerned – I was on vacation . . . my children were at Disney . . . my sons were literally in the Magic Kingdom!

That was well over 600 days ago now. And so much has changed in the world.

When Will asks about a return trip to the Magic Kingdom – our answer is always the same – “After Covid.” (I just hope our sweet boy isn’t 60 years old before it feels safe to return to Disney.)

When Will asks about so many things our answer is – “after Covid” or the classic “because of Covid” when he/we just plain can’t do something. (Will is only 8 and can’t be vaccinated just yet. We are choosing to be cautious and we try to follow the CDC’s guidance.)

“After Covid” and “because of Covid”. . . have become common refrains in our home and in our lives. We say them so frequently now – they have just become part of our family’s lingo – our vernacular.

“After Covid” means waiting for Will. And honestly (thankfully) – our youngest son – is a bright sunshine of a child. Will is fine with waiting. Will rolls with life in a way not many adults do. Not much gets under Will’s skin. If more of us were like Will – the world would be a nicer – kinder – far less angry place . . .

But for the adults in Will’s life “after Covid” and “because of Covid” come with sorrow and hurt and pain. Those words hang heavily in the air. Covid-19 has lingered so long. So very – very long. This wretched virus has taken such a toll on us. This virus has cruel teeth like a piranha.

The suffering. The illness. The pain. The grief. The death.

The anger in our society. The white-hot fury. The polarization.

My heart is sad.

I hurt because of the way the world is changing. I grieve for what we have lost and are losing. For what seems to be slipping away. I miss what was and will likely never be again.

My heart is sad.

I hurt because those I love grieve and hurt and ache and struggle.   Covid-19 has made almost everything so much harder. Loss – illness – and grief. Those have been made exponentially harder by Covid-19.

My heart is sad.

Some days the words “after Covid” and “because of Covid” feel a bit like a litany of lament to me. I hear and say and think them so often.

And perhaps that is what we need. Perhaps we need to lay claim to our grief and our sorrow and our hurt and our pain and even our anger by naming it. By saying the words. By whispering them or shouting or crying them out to the Lord.

The Bible is full of lament. The book of Job and the Psalms and the book of Lamentations. The Old Testament prophets lament. Jesus himself cried out to God as he died on the cross – “My God – my God – why have you forsaken me. . .” (Matthew 27:46). And this cry was from Psalm 22:1.

If Jesus – who is our Lord and Savior – can cry out boldly and publicly in lament – then certainly – this gives us permission to cry out in lament. . .   To share our grief with our Lord.   To lay our pain at God’s feet.

It is not un-Christian or un-faithful or somehow a sign of weakness to feel grief and pain and sorrow in the face of hard things. It is human. It shows you have a heart. Jesus himself lamented. Jesus cried when his beloved friend Lazarus died (John 11).

I would worry far more if we weren’t grieving. If we weren’t hurting. If we weren’t feeling loss. If we weren’t troubled by living through global pandemic.

Life is hard. Living through a pandemic is painful. Change and loss can be bewildering. Grief is exhausting. Pain is difficult to endure.

And so today I shall lament. Lament isn’t surrender or un-Christian or unfaithful. To lament is simply admitting that this hurts and is hard and I hate it!

Lament is about naming the pain.

I am no liturgist and I am not poet. I am a just me – a more than middle aged pastor – wife – and mom who knits far more than average – walks a lot and needs to lament today.

There are very few beds in our hospitals – because of Covid.

A dear friend spent hours and hours waiting in the ER to see a doctor – because of Covid.

4,625,974 precious human beings have died – because of Covid.

People continue to fight and argue and threaten one another and die needlessly – because of Covid.

Church attendance has dropped dramatically – because of Covid.

I miss my sisters and brothers in Christ – because of Covid.

Nurses and doctors are exhausted and feeling burned out – because of Covid.

We have to wear masks – because of Covid.

I told my littlest son no yet again – because of Covid.

The church council sighed big sighs during our meeting – because of Covid.

People are living and dying alone – because of Covid.

Our lives and our world and our church have changed forever – because of Covid.

This is hard. It is okay to lament. It is okay to hurt and grieve and cry out.  Are you feeling the need to lament too?  What would you add to the list?  What does your heart cry out for?

You are in my heart – thoughts and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri