Baked Beans – TP – Laughter – and Lutherans

This past Saturday evening was filled to the brim with Christmas cheer – holiday hoopla – Advent awesomeness – and just plain fun at Saint Stephen.

Ages ago – back when the sun was still shining for longer than 4 hours a day. Back when the weather was still to my liking (as in – the temperatures were still nice and toasty – warm/blazing hot) we had a delightfully fun – grown-up gathering at Saint Stephen. We laughed.   We played jumbo Jenga. We ate yummy food. We chatted and chattered and conversed. We laughed A LOT. We ate some more yummy food and played another round of jumbo Jenga while laughing even more!

Simply put – we had a delightfully wonderful evening with our sisters and brothers in Christ. It was fun.   It was joyful and just what many of us needed and continue to need. Community – caring – kindness – grace – joy – friendship – laughter – welcome. Balm for world-weary souls.

We declared – “this was fun!” “We need to do this again!” And “we need to do this more often!”

So – the pastor (that would be me) and the chairperson of the Fellowship Committee (that would be Marilyn Mills) decided on a date for another “low-key gathering of the Saint Stephen community.” A time to relax and have fun and simply delight in the joys and blessings of Christian community.

But what would we do? We probably shouldn’t play jumbo Jenga every single time we get together. Unless we decide to start a competitive league.   (Although – that might be an idea . . .   I like the sound of that!)

So – I thought some thinks and then I declared “Bingo” – we will play “Bingo!”

My family has been playing a rousing game of Christmas Day Bingo for decades now. Bingo is a McFarland family tradition. We love it.

Bingo is one of those games that is fun no matter how many people are there. 10 people – cool. 15 – people awesome. 20 – even better! And (most importantly) Bingo allows for lots of talking and laughter and the swapping of stories and the telling of jokes and the eating of desserts/leftovers/candy.

The prizes are important too. We always have seriously awesome prizes. Prizes that are coveted and delighted in. Prizes that make the winner giggle with glee and their cousins/Uncle/Papa green with envy! And we have ridiculously funny prizes too. Prizes chosen to make everyone in the family roar with laughter! All of the prizes are wrapped with care. You never know if you are choosing your favorite candy or a can of baked beans. Or if my father-in-law is going to get a t-shirt declaring that he “lives to knit!” We do lots of bartering and swapping of Bingo prizes.

We laugh so much. We talk and tease and swap prizes and laugh some more. Often the 2 hours we spend laughing and playing Bingo together are the highlight of our Christmas gathering. It isn’t the game or the loot we win – it is the memories we make!

Yes – Bingo would be perfectly – perfect for a fun gathering of the Lutherans – I thought. And it was.   (In my – not so humble opinion anyway . . .)

I had fun from the beginning to the end.

I loved shopping for the prizes. I literally spent weeks (months) looking for prizes that would make the cut. Some of the prizes were symbolic of our Covid-19 journey – hand sanitizer – hand soap – bags of spilt peas – and rolls of TP. (Remember when the store shelves were empty of all of those things for weeks on end?)

Chocolate and chips – just because those are very – very yummy!

Baked beans and trash bags for a laugh. The same goes for the Christmas cactus ornament wearing twinkle lights and a cowboy hat . . . (what on Earth was the designer thinking?!?!?)

The laughter flowed. We joked and teased and laughed some more. We talked and chatted and chattered. Then we laughed even more.

It was decided by some members of the congregation (Barry Mills) that the resident clergy person/Bingo caller should stick to leading Bible studies and preaching sermons. (There is always – Always – ALWAYS a critic in EVERY group.)   He even suggested some replacements . . . Seriously . . . replacements . . . I am so totally irreplaceable. Or at least that’s my story and I am sticking to it!!!!!

We had so much fun that it was decided we would most definitely need to reuse our special Christmas Bingo cards again this summer. We can all celebrate Christmas in July together by playing Christmas in July Bingo! (I am already on the hunt for great prizes!)

I give our Lord thanks for the gift and blessing of sisters and brothers in Christ. For the blessing of community and laughter and joy in a sometimes difficult world.   I give thanks for the opportunity to just be for a while. To relax and slow down and celebrate friendship and fellowship.

I give thanks for silliness and moments of joy and for Bingo on a chilly Saturday evening in December.

I give thanks for Saint Stephen Lutheran Church and for the blessings being the pastor of this truly intriguing crew brings to my life.

Worship for Sunday, December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

The Word of the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name;
make known the deeds of the Lord among the nations; proclaim that this name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. 

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”’

As the people wrre filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

This morning we are going to be learning a bit more about some of the decorations we use to decorate our sanctuary during Advent and Christmas each year.

We see Christmas trees almost everywhere we go this time of year.

We can’t seem to agree on much these days – but apparently – we can agree on the awesomeness of Christmas trees. 94 million American households will put up and decorate at least one Christmas tree this year. That’s about 79 percent of us!

We find Christmas trees outside and inside. We see trees covered in twinkle lights – living trees – artificial trees and puffy – inflatable trees dancing in yards.

We don’t know the exact origins of the Christmas tree but there is a cool legend of the very first Christmas tree.

It is said that in the 7th century a zealous – young – English missionary was the very first person to use the evergreen tree as a symbol for the triune God. Winfrid – who later become known as Saint Boniface – used the evergreen tree as an object lesson. He taught that each point on the triangular-shaped tree represented a different Person of the Holy Trinity – God the Father – the Son the and the Holy Spirit.

Another legend says that one day Winfrid came upon a group of men offering a sacrifice to an oak tree as an act of pagan worship. Winfrid was so infuriated by this idolatry that he felled the oak tree with one mighty blow of his ax.

According to this legend – a fir tree grew from the stump of the oak.   Struck by this miraculous event – Winfred proclaimed that the tiny new fir tree represented Jesus’ victory over death on the cross and gift of eternal life given to us by our Savior

Have you ever noticed the way your Christmas tree points toward heaven?   Just as Jesus did with his words and his actions – drawing our attention to God who loves us all.

At Saint Stephen we have been decorating our Christmas trees with special Christmas ornaments called Chrismons for years.

Chrismons are special Christmas decorations – filled with symbolism and meaning. The word “chrismon” comes from combining the two words – monogram and Christ. So – the word chrismon literally means – Christ’s monogram.

Each chrismon tells a unique story – truth or lesson about our Christian faith in the symbols it includes.

The crown tops our Christmas tree each year. The crown reminds us Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is the long awaited – much anticipated descendant of King David who saves us from our sins and conquers death for us through his innocent death on the cross.

Each summer roses bloom in front of Saint Stephen and each December we hang a rose in a golden circle on our Christmas tree.

The circle reminds us that our God is eternal – with no beginning and no end. The circle also reminds us of the gift and blessing of eternal life we receive from Jesus’ innocent death on the cross and his resurrection 3 days later.

The rose reminds us of God’s promise to the exiled people of Israel (and to us) in Isaiah 35:1 – “The desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose.”

The rose is also a symbol that is often used to represent Jesus’ mother Mary.

The IHS or in Greek – The Iota Eta Sigma on a Latin Cross

The iota – eta – and sigma (IHS) are the first 3 letters in the Greek spelling of the name Jesus. When these 3 letters are placed on a cross – they remind us Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

The Ichthus or The Stylized Fish

Ichthus comes from a Greek word meaning fish. An ichthus is a stylized fish.

Early Christians used the ichthus as an easily made/quickly drawn and easily recognized secret sign.   During times of persecution and oppression Christians could find one another by using this simple password.   To outsiders – the ichthus just looked like a decoration – but to Christians it was an affirmation and declaration of their Christian faith.

It is also what is called an acrostic in which the Greek letters are the initials of the word’s meaning Jesus Christ Son of God – Savior. (This makes way more sense if you read ancient Greek. So – feel free to chat with Jason about it in Sunday school next week!)

The Phoenix

The Phoenix isn’t just for Harry Potter and his friends!   Christians have been using the phoenix for centuries to tell important truths about our faith.

The phoenix is said to have been an eagle-like bird from the Middle East with beautiful red and gold feathers. Only one phoenix ever exists at the same time.

Every 500 years – as the phoenix feels its life drawing to a close – it builds a nest of frankincense – myrrh – and other sweet-smelling woods.   Then as it dies – the sun sets the phoenix’s nest on fire and the phoenix is consumed in the flames. 3 days later – the phoenix rises again from the ashes – restored to health and youth – ready to live out another 500 years.

As a Christian symbol the phoenix represents the resurrection to eternal life.

The Serpent on the Tau Cross

God the Father saved the People of Israel from a plague of snakes during the Exodus (which they brought on themselves as a punishment for their sins) when he gave Moses a staff with a bronze serpent on it. Whenever one of the Chosen People was bitten by a serpent all they had to do to be healed was to look at the bronze serpent.

The serpent reminds us of the healing we too can find in God when we turn to him.

This cross is called the “tau” cross because it resembles the Greek letter tau. The cross reminds us of the glorious gift of salvation we have been promised by our Lord.

The Triquetra and the Circle

(Triquetra was a new word for me.) A triquetra is a triangular shape made up of 3 interlaced arcs.   Each of the arcs is equal in size.   This reminds of us of the Holy Trinity – God the Father – Son – and Holy Spirit.

The endless circle the triquetra rests in reminds us of eternal life.

The Passion Cross

The Passion Cross is also known as the Cross of Suffering. The pointed ends of this cross remind us of the points of the nails that were used to crucify Jesus. The points also remind us of the sharp points of the spear that pierced Jesus’ side and the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus’ head. (The Gospel of John 19).

As you can see – in just one simple looking Christmas decoration – there can be so much meaning! I hope you are able to see our Christmas decorations at Saint Stephen with new eyes now that you know just a bit more about what they mean and the story they are telling us.

Glue – Grace – and Good Times

I still have a few precious – stubborn flowers blooming in my flowerbeds.

Last Saturday was the first Saturday in December. And Mother Nature gave us an early Christmas present in the form of a perfectly – perfect day. The sun was shining, and the temperatures were balmy and warm. It was one of those days that gives my summer loving soul hope that I might just survive another late fall and winter! (Every single year – I seriously wonder if the long – dark nights of winter will actually steal my soul this year . . .)

Saturday was truly lovely and glorious. Absolutely – positively glorious.

So perfect – it was easy to forget it was December and Christmas was mere weeks away.

It is incredibly dangerous for clergy to let their guard down for even a moment during the entirety of Advent. Clergy cannot – MUST NOT – forget Christmas is breathing down their necks! Letting one’s guard down only leads to forgetting something incredibly important like preparing the Christmas Eve worship booklets or organizing the church decorating or what date Christmas is on anyway . . . (I think Christmas is on the 25th this year. BUT I should probably double-check that on my calendar. I get a bit stress-y stressed during December.   Some/lots/most of us pastor-types do.)

Anyway – the weather outside on Saturday was most definitely not frightful. In fact – the weather was just plain delightful!

Thank you little burst of color.

Jason – Will – and I spent our morning outside. Actually – Will spent his entire day outside playing with his two besties. They didn’t come inside until the sun started to set Saturday evening. Such brilliant children . . . They enjoyed every moment the warm – sunny December day had to offer them.

But I couldn’t stay outside – because I had other plans for fun and joy and merry making. I too was going to hang out with some of my friends! I was off to “the Church” (as we say at our house) for the Ladies’ Christmas Tea.

Honestly – I wasn’t feeling particularly Christmas-y on Saturday – but I am almost always game for hanging out with some of my Lutheran sisters in Christ. (I am almost always game to hang out with my Lutheran brothers in Christ too. But the guys just don’t usually come to the LADIES‘ Tea.)

But then I walked into the church on Saturday afternoon and Christmas was in the air. Actually, Christmas was everywhere!

The lights were sparkling and twinkling on the Christmas tree in the fellowship hall.

Marilyn had Christmas music playing. Although I did strongly object to Frank Sinatra belting out “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” in a church fellowship hall. No one should be threatening anyone in a church or using four letter words. I expressed these thoughts and STRONG objections to Marilyn who is on the Saint Stephen Church Council and she dared to laugh in my face! Seriously – Marilyn laughed at me – smiled and did a little dance!!!

Clearly – some people around Saint Stephen have no respect for the Master’s  of Divinity I spent 4 long grueling- years earning in MINNESOTA!?!?!?   Perhaps I should start demanding that she call me Rev. McFarland. That sounds far more authoritarian and bossy – doesn’t it? But people called Rev. McFarland are probably very – very serious and stuffy and use far fewer exclamation points in their writing . . .   And I do not aspire to that.

Anyway – other than that one very objectionable musical selection – it was a whole bunch of Christmas awesomeness at Saint Stephen on Saturday afternoon. There was Christmas colored Jello (yum!). There were Christmas cookies. There were Christmas scarves and Christmas sweaters and Christmas pins and Christmas tops. Christmas decorations and Christmas greetings.

There were Lutheran ladies filled with Christmas cheer! There was conversation. There was tons and tons of laughter. There were smiles. There was happiness and delight and joy and fun.

There was even an adorably cute Christmas craft with glue that some of us rocked like rock stars. And others – well – others – well – let’s just say that glue is not our preferred artistic medium . . . God gives us all gifts and talents – but some of us were skipped over on “glue day.” I have always done far better with tape and yarn . . . Fiber and beads are my artistic media of choice.

Saturday afternoon was such a delightful blessing. It was so wonderful to be able to spend time with my sisters in Christ celebrating the joys of the season and community and creativity.

I give our Lord thanks for my sisters in Christ – for this Christmas season – for laughter – conversation – joy and even for glue! These are the things that hold us together in this wild – weird – and sometimes wonderful world we are all living in.

Merry – almost Christmas!

Worship for Sunday, December 5, 2021

Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 1:68-79

Blessed are you, Lord, the God of Israel,
you have come to your people and set them free.
You have raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of your servant David.
Through your holy prophets, you promised of old to save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our forebears,
and to remember your holy covenant.
This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship you without fear,
holy and righteous before you, all the days of our life. 

And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way,
to give God’s people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

I don’t know about you – but I absolutely – positively I love getting ready for things. I like nothing more than to plan and to plot and to prepare. I delight in making lists and checking them twice.

I honestly enjoy things like packing for vacation – because as I pack my mind is busy thinking about the joy of spending tons of time with the people I love most in the world. While I find the water shoes and load the backpacks and gather our hiking shoes – I think of all of the fun we will hopefully have together. I look forward to reading and to hiking mountain trails and to knitting and simply to spending time with my wild – wonderful and slightly weird family.

As I pack – I wonder what strange or bizarre events will unfold during our time away. Because something strange and totally unexpected always seems to happen. What stories we will tell. What joys will come our way. What twists and turns are ahead of us.

Told you we were odd. We spent Boxing Day last year picking up other folks trash.

I anticipate our adventures and our misadventures too.

I spend days – often weeks preparing for these trips. Not because I need to. I could absolutely get our family out the door with the essentials for a week away in less than an hour. Rather – I prepare so much because I find the thinking and the plotting and the planning and the anticipating to be just plain delightful.   Because I love it and it fills me with joy!

In fact – I find at least 50% of the joy in just about anything fun is in the anticipation. Whether it is a vacation – enjoying a special holiday celebration – my first sip of morning coffee – or cuddling up under a cozy blanket at the end of a cold winter’s day.

Scientists call this anticipatory joy. And I am guessing you have all known its delights too.

Anticipating things is fun. Or it can be anyway . . .

If we don’t get carried away and start to ruin the joy with ridiculous amounts of stress.

Sunset in the mountains fills me with anticipatory joy! What fills you with joy?

Which I think so many of us tend to do this time of year. We take a seriously awesome thing like celebrating Christmas too far and we end up making a great big stressful mess of it for ourselves and everyone else in our lives.

Anticipating our Savior’s birth should be fun and exciting.   Preparing for Christmas should be awesome and joyful. But far too many of us make it stressful.

We rob ourselves of the anticipatory joy that could be ours!   All because we put an absolutely ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves.

We send Christmas cards to everyone we have ever met. Including the girl who sat next to us in high school Chemistry class and to Barbara who is our 3rd cousin 27 times removed on our step-dad’s side of the family.

We insist on baking 47 kinds of cookies from scratch. Even though 7 kinds would make everyone just as happy or even happier!

We have convinced ourselves we need to purchase Christmas presents for everyone in our lives. Even if we can’t afford it. Even if our credit card bills in January will make us ugly-cry (AGAIN this year)! Even if no one in our lives needs more stuff. . .

And then we insist on wrapping these same presents just like the cool lady on Pintrest does. Even though we end up weeping into our hot cocoa or our bourbon at midnight with tape in our hair – glitter on our teeth and absolutely NO Christmas cheer. And the children take to avoiding us because Mom gets “really mean” in December . . .

And then – John the Baptist dares to march into our stressed out – filled up – shockingly busy lives and boldly declares we need to “Prepare the way of the Lord!?!?”

Oh great – what does that mean? Is it hard? Will it be stressful? Where will THAT fit in the schedule? How exactly does that work?

Thankfully when John the Baptist comes to us this week and tells us we need to prepare the way of the Lord – he isn’t talking about wrapping presents or baking cookies.   He doesn’t want us to run the vacuum or to water the Christmas tree. Rather he wants us to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.

John the Baptist asks all of us this week – is your heart as ready for Jesus’ arrival as your house is? Have you spent any time preparing yourself spiritually for Christmas this year?   Or have all of your preparations been focused on presents and cookies and cards? Have you gotten a bit distracted by “all the things” again this year?

For most of us these questions cause us to pause and reflect.   Because we know we have spent way more time writing cards, baking cookies, and wrapping presents than we have spent preparing our hearts for Jesus’ arrival.

It is so very easy to get so wrapped up in our preparations for Christmas that we forget who we are preparing for.

But the good news is we still have plenty of time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ arrival.

John the Baptist tells us we only need to do one thing to prepare our hearts and souls for Christmas – and that is repent. But what is repentance?

Repentance – isn’t really a word we use all that much in our daily lives. Well – repentance is about facing up to the truth – that we are all sinners who fail to obey God. That we sin and make a mess of things.

Repentance means acknowledging we clutter our lives with all sorts of stuff that keeps Jesus from being the center of our lives.   Repentance means taking an honest look at your life and admitting you need God’s help – that you need God’s grace and mercy. Repentance means admitting we really do need a Savior. That no matter what we do – we can’t save ourselves.

This is a wonderful time of year. So bake your favorite cookies – decorate your Christmas trees –and wrap those presents!

But just don’t forget whose birthday you are preparing for!   Don’t forget you are getting ready for Jesus.

Because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and God’s amazing grace, love, and mercy really are the reason we celebrate this glorious season.   AMEN.

 

Floating Chickens – Stolen Pie – and the Periodic Table

This past week – I heard and read story after story about the incredible stress of getting together with extended family for the Thanksgiving holiday.   Apparently the American people delight in serving up a side of messy dysfunction alongside their turkey and pumpkin pie!

This is such a pathetically sad commentary on our society and the health of our relationships.

But wow – do I remember those days! I come from a seriously dysfunctional family of origin. My family of origin put the dys- in dysfunctional!

I dreaded holiday gatherings with my family of origin for decades. Attending those gatherings was truly wretchedly awful.

I only attended those gatherings because I thought I had to go.   Guilt and obligation and more guilt made me go. There was no joy in it. I hated every minute of it. (I have had root canals I liked more than our family gatherings.)

Until I realized – I didn’t need to go. Seriously – I did NOT need to go. I was an adult and had been for decades. I could choose with whom I celebrated the holidays. I could and should be choosing the people I with whom wanted/needed to be spending time.

Seriously – if getting together with people makes you miserable and upset – why on earth are you still doing it? (Perhaps this is what the radio people should have been pondering . . . )

I stopped going to these festivals of dread several years ago. I reclaimed the joy in my holiday celebrations.

Now I look forward to days like Thanksgiving and Christmas because I am spending them with people with whom I have healthy – loving relationships.   Now I can be relaxed and myself – rather than on guard. Because I am accepted and loved for who I am. Things I didn’t always have.

But even now – the McFarland/Markward gatherings are less than picture perfect. Because – quite simply – we still bring our human humanness with us to our family gatherings . . .

And in spite of what others may be putting out there on social media – I firmly believe that absolutely – positively none of us are going to be able to achieve a Thanksgiving/Christmas/4th of July/Arbor Day gathering worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. Norman Rockwell paintings are fun and sometimes funny.   Other times they are lovely – but they aren’t always terribly realistic.

Personally – I tend to think that my life looks more like a Pablo Picasso . . . Or perhaps even a Marc Chagall . . . (I love – love – love his work! And who doesn’t like a great floating chicken?!?)

Because the sassy – stubborn orange kitten is always going to jump up onto the kitchen counter and help himself to some yummy pecan pie.   (Why – yes our sweet Craig did eat some of Mimi’s pie this year. . . And boy did he think it was tasty!)

Jack and the Thief!

Or Crazy Aunt Kerri is going to be simply aghast to learn that the children these days don’t have to memorize the periodic table in chemistry.   She thinks this is why kids today are so dim-witted. (Yes – that was me!) She and Uncle Jason are going to assert memorization is good for the brain and the children are going to assert memorization is both stupid and pointless because they will ALWAYS have phones in their hands and “be able to look it up.”

Why yes – they do ALWAYS seem to have their phones with them don’t they?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Or your youngest child will take you seriously when you joke he can enroll at the elementary school where his Auntie is principal for the month of December! Will was truly crushed to learn he could NOT stay in Richmond for an entire month to attend 3rd grade at Auntie’s school . . .

Or in joking with my father-in-law who was complaining about being cold. And when we all looked at him – we noted he was wearing shorts . . . in late November . . . in central Indiana.   My sister-in-law declared – “Dad – PUT ON PANTS!” It was hilariously funny (if you were there. . . )

But that is what I have come to treasure about Thanksgiving and life with family. It is the messiness – the humanness of it all. I treasure the realness. That is where the joy is for me.

The joy is Will running triumphantly into our bedroom at 5:30 AM on Thanksgiving morning to share the joyous news that he had lost a tooth!   (We are all up and getting ready to drive to my in-laws in Richmond for the day.) The joy is in Uncle John taking a nap in his favorite chair. And Craig stealing pecan pie. And Mimi and Uncle Jason sparring over politics in the kitchen over the dishes.   And my father-in-law finally wearing pants! And knitting while watching the birds have their Thanksgiving dinner at the birdfeeders in my in-laws’ backyard.

Hanging out in my favorite spot at my in-laws’ with one of my favorite people!

The joy is in our human humanness and in the way we can just laugh and talk and hang out and relax be ourselves with one another. The joy is in the realness of it all.

And in accepting one another for who we are. And in being thankful for these people we get to share the journey with . . . . And celebrating this. I prefer the messes and the goofiness and the realness.

I give thanks my Pablo Picasso life . . .

What about you?

Worship for Sunday, November 21, 2021

First Reading   Deuteronomy 8:7-18                                        

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and praise the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is   multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’   But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant.

The Word of our Lord.

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Amen.

Second Reading Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The Word of our Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 17:11-19            

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

This very Thursday is Thanksgiving. And so the all too brief season of Thanksgiving and giving God thanks is upon us.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is for us to stay grateful for anything for very long?

Scientists have studied this tendency pretty extensively. They call it the hedonic treadmill or hedonic adaptation. Simply put – we humans adapt to the good stuff in our lives. We get used to the things we already have really quickly and then start to take them for granted. We excel at being completely and utterly blind to our blessings.

We ALL do it with the blessings in our lives.   Think about that spouse you were so taken with when you were dating. You were dazzled and enchanted. Everything she said made you smile. You couldn’t wait to spend the rest of your life together. You wore a fancy suit and pledged eternal vows before God and your family and friends to love and support and maybe even obey her forever and ever and ever. And now you just wish she would stop talking long enough to let you watch the football game in peace and quiet . . . And maybe the same goes for your adorable kids and grandkids too!

Or the house that was so perfectly – gloriously lovely on the day you found it. You were thrilled and delighted by it. But now that you have been living there a while. Well honestly – it feels a bit small and the kitchen needs some updating and you wish it had another bathroom and there just aren’t enough closets.   Actually every single room in the entire house is just too small!

And your cell phone – think about how pathetically lame that is.   You cell phone became a hunk of outdated junk about 2 seconds after it came out of the box!

Our very human brains are always seeking what we perceive to be the brighter and the better and the shinier. And it certainly isn’t what we already have. Nope – it ALWAYS needs to be new and fresh for us to like and appreciate it.

BUT as soon as we have something in our lives – we start to get used to it. And once we get used to it – we value it less. We – human beings – just can’t stay grateful for anything for very long.

The Bible is full of stories of hedonic adaptation.

Think of Exodus and the way the Chosen People acted. Sometimes their behavior actually shocks us. They seem so blind to God’s generous gifts to them.   They complain about everything from the food they are given to eat to the amount of water they are given to drink in the desert. They also complain about how God makes his very presence known to them. Even Moses’ glowing face upsets them. These people find something to complain about in everything. They are shockingly ungrateful. They even consider returning to lives of slavery and oppression because they liked the food better! Seriously!?!?!?!

But upon some deeper reflection – we know we are just like the Chosen People – aren’t we? We too struggle with gratitude. We too struggle to remember in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives to pause to count our blessings and to give God thanks.

Human beings tend to be a selfish – self-centered lot.

Gratitude doesn’t always flow from us. We have to work at gratitude.

Remembering to say thank you is hard for us even under the best circumstances.

And the times we are living through really aren’t the best of circumstances.

Because – this wretched pandemic has lingered and loitered and hung on and just plain worn out its welcome. We are fed up. It feels like our world has been turned upside down and inside out – over and over and over again.

And yet – we are blessed. Our God has continued to bless each and every one of us. We might have to dig a bit deeper these days to see it – but for most of us – we don’t have to look too far to be tripping over blessings.   We are all deeply and abundantly blessed. Wildly and wonderfully blessed.

And so – I ask you – even now – even in the midst of this wretchedly stressful time in most of our lives – to think deeply about the many ways our Lord blesses you each and every day of your life.

Who are the blessings in your life? Who makes your life sweeter – better – more fun? Who helps you get through those tough days? Who listens? Who is there for you to lean on and rely on? Who laughs with you? Who shares this journey with you? For whom are you grateful? For whom do you give God thanks?

What are the blessings in your lives? (Don’t think about what needs to be fixed or what could be better or what you don’t like. Don’t make a list of complaints. Most folks do way – way too much of that!) Instead – think of the blessings in your lives. Think grateful thoughts. Think about what is good – maybe even delightful in your life.

Now write it down. Seriously – write it down. (You all have the supplies for writing down blessings this morning. And after you have written them down – if you leave them on your chair – I will hang them up as a reminder to all of us in the weeks to come of God’s abundant blessings to us.)

Let’s share our blessings with one another. Let’s remind ourselves that we are blessed and let’s give God thanks for some of those incredible blessings he showers on us each and every single moment of our lives.

It is incredibly easy to forget to say thank you to God for all of the ways he has blessed us.

It is easy to take God’s blessing to us for granted.

So today – let’s remember to thank God for the many ways he has blessed us.   Thank God for the big blessings in your life – but also for the small blessings. Because God has blessed all of us abundantly.

We are blessed. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

Someone Else is Thinking Big Thinks (or a Message from our Bishop)

911 E. 86th Street, Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46240

+ 317-253-3522 + www.iksynod.org

Pastoral Message to the People and Communities of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, ELCA Bishop Bill Gafkjen + November 2021

Dear People of God,

The public libraries in the community where Janet and I live have declared the months of November and December to be a “Season of Gratitude.” Throughout the two months the libraries are offering programs to assist folks in exploring gratitude: making personalized thankful trees, creating gratitude grams, meditating on gratitude, and more.

Noting that the libraries call this a season of gratitude and not a season of Thanksgiving got me wondering about the difference between thankfulness and gratitude. An article published online by Psychiatric Medical Care in Brentwood Tennessee points out that:

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word thankful as “pleased and relieved.” Both of those are great feelings. Everyone wants to be pleased and relieved. But that’s just it; they’re just feelings, and feelings fade. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word grateful as “showing an appreciation of kindness.” This is where the difference lies; being thankful is a feeling, and being grateful is an action.

As we move into and through another Thanksgiving and toward Christmas in the coronavirus wilderness, most of our holiday observances will be different from last year’s but in many cases still not what we would like them to be. We are still uncertain about how long this virus will continue to shape our lives. We are still arguing over vaccinations and limits on our personal freedoms. Few of us have a clear vision of what church, family life, and work will look like in the future.

As important as thankfulness is this season, I wonder: might gratitude be an important and sustaining spiritual discipline to guide us into the future? Melody Beattie, a helpful author on the topics of addiction and codependency, suggests that might be the case.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and  more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Gratitude can help us make sense of our past – including the last couple of years, bring some peace into troubled days, and help us to see God’s promised future that is emerging from our tragic trek through the wilderness.

This Thanksgiving-tide could be a good time to move from thankfulness to gratitude in a disciplined daily way, as individuals, as families, and as communities of faith. Perhaps it’s a good time to establish practices like beginning or ending meetings, gatherings, and worship with expressions and actions of gratitude. How about starting a daily gratitude journal or engaging in gratitude sharing conversations with family or friends at the end of each day, or pausing for brief prayers of gratitude throughout each day?

In the power of the Holy Spirit, the daily discipline of gratitude – rather than greed, or griping or grabbing – can help us to see and trust in the provision and promise of the God who carries us from the cross to the empty tomb with Jesus.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. (Colossians 3:15-16)

Peace be with you,

I’ve Been Reading – AGAIN . . .

The season of Thanksgiving is kinda – sorta upon us. Thanksgiving doesn’t get much attention in our increasingly secular society. You need to look really – really closely or you might just miss it. Get distracted by a good book (novella/short story) and Thanksgiving will have passed you by. Even blink or sneeze and you will have missed the entire season of Thanksgiving for another year!

And this is truly a huge shame – because Thanksgiving is amazing!   Thanksgiving is awesome.   Thanksgiving is a delight and a joy!

And I am not just talking about the food and family parts of Thanksgiving. (But yum to pumpkin flavored anything! And yippee to the fun of getting together with people you love and enjoy.)

It is truly a shame we don’t spend more time celebrating Thanksgiving because gratitude is good for our souls. Actually gratitude is shockingly good for our hearts – minds – and souls. If we were all more focused on gratitude – our world would be a nicer – kinder – more gracious – loving place.   Seriously!

I am not making this stuff up.

I find gratitude and grateful people and thanksgiving intriguing.   Apparently so do plenty of other folks too. I have read entire books on the subject of gratitude. And these books make for some truly inspiring reading. Reading that will make you want to change the way you live your life (at least they did me).

Scientists and super-duper smart people with much fancier degrees than mine have studied gratitude and our brains on gratitude. The results are intriguing! Gratitude changes us for the better. Really – honestly – it does!

Gratitude makes us happier and who doesn’t want to be happier?   Gratitude also makes us healthier!   And nicer!

Scientists have found if you take just 5 minutes a day and write down the things and people you are grateful for your happiness will be significantly improved. No kidding – you will be happier if you simply take the time to consider thoughtfully and to write down some of your blessings each day.

This makes a lot of sense actually – because most of us spend way – way – way more time complaining and moaning and groaning about what is wrong in our lives and with the world and the OTHER people in it. We talk and focus far more on what we don’t like.   You can eat at a restaurant 2,500 times and have a great experiences – but it will be that 1 bad experience you talk about over and over and over again. We all have laser focus on the stuff we don’t like. We obsess about what makes us unhappy. Most of us live out the fairytale of “The Princess and the Pea” in our lives each and every day!

It is downright depressing to go to most meetings because all folks do is talk about what they don’t like or what is wrong or what is NOT going smoothly. When was the last time you went to a meeting and you left feeling positive or uplifted or encouraged or hopeful?   Nope – we complain and point out what we don’t like and what is wrong. But we don’t talk about what is going well or smoothly or is good. We don’t focus on our blessings. Actually – we don’t even mention our blessings or what is going well.

And so a gratitude journal is a wonderful way of resetting our brains.   Of keeping our perspective. Of reminding ourselves of what is really true about our lives. When we are focused on that 1 or 2 or 5 things that are wrong/making us unhappy – we forget the 1,000s upon 1,000s of wonderful blessings in our lives. A gratitude journal reminds of our abundant blessings. A gratitude journal reminds us that our lives are filled to overflowing with blessings and things and people to be thankful for even if not everything is perfectly perfect.

(I think we need to start ending church council meetings with a moment of gratitude. It might help us/me keep our/my perspective . . .)

Since reading about the way being grateful shapes one’s happiness – I have tried to focus more on my blessings. It isn’t always easy. Honestly – some days I find it to be incredibly challenging. But I will say I have noticed over time that I am a happier – more joyful person. My heart has changed (so not kidding) since I started focusing more on my blessings and on gratitude. I am more grateful for my blessings and I think I see my blessings more often. Of course – I am still so very – very – very human so I take my blessings from God for granted all of the time – but it is better than it was before.

One thing I do on really tough days is list 3 DIFFERENT blessings each hour I am awake. (I consider it cheating to list Jason – Jack – and Will more than once a day.)

I have been up for 4 hours today (insomnia . . . time change weirdness . . . just me . . . ) Today isn’t a hard day – just a day – but I thought I would be extra mindful of my blessings.

1) coffee = I woke up at 4:00 am

2) our furnace = seriously – central heat what a gloriously awesome blessing

3) electric lights = I woke up at 4:00 am

4) Jack = by now he was up and getting ready for school

5) Ash = our kitten sleeping on my lap

6) our hot water heater = hot water just flows out of our pipes whenever I want it!

7) Will = 6:00 am and my little guy is awake and thrilled to be alive

8) abundant food = our pantry is full of it

9) our dishes

10) Jason = I can hear him in the other room working

11) sunshine = it looks like the sun might shine for a bit today

12) hugs = I just got an amazing hug from my favorite 8 year old

Gratitude is good for us. Gratitude is good for the people around us too. Yes – gratitude makes us happier. But gratitude also makes us nicer people and therefore might just make the people around us happier. How cool is that?

Studies have shown that grateful people are more likeable too!   This really doesn’t seem like rocket science though now does it? Who would you rather hang out with – a grumpy curmudgeon or a grateful ray of hope and sunshine? Yeah – me too!

Gratitude is good for us. And gratitude is good for those around us too. I encourage you to give gratitude a try. You might just find you like it and that those around you like you on gratitude too!?!?!

What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for? How has God blessed you?

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worship for Sunday, November 14, 2021

Daniel 12:1-3

“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”
All my delight is in the godly that are in the land,
upon those who are noble among the people.
But those who run after other gods
shall have their troubles multiplied.
I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods,
never take their names upon my lips. 
O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
it is you who uphold my lot.
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
my heart teaches me night after night.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see the pit.
You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
he also adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.]

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Word of the Lord.

Mark 13:1-8

As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”  Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

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

When most folks – especially those of us who are parents or who have ever been in charge of people under the age of 18 – hear the word “provoke” – we get a cold chill down our spines. Because for us the word provoke is not an especially happy word.   When we think of provoking – we think of the incredible joys of having to separate the children who are warring with one another yet again.

We think of settling disputes over who touched whom. And negotiating disagreements over just who it was who left that pile of Halloween candy wrappers in the middle of the living room floor – AGAIN! Or who left the front door wide open in August letting every single flying creature in Kentucky into our home – for the 1000th time that month . . .

We think of making less than profound statements like “fine – just don’t touch your brother. Don’t look at your brother ever gain. Actually – don’t even breathe in your brother’s direction.”

Or maybe that’s just me and a problem that I have . . . It is probably just me – isn’t it!?!?

Anyway – the word “provoke” can have very strong connotations.

But did you know the word provoke doesn’t just exist to describe the behavior of annoying siblings?

I know! This particular revelation shocked me too.

I was absolutely – positively floored when the Word of God boldly declared to us today that provoking someone could be a good thing!

Seriously – folks – it is right there in the 10th chapter of Hebrews.   Provoking can be a good thing . . . Apparently – provoking can be a really – really good thing!

In fact in our second reading for this week – we are all encouraged to provoke one another as often as possible.

I think some of us are so totally going to rock at this! Because we have been perfecting our “provocation” skills for years!

But regardless of our personal skill sets – we are all called to acts of provocation. We are all called to be provokers! We are all called to boldly provoke others in the name of the Lord no less!   (Finally – something for which I seem to have a true talent!?!?!)

Hebrews chapter 10 declares to all of us – “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another.”

We are all supposed to be provoking one another to love and to good deeds! And we are supposed to meet together regularly and to encourage one another too.

Okay so this is probably a twist on those provocation skills we all worked so hard on as kids. Because the provoking we did back then probably tended to look more like torment and torture and treating our siblings to basic acts of terrorism.

So I want you to take a moment and think about someone in your life who was an encourager. Who was a cheerleader. Who was genuinely kind – loving – and helpful. Think about those folks in your life who did exactly what Hebrews calls ALL of us to do.

I know I tend to remember 2 kinds of people most vividly.

Unfortunately I do remember the mean folks. The yucky – awful people who made my life miserable are hard to forget. The folks who hurt us and left scars. The ones who said thoughtless things. Most of us remember the people we wish we had never met because they were filled with meanness and criticism.

But we aren’t going to think about those folks today. Because we know for certain we don’t want to be like them! We know our God doesn’t want us to be like them.

We are called to be encouragers. And I DO remember the encouragers. The people who cheered me on. The people who were helpful and hopeful and loving. The people who made my life easier and better. The gracious folks. The people who made me laugh and smile and thankful to know them.

And this is who our God calls us to be. We are being called to be the loving – gracious – merciful – understanding – thoughtful – compassionate – encouragers our world so desperately needs. We are called to bless others. To spread love rather than hate and negativity. To generously share God’s love and our own love with others. To be helpers and bringers of hope and kindness.

We are called to feed the hungry – to give water to the thirsty – to clothe the naked – to comfort the hurting and the heartbroken and to love one another in God’s name. We do this so others can experience and come to know God and God’s love through us.   So others can see our God reflected in us. So others might want to join us in doing these very same things for others.

We are ALL called to share and show God’s love. We are all called to be encouragers and provokers!

We can share and show God’s love by being encouragers and helpers and people who speak encouraging – kind – gracious words.

And often the most powerful way of sharing the Good News of God’s love – is by rolling up our sleeves and serving others in God’s name.

Perhaps you will share God’s love by bringing food for the Fern Creek – Highview United Ministries or by volunteering at the school in your neighborhood or at the hospital that saved your life.

Maybe you will be an encourager by helping at the Ronald McDonald House or by volunteering to help us clean or decorate the church.

Maybe you will be an encourager by calling someone from church to check in with them – or by sending a note to some of the people on our prayer list. We all should be supporting one another through these long – hard days of the pandemic.

Perhaps you will serve by helping a neighbor with some fall yard work or by donating Christmas presents to a family in need.

We have ALL been called. Called to be encouragers and spreaders of God’s love.   We are people with a mission. A mission to be kind – gracious – loving – generous people. – Amen.

Opal Ivy Ash

Why yes that kitten is sleeping in a very expensive nest of hand knit hats . . .

We did not remain a cat-free household for long. The very same weekend Craig went to live with Mimi and Papa – William chose a new kitten for our family to love (and obediently serve).

You see – Craig’s mom – Lexi – had a new litter of 6 adorable kittens needing loving – nurturing homes. And we were in need of a kitten. After all – we had 2 litter boxes and cat toys and dishes and collars and a cat shaped place in all of our hearts that needed filling.

But Jason and I declared there would be rules. We were wiser/jaded. This time the kitten had to be a girl kitten. I read that girl kittens are more content to be housecats.   And this kitten/cat would never – ever – ever know the joys and pleasures of the great outdoors.

In fact – I tell her every single time I leave the house that it is terrifyingly – wretchedly awful out there in the world. That nature is monstrously horrible and I am miserable the entire time I am out under the nasty – ugly – blue sky. I tell her nature isn’t fun and nature will get you if you aren’t very – very careful.

Yes – I am a great big lying liar – but we cannot afford to move someplace more outdoor-cat friendly. (Although I dream of 100 wooded acres and my own greenhouse.) I want/need this cat to be a happy indoor cat!   I do not want to feel like I am holding her hostage for the next 15 or so years of our lives together!?!?!   Even if I am . . .

William chose the only female with a bit of orange on her. She is mostly gray and very fluffy and so very – very soft and cuddly (and just a little bit orange. The orange is very important to Will and therefore to all of us).   Her eyes are quite green. She is tiny with a very loud purr and an even louder meow. She has a huge personality.   She is a very big talker. And wow – is she bossy! She is 3 pounds of fluffy – gray sass. She and I have a lot in common. I too am gray and sassy!

We call her Thunder Kitten for the way she tears around the house when she plays.

And she cuddles and naps on my lap while I work and write and knit.   She does attack my knitting which we are working on. She thinks this a delightfully amusing game. I do not! The yarn is mine I tell her and so are the knitting needles. A few times Jason has had to intervene and separate us because we were arguing so passionately about yarn . . . If she wants yarn – she needs to get a job and buy her own!

It took us a few days to settle on a name. Jack and I suggested Ivy because her eyes are so very – very green. Will wasn’t sold on Ivy. Perhaps because I was suffering horribly from a severe case of poison ivy all over my body at the time and taking big doses of Prednisone in an attempt to get it under control and it was only kinda – sorta working thanks to my autoimmune stuff and my body’s amazing ability to overreact to things it perceives to be dangerous. I suppose I can see how the name Ivy lacked a certain appeal when your mom was constantly declaring that poison ivy was the work of the devil!

I floated the name Opal because she arrived in our family in October and opals are the birthstone for October. Neither of the McFarland sons were sold on Opal but they didn’t hate it either. Perhaps it was a little too old-fashioned for them.

And then Jack suggested Ash.

Opal – Ivy – and Ash made the short list of names.

We decided to think on it for a few days and jokingly called her Opal Ivy Ash because if members of the British Royal Family can have 3 names so can our cat . . .

We gave it 72 hours.

And then – the McFarland sons came to a consensus. Her name is Ash. She is the color of ashes and it works perfectly for girl who we all know will never – ever – ever acknowledge her name anyway. Ash is a cat – after all. Her name is for us. And as the 3 oldest McFarland have all pointed out more than once she can be “a real pain in the . . . ”

Her name truly is perfectly perfect for a sassy – fluff-ball who thunders through the house at 5:00 am meowing as loudly as a tiger!

I would say that Ash is our kitten – but that would be another lie.   We all know she owns us and we are HER people!

PS – If you ever meet Ash – please – please whatever you do don’t tell her how much fun it is to play outside!  What she doesn’t know won’t hurt me?!?!?