So many things have been cancelled this year. Most graduation ceremonies were cancelled this spring. The Chicago, Boston, and New York marathons have all been cancelled. Events like Thunder over Louisville have been cancelled too – as were most big fireworks displays over the 4th of July. (Although some folks in my neighborhood have tried valiantly to fill in the gaps – night after night after night after night!)
Other events like the Kentucky Derby and the Oaks have been moved and adapted to fit this new COVID-19 world we are all living in. It looks like the Indianapolis 500 will be run in August rather than over Memorial Day weekend.
While other events have gone virtual like the Kentucky Derby Mini-Marathon and the Marathon. Another event that is being offered virtually this year is Vacation Bible school.
Saint Stephen had to cancel our plans for Vacation Bible school this summer and so did most churches. It just wouldn’t be wise or responsible to have in-person VBS in this COVID-19 world.
Knowing this – the wonderful and truly talented and dedicated staff of the Kentucky-Indiana Synod of the ELCA has put together a plan for all of us to have VBS on-line together next week!
Will and I are all signed up and looking forward to it. We know it won’t be the same without Cheryl to make us delicious cupcakes and Brenda to teach the music. We will miss running around the yard at Saint Stephen with Paul and Jeffrey and doing crafts with Nikki. But it still sounds like a lot of fun! Please consider joining Will and me and lots of other folks for Compassion Camp.
The VBS materials will be emailed to the parents/grandparents/doting aunties/adoring uncles/deeply patient guardians.
A fun, lively (maybe even exciting) video presentation created by folks from across the Kentucky-Indiana Synod will premiere on YouTube Live at 6:00 pm each day Monday – Friday, July 20th – July 24th, 2020. These videos will also be available after the premiere for families to access whenever it is most convenient for them.
Each video presentation will include a Bible story for the day, melodious music, prayer, and lots of fun!
The emailed materials will include suggestions for crafts, games, activities, and ideas for putting compassion into practice in our own lives.
I have many – many things that I love about being a pastor. I love Christmas Eve worship. I love singing “Silent Night” with you all by flickering candlelight. Lutherans are always a good looking lot – but you all look especially lovely by candlelight. Standing there with the deacon each year on Christmas Eve – I fall in love with being a pastor all over again.
I love Easter morning worship. Few things are more fun than getting to proclaim – “Jesus Christ is Risen!” and to hear an entire congregation declare with joy in their hearts and smiles on their faces “He is risen indeed!” It is all I can do not to add a “Whoop! Whoop!” and an “Amen and a Hallelujah!” too. But we are card carrying Lutherans so I try to contain myself – but I just know some year – it is going to slip out. Consider yourselves warned!
I love baptisms. It is such an incredible honor to be able to be the first human being to welcome another child of God into the Christian family. I keep a list of all of the folks I have baptized as a reminder of all of the people I have been able to welcome into the family over the years. Confirmations are awfully cool too!
I can’t say that I love funerals – but it is an incredible honor to be able to share in this part of people’s lives too. I love hearing the stories that families tell about their loved ones. I love just being able to listen and to learn and to be a part of this sacred time.
I really and truly do love Sunday school. In many ways Sunday school is the highlight of my work week. I know that I give Pat Markley and Steve Sarson a hard time sometimes (those two can and do ask some seriously tough questions) – but I love – love – love hanging out with people who like to think about the Bible and God and faith almost as much as I do. As my Will says – those two “think BIG thinks!”
I love – love – love the chaos and noise and joy and fun of vacation Bible school.
I particularly love the relationships that we form over time. The way that we grow together as God’s people as we share in each other’s lives is such a wonderful blessing. These relationships grow as we worship together – as we work together – as we share cups of coffee in the fellowship hall – as we chat in the narthex and the parking lot and the church kitchen. These relationships have been a blessing and a source of comfort and strength for many in our Christian community.
So many of the folks who have worshipped at Saint Stephen over the years are not able to join us right now for in-person worship. Since we have resumed in-person worship at Saint Stephen our worship attendance on Sunday mornings has been in the 30s. (I am not complaining or judging or condemning.) I know that COVID-19 means that many of us are staying home on Sundays to protect ourselves and our beloved family members. I would never want anyone to come to worship who wasn’t ready. More than anything I want all of you to be safe and healthy!
But during this time of social distancing and isolation – I do want to encourage you to remember one another. To remember the importance of our Christian community. To remember your sisters and brothers in Christ.
I want to encourage you to remember one another in prayer. Pray for each other. Please also pray for Saint Stephen and our church council. These are not easy times to be leading the church! Prayer is truly powerful.
I also want to encourage you to reach out to each other. Stay in touch with your sisters and brothers in Christ.
We have had to cancel so many things that we normally delight in doing like coffee hour and passing the peace and Vacation Bible School and hanging out in the narthex and social gatherings. It feels like we have canceled the fun – but we can still nurture our relationships with one another. It will just take more thought and a little more effort on our parts.
How about giving the family who always sat in the pew in front of you during worship a call to see how they are doing these days? Check in and see how the grandchildren of the couple who sat behind you are doing. How about checking in with the students from your Sunday school class or with the folks who you drink coffee with during coffee hour? Or what about checking in with someone from the church prayer list? Or how about picking someone whose last name begins with your favorite letter in the alphabet?
Send a quick text message if you don’t want to go all old-school and actually talk into your telephone. Send a postcard or a note via the US Postal Service. I see the mail person in our neighborhood 6 days a week so I know that they are still hard at work. Email is a wonderful way of checking in too. Email is old school – but not too old school!
These are hard times for so many of us. These days of staying home to stay safe mean that we are missing our friends and our church family.
As the pastor of Saint Stephen I do chat with folks from our Christian community every week. I check in. I make phone calls and send emails and texts – but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or the week for me to check in with everyone. But we all can reach out to one another. We all can pray for each other. We all can make a phone call or two or three. Or send a text or email or note in the mail once or twice a week.
Even in the middle of a pandemic we can care for one another and support one another and share our love and God’s love.
You are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.
In Christ and with Love –
PS – William just wandered in while I was taking pictures. Will looked at all of the pictures and sighed a very grown-up sounding sigh and said – “Boy – I sure do miss church and all of our church people.” Amen little fella – Amen!
I am always on the look out for new places to take a hike or to go for a walk during my daily travels. (And yes – I do know that you can technically go for a walk almost anyplace!) But when I go for a hike I don’t want to walk just any old place. I want green and trees and a lot of both if at all possible. If some wildflowers or hills or a river can be added in as a bonus or three then I am absolutely thrilled.
Since Jack became a hardworking employee of the Louisville Zoo – I have been admiring Joe Creason Park at least 5 or 6 times a week. It is beautiful even as you drive by. I am sure that all of you native Lousivillians knew all about Joe Creason Park. After all – it has been here right in the middle of Louisville since 1966. But I hadn’t spent much time in this part of our fair city except for trips to the zoo with the McFarland men or for trips to Audubon Hospital to visit Lutherans I love and care about until about 3 weeks ago.
On Saturday morning after we dropped Jack off at work – Jason, Will, and I decided to go on an adventure and to explore Joe Creason Park.
It was a perfect July morning. The sun was shining. It wasn’t blistering hot yet. (I don’t mind the heat – thanks to my thyroid disorder/disease – but the rest of the family thinks that temperatures in the high 90’s can get toasty. It is so strange how none of them need a cardigan when it is a chilly 80 degrees outside. . .)
The park was busy – but we were able to socially distance safely. We enjoyed ourselves and all of the green and the trees.
And then as we rounded a corner in the trail we spotted pure McFarland boy joy. There right beside the trail was the most amazing climbing tree!
It was absolutely – positively magnificent!!! Will was in love. Truly – it was love at first sight. He climbed.
Will was brave and daring.
Jason and I stood nearby and admired our little guy’s climbing skills and his adventurous spirit.
We delighted in listening to Will’s chatter as he explored the tree. Our sweet little 7 year old is quite the talker! (He gets that from his dad . . . but I am sure all of you who know our family knew that already.)
As Will climbed and explored – I took in just how beautiful the tree was. The brilliant green of the leaves in the July sunlight. The sweep of the branches. And the bark. Have you ever taken the time to look at the bark on a tree or two or eighty-three? I mean really look at it? I will admit that being a nature nerd – I have contemplated the beauty of bark. (Yes – I claim my nature nerdiness proudly!) And this tree had particularly beautiful bark. It was simply gorgeous. And it felt so very interesting as I ran my fingers lightly over it (again with the nature nerdiness).
If you want to be dazzled by our God’s creative spirit check out bark on trees sometime. The patterns are amazing and beautiful and so creative. And we almost never even notice it!
Finally – after climbing and exploring for about 300 years – Will was ready to finish our walk in the park. But the minute his feet terra firma – Will declared – “we have to show Jack this tree! Jack will LOVE it!!!” And – of course – Will was right – we did indeed need to share our discovery with Jack.
So we were back at the climbing tree in Joe Creason Park Saturday evening almost as soon as Jack finished his shift at the zoo. And Jack did indeed love the climbing tree too!
Even after a long day of working in the hot July sun – Jack climbed and explored and climbed some more.
Jack and Will climbed and Jason and I walked. It was a perfectly perfect arrangement.
Jason and I would walk a loop and check in. We would make sure that everyone was still unbroken and happy.
These sons of ours are a daring pair!
The McFarland sons would declare that they were having a blast and needed more climbing time.
So Jason and I would walk some more and they would climb some more.
We repeated this interaction multiple times.
It was simply a match made in heaven! By the time I checked my pedometer at the end of Saturday I had clocked almost 20,000 steps and our whole family had been blessed by the glorious – amazing – awesome beauty of our Lord’s creation.
Where are you experiencing God’s presence in your own lives these days? Are you able to take a moment or two or ten to seek God’s presence?
These are truly strange – trying times – but our Lord has promised us that he is with us each step of the way. You are not alone. The God who created the heavens and the Earth walks with you!
10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The Word of the Lord.
Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13
1You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; to you shall vows be fulfilled. 2To you, the one who answers prayer, to you all flesh shall come. 3Our sins are stronger than we are, but you blot out our transgressions. 4Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple. R 5Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O hope of all the ends of the earth and of the oceans far away. 6You make firm the mountains by your power; you are girded about with might. 7You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples. 8Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs; you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy. 9You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous; the river of God is full of water. You prepare the grain, for so you provide for the earth. 10You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase. 11You crown the year with your goodness, and your paths overflow with plenty. 12May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, and the hills be clothed with joy. 13May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; let them shout for joy and sing. Amen.
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
The Word of the Lord.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
These days lots of folks are making do with less. The current unemployment rate in our country is an absolutely – positively staggering 11.1% after dropping from a truly painful high of 14.7% this spring. (And we all thought that the unemployment rate during the Great Recession was bad . . . But that peaked at 10%.)
And those aren’t just numbers and statistics. Those numbers are our friends and our neighbors. They are our beloved family members and well – they are us! That 11.1% unemployment rate is made up of honest to goodness human beings who are really worried people. Of people with bills to pay and families to feed and dreams for the future.
And we are all so worried. Even those of us who still have jobs are worried. We wonder and worry how long we will be able to keep our jobs in this COVID-19 world. We wonder if we will be furloughed too. Or if we will be asked to take a pay cut to keep our jobs?
So we tighten our belts. We conserve. We save wherever we are able. We are frugal and cautious. We carefully refrain from excess. Bare bones budgets – and cutbacks are the part of our COVID-19 reality.
Being thrifty – frugal – and cautious comes pretty naturally to some of us. I tend to be pretty frugal. And Jason – well let’s just say Jason makes me look like a wild woman with money. The family joke is that on the rare occasions Jason does open his wallet – moths fly out!
I took Jack shopping last week and spent a whopping $39. (I know – wild stuff – right?) I had also been to Sam’s that morning to buy groceries. Apparently this behavior was so extraordinary that our credit card company sent Jason an alert to let him know that an unauthorized person might be using our credit card! They were concerned about fraud over 2 whole charges in one day . . . Yes – we are that cheap!
But – that sort of thinking – has absolutely – positively nothing to do with our Gospel reading for this week. Today’s Gospel is all about extravagance and excess. And being completely and utterly over the top.
This week Jesus tells us a story about a farmer who goes out to sow seed in his fields. This farmer clearly loves his job – because he really throws himself into it. He is exuberant. He is passionate. He is excessive. He is wildly and wonderfully in love with farming. Farming isn’t his job. Farming is his CALLING.
This farmer sows seed like a mischievous toddler throws Cheerios. The seed goes everywhere! Left – right. Up – down. All over the place. He tosses the seed in every direction. The seeds land – here – there – and everywhere in between!
Surely this farmer knows the difference between a road and a field. Certainly – he can see the difference between rocky ground and cleared soil?
But he simply doesn’t care. He hurls the seed everywhere. Letting it fall all over the place. Only about 25% the seeds fall onto the field. The rest of the seeds land on the road – or on the rocks – or in the weeds. But that doesn’t slow this farmer down, he just keeps up his wild sowing.
Some Bible scholars say this was the way farmers sowed seeds back then. But I think this sower is extraordinary. There is something unique about his style. His style is just way – way too over the top to have been a standard farming practice of his time!
After all – people in Jesus’ day had to be very careful with their seeds. Because they couldn’t just pop over to the garden center if they ran out of seeds. Or to Kroger if their crops failed to grow. Seeds were precious. And could mean the difference between life and death.
And yet – this farmer sows seeds with wild abandon. He is extravagant – and excessive. This farmer is completely and utterly over the top! And you just know – that this farmer ALWAYS sows seed this way. This is his style. He always has and always will be a passionate, exuberant sower of seeds.
This farmer is unique. This farmer is one of a kind. This farmer is God.
In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus is telling us our God is extravagant and generous and completely over the top.
We see this extravagance all around us every single day. Think of the world God created. Think of the variety and abundance in the world.
Was it really necessary for God to create 38 dolphin species and over 13,000 kinds of flatworms?
Did we really need over 10,000 species of birds?
Or how about 12,000 ant species and 44,000 species of spiders! Talk about extravagant.
Every single person in the entire world has unique fingerprints. Even identical twins have different fingerprints!
Every kind of tree has its own unique leaf shape. Why? Why not just one basic pattern? It seems so over the top.
But that is our God. Our God is extravagant, and over the top.
Time and time again – throughout the Bible we read that God is wildly and extravagantly generous to his people. God doesn’t hold back. God gives his love and offers his forgiveness generously.
Adam and Eve sinned and turn their backs on God – but God loved them anyway.
God’s Chosen People worshipped a golden calf – but God still loved them.
Matthew was a thief – but God loved him in spite of his actions.
Judas betrayed Jesus’ – but God didn’t stop loving him.
Paul held the coats of the people who killed Stephen – but God loved him anyway.
These folks didn’t deserve God’s grace – love – and mercy. But God gave it to them anyway. Because our God loves generously and forgives freely.
And God has continued to be wildly extravagant with his love, grace, and mercy. Because God showers each of us with his love – grace – and mercy even though we are a bunch of broken sinners too.
This parable is about how much God loves each of you. This parable reminds you that God loves you with a love that is far beyond what you could ever deserve. God loves you with a truly amazing, extravagant love. God’s love for you is truly merciful.
None of us could ever deserve God’s love and forgiveness. But God is not frugal when he spreads his love and grace around.
Our generous God calls us to follow his lead. He calls us to be generous. God calls us to be extravagant.
We are called to spread God’s love and our love generously and with wild abandon. Because the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy are just too good to keep to ourselves and we are called to share them with EVERYONE – even people we might not think of as “good soil.”
We can be generous and extravagant with other people because God has been generous and gracious and extravagantly merciful to us. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.
I love so very – very many things about being a parent. One of the things that I particularly love about being a mom is all of the wonderful things that Jack and Will teach me. Just by knowing and loving these two nifty human beings I have learned to appreciate so many things that I never did before.
Thanks to Will I see the beauty of trains. Until Will developed his passion for trains – trains were just an annoyance to me. I didn’t see trains as awesome or cool. I most certainly did not see trains as a reason to get excited. Rather – I saw trains as something to be avoided. Now I keep my eyes open for trains and get surprisingly excited when I see a train gliding down the rails. I smile and point and exclaim and ooohh and aaahh. Seeing a train brightens my day thanks to Will.
Thanks to Jack I am always on the look out for things that have the potential to be climbed. Jack loves to climb. I – on the other hand – am afraid (terrified) of heights! When we are hiking – Jason and I take note of good climbing trees, because we know our boy and his passion for climbing. Jack is drawn to climbing like I am drawn to yarn and knitting. Climbing is simply an essential part of his being.
When we were in TN the last time Jack climbed a tree for his Papa and did a spot of tree trimming! Yes – that’s right – my beloved – cherished – precious son climbed a tall tree on a mountain with a handsaw and trimmed a tree to improve the mountain view from his grandparents’ deck!!! Even Jason (who has a much higher tolerance for Jack’s climbing) was less than pleased about that one. I know this, because Jason actually rolled his eyes and sighed deeply (two things Jason only does when his family is pushing him to the very limit of his patience).
Another thing that the McFarland men have taught me is “zoo appreciation.” I was never much of a zoo person until I started hanging out with Jack and Will. I just didn’t see the appeal of zoos – but thanks to these two I can see the appeal.
My appreciation for zoos has only grown further this summer, because Jack is officially an employee of the Louisville Zoo. Now we are getting behind the scenes information about zoo life. Now I get to hear recordings of the tigers roaring that Jack made himself. I get to hear about cool things that the animals do. Like – Amber the Orangutan is nosy and wants to know what people have in their pockets. It seems that Amber is endlessly entertained by what we human beings carry around with us. I hope that I get to show her my knitting later this summer!
One of the particularly wonderful perks of being a zoo employee is that Jack can take a guest into the zoo with him – even with all of the COVID-19 restrictions. So – this week Jack took Will to the zoo for an adventure while I sat in the car and worked (one of the perks of motherhood – I suppose)! They had a wonderful time “brother-bonding.” They returned a few hours later with all sorts of tales of their adventures together.
And I must say – they had many – many God Sightings during their morning at the Louisville Zoo!
Jack and Will thought that you might like to join them on a quick tour of some of the highlights of their morning at the Louisville Zoo.
First up were the penguins. They are called Little Penguins – because even the full-grown adult penguins are pretty little guys.
This is one of the Louisville Zoo’s Giant Tortoises. Giant tortoises are among the world’s longest-living animals, with an average lifespan of 100 years or more.
This striped fellow is a tapir. Tapir’s are herbivores which Will tells me means that they don’t like cheeseburgers or chicken nuggets.
Meet one of the Louisville Zoo’s tigers. Jack tells me that the tigers tend to be very talkative. He has heard it “meow” like a house cat – only much – much more loudly! When the tigers roar – you can hear them all over the zoo grounds. One of the tigers at the zoo is missing an eye. Just today Jack spent most of his work shift hanging out with him.
This is a Canadian Lynx.
This is a Puma. Did you know that there are 200 different names for these giant cats? They are also called deer tigers, catamounts, and painters. (I won’t list all of the other names!)
This is Sunny the Two-toed Sloth. Her companion is named Sebastian.
This is a Snowy Owl. It looks like it is straight out of Harry Potter doesn’t it?
Isn’t this Snow Leopard stunning?
This is one of the zoo’s gorilla’s. Apparently – he wasn’t in the mood to talk to Will and Jack!
It seems the polar bear wasn’t either!
Meet one of the zoo’s Pygmy Hippos. Both Jack and Will were awfully jealous of his nice cool looking swimming pool. It was very hot on their morning at the zoo.
This is a meercat.
Meet Fritz the Louisville Zoo’s baby African Elephant.
Will was very impressed that anything this BIG could be a baby!?! Actually I am too for that matter.
This horned fellow is an Addax Antelope. It is also just a baby.
And these are Bongos (not the drums).
Clearly our God loves to create! The variety of God’s creation is truly magnificent and dazzling!
Thanks for joining us.
Jack, Will, and Pastor Kerri
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
The Word of the Lord.
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. LORD, you are good to all, and your compassion is over all your works. All your works shall praise you, O LORD, and your faithful ones shall bless you. They shall tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your power, that all people may know of your power and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures throughout all ages. You, LORD, are faithful in all your words, and loving in all your works. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down. Amen.
Second Reading: Romans 7:15-25a
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.’
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am a home body. Which is why I have found the oldest McFarland son to be so downright puzzling over the years. Jack and I have many – many things in common (sorry about that – honey). But one big thing Jack got from his dad is an amazing spirit of adventure. Ever since he was a tiny guy (and I do mean tiny) Jack has accepted every invitation he could to hang out with his extended family.
Jack was just 9 months old the first time he gleefully accepted an invitation to spend an entire week with his Mimi & Papa and Auntie & Uncle. Jack hadn’t yet mastered walking – but he boarded a plane in Fargo, North Dakota and flew all the way to Indiana with his Papa and Uncle and never looked back. That was 900 miles away from me at just 9 months old – and none of them missed me – AT ALL!
Jack has even conspired to teach his little brother to accept these invitations. And together the McFarland sons accept many – many invitations. So much so – that there are people who think their Auntie and Uncle have 4 children! (I am not kidding.) And I find myself saying things like – “Actually – those 2 over there. Yes – those 2. The ones who look like my husband! They actually are NOT John and Elizabeth’s kids. They are MINE!”
Or sometimes I find myself standing toe to toe with John – (and he is a big guy – something like 6 ft. 5 in. tall) and saying – “Give us back our children – NOW!”
But sadly – I usually lose because Auntie and Uncle are way – way cooler than I am!
Even if we aren’t quite as busy with invitations as the McFarland sons are – we all receive invitations from time to time. (Or at least we used to receive invitations before COVID-19 . . .) So we can remember what it was like to receive invitations.
We have received invitations to birthday parties and to anniversary celebrations like the wonderful gathering Phyllis and Charlie Boston had here at Saint Stephen last year to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary and events like our Big Band Nights at church.
We have received invitations to weddings and graduation celebrations and baby showers.
And now – in this COVID-19 world many of us are being invited to Zoom meetings. Or to socially distant hangouts which may seem a bit strange – but are a welcome opportunity to see a few of our long lost friends our hearts have been longing to see for months now!
No matter how an invitation arrives – every invitation has the same purpose. Invitations encourage you to be a part of something – they extend a warm welcome – and let you know you are wanted.
In our Gospel reading for this week we all heard an incredibly important invitation from our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ. Jesus declares this invitation is for anyone who is weary – or carrying a heavy burden. It is for anyone whose soul needs rest.
And I am guessing that when you heard those words from Jesus – (if you were anything like me) – you said “Yes – please. Count me in! I am sooooo totally there!”
Clearly – Jesus’ invitation is for every single person in the entire world. Because who hasn’t been weary? Especially after these past three and a half months!
I – for one – am exhausted. I am so stinking tired of living in a world in which COVID-19 exists. I have had enough of social distancing and masks and hand sanitizer and careful isolation and missing my friends. And missing my sisters and brothers in Christ! I am tired of doing risk assessments in my head every time one of my sons asks to do something. I want to sing the Happy Birthday song at an actual birthday party and not just because I am washing my hands for the 10,000th time that day! I am weary of worrying. I am – well – I am just plain weary.
And I doubt I am alone in having these feelings. Who isn’t carrying at least one heavy burden? Who can say their soul doesn’t need rest?
And so – know this – Jesus is inviting you to come to him. Your Lord and Savior is inviting you to draw near to him.
And if you accept Jesus’ invitation to come to him – Jesus promises you that he will gently and humbly care for you. Jesus wants you to know if you come to him and you are weary or carrying heavy burdens – he will give you rest. Jesus promises to surround you with his love.
Jesus sends you this amazing invitation, because he loves you. And because he knows what it is like to be a human being. Jesus knows what you need and what you long for most. He knows what is in your heart and on your mind. Jesus gets it. After all – Jesus is just as human as you are. Jesus has walked in your shoes.
Jesus knows what it is like to have a family. Jesus knows the joys and the stresses of having parents and brothers and sisters.
Jesus has spent a whole lot of time with the same people. Day after day after day with the same people . . .
He knows what it is like to have friends and neighbors and co-workers who expect a lot from you. Jesus knows what it is like to be surrounded by people who need or want something from you ALL OF THE TIME!
Jesus knows what it is like to have an incredibly demanding job. Jesus knows what it is like to feel like your work is never done!
He knows what it is like to have people angry with you because you do not meet their expectations or do what they want you to do.
Jesus knows what it is like to be frustrated – tired and weary.
Jesus knows what it is like to suffer and to be afraid.
Jesus knows what it is like to mourn when a loved one dies.
Jesus has dealt with the burdens of being human in this broken – messy – complicated – often painful world. Jesus knows. He understands. Jesus gets it.
And Jesus cares. Jesus cares a lot! Jesus loves you so much that he invites you to share your life and your burdens with him. Jesus promises to help you carry your burdens – so they will not be so heavy. Jesus promises to be your partner in this life – to help you – to share in each and every moment of your life.
To believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior – does not mean your life will not be touched with difficulties – sorrow – and pain. Jesus does not promise you that – but Jesus does promise to be present with you throughout your lives.
Jesus will share your greatest joys – your deepest suffering and sorrows and everything in between. Jesus will strengthen you and encourage you. Jesus has promised to be with you for all eternity. You are never alone – not even for a second! Your loving Lord is with you always. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
On Thursday afternoon Saint Stephen was a hustling – bustling place. I haven’t had so much wonderful company at church during the week in months and months. I must say that I found it to be incredibly exciting! It felt like the good old days – only with masks and lots and lots of hand sanitizer – of course.
I have missed our vibrant Christian community while we have all been staying safe at home because of COVID-19. I have missed chatting in the fellowship hall. I have missed hearing about your children and grandchildren and your pets and your personal lives. I have missed hearing about your jobs and your favorite hobbies. I have missed getting health updates and the opportunity to check in with one another. Quite simply I have missed all of you.
I have also missed the opportunity of welcoming the wider community into Saint Stephen and the opportunity of serving our Lord by serving God’s people.
All of those things happened on Thursday afternoon during our first Red Cross Blood Drive at Saint Stephen of the year.
There is no substitute for blood. When a patient receives blood, it was given in advance by a generous donor.
Every 2 seconds someone in the United States needs blood.
1 blood donation can potentially save up to 3 people’s lives!
Red blood cells must be used within 42 days of donation. Therefore there is always a need for donors.
We had 21 people come to the blood drive hoping to give blood. 17 of those potential donors were successful!
Thank you to everyone who volunteered! Thank you for being so incredibly generous! Thank you for being so willing to give of yourselves to help others! Thank you for being a blessing!
Not all that long ago – someone very important to me – asked me why – in the middle of a devastating global pandemic I keep seeking beauty in the everyday. She asked me why I persisted in seeking God’s presence. Why I look for flowers – rainbows – laughing little boys and beautiful skies with so much determination day after day after day? She said – you stubbornly insist on looking for the good and the lovely and these are not good or lovely times . . .
Yes – that is right. I do. I am. And I shall persist! I am stubborn – just ask Jason!
I do all of this because of this – I firmly believe our attention really and truly is like a magnifying glass. Our attention always expands and enlarges the importance of what we are thinking about. And I want to spend as much of this life as possible focused on beauty and kindness and our God’s presence in this world.
Years ago (well actually decades ago now) I decided I was going to spend my life focusing on the good. That I wanted to seek beauty. That I wanted to be a kind – loving – positive and if possible – gentle person. (And yes – I have met myself and am well aware that I am a work in progress!) This was a very conscious decision. And I have had to work very hard at it. I am not naive. I am no Pollyanna. I am not blind. I live in the “real” world. But in college I vowed I was going to be different.
The household I grew up in just was not a very happy place. It was a negative place. When I was a kid – I didn’t realize just how negative it was. After all – it was all I knew. It was my normal. I thought all kids lived immersed in a sea of negativity. And from the outside looking in – I am sure most people thought everything was fine and dandy – but it wasn’t.
My parents did not give compliments. They handed out criticisms instead. If you mowed the yard – they never just said “hey thanks kiddo.” Or told you that you had done a nice job. Instead they pointed out how you had failed to live up to their impossible standards. There was always a crooked line in the lawn or there were a few untidy grass clipping left in the street or a spot you had missed. The same went for cleaning your room or cleaning up the supper dishes or ironing a t-shirt or your confirmation report on Martin Luther. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing received a compliment without a sharp verbal barb or two.
And it wasn’t just their children who couldn’t meet my parents’ standards.
It is true that children learn what they live. And so by the time I escaped to college I knew how to play the game. I was good at being negative and cynical and even two-faced. After all – I thought that was what everyone did.
Then freshman year – one of my best friends and I were walking across campus and I made some sort of snotty comment about another friend who wasn’t there at the time. I did it – because that was what I had learned to do. That was how I had experienced the world up until that moment. No one was ever good enough. No one was complimented. Everyone got torn apart when they weren’t in the room. You smiled while sliding the verbal knife into everyone’s back. That’s what everyone did – didn’t they?
But that night – Jen stopped dead in her tracks and looked me deeply in the eyes (honestly she looked right into my broken, damaged soul) and said – “Oh Kerri – that was so mean! I hope you don’t talk about me like that when I am not around.” I saw such hurt in my dear friend’s eyes. Hurt that I had felt so many times when I had been criticized and humiliated.
And in that moment I vowed to be different – to change. I vowed to stop being that person who brings hurt into the world. I vowed to start looking for beauty and love and kindness. I was baptized as an infant and had gone to church almost every Sunday of my entire life – but that was really and truly a “come to Jesus” moment for me.
Of course – I still get it wrong all of the time. I am a broken – sinful human being in need of God’s grace – love and mercy – but I keep on trying to seek God. To see the beauty in this life and to live with kindness.
So that is why I keep showing up in this space – week after week – month after month in the middle of a global pandemic with all of the pictures of flowers and puffy white clouds and bumble bees.
I am being not naive. I know that we live in a broken, sinful world. I am not blind to the suffering around me. I see it. I know.
Instead I am keeping a vow I made over 25 years ago. I am choosing to spend as much of my life as I can focusing on the good – even in the midst of a global pandemic.
What will you focus on today and in the weeks and months to come?
I am going to be wandering through this life with Jason – Jack and Will seeking the good in this wild – messy – sometimes terrifying – and occasionally beautiful life. Thank you for joining me and thank you for sharing in even a moment of it.
5The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”
The Word of the Lord.
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
1Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. 2For I am persuaded that your steadfast love is established forever; you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens. 3“I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant: 4‘I will establish your line forever, and preserve your throne for all generations.’ ” 15Happy are the people who know the festal shout! They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence. 16They rejoice daily in your name; they are jubilant in your righteousness. 17For you are the glory of their strength, and by your favor our might is exalted. 18Truly, our shield belongs to the Lord; our king to the Holy One of Israel. Amen.
12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Word of the Lord.
[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When I was a little girl – we had an amazing neighbor named Mrs. Browning. We were next-door neighbors – but our yards were separated by a dense – thick hedge of pine trees and honeysuckle bushes. And as much as I liked Mrs. Browning – I liked her hedge even more. Actually – I loved her hedge – because it was one of the very best places in my world to play.
As the bushes had grown over the years – they formed wonderful – nooks and crannies that made perfect play houses that were just the right size for a little girl and her imaginary friends. During the summer when the leaves hid me from view – I spent hour after hour playing in her hedge. In Mrs. Browning’s hedge – I entered worlds spun from my vivid imagination.
Some days I was a pioneer living in a sod house struggling to survive a raging winter blizzard. Other days I was an intrepid explorer discovering incredible new worlds. And sometimes I was an orphan bravely living in the world helped only by my wits and ingenuity.
I must have talked to myself out loud a lot (even back then) – because more than once when I was a pioneer whose food and water supplies were running dangerously low – Mrs. Browning would bring me life-saving provisions. By generously placing a few chocolate chip cookies and grape Kool-ade on the stoop of my sod house – Mrs. Browning gave me the strength to carry on.
If I were shipwrecked on a scorching hot desert island – she might provide me with the only nourishment I had received in days in the form of a truly refreshing Popsicle or two.
More than once – Mrs. Browning saved me from freezing to death during a wickedly nasty August blizzard.
Mrs. Browning knew all about hospitality. It was such a part of her life that she even offered hospitality to the quirky little girl and her imaginary friends hiding in her bushes.
Who do you think of when you think about hospitality? Who or what comes to mind?
When I think of hospitality – I think of people like Mrs. Browning who have welcomed me warmly and cared for me. Who opened their hearts and made room for me in their lives. I think of people who were patient and loving and gracious.
Dictionaries say that hospitality is the “act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward.”
But what about Christian hospitality? What is Christian hospitality and what does it look like?
As always – the best place to look for answers to questions about our faith is the Bible. So let’s turn to God’s Word. The Bible has a whole lot to say about hospitality.
Most of us tend to think of hospitality as having good manners and being polite when someone stops by for a visit. We think that hospitality means offering our guests something to drink and something yummy to eat. But the Bible tells us hospitality is more than good manners. Hospitality is an act of worship. Hospitality is our sacred duty.
In ancient times – hospitality was literally a life and death matter. After all – people lived in a world without hotels, restaurants, rest stops, debit cards, and 24-hour grocery stores.
Folks depended on the hospitality of complete strangers for survival as they traveled from place to place. If a traveler were not shown hospitality by a stranger – he was very likely going to spend the night hungry and thirsty and quite possibly in considerable physical danger.
Hear the words God shared with his people in Leviticus (19:33-34) – “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
God is reminding his people that they were once the travelers and the strangers and the people who needed help. God is reminding his people to look to their own history as the strangers in a new place and to be loving and gracious and compassionate.
Saint Paul declared to the Romans (12:12-13) that they should – “Contribute to the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.”
It is so very – very easy just to save our hospitality and kindness and generosity for our friends and loved ones. But our God wants us to remember that as his followers we are called to help everyone – even complete strangers!
First Peter (4:9-10) includes the call to Christians to “be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” Seriously – without complaining?!? But most of us are just so good at complaining . . .
Jesus knew the importance of hospitality from firsthand experience. Jesus regularly depended on the hospitality of strangers as he had traveled all over Israel and the surrounding countryside sharing the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy.
Hospitality is deeply tied to our faith in our God.
In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus revealed something very important about Christian hospitality – when Jesus said – “Whoever welcomes you – welcomes me and whoever welcomes me – welcomes the one who sent me.”
Jesus tells us that he and God the Father are present in every single person whose path crosses ours. So when we open our hearts and homes and our church and lives to others – we are opening our hearts and homes and lives to our Lord.
Jesus wants us to see the people who pass through our lives and to be aware of their needs. God wants us to be compassionate – loving and generous. God wants us to open our hearts to his world and to ALL of his people. And by doing this Jesus tells us we will be loving God – caring for God – and serving God.
This is amazingly good news for us – when we serve others we serve our God.
Hospitality is worship and praise. Through hospitality we are given the opportunity and the privilege to be used by God for incredibly important things. Hospitality is a way of thanking God for his blessings to us.
When you welcome others into your heart you are welcoming Jesus.
When you are generous to others you are being generous to your Lord.
When you welcome that new family into the neighborhood – you welcome Jesus.
When you thank that front line worker – you are thanking Jesus.
When you make the stranger who is visiting your church feel at home – you are welcoming God.
When you help by donating nutritious food to Fern Creek/Highview Ministries – you are feeding Jesus.
When you stand in solidarity with the oppressed – you are standing with Jesus.
When we feed a stranger we are feeding Jesus.
When you live lives of hospitality – you are serving God and you are being who God has called you to be. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.
Extroverts intrigue me – because they are just so different from me. I find extroverts absolutely – positively mystifying. They are so – well – they are so energized by things that exhaust me!
I am an introvert. I crave quiet and solitude. I love long stretches of being alone with nothing but my own thoughts and a ball of yarn and some knitting needles. Nothing makes me happier than an entire weekend (my weekend = Friday and Saturday) when the only people I see are Jason, Jack, and Will.
Once Will asked me why we don’t have parties at our house like his beloved Auntie and Uncle do. Will is the family extrovert and he thinks parties are really fun! Jason and Jack just laughed, and answered for me – “because Mommy’s brain doesn’t work that way!” Seriously – my brain doesn’t work that way. The last time I threw a party – was 19 years ago when we lived in Minnesota and it was for the church council. I threw that party and thought “nope that is not for me!” I was exhausted and completely stressed by the entire experience.
More than once someone in the McFarland household has commented that staying safe at home because of COVID-19 hasn’t dramatically altered our family’s way of living. And it is true. It really didn’t. Our lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much, because I am an introvert who is married to an introvert. We are happiest in the woods or the garden or with our noses in a good book. A wild night for me is a Worship and Music Committee meeting at church.
But as time went on I did notice that even this dyed in the wool introvert had enjoyed enough quiet time. Buddy would come in to pay bills at the church and I would hold poor Buddy hostage until I had received a full and I mean FULL report from him on how everyone in his entire family was doing from Peggy right on down to Paige.
Marilyn would stop by to drop off her offering at the church and I would realize that chatting with her and getting an update on the fence she and Sarah were building had been really and truly exciting to me. Poor Marilyn probably was exhausted from building that fence and just wanted to get home and put her feet up – but first she had to spend 18 hours talking to me!
Jason and I would see Marcia while we were on a walk in the neighborhood over our lunch break and we would chat so long Jason would have to remind me that he needed to get home because he needed to get back to work. . . okay then.
I would run into a Lutheran in the grocery store and we would have a socially distant conversation that lasted so long the McFarland sons’ ice cream started to melt!
For years and year and years – all I dreamed of was having great big – glorious uninterrupted swaths of uninterrupted family time. And thanks to COVID-19 boy – oh boy did I get it!
I do give our Lord thanks for Jason – Jack – and Will and for all of the time we have been able to spend together over these past months. They have been and continue to be such a gift and a blessing.
But I must say – it has been wonderful to be able to see and hear from other folks too. I have been absolutely – positively craving news about how other folks are doing.
Today – I want to share a update with you from the Lynch family. Beth, Michael, Easton, and Grant have not been able to join us for in-person worship just yet. Imagine – if you will – trying to keep a mask on an eight month old baby . . .
Grant is 8 months old now! Grant is crawling everywhere so Beth never – ever – ever gets to sit down now! Michael probably doesn’t ever sit down either. And we all know that Grant and Easton don’t ever sit down!!! Grant is also teething so Beth and Grant aren’t sleeping much either. . .
Easton is busy thriving and growing and being just plain extraordinary and amazing!
Beth, Michael, Easton, and Grant are all well and say hi! They are looking forward to seeing everyone as soon as they are able.
Thank you to Beth for sharing these wonderful pictures of Easton and Grant. They have both changed so much. 3 months is almost a lifetime when you are little. . .
I would love to share more updates and similar God sightings so please send them my way!