Change is – Well Change is in the Air

I am so excited that soon my car won’t be the only one in the parking lot!

I read a really fun book this week all about different personality traits and how they manifest in different people.  Actually – I more or less devoured the book in about 2 days.  I would have read it even more quickly – but Jason thought it would be healthy if I got up off the couch for some exercise.  And William – well Will just kept interrupting me with his unreasonable demands for food and attention.  I can’t believe that I have failed teach our 7 year old how to cook and clean and educate himself.  Total parenting fail!

So anyway – the book touched on several different popular personality assessments, and I simply adore this kind of stuff.  I love thinking about what makes all of us tick.  I find people so intriguing.  We are all so unique.  We are all hardwired so differently.

For instance – I am an introvert and so are Jason and Jack.  The 3 of us don’t talk to strangers.  But William is a great big, glorious extrovert.  Our little guy will talk to anyone – anywhere – at any time.  This winter – in life before COVID-19 – Will and I were in the Kroger liquor store buying communion wine for church (really – honest – it was communion wine – I promise).

And this is what I heard behind me.

“Hi I’m William.  But my mom calls me Will lots of the time.  What’s your name?”

“That’s my mom.  She is a pastor.  She is buying a whole bunch of bottles of wine for our friends at church.  We ran out of the good stuff (He was quoting me here.)  We drink wine at church in little cups – even the kids!  I have tried the wine – but I don’t really like it.  Lots of the old people seem to really like the wine.  Do you like wine?”

“So what are you buying?  Do you like it?  I like orange Fanta.”

“Do you have any little kids at your house that I could play with?  If you don’t have any little kids – maybe you could come to my house and we could play?  Hey – Mom can you tell this man where we live so that he can come over so that we can play?  He is nice!”

All of this in the time it took me to swipe the church debit card and enter the pen number!  I am not kidding. 

The nice gentleman – who must have been about 85 – smiled warmly at me and said – “Wow – that’s quite a friendly little fellow you have there.  I hope he isn’t too offended if I skip out on the invitation.  I am afraid that my hip replacements don’t let me keep up with the youngsters like I used to.”

If it had just been me getting the communion wine by myself that day – I would have smiled warmly at the gentleman behind me and probably shared – a friendly “hi” – but I would never have learned about his hip replacements . . .

Introverts make up around 40 % of the world’s population and extroverts make up the rest (even I could figure out that math).  Some people are incredibly empathetic.  Others make amazing leaders.  We are all different – and I love that about people.  If we were all the same – life would be incredibly boring and probably pretty predictable.

One of my own personality traits is that I am very – very – very change averse (which makes me a magnificent mainline Christian/Lutheran).  I don’t do change well at all.  I want to know what to expect and when to expect it.  I find change very stressful.  Change makes me nervous.

I don’t think that I am alone in wanting to know what to expect and when to expect it.  Even people who aren’t averse to change like being in the know. 

So I want to share with you what worship will be like at Saint Stephen when we resume in person worship in our sanctuary on Sunday, June 7th.

What follows is the plan that the Church council, Rod Firquin, and I have put together after much thought, prayer, and careful deliberation.

I understand that there is a lot to read through, but please do take the time to read through all of it.  This plan explains how we will be moving forward together as a Christian community in the weeks and months to come.

Change is not always easy.  We are all going to have to make changes and concessions.  Worship is going to look and feel quite different.  We are all going to have to adapt our behaviors so that we can safely gather together to worship our Lord.

But remember as Jesus told us and his disciples – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20.

We can do this together (at a safe social distance of course)!

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

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Worship at Saint Stephen in the Midst of COVID-19

We ask that folks stagger their arrival times when arriving at Saint Stephen for worship.  We ask that people please don’t wait to arrive for worship until the last few minutes as so many of us have done in the past.  If everyone waits until 9:55 am to arrive for worship – worship will not begin on time!

Folks will have to be very careful to maintain safe social distancing in the narthex as they arrive for worship.  Everyone will be asked to wear masks the entire time they are in the church (except when they are taking Holy Communion).  The governor recommends everyone over the age of 2 wear a mask when out in public and that is the policy Saint Stephen will be following until our governor advises differently.

This is Will’s mask . . . just kidding!

When parking we ask that you park every other space in the parking lot too.  This will allow for safer social distancing outside (unless you are from the same household.)

As folks arrive for worship each person will need to collect their own worship attendance card and prepackaged Holy Communion from the table in the narthex where they will be placed each week in nice prepared, safe zip lock bags.  After collecting these items they will be encouraged to place their offerings in the offering plate and to proceed to their seats in the sanctuary so that the next people can do the same. Our narthex just isn’t big enough for us to linger safely en masse like we used to do.

We just can’t safely social distance in our narthex – well not very many of us can anyway.

We are going paper-less.  We will be projecting the spoken liturgy onto a screen in the sanctuary each Sunday.

Safely stored for now – but not forever!

We will prop open the doors to the narthex and to the sanctuary so that people are not touching the doors as they arrive for worship and as they exit from worship.  We will also prop open the door to the hall.

We can’t really prop open our bathroom doors, but we can place paper towels and hand sanitizer beside each door.  We will encourage people to use those when entering and exiting the bathrooms. 

Ask people to NOT go into the rest of the church.  We just don’t need to be in the offices or the classrooms or the fellowship hall or kitchen for the time being.  We will definitely have to close off the nursery.  We will not be able to provide nursery care for the foreseeable future.  

This is one of the many reason we can’t be in the fellowship hall right now. It has become a storage room!

The deacon will process in from the fellowship hall.  The deacon will serve as the acolyte and the reader for the foreseeable future to limit the amount of people in the chancel area.  The deacon will NOT be vesting.  We cannot share clothing during a pandemic!

Pastor Kerri will also process in from the fellowship hall.

There will be no singing of any kind or any chanting.  Pastor Kerri will rework our liturgy so that it is all spoken.

The deacon will serve as reader and will do the readings from the lectern.

Pastor Kerri will read the Gospel from where she preaches in the chancel.

We will not be able to safely have a children’s sermon.  (We can reassess this in mid-September.)

We will worship together – apart!

The deacon will lead the Prayers of the People from the lectern.  

We will have to omit the physical passing of the peace – but we will still speak the words to one another.  We can wish one another God’s peace.

We will have to omit the offering = the physical passing of the offering plates.  We will place an offering plate in the narthex where people can place their offerings to the Lord as they enter or exit worship.

For Holy Communion everyone will have their own Communion in their pews using pre-packed/pre-sealed grape juice and wafers.  Pastor Kerri will invite everyone to open their communion before she shares the Words of Institution and we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  Then we will all receive/take communion together.  

Lots and lots of breathing room!

After we take communion we will all carefully place our empty communion cups and containers back into our zip-lock bags and seal them in preparation for throwing them away ourselves in the trash cans provided in the narthex following worship.  

We will need to ask people to exit worship mindfully and in a way that is safe.  Following the announcements Pastor Kerri or the deacon will direct people to leave pew by pew starting from the back of the church and working our way toward the front.  

As they exit, they will need to place their communion waste in a trash can and their worship attendance card in a basket on the table in the narthex (we can label all of these things – but no one can touch these items until they have had 72 hours to “breathe.”)

People will then need to head outside promptly so that the people behind them can leave the sanctuary.

Plenty of room to spread out and stretch our arms. You can all start talking like me now – lots of arm waving!

Again the doors to the sanctuary and the parking lot will need to be propped open to insure that people are not touching the doors.

We encourage people to chat in the parking lot at a safe social distance if they choose – but not in the church.

We understand that some of our members will not be able to join us at Saint Stephen for worship for the foreseeable future.  We will continue to post the sermons/worship services online each weekend.

Never Alone – Not Really

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

Have any of you ever had moments of understanding that completely changed the way you understood the way the world works? Moments that turned your world upside down and inside out?

The setting sun over Lake Superior.

For 1,000s of years people firmly believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth. People were absolutely positive that the Earth was the center of the entire Universe.

Then Galileo discovered that the Earth wasn’t the center of the Universe. That the Earth actually orbited around the Sun. Galileo’s discovery shook people to the very core of their beings. His discovery was so shocking and so disturbing – that the Catholic Church actually threatened to kill Galileo for daring to say that the Earth wasn’t the center of everything in the entire universe.

Folks didn’t take kindly to his turning their world inside out.

My own little astronomer in the making at the planetarium here at the U of L.

Or like when the explorer Ferdinand Magellan proved that the world was round instead of flat. With no understanding of gravity – folks just assumed that anything that wasn’t nailed down – would simply fall off the bottom of the world. So naturally – the world had to be flat. Then Magellan and his crew circumnavigated the world without falling off.

Talk about turning the world upside down!

Magellan’s ship probably wasn’t made by a 7 year old with a 2 by 4 and some nails but . . .imagination is important!

We have all had moments like these. Sure our discoveries probably don’t make the evening news or get us written up in history textbooks. But these moments are still a really big deal to us. They still change us and our lives forever.

For many of us – I am guessing that this spring may be one of those times of profound change in our lives.

I can still remember one such moment in my own life. I was probably only about 8 at the time. I was playing with my friends on the school playground when Sara declared that her mom said that Mrs. Sando was dying.

“What?!?” – I remember thinking. Mrs. Sando. . . I knew that she had been really – really sick. We all knew that she had been really – really sick. She taught 3rd grade at our school and their family lived in our neighborhood. She was our friend’s mom. Mari’s mom was dying . . . that was simply incomprehensible to my little 3rd grade brain. Mari was our age. Mari and her little brother were still just kids. They needed their mom for seriously important things like food, shelter, and well – they needed her for just about everything.

In that moment – I learned young people could die too. (And now that I have children of my own I realize just how young Mrs. Sando was at the time . . . She was incredibly young.) Up until that day – I had assumed that only really, really super-duper old people died. I didn’t realize that parents could die and leave their kids all alone in the world.

My world was shattered by this newfound knowledge. This realization left me reeling. Because even at 8 – I knew that being orphaned was a very bad thing. (I had read the Boxcar Children books. I knew that being orphaned meant you were ALL alone in the world!) I had nightmares for weeks about being left all alone in the world to fend for myself. I remember begging God not to leave me orphaned.

In our Gospel reading for this week – we hear Jesus speak words of comfort and reassurance to his disciples during a truly terrifying time in their own lives. In just hours Jesus knows that he will be arrested – put on trial – convicted and crucified. Jesus knows the disciples are frightened – actually Jesus knows that they will soon be downright terrified. Jesus knows big changes are coming for his disciples. He knows their world is about to be turned inside out and upside down.

So – Jesus promises his disciples that he will not leave them orphaned. That he won’t leave them all alone in the world to fend for themselves. Jesus reassures them that he loves them and that he will continue to love and care for them – no matter what happens.

We can certainly understand a bit of what the disciples are going through – can’t we?

I keep thinking about the incredible – shocking changes that the spring of 2020 has brought into all of our lives. I mean really – if on New Year’s Day anyone had said to you that by May 17th we would all be living through a global pandemic that had us quarantined in our homes for weeks on end – we would have thought they were a bit unhinged or still tipsy from having too much fun on New Year’s Eve. And yet – that is exactly where we find ourselves.

The world remains in the grips of this deadly pandemic. . .and we don’t know how long it is going to last . . . The economy is in tatters. Those of us who can work from home are doing just that. And far – far too many of us aren’t able to work at all. Our children are distance learning – kind of – sort of – well we hope they are anyway! So many of our politicians and governmental leaders are behaving like petty children (actually that is probably a complete insult to all children everywhere) – blaming each other rather than working together. The numbers of people who are dying from this horrible virus just keep growing and growing. The heartbreaking loss and fall out just seem to get worse and worse and worse.

Our lives have been turned upside down and inside out. We are exhausted and afraid. And yearning for hope. It feels like our world is a great – big – scary place.

But Jesus tells us today that there is Good News – comforting news – reassuring news. We are not alone in this world. We aren’t orphans. Jesus reassures us that he won’t leave us alone. That our Lord isn’t going to forget or foresake us.

God will always take care of us no matter what this life brings. God is with us all of the time. God is faithful. God has been with you each and every moment of your lives and God will continue to be with you all of the time. This will be true no matter where you go or what you choose to do with your life. God will be with you forever. You can trust in that – because it is true.

God loves you with a perfect love forever. God walks with you and will provide for you and watch over you. You are never alone. Not even now during these frightening times. God is always faithful and you are always in God’s perfect loving care. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Readings for Sunday, May 17, 2020

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The First Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23

For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.”

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 66:8-20

Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.I will come into your house with burnt-offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt-offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him,
and he was extolled with my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Praised be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me. Amen.

The Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 14:15-21

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

God Sightings Even When Feeling Grumpy

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 find that some days are easier than others.  Some days are smooth sailing.  Some days feel just plain glorious.  Some days are bright and shiny and super fun. 

But other days – well other days are just plain challenging.  Some days feel like a bit of a slog.  Some days you just want to go back to bed or at the very least stay in your comfy yoga pants while eating ice cream on the couch for breakfast (or maybe that is just me . . . it is probably just me).

Today was one of the more challenging days for me.  I went to bed last night with a stupid migraine and when I woke up – it was still there on the left side of my brain – grrrrr.  It wasn’t an awful migraine – but it was there – yuck.  As I made my morning cup of coffee I noticed that it was raining – double yuck! 

As I sipped my morning coffee – I sat with William while he did his NTI work.  As I spent time with Will and Mrs. Meers (our incredibly AWESOME 1st grade teacher) – I felt my yucky mood begin to fade just a bit.  It was still raining and I still had a migraine – but I realized that right in front of me was the most wonderful God Sighting. 

This beautiful smile greets us every morning! Mrs. Meers is dazzling!

Mrs. Meers has been such an incredibly wonderful 1st grade teacher for our Will.  (My 1st grade teacher – Miss White was awful and frankly left me deeply scarred for years.  She belittled me and called me names.  She told me that I would never be a successful student.  That was YUCK!)  Mrs. Meers is affirming and gracious and loving.  She is the exact opposite of the monster I had for 1st grade.  I really look forward to going to 1st grade with Will.  

I realized that I am going to miss NTI when it ends in a few weeks.  I have enjoyed these precious opportunities to be a part of Will’s 1st grade learning experience.  My sweet William may not feel the same way – but I will remember these days fondly in the years to come.

As Will was doing his math assignment – I found my attention drifting outside (just like it does for so many 1st graders).  And what did I spy?  A gorgeous woodpecker!  God Sighting #2 of the morning.

I had so much fun watching the beautiful woodpecker play on the boys’ play set in our backyard.  He/she was stunning and very -very busy.  It seemed to enjoy playing on Will’s play set in the rain!

Yes – it was still raining and yes – I still had a stupid migraine – but God was still making himself known to me.

Then after lunch I went to the church for a meeting with Rod.  We are planning how and when we can all return to worship at Saint Stephen (which we did while wearing our masks and maintaining a safe social distance) – and on my desk was a sweet note from Peggy Zimmerman along with a beautiful new mask.  And it is green – my very – very favorite color!  I felt very loved and very blessed.  God sighting #3 of the day!!!

All of these books are Jason’s and this is only part of his collection. Most of them are in languages I can’t read – but I think (hope) just sitting close to them might make me smarter!

After my meeting with Rod at the church, I came home to not one but two wonderful cards from Lutherans telling me that they are thinking of me and praying for me.  God Sighting #4 and #5 (at least). 

Hugs in the mail!

Yes – it is a rainy day in May.  Yes – it is rather chilly and yucky outside.  Yes – I do have a headache.  Yes – social distancing is weird.  Yes- I miss “my” Lutherans all so much I sometimes want to throw a hissy fit!  Yes – I continue to struggle with the new normal.  Yes – I miss my old life passionately – but God is still here with me.  God is still making himself known in my life.

So – I ask you – where have you seen God in your life this week?  How is God making himself known to you?  Are you keeping your heart open?

You are all in your pastor’s heart – thoughts – and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Broken and Yet So Very – Very Beautiful

For years now I have loved searching for river glass.  I also like looking for lake glass and ocean glass – but our family doesn’t get to the lakeshore or to the ocean nearly as often as we get to a river.  Our hikes here in Kentucky and in Tennessee often take us near rivers – so I most often get to go on river glass expeditions.  I look for river glass while the McFarland sons look for wildlife and throw rocks (but never – ever – ever at the wildlife).

I have whole jars just filled with the broken bits and pieces of glass that I have collected over the years.  Each piece of glass is a treasure.  Each piece of glass intrigues me.  Each piece is different.  Some are clear while others are opaque.  Some of the pieces are brown.  Some are blue.  Others are green.  I have just a few extra special red pieces.  And I remain ever hopeful of finding an incredibly rare orange piece (those are old and were most often poison bottles).  I have teeny – tiny pieces, and I have some pieces that are quite clearly the bottom or top 1/3rd of a bottle.  Some pieces have writing that you can read.  Coca-cola and Budweiser being the messaging I most frequently read about on my river glass . . .

Our jar of glass from Lake Superior.

River glass tends to be rougher around the edges.  It won’t cut you – but it usually isn’t smoothed out like a pebble. 

Smooth pieces of lake glass

Now lake glass on the other hand is smooth like a pebble.  The lake’s waves wear away the rough, jagged edges, and the pieces that you find in a lake tend to be much smaller than those you find in a river.

Jagged looking pieces of river glass

Searching for river glass is a twist on the saying – “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Because that is literally what river glass it.  It is trash.  It is pollution from a  careless – thoughtless litterbug who was just plain too lazy to put their glass bottles in the recycling or at the very least into a trash can.  Instead – the litterbug chucked their beer bottles and their coke bottles and their trash into the river.   They clearly weren’t listening to Woodsy the Owl when he admonished all of us to “Give a hoot and don’t pollute!”  I am a huge fan of Woodsy the Owl and Smokey the Bear.  I both give a hoot, and I remember that only I can help prevent forest fires!

(Yes – I AM being rather judge-y.  I realize this makes me hypocritical since I think littering is wretched behavior and yet I love looking for river glass.  Life is complicated.  Actually life is really – really complicated!)

Okay – so back to the river glass.  I/we have collected quite a bit of river glass over the COVID-19 time of social distancing.  We have been spending a lot of time outside – not because of COVID-19 necessarily – but because it is spring.  And Jack and I have found some seriously cool pieces for our collection.

And we have more than filled a whole new glass container with the broken pieces of river glass that we have collected both here in Kentucky and in Tennessee all while safely social distancing – of course.  We are very big on following the rules of social distancing.  (Actually – we are pretty big on following the rules in general at our house.)

Every time we collect river glass – I am amazed by how beautiful it is.  It is junk.  It is litter.  It is pollution.  And yet – after being washed in the river for months or years or sometimes even for decades – it is beautiful.  What was once dangerous and sharp and jagged – is now smoothed out.  It is lovely and unique.  It sparkles in the sunlight – especially once you take the time to wash all of the mud off of each piece.

River glass makes me think of what Jesus has done for each of us when he died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus took our brokenness – our polluted natures – our jagged messed up selves and smoothed those out with his love – grace – and mercy.  Yes – we still clearly show the signs of our brokenness and our very human humanness – but we are made different by God’s love.  We are changed.  We are transformed by God’s grace.

I also cling to the hope that we will be changed by our time of living through COVID-19.  That this time will have made us different.  That we will have taken this time to think and to reflect and to consider our relationships with God and with one another.  That this time will make us more thoughtful – kinder – more compassionate – and more understanding of others.  After all – we are all just trying to make our way through this life as best as we are able.   We are all just trying to cope during these stressful times and to do what feels best for our families.

(Except for the littering – bit – I don’t think I will ever understand the littering. . .)

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

It Feels Like Home . . .

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

In our Gospel reading for this week – Jesus tells his disciples – “Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  Next Jesus boldly declares – “I am going to prepare a place for you.  Then I will come back and take you to be with me.”  

What wonderful words of hope and comfort!  What an incredibly awesome promise!   And the Good News for us is Jesus wasn’t just talking to his disciples.  Jesus makes this promise to each and every one of you too.  

Jesus has gone to prepare a place just for you in heaven.   And Jesus tells us – that this place Jesus is preparing for you in heaven will be as unique as you are.  Jesus is going to prepare a special place just for you in heaven!

Sunset at our TN home away from home . . .

Heaven is not going to be a boring – impersonal place where everyone’s home looks exactly the same.   Jesus is not going to assign you to some generic – one size fits all – dorm room like I moved into my freshman year of college.  Where everyone’s room was exactly the same right down to the towel rack by the sink.  Instead when you get to heaven – Jesus is going to welcome you to a home he has prepared just for you.  With you in mind.  With you in Jesus’ heart . . .

What do you think your heavenly home will look like?  Have you ever tried to imagine your heavenly home?  Sometimes just for fun – I try to imagine what heaven is going to be like.

Perhaps your heavenly home will sparkle with your favorite color.  Maybe it will overflow with your favorite flowers.  Perhaps your favorite books will line the walls.  Or maybe your favorite music will fill the air.  Will your favorite artwork cover the walls?  (I so hope that my heavenly home is filled with yarn – lots and lots of gorgeous yarn!)

We can’t really know what heaven will be like.  It is impossible for us even to imagine someplace that is really and truly perfect.  Nothing in this broken – sinful – messed up world can really prepare us for perfection.  So – for now – all we can do is wonder – and hope and dream.  And wait and wonder and hope and dream some more.

But we do know Jesus has promised us heaven is going to be completely and utterly awesome.  And we know that we will be with our Lord who loves us with a perfectly perfect love.  You also know that your heavenly home will be a perfect fit.

When I hear these promises from Jesus – I am reminded of the way my mother-in-law always gets ready for a family gathering at her house in Tennessee.  Linda makes absolutely – positively certain that she prepares for each and every one of us.  Linda doesn’t forget or overlook anyone.  She doesn’t pick favorites.  The pantry literally groans with the bounty of her unconditional love every single time our family gathers together.  She is prepared for all of us.  No one is overlooked.  She even remembers her annoying in-laws.  

There is ice cream for the grandkids – in each of their favorite flavors – of course.  

There are hippy-dippy foods for Jason and me.

The special coffee creamer that my brother-in-law loves is in the refrigerator.

Bob’s peanuts and his Coke Zero.  Bella’s hot dogs.  Nic’s cheez-its.  Will’s nuggets.  Jack’s jerky.  Elizabeth’s coffee. It is all there.  And that doesn’t even count the provisions she lays in for our family meals.

Linda must start days before she heads for the mountains to be ready for all 10 of us and our unique personality quirks and picky preferences.  

And she is always – always more than ready for all of us.  No matter how long we are there – whether we are there for a week or a weekend. Linda is ready to make us all feel loved and welcome and treasured.

It is like being wrapped in a loving – warm hug.  It has a way of reminding all of us of our place in our family and in the world.  Seeing my favorite tea in the pantry next to Nic’s Cheez-its and Bob’s peanuts and Jack’s jerky always makes me smile.  It reminds that I am loved – that we are all so very – very loved – and that we all belong to and in this wild and wonderful family.

Sharing a belly laugh with my father-in-law and Jason . . .

These sorts of moments in our lives give us just a small glimpse of what heaven is going to be like.  Of the way that our Lord and Savior loves us.

Your heavenly home is being prepared by someone who knows you better than you know yourself.  By someone who knows how many hairs you have on your head and the dreams you carry in your heart.  By someone who knows what makes your heart sing and what fills you with joy.  You are God’s beloved child.  God knows you and loves you and has prepared the perfect place for you in his heavenly kingdom.

As important as it is that Jesus has prepared a home just for you – there is something even more important for you to know about heaven.  Jesus wants to prepare a perfect heavenly home for everyone who has ever lived and will ever live.  

Everyone is welcome in heaven.  Everyone belongs there.  God wants all of his beloved children to spend eternity with him in paradise.  There is room for everyone in heaven.  Heaven can never be too full.  There are no limits on how many people heaven can hold, and there are no limits on how many children our heavenly Father can love.

There is always room for one more.  

Breakfast in the mountains.

This makes me think of a family making room for new members whether it be through birth or adoption or marriage or friendship.  We always seem to manage to shove over – squeeze in – find another chair in the basement – add another leaf to the table and make room in our lives and in our hearts for another person to love and to share a laugh with.  To share this life with.

If an earthly family can do this just imagine how welcoming our heavenly family will be!

When Jesus said to his disciples – “in God’s house – there are many dwelling places.”  Jesus was reaching his arms around all of God’s beloved children and saying – “there is a place for you.  Young or old or somewhere in the middle.  Butcher – baker or candlestick maker.  Sinner and saint.  Lutheran – Catholic – or Baptist.  Questioner – doubter – denier.  Whoever you may be – there is room for you in heaven.  God’s love and grace truly know no limits!”

There will always be a perfect place in heaven and love in God’s heart for each and every one of you.  Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

Scripture Readings for Sunday, May 10, 2020

Video Links

First Reading:  Acts 7:55-60

55But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, Stephen died.

The Word of our Lord.

Psalm 31:1-5

1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
    do not let me ever be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me.

2 Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me.

3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
    for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.

5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.  Amen.

Second Reading:  1 Peter 2:2-10

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the very head of the corner,”

and “A stone that makes them stumble,
    and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
    but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
    but now you have received mercy.

The Word of our Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 14:1-7

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

It Took our Breath Away

“Look at the sky.  We so rarely look at the sky.  We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment.” – Brother David Steindl-Rast

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

The other evening while I finished cleaning up the dinner dishes – Jason took the boys for a quick walk in the mountains.  (I had planned to catch up with them.)  As it turned out – it was a very – very quick walk, because they had only been walking for a few minutes when they heard a huge, noisy clap of thunder and knew that they needed to head for home.

(They had checked the weather radar before setting out – but the Great Smokey Mountains are in a temperate rainforest and thunderstorms develop out of the middle of nowhere here.)

They made it safely home without getting too wet and then the heavens opened up and it began to pour!  It was a real gully washer.  We were disappointed that the evening’s activities were interrupted by the rain – but then we looked out the windows and saw the sunset.

The sunset literally took our breath away. It was stunning. Absolutely – positively stunning!

And then – then there was the rainbow.  Seriously – this sunset and a rainbow too!

We all just stood on the porch and took in the glory of God’s amazingly awesome creation.  We let it wash over us.  We were in awe.

Jack’s response summed up what we are all feeling during that golden hour – “Wow – God is really showing off this evening – isn’t he?!?!”  Well – yes – yes I think he was.

“Thank you!” – I thought to myself – “Thank you Lord for this stunningly beautiful reminder of your presence in our lives and in our world!  Thank you so very – very much.  I needed that!”

Where are you seeing God at work in your life?  How is our Lord making himself known to you?

You are in my heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Changes to the Chancel?

Everyone has their special places.  Those places where they go when they need to rest and recharge.  Those places where they feel safest and best.  Where they feel most grounded and secure.

My special places tend to revolve around nature.  I love nature.  Nature grounds me.  Nature has a way of reminding me of who I am and whose I am.

So when I am at home in Louisville – I find that I am drawn to our back steps when I am craving a quiet place to sit and think.  Or simply a quiet place to sit and just be.  Our back steps are my safe place.  I love the way the sun warms those concrete steps and I can feel the sun’s warmth right down to my very bones.  I sit on those steps through the warm spring days, the scorching summer evenings, and during our toasty fall evenings too.  I sit and I knit (no surprise there). Sometimes I may read. Other times I watch our sons play.  Or I sit and chat with Jason.  Or I may just sit and knit and watch the world around me while enjoying a mug of tea.

I love to watch the leaves on our old oak tree blow and rustle in the breeze.  I watch birds soar through the sky.  I watch ants crawling across the patio.  I admire our garden and marvel at how quickly the weeds grow (so – so much faster than the tomatoes that’s for certain).  I often watch Jack and Will do wildly wonderfully boyish things which amaze and dazzle me with their daring and fearless bravery.  

I am also big on watching the sky.  I marvel at the seemingly endless shades of blue that the sky can be over the course of the year.  I love to watch clouds drift or zoom or amble across the sky.  

I find being in nature to be peaceful. Or at the very least – being in nature give me space to think.

I am trying to be more mindful these days.  To notice the world around me.  To slow down and breath deeply and to give thanks for the small – quiet moments of life too.  To give thanks for the blessings that are easier for me to overlook – to never even notice.  You know – those blessings that we all take for granted.  I don’t want to rush through my life and end up feeling like I missed out on the good stuff because I was too busy being busy. I think that it would be easy to do. To come to the end of my life and to have missed the really good parts because I spent life being busy simply for the sake of being busy.

Some days I am better at this than others.  Some days – I just get moving too quickly.  Some days I forget to be thankful.  Some days I am overwhelmed by life and all that there is to do. 

(Especially now that there is this whole new dimension to so many of our lives = work and homeschooling our children/grandchildren. I am not complaining. I really do love helping Will learn. Jason covers Jack’s subjects because Latin, computer programming and advanced math are way more his speed. But wow has it added to the busyness of my days.)

Some days I just forget to be grateful.  Life can be complicated.  Life is just like that.  We aren’t promised that life will be smooth sailing – just that God will be with us always.

So when I start to I start to lose perspective I head for some green space – for nature.

Nature is balm for my world weary soul.  Jason and the boys are awfully fond of nature too.  It is comforting and healing for all of us.  

The other green place that is incredibly special to me is the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.  I have been coming here with the McFarlands since I was just 17 years old.  It is our special place (us and about 1 billion other people but who’s counting).

We have so many wonderful – happy memories of time spent hiking and walking and just hanging out in the Smokies.  We hike and laugh and chat together as a family of 10 every single time all of us are here together.  We are a wild and wonderful and truly weird entourage – but that is just how we roll.  We have been coming here more and more as the years have passed.  And then a few years ago – Townsend, Tennessee became our home away from home when Jason’s parents bought a home here.

Townsend is the quiet side of the Smokies.  It isn’t touristy or tacky or built up.  It is very green and very – very nature-y.  And so this weekend – Jason and I decided to bring the boys to TN for a few days of big green.  I needed to be immersed in green.  To be surrounded by it.  To be able to see green for as far as my eyes could see – and at our TN house that is just what you get.  Not very many people and green as far as I can see – just what we needed in this COVID-19 world.

So – when you see my sermon this weekend – you won’t see me preaching from Saint Stephen’s chancel.  I will be sharing God’s Word with you from our family home in TN.  I am so thankful for great Wi-Fi and the blessings of a husband who doesn’t mind driving and our God who blessed us all with such an incredibly beautiful world.

I will be back in the chancel at Saint Stephen next Sunday.  And I will be posting my sermon just like I always do on Saturday evening.  I just wanted to explain the unique background setting of my sermon this weekend.

And I also would like to encourage all of you to spend some time thinking about where you are most at peace?  Where do you find yourself most aware of God’s presence in your life? Where can/do you go that reminds you of who you are and whose you are?

Can you go there?  If you can’t physically go there right now because of COVID-19 – use your imagination and go there.  I can close my eyes and be on my back step or in my favorite chair on our porch in TN in less than 1 second. Try it – you might just be able to do the same thing too. . .

Give thanks for those places in your life that help you feel closer to your Lord.  Give God thanks for the ways our Lord has made himself known to you and continues to make himself known to you. I know that these are difficult – stressful – demanding times – but our Lord is with us always.

You are all in your pastor’s heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri 

Salamanders, Sunshine, and So Much Splashing!

Sunday morning Jason and I went to mass on-line at my in-laws’ church.  It was wonderful to be able to worship even if it was from our laptop in the dining room.  Even Will listened in to the worship service for a bit.  (It was pretty weird going to mass with my cup of coffee – wearing my hiking clothes – but I don’t think that Jesus really cares what kind of shoes I was sporting.)

After worshipping together – we headed for another jaunt in the woods.  We had promised Will that he could play in a river, and we had promised ourselves a hike someplace very green.  Sunday was just way – way too gorgeous to stay inside all day. So we loaded up the backpack with essential provisions like jellybeans (those keep Will moving when he starts to lag behind) and water and we headed for the hills.

Seeing these made it worth the big, seriously steep hills!

Our destination was new to us, and it was amazing!  The only people we saw on our 4 hour trek through the woods and to (in) the river – were related to us.  We had the trail and the river to ourselves the entire time.  

The search for wildlife begins . . .the biggest wildlife I found were two human boys!

Well – actually – we didn’t have the river to ourselves – because it has finally warmed up enough for the wildlife to be out and about.  

We met this cool dude on the trail.

Our first of three salamanders . . . it was a good day for salamanders!

We also found crawdads . . . big ones and little ones.

We had God Sighting after good old fashioned God Sighting on Sunday afternoon.

It was good for our souls to be reminded that God is busy all around us. Our God is at work in our world and in our lives. He really and truly is.

Where are you seeing God in your life these days?

What is God up to in your life? How are you experiencing God’s presence these days?

God has promised us that he is with us always. Our Lord is with us – even now.

You are in your pastor’s heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri