Mother's Day Sermon 2023

 It’s Mother’s Day today, and families are gathering together to celebrate the women in their lives. The fact that I’m up here on Mother’s Day got me to thinking about Motherhood and how it connects to my beliefs. One of the first things I thought of were the many women who act as mothers in our lives. In addition to my own mother, I had my grandmother, my Aunt Alta, my church mentor in Lincoln, Sally Basham, and many teachers and others who helped guide me as I grew up. Not all these women had children of their own, but they deserve to be celebrated as well. Also, Father’s Day is in a few weeks, and it will be time to celebrate dads, so we can’t forget to acknowledge all the men who contribute in so many positive ways to the lives of children.
What I hope to weave together this morning, is parenthood and Jesus’ one commandment. Recently we’ve talked about Jesus as the good shepherd, leading cows and sheep and knowing them all by name. It’s a good metaphor for a leader and protector, but I like to think of Jesus as a sort of parent, big brother, or teacher. If you’ve ever seen a child who is just learning to walk, you have probably also seen a parent walking behind that child, stooped over, and ready to catch them if they fall. I think Christ’s hopes for us are also much like a parents’ hopes for their children. First and foremost, he wants us to be good people. That’s the essence of good parenting. We can’t choose who our children will grow up to be, we can’t decide what they will do, or protect them every moment of every day, they are not like sheep that can be fenced in. The metaphor of the shepherd is a good one, but it discounts free will. Jesus’ flock of humans can do any number of unexpected things both good and bad. They cannot be controlled and made to be good, but they can choose to be good people and do what is right in the world. As we journey through life, with an eye on doing the best we can, sometimes Jesus is walking behind us, ready to catch us, even carry us when need be. The rest of the time he walks beside us. And if we know Christ, and embrace the one commandment, that’s all we really need.
I’m often dismayed by the negativity, hate, and fear that abounds in the world. It’s not uncommon for people to be suspicious of everyone and every situation. A young teenager pulls into the wrong driveway, or knocks on the wrong door, the homeowner grabs a gun and starts shooting. The excuse is fear, but I would guess that had the person opened the door and asked what they wanted, he would have seen that person’s humanity. His heart would have been warmed by the chance to help them find their way. In fact, I know a couple who did almost exactly that. Many years ago, before everyone had Google maps, friends of ours who live on old highway 50 were startled one night by a knock on the door at 11:00 pm. Two young black men were on their front porch—an unusual occurrence around here. Instead of reacting out of fear, they opened the door. The two young men had gotten lost trying to get back to Ft. Riley, Kansas. Our friends were able to help get them back on track. They had an unexpected opportunity to help, and they took it. As a result, both they and those young men can look back on it and smile.
This brings to mind a story I first heard in church when I was young, but it stuck with me. It’s the story of The Two Travelers and the farmer.

There once was a traveler who came upon an old farmer working in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer approached the farmer and set down his pack. The farmer seemed happy enough to set aside his tools and talk for a while. After a bit, the stranger asked, “What sort of people live in the next town?”
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.
“They were a bad lot. Troublemakers, and lazy too. They were the most selfish people in the world, and not one of them could be trusted. I’m very happy to be leaving the scoundrels.” The farmer sighed and shook his head. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort of people in the next town,” he said.
Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work. Later that day, another stranger, coming from the same direction, greeted the farmer, he set down his pack, and stopped to have a chat with the farmer. After a while the traveler asked the farmer, “What sort of people live in the next town?”
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.
“They were the best people in the world. Kind, hardworking, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”
“Well, you’re in luck,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort of people in the next town.”

The first traveler goes into the world expecting the worst. He is angry and suspicious of everyone. He is sure they are dishonest, lazy, scoundrels, he imagines he’s been dealt with unfairly and taken advantage of, and so he gets just what he expects. He doesn’t really know the people and yet he judges them to be the enemy, the worst of humanity. He doesn’t love his neighbor. The farmer tells him he will find the same in the next town, not because the people there are the same as in the previous town, but because the traveler is the same. He will search for what is bad and find it wherever he goes. The second traveler goes into the world with love. He’s optimistic. He looks for the best and he finds it, and he is easy to love because he loves everyone. Christ’s one commandment asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we go into the world looking for and expecting to find enemies, we are sure to find them. If we go into the world looking for and expecting to find friends, that is just what will happen.
I’d like to tell you about just a few of the people in my life who embodied the spirit of the one commandment. The first was my Granddad, Amzie Vernon, or A.V., Grass. He was the superintendent of Tecumseh schools from 1942-1960. There are probably a few of you who remember him. One of the things I remember about him is that he seemed to know everyone, he always had time to stop for a chat, and he would introduce us to his friends like we were just as important as an adult, in other words, he treated children like real people (which wasn’t all that common back then). He made a difference in the lives of a lot of people. In his personal effects there was a letter from a man who grew up on a farm outside of Tecumseh. He wrote that he had been one credit in math short of graduating and had decided to just quit school. My granddad offered to teach him on his own so he could graduate, and the man had reluctantly agreed to spend the extra time to finish high school. The man said that though he couldn’t see it at the time, that act of kindness led to all the good things that came to him later, He joined the military, then went to school on the GI bill and became an engineer. He met his wife in college, and they had children, and then grandchildren. All those years later he wrote to thank Mr. Grass for making all of it possible. In this church, I remember Dick Pope talking about the fact that Granddad had been his scout leader, and how important Scouting was to him. He teared up a little as he told me about their adventures. Carol Hutt pulled me aside once and said that when she was a student office assistant, one lovely day, he asked her if she’d like to go outside and learn to spin a rope. You couldn’t be friends with my granddad without, at some point, getting a lesson in rope spinning. Carol said her impromptu lesson was something she would never forget.
Another person who embodied the one commandment was our friend Dave Kimball. We used to go places with Dave, we even went to Scotland and Ireland together. The most wonderful and sometimes annoying, thing about Dave was that it seemed like he struck up conversations with everyone he met. He had an infectious smile, and he smiled all the time. You couldn’t help but like him. We were on a ferry going to some Scottish islands and Dave was chatting up basically everyone sitting near us, and I was mildly annoyed. There was no good reason for being annoyed. I just didn’t feel as comfortable talking to strangers, and by the way, Joel does this too, though not as much as Dave. Anyway, I asked why he was always talking to strangers, and he said he liked to get to know people, even if only for a short time, and it made people feel good when you took an interest in them. So, I tried it. I was off by myself shopping for souvenirs, I guess, and I went in an empty shop with a bored looking girl at the cash register. Normally I would be polite, say hi and thank you, but instead I asked how she liked life on the island. She perked up, and she told me. It was good during tourist season, when you could travel back and forth to the mainland fairly easily, but it was pretty bleak in the winter when the boats were scarce and sometimes couldn’t run because of ice. We talked about more too. I told her I had daughters about her age, she said she was a student at a nearby college. It was lovely. Dave passed away at the beginning of the pandemic. We miss him and all the plans we had for the future. And I feel a bit sorry for all those who are missing out on a chance meeting with a stranger named Dave.
The third person I’m going to talk about, you’ve probably already guessed, is Sally Hutt. She was the heart and soul of our church for many years, and she’s left an indelible mark on the church and all of us. I first met Sally when Joel and I started attending here in 1993. I was expecting Amanda and nervous about being in a new place and such. Anyway, Sally came up to me with a big smile on her face, she took my hand and welcomed me. Really welcomed me. Later she invited me to Martha’s circle, and asked if I would like to teach bible school. Soon I was involved in lots of things. Sally, of course, was involved in everything. I think she basically ran the place, but you’d never know it. She did everything with a sense of humor and humility. Sally let love guide her in everything she did, whether it was teaching at the elementary school, gently guiding church activities, or raising her family. --This is where I circle back to motherhood. Sally was also a fearless and a fantastic mother. When Ann was born, the doctors told them she would never walk, speak, or develop like other children; they said she should be institutionalized. Sally and Jim must have been scared, but they decided to ignore the doctors’ advice and they took their baby home. It was difficult but with love and perseverance, Ann did eventually walk and speak. Doctors advised them that Ann should be kept away from others. In those days, children like Ann were often hidden away. Sally and Jim ignored the experts again, and they took Ann everywhere. Most of us remember Ann’s love of fishing, firemen, and Mister Rogers. And almost every Sunday Ann would ask “Is Joel Behaving?” and I’d say no, and we’d laugh. Ann’s parents made her life a thing of beauty. She was loved by an entire town. Sally and Jim did that.
That’s what good parents do. They help their children become the best version of themselves they can be. Of course, children in general don’t always cooperate, but usually if you raise them with love and encouragement, they will end up making you proud. My own lovely daughters have continually been a source of joy for Joel and me, not that there haven’t been a few problems here and there. We were standing behind them, encouraging them to be the best people they could be. We brought them to church, and you did the same, loving them and cheering for them, and praying that all would be well. Now they are grown up, professional women, but we, all of us, were their first teachers. That’s true for a lot of other young people in our church family too. It's a bit sad for our church that our children have grown up and live in other places, but it also means that we’ve done our job well. They are ready to meet the world with the love and faith, and optimism we instilled in them from the start.
So, like with my granddad, to Jesus, no one is a stranger, only friends yet to be made. And, like Dave, Jesus wants to hear your story, hang out, and get to know you. And like Sally, Jesus wants us to go out in the world and be fearless and always lead with love. We can do these things too. We can see friends wherever we go, listen to people, be fearless, and always, always, lead with love.  

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February 18, 2021

Comfort Food

After two weeks in a polar vortex, it's wonderful to see the sun shine, but it's still cold enough for comfort food. I recently typed up this recipe, one of my favorites, for Amzie's best friend, Julia. I made it for a football party (back in the days when we had parties) and Julia's fiance loved it, so she asked for the recipe. Enjoy!
Beef Carbonnade: Belgian Beef, Beer, and Onion Stew
This recipe is in America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. I’m adding notes on how I prepare it. Enjoy! Susan D (Amzie’s Mom 😊) Ingredients:
3.5 lbs Top blade steak trimmed and cut into 1” pieces. I have used stew meat or cut up a roast.
3 tbs     Vegetable oil. I don’t measure this.
2 lbs     Yellow onions (about 4) halved and sliced ¼ inch thick.
1 tbs     Tomato paste—I use 3 or 4 tbs—you can freeze extra to use later.
2            Garlic cloves minced or pressed through a garlic press—about 2 tsp.
3 tbs     All-purpose flour
¾ cup  Low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup   Beef broth. I use a can of chicken broth—what do you do with the half cans of leftover beef and chicken broth?
12 oz     Dark beer or stout. Save a couple cold ones for you and John!
4             Sprigs of fresh thyme tied with kitchen twine. I use ½ to 1 tsp dry.
2            Bay leaves
1 tbs     Cider vinegar
This recipe pairs well with potatoes, egg noodles, or rice, and is good reheated.
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat to 300 degrees. I sometimes us a slow cooker. Dry the beef and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tsp of the oil in a Dutch oven at med-high heat. Brown 1/3 of the meat at a time. Don’t move the meat for 2-3 min. to get a good sear. Put the browned meat and juices in a large bowl and repeat twice. Scrape up browned bits and add to bowl. Honestly, I don’t always brown all the meat—it takes forever! You can get the basic flavor by browning one batch, or if you’re in a big hurry, just skip it all together.
2. On Med-low, heat the last tbs of oil, add the onions, ½ tsp salt, and the tomato paste, and cook, stirring often, for 5 min. Increase heat to med. And cook 12-14 more minutes until lightly browned. Stir in garlic—30 sec. Add flour and stir until onions are evenly coated and the flour is lightly browned—2 min. Stir in broths, scraping the bottom of the pan; add beer, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, beef and accumulated juices, salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat and bring to a full simmer. Cover partially and place in oven. Cook until fork inserted into beef meets little resistance—2-2 ½ hours.
3. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs (if using). Season with Salt and pepper to taste and serve.    

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