Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christ the King Sunday is observed on the same date as the final Sunday of the ecclesiastical year, the Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent. It’s the newest day in the liturgical year, first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church and adopted by many Protestant churches.  The liturgical colors on our paraments and gates will be white.  

Sermon for November 19, 2017 – “God’s Outrage, God’s Gifts”

November 19, 2017
24th Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, IA
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Anyone look at the world these days and feel a little outraged? When we hear about mass shootings, sexual harassment, child abuse, white supremacists marching in the streets, we can get pretty angry at the world. I also weary of all the outrage around and within me. It doesn’t really help matters and often makes things worse.

Given that background, it can be hard to know what to make of the outrage we hear from God today in the reading from the prophet Zephaniah. God says, “I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the Lord, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.”

We also hear that we have a God who isn’t pleased with our complacency, who says, “I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.’”

All that makes your friend’s angry Facebook posts sound like Mr. Rogers in comparison.

I should probably make it very clear that I did not choose these readings for this Stewardship Sunday. This Sunday, like every Sunday, we’re using the assigned readings for the day from the larger church’s common set of readings called the lectionary.

The lectionary helps keep preachers and congregations honest- we don’t get to just pick the readings we like, the ones that make us feel good, the ones that reinforce what we already think. The lectionary helps ensure that the readings don’t sound like a warm, fuzzy Hallmark card. I think that goal was achieved today! Both in the first reading, and in the Gospel. where we were here, again, about someone being sent in outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This picture of God frightens many of us. Sometimes it turns us away from God – we think, “no thanks, not going there, not touching that with a ten-foot pole.”

Both of those things seem to be going on for the third worker in the parable from Matthew today, the guy who buries the money entrusted to him. He tells the Master, I knew you were harsh and angry so that’s why I just buried the treasure you gave me. He seems afraid, he seems to just not want to deal with the Master. I get that. There are times I want to avoid the angry parts of God- this week I was tempted to cut part of the assigned Zephaniah reading so we didn’t have to deal with it and, true confession here, I actually added in the last 3 verses that sound nicer. There are times I wish we just had a Hallmark God who made me feel warm and fuzzy all the time. Except then I look at the state of the world and I realize warm and fuzzy isn’t going to cut, isn’t even going to come close to addressing all the issues we’ve got going on- all our selfishness and greed and complacency and hatred. We need justice and righteousness and God’s shalom- God’s true wellbeing for all people. Warm, fuzzy, sentimental, niceness doesn’t bring real hope.

What does bring me hope is that God passionately engages our world working for justice and righteousness. God isn’t like us who get outraged but often stop there. God’s anger is a refining fire of justice and righteousness. And God is always actively bringing in justice and wellbeing.

Sometimes that means that God calls us out and convicts us when we are lazy, complacent or complicit in injustice. It also means that God gives us what we need to share in God’s work and to experience joy and hope. God gives to us abundantly.

God is like the Master in the gospel parable today who entrusts his workers with all his property-all that he owns. Each worker gets a major gift- one talent was equivalent to fifteen years of wages. They don’t all get the same amount but they all have major resources available to them.

In the same way, God entrusts us with resources, with abundant gifts, and God expects us to use them, to multiply them, to do God’s work with them by increasing justice, righteousness, shalom.

But one of the workers in the parable chooses not to do anything with what he’s been given. Rather than gratefully receiving his gift and getting to work, he hides what the Master gives him. Rather than getting out there and putting the Master’s resources to work, he focuses on his concerns about the Master’s temperament and the situation.

Perhaps he gets fixated on why he only got one talent rather than five and gets hung up in comparing himself to the others, in feeling sorry for himself. Maybe he thinks he doesn’t have enough for himself or enough to make a difference and gets hung up in feeling inadequate. Maybe he feels put upon by being asked to do something more when he feels like he’s already done enough. Maybe he gets paralyzed by the fear of not measuring up to the Master’s expectations, or maybe he just doesn’t want to deal with a Master who can get passionate.

I get that, I’ve so been to all those places-sometimes I go to each of them many times a day.

But when I go to any of those places of fear, jealousy, inadequacy, avoidance-I miss out on the joy of the Master and on the chance to participate with the Master in making the world more just, more well. I find myself stuck in darkness, weeping, gnashing my teeth, outraged and despairing about the state of the world and my own heart. What little hope I did have is taken away.

But God does not leave me there. God doesn’t leave us stuck in these places, God does not leave us buried. Our passionate God continues to call us out- to convict us and call us out from all the things that trap us, all the ways we hide. And God continues pour out the resources of faith, hope, love, joy and forgiveness into our hearts.

Day after day, week after week in worship, God calls us out and God pours out abundance upon us. And day after day, God asks us to use what we’ve been given to participate in God’s work in the world.

As we do, we enter into the joy of our Master, again and again.

Thanks be to God.




This Week at Good Shepherd, November 20-26, 2017


Monday November 20
11:00 a.m. – Memorial Service for Ed Kaschins

Tuesday, November 21
5:30 p.m.- Nominating Committee

Wednesday, November 22
7:30 a.m. – Men’s Breakfast
6:00 p.m.- Community Thanksgiving Eve Worship at First Lutheran

Thursday-Friday, November 23-24 – Office Closed

Sunday, November 26 – Christ the King Sunday
8:45 a.m. – Band Rehearsal
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion– Live Broadcast
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
No Sunday School or Adult Forum

Adult Forum, Sunday, November 19, Pr. Marion Speaks on the book of Mark

On Sunday, November 19, Pr. Marion will lead Adult Forum.  She says:  Sunday, Dec. 3rd is the first Sunday of Advent and the first Sunday of the new Church Year. As this new year begins we will leave aside Matthew’s Gospel and begin reading from the Gospel of Mark. Come to the adult forum this Sunday to learn more about Mark’s unique story of Jesus and how we will explore that during the coming year.  

Reception and Service for Ed Kaschins, November 19 and 20

Edward A. Kaschins, 78, died from complications of cancer on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Elizabeth; two sons, Edward J. of Boulder, CO, and John of Minneapolis; and brother-in-law Lewis Wenzell of San Diego. He was preceded in death by an infant son, Edward Lewis; his parents, Allyce and Anthony Kaschins; mother-in-law, Elizabeth McKinnon and stepfather-in-law Claire McKinnon. 

The family will greet friends at a celebratory reception on Sunday afternoon, November 19, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m., in the Fellowship Hall of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. The memorial service will be held at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Monday, November 20, at 11:00 a.m.; a luncheon will follow in the Fellowship Hall.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials be directed  to Luther College, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, or a charity of the donor’s choice.  Fjelstul Funeral Home is serving the family.  A full obituary is available here.


Sermon for Sunday, November 12, 2017 – “There Is Enough”

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 12, 2017
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

 Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

“Keep awake”, Jesus said.

When was the last time you struggled to stay awake – in a concert, while driving, while at worship?

When you woke up, did you take a quick check around hoping no one saw you?

When was the last time you overslept? I usually can’t sleep in, even when I want to, but I’m paranoid about oversleeping so I always set a number of alarms. They didn’t help one morning before an early flight out of Minneapolis, however. I’d stayed overnight with my aunt in St. Paul and we stayed up talking long into the night. I slept through five alarms on my phone and woke up at the time I was hoping to get to the airport. I made it to the security line as they were paging my name for a final boarding call. I made it to the gate right before they closed the airplane door, a door that cannot be reopened. I felt quite foolish and unprepared.

Oversleeping and sleeping when we’re not supposed to can induce all sorts of shame, panic, fear and anger.

I wonder if that dynamic is at play with the bridesmaids in this parable. After all, Jesus ends the parable by saying, “keep awake therefore.”

Often this parable is thought to be about preparedness.

We take it to mean that we must have enough oil for our lamps or else we’re in trouble. And we worry that we don’t have enough of whatever we think oil means in this parable – enough faith, enough joy, enough energy for service in the world.

But notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “be prepared therefore” make sure you have enough oil because no one’s going to share it with you if you don’t. You run out, you’re outta luck, shut out forever.

No, Jesus says keep awake. Jesus calls us to be alert, attentive, and watchful for the kingdom of heaven coming in our midst. When we don’t remain alert and attentive to the bridegroom, Jesus, who is bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, then we become panicked, fearful and distrustful.

That seems to be what happens to the bridesmaids. None of the bridesmaids in the story are awake or alert when the bridegroom comes; they’ve all fallen asleep. When he comes at midnight, they’re all startled awake, and they all begin to freak out.

The foolish bridesmaids realize they don’t have enough oil and begin to demand it of the wise bridesmaids. But the wise bridesmaids don’t exactly respond in stellar fashion, either. They refuse to share because they might not have enough.

This is not exactly kingdom-of-God thinking. Throughout scripture we’re told to let go of our fear of scarcity and trust in God’s abundance. Jesus instructs us, “give to everyone who begs from you.” But the wise bridesmaids respond with the opposite of generosity and faithfulness saying, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”

The foolish bridesmaids then live up to their name by listening to the wise bridesmaids – they go out to look for an oil dealer at midnight. They wander around in the dark without any light source because the oil in their lamps has run out – and this is way before street lights. Good luck with that.

Somehow, they manage to find an insomniac oil dealer but by the time they return, the party is in full swing and the door is shut. It’s too late for them to welcome the bridegroom and be welcomed into the party.

The foolish bridesmaids miss out on the feast because they leave the party desperately searching for what they lack. They assume they won’t be accepted without it. But it isn’t the bridegroom who tells them that they have to leave to get more oil. It’s the wise bridesmaids who worry there won’t be enough.

What if the foolish bridesmaids had stayed and welcomed the bridegroom even if they didn’t have enough oil? Rather than leaving and frantically racing around trying to compensate for what they lacked, what if they’d stayed with the party? Perhaps the oil would’ve lasted – the scriptures show that God provides abundantly when all we see is scarcity. And if it did run out, what if they’d humbly approached the bridegroom to say, “I’m sorry, I’m out of oil, please forgive me?”

Why did they listen to the voices that told them there wasn’t enough, that they had to go search in the dark rather than trusting themselves to the bridegroom? Did they assume he would be harsh and unforgiving? Throughout scripture God is described again and again as being slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

And what if the wise bridesmaids had willingly shared their oil? What if they’d paid attention to God’s prophets, like the prophet Amos today, the prophets who make it clear that God does not want celebration and feasting if all are not included in God’s abundance, if there is not justice, shalom and well-being for all?

What if all the bridesmaids had been alert and attentive to the kind of bridegroom they were going to meet? Would anyone have excluded then? We are so often like the bridesmaids. We so often exclude ourselves and others from the feast of God’s kingdom that is coming among us in Jesus.

We so often remain outside the celebration, stuck in our worry, thinking we can’t fully enter in until we have done enough or have more of what it takes. We listen to voices of scarcity and anxiety telling us we need more – more energy, more light, more joy, before we’ll be welcomed.

And because we live in a culture made up of insomniac oil dealers, there is always some store, some site, open night or day, that’s peddling a product, a service or a new approach to life that they claim we just have to have in order to be OK. 24/7 we can find someone who will tell us we’re not enough unless we have what is being sold. There are so many ways that we miss the presence of the bridegroom Christ and the kingdom coming among us.

But Christ comes again today to awaken us from our groggy, anxious states. He comes to us as he does each time we hear scripture and share in the sacraments. Christ comes to awaken us to God’s coming kingdom, to get our attention so that we look to him for what we need rather than trying to find it on our own. Christ makes us alert to the Gospel truth that there is enough, that we are enough, that we and all people are welcomed to the feast of God’s abundance. With this assurance, we are free to share what we have been given so that all people can find their place at God’s table. You are enough, there is enough for all, come and eat, then go and share.

Thanks be to God.

This Week at Good Shepherd, November 13-19, 2017

Tuesday November 14
9:30 a.m. – Anna Circle – At Aase Haugen
7:00 p.m. – Congregation Council Meeting

Wednesday, November 15
7:30 a.m. – Men’s Breakfast
1:00 p.m. – Prayer Shawl Ministry – Ingrid Callaghan hosts
6:00 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Rehearsal
8:00 p.m. – Band Rehearsal

Thursday, November 16
10:00 a.m. – Adult Bible Study in Narthex
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at First Lutheran
7:00 p.m. – Stewardship Meeting

Friday, November 17
11:00 a.m. – Education Committee

Sunday, November 19 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost
8:45 a.m. – Choir Warm Up
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion – 11a.m. Broadcast
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:45 a.m. – Sunday School and Youth Forum
10:50 a.m. – Adult Forum: Pastor Marion on the Gospel of Mark
3:00 p.m. – Celebratory Reception in Remembrance of Ed Kaschins

Tabita Green Speaks at Adult Forum, Sunday, November 12

Sunday, November 12, 10:50 am – Adult Forum

Tabita Green
Decorah Power board member and congregation member Tabita Green will discuss the initiative to create a municipal electric utility in Decorah. The discussion will also consider how such initiatives fit into a bigger vision for a new economy that is focused on cooperation, strong local economies, and the wellbeing of people and planet. Come ready to learn and ask questions!

Sermon for Sunday, November 5 – All Saints Sunday

Sermon​ ​for​ ​Sunday,​ ​November 5,​ ​2017​ ​- Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
All Saints Day
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson
Preacher: Rev. Marion Pruitt-Jefferson

First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm: 34:1-10, 22; Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3; Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

Beloved of God, called to be saints, grace and peace to you from Jesus our savior.

The last time I preached, I started my sermon by asking you to talk with one another about a question Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?”

Today I want to ask you another question in a similar vein, but don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to share your answers with your neighbor. Here’s the question: Who do you say that you are?

When you’re asked to introduce yourself at a meeting or social gathering, what do you say about yourself? I usually say something about my professional identity, where I come from, how long I’ve lived here, and maybe something about my family. But I guarantee you that never once have I introduced myself by saying: I’m Marion, a beloved child of God, and one of God’s saints. And I would venture to guess that you haven’t either.

Why don’t we claim this God-given identity for ourselves? Why can’t we accept that label as freely as the children do? It is, after all, the most important thing about us – about who we are at the very core of our being.

We heard this truth announced just a moment ago in the first letter of John: See what love the father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!

Pastor Amy reminds us of this stunning truth at the beginning of every sermon – addressing us as “Beloved of God.”

And when we gather at the Lord’s Supper we not only hear those precious words “given and shed for you,” we also taste and see how dearly God loves us.

So on some level we do know, at least in our heads, our truth of our identity as a Beloved Child of God, as one of God’s saints. And if we were given a quiz and asked: Who does God say that you are? We’d more than likely be able to give the correct answer. But in the rush and confusion of our day to day lives, we have trouble hanging onto that truth, at least I do. (And so I find myself longing to know not only in my head, but in my heart, who I am in God.)

There are so many demands upon us, so many big and small things that need our attention, it’s easy to forget this deeper and profound truth of our lives – that we are God’s beloved children, chosen, gifted, and called to be the living saints through whom God’s love is shared with the world.

But it’s not only our busyness and distraction that causes us to forget who we truly are. It’s also that there are an awful lot of days when we just don’t feel much like God’s beloved child or living saint. We know how often we speak and act in ways that are not loving, that don’t reflect God’s love for us and for our neighbor. We remember those times when we have acted in anger or frustration, causing pain in someone’s life. We know how often we have turned away from someone in need, failing to offer the kind word or gesture of compassion. And yet, in spite of all that God persists in loving us – Not because of what we’ve done, or what we’ve left undone, but just because of who we are, and even more – because of who GOD is. God doesn’t wait to love the person we might be, the person we’ve promised to be, or the person we’re trying to be. God loves us right now – warts, scars, and all.

Beloved, we are God’s children now! The writer of First John repeats himself in his letter, because those dear Christians way back then must have had a difficult time believing that truth about themselves, just as we do.

But then the writer goes on with this wonderful announcement: what we WILL BE has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

What we will be…..What a wondrous thought – that there is more to who we are than what meets the eye, and that our true identity as beloved children and beloved saints, is something of a mystery, and remains hidden in God. It is certainly hidden from the world that cannot see beyond our accomplishments or failures, our wealth or poverty, our abilities or disabilities, our physical appearance or limitations. Yet even if the world cannot see who we really are, and even though we ourselves may struggle to believe it, our core identity as God’s beloved child, and beloved saint, is held securely in God, whose unconditional love and mercy hold us fast, and none of the powers of this world can ever change that.

Do you see what that means? No matter what you may have done, or had done to you, you are God’s beloved Child. No matter where you have been or where you may go, God will be with you. No matter what you may have said, or have had said to you, God will keep you in God’s heart now and forever. And we God’s promise that, in the end, all that we are and do will be gathered into Christ and somehow the totality of who we are will look like him. That means, of course, that God is not done with us. That God has something more in store for us –God is at work in us now to love the world through the unique person God has created each of us to be……..Even in those parts of our lives where we have experienced the deepest suffering, the greatest shame, the most searing pain – God’s inexhaustible power to bring life out of death is continually at work to redeem our suffering, our failure, and our sin, and through us to work for the healing of the world that God loves.

Some of you are probably familiar Thomas Merton a Trappist monk and Christian mystic, and writer. He was someone who understood deeply our true identity as God’s beloved children. In 1958 when he was out on a routine shopping trip in in Louisville, KY he had a powerful experience of God’s love. He was standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut streets, in the center of the busy shopping district, surrounded by people, when he was suddenly engulfed in a blinding epiphany of God’s love. It was as if he was able to see the people all around through God’s eyes – with a kind of spiritual sight. In that moment he recognized the God-given connectedness of all people, and the divine love that binds us together. Writing about that experience he said: If only everybody could realize it! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. Then it was as if I suddenly saw the beauty of their hearts….the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are……blazing with the invisible light of heaven…..

Beloved Children, God’s Living Saints, may you know in both head and heart how precious you are – how deeply and fully God loves you. And may you go out into the world shining like the sun and blazing with the invisible light of heaven.










Reception and Memorial Service for Ed Kaschins, November 19 and 20, 2017

Edward A. Kaschins, Luther College emeritus professor of economics, died at age 78 from complications of cancer on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Elizabeth; two sons, Edward J.of Boulder, CO, and John of Minneapolis; and brother-in-law Lewis Wenzell of San Diego. He was preceded in death by an infant son, Edward Lewis; his parents, Allyce and Anthony Kaschins; and mother-in-law, Elizabeth McKinnon. 
The family will greet friends at a celebratory reception on Sunday afternoon, November 19, 3:00 – 5:00, in the Fellowship Hall of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. The memorial service will be held at Good Shepherd on Monday, November 20, at 11:00 a.m.; a luncheon will follow in the Fellowship Hall.