Saturday, June 19, 1:00 pm – Rev. Donald L. Berg “Celebration of Life” Service


  • Reverend Donald L. Berg, long-time member of Good Shepherd, died on January 10, 2021, at age 86. His “Celebration of Life” Service was delayed due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • Masks are required, with no limit on attendance and optional social distancing.
  • All are welcome at a reception at the church following the service.
  • Burial is at Union Prairie Cemetery in rural Decorah later in the afternoon.
  • Donald L. Berg’s obituary is at
  • Blessed be the memory of Don Berg!


Sermon for Sunday, June 13, 2021 – “Seeing Differently”

Third Sunday after Pentecost
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.

Before we were married, my husband Matt moved to Western North Dakota for a year of pastoral internship. Many of our seminary classmates were relieved that he was the one who got sent to a town of 26 people. I much preferred my internship site outside of Chicago. And when I went to visit Matt that year, I spent a lot of time making it clear that I would not be moving there after we graduated from seminary.

But Matt absolutely loved the people and the landscape of Western North Dakota. When he first drove into Divide County, he was struck by the beauty of it all. Not only were there actual amber waves of grain, there were also these gorgeous yellow flowers everywhere. Thankfully Matt held his tongue before commenting on the beauty of these flowers. Within just a few days he heard a farmer complaining about the wild mustard everywhere. It turns out that those yellow flowers were a very invasive weed that the famers spent a great deal of time and money trying to remove. Matt was glad he hadn’t shown his ignorance and he still secretly enjoyed the beauty of those bright yellow flowers everywhere.

When Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, I wonder if people in his day thought he was ignorant and even a little ridiculous. Shouldn’t the kingdom of God be compared to the lofty cedar tree mentioned in our first reading? Shouldn’t it be described as something grand and glorious rather than an invasive weed? In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus shows us that the Kingdom of God is not what we expect. It is surprising, unexpected and even downright subversive to the ways of this world. The Kingdom of God spreads and grows and seeps in every which way and cannot be removed no matter how hard this world tries.

In this parable, Jesus also asks us to see differently – to see that a weed the world would uproot can provide shelter for the birds, that it can help us to better understand God’s kingdom. Much of the Christian life involves learning to see differently. We come to see that the cross, a symbol of death and torture, is actually the tree of life that leads to the healing of the nations.

We discover that Jesus’ gifts of bread and wine are the bread of life and the cup of salvation. We practice seeing one another as the body of Christ on earth and seeing all people as God’s beloved children. We learn to see differently. I think this is part of what Paul is getting at when he says, From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view … for in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

Faith helps to see God’s new creation all around us and in one another. Over this past challenging year, I have been so grateful for people who practice seeing differently. Last fall, a Good Shepherd member reached out to me to express frustration that the church building was still closed. We had a good conversation about why that was, but I knew he was still feeling troubled. A few weeks later that member sent me an email. He wrote, “Over the past week I have seen you on four different Zoom meetings and online worship. I recognize that so much is still happening even though we are not meeting for in-person worship. I see God working in our congregation. I want to say that I see you and how hard you’re working. I want to say thank you.”

This member was practicing seeing differently. Rather than fixating on his worries for the congregation and his own pain about not being able to gather, he chose to look for signs of God at work in unexpected and surprising ways. Rather than focusing on the faults of his pastor, he chose to regard me and treat me as a sibling in Christ. That email was a tremendous blessing to me. It is a gift to be regarded with love and gratitude. It helped me to be kinder with myself and others.

It is so easy to focus on everything that is wrong and troubling and upsetting. We are captive to sin and so prone to judgment, critique and stereotypes. Yet God gazes upon us all with such extravagant love and declares again and again, you are my beloved child, I delight in you.

God sees the beauty and the good within us and works to bring it to fruition. God’s loving gaze is what allows us to see God’s new creation in the world, in one another. It is what empowers us to practice love and gratitude rather than judgement and critique.

Beloved ones, today God says to you: “I see you. I see you and all the beauty within you. I see you and I love you. You are my beloved child. You are a new creation. See that new creation at work all around you.”

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.


Two green benches, provided by memorial funds given at the time of Suzanne’s death last June, have been installed on Good Shepherd’s boulevard under the shade of the pine trees.

  • Members of Suzanne’s family will join us for worship and the dedication.
  • Information about Suzanne (1957-2020) can be found here:


Sermon for Sunday, June 6, 2021 – “Drawn Into Belonging”

Second Sunday after Pentecost
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.

Who is inside and who is outside? That’s a key question to ask of the stories in the Gospel of Mark. Mark helps us see that Jesus is all about disrupting our perceptions of insiders and outsiders. Sometimes that happens on a more metaphorical level but our story today has an actual door separating insiders from outsiders.

Outside the door stand Jesus’ mother and siblings and some scribes. They represent the major pillars of society – the family and the synagogue. You’d expect them to be the insiders, but they remain outside.

Inside the door, Jesus is having a meal with his newly called ragtag bunch of disciples. Those inside also include a whole crowd of people who’ve come together, desperate for help from Jesus. These likely are people who’ve been cast out by society and their families because they’re sick or demon possessed. They have profound needs. They’re pressing around Jesus so much that he can’t eat.

The unruly mob has Jesus’ family concerned. The family is also hearing some strange things about Jesus: people saying he is out of his mind, the scribes claiming he is possessed by Satan. Jesus is be- ing so disruptive, not acting like you’d expect a man of God to behave. This is all troubling to Jesus’ mother and siblings. They come to intervene but, as Mark makes a point of telling us, they remain standing outside. Why don’t they just go inside to talk to Jesus?

Maybe they’re afraid of these people and all their needs. Maybe they want to be of help, but just aren’t sure what to do. Maybe they’re worried about what the scribes will say about them if they join the crowd inside. For whatever reason, Jesus’ mother and siblings stay outside and summon Jesus to come to them.

Jesus responds with a gesture that takes in all those inside seated around him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” In that simple gesture, Jesus disrupts and reorders major social norms.

The social pillar type people are no longer the insiders with all the influence. Those the world views as outsiders are given a central role. They are drawn into belonging, given a new family.

And, this does not mean that those standing outside are excluded. Jesus works to draw them, and all of us, into life as the family of God.

Pr. Steve Garnaas-Holmes puts it this way: In a culture where family is right up there with God, maybe higher, Jesus says, “Yeah, family is it. But family isn’t blood. It’s love.” … No more tiny family with my little fence around those who I care for, who I’m responsible to. Instead, you give me this infinite family. All those who follow you differently than I do, I belong to them. We are one. I am to care as much about strangers as my own sister, respect opponents no less than my own brother, honor people so unlike me as my own mother. And this miracle, though it seems hard to love them all as if they are mine, when I do, I come home.

Jesus works to draw us all into this way of belonging to God and to one another. Yet so often we re- main standing outside. Sometimes we are the desperate, hurting ones who know we need Jesus, who have no choice but to rely upon Jesus and others. Yet so often we remain outside, concerned about the things we hear about Jesus. He is so radical, so disruptive. Really, it’s better to make changes gradually and take social norms seriously. We stand outside judging. Maybe we’re afraid of people with so many needs. We want to be of help, but just aren’t sure what to do. Maybe we’re   worried about what others will say about us. Maybe, honestly, we’re concerned about losing our influence and standing. Maybe if they get help there won’t be enough for me.

Whatever the reason, certainly we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. Certainly, there are evil powers in this world – powers that manifest today as white supremacy, homophobia, ableism, sexism. These powers work to keep us divided, to keep us separated from God and from one an- other. We are captive to sin, bound by evil that conspires to keep us outside of the life God intends for us to know.

The good news is that Jesus doesn’t stand outside all this hoping things will change. Jesus enters into this world to confront the powers of this world, to bind them up and cast them out. In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has entered the strong man’s house, Satan’s house, to restrain evil and cast it out from within each of us. Jesus works to set us all free: those standing outside judging, those in the desperate crowd, all of us.

Each week in worship, Jesus proclaims words of forgiveness and freedom to each of us. These words, this simple gesture, reorders our hearts and our lives. We are set free from the power of sin and assured that we are claimed by God and filled with the Holy Spirit.

By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus, nothing can keep us outside of God’s love. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, nothing is unforgivable.

Whether you feel like one of those in desperate need of Jesus or one of those who is standing outside, Jesus is present today to set you free and draw you in. You belong to God and the whole family of God. You can live out the love that God wills for us to know and to share.

Sermon for Sunday, May 30, 2021 – “The Family of God”

The Holy Spirit – First Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Martin Klammer, Guest Preacher

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate the Christian belief in the unity of the Father, Son,   and Holy Spirit as one God in three persons. It’s a central part of the Christian faith, but frankly it’s not a concept that many people understand—myself included.

There’s a story about a religion class where the teacher asked if anyone could explain the Trinity. Sev- eral students raised their hands. After each student spoke, the teacher said, “Wrong, that’s heresy, next.” Finally, the teacher said to the class: “Your wrong answers have made my point: It’s impossible to explain the Trinity without getting it wrong.”

Where did this core belief of Christianity come from? To what extent and in what ways can we under- stand it? And, finally, what does it mean for us as a community of believers?

To begin with, it’s interesting that the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. There are, though, six references in the New Testament to a threefold God. Perhaps the most important one is at the end of the gospel of Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

But how God could be both three beings yet one God was not something the New Testament authors concerned themselves with. Our reading from today’s gospel suggests a Triune God:

  • Jesus tells Nicodemus “You must be born from above,” suggesting a parent
  • Jesus also speaks of being “born of water and the Spirit.”
  • The story then goes on to include Jesus’s memorable words in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

So, here are the three “persons” of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But nowhere in John or any- where in the New Testament do we find an explanation of how God is both three and one at the same time.

The doctrine of the Trinity actually developed in the first few hundred years of the early church. Early church leaders had to make sense of the fact that Christians worshipped Jesus Christ as divine but also continued to believe there is one God. God the Father and God the Son—yet only one God? How could this be?

The doctrine of the Trinity was in fact triggered by a heresy. A priest in the 4th century named Arius taught that although Jesus was divine, he did not always exist but was begotten in time by God the Father—that is, Jesus was not eternal along with God the Father. Arius was excommunicated for spreading this idea, but many bishops followed his views, so the Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in the hope of ending the controversy. Arius was condemned, and Jesus as the Son of God was declared to be “of the same substance with the Father. That’s how it came to be that we confess the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father . . .

From the belief that Jesus was divine and eternal, it was just a short step to assert that the Holy Spirit was also divine and eternal. So, by the end of the 4th century, the doctrine of the Trinity was fully
established: God is one substance and three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that while Christians believe in an eternal Holy Trinity, the belief itself was established after the time of Jesus on earth.

But what does it actually mean that God is one substance and three persons? The church has tried various ways to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The three-person God has been likened to:

  • a triangle
  • or a three-leaf clover,
  • or a three-note musical chord.

Some try to explain the idea of the Trinity by comparing it to three forms of water—ice, liquid, or steam. My own experience of trying to understand the Trinity goes back to the conservative Lutheran church I grew up in. On Holy Trinity Sunday we extra devout Lutherans recited the Athanasian Creed. The Athanasian Creed was composed in the 5th century to clarify the doctrine of the Trinity. It is rarely recited, and for good reason: it’s six times as long as the Apostles’ Creed. I remember as a child wondering if it would ever end. Part of it goes like this:

The catholic [or universal] faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost . . . The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal . . . So likewise the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.

It goes on like this for several minutes. The repetition helped it sink in, but I’m not sure the
Athanasian creed ever helped me understand the Trinity. In any case, though I know we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, I can’t help thinking that if you’ve recited the Athanasian Creed a few times in life you might earn some extra credit points when you get to heaven.

Ultimately, the Holy Trinity is a mystery which perhaps cannot be fully explained or understood. In the classic African novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, British missionaries come to the Ibo people in Nigeria, bringing with them the message of the Christian faith. Achebe writes:

There was a young lad who was captivated [by the missionaries]. His name was Nwoye . . . It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated Nwoye. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow . . . He felt a relief within [him] as the hymn [they sang] poured into his parched soul. The words of the hymn were like the drops of frozen rain melt- ing on the dry palate of the panting earth.

Perhaps we are not meant to comprehend every aspect of our faith. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus about the action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with every- one who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus is playing on the Greek word pneuma, which means both wind and spirit. Although we can see the effects of the wind, or of the Spirit, we cannot see what causes these effects. There is something mysterious about it. Likewise, with the Holy Trinity. We cannot fully comprehend the mystery of one God in three persons, but we can see and feel the presence of God in various ways:

God the Father is God over us, the Creator and who is beyond human understanding.

God the Son is God with us, through Jesus Christ who entered our human world.

God the Holy Spirit is God in us, the living force of God in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit inspires us, brings us to a new life, and gives us strength in times of difficulty.

How might we best understand the meaning of the Trinity for how we live our lives as Christians? I once heard a sermon in which the pastor compared the Trinity to a family. The Trinity is a family of three equals—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who share one, eternal life.

If God in three persons is like a family, are we not a family too? For we are made in the image of God. As Christians we are a family of individual persons who share one life—called to love one another and to serve the world as the image of God. We are, each of us, unique individuals, but we live within the family of faith, stronger together than we ever could be apart. Living as such, we emulate and honor the family of the Triune God.

May we open ourselves to live in the image of God and in the Spirit of family, now and always.