A change for Pr. Amy and Good Shepherd

November 6, 2023

Beloved People of God,

Being your pastor is one of the greatest joys of my life. So, it  surprises me to be writing to you to say that I have been called to serve another congregation. I feel deep grief about leaving you soon, even as I feel peace that this call is the next right thing for me and my family. 

My husband Matt and I are both called to serve Christ’s church as pastors. For the past four years, as Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern MN Synod of the ELCA, Matt has been commuting to the synod office in Rochester and driving for hours to get to congregations in the synod. The synod office is now moving further into Minnesota. This is necessitating a move for our family. 

Matt and I also take our calls to be parents seriously. For a number of reasons, it is a good time for Abby to make a move. This surprised us, as she is a sophomore in high school. However, discernment and conversation with and for Abby have been a key part of this decision as well. She loves to ride horses and a move to horse country is most welcome for her. We’ll be further from Nate but still under three hours away.

The people of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Red Wing, MN voted to call me as their pastor on Sunday, Nov. 5. I have accepted the call and will begin serving them on January 22, 2024. I have informed the Congregation Council of this in a special meeting. My last Sunday with Good Shepherd will be Sunday, January 7, 2024. I will then take my remaining 2023 vacation days so my official last date of call to Good Shepherd will be January 15, 2024. 

Our NE IA Synod has asked me to help the council set up a transition team for you. The Synod will help you in the interim time between called pastors and in the call process. Pr. Liz Bell from the NE IA Synod will begin this process with the council on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Erica and Kelli will work with the leaders of the Decorah Area Youth Gathering Trip to make sure Good Shepherd youth will be ready for the ELCA Youth Gathering.

It has been troubling to have to keep this process confidential in order to honor the discernment of the call committee and congregation at St. Paul’s Red Wing. That’s been especially hard as we’ve been looking to next year at Good Shepherd and preparing for Stewardship Sunday. Yet the mission of the congregation is strong and clear and your generosity is crucial in a time of transition.

Throughout this discernment, I’ve felt deep peace knowing that the Spirit is alive and at work in this congregation. You are a strong, vibrant congregation not because of your pastor but because of your commitment to love, welcome, and accompany others in Jesus’ name. I have never known a more generous congregation, never heard a congregation sing so powerfully, never experienced deeper joy in worship than I have with Good Shepherd. The Spirit of the risen Christ has brought you to new life for the sake of God’s world. 

I am so grateful for the call to be your pastor for the past eight years. I have grown so much as a person and pastor by sharing in ministry with you. Any gift that you see in me is one that has been strengthened by my time with you. Your patience, faithfulness, trust, and willingness to experiment have been instrumental in everything we’ve done together. The chief gift you’ve given me is your love. I cannot thank you enough for all your care for me and my family. I love you all and you will always have a special place in my heart. Even as I prepare to end my time as your pastor, I am grateful that I will always be your sibling in Christ.

Peace to you,

Pastor Amy

Sermon for Sunday, October 29, 2023   Twenty-second Sunday after  Pentecost

Confirmation Sunday and Reformation Sunday

“The Practice of Love”

Reverend Amy Zalk Larson

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  

 Decorah, Iowa


Click here to read scripture passages for the day.


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

A lawyer asks Jesus a question to test him. We don’t have tests in Confirmation classes here at Good Shepherd, but if we did, all of the students and the whole congregation could pass the test Jesus is given. What is the greatest commandment? What does God care about most? Love. Love God. Love others. We could all get an A+ on that test if it was just about giving an answer.

Living that answer is a whole other thing. Love takes work. It takes practice and commitment in much the same way that trumpet, basketball, and the musical do. That’s not how we usually understand love in our culture. We say we fall in love, that love is blind, it happens at first sight, it breaks our hearts. We describe love as a feeling that just spontaneously arises, or not, as if wehave no power or agency about love.

But Jesus doesn’t say, “I hope love happens to you. I hope that you can conjure up some warm, fuzzy feelings about God, that you’re uplifted every time you see that person who repulses you, that you feel glad in the presence of your enemy.” Jesus doesn’t say you must feel a certain way. Instead, he commands us to live out love towards God and others, to make a conscious choice to act in loving ways regardless of how we feel, regardless of how others act.

The first three of the ten commandments tell us how to love God: Trust God rather than things; honor God’s name; worship God. The rest of the commandments tell us how to love others: Honor elders; protect life; respect your own and other’s relational commitments; guard what belongs to others; speak the truth; let go of wanting what others have. These commandments are given so that all may know the life God wants us to have.

When we choose to act with love, we thrive and others thrive. Our Psalm today describes it beautifully. We are like trees planted by streams of living water – we’re grounded, we grow, we offer beautiful things that help to heal and feed the world. Still, so often we don’t make the choice to love. We don’t protect the lives of others, pain grows, our souls are injured, and the seeds of conflict are watered. We covet what others have, robbing them and ourselves of well- being and peace. We speak in deceitful, mean-spirited ways that diminish ourselves and our common life.

We need help. So, thankfully Jesus doesn’t just command us to love and say good luck with that. Jesus goes all in on love – loving with his whole being, his whole life to the very end. Nothing, not even death, can stop Jesus from loving you, forgiving you, raising you up to new life each day to love again. Jesus helps you to experience God’s love so that you can love. Our Confirmands bear witness to this in their faith statements.

One writes, “God loves all of us and I believe God will forgive me for my mistakes. In the Bible, there are all these stories about people that have done great things with God’s love and bad things and God still loves them.”

Another says, “God is a safe place for me to find peace within myself … God tells me I am strong when I feel weak. When I feel like I don’t belong, God tells me I’m his.”

The Confirmands also describe how worship and this congregation help them to experience God’s love. One says, “Church has become important to me for a variety of reasons: from community, to music, to the strong connection to God that I feel when present.”

Another writes, “Good Shepherd makes me feel loved and helps me find my identity.”

These young people also describe how they use their whole selves, heart, mind, and soul, to love God and others. One wrote and is quoted here  – “Sharing my gifts of music that God gave me with the people of the church” and “doing God’s work with helping people less fortunate.”

Another says, “When I volunteered for House of Hope with my church youth group, I felt connected with God, because I could already see how God had created opportunities for the people at House of Hope.”

All three confirmands bear witness to the importance of using our minds to learn more about the Bible, having conversations about faith, and asking hard questions of God. One wrote: “I had a lot of questions as a child about things like “Where’s heaven?” and “What does God look like?” Now, as I learn more about faith, I see that it’s not exactly a clear-cut response for any of these. However, I do know that regardless of the answer, I don’t need to worry about it.”

Another wrote, “My relationship with God is already very steady; however, I do like to wonder about these things because I feel like it makes my relationship with God become even stronger.”

Colin, Victor, and Lulu, you help us to see what it looks like to choose love. The day you were bap- tized, the people of God celebrated God’s love for you and the new life you are given in Christ Jesus. Now today we get to celebrate your love for God and others as you commit to living out this new life, living out your baptism.

Today you promise to act in ways that will help you to experience God’s love and help you act with love in the world. You promise:

   to live among God’s faithful people,

   to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,

   to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,

   to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and

   to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

These are things we do as God’s people.

This is how we keep practicing and keep showing up for Team Love.

Thank you for committing to this team today. Your witness helps us all to keep practicing love in a world of conflict and pain.

People of God, our Gracious God, through our savior Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, loves and forgives you always so that you can love.

Sermon for Sunday, October 22, 2023   Twenty-first Sunday after  Pentecost

“What Do You Want?”

Reverend Amy Zalk Larson

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  

 Decorah, Iowa



Click here to read the story for today.


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


What do you want?

What do you really want?

Do you know?

Can you ask for it from others? From God?

I’m struck that Moses knows what he wants and boldly asks for it. In an intimate conversation with God, Moses pleads with God to go with him and the people, and begs to be shown God’s glory. Moses names what he wants.

That’s often hard for me to do with other people and with God. Last year, I had a minor medical procedure for a thyroid condition, a procedure I’ll need to do every year now. The scheduler told me, “You don’t need a driver for this”, so I just went on my own.  But it turned out to be really painful and uncomfortable, and I wished I’d had my husband Matt with me. Thankfully, I knew he’d gladly come, and we scheduled for that this year. But the week of the procedure, our plans to help some extended family kept changing, and we were both ending up with a really full plate. I’ll just go to that procedure on my own, I told Matt, I’m fine.

Yet as the week went on, I noticed I was really grumpy about the plans that had changed. I was frustrated with the extended family – why can’t they just get it together? I got curious about my anger and realized it wasn’t the change in those plans that was bugging me. It was that I wanted Matt at that procedure. He was glad to come, we had a nice day, and even got to enjoy some Indian food together. I went on from there to help our family gladly and peacefully.

I was grateful that I figured out what I wanted ahead of time, so that I could ask for it. Usually that happens after the fact, if at all. What do you want? Can you ask for it? What gets in the way? So many things get in the way of me asking for what I want, especially from God.

  • I’ve been taught to put other people’s wants and needs above my own.
  • I’ve learned to distrust my desires – they might lead me to eat too much sugar or binge on too much Netflix.
  • Marketing tells me to fulfill my longings by shopping and that just leaves me wanting.
  • And honestly, I often wonder if asking God makes any difference. I’m afraid to name what I really long for because I don’t want to be disappointed.

What gets in the way for you? It helps me to see how God responds to Moses when Moses asks for what he wants. First some context. Right before our story today, God tells Moses that an angel will now accompany him and the people as they continue to travel through the wilderness. God has been with them but an angel will now take God’s place. Moses pleads with God to continue to accompany him and the people in the wilderness. Moses doesn’t want to lead these people without God’s presence, and he tells God that. Moses’ plea leads God to change plans and to say, “The very thing you have asked I will do.” Then, Moses says, “Show me your glory.” He makes another big ask. God basically says, I hear you, but you can’t handle seeing my full glory. I’ll give you a glimpse of me and I’ll protect you, make sure you aren’t overwhelmed.

All this shows us that God is in a real, intimate relationship with us, that God listens to us, that what we want matters to God. And it isn’t just Moses who gets to have this kind of conversation with God. Jesus invites us all into it, teaching us that we can call God ‘daddy’, rest in the bosom of our mothering God, and be at peace sharing our longings with God. Our desires matter to God and they can help join us to God and to God’s longings for the world. For instance, yearning for a quiet night opens me to pray for the people of Gaza and Israel living with such fear and pain. Honoring my desire for quiet helps me keep working for a more peaceful world.

In this conversation with God and Moses, we also see how God works even with our harmful desires. Moses thinks he wants to see God’s glory but finds he really needs God’s protection. This happens to me with sugar. Paying attention to that unhelpful craving can help me to recognize that I’m tired, that what I really need is some rest and some joy. That also connects me to other people because we all need rest and joy. I’m learning to trust that God is present in my desires, that God longs to hear my wants, and that they can open me to the needs of the world.

What do you want? Can you tell God? What will happen if you’re disappointed? Moses spoke of his desire to see God’s glory and didn’t get exactly what he wanted. I wonder if naming that desire before God helped him to let go of it more peacefully when it couldn’t happen. Sometimes when we haven’t identified what we want we live with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment. Things just seem off, but we don’t know why. If we can say what we want clearly to God, then if things don’t go as we hope we will still feel disappointed, but we’ll at least know why. Then we can let go and open to what is next.

What do you want?

Where is God in that longing?

How is that longing connecting you to God’s longing for peace and well-being for all?

You can approach your wants with curiosity and gentleness because God is with you, God is holding your life and all your longings.


Later today we’ll bring our longings to God in sung prayers.


For now, let’s join in a moment of silent prayer and reflection.

Sermon for Sunday, October 15, 2023   Twentieth Sunday after  Pentecost

“Practicing Faith Amid  Turmoil”

Reverend Amy Zalk Larson

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  

 Decorah, Iowa


Click here to read story for the day.


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

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. A movie version of this came out about 10 years ago, it’s also lovely.

In our story today, I think it’s safe to say that Moses is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Everyone around him is behaving badly, even God apparently. The people that God and Moses have been leading out of Egypt and through the wilderness seem to have lost their minds. They’re dancing around a golden calf that Moses’ brother Aaron has made them. They’re dancing, partying and saying to a golden statue, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Which means they are breaking rule #1 of the ten commandments that God has just given them: “You shall have no other gods … you shall not make for yourself an idol.” But with those words still ringing in their ears, the people ask Aaron to make a god for them.

God sees this all unfold and lets loose. Moses experiences God, at first acting like a petulant teenager, “Let me alone so that my wrath may burn hot.” Then when God tells Moses, “Your people, whom you rescued, have acted perversely,” it sounds like one angry parent saying to the other, You’ll never believe what your son did. I imagine Moses’ head is spinning, that there’s a huge pit in his stomach. Everything is out of control. Everyone is flying off the handle, behaving in shocking, and yet also understandable ways.

The people are anxious and afraid. They feel vulnerable in the wilderness. Moses has been up on the mountain talking to God for a long time, and now he’s been delayed even further. What is he doing, does he have food up there? Is he still alive? They start to panic. And when we’re panicked and afraid, we don’t make good decisions. Gripped by fear, our brains don’t function fully; it isn’t easy to regulate emotions. We react impulsively, make snap decisions, try to do something, anything, to help us feel less anxious. All that seems to be at play for the people in the wilderness and for Aaron who gives in to peer pressure and makes an idol.

God’s reaction is even more shocking and yet it, too, is understandable. God is in real relationship with the people and cares deeply about them. God is not some unmoved mover who stands at a distance from humanity, separated from the pain and pathos of our lives. What we do matters to God, it impacts God. So, when the people turn away from relationship, God grieves.

Where does all this leave Moses? His life’s work has been to lead these people on God’s behalf. Now God is erupting with anger at them, threatening to destroy Israel and start a new nation with Moses. I imagine Moses feels hopeless seeing all this fear and pain swirling around him and not knowing how to help – the way many of us feel watching events in Israel and Gaza. I imagine he can empathize with all sides in this conflict between God, Aaron, and the people, and doesn’t want to have to choose sides. It seems Moses is facing the perfect storm of faith crisis, family feud, vocational discernment, and national political tensions.

What is he to do? In the face of God’s anger, Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people. As he does, Moses responds to God in very faithful ways and helps the situation. His response shows us a helpful way to be in times of turmoil. Moses stands with the people and calls on God to remember that they are God’s people, not Moses’ flock: They are your people, you brought them out of  the land of Egypt. Moses recounts God’s good and mighty deeds and asks God to consider what the Egyptians will think if God destroys the Israelites. Moses wants the world to know that God is good.

Then Moses pleads with God, “Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.” Remember your promises to these people!  Moses clings to God’s promises even when nothing makes sense. He claims these promises and boldly prays that God will honor them. When Moses is faced with an overwhelming, multi-layered crisis, he roots himself in practices of faith: He stands with God’s people and advocates for the defenseless; he recounts God’s mighty deeds to show God’s goodness; he clings to God’s promises and prays for God to honor them.

When nothing makes sense, Moses practices faith. And soon he and the Israelites have a powerful experience of the heart of God. They experience God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. We read, “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” And this is the way they experience God from this time forward. It’s how they continue to describe God throughout the Old Testament: gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Moses’ response to God helps us to see where and how we can stand when we find ourselves confused and shaken as turmoil and chaos swirl around, as we witness people behaving terribly everywhere. When we don’t know where to stand, when nothing makes sense, we can stand where Moses did and practice faith.

We can advocate for all of God’s people who are fearful, anxious, and afraid.

We can do that in the Israel-Hamas war. There are resources on the ELCA website.

We can confess what God has done to help ourselves and others trust.

We can cling to promises God has made to us all.

When you don’t know where to stand, what to believe, or how to think, remember that in baptism, in Holy Communion, in hearing God’s word, and gathering as Christ’s body, you are planted and rooted deeply in faith. You are forgiven and set free to practice faith for the sake of the world.

You can stand in hope and trust, you can practice faith – even on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

Let’s join in a moment of silent prayer and reflection.




Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2023   Nineteenth Sunday after  Pentecost

“How to Be Free”

Reverend Amy Zalk Larson

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  

 Decorah, Iowa


Click here to read scripture story for today.


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

What do you picture when you hear the words, “the ten commandments?” Besides a scene from a movie, what other images arise? Heavy tablets that come down on us hard to get us in line? A giant finger wagging no, no, no, no? Sour faced people trying to restrict freedom and force the commandments on others? The commandments have taken on a lot of baggage, a lot of extra weight, throughout the centuries and recently in the culture wars. 

God’s commands are weighty and important, but we miss something when we approach them only as obligations imposed on ourselves and others, as heavy burdens intended to restrict our freedom. In fact, the commandments are all about freedom. They begin with a declaration of freedom. God says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And what follows are ten commands, or teachings, about how to be free, teachings that are just as helpful for us today as they were to God’s people long ago.

God’s people were in slavery because Pharaoh wanted more: more power, more land, more wealth, more cheap labor. He feared scarcity. He kept grasping, hoarding and clinging. He used and abused the Israelites to feed his insatiable greed for more. God saw all this, said enough, no more. “Let my people go.” And God brought them out of slavery.

Yet the forces that enslaved the people in Egypt are found in every land, in every time, in every heart. Pharaoh, with all his arrogant violent greed, is not contained in Egypt but is all around us and within us. Staying free from Pharaoh takes more than a one-time rescue. It takes an intentional strategy. So, God gave us the ten commandments. They are, as scholar Walter Bruggemann puts it, the strategy for staying free. This is a countercultural view of freedom – to think that following rules and commands helps us to be free. So often we’re told that freedom means getting to do whatever we want, not being bound to any higher power, no obligations.

Yet if we don’t follow the commandments, Bruggemann points out, we all find ourselves captive to that insatiable hunger for more and in the grip of Pharaoh: “having to produce on demand … in the rat race of production and consumption … living in fear, anxiety and alienation … in hostility toward the neighbor.”[1] We can find ourselves ruled by greed, insatiable desire, and a sense of entitlement. God gives us a different way to live, a strategy for staying free.

The strategy begins with giving ultimate loyalty to God, rather than any other power, any ideology, political party, nation, group, or identity. All those other things promise a sense of belonging and security, but they always leave us wanting more. If only more of my people were in power,  if only I could find my people, my tribe, if only others saw the truth … This kind of thinking leaves us lacking. God says, I am the Lord your God, I set people free. I set you free. Trust me. Look to me. Live in my ways for the well-being of all people.

When our loyalty is to our liberating God, then we can hold things more lightly. Then things we use, the things we own don’t own us, they don’t hold so much power over us. We’re freed from expecting our stuff to provide us with more security, more power, more control. For instance, I put a lot of trust in my to-do list. It helps me stay organized and I tend to give it more weight than it should have in my life. It can become an idol. When I look to God first, then I can view lists and planners as tools, rather than my salvation. What things become idols for you? God says look to me, I am your God, I set you free. I guide you to life.

God also says you can rest, you need to rest so you don’t fall into the rat race of busyness and exhaustion that the Pharaohs within and around us demand. Slaves don’t get to rest, free people do. God says to us, “I am God, you are not, the universe doesn’t depend on your activity, you can stop, you can rest.” What a relief. Honoring God and resting also puts us in our place and helps us to live humbly with others. It isn’t all about us. When we’re barraged with messages saying, “You deserve a donut, a new car, a vacation,” the commandments give us perspective and help take our neighbors’ needs seriously.

To stay free, we need to recognize the worth and dignity of every neighbor, rather than harming our neighbors, craving or seizing what belongs to them. The commandments point us away from the forces that lead to war and hostility and turn us towards care for our neighbors, care that helps us all to stay free.

The world would be so good if only we could all live out these commandments. Yet, God knows how much we struggle to follow this strategy of freedom, justice, and love. So, God has come, in Jesus, to accompany us as we seek to live in God’s ways. Jesus is with us to challenge us, forgive us and renew us for this life.

The Holy Spirit is with us guiding us in God’s ways.

You are loved and forgiven. You are set free.

Let’s join in a moment of silent prayer and reflection.



[1] https://day1.org/weekly-broadcast/5d9b820ef71918cdf2004215/walter_brueggemann_strategies_for_staying_emancipated