Sermon for Sunday, January 9, 2022 – “A Time of Revelations”

Baptism of Our Lord – First Sunday after Epiphany
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.

We are in a time of revelations in the church year and as a country.

On the day of Epiphany, January 6, the church celebrates how God is revealed for all the world in Jesus. Right after Epiphany, we celebrate Jesus’ baptism and ponder the God who enters the waters with us, the God who claims us as beloved children. All the Sundays following the Epiphany helps us to consider who this God is and how we are called to make God known. This time in the church year is a time of stars and promises, ‘aha’ moments and miracles, a time of revelation.

Yet for Americans, January 6 now has other associations, other images as we remember January 6, 2021. That was also a day of revelation. Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, emphasized the revelatory nature of that day in his address to the nation this January 6. I encourage you to watch his whole twelve minute speech. I’ve linked to it in the printed text of the sermon. Today I want to share excerpts of it with you.

Bishop Curry says, “The nightmare of last January 6th was not just an event. It was a revelation. It was a revelation of deeply dangerous divisions in our nation—some political, some ideological, some racial, and some disguised as religious … It was also a revelation that there are forces intentionally seeking and working to divide us.”

But, he notes, “It was a revelation in another sense. That day, and our response to it, contain potential for both peril and promise. The peril is the possibility of the decline, deconstruction, and even destruction of our nation and its most cherished values. But the promise is the revival and renewal of the United States as the multiracial, multiethnic, pluralistic, democracy that our founders envisioned when they began this experiment. That promise becomes a real and greater possibility if enough of us will summon the spiritual courage necessary to claim it.”

Curry continues, “Such a moment demands moral vision that sees beyond mere self-interest and beholds the common good—a spiritual strength stronger than any sword.” Bishop Curry then identifies three spiritual keys to living with this moral vision: “First, renew our relationship with God; second, revive our relationship with one another; and third, resurrect our commitment to the ideals we share.” As we ponder our scriptures for today as well as the revelation that is the baptism of Jesus, we see God working to provide us with all that we need to do those three things.

Bishop Curry calls us to, “Renew our relationship with the God who the Bible says “is love”, with the God who is the Creator of us all.” We need to do this, he says, because, “To truly be an instrument of unselfish, sacrificial love— to truly seek justice and not mere revenge—to truly labor for the realization of God’s Beloved Community for all of us and not just some of us, here on earth as

it is in heaven, we need the very energies of love from the source of all love to help us become instruments and vessels of that love … To truly live by love, we need connection to the very energy of love itself.”

Today, in our scriptures, we are assured that God is always at work to renew that connection. God calls us, calls you, by name. God says to you, “Do not fear for I am with you.” When you pass through the waters, when you face the fires, in all things, God is with you. In words of promise, in the waters of baptism, God speaks to you the same words spoken to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved child.” God assures you again and again that you are precious and honored, beloved, adored. The very energies from the source of all love are flowing to you and through you in this moment of peril and promise, always.

Second, Bishop Curry also encourages us to revive our relationship with each other. He says, “The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, ‘If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.’ How we both treat and relate to others is a decision. Martin Buber taught us that we can either relate to each other and the world itself as I-It, or I-Thou. If other people and indeed the created world itself are seen and treated as IT, then they are dealt with as things, as objects to be used and even abused. They exist for our whims. But if the other person and the created world itself are seen and treated as THOU, as holy, as sacred, then they are loved, honored, respected, cherished and cared for. How different would our politics be, how different would our relationships with each other be, how different would our nation be if we would work at getting to know and cultivate relationships with our brother, or sister, or siblings.”

Jesus’ baptism and the sacrament of baptism are also important for reviving our relationships with one another. I don’t think we’ve always approached baptism as something that can help us to live well with all people. We’ve often viewed it as a very sectarian ritual that divides us. Should we baptize adults or infants, dunk or sprinkle? Is baptism required for salvation? We’ve argued about it for centuries.

Yet Jesus’ baptism reveals that God sees all of humanity as sacred and holy, worthy of love, honor, and respect. God chooses to come to us in love, as one of us. Rather than remaining at a distance from us, God comes in Jesus to enter into all of what it means to be human, even undergoing a baptism of repentance. Jesus enters into the muddy waters of the Jordan, taking on all our sin.

Now nothing can separate us from God. Baptism reveals how powerfully God is with us. And, it empowers us to be present with others in humility and love.

Finally,  Bishop Curry remarks, “We must resurrect our commitment to the ideals and values that we share,” and notes those that we do still share. Curry then makes the case that, “Unselfish, sacrificial love for each other may well be the supreme value on which democracy depends.” He notes that the central words for our nation, e pluribus unum –‘from many, one,’ are from the writings of the philosopher Cicero. Cicero said, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.” In other words, “When each person loves the other as much as he loves himself, it makes one out of many possible.” Of course, love others as ourselves is also the way of Jesus.

Curry proposes that God’s way of unselfish, sacrificial love for each other may be the key to the life of a nation, and the world itself. This is the way of life we are called to in baptism. This is why baptism matters. This is what baptism is all about.

Baptism assures us of our connection to the Source of love.

Baptism calls us to reveal God’s love in how we live in the world.

Baptism draws us into a community of love and forgiveness that helps us to follow in Jesus’ way of love.

Baptism empowers us to live with a moral vision.

In this time of revelation, it is helpful to return again to what baptism is. So, in this Time after Epiphany we will affirm our baptisms each week. This week we will do a fuller affirmation of baptism that includes renouncing evil, confessing the faith we share, and committing again to the five promises that are core to living in the covenant of baptism. The following weeks, we will affirm these five promises each Sunday. In Jesus’ baptism, God reveals such gifts of love that allow us to live with moral courage.

As we affirm our baptisms, we can be a revelation of love for God’s world.

Let’s take a moment of silent prayer.

Sermon for Sunday, November 28, 2021 – “Jarring Hope”

First Sunday of Advent
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, our hope.

The sounds and images in today’s reading would be jarring anytime. They seem especially out of place during the “holiday season” when we’re longing for comfort and joy. We don’t expect to be confronted with distress among nations, roaring seas, or people fainting with fear and foreboding.

Well, not in church at least. We get enough of that stuff on the news and social media. Can’t church be tender and peaceful, especially right now?

We’ll get there. We’ll get tidings of comfort and joy soon. We’ll get to the story of baby Jesus com- ing to make God’s love known. Yet even that story is not just tender and sweet. It’s a story that should be quite jarring, especially to those of us who are comfortable and privileged.

God’s messenger tells a young, unwed mother that she will give birth to God’s child. This child, Jesus, is born to poor migrants who have to seek shelter in a barn. King Herod gets word that a child has been born who is to be king of the Jews, and he is threatened. So, he orders the killing of all babies under age two. Jesus’ family must flee to Egypt and seek asylum there.

Jesus grows up poor under the oppressive Roman Empire. In his teaching and ministry he rebukes the wealthy and the powerful, yet he persists in showing God’s love to all people, even Rome’s tax collectors and soldiers. This radical love threatens those in power. They try to stop Jesus from healing, teaching and loving by putting him to death. But Jesus cannot be stopped. God raises him from the dead. Love prevails. New life arises.

Jesus lives and he comes to us again and again to make God’s love known. Jesus also promises to come finally, at the end of time, to redeem the whole cosmos, to make all things new. This is great good news; it brings such comfort and joy! Yet this good news also challenges the status quo and shakes things up in the heavens and the earth. It wreaks havoc with the powers that be – the forces of evil, oppression, hatred and greed within and around us. It exposes the lies, the fake news, the half-truths of this world in order that the truth and the power of God’s love for all people may be made known.

The good news of Jesus isn’t just tender and sweet. It brings turmoil within and around us as all that opposes God is confronted. So, it seems preparing for Christmas also means preparing for some turmoil, and not just the kind that comes from family gatherings. Contrary to what we often hear these days, Christian faith doesn’t protect us from turmoil. Jesus doesn’t keep us safe amidst trials and tribulations. Instead, he gives us a way of being, a stance to take so that we can face whatever comes with hope and courage, rather than fear and foreboding.

Jesus says, “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Stand up, raise your heads. Remain grounded in a deeper truth and look to God. Don’t be overcome by drunkenness or worries, but lift up your head and pay attention to God’s saving presence that is so near to you.

It seems Jesus wants us to avoid two ditches in responding to turmoil. Trying to ignore and avoid it all; or being overcome by it all. He cautions us to avoid drunkenness and squandering our energy with frivolous living – escapism and false comforts that seek to ignore the realities of the world. Apparently, binging on TV shows and junk food is not the answer. Seeking a peaceful, idyllic holiday while avoiding those who are poor is not the answer. Jesus’s radical love for each of us and for the whole world makes a claim on us. We are to love as he loved, and pay special concern to the poor, the outcast and the stranger as he did. We are to seek the comfort and joy of others, not just ourselves.

Yet Jesus also cautions us about getting overwhelmed by worries and foreboding about the state of the world and all the needs around us. This is a very real possibility in these days. Sometimes we do need to turn off the news to tend to our well-being. We need to experience comfort and joy our- selves even as we seek it for others. We need to ground ourselves in the deeper truth of God’s promises: Love has come, love has won, love will ultimately prevail.

We also need to lift up our heads and pay attention to signs of God at work – glimpses of love happening all around us and through us. And, oh my Good Shepherd, is love happening around us and through us. God is at work through this congregation in powerful ways.

Beloved, we can stand fast and lift up our heads, because we are not alone as we face the turmoil of this world.

Jesus endured it, even unto death.
Jesus rose again and is with us now in his word, in his body and blood, in his body the church.
Jesus is with us in all that we face loving, forgiving, healing and empowering us to do the same.

May this good news bring you real comfort and joy today and always.

Let’s take a moment for a silent prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day, Jesus will come again to make all things new.

 

May this good news bring you real comfort and joy today and always.

 

Let’s take a moment for a silent prayer.

 

 

 

Sermon  for Sunday, November 14, 2021 – “How We are Fed”

Twenty-fourth 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.

Jesus calls our attention to a widow who gives her whole life. That isn’t clear in the English translation, but that’s what the original Greek implies. Jesus isn’t just talking about money, He’s calling our attention to a woman who offers her whole self to God. We are all called to entrust our lives to God, and this woman does something beautiful and Christ-like by giving of herself so fully. I wonder if Jesus sees in her a model for how he will give of himself.

Yet does anyone else feel concerned for this widow? Is it wise for her to give everything to God by way of what had become a corrupt religious institution? Especially because Jesus has just been talking about religious leaders who are devouring widows’ houses, exploiting them? Will she be a victim of those leaders? When she gives of her whole self, will the religious community care for her? The Hebrew scriptures command special care for widows, orphans and the poor. Will her community live out that care? We never come across this woman again in scripture, and we don’t know how it all went for her. There are so many questions here.

So today as we think about God’s invitation to trust and give freely, I find the story of a widow in our first lesson much more helpful. It gives us a fuller picture of trusting and giving. We hear the story of a widow who is literally starving to death at a time of drought. She is gathering sticks to prepare the last of her food so that she and her son can eat a final meal together before they die.

Then a stranger comes along and asks her to make him some bread. Is it wise to share the last of what she has? Is that faithful to her dying son? She doesn’t think so and she says as much. She tells Elijah she has only enough for one last meal for the two of them. She has real concerns and she expresses them.

Notice what happens next. This stranger, who turns out to be God’s prophet Elijah, doesn’t critique her, he isn’t frustrated that she won’t just blindly give him her last bit of food. Instead, he promises her that God is about to do something wondrous and that she can take part in it by giving freely of what she has. He speaks words of promise from God saying, “Do not be afraid, for thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 

The widow trusts this promise and gives what she has, she entrusts her life to God. As she does, she gets to participate in what God is doing and her needs are met. We’re told, “She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail.” The widow becomes no longer just a victim of the drought, but rather an agent of God’s work of feeding the prophet Elijah. And she and her son are fed.

The good news of this story, and the good news of Jesus is that God is up to wondrous things in this world and we get to participate. God is at work feeding, healing, loving and transforming the world and God uses us as agents of this work. We don’t have to live as victims, at the mercy of what we lack. No matter how meager or abundant our resources, God can and does work through us. God can and does work through you.

Yet so often we feel we are lacking when it comes to time, money, energy, power, health, or faith. Our culture tells us that we don’t have enough, that we aren’t enough. We’d better hold on tight to what we have and work like crazy to make sure that we get more and more and more. Only when we have a whole lot can we share what we have.

This isn’t actually a wise way to live. All the great wisdom traditions advise against it. Grasping, hoarding and refusing to share doesn’t work out well for us or our society. This is a soul crushing way to live. We become victims of our fear of scarcity and miss the opportunity to participate in what God is doing around us. I believe that’s why God asks us to give of our very selves for God’s work of loving the world. As we give, we find that our needs are met as well. We are fed and nourished. We are set free from our fear of scarcity. God asks us to give because it helps us and the world.

Even still, it is hard to give, hard to trust. So, God comes to us and other people who ask for our help, who invite our giving. God comes to us through scripture speaking words of promise like those given to the widow: “Do not be afraid,” “Do not worry about tomorrow,” “You shall not be in want.”

And most of all, God comes to us in Jesus, the one who gives his very life, all that he has, so that we can experience and be drawn into God’s healing and life-giving work. Jesus comes to us today to say, “This is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you.” This food will not run out, this meal will not fail, we have all that we need.

We can entrust our lives to God. I can’t wait to see what God will do in and for us all.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

 

 

 

 

Sermon for Sunday, November 7, 2021 – “Tender Tears”

All Saints Sunday
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.

Our readings today are awash in tears, so fitting for this day when we remember our beloved dead. In these readings we hear that God honors our tears and promises to tenderly wipe them from our eyes. God shares our tears – Jesus stands at the grave of his friend Lazarus and weeps. And God promises a future without tears. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, and all peoples will feast at God’s banquet.

That phrase, all peoples, is key. God’s promise of a future without tears is not just for a few, it is for everyone. Isaiah stresses that by using the word all four times. God will make “for all peoples a feast of rich food”, God will “destroy the shroud [of death] cast over all peoples”, “the sheet spread over all nations”, God will “wipe away the tears from all faces.” In God’s promised future there will be no us and them, no separations, no divisions. We will all be healed together. We will all feast together.

We need this vision to give us hope in all times, especially in this difficult time for our country. There is so much anger, hatred, and violence right now. How can we live faithfully and hopefully amidst all of this? How can we be a healing presence in our world and live out our identities as saints of God?

Perhaps we need to take a cue from our readings today and focus on the tears. Perhaps we need to pay attention to the pain within us and within other people. God takes our tears seriously, maybe we should as well. This is not easy. Our culture is so often uncomfortable with strong emotions. We push them away. We try to put on a happy face. We stay busy. We choose to respond with contempt and cynicism rather than working with and through the deeper emotions of anger, fear, grief, and sorrow.

Jesus shows us a different way. He is real with his emotions at Lazarus’ tomb. He weeps. He’s greatly disturbed and deeply moved. He feels it all. He brings it to God in prayer. This glimpse of Jesus reminds me of a man I went to visit recently. He shared all his pain and frustration about the world with me. He didn’t try to pretend everything was fine. He didn’t remain polite or on the surface of things. He questioned why he was feeling all of this. He was honest and real and raw, like the Psalmists are. We talked and then we prayed about it all. It was a holy time. As I left, he apologized for ranting. Yet he was a witness to me of how to work with strong emotions. Acknowledge them, listen to them, name them, remain curious, and bring them to God in prayer. Healing can happen when we pay attention to our own tears, to our own grief and pain.

Healing can also happen as we pay attention to the pain of others. Recently I was convicted by a New York Times story about the pain of many who are unvaccinated.[1] I often feel angry about people who are not getting vaccinated against COVID. I don’t understand. Many people I love have gotten sick because others are not vaccinated. Yet there is more to it than I realized. There are stories about people like Josie and Tom Burko, a married couple who died from COVID within days of each other, leaving behind an 8-year-old daughter. They hadn’t taken the pandemic lightly. They wanted to be vaccinated but Josie had a heart murmur and chronic diabetes and worried about an adverse reaction. Tom had muscular atrophy and similar worries. They were afraid and so had not yet gotten vaccinated.

There are so many similar COVID deathbed stories. People are concerned, confused, and afraid. It’s easy to say that people should be more informed or seek advice from a medical provider, except many of the people who are unvaccinated have no health care provider. Many do not have health insurance. Many live in rural health care deserts. Many people, especially people of color, have numerous reasons to distrust the medical system in our country.

Recently in the Atlantic, Dr. Elaine Batchlor wrote about why she can’t persuade her 93-year-old black mother to get a vaccine.[2] Just a few years ago, at the ER, her mother passed out after screaming in agony when her broken arm got manipulated and X-rayed without sufficient care for her pain. This experience fits a larger pattern. Black people are much less likely to be given pain medication or even treatment for life-threatening emergencies. These experiences on top of traumas in very recent history like the Tuskegee experiment have led to such pain and distrust.

If we are to bring healing to our divided country, we need to hear and honor these stories. We need to remain curious, open, and humble in the face of such sorrow. Of course, staying with our own and other’s pain is not easy. We can feel so very exposed and raw. It’s tempting to fight back the tears, to defend ourselves from the discomfort, to shut others out or attack them so we can have some illusion of control. So, we need more than a focus on our own and other’s tears. We also need God’s presence, God’s care and God’s promises.

And Beloved, God is so very present with us through Jesus. Jesus knows about deep grief, he wept for his friend. He knows the power of fear. He saw it in Lazarus’ sisters who worried how they would survive in their patriarchal culture without their brothers’ support. Jesus knows about anger and divisiveness. Some of the people gathered at the tomb sneered, “Why didn’t Jesus pre- vent Lazarus from dying, he healed the blind man after all.” Soon after Jesus raised Lazarus, this anger boiled over into a plot to kill both Lazarus and Jesus. Jesus experienced all of this and continued to choose the way of love and vulnerability. He did not defend himself or attack others, he gave himself in love.

And now the risen Jesus is here amidst all the pain of this time. He is present to give himself in love to you today. Here at this table, Jesus meets you to tend to your tears, to feed you with his love. Jesus gives you a foretaste of the feast to come in which all people will be gathered at the heavenly banquet.

You are not alone as you face the fear, anger, and sorrow of this world.
God is right there with you in it all.
God honors your tears – you can remain open to the pain of others.
God wipes away your tears – you can be a healing presence in the world.
God promises a future where tears will be no more – you can live with hope today and always.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/15/opinion/covid-vaccines-unvaccinated.html

[2]https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/09/im-a-black-doctor-i-cant-persuade-my-mom-to-get-vaccinated/619933/

 

Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2021 – “We Shall Love”

Twenty-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.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Really? This shall happen? How?

Some days it takes all our heart, soul, mind and strength just to get out of bed and face the day. It takes a lot to even be pleasant to others, especially before coffee. The news of the world is so disheartening. The challenges can feel insurmountable. We aren’t sure we can even trust God in these times, much less love. And, there are a lot of people who are really, really hard to love right now in this polarized time.

So, how are we supposed to love God and other people with our whole selves? I imagine the first people to hear these love commands probably wondered the same thing. These commands are given to God’s people as they are wandering in the desert, after God has led them out of slavery.They‘ve been oppressed by Egypt for generations. They are surrounded by enemies. God has promised to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, yet they struggle to trust that. They grumble against God and argue with one another.

As they wander in the desert, God instructs Moses to tell them, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And as they are preparing to enter the promised land, Moses says to the people, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” These seem like really big asks. The people don’t even say thank you for the manna God sends to feed them in the desert. Yet God expects them to jump in with both feet to love God and other people wholeheartedly?

Maybe God should have more realistic expectations: Like, “Be nice, don’t hit, clean up after yourself”. Those seem like more reasonable commands for these difficult people, more reasonable for us.

We, too, are wandering in the wilderness – so much about life these days is uncertain and fright- ening. We as a species are so often unkind, violence is all around us, we leave mess and destruc-tion in our wake. How can God really expect us to love wholeheartedly in this wilderness? And yet, what a relief it would be, what a joy it would be to love with our whole selves – to devote our hearts, minds, and strength to loving God and God’s ways of love. What peace we would know if we could all love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. What a glorious world this would be.

God longs for us to know the joy of living in the way of love. God longs for us to know a world where love reigns. And so, God commands us to love. God sets the bar high: love with all you’ve got, with all you are. But God doesn’t just command love and say, “alright, good luck with that.” God begins by loving us completely, fully, wholeheartedly with all of God’s self. This is a key witness of Martin Luther, of reformers of the church: That the commands of God are gifts of a gracious God and that we live them out only by the grace and love of God. God acts first to love us, to make love a possibility for us.

God also gives us the words of scripture, commands and promises that teach us to love. We are instructed to place these words upon our hearts, the ancient rabbis taught, so that when our hearts break with the pain of the world, God’s word of love will fall into our hearts. Then our hearts will be broken open to more fully love the world rather than shattering into pieces that harm others.

So, the pain of the world doesn’t have to prevent us from loving. Instead, with God’s word of love the pain of the world can open us to love more.

Most importantly, God enters into the wilderness with us in Jesus. God, in Jesus, shares all of the pain and struggle of our lives. And Jesus gives of his whole self, his very life, in love for us. When we are loved so deeply, so thoroughly, then loving wholeheartedly becomes a possibility for us, a life-giving and healing possibility.

As author Fredrick Buechner writes, “You shall love the Lord your God” becomes, in the end, less a command than a promise. You shall love. And, he writes, the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love [God] at last, as from the first [God] has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because [God] has been in the wilderness with us. [God] has been in the wilderness for us. [God] has been acquainted with our grief. And, loving [God], we will come at last to love each other too.”

Buechner continues, quoting Deuteronomy, our first reading today, “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And rise we shall, out of the wilderness, every lastone of us, even as out of the wilderness Christ rose before us. That is the promise, and the greatest of all promises.”[1]

Beloved, you are loved, God is with you.
You will rise again and again from the wilderness to love God and love others
That is a promise.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

[1] Buechner, Frederick. Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons. Harper Collins: 2017, p. 154.