Sermon for Sunday, July 7, 2019 – “Be on Your Guard”

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 7, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Daniel Christensen

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Most of us celebrated Independence Day this past week in some fashion. You may have witnessed a parade or fireworks, attended a picnic, watched a July 4th concert or some special programming, observed a baseball game, gone fishing or boating or biking. Did you know that is just what John Adams told his wife Abigail, “There should be all sorts of celebrations all over this nation … in the generations to come … “

Most if not all of us probably did some sort of reflection upon Independence and freedom. As citizens of this independent nation we recognize that our independence and the freedoms we cherish are important matters that continually need our attention so that we might continue to be a free people. We need to be on our guard so that we hold fast to the freedom that this nation was founded upon. Be on your guard …

In our second Lesson today, St. Paul is closing his letter to the Christian church in Galatia. Paul had brought the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this region as a missionary – two or three trips to that area of present day Turkey. He carried the message that ‘Jesus had given himself for our forgiveness.’ It was a message of freedom in Christ, freedom to live and bear fruit. He wrote It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery, trying to keep all the law. Forgiveness was given through Christ and he insisted it was through Christ alone – not Christ and good works, not Christ and keeping the law, not Christ and traditions and practice, but faith in Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection. Forgiveness and salvation come through Christ’s death and resurrection, nothing else – except Christ. Jesus Christ is the one who renders forgiveness to those who put their faith in Him and where there is forgiveness there is life is in his name.

That is the gospel that Paul carried and that is the faith that you the church family in this place hold dear. It is what you know and you have been taught. This faith in Jesus is what you count on in the journey of Life. When things are on cruise control, you give thanks, or at least I hope you do. When things seem to be bogged down and in a mess, you pray for strength and wisdom, help, guidance, healing – right?

Here in this congregation you keep coming Sunday after Sunday because you expect to hear and experience the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus in this place. You come expecting to hear a word from God, to be among God’s faithful people in this place, you come to pray, to lift up your voices in praise to God, and you expect this almighty God to answer. You come to give of yourself, your time, and your possessions in the mission of this congregation.

You come to be among God’s faithful who like you come to hear that your sins are forgiven in the name of Christ. Again, that is all good news and it is exciting to be part of this congregation where you know the gospel is proclaimed and lived in this place. That is good news – still, we need to be on our guard . This is a world that has lots of different ideas about God and in some cases the lack of God. So, Pastor Amy and you the members of this congregation need to continue to be on guard so the gospel continues to be clearly shared in this place to strengthen and inform all who come into and go out from this church building into the world to bear witness to Jesus the Savior of the World.

In the second lesson today, written by the apostle Paul – the one who was called from being persecutor of the Jesus people, the people of the way, to being a proclaimer of the very message he was trying to silence (Acts 9). Now remember, this letter of Paul’s did not come because he was so delighted with what was happening in Galatia. Rather, Paul believed there was a major crisis in Galatian churches. They had not been on their guard and the Galatian Christians were watering down the truth of the gospel because some folks, people called Judizers, had come and preached a different message of forgiveness and salvation to these folks after Paul had established congregations in that area. Paul was concerned that the folks there had been duped and had bought into this false gospel, which Paul said was no gospel at all. Truth of the matter is, Paul was really upset with the Galatian folks and those who had come with this other message that contradicted the message of the gospel Paul had shared with them.

If you have never read the Letter to the Galatians, or not read it recently (takes 20 minutes or so), he greets them. Paul starts by telling them he was amazed they had so quickly deserted God the Father who had called them by the grace of Christ – strong language, ‘deserted’. He wrote about how the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus had come to him and how his authority to preach the gospel to the gentiles was okayed by pillars in the church, John, Peter, and James. He even shared a story where he faced Peter down because Peter was wishy-washy. Peter had been eating with Gentiles until some Folks who insisted upon circumcision and keeping Jewish traditions and laws came to town. Peter backed away from the gentiles and eating with them.

Paul said it is Christ alone that saves us, not Christ and some rituals or traditions or keeping the laws, but Christ alone. Then Paul writes about how the Spirit came to them and pointed out that the Spirit did not come by acts of the law, but by hearing with Faith. Faith is the work of the Spirit, you know.

Paul spends a good deal of space in the letter talking about what the law was intended for and what it cannot do. He wrote that if you think you are going to be circumcised to insure your salvation, you have got to keep all of the law, every bit of it. Then what happens? Then you are in bondage to the law and you have cut yourself off from Christ, he said. Last week the second lesson was on the Fruit of the Spirit. When the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, is at work in us we live by faith. We demonstrate the love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control -and there is no law against such things – when the Spirit of God is working in us. The fact is, the love of Christ is exhibited in you.

Now in our lesson today we have Paul’s closing. Paul talks about things that we need to be on guard about in our daily lives. He says be on your guard: When someone is caught in sin or trespasses, you who are spiritual restore that one in gentleness lest you be tempted. Isn’t that true for us? When someone tells about another’s wrongdoing, we sort of get puffed up thinking I would never do such a thing.

Bear one another’s burdens, give a hand, listen to another’s hurts and sorrows, offer your time to bring comfort, pray with and for those who are struggling and hurting. When the offering plate is passed here, you know that part of what you give goes from this place to missionaries, world relief and world hunger, seminaries, and the like. That fulfills the law of Christ. I know this congregation has a long history of bearing one another’s burdens. Back in the 70’s, this congregation sponsored several refugee families. Your congregation inspired our congregation in Riceville to sponsor some refugee families; and then a congregation in Cresco sponsored some more members of that family. And do you know we get a box of chocolates every year at Christmas from one on the family members we sponsored.

Paul says we should be on our guard. If anyone thinks he is something (pride) – On Sunday evenings I go to the Mission in Cresco, a Bible training to help folks whose lives have been out of control generally because of drugs and alcohol. One of the new guys came up and said,“You were wonderful.” I told him to watch out, my head might swell before these guys. I trust that it is the Spirit at work, not me. So think about who we are without Christ. Think about where we would be without Christ in our lives. Christ has been there for us with hope and promises and with forgiveness and protection in our lives.

Pastor Amy is not here today. She probably would not say much on this next verse, “Let the one who is taught share all good things with the one who teaches …” As people we are instructed in the word of the Lord. We need to support those who teach and lead and guide us along life’s way.

This God of ours is really something – all powerful. God invites us to pray – all present and all seeing. God knows us better than we know ourselves, so do not think you can fool God. He will not be mocked, he can read our motives, he reads our hearts, through and through. We do not have anything that we do that will impress God except when we are walking in the Spirit.

Dear friends in Christ – Continue to seek to hold firmly to Christ alone. There is nothing else that will bring freedom except for the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross on Calvary and when you believe the Spirit is at work in you. And then my friends, the Lord will use you in all sorts of ways. Be on your guard and enjoy the journey …

Sermon for Sunday, June 30, 2019

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Presider: Rev. Amy Zalk Larson; Preacher: Rev. Mike Blair

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-15; Psalm 16; Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

The sermon today was a mixture of poetry, music and text by Luther College Pastor, Rev. Mike Blair. No text is available; however, the audio is posted on Facebook and on the “Sermons” link under the “Connect” tab on the Good Shepherd homepage.

Sermon for Sunday, June 23, 2019 – “Telling New Stories About Our Lives”

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 23, 2019
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.

When Jesus heals a man possessed by demons, you’d think his community would rejoice! He’s healed! He’s free! He can come home! No more chains, no more scary guy crashing around out there in the wild. Hallelujah!

But it doesn’t quite play out like that. When the people find him clothed and in his right mind, we’re told first that they are afraid and then that they are “seized with a great fear.”

It could be they’re just freaked out that Jesus could do such a thing; and they’re probably worried about the safety of their pigs when Jesus is around. But it also seems like they’re still really afraid of this man, even after he’s been healed. Maybe they’re worried that this guy that they’ve kept chained and shackled will take revenge on them now that he is more in command of himself. Maybe they just can’t bring themselves to trust that he’s safe after years of telling their kids to watch out for him. Or maybe, they don’t want the status quo disrupted. The community has been working fine without him; where will he fit? The story keeps describing him as “the man from whom the demons had gone”, and you get the sense that this will be his identity forever. “There’s that guy who used to be demon possessed. Apparently, he’s in his right mind now but you never can be too sure.” They don’t seem ready to roll out the red carpet and welcome him home.

This guy seems to pick up on these vibes and begs Jesus, “Take me with you when you leave.” You’d think Jesus would say, “Yes, come follow me and live as my disciple.” That’s pretty standard operating procedure for Jesus after all – “Leave everything behind and come with me.” Instead, Jesus tells him to return home to declare what God has done for him. So, it’s not that Jesus doesn’t want him to be a disciple. In fact, Jesus gives him the same charge that he gives the disciples later in Luke – to go and share the good news of God. Jesus just has a specific place in mind for where this guy will do this. He is sent back to his community.

It seems the healing process isn’t over yet. There is more healing needed for the man and for his community, and so he is sent back. This man needs to learn how to tell a new story about his life in the midst of people who know the old story. He needs to claim that he is more than the bad things that have happened to him, the frightening things he has done. He has been set free. He’s someone worthy of God’s care, someone Jesus has charged with the important work of declaring the good news. As he tells this new story, he will experience more healing and more freedom.

But he isn’t sent back just for his own sake. He’s also sent for the sake of his community. For so long they’ve seen this man as other, as fearful, as something to keep locked away. They also need to be freed from fear and suspicion. They need to be healed, for our soul is harmed whenever we view one of God’s children as “other”, as a thing. So, Jesus sends the man back to his community in order that they may all experience healing and restoration together.

The additional healing that happens for the man and for his community is where I see this story speaking most to our own stories. The whole demon possession, pigs hurling off cliffs to their death thing seems a bit removed from our own experience.

But learning to tell new stories about our lives – that’s something that speaks to all of us. Each of us needs to hear that we are so much more than the bad things that have happened to us, the worst things we have done.

We are beloved of God. We are worthy of God’s care. Jesus has come to forgive us and set us free. And God gives us each the important work of telling new stories and declaring what God has done for us. Most of our stories are not as dramatic as being healed from a legion of demons, but it’s important that we share them, nonetheless.

This week at the book discussion we heard some of these stories from Good Shepherd members: After the divorce, I found I was not alone, God was carrying me, God was providing … After I was widowed, God led me into deeper faith … As I walk with my young adult son, I see how God is working through me to encourage and support him.

We need to tell these stories of what God has done for us, for we are healed as we do. What has God done in your life? Has God brought you out of loneliness and into community here? Has God softened your heart with a neighbor you too easily judged, opening up space for relationship? Has God worked in your discontent with one job to lead you into more purpose and meaning for your life?

Pay attention to what God has done and then tell about it – it will bring you healing. It will also help the rest of us. Especially in this time when we so often see people as the “other”, when we label each other and demonize each other, we need to hear of what God is doing in people’s lives.

We need to hear other people’s stories to free us from our fear and suspicion. We need to be reminded, again and again, that there is more to someone than the worst thing that has happened to them, more than the worst thing they have done. We need to hear that God does not give up on us, that God is always working to set us free and give us new life.

God has sent you into this community today where you can hear that you are beloved and worthy, that you are forgiven and set free, that you, too, have a new story to declare.

Here in this place, among this community, may you share your stories, may you listen deeply to the stories of scripture and the stories of other people. May you know the healing that God gives to you and each of us today.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

Sermon for Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sermon for Sunday, June 16, 2019
Holy Trinity Sunday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Preacher and Presider: Rev. Judd Larson

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5; Gospel: John 16:12-15

The sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday is available in audio format only either on the Good Shepherd Facebook page or at the “Sermons” link under the “Connect” tab on the website homepage.

 

 

Sermon for Sunday, June 9, 2019 – “Gifts to Give Away”

The Day of Pentecost – Last Sunday of Easter
June 9, 2019
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.

Apparently, God gives interesting birthday gifts. Pentecost is often considered the birthday of the church, the day the church was born.

And on Pentecost, God gave an amazing gift to the first followers of Jesus – the gift of the Holy Spirit. But the gift wasn’t for them – it was for other people.

The Holy Spirit came upon the first followers of Jesus and allowed them to speak in different languages so that people from all over the world could hear about God in their own native language.

This was a huge gift to all those other people for two key reasons.

For one thing, just think about what it’s like to hear your own native language when you’re far from home, especially in a place where many don’t speak your language. Everything takes more work. It’s hard to read signs, get food, and make your way around much less connect with other people. When your ears are filled with sounds you don’t understand or sounds you’ve had to work hard to learn, you always feel a bit like an outsider. When you hear someone speaking your own language, it’s such a gift. It feels like home.

This happened to me once when friends and I were on a bus in Southern Zimbabwe. The bus entered into the country of South Africa and we didn’t think we were supposed to be in South Africa. Were we on the right bus? We tried asking the people around us, but they didn’t speak English or Shona, the official language that we were working to learn. I was getting a little nervous. Then we came to a bus stop where people were waiting to board, and through the open window we could hear two men speaking English in an Australian accent.

As soon as I heard their words, my body started to relax. Once they told us we were on the right bus I felt even better. But, just hearing my own language helped me breathe more easily and feel less alone. I see that same sense of relief on the faces of our immigrant neighbors in Decorah when someone speaks to them in Spanish. It’s such a gift to hear people speaking in your own native language. It makes you feel welcome and at home.

That’s how the other people gathered on the Day of Pentecost must have felt when they heard the followers of Jesus speaking in their own languages. It must have felt like home. But it wasn’t just hearing their own native tongue that was a gift. It’s also what was said. They got to hear that God’s Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, that all people can call on Jesus and be saved, that God is focused on all people.

These folks had been living as outsiders in Jerusalem, surrounded by a language not their own. They were outsiders to the Jesus movement. But through the gift of the Holy Spirit, they were drawn into the new thing God is up to in Jesus – God’s work to save, recreate and renew the whole world.

God gave the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers expressly for outsiders so that the outsiders could be assured that they belong to God, have a home in God, and are important to God.

The gift God gave the day the church was born was for other people. From the beginning, woven into its DNA, the church was turned outward. God’s gifts were given to the church in order to serve those outside the church.

This is how God works still today. God gives us such amazing gifts, but we’re supposed to give these gifts away. We’re to use them to help other people know they belong to God, have a home in God, and are important to God.

Good Shepherd, I love what we are doing by supporting people preparing for public ministry. We’re investing in these people not for own sakes but for the sake of the larger church and God’s world. Amalia, Angie, Daniel, Joseph, Menzi and Nathan are such gifts from God to us. We have such joy in seeing their leadership and faithfulness and in knowing we are part of their journeys. Yet, we don’t get to keep these people here with us. We get to bless and release them to share their gifts with others in Elkader and Strawberry Point, La Crosse, Dubuque, Duluth, St. Paul, and Gackle.

I also love how we are doing that with this building that we have been given. This building is a wonderful gift to this congregation. From the beginning this congregation has used its building for others – that’s part of the congregation’s DNA. The most striking example of this was when the building and the annex were used as a center for Southeast Asian refugee resettlement work and language classes.

Yet still today, this building is used by Kinderhaus preschool, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Friends of Recovery, the Quilts of Valor group, NE IA Path to Citizenship, immigrant language classes, the Decorah Area Faith Coalition, Opportunity Homes, a garden club, a travel club – and those are just the groups that meet here regularly.

This May we again hosted meals for Muslim students who were fasting during Ramadan. One student said to me, “To be so far from home, fasting all day is hard. Yet to know that people are caring for us and tending to the details in order to make us feel so loved and welcome, that means so much.”

With all these groups and events and our own growing ministry, there are many days that we run out of space for everyone. The renovations will provide more workable space without expanding our footprint. We’re gaining an additional good meeting room. We’re reworking the education space to work better for our Sunday School and the Kinderhaus preschool.

Again and again, groups that meet here report how much they value having a safe place to meet. These renovations will make the spaces more private so they feel even safer and more welcoming.

In this process, we’re also caring for God’s creation by installing a geothermal-based heat pump system.

These renovations are expensive. And it is also part of Good Shepherd’s DNA to not want to spend too much money on a building so that more can be given away.

Yet, the work we’re doing will allow us to better offer the gift of this building to those outside this congregation. It will help us to live out key parts of our mission statement, our commitments to:

  • Welcome all, offering trust and respect while sharing God’s unconditional love.
  • Reach out to the broader community through service and responsible stewardship of all God’s creation.

God has given us such abundance, such gifts. We can use them to nurture a space that says to others: You belong, you are important, there is a place for you here.

God’s gifts are given for others.

It’s in the DNA of Christ’s church and in the DNA of this congregation to look outward and serve those who are outside.

We can do this as we support those preparing for public ministry.

We can do this as we care for the gift of this building and offer it to others.

We can do this in so many ways as a congregation and in our daily lives.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.