Sermon for Sunday, June 26, 2022  Third Sunday after Pentecost “Serving the Word”

Rev. Stacey Nalean-Carlson – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church    Decorah, Iowa

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott describes the origin of the book’s title. “‘Traveling mercies,’ the old people at our church said to [our preacher, Veronica] when she left [on vacation]. This is what they always say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.”

It’s a command and a promise. Traveling mercies. We can love the journey because God is with us. We can see the mercies attending us along the way—even in a week like this—and hear a sustained and sustaining word of blessing in our ears, because God is with us. No matter where our travels take us, no matter the cost, no matter how they challenge our position or perspective, God is with us. Home—safe and sound—is our journey’s end. 

Today’s theme is ‘Traveling to Serve”. I think there’s an invitation in this reading from Acts to ask how we know when service is needed, what our service is in service to, and how we are equipped for service by way of blessing. 

The Hellenists are complaining against the Hebrews because their widows are being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Remember, in those early days after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, “all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). 

But apparently, all didn’t quite mean all. 

The Hellenists were of the Jewish faith, but unlike the Hebrews they had not always lived in Judea. Instead, they had lived in other parts of the world, among people not of the Jewish faith. They spoke Greek instead of Hebrew and had surely been influenced by Greek culture and ideas. Their widows are the ones being neglected, left out, denied what they need to be well.

As people of the way, those who follow Jesus, we travel to serve—making outer and inner journeys—to move from exclusion to inclusivity, from some being worthy to all being fed. 

Service is needed wherever, and whenever; all doesn’t really mean all.

The twelve agree that there is a need to be met, a change that needs to be made, but who’s going to do it? Should they neglect the word of God to serve food instead? This is where I’d like to step into the scene and ask those twelve to clarify. Isn’t feeding vulnerable people serving the word of God? 

I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, though, because they go on to recognize a truth that’s vital to our life together. They essentially say, “Hey, we see that there’s a need here, but we can’t meet it by ourselves. If we try to do this ourselves, something will have to give and we’ll be trading one instance of neglect for an- other. But if not us, who?” 

The twelve call on the whole community of disciples to select from among themselves seven, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, to be appointed to this task. This is now a journey from recognizing need to meeting need, equipping the community more broadly to serve. The twelve pray and lay their hands on the seven and the word of God continues to spread. The service of the twelve is distinct from the service of the seven, but it’s all meaningful, needed, valuable service. The same Greek word—diakonia—is used in this passage to describe both waiting at tables and serving the word. 

So, yes, feeding vulnerable people is serving the word of God. Preaching and sharing testimony, praying and healing are serving the word of God. Advocating, protesting, making signs, and marching with pride are serving the word of God—a living word that speaks truth to power, looks to the interests of others, embraces those on the margins and overturns tables of greed and corruption. 

Our service—our baptismal journey of loving transformation—is in service to the Word of God made flesh, the one who came not to condemn but to save this weary, warring world.

Rising out of the waters of baptism, the newly baptized receives a blessing with the laying on of hands: Sustain this beloved one with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and for- ever. Later, when that baptism is affirmed, the blessing is repeated—this time asking God to stir up in this be- loved one the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

We don’t know the words of blessing that the twelve offered to the seven as they were called to a journey of service, but we do know that it involved prayer and the laying on of hands. We are equipped for service by way of blessing. That’s why every week, as we leave this experience of worship for service in the world, we receive a blessing. It’s why every night we trace the sign of the cross on our children’s foreheads and bless them with the promise that they’ve been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. 

It’s why we offer words of blessing at the ordinations of deacons (God, let your servant’s life and teaching so reflect your grace that many may come to know you and love you) and pastors (God, make her a faithful pastor, patient teacher, and wise counselor), at weddings (God, bless them so that their lives together may bear witness to your love), and when we are in need of healing (be strengthened and filled with God’s grace). We are equipped for service—in the church, in our relationships, and in our daily lives—by way of blessing.

So, traveling mercies today, beloved ones. Together we are on a journey of service, marked by blessing. The gift of the Holy Spirit is ours. Filled with faith and wisdom, we recognize where service is needed and we respond —not all in the same way, not all of us to every situation, but all in service to the Word of God, the crucified and risen Christ.

Traveling mercies, beloved ones. Here’s a blessing I wrote at the water’s edge earlier this month, with the pandemic of gun violence on my mind. It’s a blessing for us today. Bless the river. Bless the birdsong. Bless the ones who know despair. Bless the flowing sanctuary, holding every wordless prayer. Bless the winged kindred calling, “Courage. We have miles to go.” Bless the raging grief. Compel us, Love that will not let us go.

Traveling mercies today, beloved ones. You who rejoice. You who weep. You who see the need and rage with grief. “Love the journey. God is with you. Come home safe and sound.” 

Amen.

7/1 – Masks optional and respected in building

As of Thursday, June 30th the CDC updated the COVID alert level in Winneshiek County to Green- Low.
Masks are optional and respected in the Good Shepherd Building at this time.

6/24 – Masks Recommended in Building

As of Thursday, June 25th the CDC updated the COVID alert level in Winneshiek County to YELLOW.
Therefore, masks are recommended in the building at Good Shepherd.

Sermon for Sunday, June 19, 2022  Second Sunday after Pentecost “Courage on the Way”

Rev. Stacey Nealon-Carlson – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church    Decorah, Iowa

There are travels we choose, and there are travels laid upon us—journeys for which we could not prepare, paths we could not have predicted. It’s the difference between a named Peter and John freely going to the temple to pray and an unnamed man, defined by his disability, being carried by others, and laid at the gate to beg. It’s the difference between the illusion of independence and the reality of complete dependence, between thinking you’re fine and knowing your need for healing. It’s the difference between packing up and taking off with intention, never questioning your return, and waking up one day in a different place without ever taking a single step, uncertain you’ll ever return home.

As a student at Luther, it was the difference, for me, between a J-Term trip to England during my junior year and the news of my brother’s death my senior year. The travel to England was chosen. I wanted to learn. I wanted to grow and be stretched. The journey of grief was one I never would have chosen. Without packing my suitcase or stepping on an airplane, I woke up the morning after that devastating news in a different place—a landscape I did not choose, an altered universe where I couldn’t begin to fathom how the world just kept on turning. It was the difference between being an audience member—observing tragedy on the theater’s stage—and being an actor in a production for which the script was still being written. It began as a tragedy. Would it end that way too?

Maybe the journey you could not have predicted began in the doctor’s office with words now etched on your memory. It was a diagnosis that defined your itinerary. Or maybe it was a rupture in a relationship—a relationship you expected would endure—that set you on a path you never would have chosen. 

Today the COVID alert level is again Red, and again we are wearing masks in worship. Throughout this worldwide pandemic—when our opportunities for chosen travel have been so diminished—who among us hasn’t traveled to an entirely new place without taking a single step, this surreal world where deaths are numbered in the millions, but collective mourning has been detoured by deep divisions? How will this ongoing journey shape us? Who will we become as we continue on this path?

I want to ask these same questions of the characters—named and unnamed—in our reading from Acts this morning. Unnamed man, carried to the gate but denied entry to the place of prayer, who are you? How long were you heard, but never fully seen? And what will the journey look like for you after this encounter with the power of Jesus? 

Witnesses to this healing encounter, where will you go now? You, who averted your eyes for so long, who remained at a distance and threw charity from arm’s length, where will the risen Christ lead you? 

Peter and John, with the privilege of name and uncontested agency, who will you be- come as your travels continue, as the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead, continues to show you a world in need of healing?

People of God, pilgrims on the way, where will God draw our attention as we continue travels chosen and unchosen? Where will our baptismal journey lead us?

My first call as a pastor was to a two-point parish in Adams, North Dakota, population 200. Aidan and Keaton were both born and baptized there. For Keaton’s baptism, we sang what was to us a new song as a gathered community: I’m going on a journey and I’m starting today. My head is wet and I’m on my way … Wherever I go, God’s been there too. God’s love has touched me and will carry me through. 

Barely a year later, I accepted a new call in West Union, Iowa. The leaving was incredibly painful, even though I was choosing it. In both my letter of farewell to the people of Adams and my letter of acceptance to the people of West Union, I shared the song that was sustaining me on the journey: Wherever I go, God’s been there too. God’s love has touched me and will carry me through. 

When our family of four arrived in West Union, worshiping for the first time in this new community, feeling homesick for all that we had left behind to travel to a new life in a new place, we were surprised to hear “our song” sung in worship that day. The congregation had learned it as a way of welcoming us, of honoring our journey. What a healing moment it was to have a new community of faith sing for me the words I knew to be true but could not sing through my tears that day. Wherever we go, God’s been there too. 

As we sang just before the reading, Courage comes with Jesus by our side no matter whether our travels cross oceans between continents or cross divisions between people, take us physically far from home or spiritually far from all that home represents, land us in a new place on the map or in a new perspective on the maps of our complicated minds. Courage comes with Jesus by our side through the travels we choose and through the travels laid upon us.

 

Sometimes the healing afforded by a baptismal journey with Jesus by our side will be obvious. Like the man raised up at the Beautiful Gate that day, our healing will be a thing of beauty. Unburdened, set free to love wholeheartedly, we will use our freedom to work for the liberation of all creation. And sometimes we will wait, and pray, and wait, and weep all the way to the journey’s end, dependent on the gathered community to carry us, to see us, to sing of God’s faithfulness when we cannot sing for ourselves. 

This beautiful sanctuary, this table of grace, this community of travelers on the way are here for you. Jesus is here for you, in word and water, bread and wine. Wherever the journey takes you, whatever the healing you seek, you are not alone. God’s love carries us through. Courage comes from Jesus by our side. 

Amen. 

 

6/17 COVID Level Update-Red: Masks are required in worship

As of Thursday, June 16th – the COVID alert level in Winneshiek County has been updated to Red.
 
Therefore, masks are required in worship this Sunday, and recommended in the building.
Here is Good Shepherd’s response to level red:
The CDC recommends indoor masking at this level
Masks required in worship
Communion with pre-packaged servings
Masks encouraged in the building, may be removed with the consent of all present