Budget Planning Discussion – Adult Forum, Sunday, January 20, 2019

Do attend the Budget Planning Discussion which will be the focus of the Adult Forum on Sunday, January 20, 2019.  This precedes the Annual Meeting of the Congregation which will be held on Sunday, February 3, 2019.

At the January 6 Congregational Meeting, there was a unanimous vote to proceed with the building remodel and new HVAC system.  Budget plans for the project will be discussed at the Annual Meeting.

At the Annual Meeting, the Congregation is being asked to ratify a change to our constitution changing the name of the Evangelism Committee to the Outreach and Hospitality Committee. This change was approved by a majority vote at the January 6 congregational meeting. Since this involves a constitutional change, this decision will need to be ratified by a 2/3 majority vote at the Annual Meeting. The Evangelism Committee and Congregation Council recommended making the name change after receiving much feedback about the committee’s current name and reviewing other ELCA model Constitutions. We believe that the proposed change is in keeping with the committee’s continuing resolution, more accurately reflects the work of the committee, and connotes a more positive and modern interpretation of the committee’s purpose.


Sermon for Sunday, January 13, 2019 – “The Power of Baptism”

Baptism of Our Lord
First Sunday after Epiphany
January 13, 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. Amen.

Both our first reading and our Gospel reading today talk about fire and water. Each of these things can be so very lovely and so very powerful.

Many of my happiest memories involve water. A few years ago, I got to spend my late October birthday canoeing the Upper Iowa River with my spouse Matt. It was a brilliant, crisp day – pure gift before dark November blew in. The sky was robin’s egg blue with not a cloud in sight. The water reflected the color of the sky and sparkled with the sun. I felt so content on the beautiful river we get to enjoy here in Decorah.

Yet, this summer someone drowned in our river. And, that river wreaked so much destruction and heartache in the floods of 2008 and 2016, to name just a few years of flooding.

Water nourishes and renews us, helps us relax, lets us play.
Water gives life. We all pass through the waters when we are born.
Water can also kill and destroy.

The same is true for fire. Some of the most meaningful conversations in my life have been held around a fire. When I was a camp counselor, I was amazed at what campers would share in that setting. Kids who never sang anywhere would join in during campfire worship. Yet I’ve rarely felt as frightened as when I had to help evacuate campers when a forest fire came too close to camp. The smoke, the smell, the black sky were all so terrifying.

Fire provides warmth and light, a feeling of coziness. It nurtures intimacy and community. It has fueled so much innovation. It too can kill, ravage, destroy as we saw so dramatically in the Camp Fire last November.

Water and fire are beautiful gifts with tremendous power. We should not take them lightly. John the Baptist tells us that Jesus will baptize us with water, fire and the Holy Spirit. I think this means that being baptized into Christ Jesus isn’t something that we should take lightly.

Baptism isn’t just a lovely entrance rite, not just a sweet ceremony with an infant, or a rite of passage for a youth.

Baptism is not just a ritual. It is a way that our active, powerful God works in our lives and our world.

The images of water and fire also help us to see what God does for us through the gift of baptism.

With baptism, God does for us what water does. We pass through the waters to be reborn and named beloved children of God. We are given new life, we’re renewed and nourished. Baptism also involves drowning and destruction. Our sinful selves are drowned; we die to sin and are raised to new life. We are marked with the sign of the cross, the sign of death and new life.

Through baptism, God also lights a fire within us – a fire of justice and mercy. We’re told to let our light shine, to let our life bring the warmth of love – the fire of fierce compassion. We are also drawn into intimacy and community with Christ and the whole body of Christ on earth. Through baptism, God also burns away the chaff within us. We don’t just get to sit around the campfire sing- ing “Kumbaya”. We are convicted of sin and called to repent. All that is unfruitful and empty within us is burned away. This fire renews us the way a wildfire renews a natural landscape, the way a prairie fire sparks new growth.

We see that baptism does these things through the witness of scripture and through the witness of people and communities of faith throughout the ages who have experienced the power of baptism.

I know it’s hard to believe that a ritual can do all these things, especially a ritual that many of us experienced as infants. But it isn’t the ritual that does all this. It is the power of God working through water and fire and the Word. God uses these physical things to get through to us and not just when we are first baptized. Baptism is a life-long gift. God uses these signs to get our attention, to wake us up, to draw us back to God – over and over again. God works through water, fire, the Spirit and the Word throughout our lives to assure us of what God has done and is doing for us.

This is why we keep the font central in our worship space and focus our attention there as we con- fess our sins and remember our baptisms.

It is why we light the paschal candle at baptisms and funerals – this candle that is first lit in the fire of the Easter Vigil. This candle reminds us that when we pass through the fires and flames of sin and even death, we will not be overwhelmed; God will bring us into new life.

If you haven’t been baptized, know that God is still at work in your life as well. God is always at work through the Holy Spirit. Yet, baptism is such a helpful gift for our lives of faith. It gives us physical assurance and physical reminders of God’s activity for us. It is so powerful to know, in our bones, that God has claimed us through water, fire and the word of promise, and that God will not let us go.

This week, I invite you to pay close attention to water. After you receive communion today, go to the font and use the water to make the sign of the cross on your forehead. During the rest of the week, when you shower or wash your face, remember the power of God to drown your sinful self and give you new life and your true identity – beloved child of God. Say to yourself – I am beloved,

I am forgiven, I am reborn.

I also invite you to pay attention to fire. Today, notice the fire burning on the paschal candle. Let yourself be drawn into the beauty, intimacy and the warmth of that fire. And, pay attention to what the fire needs to burn away within you.

During the rest of the week, notice what fire can do as you light gas burners on your stove or hear the combustion engine in a car fire up. Notice what fire can do and reflect that the tremendous power of fire doesn’t hold a candle to the power of Almighty God.

That amazing power is at work in you – let it burn, let it shine.  Let it empower you to live out the promises we make when we affirm our baptisms: 
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.

God is at work today and always through the word and the Spirit, through water and fire, to do powerful things for you. God is at work to do powerful things for this congregation.

Beloved, you are reborn – let your light shine.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, January 14-20, 2019

Tuesday, January 15
12:15 p.m. – Epiphany Prayer Journey|
7:00 p.m. – Congregation Council Meeting

Wednesday, January 16
1:00 p.m.- Prayer Shawl Ministry -Joyce Epperly hosts
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir rehearsal
8:00 p.m. – Band rehearsal

Thursday, January 17 – Annual Reports Due – Feb Newsletter Articles Due
10:00 a.m. – Adult Bible Study
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at St Benedicts Catholic Church

Sunday, January 20 – Second Sunday of Epiphany
8:45 a.m. – Band Warm-up
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion – 11a.m. Broadcast
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:45 a.m. – Sunday School/Youth Forum
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – Budget Planning Discussion
3:00 p.m. – Pew to Pulpit – Pulpit Rock Brewing Company


Decorah Police Training at Good Shepherd, January 9, 3:30-5:00 pm

The Decorah Police Department has scheduled a police training for Wednesday, January 9, from 3:30- 5:00 p.m. at Good Shepherd.  They will be using the entire building for their training and will be done by 5 pm.  This use of our building has been approved by the Congregation Council.  
We have been told there will be a posting about this training on the Decorah Police Facebook page.  A posting has also been made on the Good Shepherd Facebook page.
Please do not be alarmed if you see a number of police vehicles parked outside the building on Wednesday afternoon. This is emergency training only.

Sermon for Epiphany, January 6, 2019 – “How God Guides Us”

Epiphany of our Lord
January 6, 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.

Christmas carols and nativity sets make it appear so simple. The wise men just follow the west- ward leading star right to Bethlehem. Almost as good as a GPS, complete with a catchy soundtrack.

I think you know it, join in:
Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

If only we had a star guiding us in the right way to go. If only we had such clear direction as we try to follow Jesus as we tackle big issues in our lives, our congregation and our world.

Except when you take a closer look at the story, you notice that the wise men don’t have a star right in front of them all the way lighting the path to Bethlehem.

In fact, they don’t actually make it to Bethlehem at first. They show up in Jerusalem saying they have seen the star at its rising. Only when they leave Jerusalem, heading towards Bethlehem, only then does the star go ahead of them to the spot where the child lies. They see the star at its rising but then they have to figure out where to go.

They do get really close geographically, Jerusalem is just 9 miles from Bethlehem, but it was worlds apart in every other regard. Bethlehem was a tiny peasant village. Jerusalem was the seat of power, the place to find Roman rulers and Rome’s puppet king, King Herod.

Jerusalem is where you’d expect to find a king. So, it makes sense that the wise men show up there first.

They also likely use scripture to get there. Scholar Walter Brueggemann points out the wise men had probably heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, the words we just heard as our first reading.

They’d likely heard them from Jews who’d been taken into exile in Babylon and then continued to live in the lands east of Israel. Isaiah speaks God’s promise to Jerusalem that: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn … A multitude of camels shall cover you, they shall bring gold and frankincense.”

So, as the wise men try to find a new king of the Jews, it makes sense to go to Jerusalem and take rare spices and gold.

They don’t just follow a star. Intuition, reason and scripture probably help them to get close to their destination.

Except when the wise men arrive in Jerusalem, they don’t meet a new king. They meet an old king who is afraid, and all Jerusalem with him. Questions about a newborn king threaten the status quo.

The old king gathers the chief priests and the scribes and from them, the wise men learn a new scripture. They learn verses from the prophet Micah that indicate they should look for the child in little Bethlehem. The newborn king has not been born in the seat of power, but in a peasant village.

The evil King Herod directs them to Bethlehem. He has malicious intent, he is already plotting to the kill the child, but he does get them headed in the right direction again. Then, once they leave where they expected to find the king, then the star goes before to guide them and they find Jesus.

Yet still, their journey is not complete. They must pay attention to their sense that something is off with King Herod – an intuition that is confirmed by a dream from God. They must find another way home to avoid colluding with the evil Herod.

All this means we have much more in common with the wise men then it might first appear. The wonderful Christmas carols and nativity sets don’t tell the full story. A life following Jesus, a life guided by God, is more complicated.

The wise men set out seeking what is good, following in trust without a lot of direction, trying to respond to promises in scripture – and they end up in the wrong place.

They hear a new scripture and are told new things and must discern what to do. The scriptures seem to give conflicting messages. There is a lot of fear and anxiety; they must make hard deci- sions.

They have to let go of their assumptions about power and rulers, let go of their disappointment about ending up in the wrong place, let go of their first understandings of scripture. They have to change course to avoid evil. This all sounds a lot like a life of faith.

The wise men’s journey does involve paying attention to how God works in nature and in dreams.

But, it also involves wrestling with scripture, testing their experiences, analyzing reality, gleaning good from difficult situations, navigating difficult people. They must use the gifts God has given them in scripture, tradition, community, their lived experience and their own hearts and minds.

These are our challenges as well. In some ways, scripture gives us very clear guidance. The prophet Micah, the prophet who helped the wise men get to Bethlehem, provides other important guidance for Jews and Christians. He says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And Jesus says, quoting the Old Testament, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Scripture is clear about what God wants us to do.

But scripture doesn’t give specific guidance for all the particular decisions we need to make as individuals and communities. Instead, we are called to do the work of discerning, in our context, how we will do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God, and how we will love God and neighbor. God has entrusted us with the freedom and responsibility to do this discernment.

We will not always handle this responsibility perfectly – things won’t always go well; at times we’ll find ourselves in Jerusalem when we should have gone to Bethlehem. We will encounter evil both within ourselves and in the world around us. We will have to wrestle with the guidance God gives.

When things don’t work out well, it is not necessarily a sign from God that we are on the wrong track. The wise men’s story shows us that even when we are faithfully following there will be struggle, mistakes and hardship. Yet, we can trust that God is present to lead us. God is at work through all those gifts given to the wise men and given to us – through prayer, nature, scripture, community, reason and experience.

We have what we need to follow where God leads, to seek the good and refuse to collude with evil, to take another road when needed, to rejoice and worship as the wise men did when they encountered Jesus.

We have what we need to love God and others, to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly through all that we face.

Thanks be to God.