Adult Forum, Sunday, April 29 – Ecumenical Advocacy Days

Hallie Johnson, Pr. Marion and Karen McLean will present about their experience traveling to Washington, D.C. on April 20-23 

to participate in Ecumenical Advocacy Days, in which the ELCA is a participating denomination. They’ll talk about what they learned about faith-based advocacy, and share their experience of participating in a lobbying day on Capitol Hill.

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 – “How Far?”

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Preacher:  Daniel Grainger

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace from the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

How far are we willing to go?

This was the mantra running through my head last week after sitting in a conference room full of seminarians, listening to Law Enforcement officers walking us through an Active Shooter drill. It was the first time the Seminary had ever participated in this kind of training.

The presentation included a history of mass shootings since Columbine and an overview of how the tactics of Law Enforcement has evolved over the years in response to such violence. The law enforcement officers were not shy in lamenting with us in the militarization of our police and first responders.

How far are we willing to go?

How far must we go?

How far can we go?

As I reflected on these questions, I began to ponder our survival instincts: to “Fight, Flight, or Freeze,” – the adrenaline that kicks in during situations of high anxiety, trauma, or when danger is looming – eliciting one of three reactions (often unknowingly or without thinking) from us.

How far are we willing to go?

How far are we able to go – to survive?

Though we certainly can’t argue that our survival instincts have served us well throughout history, these same instincts kick in our daily lives. Of course, this is certainly not in response to danger and violence each and every day, but this same strategy and instinct for survival (fight, flight, or freeze) is often what we turn to (perhaps our default) when we need hope.

We need hope daily (big and small) in order to function; to successfully navigate our way through this world. But it doesn’t take long to realize that hope in our own capacities fall short all too often…

Today is the 48th occurrence of Earth Day, an annual event celebrated worldwide honoring the Earth and promoting environmental stewardship. The theme for Earth Day 2018 is “End Plastic Pollution” – raising awareness of how plastic waste is polluting and poisoning the oceans and land, causing incredible harm to flora and fauna, and having a devastating impact on our own health in ways we are just beginning to understand.

As our society faces this threat (and many others) to our natural world, we can see how our “Fight, Flight, and Freeze” instinct serves as effective metaphor for our varied responses to these mounting perils.

If we fight, we aim to harness all our reason and strength and will to survive – to overcome or defeat the threat – to trust that OUR collective human capacities for change will win the day and save our planet from the utter ruin of our recklessness and greed.

If we flee, we seek to avoid the threat; to minimize its proximity to us. We seek to mitigate its power over us by distancing ourselves from the problem – We trust OUR resourcefulness in creating barriers and levies between us and the threats.

If we freeze, we resign ourselves to our fate – “come what may.” Overwhelmed by the sense of doom and danger, we give up. Why bother if we can’t avoid the inevitable? We have no hope. Let’s hope that we were wrong or that the danger will pass.

We often find ourselves wrestling with how to begin addressing and confronting the threats to the environment and many, many other injustices and evil that permeate our world.

As Christians, we know that we have been called to respond to the violence and injustice perpetrated amongst ourselves and against God’s creation. Yet, too often (if not daily) we fall short in living up to the task. Our fears and anxieties take over and we place misplace or lose hope.

In today’s Gospel reading, on this 4th Sunday of Easter, we receive the Good Shepherd metaphor from Jesus, who says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

The Good Shepherd knows the sheep, and thus – the sheep know the shepherd.

This mutual knowledge, which begins with the Shepherd, does not absolve us of our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation, to love and care for our neighbor, to seek justice and peace in the world – but rather points to the authority and agency of the shepherd.

The sheep know their shepherd because the shepherd acts on their behalf.

In hearing Jesus’ metaphor of the Good Shepherd, we catch a glimpse of the extent to which the shepherd is willing to go to care for, serve, and protect the sheep from harm.

The Good shepherd does not fight, does not flee, and does not freeze.

The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.

As we live in the ongoing mystery of Christ’s resurrection, we receive new life through the Good Shepherd, who has laid his life down for us, not to absolve us of God’s commandments, but to fulfill them for our sake.

As followers of Christ, we are brought together as one flock, one body, through the Word of God, through the breaking of the bread, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this sacred and holy flock, we are Christ, our hope is not about how far WE’RE willing and able to go. Rather, it’s about how far is God willing to go for us and with us.

“How far IS God willing to go?”

To the cross – to the grave – to raise us with Christ into a new life we cannot fully understand or imagine but is none-the-less promised.

Alleluia – Christ is Risen!

This Week at Good Shepherd, April 23-29, 2018

Tuesday, April 24
6:30 p.m. – CLA Circle meets at church to assemble kits

Wednesday, April 25
7:30 a.m. – Men’s Breakfast
5:45 p.m. – Handbell Practice
6:00 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Rehearsal

Thursday, April 26|
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with pastor – Narthex

Saturday, April 28
8:30 a.m. – WELCA Cluster D Spring Gathering – Big Canoe Lutheran

Sunday, April 29 – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Confirmation Sunday
8:45 a.m. – Handbell Practice
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:45 a.m. – Sunday School and Youth Forum
10:50 a.m. – Adult Forum – Investing in Children, Youth and Family Advocacy

Adult Forum, Sunday, April 22 – Understanding Reconciliation Efforts in Rwanda – Rozlyn Paradis

Rozlyn Paradis is a Luther College senior and International Studies major who spent four months studying in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, during the spring of 2017. Her research focused on a specific peace-building program called “I am Rwandan.” This program emphasizes the Rwandan identity over all others, specifically that of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. She was able to conduct eleven interviews with local Rwandans to get their insights on individual experiences of the program.

Sermon for Sunday, April 15, 2018 – “Hope and Doubt”

Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
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 often think of the Easter season as a hopeful time and it is – there is joy, new life and sometimes even spring.

We don’t usually think of Easter as a season of doubts and questions. After all, we proclaim boldly:

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! That greeting doesn’t seem to leave much room for ambiguity or doubt.

We sing lots of hymns about triumph and victory. In one we sing, “No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life.” I love the tune and most of the words of that hymn, but I don’t like that line. Doubt is a key component of Easter. Hope and doubt go hand in hand in the biblical stories of Jesus’ resurrection and in our own lives.

In our Gospel story today, the risen Jesus tells his disciples to touch his wounded hands and feet to see that he’s not a ghost. They do that and it brings them great joy, but it doesn’t erase their doubts. We’re told, “while in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

A similar thing happens at the end of the Gospel of Matthew – in Matthew’s account of the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples. We’re told, “When they saw him, they worshipped him; and all doubted.”

Almost every English version of the Bible translates this passage as, “they worshipped him but some doubted.” But, that’s not what the Greek says. It says they worshipped him, and all doubted.

The disciples worshipped and doubted at the same time. They had great joy in Jesus’ presence while also disbelieving and wondering.

In both cases, Jesus doesn’t condemn the disciples for their doubts. In Matthew he goes on to give them the great commission, telling them to go make disciples, baptize and teach. In our story today he tells them, you are witnesses. He gives the doubtful disciples important work to do. This means that when we sing and praise, rejoice and hope, and say Christ is risen, indeed, there is also room for doubt and disbelief. There is room to wonder: “How could this all be true? What does this mean for my life and for this beautiful yet brutal world?” Hope and doubt go hand in hand.

Hope and doubt actually have a lot in common because both leave us vulnerable.

When we hope, we can be disappointed. So sometimes to protect ourselves, we respond with cynicism and bitterness rather than hope. Why bother advocating for legislation for the dreamers, Congress will never get it done. Forget trying to connect with those people, I’ll never feel comfortable there. New life? Whatever – nothing will ever change.

When we doubt we acknowledge that we’re not certain, we don’t know; we open ourselves to ambiguity and uncertainty. So sometimes to protect ourselves, we turn to absolutes and stridency. We rigidly defend our beliefs and opinions on personal, religious and political issues rather than acknowledging that issues are complex, and that coming to solutions with others requires a willingness to question one’s own positions.

If we protect ourselves from vulnerability, we may be spared some pain, but we also keep ourselves locked away from all the beauty in our world.

Hoping and doubting do leave us vulnerable. They also leave us open to possibility, to change, to surprise, to joy. Hope and doubt open up space for new life to happen for us.

It’s not easy to remain open and vulnerable, especially in our world today. The good news is that the risen Jesus is also vulnerable.

The risen Jesus comes to us not so much as a glorious prince like that Easter hymn says. Instead, Jesus comes with vulnerability. We see that in how Jesus appears to those first disciples when they are locked away trying to protect themselves. Jesus doesn’t storm into the room like a strident conqueror. He appears and says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his wounded hands and feet. He asks for some- thing to eat – he is in need of their hospitality. He comes in peace, wounded and hungry. This humble, vulnerable approach helps the disciples to recognize Jesus and to be receptive to his teaching – teaching that opens their minds to understand the scriptures.

Jesus comes to us in the same way today. Jesus is here in his wounded body the church to say to each of us, peace be with you. He is here in bread and wine, his broken body and blood poured out. He is here in his word to open our minds to understand the scriptures.

With his presence, and as part of his wounded body the church, we can say, “Christ is risen indeed” boldly, even as we wonder. We can worship with great joy even as we doubt.

We can go into the world and remain vulnerable and open. We can go hopefully with a willingness to doubt. As we do, our lives will witness to the truth that new life is possible, that the humble, vulnerable Christ is risen indeed. We are witnesses to these things.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.