Sermon for Sunday, November 11, 2018 – “We Shall Love – That’s a Promise”

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Texts for 24th Sunday after Pentecost: 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 we face can seem insurmountable. We aren’t sure we can even trust God in these times. 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. How are we supposed to do that?

These commands are given to God’s people as they are wandering in the desert, after God has led them out of slavery in Egypt. God has promised to bring them into a good land flowing with milk and honey. But they, too, have trouble trusting God, much less loving God. They grumble and com- plain. They rebel against Moses, the person God used to set them free. They build a golden calf and worship it.

So, God lets them wander in the wilderness for forty long years. Along the way, 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 and yet, God expects them to jump in with both feet to love God and other people wholeheartedly? Maybe God should have more realistic expectations: “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 frightening. We as a species are so often unkind, violence is all around us, we leave mess and destruction in our wake. How can God really expect us to love so 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.

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 Frederick Buechner writes, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ becomes, in the end, less a command than a promise. You shall love. And 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, “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 last one of us, even as out of the wilderness Christ rose before us. That is the promise, and the greatest of all promises.”

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.

This Week at Good Shepherd, November 12-18, 2018

Tuesday, November 13
9:30 a.m. – Anna Circle – Jane Borelli hosts at Aase Haugen
3:45 p.m. – Education Committee

Wednesday, November 14
10:30 a.m. – Communion at Aase Haugen
1:00 p.m. – Prayer Shawl Ministry – Ruth Bruce hosts
2:00 p.m. – Miriam/Ruth Circle – Carol Hasvold hosts
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, November 15
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with Pastor in the Narthex
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at First Lutheran
5:15 p.m. – Worship and Music Committee

Sunday, November 18 – Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
8:45 a.m. – Choir warmup
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion – broadcast 11:00 a.m.
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m. -Exploring God’s Word class: 3rd-5th graders, parents Pr. Amy/Youth Forum
10:50 a.m. – Adult Forum – Luther Choral Program

Adult Forum, Sunday, November 11 – Doug Eckheart Explains Fellowship Hall Paintings

Designing and Composing Good Shepherd’s Altar Paintings: A Conversation with the Artist  

Doug Eckheart, Professor Emeritus of Art, Luther College, will talk about the colorful altar paintings he created in 1972 that currently hang on the north wall of the Fellowship Hall.

Sermon for Sunday, November 4, 2018 – “Tending the Tears”

All Saints Sunday
November 4, 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.

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 wipe them away. 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.

The prophet Isaiah stresses that by using the word all four times. God will make “for all peoples a feast of rich food”, and 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, and especially in this difficult time for our country.

There is so little hope right now and so much fear – fear about the future, fear about other people and their visions for the future. Fear keeps us apart from one another. It boils over into anger, hatred and violence – into pipe bombs sent in the mail, grocery shoppers killed just for being black, and elders shot down as they worshipped.

How can we live faithfully and hopefully amidst all this fear and anger? How can we be a healing presence in our world?

Perhaps we need to take a cue from our readings today and focus on the tears – pay attention to the pain within us and within other people.

Our own tears and sorrow can give us the gift of vulnerability. They can break down our defenses and open us up. They can soften us.

And we certainly need vulnerability and openness now. Initiatives like the Civil Conversations and the Better Angels Project all tell us the same thing. Rather than stridently, angrily defending our view and attacking others, we need to be vulnerable and open – vulnerable enough to acknowledge what troubles us about our own positions and open to recognizing what is admirable in others’ positions.

Welcoming our own tears and sorrow can give us the gift of vulnerability and openness that we so need.

Paying attention to other people’s tears and sorrow is important as well. This allows us to see our shared humanity and helps to nurture compassion for one another.

So many former Neo-Nazis and white supremacists say that what caused them to change was not outrage or force or punishment, though there certainly should be serious consequences for hate crimes. What does bring change for people who hate is compassion and empathy. One former white supremacist, Christian Picciolini, describes a turning point for him. He was beating up a black man when his eyes locked with the victim’s and he felt a surprising empathy. About the same time, he began to get to know African-American, Jewish, and gay customers at the record store he was running. He was selling white power music but had to sell other types of music to stay in business. His customers knew he was hateful and violent, but they keep coming in and kept initiating meaningful conversation with him. He says, “What it came down to was receiving compassion from the people that I least deserved it [from], when I least deserved it.”

Our compassion and empathy can be deepened by focusing on the tears and pain of others.

Of course, living with compassion, vulnerability and openness is so hard, especially as we face our own personal losses and grief. 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 in order to have some illusion of control.

So we need more than a focus on our own and others’ 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 stood at his friend Lazarus’ grave and wept. He knows the power of fear – he saw it in Lazarus’ sisters who worried how they would survive in their patriarchal culture without their brother’s support. Jesus knows about anger and divisiveness. Some of the people gathered at the grave were amazed by his love for Lazarus, others sneered, “Why didn’t Jesus prevent Lazarus from dying, he healed the blind man after all.” Soon after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this anger boiled over into a plot to kill both Lazarus and Jesus.

Jesus experienced all of this and yet he 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 grief, fear and anger you face. 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 peoples will be gathered at God’s banquet.

God honors your tears and promises to wipe them away. God shares your tears. And God promises you a future without tears where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, and you will feast with all people.

May this tender care and these powerful promises heal you today.

May God help us all to bring healing and love to our tear-filled world.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, November 5-11, 2018

Tuesday, November 6 – Election Day Voting Location
4:00 p.m. – Mary Circle – Jane Jakoubek hosts
5:00 p.m. – Facilities Improvement Committee

Wednesday, November 7
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, November 8
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with Pastor in the Narthex
12 noon – Stewardship Committee
1:30 p.m. – Property & Management Committee

Friday, November 9
3:40 p.m. – Evangelism Committee

Sunday, November 11 – Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
8:45 a.m. – Handbell Practice
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion – broadcast 11:00 a.m.
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m. – Sunday School and Youth Forum
10:50 a.m. – Adult Forum –Designing and Composing Good Shepherd’s Altar Paintings