Memorial Service for Mildred Dinger, Friday, May 24, 2019

Mildred (Millie) V. Dinger, age 96, of Decorah, IA, passed away Thursday, May 16, 2019 at Aase Haugen Senior Services in Decorah.  

Mildred’s wish was to donate her body for educational and research purposes to the Deeded Body Program at the University of Iowa, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

Memorial Services will be at 1:00 p.m. Friday, May 24, 2019 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Decorah, with Pastor Amy Larson officiating.  

Visitation will begin at 12:00 p.m. Friday, one hour before the service, at the church.  Coffee and dessert will be served after the service.  A full obituary may be found at the Fjelstul Funeral home website and here.

This Week at Good Shepherd, May 20-26, 2019

Tuesday, May 21
11:00 a.m. – Stewardship Committee
4:00 p.m. – Social Justice Committee
7:00 p.m. – Congregation Council Meeting

Wednesday, May 22
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class

Thursday, May 23
10:00 a.m.- Bible Study with Pastor Amy
12:00 p.m. – Centering Prayer

Sunday, May 26 – 6th Sunday of Easter- Blessing of High School graduates
9:30 a.m. – Worship Service with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – Back Yard Beekeeping – Brent Parker

Sermon for Sunday, May 12, 2019 – “Not Abandoned”

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 12, 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, our Good Shepherd.

Tabitha, the disciple we heard about in our first reading, reminds me of a radiant Zimbabwean woman named Paulina. Paulina’s life and work help me to picture Tabitha’s life among the widows of Joppa.

I met Paulina when I spent a semester in Zimbabwe during seminary. She led a woman’s cooperative that I visited. Most of the women in the cooperative had been widowed by AIDS, shunned by society, and left without any protection because of the failings of the legal system.

These rural women had married their husbands in traditional ceremonies in the village – ceremonies that carried no legal status under Zimbabwean law. Their husbands had then followed the common practice of living in the city during the week to make money and returning to their families on the weekend. Often their husbands would marry another woman in the city in formal legal ceremonies that were recognized by the government. They’d also usually have a number of other partners in the city and often would contract HIV/AIDS. When they died, all of their assets went to their wives in the city. The only thing passed on to the rural wives was HIV.

Yet the widows in this cooperative had not given up. They’d pooled their meager resources to launch business ventures including garment sales and repair, produce sales, traditional arts and craft production and sales. Over time, they’d been able to build a school room and hire a teacher to educate their children.  

A few friends and I got to spend a week living with these women. And I got to know their leader, Paulina. It was striking to me that Paulina was not a widow. She and her school teacher husband had three children and while they were not rich, they had much more money than the widows.

Many women in Paulina’s situation had very little contact with widows. They’d maybe employ one to be a domestic worker and give a handout to a few others, but mostly seemed to fear too much contact with them. They wouldn’t even look at them directly. Yet Paulina, a strong Christian, couldn’t separate herself from the widows. “We’re all women, she said, we must stick together”. Paulina also saw gifts in the widows that others did not. She realized these women could do so much more together. So, she facilitated a gathering for them and the idea for the cooperative was born. Slowly the women came to believe in themselves and in what they could accomplish. Paulina made her home among them to support and encourage them.

Tabitha, too, lived and worked among the widows of Joppa. We’re told she was a disciple like Peter, James and John. As good Jews, all of the disciples cared about widows. Widows in the ancient world faced many of the same challenges as rural Zimbabwean widows, so the Hebrew scriptures emphasize the care of widows. Jesus’ followers took this seriously. The 12 disciples even created the role of deacon in response to a concern that widows weren’t getting enough to eat in the daily distribution of food. Seven men were appointed to the role.

But Tabitha did more than just give the widows food, more than care for them, she was with them. She lived with them. She made clothes with them. She shared life with them. I imagine her being among them as Paulina was among the widows of Zimbabwe – listening, hoping, seeing them with new eyes as beautiful, capable people.

Tabitha’s life among the widows gave them great hope. When she died, they felt abandoned and alone. They sent for help. Peter came and prayed and called Tabitha back to life.

God, working through Peter, breathed new life into Tabitha’s way of being with others. God affirmed her ministry, raising her up to continue it. God also said to the widows, “I see you. I am with you; you are not abandoned.”

When we face struggle and loss, it’s so easy to feel abandoned and alone. And, this story can some- times make it even harder because our loved ones aren’t raised from the dead the way Tabitha was. Yet, I think the good news of this story is not so much that Tabitha was raised, but that God saw the widows and said, “I will not leave you alone and forsaken. I am with you now in my servant Tabitha, raised from the dead. And, even after she is gone, I am always with you.”

Tabitha was raised but she didn’t live forever. Her life ended again and she remained dead.

Still after her death, God did not abandon the widows and leave them forsaken. God was with them still through the community of the church. God was with them still through the Holy Spirit that was poured out on the church, the Spirit Jesus promised to send so that the disciples would not be abandoned.

God was with them through the presence of the risen Christ, the Good Shepherd, leading them beside still waters, restoring their souls. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, they were not alone.

Beloved, God is with you in these same ways, as well.

God is present in this community where we can be with each other and for each other like Tabitha and Paulina – where we can share life together. In this community we get to practice seeing each other with the eyes of love and honoring one another as beautiful, capable people. We get to practice listening, encouraging, and hoping. We learn to pay attention to how God is with us through the power of the Spirit and the presence of the risen Christ.

The Spirit poured out on the church is present still with us today, as close to us as our breath. The Spirit is at work to help us use our gifts, to empower us to be with and for other people. The Spirit works in us to lift others up.

God is with us still through the presence of the risen Christ, our Good Shepherd. Our Good Shepherd has led us today to these still waters where we can find rest. He has guided us on the right paths to this place where a table is prepared for us. Even though fear, grief, pain and sorrow stalk, Christ feeds us in the presence of these enemies and pours love overflowing into us.

God is with you. God is for you. You can be with and for others by the power of the Spirit.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer. Amen.

This Week at Good Shepherd, May 13-19, 2019

Tuesday, May 14
8:15 p.m. – Ramadan Meal – Decorah First United Methodist Church

Wednesday, May 15
1:00 p.m. – Prayer Shawl Ministry – Ingrid Callaghan hosts
5:30 p.m. – NO Confirmation Class
8:00 p.m. – Band rehearsal

Thursday, May 16
10:00 a.m.- Bible Study with Pastor Matt Larson, new Visitation Pastor
12:00 p.m. – Centering Prayer
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at Decorah Lutheran

Sunday, May 19 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Jazz Service- New Member Sunday
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion, Blessing Graduates (this Sunday and next)
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m.- Sunday School and Youth Forum Year End Celebration

Sermon for Sunday, May 5, 2019 – “The Story Continues”

Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, I0wa
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.

I really love Superhero movies. So last weekend I was one of millions of people around the world who watched the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Avengers: End Game. I know these movies aren’t for everyone, but I want to tell you about one aspect of them to help us enter our Gospel reading today. No knowledge of Marvel or the Avengers is needed on your part!

This movie was three hours long, and people were warned ahead of time to manage their fluid in- take so as to avoid needing to leave mid-movie. After three intense hours, plus previews, you’d think everyone would rush out of the theater when the movie ended, heading straight to the bath- room. But no, most everyone stayed in their seats waiting for extra movie scenes in the middle or at the end of all the credits. Every other Marvel movie made in the last 11 years has at least one extra scene, sometimes two. Usually these scenes tie in something that happened earlier in the Marvel universe or advanced the arc of the story. They set up what is coming next with great fore- shadowing and cliffhangers.

And since there have been 22 Marvel movies in 11 years, people have been well-trained to expect that little extra fun. People remained seated, waiting for it.

But this most recent movie, Avengers: End Game, has no extra scenes. When the credits end, the lights go on, the movie and the great saga of the Avengers is over. There will be other Marvel mov- ies but many of the beloved characters won’t be in them. Fans have known this was last Avengers movie, but without an extra scene it really hits home. This is it. It’s all over.

As my family’s been talking about the movie all week, I’ve been thinking that our Gospel reading today is a lot like an extra scene after the credits of a movie. It comes after what seems like the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus rises from the dead and appears to his followers three times – to Mary Magdalene and then to the male disciples twice. Three is a good symbolic number; it’s a wrap.

After those resurrection accounts we read: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The end. Roll credits. Time to head to the bathroom.

But then we hear, “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias.” Wait, there’s more. The story isn’t over. What follows works like an end-scene of a Marvel movie. It pulls in a bunch of different themes from the larger story and it sets up what is to come in the story of Jesus that still continues to this day. This is the end of John, not the end of the good news about Jesus, and it points to what is still to come, even now, for us today.

Just about everything that happens in this end-scene connects back to something earlier in the Jesus story. The disciples fish all night and come up empty, their hopes dashed, until Jesus appears on the scene. Once he shows up, there’s abundance and life busting out all over the place.

Something really similar happened three years earlier, the first time these guys met Jesus, when he called them to follow him. In this scene, Jesus feeds the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias with a meal of bread and fish, the same things he used to set a great feast for 5000 hungry people on the same shore earlier in the story.

During Jesus’ life, he was all about feeding and tending people, all about fullness where there was only emptiness, hope when all seemed lost. This end-scene sets us up to expect that this will continue. And beloved it has, it does. The risen Jesus continues to show up for you, even today, in word and song, bread and wine, and his body the church, to feed and nourish you. The risen Jesus comes to you today to fill you and give you hope. There is so much more to your story and to the world’s story than emptiness and despair. Jesus is present and at work in our world – still feeding, tending, providing. There’s another aspect to this end-scene. Jesus prepares a charcoal fire, and it was around a charcoal fire when Simon Peter denied being a disciple of Jesus, three times.

Here Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”, and three times tells Peter to feed and care for his flock of lambs and sheep. As he does this, he assures Peter he is forgiven and restores Peter back into the fold of the disciples. Jesus also charges Peter with continuing his own work. Earlier in the story, Jesus has said that he is the Good Shepherd. Now he tells Peter to do the work of being a good shepherd for his flock. Jesus asks Peter to take the abundance he’s received and share it with others.

Here we see an important way that Jesus still works to feed, tend and provide for the world – he does this through his flawed and forgiven disciples. The story of Jesus continues through them, through us.

Throughout the centuries, Jesus has worked through Peter, Paul, Ananias, John, you and me to feed and tend others, to share hope with a despairing world. I see this life and abundance busting out all over the place around here. We hosted the Path to Citizenship legal clinic here on Friday and we’re part of the Neighbors Helping Neighbors event today to be in solidarity with immigrant neighbors. Our Women of the ELCA organization hosted three joyous, nourishing events in the past three weeks. Our kids just raised $3000 to build wells in rural Africa.

Property and Management and Facilities Improvement Committees are working hard to make sure our building can help us live out our mission and we get to join that today on St. Grubby’s Day. We’ve had amazing music all spring, even with Brooke away, as the band, choir, jazz musicians, organists and pianists have given such rich offerings. The Worship and Music Committee gave us wonderful Holy Week and Easter services. Tuesday we’re providing a late evening meal for Muslim students during Ramadan, and Saturday we will live out the welcome that Jesus has called us to show to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people as we take part in the Decorah Pride Parade. I could go on and on, but you get the point – abundance busting out all over the place.

The story of Jesus is continuing. It does not end; there is always more. In a movie theater when you know there is more to come, you sit there, waiting. That’s not how it works with the story of Jesus. There is always more but we aren’t supposed to stay sitting, waiting for it. We are supposed to get up and join it. We have and we will – together. Here we are fed and nourished. Here we are sent to continue the story.

Thanks be to God.