Niina Rebassoo, Charter Member, Obituary

Charter Member NIINA REBASSOO, 97, died on Saturday, January 11, Washington. She was a longtime Decorah resident and taught German at school until retiring in 1984. Her young family arrived in the U.S in 1949 refugees. She is survived by her sons, Peep, Vaho, and Arvi. Her husband taught mathematics at Luther College until his death in 1971. Blessed be the life of Niina Rebassoo.  A full obituary may be found here or in the Decorah newspapers.

Obituary for Grace C. Erickson, 10-20-1919 – 1-10-2020

The obituary for long-time Good Shepherd member Grace C. Erickson (October 20, 1919-January 10, 2020) is posted on the Fjelstul Funeral Home website and can be found at this link.  Memorial Services will be held April 25, 2020, at 11:00 am.  Blessed be the life of Grace Erickson.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to Aase Haugen, 4 Ohio St., Decorah, IA, 52245, or Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 701 Iowa Ave., Decorah, IA, 52245.

Sermon for Sunday, January 12, 2020 – “Signs of New Creation”

Baptism of Our Lord – First Sunday after Epiphany
Haiti Remembrance Service
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.

In her book, A Witness, Renee Splichal Larson reports that when Haitians speak of the earthquake they say, “Everyone lost someone, and some lost everyone … some people lost their entire families, including their houses and whatever future they had planned.” This great loss of life was caused not only by the severe earthquake but by chronic issues facing Haiti after centuries of colonialism and oppression, racism, poverty and climate change.

Today we remember and we lament.

Today we also lament with dear Tabita and her family, with all who grieve Mary Herman, Dylan Delany, Spencer Douglas, Grace Erickson, and those killed in the Ukrainian jetliner shot down over Iran. We also lament over escalating tensions in the Middle East, the plight of refugees, children detained on our southern border, and so much more.

There is so much that is so wrong in our world. We lament and bring this all to you, O God. We long for your saving help; we long for you to make things right.

As we lament and pray, we need to pay attention when Jesus tells how all righteousness will be fulfilled – that is, how things will be made right in our world.

What Jesus says about this in our Gospel reading today is really surprising. Jesus says that he needs to be baptized by John in order to fulfill all righteousness, that his baptism is part of the way that God is making things right in the world. How can that be? How can one baptism make things right?

It appears that John is surprised by all this as well. John also longs for God’s righteousness and justice. Just before Jesus’ baptism he rages against all that is wrong with the world. He attacks the religious leaders saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

John calls people into a baptism for repentance. And he says that Jesus is coming to make things right, that Jesus will come with a winnowing fork to separate the wheat and the chaff and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. John seems to think Jesus is going to come in a bold, angry way to set things right. Yet just after all that, Jesus shows up to undergo John’s baptism for repentance. When John objects to this, Jesus says, “Let it be so now”, and explains in this way all righteousness is fulfilled.

Instead of coming with vengeance and power, Jesus wades deep into the River Jordan. As he does,

Jesus wades deep into our human condition with all its misery, sin and suffering. There Jesus stands with all of us who are in need of mercy and healing and new life. He takes on our humanity fully and completely, even receiving a baptism for repentance.

And this is just the beginning. Right after his baptism, Jesus is sent into the wilderness to undergo temptation and testing. As his ministry continues he suffers, feels forsaken, and is killed.

In Jesus, God stoops down to meet us where we are, descending deeply into what it means to be human, even unto death itself.

In Jesus, God becomes one with us. God takes on everything that could separate us from God, everything that is wrong with the world. Beloved, there is truly nothing that can separate you from God. God shares in it all with you.

But that’s not all. Jesus also enters into the waters, into the world, to raise up a new creation from the waters of the old. Jesus enters deeply into our world to transform it and all of us from within, to make all things new.

Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of this new creation. In the very beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters and God spoke creation into being. So, too, in Jesus’ baptism the Spirit moves over the waters and God speaks a new creation declaring, “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

These words echo God’s ancient promise spoken of a servant who will bring a new creation not with power and might but by entering human suffering, a promise spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

Jesus, God’s suffering servant, is the one who will bring justice and righteousness, who will make all things new.

God’s new creation has begun in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and is now breaking into our world. It can be so hard to see this, but there are signs and glimpses of it everywhere. We see them in the hope and resilience of the people of Haiti, in the music offered last night in a glorious con- cert and this morning, in the way the Decorah community is supporting Tabita and her family. Here today there are signs and glimpses of God’s new creation in bread and wine and water and in each of us.

We are all drawn into God’s new creation through baptism and holy communion. Through bread and water and the word, God speaks a new creation into being over each of us, saying, “You are my beloved child in whom I delight. Your sins are forgiven. You are raised to new life. I am with you forever and nothing will separate you from my love.”

We are drawn into God’s new creation through these sacraments and we too are made into signs of this new creation for the sake of the world.

As we hear in the prophet Isaiah …5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretch- ed them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people up- on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
We become signs of the presence and promise of God, signs that God is at work to make all things new.

This is how Ben Splichal Larson lived and died – as a sign of God’s presence and promise in the world.

When he died Ben’s family wrote this about him: “As an infant Benjamin Judd Ulring Splichal Larson was wrapped in the arms of God in the waters of baptism, and from those waters his life was an outpouring of love and joy, laughter and play, music and song, in response to God first loving Ben.”

Even as Ben died, he was singing of God’s presence and promise in the world. Even in his death, he helps us to see the new creation that God is bringing about through us for the sake of the whole creation. So today, we lament and we sing. For our Hymn of the Day today we will join the song Ben sang as he died; we’ll join our voices with his as witnesses to what God is doing in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God for Ben’s witness.
Thanks be to God for each of us, each of you, who are drawn into God’s new creation through baptism and holy communion.

You too are signs of God’s presence and God’s promise.

You are how God is making all things right, all things new.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, January 13-19, 2020

Tuesday, January 14
9:30 a.m. – Anna Circle – Jane Borelli hosts
4:00 p.m.- Council Agenda Planning
4:45 p.m. – Education Committee

Wednesday, January 15 – Annual Reports Due
1:00 p.m. – Prayer Shawl Ministry – Ingrid Callahan hosts
5:00 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir rehearsal
8:00 p.m. – Band rehearsal

Thursday, January 16
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with Pr. Amy
5:00 p.m. – Decorah Community Meal at Decorah Lutheran

Friday, January 17
11:00 a.m. – Stewardship Committee Meeting

Sunday, January 19 – Second Sunday after Epiphany
8:45 a.m. – Choir Warmup
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:45 a.m. – Sunday School/Youth Forum
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – Budget Meeting – Preparation for the Annual Meeting

Sermon for Sunday, January 5, 2020 – “No Excuse Sunday”

Epiphany Sunday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Pr. Tom Buresh

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

So, tomorrow is January 6 which is the day of Epiphany. Today, the Second Sunday after Christmas, is Epiphany Sunday. The word Epiphany comes from Greek and means ‘to show’, referring to Jesus being revealed to the world. It marks a visit to the baby Jesus by Three Kings or Wise Men or Magi. The three Kings, from what I read, represented Europe, Arabia and Africa. Epiphany is celebrated twelve days after Christmas, so thus on January 6.

So, I could go on and on about the facts about Epiphany. In fact, I found ten facts about it that I could share but am not, so you can look them up yourself if you want. Instead, I decided to go quite a different direction concerning the wise men. I have always been amazed about how pastors choose what to talk about from a scripture reading. If I was out in the congregation today and listening to my sermon, I am sure I would be thinking, “Wow, how did he come up with that idea!” Well I did, so this morning I want to talk about what excuses the Magi might have given to King Herod as to why they went home a different way – kind of. Really, I want to talk about excuses in general. In fact, I would like, with permission from Pastor Amy of course, to declare today “No Excuse Sunday”.

(The ushers passed out “No Excuse” signs.)

Yes, I would like to talk about excuses today as we start another new year. You know, all those New Year’s Resolutions everyone makes, well some of you make anyway. It doesn’t take long to find excuses for not keeping them, does it? But for me, after teaching school for 33 years, when I think of excuses, I think of all the excuses I heard for not having homework done or even not coming to class. My favorite is a letter from a parent- Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.

Then, when I became a pastor after retiring from teaching, I started hearing excuses for not coming to church. The music isn’t their style. Not a good service time. Kids are fussy in church. Just too busy. Just to name a few. So today, please raise your banner high to help me declare today to be “No Excuse Sunday”. Now, I know that I am “preaching to the choir”, as they say, because all of you are here. But yet, that is exactly why I am preaching to you, because you are here, you are the choir that sings and prays and worships God in church most Sundays. And, YOU are the ones who care about Good Shepherd Lutheran Church! But, most importantly, since other people aren’t here, well, you are the ones who need to carry today’s message to them.

Let me tell you a little story that I love to tell about a little country church about 35 miles southwest of here. It’s the church my wife, Connie, grew up in and we were married in. Anyway, the foundation of the old church was getting bad so it was fix it or build a new one. You know the saying, “build it and they will come!“ Well, they built a new one and people came and came and came. Why? Because the members asked others to come and join them. It wasn’t the pastor, Dan Christensen, who invited them. It was the members who did. I have filled its pulpit a few times and 30-some kids came up to the children’s time.

As you might expect, my message is not just about inviting others to Good Shepherd, although that is certainly part of it. The message is also about the excuses we give for not doing lots of things – like following God’s call to us. So, what’s your excuse? We all have them. Certainly our ancestors in the faith had their excuses. Moses is high on the list. He kept coming up with excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t follow what God was asking him to do. Who am I that I should go? I am not a very good speaker. What if they don’t listen to me? Oh Lord, just please send someone else!

Or how about Jonah? When God asked Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, Jonah ran the opposite direction to try and get out of it. He ended up in the belly of a big fish before he realized it would have been easier to just do God’s will. Just one more example you may not be as familiar with – Jeremiah was a young boy when he was called by God. Of course, Jeremiah used youth as an excuse. “I’m only a boy, I’m too young!”, he told God. I guess in a way, we can’t blame him. Besides that, the ministry God is calling him to is one that will start with destruction, long before he will get a chance to build, which he does.

So, what is your excuse? What excuse do you give instead of following God with YOUR life? – too old, tired, poor, busy, weak, scared, bashful, depressed, angry, overwhelmed, too …? Ephesians 1:4, which is in the lectionary for today, not for Jan 6 which we used today, tells us that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Yes, Moses, Jonah and Jeremiah were all called before they were even formed in the womb. And you know what, so are you and I. God has a purpose and God has a plan for each of us. And, it is a plan that when we say yes to God, Jesus promises to help us along the way. And better yet, promises us an abundant life both now and into eternity.

So, what happens when we say, yes? When Moses finally said yes, he helped to form the 12 disorganized tribes into the nation of Israel. After Jonah rode in the belly of a fish and finally said yes, his preaching was so effective that the whole city of Nineveh repented! And when Jeremiah said yes, he helped guide the southern kingdom of Judah through its exile in Babylon and gave it the vision of a new covenant from God. Yep, here we are, the “choir”. What is God calling us to do? And then, when God calls, and I truly believe God has called or will call each and every one of us, what excuse might you use to stop you from saying “yes” to God? Maybe you need a brother to walk along with you like Aaron did with Moses. Fine, use one! Do you need to ride in the belly of a fish for a while before you say “yes”? Well, go ahead and jump in!

So in closing, as we think back to this past Advent season, it almost seems like someone must have given a “no excuse” sign to several people involved – to Mary, to Joseph, to the innkeeper, to the shepherds, to the Magi. And now today. Today is our turn! Today is our turn to listen to what God has to say to us and then if we become hesitant to follow that call, remember, “No Excuses!”