Sermon for Sunday, November 22, 2020 – “Encountering Jesus”

Christ the King Sunday
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.

When you think about Jesus, what images come to mind for you? Do you picture Jesus smiling while holding a sheep, surrounded by children, teaching on a mountainside, walking across the water? Does your mind go to a beloved stained glass window or a painting behind an altar? Those all are powerful images of Jesus, but they only tell part of the story.

Now call to mind;

  • a homeless person with a sign asking for food,
  • a child with a distended belly in a refugee camp,
  • an undocumented immigrant with fear in her eyes,
  • or a prisoner on death row.

Hold those pictures in your mind for a while because they, too, are images of Jesus. In this parable today, Jesus makes it clear that when we look at the face of a person in need, we glimpse Jesus’ face as well. It can be startling to envision Jesus this way.

In the past decade, sculptures of a homeless Jesus have been unsettling people throughout North America. These sculptures, created by artist Timothy Schmalz, look just like a homeless man lying under a blanket on a park bench. The only way you can tell it’s Jesus is by the nail marks on the feet. There are now a number of these sculptures on display outside churches around the world.

They’ve been met with mixed reviews. When the statue was first placed outside an Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina, one local woman who saw it at dusk thought it was a real homeless person. She called the police to report the presence of a vagrant in the neighborhood.

She was even more upset when she learned what the statue really was. “Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help,” she said. “We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.”

The people in our parable today were also surprised by the thought that Jesus could be in need. Those who served others were shocked to learn they’d really been helping Jesus. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?” Those who had ignored others had no idea that they were neglecting Jesus. They didn’t recognize Jesus in the marginalized and vulnerable.

What do we expect Jesus to look like?

The religion of popular culture tells us that Jesus is a nice, respectable, all-powerful miracle worker who meets our own personal needs. It tells us that if we’re nice and good and trust in a nice, gentle savior, then our lives will be nice and easy. But then Jesus shows up and startles us with who he really is and what a Christian life really looks like. And, it turns out this is truly good news for us and our world. If Jesus and a life following Jesus were just about being nice and good, then the Christian life would have little to do with a world that can be so ugly and painful, so in need of healing and new life.

And, if Jesus was just about miracles to make life happy and easy, then anytime things weren’t working out for us or for others we might think it was because God had abandoned us, abandoned them. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t calmly smile at our world and say, there, there now, I’ll make it all better, go be nice. Instead, Jesus enters fully into all of what it means to be human, all the pain and suffering of our world.

Jesus of Nazareth was born as a vulnerable baby to poor parents who had to give him an animal’s feeding trough as a bed. His first two years he lived as a refugee fleeing from the jealous, murderous King Herod. He spent his ministry as an itinerant homeless preacher who had no place to lay his head. He spent his last days beaten, tortured and killed as an enemy of the state.

God then raised Jesus from the dead to be seated in honor and glory. Even still, Jesus promises to be found in the places of brokenness where people are hungry, thirsty, naked, alone and in prison. Jesus promises to always be with and for those who are the least and the lowly in our world. Jesus is where things are the hardest. And, Jesus calls us all to be there with him as well. The Christian life is one of following Jesus into the pain and brokenness of the world and offering healing, life- giving love. Jesus has entered fully into our deep need and brokenness. This shows us that God has not abandoned us in our pain and suffering. God is present in it. God is working new life in the midst of all of it.

And that’s hard. Of course, COVID makes it harder to know how to do these things Jesus calls us in- to, but the larger issue is that we’d so often rather avoid all the messiness of our own and other’s pain. We’d rather not go there. We worry that we don’t have enough time, energy, or love to really serve others and so we miss out on what truly sustains and feeds us – encounters with Jesus who is present in the needs of the world.

We, who have so much more privilege and material wealth than the least and the lowly in our world, have our own kind of poverty – a poverty of love, a poverty of Spirit that keeps us from really staying present to the needs of the world. We can and do opt out of caring, serving and working for justice.

So, thanks be to God, Jesus goes where there is poverty of any kind. Jesus is present in all the places where life is hardest, including our own hearts. We encounter Jesus not only in the needs of the world but also through word and sacrament and the body of Christ on earth. Jesus comes to us today to disturb and convict us, to forgive us, to feed and nourish us, and to send us out in service to a hurting world. Jesus comes to assure us that we have been claimed as God’s beloved children.

Because of Christ Jesus, we are God’s people, we are the sheep of God’s pasture. A place with God has been prepared for us and we have been given eternal life.

When we hear language about the eternal, we often think about what happens after we die. Yet, when Jesus talks about “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” in our parable today, that language is also about the quality of our life now, how we experience our life now. Jesus frees us from the punishing hell we experience when we live with poverty of love and Spirit, a hardness of heart, and selfishness.

Jesus gives us eternal life, a life in which we are fed by Jesus’ abundant love and prepared to be people of mercy and compassion. Jesus prepares a place for us with God. With this assurance that we have a place with God, we can “go there” when things are hard rather than opting out. We can be present to the pain of this world, trusting we have a savior who is there working new life.

Beloved of God,
Through Christ Jesus you are a sheep of God’s pasture, there is a place for you in God’s kingdom, you are given eternal life now and always. You can follow Jesus in all things, receiving and sharing the abundance of mercy and compassion that this world so needs.

Let’s take a moment of silent prayer. 

Sermon for Sunday, November 15, 2020 – “From Outrage into Community”

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
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.

Before we begin, I should probably make it very clear that I did not choose these readings for this Stewardship Sunday. This Sunday, like every Sunday, we’re using the assigned readings for the day from the larger church’s common set of readings called the lectionary.

The lectionary helps keep preachers and congregations honest. We don’t get to just pick the readings we like, the ones that make us feel good, that reinforce what we already think. Today is a perfect example. I would have chosen texts that were a lot less angry, especially given what things are like in the US right now.

I’m feeling so weary of all the anger in our country, all the outrage around me and within me. I know so many of you share this weariness. Certainly, there are many reasons to be angry. And anger isn’t necessarily bad – it can provide focus and energy to address problems. Yet, right now it feels like we’re just stuck in outrage. There is such a focus on angrily calling people out for what they do wrong. This “call out” culture increases negativity and polarization. It can also leave us paralyzed – afraid to act or speak lest we do something that will provoke the outrage of others. Instead of calling each other out, I long for us to call each other in – into dialogue, into community where we can offer our gifts and work together for the common good.

Our scripture readings today speak to both being called out and called in.

In the reading from the prophet Zephaniah, God does call us out and convict us. God says, “I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.’ ” God also says, “I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the Lord, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.” All that makes your friend’s angry Facebook posts sound like Mr. Rogers in comparison.

Scripture shows us that God does get angry because God is passionate about how we live together here on earth. God wants shalom for all. Shalom is a beautiful Hebrew word that means well-being, peace and justice for all of creation. God gets angry when human sin prevents shalom. We shouldn’t get complacent and assume that God is uninvolved, unimpacted by what we do. God cares deeply. God is passionate, a word that at root means to suffer. Scripture shows a God who suffers because of our sin.[1] And, God convicts us when we are lazy, complacent or complicit. That is good news for all who are oppressed.

Yet God doesn’t just call us out. In Jesus we see that our passionate God has chosen to be compassionate, a word that means to be with the suffering of others. God has entered into this world of sin and injustice to be with us, to call us in – into loving relationship, into life-giving community. In that relationship, in this community, God pours out faith, hope, love, joy and forgiveness. We are given all that we need to increase God’s shalom in the world and experience it ourselves.

In this way, God is like the Master in the gospel parable today who entrusts his workers with all his property, all that he owns. Each worker gets a major gift, one talent was equivalent to fifteen years of wages.

They don’t all get the same amount, but they all have major resources available to them. God also entrusts us with resources, talents, abundant gifts. We each have been given so much to make our world whole. God expects us to use these gifts, to invest ourselves in the world, to take risks for the sake of the world God so loves.

Yet, one of the workers in the parable chooses not to do anything with what he’s been given. Rather than gratefully receiving his gift and getting to work, he hides it. Rather than putting the gift to work, he ruminates about the master’s temperament and the situation. Perhaps he gets fixated on why he only got one talent rather than five, and feels sorry for himself. Maybe he thinks he doesn’t have enough for himself or enough to make a difference. Maybe he feels put upon by being asked to do something more when he feels like he’s already done enough. He confesses to a fear of not measuring up to the master’s expectations, that fear of being called out for doing something wrong that we know all too well.

I get all of these things. I’ve been to all those dark places; sometimes I go to each of them many times a day. But when I go to any of those places of fear, jealousy, inadequacy or avoidance, I miss out on entering into the joy God gives and on the chance to participate with God in making the world more just, more well. I find myself stuck in darkness, weeping, gnashing my teeth – outraged and despairing about the state of the world and my own heart. What little hope I did have is taken away.

But God does not leave me there.

God doesn’t leave us stuck in these places. God does not leave us buried. Our compassionate God continues to call us out from all the things that trap us, all the dark places we hide. God continues to call us into abundant life with Christ and into Christian community. God goes even further than calling us in, God actually draws us into the joy of God’s presence even when we are prone to resist. And, God continues to pour out the resources of faith, hope, love, joy and forgiveness into our hearts. Day after day, week after week in worship, God calls us out, draws us in, and pours out abundance upon us.

All of this allows us to be compassionate, hopeful, peaceful people in this difficult time. As people who have been convicted and forgiven, called out and drawn in, we have what we need to move beyond out- rage to enter into dialogue and relationships with others. We have what we need to offer ourselves to this world, working for God’s justice and God’s shalom.

Beloved of God, you who live with and among fear and outrage and despair, you are loved, you are held, you are claimed by our compassionate God.

You can invest in this world. You can be with and for others even when they are angry and unhelpful. You can give freely of yourself for this world that God so loves.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

[1]To read more about this, consider Terrance Fretheim’s book: The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Fortress   Press, 1984.

Sermon for Sunday, November 8, 2020 – “Let Your Light Shine”

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, IowaRev. 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.

I am troubled by this parable. And I wonder, is this the message we need today at such a difficult time for our country? I wonder why the wise bridesmaids refuse to share with the foolish ones who’ve run out of oil. That doesn’t seem very Christlike. And why is the bridegroom so harsh, re- fusing to allow the foolish bridesmaids into the party just because they ran out of oil? Why does he say, I do not know you? Is God’s kingdom really like this?

I’d like to rewrite this parable with a happier ending. I see two options. The wise bridesmaids could say, “There’s always enough for everyone, of course we’ll share, and all the bridesmaids could go into the party together.” Or, the bridegroom could say to the foolish ones, “Hey, no problem that you’re out of oil; you’re good, come on into the party.”

I wish the parable would unfold in one of those ways. Yet, as we’re seeing all too often in 2020, things don’t always go the way we would like. That’s why we need parables, especially now.

Jesus’ parables aren’t intended to be fairy tales with happily ever after endings. They aren’t intended to be morality tales with good guys and bad guys. They are intended to get under our skin, to trouble and disrupt us, and invite us to live differently.

This particular parable invites us to live differently in times of waiting and times when things don’t go as we’d like. So, maybe it is especially helpful at this time in our life in the US. Matthew shared this parable with his community in a tumultuous, uncertain time. It was expecting Jesus to come again and bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He had promised to return, but it had been waiting for about 70 years for that to happen. In the meantime, the oppressive Roman

Empire had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and crushed the spirits of the people. There was also deep conflict between Matthew’s community and its Jewish siblings in faith. Things were not good and Jesus had yet not come back – not in the way they had expected him.

How long would they have to wait? Would things ever get better? How could they remain hopeful, ready to participate in God’s coming kingdom of mercy and justice? Into that context, Matthew shared Jesus’ parable about the bridesmaids.

Ten bridesmaids go out with lamps to meet a bridegroom and enter with him into a wedding banquet. He is delayed. The night grows long and dark. They all grow weary of waiting and fall asleep.

Yet, five wise bridesmaids have prepared for his arrival with hopeful expectation and a sense of urgency. They have enough oil to let their light shine even through a long, dark night. Five foolish bridesmaids have been complacent. They haven’t bothered with preparations. When the bride- groom appears, the foolish bridesmaids demand that the others share with them. They act entitled and arrogant. Later they demand that the bridegroom lets them in though they are not prepared, that he gives them special treatment.

This year, this parable is inviting me to reflect on how we live in times of waiting and uncertainty.

How can we remain hopeful and ready to participate in God’s coming kingdom? How can we pray and work for this kingdom to come with both patience and a sense of urgency? How can we avoid acting complacent, entitled, arrogant? What will we do when we feel empty and depleted? How will we let light shine in long, dark nights?

These are questions we each need to ask. This is work we all must do. We each are called to internal and external work for the sake of God’s kingdom. Yet we do not do this alone. Christ comes to us, even now, through the power of the word, through the sacraments, through the body of Christ on earth to give us what we need. We don’t have to wait ‘til the end of time for Christ to come.

Christ comes to us today to show us how empty we are on our own and to empower us to live anew.

Christ comes to convict us of our sin.
We can’t assume we’re all good, that we have what we need on our own.
We can’t put blame on others.
We can’t demand special treatment.
We need to acknowledge that we are depleted, weary, in need.
We need Christ to forgive and renew us.

And that is just what Christ does. Christ meets us, meets you today to say: You are forgiven, you are known and welcomed, enter into God’s presence, there is a place for you at God’s everlasting feast of mercy and justice. We experience this ongoing feast even now through word and sacrament and the body of Christ on earth. We are fed and nourished. We are given the fuel we need to let light shine in long, dark nights. Christ meets us here and now to give us what we need to be expectant, hopeful participants in God’s work of mercy and justice.

Right now, it can be harder for us to sense that Christ comes to meet us when we are gathering for worship in an online space, when many of us are fasting from Holy Communion to guard health during the pandemic. It can be so easy to feel alone, depleted and weary.

I want to offer you an image to help you picture Christ’s presence with us all right now.

Last Sunday some members and friends of Good Shepherd gathered for an All Saints Day service. In advance of the worship, many of us gathered to prepare. We lit candles. We prepared a table for Holy Communion. Our preparations were ending as the sun was setting. As the darkness gathered, I looked and saw people streaming up the sidewalk. They were physically distanced and yet they were all moving toward the light, toward the table. As I took it all in – the body of Christ, the lamps, the feast – I had a powerful sense that Christ was meeting us there to welcome us all, to feed us, to empower us to bear light in this dark time. I had a sense that we were all there together, even those of you who could not be physically present. We were there together as the whole communion of saints on earth and in heaven.

We left the candles burning for others to see later as they drove or walked by. Many took pictures of the luminaries and candles shining brightly on the sidewalk so that we could give you all a taste of this during online worship today.

Beloved of God, we are not alone as we wait for God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. We can pray and live and work with urgency and hopeful expectation.

We can let our light shine.

Sermon for Sunday, November 1, 2020 – “Grief Is a Thin Place”

All Saints Sunday
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.

All Saints Sunday is a day that holds so much – so much grief and hope, longing and promise. In many ways, it is a thin place. Celtic Christians use the term “thin place” to describe places and times where the boundary between heaven and earth feels more permeable, when we experience God more fully.

On All Saints Day we enter into the thin and mysterious spaces between life and death, between what is and what is yet to come. All Saints Day allows us to linger in the mystery: to honor our grief even as we practice hope and to experience the presence of the whole communion of saints – that great cloud of witnesses from every time and place who surround us always.

On most All Saints Sundays, there are particular ways we enter into this thin place and linger in mystery. We see the faces of beloved saints around us in the pews and join our voices with them in song. We are surrounded by candles reminding us of saints who’ve gone before and newly baptized saints. We share in holy communion, gathered with the saints around the throne, the choirs of angels and all the hosts of heaven, and we join in their unending hymn singing holy, holy, holy God.

We share a foretaste of the feast to come. Then we go sit at tables in the Fellowship Hall and share in a wonderful feast of coffee, tea, fruit, cheese, nuts and sweets. I miss all that with an ache I feel deep in my bones. I am guessing that you do, too. All Saints Day is a good day for paying attention to that aching, that longing to be together in the flesh with those we can’t see during the pandemic and with those who have died.

I don’t know who you are missing today on this All Saints Sunday. I am missing my mom Ann Lee, my dad Bob, my dear friend Sarah, and so many saints of Good Shepherd. I am missing their laughter, the sound of their voices, the twinkles in their eyes, the jokes and stories they told. I am missing all of you and wishing we were together in a shared physical space. I don’t know who you are missing today, but it is a holy thing for us to pause and pay attention to their names … to the empty places they left in our lives … to the ache we still carry in our hearts and in our chests.

I want you to hold the ache you feel today, that longing to be with those who are distant now be- cause of the pandemic, that longing for those saints you love who have entered the church triumphant. Hold that ache and know that it, too, is a thin place, a place to experience God. Let yourself feel it and hear these words of blessing for you. Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be com- forted. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled. Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading today show us that it is in our times of brokenness, need, and grief that we most fully meet God. These times of sorrow are thin places, places where we can deeply experience God’s presence with us.

That is good news for us now in this very difficult fall of 2020. We who are poor in spirit, who mourn our loved ones and so many lost to COVID; we who feel meek, cowed by brute force of the pandemic, polarization, and violence; we who long for things to be different, who are hungering and thirsting for that; we are met in these very places by God. We are blessed in these places not because they are such enviable places to be, but because God is present with us there and God’s presence is the deepest blessing. God’s presence with us in our pain heals us and transforms us into people who can be a blessing for others – into people who are merciful, pure in heart, peace-makers who are able to endure suffering and even persecution for the sake of God’s righteousness.

Blessed are you dear ones, for God is with you. You are not alone. God is present and you are accompanied by the whole communion of saints, by a great cloud of witnesses who surround you and help you to run with perseverance the race set before you. When I picture that cloud of wit- nesses cheering us on, I call to mind a beautiful image from my own life. I picture a day that I spent with my mom and my son Nate when he was a toddler. Nate and I had gone to visit my parents while my husband Matt was away training to be a national guard chaplain. I’d been solo parenting for a long stretch and was hoping to go for a short run; but Nate was already missing his dad and did not want me out of his sight. He didn’t even want to be in the jogging stroller because he could- n’t see me pushing the stroller from behind.

My mom suggested we all go together to a park where she and Nate could sit together and watch me run in circles near them. She sat beside him in his stroller and got him excited about cheering for me as I ran. “Go mama go, go mama go,” they’d yell. When I’d get to the far edge of the circle Nate’s voice would get a little panicky, like he wasn’t sure he could trust that mama would come back. Then my mom would yell with even more joy and energy, “Go mama go.” She helped him to know that I was there even when it was harder to see me.

A few months after this my mom died suddenly. For weeks I felt like a panicked toddler who didn’t want my mama to be out of my sight. The ache in my chest was so great it almost took my breath away. But then one day I went out running and the panicked, achy feeling I got reminded me of that day with Mom and Nate. I could hear her and see her cheering for me. I realized she is still doing that as part of the great cloud of witnesses. I felt God beside me helping me to trust that, even when it is hard for me to see it.

The pain became a thin place, a place to experience the presence of God and the presence of the whole communion of saints. This is still true today. That ache in my chest opens me to know that God is present and that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. It opens me to receive God’s blessings and let them flow through me to others.

Beloved of God,

You are not alone. God is with you and you are surrounded by the whole communion of saints. They cheer you on as you run your race. God comes beside you to help you to trust this even when it is hard to see. God meets you in the ache and the mystery of this day to assure you that you are blessed by the presence of God. God meets you in the ache and pain of this time to assure you that you are blessed by the presence of God.

That blessing transforms you, and transforms us, to be people who are blessings for this whole hurting world. We don’t have to feel strong and prepared and on top of things in order to be a healing and helpful presence in these difficult days. Instead, the sorrow and emptiness we feel open us to receive God’s blessings, to let God’s blessings flow through us.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

Sermon for Sunday, October 25, 2020 – “God’s Beautiful Conspiracy”

Reformation Sunday – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
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.

You will know the truth and the truth will make you free, says Jesus.

Questions about what really is “the truth” are all around us these days. We live in a time when basic facts are up for debate, when opinion carries more weight than research, when conspiracy theories and actual conspiracies run rampant.

These days “truthiness” seems to be the guiding principle. “Truthiness” is a term coined by comedian Stephen Colbert in his satirical TV show The Colbert Report. “Truthiness” is all about what seems and sounds right to me. It isn’t based upon facts but upon opinions and political persuasion.

It’s easy to mock other people for ascribing to “truthiness”, especially when you watch Colbert. It’s easy to think those other people do that, but we know the truth. We want to imagine that we are more rational and logical, that we are more thoughtful.

Yet all of us are susceptible to confirmation bias – the tendency to pay attention to things that uphold our own positions and ignore things that challenge them. We search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that supports our ideas. A neighbor who thinks dogs are inherently dangerous sees a vicious dog attacking an innocent person. Another neighbor, who loves dogs, sees the dog defending a family against a menacing stranger. Confirmation bias shapes what they see. If you assume someone is angry at you, you’ll interpret all their actions in that light, finding numerous ways to confirm your bias. “She hasn’t responded, I must have done something wrong”, when really, she’s just busy. Confirmation bias affects how we consume media, interact with social media, respond in the workplace, engage in politics and more. We fall into the sin of thinking we are superior to those who hold different positions. We fear others who are different from us be- cause of our bias and prejudice. We get entrenched, entrapped and enslaved by all this, stuck in judgements, fear and anger. This sin prevents us from loving and serving our neighbor and God’s creation. We need to be set free for lives of love and service.

Jesus promises that we will know the truth and the truth will make us free.

Yet, if truth is presented in just an abstract form as a set of propositions that we can accept or reject, that doesn’t really help us. That just leaves us stuck in our own faulty thinking, bias, and desire to be in control. We need something to break through to us, to free us from sin. We and all of creation need to be set free from the power of sin.

God knows this and so God has begun a conspiracy. Yes, a conspiracy. Our triune God conspires to free this world from bondage to sin. Conspire comes from the Latin word conspirare which means to breathe together. Con means with/together and spirare means breath. To conspire means to join together so closely that you are breathing together toward a common goal. It doesn’t have to be a nefarious goal, though that’s the connotation the word has taken on in modern times. It is about breathing together towards a shared purpose. This is what our triune God does within God’s self and with us. God, within God’s self, is relationship and community among the three persons of the Trinity. The three are joined so closely together that one way to describe God is as a beautiful conspiracy, a beautiful breathing together toward the goal of freeing creation from bondage to sin.

God does not have a nefarious goal, but God is disruptive. God intends to break through all that traps and enslaves in order to free, renew and recreate. God is, at heart, the most beautiful conspiracy. God is the truth that sets us free. And, God draws us into this conspiracy, into breathing together with our triune God so that we and all creation might be set free from sin. God doesn’t just give us a bunch of propositions about truth that we can accept or reject.

Instead, God has come in Jesus to breathe with us, to join with us in being human, to be bound up in all of it with us. Jesus has taken on all our sin, all that traps us, all that keeps us separated from God and Jesus has broken its power. Now nothing can separate us from God. Not sin, not death, nothing in all creation can separate us from God, for God has shared in all of it with us. Sin and death seemed to prevail when Jesus was crucified, but God broke their power, raising Jesus to new life and setting us free for new lives of love and service. Though sin and death are still present for now, they do not define us, they do not have the power to keep us from God and neighbor. God, in Christ Jesus, draws us into life-giving relationship with God and one another

God also pours out upon us the power of the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God. The Spirit dwells and breathes in us. By the power of the Spirit, we are drawn into conspirare, into breathing together with God.

Beloved of God, in these difficult days there are so many troubling realities, so many nefarious conspiracies. Yet as Psalm 46 assures us, we need not fear. Our triune God is with us and always at work. Listen to this Psalm again and hear how God, the most beautiful conspiracy, works to break the power of sin, to be present, to bring saving help.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea;
though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be shaken;
God shall help it at the break of day.
The nations rage, and the kingdoms shake;

God speaks, and the earth melts away.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Come now, regard the works of the LORD,
what desolations God has brought upon the earth;
behold the one who makes war to cease in all the world;
who breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

In this Psalm, God speaks to us to say, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still and breathe and know that God is always working, conspiring to free, renew and recreate each of us, all of creation, and you.

God, who is truth, who is the most beautiful conspiracy, sets you free. Breathe in this good news whenever you feel afraid and overwhelmed in the days to come. You are set free to breathe with God, to love, to serve.

Let’s take a moment to breathe and pray together.