Sermon for Sunday, September 8, 2019 – “Love Reminders”

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Rally Sunday
September 8, 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.

Jesus tells us to love God and others with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He says this is what God most wants from us and for us. As Jesus describes it, love isn’t just a feeling. It’s a choice and an action. Love involves conscious, active intentional work. Yet, it can be hard to remember to choose love and to live it out.

God knows this. God knows we need real, tangible help with this work. So, God told the people of Israel to put concrete reminders to love on their hands and foreheads, doorposts and gates.

These days we have all sorts of tools to remind us to do things. Some people write notes on their hands; others put post-it notes up everywhere or set alerts on their phones. Kids – many of you probably have checklists at home to remind you of your chores. Wouldn’t it be great if we used those tools to encourage us to love? What if each morning, as everyone’s rushing to get out the door, a daily alert came through that just said LOVE? Would that change the morning? I wonder and I might try that this week.

Yet. even without a post-it note, checklist or phone alert, there are so many concrete things in our lives that can serve as encouragement to practice love.

I see a lot of them around this building. The Reconciling in Christ logo on our doors, for instance – the visible sign that this congregation has intentionally chosen to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and queer people – encourages me to live out that commitment by my actions.

Our new fully accessible bathroom calls to mind this congregation’s long commitment to those with special needs and reminds me that showing love involves concrete action.

As I walk around, I see baskets to collect items for the Food Pantry and supplies for school kits that will be given to children around the world, as well as thank you notes from all the ministries we support through our financial gifts. All serve as good encouragement to live out our faith and love in concrete ways.

When I see Al-Anon, Friends of Recovery, and Narcotics Anonymous groups meeting here, I’m re- minded to love and pray for those who struggle with addiction. And, I’m grateful because lessons from 12-step programs can help us all to love more fully.

When I see the building being used to accompany our immigrant neighbors, I’m reminded that Jesus says if we welcome strangers we welcome him. We love God by loving all of God’s children.

The Kinderhaus preschool that rents our space teaches me what love sounds like. It sounds like singing, laughter, kind words, and teachers who so gently redirect and comfort. Every time I hear those teachers working with a kid, I get a lesson in patience.

And then when you all come on Sundays, I see so many reminders to actively practice love. I see Karl Jacobsen and his therapy dog, Scotty, and I’m reminded to pray and advocate for people with diabetes – especially because insulin and supplies are so terribly expensive right now. I see people who’ve lost loved ones and need us to stay with them for the long haul of grief. I see all your faces and think about the joy and pain you all carry – some of which I am privileged to carry with you.

I’m reminded how much we all need loving, caring community and how much we need help and encouragement to practice love for real people in real time. It’s hard work to keep loving people year after year in community. All the minor annoyances, all the larger disagreements can take a toll. Yet we keep showing up, week after week, to practice love

In so many ways here, we are reminded to live out love of God and love of neighbor.

And here we are given very concrete reminders that we are so very loved by God. We are given bread and wine, Jesus’ body and blood – given so that we will always know God’s love for us deep in our bones. We are given symbols and rituals, words and songs that we can repeat again and again to assure us that God has a hold of us; and God will not let us go.

Then we are sent out to ‘do’ love in the world. It is harder out there because we live in a world that has constant pressure to consume, to compete, and far fewer things that encourage us to love. Yet, still God is at work in our daily lives to get our attention and help us practice love.

God gets my attention through my coffee pot. I’m a morning person and don’t need coffee right when I get up in the morning. Yet, my beloved spouse does appreciate it pretty quickly. He shows love in lots of small acts of kindness and I want to do the same. So, I make it a priority to get the coffee made even if I’m going to wait a while to drink it. The coffee pot reminds me to do small, kind things throughout the day.

God also gets my attention through text messages from friends who send love and support. Those remind me to give those same kinds of messages to my kids.

What helps you to love? What else might serve to encourage you?

Jesus commands us to love God and others with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Here we are given what we need to do that.
Here we are sent out to join God in the work of loving the world.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, September 9-15, 2019

Tuesday, September 10
9:30 a.m. – Anna Circle – at Aase Haugen, all contribute
4:45 p.m. – Education Committee
5:15 p.m. – Worship and Music Committee

Wednesday, September 11
10:00 a.m. – Miriam Circle -Carrie Solberg hosts
10:30 a.m. – Communion at Aase Haugen
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, September 12
12 noon – Centering Prayers

Sunday, September 15 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost
9:30 a.m. – Jazz Worship Servicewith Holy Communion

10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m. – Sunday School and Youth Forum
5:00 p.m. – 10th Annual Welcome Friends and Neighbors Picnic

Memorial Service for John Bale, September 26, 1:00 pm

John Bale, a charter member of Good Shepherd, died peacefully on Monday, September 2. A memorial service will be Thursday, September 26 at 1:00 pm with visitation at 12:00 pm with Pastor Amy Larson officiating. Inurnment will be in Lutheran Cemetery in Decorah.

John is survived by his daughter Ruth Bale Lippincott and her husband Joe of Grand Isle, VT; and his brother Harold Bale of Eagan, MN.  

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to the John and Mabel Bale Scholarship Fund at Luther College, c/o Development Office, 700 College Drive, Decorah, IA 52101 or Good Shepherd Lutheran Church 701 Iowa Ave., Decorah, IA 52101.

An obituary  may be found here.

Blessed be the memory of John Bale. Light perpetual shine upon him, O God, and grant him eternal rest.

Sermon for Sunday, September 1, 2019 – “Altar Table Wisdom”

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 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.

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned at the dinner table: Always start by saying thanks to God – good advice for meals and daily life. Say please a lot, too. Wait ‘til everyone has their food before you eat – ponder that as a life lesson. Don’t take more than you need. Remember the people who pick the strawberries on your table. Share the work – the cook doesn’t do the dishes.

It gets boring if you only talk about the weather, so talk about what really matters.

As a kid I learned lots about politics and religion at the table. Apparently, my family didn’t know you weren’t supposed to talk about those things. Instead, at family meals we learned how to have civil conversations about tough topics. We learned it was important to make a clear argument grounded in facts and crucial to keep an open mind. We learned to ask good questions, to listen more than we spoke.

I’m so grateful for all the manners and life lessons I’ve learned at the dinner table and now try to pass on to my own kids.

Yet I didn’t just learn etiquette and pearls of wisdom. I’ve been shaped as a person by time around the family table – formed by the community, laughter, compassion and wisdom that happens there.

My parents lectured plenty, but they also worked to live out the advice they gave us at the dinner table. My dad showed us that family is a priority by trying to be home in time for supper even as a busy lawyer. My mom welcomed all sorts of interesting characters to our dinner table and so, modeled what it is to be inclusive. Their actions, much more than their words, are what made dinners so formative.

Meals have been formative for the followers of Jesus since Jesus walked the earth 2000 year ago. Then and now, Jesus has used meals to both teach and shape us. So, whether our childhood or cur- rent dinner tables feel life-giving, conflicted or lonely, we all share in a large table fellowship of love and forgiveness.

The Gospels record a number of instances of Jesus teaching during meals. And it’d be easy to think that he’s just imparting wisdom as he teaches. That’s especially true with our reading for today. We often hear this passage as some good advice about how to be humble and not get embarrassed by choosing too lofty a seat, as well as some wise words and the importance of inclusion.

Yet there’s so much more happening here. Jesus doesn’t just lecture and advise. He also lives out everything that he teaches at meals.

So, in our Gospel passage today, when Jesus describes someone choosing the lower place who’s then lifted up, and when he says, “Those who humble themselves will be exalted”, he’s describing the path of his own life.

Jesus chose to leave his high place of honor as part of God’s very self in order to take on human form and experience all our lowliness and humiliations.

As the letter to the Philippians puts it, Jesus was in the very form of God yet did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead, he humbled himself and took on human form, even undergoing death. Jesus willingly took a lower place to come and join us where we are – to experience all the suffering and struggle we go through.

Then God raised him up, exalted him, and gave him a place of honor at God’s right hand. Jesus was raised not for his own glory but to lift up all of humanity – to draw us all into the rich, abundant life God intends for us to know.

Jesus has shared our sufferings and so now we share in his resurrected new life. Jesus embodies his wisdom about humility and exultation, for our sake.

Similarly, when Jesus tells us to invite those who seem unworthy, those who have no way to reciprocate and nothing to offer, he is talking about what he does. Jesus calls us all to his table although we can never be worthy of the invitation, although we can do nothing to repay his generous welcome of us.

Jesus doesn’t just dispense advice at the dinner table, which is good news for us – because his life lessons are pretty demanding and hard to follow.

Thankfully, by his actions, Jesus shapes us into people who can live out the wisdom he gives us. By entering our struggle and raising us up, Jesus makes it possible for us to live with humility, to let go of posturing, pride and vainglory. When we know we are honored and valued by God we don’t have to try to attain status on our own.

In the same way, being welcomed by Jesus to his table is what makes it possible for us to open our tables to others, to include everyone at the feast. Jesus embodies the essential wisdom he shares. He lives it out for our sake.

Jesus gathers us at his table where we are taught and blessed, shaped and formed. Here we are given everything we need. As Jesus lives out the wisdom, compassion and generosity of God for us, for you, here we are made into God’s people.

So, come and eat. And notice, when it’s time for the meal we’ll start, as Jesus did, by saying, thanks. Everything you need is given and lived here for you.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, September 2-8, 2019

Monday, September 2 – Office closed

Tuesday, September 3 – Office closed

Wednesday, September 4
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, September 5
12 noon – Centering Prayers
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at Decorah Lutheran

Sunday, September 8 –13th Sunday after Pentecost – Rally Sunday
8:45 a.m. – Choir Warm-up
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