Sermon for Sunday, September 23, 2018 – “Ask Questions!”

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 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.

“[The disciples] did not understand what Jesus was saying but were afraid to ask him.” Why? Jesus was their teacher. He was always asking questions; surely, he’d welcome theirs. Why didn’t they just ask?

Rather than seeking understanding, they started arguing about who was the greatest.

Those two parts of their story might seem disconnected. First, they didn’t get what Jesus was saying; then later, they started arguing. But I imagine one thing led to the other.

Think about how vulnerable we feel when we don’t understand something. It’s really uncomfortable. We don’t want to be seen as uninformed, confused, clueless. So, we remain silent. Or, we try to make ourselves look good and, maybe even, tear other people down.

I imagine that’s what happened with the disciples. They didn’t get what was Jesus was saying, felt vulnerable and didn’t like it. So, they started squabbling and posturing and positioning themselves.

They’d fit right in with 21st century talk radio and cable news channels. They’d find themselves right at home in so many of our conversations.

With all the challenges facing our world today, we so often feel driven to prove ourselves and our arguments, to defend ourselves and attack others. We stand our ground, draw lines in the sand and demonize those on the other side. Or, we just want to put our heads in the sand and hide from it all.

Yet, Jesus calls us to enter into the unknown and uncertainty, into struggle and suffering. He calls us to welcome and listen to those on the margins – like the vulnerable child he took into arms. Those on the margins more naturally question how things work and why. And, it seems Jesus wants us to learn from them.

Sometimes we act as if following Jesus is all about finding assurance and answers; but actually, it is an invitation into a life of vulnerability and searching. We are called to wrestle with our faith so that it will grow stronger. We’re called to ask hard questions about the way things are so that we can help bring about God’s justice and righteousness. We’re called to seek and wonder.

There is good reason to stand together and say what we believe, using the ancient creeds. But, I often wonder if it would also be good to stand and share our questions together:

We wonder about the world.

How is God at work in it?

How can we better care for it?

We wonder about Jesus.

What do the stories of his life, death and resurrection mean for our lives, for the life of the world?

How can we more fully follow him?

We do get to do some searching and seeking together when we pray the Psalms in worship.

The Psalms are full of questions and laments and wonder.

Why do you tarry Lord?

Why do the innocent suffer while the wicked prosper?

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?

What are humans that you are mindful of us, O God?

The Psalms help us to honor and pray our questions. The Psalms are just a few of these gifts we are given as Jesus leads us on this journey into the unknown.

Jesus also assures us that we are God’s beloved children and so free to ask hard questions of God. We don’t have to try to be pious and upbeat all the time; we can join in the laments and soul searching that we find in the Psalms and throughout scripture.

Jesus also gives us companions on this journey of seeking and searching.

Here at Good Shepherd, you can find these companions in lots of ways. The twice-monthly Pew to Pulpit gatherings are all focused around the questions that arise for people during worship. Pew to Pulpit is on a September hiatus; but it will be back in October and I encourage you to check it out. The conversations there are so powerful. People share deep struggles and doubts as well as laughter and musings.

Our Youth Forum participants and Confirmation students also ask really great questions. Last week in confirmation it was so exciting to see them wrestling with the two different creation stories and how evolution fits into it all. If you want to learn from great question askers, come and be a part of Youth Forum or Confirmation Class.

We also tackle big topics at Adult Forum and the Thursday morning Bible Study. This week at Bible Study we asked, “how can we keep praying when it feels like God doesn’t answer.” We shared our struggles and what we’ve learned along the way.

Our Social Justice Subcommittee helps us to consider hard questions about why things are so unjust and what following Jesus asks of us. It helps us to hear the stories of those who are on the margins, those who show us what Jesus is like. As we welcome these vulnerable people, we welcome Jesus.

All the committees and Council ask how can we most fully live out our mission? Those who serve in other ways are always considering how and why we do what we do together.

I give thanks for all the questions we ask together here at Good Shepherd. I pray that they help us to follow Jesus out in the world as vulnerable, open seekers. The world needs us to do this.

The challenges we face these days require curiosity and humility. We need to be asking better questions of each other and of God. As we gather together here, Jesus gives us what we need to question, seek, wonder and follow him on the way.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer and then I’ll end our time with a prayer by Macrina Wiederkehr:

“It seems to me Lord
That we search much too desperately for answers,
When a good question holds as much grace as an answer.
Jesus, you are the Great Questioner.
Keep our questions alive,
That we may always be seekers rather than settlers.
Guard us well from the sin of settling in
With our answers hugged to our breasts.
Make of us a wondering, far-sighted, questioning, restless people
And give us the feet of pilgrims on this journey unfinished. Amen.”








This Week at Good Shepherd, September 24-30, 2018

Tuesday, September 25
7:00 p.m. – CLA Circle – Ann Naslund hosts

Wednesday, September 26
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, September 27
10:00 a.m.- Bible Study with Pastor in the Narthex

Saturday, September 29
9:00 a.m.- Upper Iowa Cluster D WELCA Fall Gathering at Decorah Lutheran

Sunday, September 30 – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
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
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – Facilities Improvement Committee proposed renovation heating and cooling system (HVA

Adult Forum, September 23, 2018 – Good Shepherd Funeral Planning Guidelines

Adult Forum: Good Shepherd Funeral Planning GuidelinesIn response to a request from members of the congregation, we have developed a set of guidelines to be used in planning a funeral at Good Shepherd without the assistance of a professional funeral home. Increasingly, our members are opting for cremation at the time of death, and with that choice comes a degree of flexibility and freedom with regard to making arrangements for one’s funeral. These new guidelines are intended to assist our members in making plans for their, or a loved one’s service, without employing a professional funeral home. Come and learn more about this option and how it may be a useful tool for you as you consider end of life planning.

Sermon for Sunday, September 16, 2018 – “Deny Yourself and Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me”

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Marion Pruitt-Jefferson

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-9; Second Reading: James 3:1-12; Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

I am having some serious trouble with the Jesus we see in this week’s gospel lesson. In a world filled with so much suffering and sorrow – so much hatred and fear, I want to hear about a Savior who offers comfort and hope. I want to see a loving Jesus who embraces children, who cures the sick, and who feeds the hungry. I want a righteous Jesus who brings justice oppressed, who sets the captive free, and who confronts the powers of evil. But I don’t get to choose the Jesus I want – instead, today, you and I get a Jesus who challenges his disciples and us, with a very hard lesson: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This very hard teaching of Jesus – about self-denial and cross carrying – all starts with a simple question: Who do you say that I am? Not surprisingly it’s Peter who jumps in with at least seems to be the right answer: You are the Messiah. Which is followed by Jesus’ very strange reaction, when he sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him. That’s one of the themes of Mark’s gospel – Jesus repeatedly telling his disciples not to tell anyone about him. People who study this stuff call that the “Messianic Secret” and entire books have been written about what it might mean. I can’t say for sure, but I wonder if it’s possible that the reason Jesus doesn’t want his disciples telling people that he’s the Messiah is because they, along with every other 1st century Jew, seriously misunderstood what being the Messiah truly meant to be.

Of course, they THINK they understand – Peter especially. Which is why Peter’s declaration “You are the Messiah” is actually more a wrong answer than it is right one. What Peter and the Jewish people expected was a Messiah with royal blood – a descendent of David, who would rise up, and using the power of the sword, defeat the Roman overlords and restore the Jewish nation and Davidic Kingdom to its original glory. What they got in Jesus was a Messiah who avoided the centers of power, and instead chose to operate on the margins of society. A Messiah who did not identify himself with people of influence and wealth, but chose to identify himself with those who were considered to be outcasts and “sinners” – the sick, the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor. A Messiah who did not come bearing the wrath of God to inflict punishment, but one who came in gentleness and peace. A Messiah whose followers were not battle hardened warriors, but instead included tax collectors, uneducated fishermen, and even women. What they got in Jesus was a Messiah whose throne was the cross, and whose victory was accomplished not by the power of the sword, but through suffering and dying for his friends.

With that vision of Messiahship in front of him, it’s no wonder that Peter leapt to his feet and shouted NO Lord! You can’t suffer and die. That can’t happen to you. You are the Messiah – You’re going to restore Israel to her glory days. You’re the one who’s going to Make Israel Great Again!

But Jesus vehemently rejects that pathway to power. Jesus did not come into the world to fulfill the nationalistic agenda of Israel, or any other nation – but to inaugurate God’s vision for the human community which encompasses all people – and all creation.

Jesus’ first sermon in the gospel of Mark is only one sentence and it goes like this: The time is fulfilled, the reign of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news. In that one sentence, Jesus announces a completely new vision of God’s agenda for the world. The reign of God which Jesus proclaims transcends all nations – it has no borders, no boundaries, no walls with which to exclude the poor, or the refugee or the migrant. The reign of God does not rest on the power and might of the industrial military complex, but rests on the power of the cross – the power of suffering love. The reign of God is not sustained by economics of corporate capitalism and the fear of scarcity, but by the overflowing abundance God’s good creation, where all are fed, housed, clothed and cared for.

We do not yet live fully under the gracious reign of God. But When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him – I believe that he is asking us to live as though we do. To hold that vision before our eyes, and make the priorities of the reign of God our priorities. To let go of our misplaced trust in the power sword and flag and national identity, and instead to place our trust in the expansive, generous, welcoming, vision of the reign of God that includes all people from every race and nation and creed.

To deny yourself and follow Jesus means being willing to go where Jesus goes – to people and places we may not choose for ourselves. To the margins of society, to the prisons, the homeless shelters, the half-way houses and detention centers. To food pantries and soup kitchens. To nursing homes, hospitals and care facilities. To schools and neighborhoods that are under served and under resourced. Because that is where the crucified Lord leads.

When we gather here each week, we come not to worship a God of our own making, but the God made known to us is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a God whose ways in this world are not our ways – whose thoughts are not our thoughts. We worship a God whose power is revealed in suffering love which overcomes all the powers of death. We worship a God who is always more than we can imagine, more than we can hope for, or desire. We worship the God of the cross, who, through Jesus death and resurrection lavishly pours out upon us the gift of true life – life which never dies. A God who continually invites us to come to this table, where together, under the sign of the cross, we receive a small morsel of bread and taste of wine – Jesus body and blood given for us – a great and wondrous feast that fills us with all of the love and strength we need to follow Jesus from this place in to a world marked by suffering and despair. A world longing to receive from our lips a word of hope and promise, and from our hands, the care they need.

The hymn we are going to sing at the end of the service has long been a favorite of mine. I’m pretty sure that it’s the only hymn in our worship book that includes the word “adventure.” As we follow Jesus into the world today, may the words of this song be on our lips and in our hearts:

Dear Lord Jesus, guide my way; faithful let me day by day follow where your steps are leading, find adventure, joys exceeding.

This Week at Good Shepherd, September 17-23, 2018

Tuesday, September 18
5:00 p.m. – Social Justice Committee
5:30 p.m. – Stewardship Committee
7:00 p.m. – Council Meeting

Wednesday, September 19
1:00 p.m. – Prayer Shawl Ministry- Jeri Laursen hosts
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, September 20
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 & Music Committee

Saturday, September 22
3:00 p.m. – Concert Across America to End Gun Violence

Sunday, September 23 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
8:45 a.m. – Handbell 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
10:50 a.m.- Good Shepherd Information Session- Sanctuary
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – Good Shepherd Funeral Planning Guidelines