Good Shepherd Activities During Covid

Photos of Congregation Members

Since we have been unable to have in-person worship for several months, and so are not accustomed to seeing one another, we are posting recent photos of congregation members.  The photos will also appear during the online worship services.  This is a work in progress!

The photos will also be posted in flickr in an album called “Congregation Members During Covid”.  Click on the “Albums” tab to see a list of all the photo albums. Other recent photo albums relating to Good Shepherd activities during Covid are:

“Bell Ringing”
“VBS (2020)”
“Outdoor Communion (July 8)”
“Outdoor Communion (July 12)”
“Outdoor Communion (August 9)”
“Outdoor Communion (August 23)”
“Outdoor Communion (September 13)”

Sermon for Sunday, September 13, 2020 – “Forgiveness in This Apocalyptic Time”

Fifteenth 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. Amen.

There is so much to say about forgiveness – so much more than can be said in one sermon.

Today I want to lift up that forgiveness is a starting point, not an end point. Forgiveness isn’t a destination, a place we arrive in which finally everything is coming up roses and we can live happily ever after. How I wish it were that way.

I remember a time when I became aware that I needed to forgive someone. I was so angry. Anger was clouding my judgement. I needed to let it go and release it. I needed to forgive. This person, someone who’d harmed me often starting in my childhood, hadn’t apologized and wasn’t showing any sign of remorse. But I was tired of being angry. At the time, I was also desperately searching for something of great sentimental value – something that was missing, in large part, because of the actions of this person. My anger was getting in the way of a thoughtful search. I needed to let go. I prayed, “God, help me forgive.” I said, “I forgive you” inside my head. Right after that I felt better. I felt release and relief. My thinking was clearer. I was even able to find what I’d been searching for. Finally, I had some resolution – until I saw this person again, until I told the whole story to someone else again. And the anger was still there. Forgiveness is not an end point. It is the starting point.

I need to keep on forgiving this person over and over again. I need to keep on letting the hurt and anger go. I need to do this not for her sake, but for my own well-being. Beginning with forgiveness, again and again, has brought healing to me and to the relationship. But that isn’t always possible.

Forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation. Reconciliation requires both parties to work at the relationship and sometimes that can’t happen. Maybe the other person won’t acknowledge the pain they’ve caused. Maybe they are long dead. Reconciliation isn’t always possible. Yet we can still forgive.

Forgiveness releases us from being imprisoned and tortured by anger, bitterness and hatred.

Forgiveness means letting go of the hope that the past can be changed. It means leaning forward into a future that isn’t dictated by what has happened before – it is a starting point. Yet the forces that would keep us bound to the past are so strong that we need to begin with forgiveness over and over, again and again.

I think that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says we are to forgive seventy-seven times.

Peter suggests forgiving seven times and, as teacher Audrey West points out,  that’s a number we can measure and count: seven days of the week, seven seas, seven colors of the rainbow. Maybe we could just take a forgiveness pill once a day for seven days and then be good to go. Seven does represent perfection in the Bible, but it’s also a measurable number. Jesus’ response to Peter, and his extreme parable, takes forgiveness out of the “countable” category and places it into the realm of the incalculable.[1] We are called to forgive over and over, more times than we can count. We are never really done with forgiving. We are always beginning again. Forgiveness is a starting point, not an end point.

Thinking about it as a starting point also helps me to envision how forgiveness connects with working for justice, especially racial justice. Black victims of racial hatred are so often pressured to forgive very quickly. And when they do choose to forgive, it’s often seen as the end of the story as in: Well, they forgave the killer, so everything is fine; we can put that unpleasantness behind us. That’s how some interpreted the actions of Brandt Jean, brother of Botham Jean.

Brandt told a Dallas police officer that he forgave her after she was found guilty of murdering Botham in his apartment. Some used his words to imply: Well he could forgive so you should move past this and stop advocating for racial justice. Yet, forgiveness did not mean the end of Brandt’s advocacy. A few months after the trial he spoke to the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration after the institute presented him with an Ethical Courage Award. He used his speech as an opportunity to tell the officers that they could and should do better.

“I implore you to champion policies and procedures that amplify the value of all lives”, Brandt said. “I insist that you encourage diverse leadership that can model inclusion and restraint. Most im- portantly, I ask that you remember my brother,” he continued. “And when you remember him, I want you to ask yourself what are you doing to ensure there will be no other families like mine — no other little brothers that have to model ethical leadership in forgiveness of a cop whose lack of training and discipline caused them to carelessly take the life of another.”[2]

Author and woman of color Debie Thomas puts it this way, “When … victims of racial hatred for- give their racist oppressors, they’re not ending anything; they’re preparing their hearts to begin. To resist. To approach the battlefield one more wearisome time. Forgiveness enables the oppressed not only to survive, but to lay down the cumbersome weight of hatred and bitterness, and gear up for the fight. Forgiveness is the beginning of the hard work of building God’s kingdom — not the end.” [3]

Forgiveness is where healing and justice and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth begin. For- giveness is where we begin. And, all the forgiveness we can offer really begins with the immeas- urable, boundless mercy and compassion of God. The incalculable forgiveness Jesus points us toward is beyond our own strength, beyond our capacity. It is not something we can do on our own. It is only because we have been forgiven that we can begin again and again by forgiving, by letting go, by leaning into a future not defined by the past.

Each new day we can begin again remembering that we are God’s beloved children who have been forgiven and set free through Christ Jesus. This assurance is what allows us to begin every day in this broken world with a commitment to forgive, to love, to show mercy and compassion. And oh, does the world need this right now. We are living in such difficult times, in times when there is so much that has gone so wrong in the recent past and in ages past that is making things so hard to- day. We are living in an apocalypse, a word which is often understood to refer to end times but really means revealing and exposing. We are living in a time when past wrongs are being exposed and laid bare, when our collective sins of racism, greed, and disregard for the earth are being revealed.

These past wrongs will not be healed through hatred, anger and bitterness.
We will not be healed by retribution and violence.
We will be healed by mercy and compassion.
We will be healed by a willingness to work for restorative justice and a future not defined by past sins.
We will be healed by forgiveness that sets us free for the work of building God’s kingdom.

Today, may we begin again. Today, may you know that you are God’s beloved children, you are forgiven, you are set free. You can begin again in working for the building of God’s kingdom.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4570

[2]https://www.dallasnews.com/news/courts/2019/12/03/i-am-not-a-threat-botham-jeans-brother-says-as-he-accepts-award-from-police-training-group/

[3] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2748-unpacking-forgiveness

Sermon for Sunday, August 30, 2020 – “Prayer for Serenity”

Thirteenth 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.

This Gospel reading and the reading from Romans today have me thinking about the wonderful serenity prayer that is used by the recovery community:

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I love this prayer. I think we should all probably be praying it at least once a day right now. There’s so much we can’t change in this life, so much we can’t change about this difficult time. Yet it’s such a human tendency to want to be in control of situations, to try to fix everything, to seek to avoid suffering at all cost.

I think that’s what’s going on for Peter in our Gospel reading today. When Jesus says he’s going to suffer and die, Peter freaks out saying, “God forbid, this must not happen, this cannot be.” Peter just can’t accept that Jesus’ radical way of love is going to get him killed. Peter rages against the thought of it. Peter sounds a lot like us when we hear the news these days and throw up our hands

in disgust and exasperation, saying, “Enough already, this has to stop, this can’t be.”

The thing is: Raging against derechos, hurricanes, rising case counts, being stuck at home, and all those difficult people doesn’t really help. I know this well from lived experience. It doesn’t help to resist things that just can’t be changed, to strive to be in control of circumstances that are beyond our power, to try to force life to feel normal, or to grasp for what we’re sure we must have in order to feel OK. These are all very human tendencies, very human ways to try to save and secure our own lives in the face of suffering. Yet, Jesus says when we try to save our lives, we lose them. We get stuck trying to protect and defend ourselves, attempting to take charge, striving after the unattainable. We find we lose out on actually living the full, abundant life that God intends for us to have.

Jesus calls us to lose our lives. The Greek word he uses here also means let go. Jesus calls us to let go of trying to secure our lives, to let go of grasping and clinging, trying to be in control and seeking to avoid suffering. Let go, Jesus says, and you will find life.

During the Good Shepherd Bible study on Thursday we heard so many examples of how this has been happening during the pandemic. One woman was so frustrated that she couldn’t travel to an important conference and do a key internship. Yet when she let go of expecting things to be different, she found she had so much more time and energy to accomplish other crucial tasks. One couple’s daughter has been in some form of lockdown during most of the pandemic as part of her overseas job. The daughter is practicing acceptance of what she can’t change and is thriving even in lockdown. This happens in big ways and small. One man shared that he and his wife give away huge numbers of tomatoes each year. He used to get so frustrated that people weren’t using them, that they were going to waste. He’s now practicing letting go of this thing he cannot change and is finding that giving the gift of tomatoes is much more life-giving for him.

Those who let go of their lives will find them.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to let go of my tight grip on what I think I need and deserve, what I think should happen. And God, grant me the courage to change the things I can. There is so much beyond our control, but we do have agency in how we chose to respond to the challenging things in our world.

Our passage from Romans offers guidance about a courageous way of living that does bring change in this world. Reg read this passage for us earlier. Let’s hear it again as it’s such a powerful message for us today:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We can choose how we respond to challenging circumstances and difficult people. We can work for policies that contribute to racial equity in our schools, police forces and communities. We can change racist ideas and practices within ourselves and our institutions. We can work to address the climate change that is making hurricanes, inland storms and wildfires more severe. We can advocate for policies that are in line with God’s care for immigrants and others who are poor and marginalized.

Of course, none of this is easy to do. And what we want to do, we often do not do. The Apostle Paul writes about this in another part of the book of Romans. Thankfully, we don’t have to do these things on our own. Our Gospel reading for today makes it clear that we shouldn’t try to do these things through our own striving or effort. Rather, we can do them most fully through following Jesus. Following Jesus means surrendering to God through prayer and worship, letting go of our need to be in control, and trusting Jesus who is humble and who gives fully of himself. Following Jesus is the way we can experience full, abundant, courageous lives – lives that bring helpful change and healing to this world.

Jesus let go of his life in order to be fully present with us, with you, in all the suffering of this life. Jesus surrendered control so that God’s abundant life might prevail in and through him for you, for us, for this whole hurting world. Following Jesus is how we can live the serenity prayer. It’s how we can experience the life that really is life.

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

Live Jazz Concert on Friday, September 18, 6:30 pm, Good Shepherd’s Backyard

Please RSVP for the concert with this link.  Register all in your family group who will be attending by selecting a quantity when you sign up.

Live Jazz Concert Sign-Up Link

 Good Shepherd and our church neighbors are invited to enjoy an evening of live music in the Good Shepherd back yard on Friday, September 18 at 6:30 p.m.!

Jon Ailabouni will be performing alongside a jazz quintet including some of his favorite musicians in the region:

  • Simon Harding – Saxophone, Jazz Band director at Wartburg College
  • Larry Price – Piano, Jazz Combo director at Winona State University
  • Karyn Quinn – Bass, former Director of Jazz Studies at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
  • Rich MacDonald – Drum Set, former Director of Jazz Studies at Winona State University
    The group will perform an hour long program that includes Jon’s arrangements of jazz standards, a hymn, and his original composition “You Are Not Alone”.Please wear a mask and observe safe distancing throughout the performance. Similar to our outdoor communion services, plan to bring a chair or blankets to sit on. The gathering will be limited to 100 people.  The rain date for this performance is Saturday, September 19 at 6:30 p.m. A free will offering will be taken to provide an honorarium for musicians and support the local Mutual Aid Network Fund.

Blessed Be the Memory of Connie Bolson

Constance “Connie” H. Bolson, age 96, of Decorah, Iowa, died on Saturday, August 22, 2020 at Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah.

Visitation will be from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Friday, August 28 at Fjelstul Funeral Home in Decorah.

Private Family Burial will be on Saturday, August 29 at Union Prairie Cemetery in Decorah with Pastor Amy Larson officiating.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Celebration of Life for Connie will be held at a later date.  A full obituary may be found at the Fjelstul Funeral Home website.