Sermon for Sunday, November 17, 2019 – “Testifying in the Court of Public Opinion”

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 17, 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 is not one to candy-coat things. He apparently didn’t learn that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

No, Jesus tells it like it is. Things in this life are going to be hard. And he says things are going to be especially hard for us who follow him because we’ll come into conflict with the powers of this world.

This is true even if we aren’t handed over to authorities and put on trial. We will face opposition if we follow Jesus. Jesus said he was sent to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. This made Jesus a threat to the rich and powerful and they put him to death.

Sharing his priorities will put us at odds with the ways of the world. We will face opposition and we will be asked to testify – to serve as witnesses to the way of Jesus. All that sounds pretty daunting and yet, the call to testify as followers of Jesus is just what our souls need.

The English word testify can mean to express a personal conviction. That’s often how it’s under- stood by religious folks, as in – we’re supposed to testify about Jesus by telling people we believe in him.

Yet I think our Gospel reading here is calling us to something more. To testify can also mean to show or state that something is true, especially in court.

We are called to show and state that the way of Jesus is true. We’re called to do this in the court of public opinion – to testify through how we both live and speak.

In the court of public opinion others testify with words and deeds to what they perceive to be true: Those with the most toys win, might makes right, all is lost- just get yours, you get what you de-serve, and so on.

We are called to testify to a different reality – to Christ Jesus crucified and risen. That is: We are to bear witness that God has come to be with us in Jesus – all is not lost. God has come. And God has come not with power and might but as a peasant who lived among the poor, who suffered at the hands of the state. Jesus threatened the powers of this world, there was chaos and violence, and Jesus was killed. Yet, God brought new life when things looked most bleak. This is what God did then and what God always does. God raised Jesus from the dead, life and love prevailed and will ultimately prevail.

We need not despair. We need not be terrified. There will be wars, insurrections, tyrants, earth- quakes, famines, impeachment inquiries – but all is not lost. God is at work. God is with us still in the risen Christ to bring new life to us all and especially to those who are poor and oppressed.

God is with us to give us not what we deserve but what God freely gives – life, hope, compassion, community. This is the truth to which we are called to testify in our speech and our actions.

When the world is fixated on wealth and power, we’re called to see the face of God on the person who is poor and oppressed. When we feel despair about the state of the world, we’re called to look for signs of God bringing new life and point to those. This is what it means to testify to the way of Jesus.

One way we’re testifying together now is through the ELCA AMMPARO initiative focused on accompanying immigrants. This initiative helps us to notice and show honor to God’s beloved children who’ve had to flee their homes. As we do, we see God’s presence at work in so many courageous, faithful people. We see God calling us to accompany them in the US and in working for change in their home countries. All of this then shapes how we address immigration issues in the court of public opinion. Rather than amplify the fear and despair, we can bear witness to hope. Testifying is good for our souls. It gives us the chance to notice, name and nurture what God is up to in the world.

Yet, testifying can also feel like a daunting task.

Jesus promises that we will receive what we need to testify. We will be given words and wisdom. This is what happens when we gather for worship. We are nourished by God’s word. We join in the reflection and prayer that leads to wisdom. We are shaped into people who can speak words born of wisdom in the court of public opinion.

We are also nurtured by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Jesus calls our advocate. When we testify, we are not alone. We have a good advocate, good counsel.

And, we are given a community that helps us to testify. All of the instruction and the assurance in this passage is given to a group of people – each you in this passage is a plural you. This will give you all an opportunity to testify. I will give you all the words and wisdom. By the endurance of all of you, you all will gain your souls.

This means we aren’t just individual witnesses; we are part of a class action lawsuit against the powers of this world. We are in this together and we have a great cloud of witnesses with us as we make the case. Finally, Jesus promises that we will not perish, we will not be overcome by evil, we will be held safe in God. As we testify, we are part of God’s witness protection program. Even if we are put in prison, even if we die, even when we die, we are held always in God and given new life.

All the trials of life give us an opportunity to testify. We have what we need to testify and testifying to Jesus is just what we need to do for our souls. It makes it possible for us to live and speak with hope.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, November 18-24, 2019

Tuesday, November 19
7:00 p.m. – CLA Circle – Bev Sheridan hosts
7:00 p.m. – Congregation Council

Wednesday, November 20
1:30 p.m.- Prayer Shawl Ministry – Ruth Bruce hosts
4:00 p.m. – Budget Meeting
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice
8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, November 21
10:00 a.m. – Bible study with Pastor Amy
12 :00 noon – Centering Prayers
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at Decorah Lutheran

Sunday, November 24 – 24nd Sunday after Pentecost
8:45 a.m. – Choir warmup
9:30 a.m. – Worship Service with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m. – Sunday School and Youth Forum
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum: Dickens “A Christmas Carol; A Secular Scripture?” (part 1)

Sermon for Sunday, November 10, 2019 – “Love in the Present Tense”

November 10, 2019
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, IA|
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 a loved one dies, it’s so hard to hear others refer to them in the past tense. As people say all sorts of kind things: “she was so generous”, “she was so funny”, it hits you again, “She was”, means she is no longer alive.

It’s also hard to know which tense you want to use when referring to a loved one. After the death of a spouse do you say, “today is our wedding anniversary,” or “today would have been our wedding anniversary?” Do you say, “we have three children,” or “we had three children and our son died ten years ago?”

Referring to our loved ones in the past tense is so painful. We want them to be present in our lives and we want our speech to reflect that.

Jesus says that God uses the present tense when speaking to Moses about his ancestors who have died. In the story Jesus is referencing, God says to Moses, “I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God doesn’t say, “I once was the God of your ancestors back when they were alive, and I remember them fondly,” but rather I AM the God of your ancestors.

Jesus says God doesn’t have to use the past tense for those who have died for they are alive to God. The dead are raised and live now as children of God, children of the resurrection.

Jesus’ words here raise many questions and don’t offer any easy answers. Instead, they give us a glimpse of a beautiful mystery beyond our comprehension: Those who have died do not only the inhabit the past. They live now in the presence of God, in the heart of God.

This means we can still think of our relationships with our departed loved ones in the present and future tenses: We were together here. We are each now held in God’s heart, so, in some way, we are still together. And we will be together in God in the age to come.

The end of life here is not the end of love, of connection, of intimacy with God and one another. We still have a future together.

The good news is that this future is not just a continuation of life here on earth with all its sin, sorrow and brokenness. As Jesus says, those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage but in the age to come everything will be different.

All of our relationships, all aspects of our life together will be transformed. We will know new ways of being in relationship, new ways of being together with all the children of God.

For instance, in the age to come, women won’t be the property of men as they were in Jesus’ day. So, no one will need to wonder what will happen to a woman who had many husbands and no children. She, and all those who’ve suffered oppression, will finally share in the fullness of life that God longs for them to know. We will all share in that fullness of life in the heart of God.

And, beloved, if you wonder if you are worthy of a place in the heart of God, if you wonder if death will separate you or your loved ones from God, hear the promises we are given in the book of Romans and the Gospel of John. It is Christ Jesus, who died, who was raised, and who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us, who prepares a place for us in God’s heart. And now nothing, not even death, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Do not be afraid. Nothing in the past, present or future will separate you from God. Christ Jesus has opened up this life-giving relationship with God for you, for all people, now and always. God is present for you here and now, not only in the age to come.

Here and now, God is working for us all to know abundance.
Here and now, God assures us we need not fear.
Here are now, God asks us to be about the things that bring life to God’s world.

We aren’t to fixate on what happens when we die but rather, to join God in working for all people to know fullness of life now and always.

We are all held in God’s heart. You are held in God’s heart now and forever.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, November 11-17, 2019

Tuesday, November 12|
9:30 a.m. – Anna Circle – Jane Borelli hosts at Aase Haugen|
4:45 p.m. – Education Committee

Wednesday, November 13
10:00 a.m. – Miriam Circle – Carrie Solberg hosts
10:00 a.m. – Communion at Aase Haugen
1:30 p.m.- Worship and Music Committee
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir Practice8:00 p.m. – Band Practice

Thursday, November 14
10:00 a.m. – Bible study with Pastor Amy
12 :00 noon – Centering Prayers

Friday, November 15
11:00 a.m. – Stewardship Committee

Sunday, November 17 – 23nd Sunday after Pentecost
8:45 a.m. – Handbell warmup
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:45 a.m. – Sunday School and Youth Forum
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – ELCA as a Sanctuary Denomination – Rev. Anne Edison-Albright

Stewardship Sunday, November 10, 2019

Tomorrow is Stewardship Sunday! Remember to bring your Statement of Intent to place in the offering basket or make your intent on the Good Shepherd website (look under the GIVE tab on the homepage). You may also mail your Statement of Intent to the church office.