Reflection for Sunday, December 23, 2018 – “The Power of Song”

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 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.

In Mary’s great song, memory, hope and courage intertwine. She sings of what God has already done, even as she eagerly awaits what God will do through Jesus. And, it seems, singing gives her the courage to participate in God’s work of turning the world around.

Singing is such a powerful act of hope and resilience. Singing counters intimidation and evokes courage. We see this throughout history: in the early church, the Civil Rights Movement, the sing-ing that helped bring down the Berlin Wall, to name just a few. I also see this every time Brooke, Jutta Anderson and I go to lead worship at the Wellington Place nursing home.

There’s a beautiful resident there who always tells us how blessed she is by the chance to hear Brooke’s music and join in song. This dear woman has known deep suffering; she has been a widow for almost forty years. She endures extreme pain each day. Her daughters live far away and are suffering with severe pain themselves.

Yet when she joins in song with us, she gets to remember and proclaim God’s faithfulness. Her hope is renewed. She is given the courage to persevere in the face of sorrow and struggle, to defy the suffering that would keep her down. Memory, hope and courage intertwine. She is lifted up. Her face beams with radiance and joy.

This dear woman is Mary as she proclaims God’s faithfulness and sings her hope. She is also Elizabeth for she offers blessing, welcome and encouragement to Brooke, Jutta and me as we bear Christ in the worship service.

Like this radiant woman, all of us are given hope as we raise our voices in song. We join with the church throughout time, with Mother Mary, Martin Luther King, Jr., and this saint at Wellington Place; and together we defy the power of suffering and evil to keep us down. We stand against everything that would intimidate us and overpower us to say, “You do not have the last word.” God is faithful. God keeps promises. God is turning the world around. We sing and we are lifted up. We find the courage to join God’s work.

Yet sometimes we don’t even have the strength or courage to enter the song. Sometimes the song within us cannot be unleashed until another person welcomes and blesses us, the way Elizabeth did for Mary. Sometimes we need to do that for others.

This is what we do together as the body of Christ when we gather for worship each week. We receive welcome and blessing, and our very presence offers welcome and blessing to others.

Together we find the courage to enter the song.
Together our songs are unleashed.
We need one another.

We need to join our voices together in order to remember God’s faithfulness, nurture our hope and find the courage we need.

So, let us sing.

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

Monday, December 24 – Office Closed
4:30 p.m. – Christmas Eve Service

Tuesday, December 25 – Office Closed
4:00 p.m. – Christmas Day Worship at Aase Haugen


Thursday, December 27
No Bible Study

Sunday, December 30 – First Sunday of Christmas
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion, Service of Lessons and Carols – LIVE Broadcast
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour

Sermon for Sunday, December 16, 2018 – “What Then Should We Do?”

Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

First Reading:  Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm: Isaiah 12:2-6; Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7; Gospel: Luke 3:7-18

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Apparently, John didn’t get the memo on the need for civility and calm, balanced discourse. “You brood of vipers,” he rants, “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He sounds like God’s prophets of old and like a lot of people on Facebook these days.

John the Baptist has a sense of urgency, an urgency many of us feel about the state of the world right now. This is no time for complacency. Things need to change.

John makes it clear that the change needs to come within us first.
We need to repent and live in God’s ways of justice and mercy.
We need to bear good fruit.
Yet this is not work we can do on our own.
We need God.
We need God to deal with the evil in each of us.
We need God to bring an ax to what is preventing us from bearing good fruit – all the weeds that have grown as tall as trees within us.
We need God to separate the wheat from the chaff in our lives and then burn away the chaff.

This is what John says God will do in Jesus and what God will do at the end of time. It is what we need but it is also a bit frightening.

It seems those first crowds to hear John the Baptist were also frightened by all this. “What then should we do?” they ask.

And John’s answer is a bit surprising. In the midst of his extreme rhetoric, John gives simple, direct answers. He tells the crowds: share what you have. He tells the tax collectors: be fair. And the soldiers: don’t bully, be satisfied with what you have. Share, be fair, don’t bully, you have enough.This sounds like what we learn in kindergarten.

And, this is surprising language from a radical prophet in the wilderness who wore camel skin and ate locusts and wild honey. Given how he lived and preached, we might expect John’s instructions to be more radical – more like, “Give away all your clothes, you don’t need coats, you can wear a camel skin like me.” Instead he says if you have two coats, give one away and share your food. It’s also a bit surprising how John addresses tax collectors and soldiers. They are working with the oppressive Roman Empire; they are preying on their own people. Many in the crowd are probably shocked that John is even speaking to them – tax collectors should be ostracized, soldiers should be avoided.

And, if he must address the scum working for Rome, you’d think he’d say something like, “Renounce everything Roman, become pacifists and live in the wilderness with me.” Yet he doesn’t tell them to stop being tax collectors, to stop being soldiers. He simply tells them to not charge too much, not extort, and be satisfied with what they earn.

What then can we do? Share, be fair, don’t bully, be content. This is not extreme, heroic stuff. It is stuff that each of us can do, whatever our life situation. We can do these things, we already do these kinds of things all the time.

These simple actions may not seem like much, but John’s answer to the fearful crowd is a powerful message for us in fearful times.

When we get overwhelmed by the evil within and around us, we can share a coat.
When so many voices tell us to be afraid, we can share food.
When we’re tempted to say that people with certain beliefs or political convictions are chaff and need to be burned away, we’re reminded to not bully others.
When we feel urgency about the state of the world, we can do small things in our daily life, no matter our job or life situation.

The actions John prescribes for us sound simple, but they can have a profound impact on us. They give us something to do to resist the power of fear. They open us up to other people. As we’re opened up, light gets in to help more good fruit to grow within us. We’re also brought into relation- ship with other people and it is in relationship with others that we’re confronted with our own anger, bigotry and indifference. As that happens, God works in us to cut out and burn away the weeds and the chaff.

These simple actions also remind us that repentance and our relationship with God are never just private, devotional things. Our personal faith is not for us alone but for the sake of the neighbor.

This time of year, we often focus on service and giving to others.

Sometimes we wonder if these simple actions are even worth it. Do they really do any good? Are they just ways of making ourselves feel better? John says no, these basic things matter for how we live in this time.

This is not to say that these small actions bring in God’s kingdom or that we should be complacent thinking we can do a few more random acts of kindness and everything will be good. These actions are to be paired with repentance, with turning to God and asking God to work in us.

Yet as we look to God to come and bring in the kingdom, these actions are some of the ways that God works in us and through us.

This Advent and this Christmas, may we join in simple acts of service and love; and may we know God’s purifying, renewing presence with us and with our world.

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

Tuesday, December 18
7:00 p.m. – Council Meeting

Wednesday, December 19
5:30 p.m. – Advent Service
7:00 p.m. – Choir Rehearsal
8:00 p.m. – Band Rehearsal

Thursday, December 20
No Bible Study
5:00 p.m. – Decorah Community Meal at St Benedicts

Sunday, December 23 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion – LIVE Broadcast
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hall

Memorial Services for William (Bill) Kurth, Monday, December 17, 2018

Memorial Services for William (Bill) Kurth will be held at 11:00 a.m. Monday, December 17, 2018 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Decorah with Rev. Chad Huebner officiating.  Private Family Burial will be in Phelps Cemetery in the spring.   Bill was a member of First Lutheran Church, Decorah.

Visitation will begin at 10:00 a.m. Monday, one hour before the service, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.  A luncheon will follow the service.

A full obituary is available at this link.