Sermon for Sunday, March 3, 2019 – “Listen! Listen Continually”

Transfiguration of Our Lord – Last Sunday after Epiphany
Sunday, March 3, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Seminarian Amalia Vagts, Preacher

First Reading:  Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 99; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians
3:12–4:2; Gospel: Luke 9:28-43

I will get to the the demons, but first … talk about a mountaintop experience! Sounds amazing, right?

But sometimes I don’t like hearing about other people’s great experiences – like when your friends go to a party you weren’t invited to and then post a bunch of great pictures on Instagram.

I would guess that even the other disciples, the ones Jesus didn’t take up the mountain, might think the same thing. Maybe that’s why Peter and James and John didn’t say anything right away about it – because it would have been one of the most aggravating “you should have been there” stories ever.

AMAZING – Moses and Elijah were there! Epic! Jesus’ face like TOTALLY changed and his clothes became completely white. SRSLY: God actually spoke to us. We almost had a camp-out with those guys!

And we’re like, “Oh, that’s awesome, super happy for you”, but inside we’re really sad we weren’t there. Deep down, we do care because it sounds amazing. Something incredible happened. But we weren’t up on the mountain having a mystical experience with Jesus. We’re the ones standing around on the ground, wrestling with demons.

By demons, I mean loneliness, a fight in our family, a lost job, church denominations that chose human fear over God’s love, illness, or a terrible thing someone wrote about us in Snapchat. We have to deal with all of this.

We’re not on the mountain. We didn’t see God. So what does any of this have to do with us at all?

Peter and James and John were weighed down with sleep, but stayed awake. This makes me think of those late night conversations around a campfire when you are getting so groggy and you are barely tracking the conversation, fighting to stay awake.

In his own language Luke uses a word that appears nowhere else in the New Testament.[1] It doesn’t mean fighting to stay awake. It means fully awake – fully, completely, thoroughly awake, fully present.

God does change me. And when I’m fully awake and fully present, I see this. This happens even when I’m not on the mountain.

It happens in relationship with others – like at the Bible reflection time I’ve been leading at Arlin Falck Assisted Living this year. We read and studied and prayed over this text together. And, through the radio we are worshipping together this morning.

It happens with a note – like the one Good Shepherd kids wrote in Sunday School to one of our older members: “Dear whoever you are, whatever you are going through, God loves you”, said the note. And she LOVED that. “That is exactly what a kid would write!”, she said.

It happens here – I’m thinking of the fact that we’ve added herbal tea to our Sunday morning banquet to make people feel welcome. I’m thinking of you guys – Sunday School & Youth Forum – and the fact that you have your own tables in the Fellowship Hall. I’m thinking of anyone who is here for the first time, maybe in a church for the first time ever, and who hears you are invited to join in bread and wine we share at the communion table.

You don’t have to be on the mountain. We all have the chance every day to be astounded at the greatness of God. God changes us in Christ Jesus and through the Spirit of God. God says, “This is my Chosen – listen.” This is a command. Listen. This is not a one-time command – it’s ongoing, keep listening.[2] The meaning of this word in its original language is a forever command: “Listen everyone, listen continually – keep listening!”

The pastor and author Frederick Buechner writes beautifully about what we can hear when we keep listening. We might think that person on the street is talking to us about the weather. But if we wake up, if we listen, they are saying: I’m lonely; or I want to connect with you; or I forgive you.[3]

Be fully awake. Listen continuously – to your own heart, to those around you, to the earth. God is speaking. God changes you – gives you life, wholeness, freedom.

Scripture tells us that Christ Jesus is the Word of God – that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1) and the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14a).

Today, God says to us: Continue listening to Christ Jesus – to this Word of God. What is this message? What is this Word of God?

No one is outside the love and grace of God (Gal 3:28, Rom 10:12, ). Nothing can separate you from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39). Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love others. Love yourself (Luke 10:27).

God came into this world in the person of Jesus to become one of us; divine, speaking to us and changing us; human, wrestling with the demons of daily life. Human enough to have questions, doubts, fears. Human enough to want to have a dinner with his friends and be remembered by them. Human enough to be betrayed by friends. Human enough to face the only thing in life that every single one of us will face.

Christ Jesus lives in this world now on the mountains, on the plain and all places in between – fully divine, fully human saying over and over and over again, God changes you. Be fully awake and in the face of another you will see God.

God says – Listen to my Chosen One. Listen! Listen Continuously!

God’s Chosen One, Jesus, says this to you:

You are enough.

You are beloved.

You are free.

[1] Diagrēgorēsantes.

[2] Akouete is a present imperative active verb in the second person plural.

[3] Frederick Buechner, “The Hungering Dark,” (70-71).

This Week at Good Shepherd, March 4 – 10, 2019

Tuesday, March 5
4:00p.m. – Mary Circle

Wednesday, March 6
6:00 p.m. – Choir rehearsal
7:00 p.m. – Ash Wednesday Worship Service
8:00 p.m. – Band rehearsal

Thursday, March 7
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with Pastor Amy
12 noon – Centering Prayer
1:30 p.m. – Property & Management Committee
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at St Benedicts

Friday, March 8
11:00 a.m. – Stewardship Committee

Sunday, March 10 – 1st Sunday of Lent
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m. – Sunday School
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum – “Faith and Stories” with Dr. Paula Carlson

“Bury the Alleluia” – Sunday, March 3, 2019

This Sunday, the last after Epiphany and prior to the beginning of Lent, our children will ‘bury’ the Alleluia signs they made and carried into last year’s Easter service; they will remain ‘buried’ until Easter this year.


The Alleluia Banner will be carried in the procession into worship and carried out during the sending hymn on Sunday.


This Week at Good Shepherd, February 25-March 3, 2019

Tuesday, February 26
7:00 p.m. – CLA Circle – Gail Judisch hosts

Wednesday, February 27
5:30 p.m. – Confirmation Class
7:00 p.m. – Choir rehearsal
8:00 p.m. – Band rehearsal

Thursday, February 28
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with Pastor Amy
12 noon – Centering Prayer
3:30 p.m. – Governance Advance Team

Friday, March 1
1:00 p.m. – World Day of Prayer – St Benedicts Church Social Hall
3:45 p.m. – Outreach and Hospitality Committee

Sunday, March 3Transfiguration of our Lord
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion – 11a.m. Broadcast
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour
10:50 a.m. – Sunday School/Youth Forum|
11:00 a.m. – Adult Forum: “Faith and Stories”
3:00 p.m. – Pew to Pulpit – Pulpit Rock Brewing Company

Sermon for Sunday, February 24, 2019 – “Set Free”

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
February 24, 2019
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Note: Good Shepherd’s service and activities were cancelled today due to severe weather conditions. Pastor Amy provided her sermon text for posting on our web and social media sites.

First Reading:  Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Gospel Luke 6:27-38

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

Shame on you! What’s the matter with you? Why do you think you’re better than you are? You’re going to get it and you better just take it, better just turn the other cheek to be struck again and accept your lot in life. If someone hurts you don’t make a fuss about it, forgive and get over it.

Tragically, our Gospel reading has often been misused to send these types of messages. It’s been weaponized to silence abuse victims, to prevent slaves from rebelling, to keep people in line. These messages are totally contrary to the message of scripture. It’s hard to even speak them from the pulpit, but we need to name the ways this passage has been misinterpreted and used to shame and enslave so that we can recognize what it is really trying to do.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus has come to bring good news to the poor and re- lease to the captives. Jesus has come to set people free. That is what Jesus is seeking to do with these words as well. Jesus wants to free us all from the ways of the world that ensnare and enslave us. Jesus works to break the system of tit for tat, an eye for an eye, keeping score.

Our world traps us in cycles of retribution. When someone hurts you, you get angry, you seek to hurt them somehow- even if just in your heads. You are trapped by thoughts of them and what they’ve done, and what you wish would happen to them. You replay the hurt, relive the pain, rumi- nate about it all.

When someone is good to you – well then you better be good to them so you can keep the good thing going. Gotta work the system to your advantage. Do unto to others what they have done to you; that’s the way the world works. No, Jesus says, that traps you into just reacting to what others do. You’re bound to them as you react, reciprocate, keep score. If you live like that then you aren’t free, and other people have too much power over you.

No, Jesus says be shaped by what God does to you. God shows you kindness and mercy always. Let your actions be shaped by that kindness and mercy, not by what other people do. Be merciful and you will experience the great reward of freedom and well-being that is not dependent on your external circumstances.

Don’t resist with hatred or you will start to become like your enemy.

Or, as preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber powerfully proclaims, “Maybe retaliation or holding onto anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it feeds it. Because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy, and at some level, start to become them. So, what if forgiveness, rather than being a pansy way to say, ‘It’s okay,’ is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters, and snapping the chains that link us? What if it’s saying, ‘What you did was so not okay, I refuse to be connected to it anymore?’ Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter. And free people are dangerous people.  

Free people aren’t controlled by the past.   Free people laugh more than others.   Free people see beauty where others do not.  Free people are not easily offended.  Free people are unafraid to speak truth to stupid.  Free people are not chained to resentments.  And that’s worth fighting for.”

Jesus wants us to know this freedom, so he gives us the words and the teaching we hear today.

But so often we don’t hear these words as freeing – we hear them as things that bring us more shame. Shame on you that you struggle to love, that you struggle to forgive. Shame on you when you feel angry. Shame on you that you’re still ruminating about that person and unable to cut the ties to them. We get right back into traps of shame because that’s the way our world works. Shame is such a powerful force in our world. Yet, no life-giving change ever comes from a place of shame.

That’s why we need more than Jesus’ teachings to set us free – why he gives us more than teaching.

Jesus comes among us to give us an experience of the freedom and abundance God longs for us to know, to help us taste and experience God’s love and mercy.

Jesus comes to live among us so that we might know, deep in our bones, that we are loved and for- given and honored by God. That there is more than enough love and food and time and honor and well-being to go around. We don’t have to live in the ways of the world.

We can be shaped by God and God’s ways. We can treat others the way we want to be treated. We can live in the ways of love because we are so loved. We can forgive because we have been forgiven.