This Week at Good Shepherd, December 23-December 29, 2019

Tuesday, December 24 – Office Closed
Christmas Eve Worship with Holy Communion at 4:30 pm

Wednesday, December 25 – Office Closed
Christmas Day Worship at Aase Haugen Home at 4:00 pm

Thursday, December 26 – January Newsletter deadline
No Bible Study or Centering Prayers

Sunday, December 29 – First Sunday of Christmas
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour



Orders for poinsettias for the sanctuary must be placed on MONDAY, DECEMBER 16 – TUESDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 17, at the very latestPlease disregard the previously announced deadline of December 20To place an order, contact Jenny by phone (office 382-3963), email (, or stop in the office. The cost is $12.00/plant; payment to Good Shepherd is due shortly after ordering.

Sermon for Sunday, December 15, 2019 – “Hope Beyond Expectation”

Third Sunday of Advent
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.

Advent is the season of waiting. It’s a time to practice patience with God, with ourselves, with others. In Advent scriptures, like our second reading today, we’re told “be patient” as we wait for Christ to come and make all things new.

Yet patience does not come easily. And, how often do you find it helpful to have someone else tell you to be patient? “Be patient kids, it’s not time for presents yet.” “Thank you for your patience, your call will be answered in the order it was received.” “Oh, just be patient, it will all work out soon, I’m sure.” Hearing the instruction to “be patient” can make us anything but.

Patience is especially hard when we’re longing for a joyful holiday, when we’re estranged or separated from loved ones or facing health struggles, when we can’t see an end to all the demands, when justice and change are long delayed.

Even John the Baptist, the great prophet, seems to struggle with patience in our Gospel reading today. He sends a message to Jesus from his prison cell asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John has spent his life preparing the way for Jesus to come and make everything right. But now, Herod has thrown John into prison and Jesus hasn’t done anything about it.

John has been expecting Jesus to bring in God’s kingdom as a direct challenge to the oppressive Roman Empire – expecting him to come and destroy Rome and puppet leaders like Herod that Rome has set up in Jerusalem.

Instead, Jesus shows up and cares for the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and the poor. These are not the movers and shakers of the day. These are not the people who are going to topple Rome. Why is Jesus focused on them? Why isn’t Jesus coming to help John?

So, John asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Are you the one Jesus, and if so, why don’t you do something.”

John gives voice to the questions that permeate much of our waiting. When will things get better? Why must we still wait? How long, O Lord? These are important faith questions expressed in the Psalms, the prophets, and Christian worship – especially in Advent.

Asking them doesn’t mean we’re impatient and unfaithful; it means we’re doing what the church does together – questioning, lamenting, searching, praying.

Asking these questions draws us more deeply into a relationship with God who gives us what we need to wait with patience and hope. It’s not that all our expectations are met, all our questions answered. Instead, through seeking, lamenting, worship and prayer, our attention is drawn away from our own narrow expectations and towards what God is doing in the world.

So often when we have to wait, we get fixated on what we think will make everything better: If I could finally get a break, if we could just have a peaceful Christmas or a more harmonious country, if only my prayers were answered and a miracle happened. We focus so much on our expectations and begin to think they are our only hope. When they are met slowly or not at all, we despair.

Yet in worship and prayer, we are shown that our hope is in God, not in things working out as we envisioned. We’re shown that God is more about transformation than meeting expectations. God is in this for the long game rather than the quick fix. God is about the kingdom of heaven breaking into our world in ways that we don’t expect and often don’t recognize.

God’s kingdom comes in Jesus in subversive, undercover ways. God’s power is revealed in weakness and mercy. God has chosen to be present in places of need and vulnerability: in Jesus born in a manger, in Jesus who brought good news to the downtrodden, in Jesus who emptied himself on the cross.

We meet Jesus in the midst of our own brokenness and need as we lament and question and struggle. We meet him in bread broken and wine poured out, we meet him among those the world con- siders last and least, and in the wilderness places of our world. Jesus comes in these unexpected ways to shape us into people who can yearn and hope and work for God’s kingdom to come on earth – for that future glimpsed in our first reading today.

In God’s promised future, all the wilderness of this world will flourish with new life. We and all of creation will obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

In the meantime as we wait, God calls us to be like farmers cultivating the fields where new life will take root and grow. The same reading that begins, “Be patient, therefore …” doesn’t just tell us to be patient. It also gives us the image of a farmer as an example of how to wait with patience and hope. Farmers don’t passively wait for things to meet their expectations. They labor and harvest, they tend to the growth, but know full well that the growth is beyond their control.

This is how we’re called to work and wait for the future God is bringing. We are to plant and tend seeds of hope. We are to watch for signs of life and nurture them as they appear. We are to wait attentively, keeping our eyes lifted to the horizon rather than fixed on our small plot of ground.

Patience is hard; waiting is hard. Yet in Advent, we are given what we need for waiting. We are given Jesus’ presence in bread and wine, word and song. We are drawn into a community that knows how to lament, question, and struggle together as we wait. We are given visions of God’s promised future that lift up our eyes and expand our horizons. And, we are given examples of how to wait actively with hope like a pregnant mother laboring to birth new life, like farmers tending a field.

These gifts transform all our waiting for we wait as people with a hope beyond expectation. We wait for Christ Jesus, the hope of all the earth.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

This Week at Good Shepherd, December 16-22, 2019

Monday, December 16
1:30 p.m. – Property & Management Committee

Tuesday, December 17
7:00 p.m. – Congregation Council Meeting

Wednesday, December 18
5:30 p.m. – Advent Worship with supper at Culver’s following
7:00 p.m. – Choir Rehearsal
8:00 p.m. – Band Rehearsal

Thursday, December 19 – January Newsletter deadline
10:00 a.m. – Bible Study with Pr. Amy
12:00 noon. – Centering Prayer
5:00 p.m. – Community Meal at Decorah Lutheran
7:00 p.m. – Altar Guild Meeting

Sunday, December 22 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
8:45 a.m. – Band warmup
9:30 a.m. – Worship with Holy Communion
10:30 a.m. – Fellowship Hour


Sermon for Sunday, December 8, 2019 – “Ferocious Hope”

Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 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.

Our second reading today ends with powerful words about hope that are often used as a blessing at the end of worship:“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Hope is such a powerful concept – it’s a key theme in this season of Advent. But what does hope look like in practice? What does it feel like and sound like? What does it do?

This week I’ve been praying with a meditation entitled “Hope Sits in the Dark”, written by a woman named Debie Thomas.* Two years ago, Thomas’ now 17 year-old son had a bike accident when riding home from school. He woke up with a cracked helmet, a few scrapes and a vicious headache. The headache hasn’t gone away since. They’ve tried every kind of traditional and alternative medical intervention, but for two years now her son has been out of school and only able to be out of bed for four or five hours at a time.

In those two years, Thomas has learned a great deal about what it means to live with hope in the face of her son’s chronic pain.

She writes, “When I read biblical stories of hope, the ones that resonate are no longer the stories of epic victories and grand celebrations … “Instead,” she reflects, I take hope in the story of Sarah, 99 years old and pregnant, laughing her head off because she thought for sure she was too old and wise and jaded to ever again be surprised by God. I take hope in the story of Hagar, a slave woman dying of thirst in the desert, who even in her abandonment becomes the first person in the Bible to name God. I take hope in the story of Hannah, who cries so hard and so earnestly in the presence of God that people take her for a disrespectful drunk. I take hope in the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who ponders hard mysteries deep in her heart. I take hope in the persistent widow who pounds down the door of a corrupt judge day after day after day, insisting on justice until she drives the man nuts. I take hope in the story of Mary Magdalene, who refuses to budge even when evil, tragedy, death, and despair seem to have won the day.”

Thomas reflects that these stories teach her that “Hope is about the long haul and the long dark- ness. Hope is robust and muscular and ferocious and long-suffering. Hope never gets so cynical that it can’t be surprised. Hope finds and names God in the world’s most desolate places. Hope kneels on hard ground and yearns without shame. Hope ponders and meditates and ruminates.

Hope gets in apathy’s face and says, ‘No. Not good enough. Try again.’ Hope sits in the darkness – out-waiting torture, humiliation, crucifixion, and death – until finally a would-be gardener shows up at dawn and calls us by name.”

As I reflected on these words this week, I began to notice that John the Baptist embodies this description of biblical hope. He is definitely robust and ferocious. He finds God in the desolate wilder- ness while kneeling on hard ground. He never lets apathy stand unchallenged. John also has a profoundly hopeful message, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heaven has come to earth in Jesus and God’s promised future is breaking into our world. The promised day in which there will be justice for the poor and the meek, in which the wolf will lie down with the lamb – that day is coming.

John shows us what hope looks like and sounds like and what hope does.

This realization surprised me as I tend to associate John more with judgement than hope.

But the thing is, God’s judgement is also hopeful. The judgement that John announces means that there is hope for change, hope for something other than the status quo. It means that God is troubled by the pain and brokenness of our world and that God is at work to do something about it all – bringing the kingdom of heaven near.

And one of the ways that God works change is to call us to change, to call us to repent through the harsh words of John the Baptist. We’re called to repent of everything that prevents us from cling- ing to the vision of God’s hopeful future, everything that prevents us from participating in it. We’re called to keep our faces turned toward this promise even when the night is long, even when the wilderness is vast, even when apathy infects everything around us. We’re called to look to Jesus who will gather up the good wheat and burn away the chaff within each of our lives.

All of this feels like a tall order and it sounds really daunting coming out of John’s ferocious mouth.

Yet, John’s words also point to what God is able to do in and for us. “I tell you,” John says, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” That is, God is able to bring new life even from lifeless stones. God is able to work faith and hope in us – faith that bears good fruit, hope that is robust and ferocious and able to cling to God over the long haul.

We can live with this faith and hope – not because of our own worthiness, not because we have Abraham or Martin Luther as an ancestor of faith, not because we are good religious people, not because we are so strong and resilient – because of what God is able to do for us and through us, what God is able to do for you and through you.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.