Message from Pastor Amy – April 28, 2020

From Pastor Amy:  The Good Shepherd Congregation Council decided at the April 21 meeting that we will continue worship online and the building will remain closed through May. We will consider changes to this on a month by month basis.

We are being guided by the federal document “Opening Up America Again.” This document indicates that a phased reopening can begin once these criteria have been met: 1) 14-days of declining symptoms 2) 14-days of declining cases 3) Hospitals able to treat all patients without crisis care 4) Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing. As our area does not yet met that criteria, we are not moving into reopening at this time.

Notice about In-person Church at Good Shepherd, April 27, 2020

A message from Pastor Amy:

The governor has lifted restrictions on spiritual and religious gatherings as long as the church, synagogue or other “host” implements social distancing guidelines and increased sanitary cleaning. However, the count of confirmed cases in Winneshiek County doubled over the weekend. The Good Shepherd Congregation Council determined at our April 21 meeting that we would remain closed through May and will determine on a month by month basis when we will return to worship. We will remain closed for the sake of the neighbor. As Christians, we are called to make sacrifices out of love for others. For the good of the neighbor and the health of the common good, we will continue to worship together using the online offering.

Sermon for Sunday, April 26, 2020 – “Jesus in the Breaking”

Third Sunday of Easter – Online Service
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 our risen Savior Jesus.

I love this story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and their story feels a lot like ours right now.

Granted, there are some details that don’t fit. For one thing, the disciples are outside of their houses, traveling somewhere. Remember what that was like? My car now has amazing gas mileage – it gets 3 months to the gallon.

The disciples are also talking and discussing as they walk along. Which means there are two friends talking in-person – connecting without a phone or a screen! Oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful.

Then a stranger comes up and they just walk and talk with him. Rather than lowering their mask covered faces and passing quickly, they have a conversation as they travel together. And then they share a meal. They sit at a table and break bread with people outside their immediate families.

So, some of the details in this story feel out of reach. Yet so much of it speaks to where we are living right now. The disciples are experiencing terrifying times. They’re trying to make sense of it all. They’ve just seen Jesus crucified. The one they hoped would save their nation is dead and buried. They’re hearing stories from the women that he is alive, but they can’t wrap their heads around that.

As they walk away from Jerusalem, where Jesus was killed, they talk about all these things that have happened in much the same way that we’re talking now about all these things – the out- breaks, the shortages, the press conferences, the orders from governors. They talk and try to understand but nothing makes sense. The path forward feels so uncertain, the road so long.

Then Jesus himself comes and walks alongside them, but they don’t recognize him. In their grief and fear and confusion, they can’t see Jesus for who he is. He asks, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” This stops them in their tracks. How can you not know what’s been going on during these days? They tell this stranger all these things that have happened and then they speak one of the most heartbreaking lines in all of scripture, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”. They’d had such bold hopes for themselves, their nation, their world, and it looks now as if those hopes will never be realized.

But we had hoped. This is where the disciples’ story resonates so deeply with our own. We had hoped. We are living these days with so many unfulfilled hopes.

We had hoped to celebrate Easter with family.
We had hoped to go to prom and to graduation parties.
We had hoped to hold the new baby, to go on vacation, to lead a conference.
We had hoped for track season, for soccer season, for more time with the grandchildren, for the sixth grade musical.

This weekend at Good Shepherd we had hoped to remember Ben Blair with a night of music and song and to share in a memorial service for Grace Erickson. We had hoped for a baptism this weekend and for three of our youth to affirm their baptisms on Confirmation Sunday. We had hoped that the youth could lead another fun babysitting night for our young families next weekend and for St. Grubby’s Day next Sunday. We had hoped to celebrate our graduating seniors in worship.

We had hoped.

As we carry these dashed hopes, Jesus walks alongside us as he walked with the disciples. Yet we, like them, don’t always recognize Jesus, especially now. When we can’t gather with the body of Christ, when we can’t share in holy communion, it can be so hard to see that Jesus walks with us. As we live in this time of collective trauma and grief and fear, we struggle to see Jesus. We wonder – where is God in all these things that are happening?

This road to Emmaus story reveals that God is where God always is – in the midst of the suffering walking with us. God enters into our suffering and works new life from within it. This is what God does. This is why it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer. It’s the pattern we see in all the scriptures. God brings life out of chaos in the beginning, God births a new nation formed from a time of slavery in Egypt, God makes a way in the wilderness to bring the people out of exile.

All the scriptures point to God bringing life out of suffering. All the scriptures point to Jesus – a Messiah who suffers to bring new life. It’s hard to wrap our minds around this – a God who suffers.

It’s hard for the disciples on the road to Emmaus to understand this, even as Jesus walks with them, even as he interprets scripture for them.

Yet Jesus stays with the disciples, walking with them, teaching them, opening the scriptures to them. Then, finally they come to a house and sit down together for a meal. Jesus takes some bread and breaks it. “And in the moment of the breaking [the disciples] eyes are opened; and they see Jesus anew. In the moment of the breaking their eyes are opened and they realize it was Jesus who was with them all along.” My friend Bishop Regina Hassanally preached those words on Good Friday and they have stayed with me ever since.

It is in the moment of the breaking that we can see Jesus – for Jesus is present in what is broken and Jesus is close to the brokenhearted. In his earthly ministry, Jesus spent his time with those who suffered deeply because of the brokenness of this world. He said, “Blessed are you who are poor and hungry, weeping and reviled.” He fed those same people by taking a small amount of bread, blessing it and breaking it. Five thousand people were fed with that broken bread.

Before his death, he promised that we too would know him in broken bread. He took bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat, this is my body, broken for you.” In his life and death, Jesus was broken open – his heart, his life, his body broken open in love for this whole hurting world. And by his death and resurrection, Jesus has broken the power of sin, suffering and death. Those things can no longer separate us from God for Jesus has entered into them and broken their hold over us. Jesus is present in every broken moment. Jesus works in broken things to feed and bless and heal and bring new life.

In the breaking, Jesus helps us to see him anew. So, let’s pay attention to what we are seeing now in this moment of global breaking. How is Jesus being made known to us in this broken moment? In the breaking, Jesus opens our eyes to see that he has been with us on our long road all along. So, following where he leads, may our hearts also break open for this world God so loves. For it is from the depths of that breaking, at the very heart of our sorrow and fear, that Jesus comes alongside us. He uses our broken hearts to bless the world with good news – a healing message expressed in word and deed that God works to bring new life from broken hearts and broken dreams. 

Dear People of God,

On this long road with the Coronavirus, when the way ahead looks uncertain, as you try to make sense of all these things that are happening, this world’s Risen Savior is with you. He’s been with you all along.

Amen. 

Sermon for Sunday, April 19, 2020 – “The Breath of Peace”

Second Sunday of Easter – Online Service
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 these strange times, the good news of Jesus is coming to us through all sorts of different technology. This week it came to me through an email from Good Shepherd’s Visitation Pastor, Pr. Marion Pruitt-Jefferson. She wrote this to me about today’s Gospel reading: “How wonderfully appropriate it is that this week, Jesus just flat out invades the ‘quarantined’ disciples’ home and breathes – not a virus – but God’s peace on them all. No masks – no defenses – just an outpouring of peace that we can breathe right into our bodies. YES!”

Yes, indeed! Thank you Pr. Marion! An outpouring of peace to breathe right into their bodies is just what those first disciples needed. They faced a very real threat from the authorities who had just killed their teacher. They were in a type of quarantine, hiding behind locked doors. When Jesus breathed peace upon them, then they were able to believe and hope and trust. Thomas wasn’t there with them, so of course he struggled to believe – he needed that breath of peace that they had received.

We, too, face a very real threat. We need to be home behind closed doors. And oh, do we need the breath of peace now. So many in our world right now are struggling with shortness of breath and chest pain, so many are trying to breathe through anxiety and fear. There is so much chaos, so much fear.

AND In the midst of all this chaos, God continues to breathe peace and new life for our whole world. This is what God does. This is what God has done from the beginning, what God has done in Christ Jesus, and what God does for you today.

Breathing life is what God has done from the beginning. The two creation stories in the book of Genesis give us wonderful pictures of God breathing.

In Genesis 1 we see God breathing life into chaos. We’re told, in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, there was a whole lot of chaos. Well, actually it says, “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,” but the Hebrew word for deep can also be translated chaos. So, God is familiar with chaos. And God knows what to do amidst chaos.

We’re told when the earth was a chaotic, formless void, “A wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word for wind, ruah, also means breath and spirit. So, when there was only chaos, God breathed over the waters. When everything was chaotic, God took a deep breath.

So, in this crazy, chaotic time it is very Godly to pause and take some deep breaths. I’ll invite you to do that with me this morning as we move through this time – inviting you to breathe in, breathe out. If you can’t breathe deeply right now, we’ll do it for you and with you. As we do, we’ll pray silently in solidarity with those who are struggling to breathe for whatever reason. Breathe in, breathe out.

Genesis 1 shows us God breathing life into chaos by the power of the Spirit. It also shows us God speaking life into being through the Word we now call Jesus. God spoke, “Let there be light, and let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and so on.” God breathed and spoke creation in- to being by the power of the Word and the power of the Spirit.

After the first creation story in Genesis 1, we get another one in Genesis 2. That story helps us to know that God doesn’t just breathe out over all the chaos, God also breathes this breath of life into each of us. In Genesis 2, God walks around in the garden and gets down in the dust and we’re told, “form[s] Adam from the dust of the ground and breath[es] into his nostrils the breath of life.” This story shows how very close God is – as close as our breath – forming us, shaping us, breathing life into us.

And, throughout scripture we see that breathing the breath of life isn’t something God has done once. As Psalm 104 says of all living things,30 When you send forth your spirit, (your ruah)* they are created; and you renew the face of the earth. God continues in every moment to create and breathe out life and peace. Breathe in, breathe out.

God created us to breathe deeply the breath of life. God intends for us to honor and care for all life and breath. And yet, life in this world is marred by sin and sickness, suffering and death. Life in this world is not as God intends it to be.

So many struggle to breathe for all sorts of reasons. So many breathe their last far too soon. We take the gift of breath for granted. We do not care for the life and breath of others. Yet even in this, God is so very close to us. God has entered even into sin, suffering and death with us. God, in Jesus, hung on a cross, cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last. Jesus, the word of God, suffered and died as a result of our own human sin and violence.

All seemed lost, all was chaotic. Jesus’ disciples were huddled behind locked doors in fear. Yet, the Word and Breath of God could not be stopped. The Word and Breath of God overcame all the forces of death to live again and live on. And then Jesus came to the disciples who were locked in fear, panicking, maybe even hyperventilating. He spoke, saying, “Peace be with you,” and then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus spoke and breathed new life out of the chaos, as it was in the beginning. As it was in the be- ginning is now and ever shall be. Jesus’ word of God comes to us to recreate and renew our life.

Jesus comes to speak peace and breathe out God’s Holy Spirit for all of us and our world.

The breath of the Holy Spirit gives us peace and strength in the midst of our own personal chaos.

It also gives what we need to be part of God’s ongoing, life-giving work of renewal and recreation in our world.

So, we don’t have to panic when we consider the chaos in our own lives, the chaos all around us. We can breathe in God’s Holy Spirit and trust that Jesus is alive and at work in and through us for the sake of the world. We can breathe in God’s Holy Spirit and trust that God is as close to us as our breath.

Let’s take some time to breathe together now.

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020 – “He Is Not (Bound) Here!”

Easter Sunday – Online Service
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.

Where is God amidst this global pandemic?

Where will we find hope, love, life in these times?

Where will we experience Jesus, who is God with us, in the flesh when we can’t gather for worship? Where will we find Jesus?

The women expect to find Jesus at the tomb. They go there to see him, to honor his body. Their world has turned upside down, all their hopes are dashed. They are grief-stricken and afraid. They need to see Jesus. They go where they expect to find him.

Instead, the world continues to shake. An angel appears and says, “Do not be afraid, I know you are looking for Jesus … he is not here. He has been raised … he is going ahead of you … there you will see him.”

We are a lot like the women on that first Easter morning. Our world is shaking, turned upside down. Our hopes and plans have been dashed. We carry such fear and anxiety. In the midst of all of this, we want to see Jesus. We want to honor Jesus’ body by being with his body, the body of Christ; we want to receive his body and blood in Holy Communion. We want to see Jesus.

We want to be here in this place where we know we will encounter Jesus in word and sacrament, music and prayer and the gathered community. This is where we expect to find Jesus.

Yet, beloved of God, he is not here, he has been raised, he is going ahead of you. There you will see him. He is not here. He has been raised. Which is to say, Jesus is not contained in this space, in this place, in all the places where we expect to encounter him.

Jesus has been raised from the dead and is now everywhere present. He is alive and on the loose and out and about in the world. So, Jesus is here, yes, because he’s everywhere; but he is not ONLY here, he is not bound here. Death cannot contain him, buildings cannot contain him, the ways we are accustomed to encountering him cannot contain him. God is on the loose, love is on the loose.

There is nowhere that God is not.

The women don’t encounter Jesus at the tomb where they expect to find him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also in places of death, that he isn’t with us in our tombs of grief and sorrow. The risen Jesus is there, even there, but not contained there.

When the angel rolls away the stone, Jesus doesn’t walk out then. He is already up, already out breaking the power of death, working new life. Stones cannot stop him. Death cannot stop him from being at work in our world.

Where is God? With us in places of death and fear AND already working on the other side of them. Even when God seems absent, God is alive and on the loose. Even when we cannot yet see how, God is already out, already working on the other side of all of this.

Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus; he is not here, he has been raised from the dead. Jesus is not contained here, not bound here or anywhere. He has been raised. AND, He is going ahead of you, there you will see him.

The angel tells the women, “He is going ahead of you to Galilea, there you will see him.” Galilea means home to them, everyday life. How astonishing to think they will find Jesus there! After all the turmoil the women have just experienced in Jerusalem, it must be strange to imagine that they will ever return to their everyday lives, much less encounter Jesus there. Yet, they are promised they will encounter Jesus in the place they call home, in the midst of everyday life.

This is the promise for you as well today.

Today Jesus is with you in your home – in that place where you now spend so much of your life.

Isolated in your home, separated from so many you love, you are never separated from Christ Jesus. Jesus is with you, even there, always there. And through him, we are united with those we love and long for, both in heaven and on earth. Amidst all the turmoil of this time, Jesus is with you.

Jesus is with you AND he is going ahead of you, just as the angel promised the women. Jesus is go- ing ahead of you into all that this life holds. This means that you also are not bound by fear and sorrow and death. This means that you can know great joy even amidst your fear.

That’s how the women left the tomb after all – we’re told they left with both fear and great joy. The angel’s promise, “He is going before you, there you will see him” – this set them free to follow Jesus joyfully even as they were afraid.

Jesus goes before you as well. You also are set free to follow Jesus, to love and serve and hope and give, even as joy and fear entwine within you. You can persist, you can carry on, you can keep the faith for Jesus goes ahead of you.

Where is God in these days? God made flesh in Jesus is everywhere present – in places of death and fear, in your home, at loose in the world. He is with you always, everywhere. He goes before you.

You can follow him joyfully even when you are afraid.

Jesus is not bound here. He has been raised. He goes ahead of you. There you will see him.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.