The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, 
"Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
[John 1:29]

As you read this, I am driving back from Charleston, South Carolina, where we held our annual Bishops' Academy. This is a continuing education event that is held every year and focuses on topics that will inform and prepare bishops for significant events and observations in the coming year. I find these moments informative and educational for me both as a bishop and as a Lutheran, especially as we begin to draw attention to the 500 th anniversary of the Reformation.

This year we heard from three presenters: Dr. Timothy Wengert, Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor Emeritus of Reformation History and the Lutheran Confessions at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; Dr. Susan McArver, Professor of Church History and Educational Ministry at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary/Lenoir-Rhyne University; and Dr. Kathryn Lohre, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

We learned of the foundational roots of the Reformation from Dr. Wengert in the 16 th Century. Dr. McArver painted a vivid portrait of the origins of Lutheranism in America. And Dr. Lohre helped us reflect on our 21 st century mission field, in a global/ecumenical perspective.

Mother Emmanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC
Most impressive for me was our visit on Friday, January 6, with the African Methodist Episcopal Bishops at Mother Emanuel AME Church, the congregation that was the site of the brutal slaying of nine of its members back in June of 2015. We worshipped with them at historic St. Matthew's Lutheran Church that same day, which happened to be the Epiphany of our Lord.

It was coincidental that last week also began the sentencing phase of the trial of Dylann Roof, the man who brutally murdered the nine victims, two of whom had been educated at the Southern Theological Lutheran Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. Roof, himself, is a baptized and confirmed Lutheran.

This tragic incident points out that evil is not the exclusive domain of any one group or race or religion, as some politicians would have you believe.
As we look ahead to this coming Sunday's readings, we hear John the Baptist declare in the Gospel that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is also a phrase in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah that is echoed in other prophets. It is found in Isaiah 49:1.
The LORD called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother's womb he named me.

This verse alone should underscore for us how very important we are in God's plans. Every life is significant to God. Our identity rests on the mere point that we are special to God - God's beloved children.

This weekend our nation commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr., who spent most of his life reminding us that this Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world not just of whites, but of blacks as well.  King was someone who was utterly comfortable with being identified by God and with God and not by others.  Rather than label others as black, white, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent, gay, straight, young, or old, he identified himself and everyone else by that label that we all should wear proudly-child of God. 

We will see and celebrate that this coming Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., at Messiah Lutheran Church in Lyndhurst, and I invite everyone to come and share in that celebration.  Get a glimpse of what the Kingdom of Heaven will look like. More details can be found by clicking [ HERE].*

On Sunday morning I also look forward to being with the good people of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Alliance, where we just recently installed Pastor Angela Storer. It is good to be back after what seems like a long time away.

New Year's blessings to you!

+Bishop Abraham Allende