January 13, 2020
"I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?"
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #574]
The assigned lectionary readings for January 19, 2020 The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, are as follows:
This week is always a significant week in my life for a number of reasons.
The most personal is that on the 18
th of January I celebrate the anniversary of my ordination. It is also the day the Church commemorates the Confession of Peter, and begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
As I recall, the Rev. Marcus Miller, who was Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod at the time, and I came to an agreement on my ordination date somewhat by a process of elimination. I had long been approved for ordination, but he was on sabbatical and I wanted him to ordain me. So we purposely delayed it until January of 2003, the month of his return. The first Saturday would be too soon after the New Year to effectively plan an ordination. The second Saturday of January was the regularly scheduled Synod Council meeting. That left the third Saturday, the 18th, as the earliest possibility. It was he who remarked with excitement, "That's the Confession of Peter!"
That, of course, would make it hard to forget the date.
Six years ago, Bishop Miller was once again our interim bishop. I was serving on Synod Council and led the opening devotion for our January meeting, which fell on Saturday, January 18, 2014. What follows is a portion of that devotional offering, which still holds great meaning for me:
It's hard to believe that it's been eleven years. I can still remember the day as if it were yesterday. I don't remember what Bishop Marcus Miller preached that day. I was so overwhelmed by the entire day that the details of the sermon were buried by other memories and the emotions I was feeling.
I wrote the following in my journal a couple of days later (I didn't know what a blog was back then, so my thoughts were committed to paper).
It was absolutely the best day of my life. I cried uncontrollably. To see people whom I had known at various stages of my life all together because of me was overwhelming. It was an affirmation that I had been seeking all my life. I thank God for allowing me to witness what many people don't see in their lifetime.
One of the most vivid scenes was the procession. I had sensed at the rehearsal that I would cry at this point and sure enough, I did.
At some other point I hope to reflect more on that day. A lot has happened in eleven years and I'm not where I expected to be at this point, although I consider it more important to be where God expects me to be.
Here are a couple photos of that day at Trinity Lutheran Church in Canton (which closed in 2010).
It is also somewhat providential that during this season of Epiphany we hear call and witness stories in our Lectionary readings; stories that foc
us on how humans come to faith, and for Christians, invited into a relationship with Jesus.
We just celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord, and all the readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany also echo powerful baptismal themes.
In the Old Testament lesson, we hear the word of God as spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
The LORD called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
And now the Lord says...
"I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
In our Gospel lesson we hear the testimony of John the Baptist. John sees Jesus coming and points him out as "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
He points this out again to two of his disciples, and they obviously believe, because they follow Jesus.
One of them, Andrew, then witnesses to his brother Peter. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This Sunday's Gospel offers the most basic method of evangelism. It is perhaps the simplest of all witnessing tools. I call it the "come and see" method of personal evangelism.
God calls each and every one of us for a special purpose. No, God is not calling all of us to be pastors, but God does have a purpose for each of us. In our baptism, God claimed us and called us his special children.
And for me, the most important point of this story from the Gospel according to John is that, when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, our primary job is to see and share.
A few weeks ago, this graphic appeared on our Synod Facebook page.
I had seen some similar statistics on a website of the Episcopal Church, but these percentages are even more dramatic. The number one reason that people decide to go to church is because a friend invites them. 86% to 6% because a pastor invited them.
You have to admit that's a pretty overwhelming difference. Yet the overwhelming majority of people that attend church regularly lay the responsibility of evangelism at the hands of the pastor.
I am convinced that one of the Christian's greatest fears, if not THE greatest fear is that of personal evangelism - witnessing, testifying, sharing one's faith with another person. We're very uncomfortable even with those terms.
John's Gospel offers the most basic method of evangelis
m. It is perhaps the simplest of all witnessing tools. I call it the "come and see" method.
I encourage you to try "Come and see." After all, w
e need only to look at Christ and we see that God's love is the most valued possession we have.
REPORTS, REPORTS, REPORTS...
Rostered leaders, please remember that it's time to complete your annual reports. I do read these reports and respond as appropriate. It is also a way for us, as rostered leaders, to maintain some sense of accountability. The link and instructions will be available on our Wednesday e-news, or you can access the form by clicking HERE.
Also, Congregational reports are also due. I would ask your help in improving our response rate. Last year, 71% of our congregations submitted reports. That is a slight improvement over the previous year, but still significantly below the churchwide average, which is 78.1%
These reports are important for a couple of reasons:
The voting member allocation for the 2022 Churchwide Assembly will be based on the reports received this coming year, so those filed in the coming year will have a direct effect on our voting member allocation.
The congregational report is like a diagnostic tool, like blood pressure or temperature taken in a doctor's office. The report is not the full picture, not a good indicator of a congregation's activities or the quality of its ministry, but it can help us to ask more questions. Annual reports such as these are used by Planning, Research, and Evaluation staff to help the churchwide organization see where the church is today and what trends are developing.
The Annual Commemoration Service for The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sponsored by the Northeastern Ohio Synod and the African Descent Lutheran Association, will be held this coming Sunday, January 19, 2020 at 3:30 pm., at Holy Trinity, Akron. You may recall that last year the service was cancelled because of heavy snow. We are praying for good weather this coming Sunday.
The guest speaker is The Rev. Dr. Charles Tyler, Sr., Pastor at Wesley Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Akron and Akron District Presiding Elder for the AME Zion Church.
This week and always, may the Lord put a new song in your mouth, a song of praise to our God; so that many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
[Adapted from Psalm 40:3]
+Bishop Abraham Allende