October 15, 2018
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
[Mark 10:43-44]
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, October 21, 2018, the 22 nd Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
The last book published before Henry Nouwen's death in 1996 was titled: Can You Drink the Cup?
I was reminded of this wonderful little work as I read the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, in which Jesus' disciples, James and John ask him to grant them a favor-to sit at his right and left hand when he comes into glory. Jesus responds by asking the two of them, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"
They, of course, reply that they are able, and in my mind's eye, I can just see Jesus shaking his head and rolling his eyes in disbelief. The story tells us that the other disciples became angry with the two of them, which then forces Jesus to sit them down and remind them again of what they signed on for.
  Henry Nouwen
Many, if not all of us, are so much like James and John and the other disciples - clueless when it comes to realizing what it means to follow Jesus.
Nouwen candidly admits his naiveté in the early stages of his vocation in the priesthood. Coming from a very stable family environment, he had never known what it was to live an unsettled life. But in his many other books, the noted author has written often about sense of lostness in his life and his vocation as a priest. In the last ten years of his ministry, Nouwen worked with developmentally disabled adults, which helped him rediscover a sense of meaning and purpose.
I used Nouwen's book as a Lenten devotional many years ago, when I, too, was experiencing struggles in my ministry. At that time, I served as mission developer of a congregation made up mostly of Mexican immigrants that required much more of my time than what I bargained for.
I was not just the pastor of this newly-formed community, but their translator, their chauffeur, their advocate; helping them navigate a system that seemed to be stacked against them, due to language and documentation limitations. It was time consuming and irritating to a certain degree. It was difficult to be civil in a society that seemingly didn't care. Adding to that, I felt very little support from the greater church, which appeared indifferent to the challenges I was facing. In my mind, I was the suffering servant that Isaiah describes in the Old Testament lesson for this week.
Though I write from the perspective of a pastor, all of us go through these periods when life seems gloomy and bitter. Our readings for this week remind us that each of our life choices, decisions, and actions for the sake of following the ways of Christ will involve consequences.
For example, are you willing to expose your nerves to the hurts of others?
Are you willing to allow others to unload their burdens onto your shoulders that are overburdened already?
Are you willing to put yourself into conflict with evil and dangerous powers?
To quote Nouwen, "Drinking our cup is not simply adapting ourselves to a bad situation and trying to use it as well as we can. Drinking our cup is a hopeful, courageous, and self-confident way of living. It is standing in the world with head erect, solidly rooted in the knowledge of who we are, facing the reality that surrounds us and responding to it from our hearts."[ I]
Like James and John, we have much to learn as to what it means to truly follow the ways of Christ. Picture the needs of our world, our country, our community-men, women and little children held captive by oppression, by hunger, by poverty, by sin.
Following Jesus is far from an escape, it's a call to action. We were created in the image of God. We have all been called and sent to serve. Are you able to drink the cup?
Tuesday I will be at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in New Philadelphia to meet with the rostered ministers of the Southern Conference.
Wednesday I will be in North Canton, at the offices of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, as they host the Fall Board Meeting of the Ohio Council of Churches. These meetings have traditionally held in Columbus. However, interim Executive Director Anne Barss, in an effort to promote community and cohesiveness, has asked the council to hold the board meetings at other judicatories throughout the region that the council serves. I ask your prayers for the Council during this time of transition.
Friday and Saturday, the Northeastern Ohio Synod Council will gather in retreat at Camp Mowana in Mansfield. This is the annual overnight meeting at which we, as people of God, look ahead to the following year and plan how to serve Christ's church together in the 20 counties of our Synod. Our time will be spent in worship, discernment and discussion.
This week and always, may the Lord raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of God's Hand.
+Bishop Abraham Allende

[I] Henry Nouwen,  Can You Drink the Cup? Indiana, Ave Maria Press (p. 87)