November 11, 2019
O God of ev'ry nation,
of ev'ry race and land,
redeem your whole creation
with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us
and bitter threats are hurled,
in love and mercy guide us
and heal our strife-torn world.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #713]
The assigned lectionary readings for November 17, 2019, the 23
Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
The first image that always comes to mind when I read the Gospel lesson for this upcoming Sunday is First Lutheran Church in Lorain. Any talk of temples being destroyed always unleashes recollections of that glorious scene on Sunday, August 31, 2014, of hundreds of people worshipping outdoors, in the shadow of the charred building and the rubble that was once their church, which had been torched by an arsonist just three days earlier.
For some, those events may have already faded into the recesses of memory, but for me, it was my introduction into this office, and will always be etched in my mind right alongside the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; and November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot.
"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down," Jesus says.
Three years ago, the last time these readings came up in the lectionary, I was in Guatemala representing the ELCA as part of a Human Rights Observation Mission. I was barely over a month into this weekly project of writing Monday Musings, still fishing for a consistent style and not yet using the lectionary as a springboard for my reflections.
What I've discovered over time is that, like writing a sermon, when difficult texts show up in the assigned readings, I look for the path of least resistance and choose the one that makes most sense in my mind. Some times I wish I were able to simply skip a week and write nothing at all.
Not so with this one.
Although these apocalyptic selections become increasingly challenging to explain as we approach Christ the King and the end of the liturgical year, this one generates such an outpouring of ideas that my challenge is to limit my thoughts to avoid launching into a full-blown sermon.
There are some really terrifying predictions in these readings - burning ovens, evildoers reduced to stubble, temples being destroyed, nations rising against nations, earthquakes, persecutions - real scary stuff. If we were to take them literally we could be tempted to retreat into a shell and not come out ever again.
But here are a few quick thoughts on what Jesus, Paul, and the prophet are trying to tell us through these words.
In Jesus' day, Judaism had become a shell that no longer stressed the purpose in God's covenant. It had been reduced to a system of legalism, rite, ritual, and routine. It had become a tradition or a cultural identity rather than a means to serve God and care for others on God's behalf. It promoted itself and its own preservation rather than the purposes for which God had designed it. It had missed God's purpose and needed some radical interference to call it back to God's design. That is why God sent God's only son to die for us. The law of God was and is an expression of love.
All too often today's church has faced the very same issues. The Gospel reading warns us about becoming too fixated on temporary human institutions. Generation after generation, we must be called back to the purpose of being God's people. It is not about buildings, musical styles, or pleasing our own.
If we focus too much on what happens within the walls, we miss the purpose of being called church.
If we focus too much on the routines and rituals that grant us comfort, we miss the purpose of Christ Jesus' death on the cross.
If we focus too much on ourselves, we miss the purpose to which we were called-to bear fruit for God's use.
How closely will we align our lives with God's purposes?
We are valuable to God. But for whatever reason, it seems that society is unwilling or unable to realize it.
As people of God, we are called to live as God's people in the midst of indifference and even opposition.
Somewhere along the way, that message has gotten lost amid the din of today's noise of the world. I believe that it is the purpose of the church to proclaim over and over again to its people: We are precious in God's sight. God's love for us is far greater than we could ever imagine.
Tuesday of this week I will be in Youngstown to speak to the ACTION Clergy Caucus on "Theology and Social Justice."
ACTION is an ecumenical grassroots community organization which seeks to unite faith groups, schools, neighborhood organizations, tenant councils, and other non-profits to work for social justice.
Wednesday, our Conference Deans gather at the Lutheran Center for our bi-monthly meeting.
Friday, I will be in Columbus for the Annual Ministry Review of LSA Ohio. This is a meeting of all our Lutheran Social Service agencies across the state.
Sunday, November 17, at 4:00 p.m. is the installation of
Krnac as Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jefferson, Ohio. All rostered leaders are invited to vest and process. The color of the day is green.
This week and always, may you sing a new song to the Lord for his steadfast love and faithfulness.
+Bishop Abraham Allende