December 9, 2019
Lost in the night do the people yet languish,
longing for morning the darkness to vanquish,
plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish.
Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #243]
The assigned lectionary readings for December 15, 2019, The Third Sunday of Advent, are as follows:
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
I somewhat jokingly throw that line in once in a while when I preach at the installation of a new pastor. A congregation usually pins all its expectations on the new pastor who will solve all their problems singelhandedly. He or she will bring back all their inactive members, find them a flock of young families with children, boost the offerings so as to replenish their depleted budget, and for good measure, fix the leaky faucet in the bathroom.
No human individual on earth, no matter how talented, can turn around a congregation that doesn't want to change. Many of the problems that plague a church were created over generations of time by a multitude of people. The pastor is no miracle worker, much to the disappointment of those who are most often the chronic complainers.
There will always be those whose expectations remain unfulfilled no matter who the leader is. For them, things will never get better. No matter how many pastors have served their church, they're still waiting for things to change - and they just aren't.
On one level or another, they and we can relate to the question of John the Baptist in our Gospel text for this upcoming Third Sunday of Advent: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
What were John's expectations about Jesus? Last week's gospel stated that many people, including Sadducees and Pharisees, were coming to see John, and that he was baptizing them with water for the repentance of their sins.
But John prophesied that Christ would come with a baptism of fire and a winnowing fork in his hand. John envisioned a Messiah who would arrive on the scene with a vengeance.
Imagine his surprise when this man Jesus comes not with a winnowing fork, but with a healing touch, with a forgiving heart, and with a message of God's unconditional love.
It's all a big disappointment for John. The Messiah seemed to spend lots of time with misfits and spiritual losers, wining and dining with sinners, but too little time chopping down the rotten wood that John has singled out for fiery destruction. Nothing seems to really change for John, or anyone else, for that matter.
Jesus' approach was most definitely different than John's expectations, but the result of Jesus' ministry was what the prophet Isaiah speaks of in the Old Testament lesson - the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
Each week we come to church, hear the Scriptures read and preached, we sing the hymns, say the prayers, share the eucharist, and, if we're lucky, we may have an experience of God.
I suspect that one of the reasons many of our traditions are withering, and our church population is declining, is that, as people of God, we haven't been trained to see God at work in the ordinary areas of our lives. It's easy to limit ourselves to think merely in terms of maintaining the church afloat, of making sure the bills get paid, the repairs are made, the programs continue, to do just enough.
But the mission of the church is the mission of Jesus Christ. All of us are called to bring good news to the people, not just the professional clergy. God uses us in our various roles as employee, retiree, parent, spouse, friend, citizen, and volunteer, to extend God's love, blessing, and steadfast care for all creation.
Going forward into this coming year, we as the ELCA have put an emphasis on congregational vitality. Rather than ask the pastor, "
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?", it might be helpful to ask ourselves the following:
- "Is our congregation a living servant church?"
- "Do we have a clear understanding that we exist in service to Jesus?"
- "Do all our actions stem from Jesus' commission to proclaim the gospel?"
- "Do we carry our worship experience with us out of church and into our everyday lives?
- "Do we look for God in the ordinary? In our home, work, school, economics, or politics?
I can't remember from where I borrowed these questions, but they invite us to think of ourselves in relation to Jesus, to join him in mission for the sake of the world.
We are instruments of God's love for others, called to be a community of compassion, a place and a people who show the world that God is alive, and God is love.
Wednesday, December 11, I will visit with the children of Messiah Lutheran School in Fairview Park to preach at their weekly chapel. I always enjoy these get-togethers with the youth, as they challenge me to make the Gospel understood, without making it overly simplistic. Hopefully, it is an educational, uplifting and inspiring experience for them as well.
Thursday evening, December 12, I will celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with the people of God at Iglesia Luterana La Trinidad in Canton. This evening is special in that La Trinidad was my first call to ministry and the congregation I served for nine years. It is the first congregation in Northeastern Ohio to worship in Spanish. La Trinidad is housed at Zion Lutheran Church on Raff Road in Canton. The service begins at 6:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday I travel to Houston, Texas, for our fourth consultation between seminary leaders and bishops of color focused on Dismantling Racism and Systems of Oppression in Theological Education and Faith Formation. These conversations began in January of this year and have reached a stage in which we begin to create strategic efforts towards this important work.
This week and always, may your soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord and your spirit rejoice in God, our Savior. [Luke 1:46b]
+Bishop Abraham Allende