February 19, 2018

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." 
[Mark 8:34]
The readings for February 25, 2018, the Second Sunday in Lent, are as follows:

Last Wednesday, we began the observance of the 40 days of Lent with an ashen cross traced on our foreheads as a sign of our mortality.
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," the pastor said, reminding us that our life on earth is fleeting.
And as if we needed more than a mere symbolic warning, that very same day, this nation and the world witnessed another ghastly mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and many others injured. Once again, sin and evil rears its ugly head.

Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following shooting incident in Parkland, FL -- couresy of REUTERS
According to a New York Times report, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern United States history have come in the last five months. 
Incidents like this are more than troubling. They have the potential to destroy our faith. They immediately raise questions such as, "Why would God allow evil to exist in the world?"
As we mentioned last week, struggle is part and parcel of our journey of faith, and Lent is the most appropriate time to reflect on our faith and wrestle precisely with these types of queries.
In this coming Sunday's Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus tell his disciples that he will undergo great suffering, rejection, and death. Peter, of course, will have none of it. He takes Jesus aside and reprimands him for saying these things. This does not do a lot for Peter. Peter didn't want this sort of ministry. That's not what he signed on for.
This is the first of several times this scene will be played out over the course of Jesus' journey toward Jerusalem. At each mention of Jesus' suffering, the disciples make every effort to steer the conversation away from any uncomfortable talk of painful subjects like suffering and dying. Their goal, it appears, is to avoid any encounter with anguish and adversity.
The challenge is just as perplexing to us today as they were to Peter in his day. We spend a lifetime trying to understand humanity's brokenness. Shouldn't faith make us safer - safe and secure from danger? This sort of ordeal has burdened humankind for thousands of years.
But that is not what God promises. God does not promise to take the suffering away, but rather that Christ will be with us in all circumstances. We are promised in Christ that we shall live forever with Christ.
As our minds and hearts are turned toward Jerusalem with Jesus, we become more aware of the nature and depth of faith called for in our call to follow Christ (discipleship).
Unfortunately, the mass shootings will continue. Yet even though we have a responsibility to make our schools and our society safer by taking precautions and enacting whatever legislation necessary to minimize the danger, our faith is founded on the cross of Christ.
Like Jesus, we too are called to keep trusting in God, even at times when it seems God may have forgotten us. Christ's Spirit is with us, in us, around us, at our side to give us the hope for living and assurance for dying.
The apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth:  "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." [2 Corinthians 9:8]
It is with great joy and gratitude that I share the following news. Our fiscal year ended on January 31, 2018, and for the first time in 12 years, synod mission support did not decrease when compared to the previous year!  Preliminary figures actually show a slight increase in giving over last year. With decreases in the preceding three years ranging from $58,000 to $77,000, this is truly a result worth celebrating! We serve a God of abundance and for that we are grateful. We are also thankful to you for your boundless generosity.
I would also take this opportunity to encourage you to view the following video to see exactly how your congregational offerings support the ministries of the ELCA and the church around the world.

This Saturday I will be with the people of God at Good Soil Ministries, our newest congregation in the Northeastern Ohio Synod. Good Soil is a consolidation of the congregations of Faith, Lakewood, and Our Savior's, Rocky River. On February 1, they officially became one church with two campuses. Saturday's service will be officially The Rev. Mark Rollenhagen, who has been serving as their pastor, will officially be installed as Pastor of Good Soil.
Sunday, I will be preaching and presiding at a join worship service of the congregations of Living Lord, Howland, and St. Paul, Warren. These two congregations have also been doing collaborative ministry together for several months and are working toward a more permanent partnership in the near future.
This week and always, may the word  of Christ dwell in you richly; give you a spirit of wisdom, a heart filled with gratitude, and shower you with an abundance of mercy and peace.
+Bishop Abraham Allende