March 9, 2020
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
to keep his statutes still!
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
to know and do his will!
Order my footsteps by your word
and make my heart sincere;
let sin have no dominion, Lord,
but keep my conscience clear.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #772, verses 1,2]
The assigned lectionary readings for Sunday, March 15, 2020, the Third Sunday in Lent, are as follows:
Greetings from Chicago, where we are wrapping up the Spring Conference of Bishops.
This gathering was historic in that, for the first time, our Conference met jointly with the ELCA Church Council. We got to know each other better, worshipped, dined and fellowshipped together; all of which led to a better understanding of what each of us do as a body, and created a mutual appreciation of the challenges each of us face in trying to do the blessed, but often difficult work of leading our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
One of the newest members of the ELCA Church Council is David Lenz, who also happens to be the Secretary of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. It was comforting to have a familiar face among those who represent the various regions of our church, and to be able to get his impressions of this fantastic experiment.
We don't know as of yet how often we will repeat this experience, but I think it was a tremendous learning event, and brought us closer in purpose, and into living out our slogan of being "Church together."
It was also, for me, a bittersweet moment in that this was - and I hate to keep bringing this up - my final conference as Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod.
Sunday, March 8, was International Women's Day. I note that because when I began as bishop in 2014, there were less than a dozen women bishops. Now, our 66-member Conference includes 22 women - exactly one third of the body. That includes, of course, our Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, the pride of Northeastern Ohio. She was not available for the adjoining photo.
This is also noteworthy because this year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is celebrating the 50
th anniversary of the ordination of women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It is also the 40th year since the ordination of the first woman of color. The Conference now includes three women of color: Bishop Patricia Davenport of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, the first African American woman to be elected as bishop; Bishop Leila Ortiz of the Metropolitan D.C. Synod, the first Latina to be elected outside of the Caribbean Synod; and Bishop Idalia Negrón, the second Latina to be elected from the Caribbean.
We look forward with joy to the day when these historic accomplishments become commonplace in the church and we live out the vision of Revelation 7:9, that "great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands."
It is appreciably coincidental that this coming Sunday's reading also involves a woman. In our Gospel reading from John we hear of Jesus' encounter with the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well.
This Samaritan woman is not what one would call a well thought-of person. On many counts, Jesus should have avoided her. Yet Jesus asks her for a drink of water. His request was clearly a violation of social customs of the time. But Jesus asking for a drink expresses his willingness to cross boundaries, to break down barriers, to turn the social norms upside down.
She was a woman in need of grace and this encounter turns her life in a totally different direction.
It calls to mind the last verse of last week's Gospel reading, "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." [John 3:17]
So, at its very core this story is a story about transformation. We are that Samaritan woman. Each one of us has a shady side. But our encounter with Jesus changes us and makes us ready to respond to God's will. No matter what our background, or where we come from, or who we are, Jesus transforms our lives.
This coming Sunday I will be with the people of God at New Covenant Lutheran Church in East Cleveland. New Covenant was once my home congregation when it was known as St. James Lutheran Church. It was there that the pastor at the time, the Rev. Robert Gahagen, repeatedly and relentlessly said to me that I had the gifts for ministry. Each time I visit New Covenant I am reminded that God chooses some unlikely people to lead the Church.
This week and always, may we come before God's presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to the Lord with psalms. [Psalm 95:2]
+Bishop Abraham Allende