Greetings from Angola, Indiana! The Region Six bishops are at Pokagon State Park awaiting the arrival of our rostered leaders who are in their first call. Each year we gather along with their mentors, and bishop staff, for three days of learning and renewal.
This year we are joined by the Rev. Andrew Genszler, President and CEO of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry in Cleveland, as we gather around the theme, "Leading Church in a Political Age."
It bears repeating what I mentioned last week in my comments about the Good Shepherd; that the image of Jesus, far from the sentimental image we have made it over time, is political. The issues we will wrestle with over the next couple days will challenge our leaders to respond to the Gospel message of Jesus through the lens of public service and civic engagement.
This coming Sunday's Gospel reading shifts from the image of sheep to grapes. Jesus always used illustrations and images that people could relate to, so they would understand his message.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower," Jesus says.
This image speaks to the power of community. It suggests that there are no free-standing individuals in the community, but branches who encircle one another completely. The fruitfulness of each individual branch depends on its relationship to the vine, nothing else. Each individual is rooted in Jesus and hence gives up individual status to become one of many surrounding branches. By remaining in the vine, we are also not alone or abandoned. In these days when congregational life is becoming even more challenging, it is a comforting message to bear in mind.
I was blessed last week to experience Teatime for Peace, at Advent Lutheran Church in Mentor. It was a time of meaningful conversation with our Muslim neighbors and went a long way toward breaking down the barriers of misunderstanding that divide us as people and as a society.
Direct conversation has the power to change perceptions. It helps us to see people much differently from the way they are portrayed in the media, or as described by political leaders who promote fear of the other for political gain. Regarding others with fear and suspicion diminishes our power to love. But as John tells us in the second reading for this Fifth Sunday of Easter, "perfect love casts out fear." [1 John 4:18]
As people of faith, we are commanded to love our neighbor: "those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also." [1 John 4:21]. The first letter of John reinforces that message. I urge you to read it several times and internalize its powerful words.
The transcending power of the gospel is the good news that race, nationality, socioeconomic status, or sexual identity of a person does not matter to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is alive and filling all people with God's grace.
This coming Thursday and Friday, April 26-27, I will be in Columbus at Trinity Lutheran
, attending the 27th Annual
Nelson W. Trout Lectures
, celebrating African American preaching. This year's featured presenter is
The Rev. Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman, assistant professor of theology and African American religion at Yale University Divinity School. Presentations are free and open to the public. The Trout lectures, established in 1991, honor former Trinity Professor, the Rev. Dr. Nelson W. Trout (1920-1996), who was the first African American Lutheran bishop in the United States.
Sunday, April 29, I will be in West Chester Township, Ohio, near Cincinnati, to celebrate with the people of God at
Vida Eterna Iglesia Luterana. Vida Eterna is a mission congregation of the Southern Ohio Synod which serves the Latino population of that region. They are led by Deacon Carmen Colón-Brown. I look forward to my visit and to once again preach and preside in Spanish, which I don't get to do very often these days.
This week and always, may your hearts be filled with the abundance and radiance of God's love, and may God's love be perfected in us.
+Bishop Abraham Allende