April 27, 2020
Praise the Lord high above;
praise the Lord high above,
for he stoops down to heal you,
uplift and restore you;
praise the Lord high above!
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #764, verse 3]
The readings for May 3, 2020, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
I'm reading a book titled,  Hunger, the Oldest Problem , by Argentinian author Martín Caparrós.
I imagine a reader's immediate reaction would be, "Why is the bishop reading a book on hunger in the midst of a global pandemic?"
That's a legitimate question, to which my response is: Before there was a novel coronavirus, before there were all the global pandemics we've experienced in our lifetime, there was hunger.
As the title of the book makes clear, hunger is the world's oldest problem. More people have died of hunger than any other crisis or disease.
Here are some startling statistics. In our world, two billion  people suffer from malnutrition. More than 821 million of those are starving. One out of every five children under five will die of malnutrition. Each year, more than three million children die from hunger and disease. That averages out to eight thousand every day, more than three hundred every hour, more than five in one minute. [1]
As I read the Gospel for this upcoming Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as "Good Shepherd Sunday," the reading ends with these words from Jesus, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." [John 10:10]
On the surface at least, one has to admit that, even to people of unyielding faith, it requires a tremendous leap of the imagination to reconcile those words with all that we are experiencing in our world today. The Gospel writer, John, points out that even those who were listening to Jesus that day did not understand what he was saying.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly .
So, what does it mean to live an abundant life? What do we imagine an abundant life to look like in a suffering, hungry, and diseased world?
In his book, Caparrós describes the daily routine of a young mother in Niger (West Africa) who got up every morning around six, washed, prayed, before setting around to prepare a meager meal for her family. It was striking to me that despite the hardship she endured, this young mother still found time to pray. The author doesn't provide more detail, yet he thought it important enough to make note of the fact that she prayed.
In the midst of adversity, this poor starving mother, finds time to give thanks to her Creator for what little she had. It calls to mind a quote attributed to St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, "Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at [God's] disposition, and listening to [God's] voice in the depths of our hearts."
Though we in the United States live in relative prosperity, these past anxiety-filled weeks have given us a glimpse of what it is to go without. But more importantly, as a result of all that, we are being given an illustration of what it means to care for each other. The kindness and consideration that people have shown and continue to show during this time is extraordinary.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly .
The Good Shepherd -- Jesus Mafa, Cameroon, West Africa
Every Fourth Sunday of Easter we are presented the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. What I think is often overlooked in this lesson is the image of the sheep and what that represents, which is, community. Sheep fare best together.
Likewise, humans were created for relationship, to be in community with each other as much as with God. Our natural inclination is to seek honest and intimate relationships.
But so much of our life is spent in protecting ourselves: giving the impression that we have it all together. It is a way of guarding ourselves against vulnerability. We hold back, for fear of exposing ourselves fully to others and risk possible rejection. Rejection is a legitimate fear, of course. After all, we silently ask ourselves, would others accept us if they really knew us?
In trying to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to really feel alive. But as long as we are not honest about who we are we cannot trust the love and acceptance others would offer us.
To live an abundant life is to trust implicitly in our relationship with God because then, like Christ, we can use that relationship as the benchmark for how we relate to other people and all of creation.
Only then can we be set free, transformed by grace, spirit and truth, to be the people God has made us to be, to go in and out of the fold and find nourishment and expression for our God given imagination, creativity and personality.
That is the blessing to be found in all the tragedy and despair we are currently going through. Christ is alive, in our hearts and in our actions. It is in our relationships to one another and creation that we find the true abundance of our humanity.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly .
It is official. The Northeastern Ohio Synod WILL NOT be held on June 12-13, 2020, but will be rescheduled to a later date yet to be determined.
The Northeastern Ohio Synod Council met on Saturday and officially voted, "To direct the Executive Committee to develop a recommendation concerning possible rescheduling of the 2020 Synod Assembly; and to instruct the Executive Committee to present their recommendation to a specially called Synod Council meeting in the next 3-4 weeks for action by the Council."
Currently, the Executive Committee is looking at dates in August or September, and it seems highly likely that it will be a one-day assembly. The chief order of business is the election of a bishop. I have agreed to serve beyond the end of my term (August 31), until a successor is in place.
On Monday afternoon, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine will announce a three-phased "reopening" plan scheduled to begin on May 1. Obviously, this has implications for our congregations.
I am in the process of drafting a Pastoral Letter which I will release once the Governor's plan is announced. That will be sent out via email late Monday afternoon.
I began today's  Musings speaking of hunger, I want to lift up the ministry of two organizations which are worthy of your support for the work they do to combat hunger.
One, of course, is ELCA World Hunger, to which many of you have given faithfully in the past. ELCA World Hunger, through your offerings, supports feeding ministries both at home and abroad. Congregations in our Northeastern Ohio Synod have been recipients of Hunger Grants that are given annually.
The other is Bread for the World, a faith-based advocacy organization whose goal is to educate opinion leaders, policymakers, and the public about hunger. It also partners with ELCA World hunger to seek sustainable solutions that get at the root causes of hunger and poverty.
We pray this week for a world where all are fed. Our closing prayer is from one of Bread for the World's publications,  Daily Prayers for an End to Hunger .
O God, I pray for all those around the world who struggle with hunger and suffer from malnutrition. Grant them strength and courage as they work to create a better life for themselves and their communities. May conflicts cease, crops flourish, and good governance grow. In the name of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life for the world. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende

[1] Martín Caparrós,  Hunger; The Oldest Problem (Brooklyn: Melville House Printing, 2015), 16-17.