May 13, 2019
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the unity of heart and mind
is like to that above.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #656]
The readings for May 19, 2019, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
This week marks five years since my election as bishop. It still seems like yesterday. I still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when the election results were announced; the rubbery legs, the terror that seized me, the deer-in-the-headlights look on my face that my wife still kids me about.
It's a common practice for me, as each May rolls around since that Holy Spirit moment five years ago, to take some time to reflect on what has taken place under my leadership in our Northeastern Ohio Synod. I humorously recall the words of the late Ed Koch, mayor of New York City in the 1980's, who was famous for asking his constituents, "How am I doing?"
This isn't a subtle way to solicit opinions, because I'm sure there are tens of thousands of you who have a viewpoint that may not be exactly heartwarming.
But it's a way to lead into the words of Jesus in the gospel reading for this coming Fifth Sunday of Easter:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
The words of Jesus set the standard by which we should evaluate ourselves as Christians. How well are we following his commandment?
In much the same way, we, both as individuals and as congregations, may want to check ourselves once in a while and ask, "How are we doing?"
How are we doing as people of God? How are we doing as the body of Christ? How are we doing as a community of faith?
Many of our congregations in Northeastern Ohio do great ministry in Jesus' name and to single out any one of them would be unfair in this brief reflection. However, these words of Jesus aren't calling us to put into place new programs that structure the work of God, or develop strategies that try to "grow" the church, but to strive to become a real and caring community.
Consider, as an evaluation tool, the model Jesus has provided for us; specifically, Jesus' own words in the gospel reading, that call us to love one another, "Just as I have loved you."
We cannot easily dismiss this phrase. Jesus' entire ministry, including his passion and resurrection, hangs on this phrase. Jesus loved people in a radical way. The tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, the blind, the lame, all those who were considered the outcasts of society, none was too cut off to receive the love of Jesus.
If Jesus were here physically present today, try to imagine where he would be.
I suggest to you that Jesus would be under a bridge talking with the homeless who find shelter there; in jails visiting with the prisoners; in the fields, alongside the migrant worker; in a restaurant talking with the dishwashers and the busboys, in the supermarket talking with the checkers, the stockers, and the customers finding their way through the grocery aisles.
I also suggest that the greatest task of the church is to find out where God is already working in the world, and then participate in that work as God gives directions.
As we journey beyond the mid-point of the Easter season, it is worth remembering that Jesus went to the cross to show in word and deed that God is love and that we, as God's children, are loved.
We are Jesus' first love and passion. It is no surprise then, that he is concerned for us. He wants us to be his disciples, to follow him wherever he goes, even into eternity.
But whether we succeed or fail in our attempts to love one another this week, remember one thing - God in Jesus loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And because of this love, we are set free and sent forth, once again, to love one another.
This Thursday through Saturday, May 16-18, several of my Region Six bishop colleagues and I will travel to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, to join Bishop Craig Satterlee and the people of God in the Northwest Lower Michigan Synod for their synod assembly. They will be holding a bishop election at this assembly. I ask that you hold them in prayer as they discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in the election process.
This Easter season and always, may God cleanse us from our fears and drown our divisions, that all may drink of God's mercy and peace.
+Bishop Abraham Allende