May 14, 2018
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
The readings for this coming Sunday, May 20, the Day of Pentecost, are as follows:
In our second reading from Paul's letter to the Roman Christians, the apostle writes:
24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
What drew my attention to these lines was the repetition of the word, "hope." Five times in short order, Paul mentions the word. And if you read the entire letter, you would know that hope is a recurring theme throughout.
However, what I've witnessed in my visits to congregations in the Northeastern Ohio Synod during my time as bishop, is a church mired in anxiety and despair. Therefore, I write these thoughts today in hope that you will be inspired to look forward to the future in faith and not in fear.
I've either written or preached on this theme before in a variety of settings. But I feel so strongly about these ideas that I share them again with the aim that this Pentecost may fill you with a spirit of hope for the church and its future.
What I glean from the words of Paul is that hope is built into the Christian experience from the start and remains one of its central characteristics. I've preached these words before, both when I was in the parish and as I travel around the 20 counties of our synod.
In Spanish, we have a phrase that states: "
La esperanza muere al último
." Hope dies last.
Hope is to our spirits what oxygen is to our lungs. When hope dies, your spirit dies.
But realize that hope does not mean there won't be bumps along the way. Paul calls it "suffering."
On Pentecost Sunday, in the book of Acts, we'll hear the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit in the upper room. That Spirit, that rush of mighty wind, breathed life into the early church. But just before the coming of the Spirit, for the 50 days since the Resurrection, we saw a different church. We saw, in fact, nothing that would resemble a church at all. Instead, we witnessed a rag-tag group of followers that seemed lost without their leader. It appeared that when Jesus died, the possibility of God's Kingdom on earth died with him.
But the Spirit, that rush of mighty wind, descended on those disciples that day and everything changed. Galileans, who at that time were not known for being the sharpest cultural tools in the shed, began speaking in different languages, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church was alive!
I strongly believe that that life is still with us. But that doesn't mean the church is not without its struggles.
If you read the story of the early church, you know of the persecutions and the martyrdom that took place. Yet in spite of the violence leveled against the church, it grew! People lived in hope of seeing the coming of the Kingdom and nothing will stop them until it is fulfilled.
That same hope is what inspired the Lutheran confessors in the 16
Century to write:
It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever.
[Article VII of the Augsburg Confession]
When we look at our present situation, it appears that we have failed in our expression of the Christian faith. But then consider that it's nothing new for the church to go through trials and temptations, persecutions and distresses, uncertainties and dangers, fears and concerns. Our past has always had a future.
Life in the church, therefore, is a matter of straining forward for what is to come, for what is yet unseen; people living in hope of seeing the coming of the Kingdom, undeterred until it is fulfilled. And we have the Holy Spirit to lead us forward.
I have a simple definition of the Holy Spirit. I don't remember where I first heard it, but I've repeated it so often that I've appropriated it as my own. And my definition of the Holy Spirit is this:
That power which moves people to do God's will.
At Pentecost, the Spirit brought the church two gifts: a sense of unity and a sense of purpose (mission).
Unity is born out of our baptism, in which we are made one with God. No matter our race, our ethnicity, our social status or economic level, the diversity of the church is embraced by this spirit of unity.
The second gift is a sense of purpose or mission. In a nutshell, that purpose is to worship and glorify God. And because of that, the church does not conform to the world, but is here to transform the world.
The presence of the Spirit is our assurance that, in spite of all our fears and concerns, the church has a future. It is the Spirit's past that assures us of that - and it is the experience of the church's past that the Spirit always gives it a future - not necessarily the kind of future that is expected, but a future of the Spirit's making. It is with that assurance we move into the future.
May the Holy Spirit fill each of us this Pentecost with a burning awareness of its presence! May that same Holy Spirit give us patience in the ups and downs of life, and in suffering! May you live in hope. May you hope for what you do not see.
The office here at the Lutheran Center is in pre-assembly mode as we prepare for our annual gathering on June 8
at the John S. Knight Center. I will have more to say on that next week.
, as we do every other month, I meet with our Conference Deans.
, I gather with our pastors who are in their first call. I never tire of saying how much of an inspiration they are to me.
, our Worship Committee gathers to put the finishing touches on our assembly worship services.
, I am honored to celebrate the wedding of Pastor Anne Marie Winters at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Warren, Ohio, as she is married to David Perkins.
evening, as has become tradition at Pentecost, I will be at Zion Lutheran Church in Youngstown as the youth in the Eastern Conference congregations affirm their baptism in the rite of Confirmation.
This week and always, may the Holy Spirit fill your hearts and kindle in you the fire of God's love!
+Bishop Abraham Allende