July 2, 2018

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.
[Psalm 123:2]
The assigned lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
I'm back from a wild and wonderful week at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston where, along with 31,000 young people and adults - 540 from Northeastern Ohio - we worshipped, rejoiced, served, and celebrated God's wonderful gifts of love, grace, and hope.
Each night at the mass gatherings, we heard powerful messages from a wide variety of speakers, and sang a dazzling and diverse array of music from contemporary musicians. During the day each synod either, gathered to worship together, went out into the community to serve in different sites around the city, or learned of the many ways the church serves around the world.
The following is what I posted on my Facebook page on our Service Learning Day along with a few photos:
Service Learning Day for the Northeastern Ohio Synod took our 530 youth and adults to various locations around Houston to witness to God's love in a number of ways. My busload included youngsters from Holy Trinity, Akron; Peace, Ashland; Christ the Redeemer, Brecksville; St. Paul, Sharon Center; and Christ the King, Twinsburg. At the Community of Faith, a local church which does a lot of outreach, we prepared a garden bed for a community garden, painted fence railing, cleared out and painted a shed, and also painted a mural.
The people at Community of Faith couldn't stop thanking us, which was affirming for the youth.

Being around these young people keeps me young and renews my hope for the church. They are eager to serve and demonstrate the love of God by loving their neighbor.
Rather than try to describe the Youth Gathering experience in words, I would encourage you to watch the many videos that are posted on the ELCA YouTube page to get a flavor of what the week was like. But nothing can compare to actually being there.
The next Gathering happens in 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It's not too soon to begin preparing.
The readings for this coming Sunday dovetail with our Gathering experience in the sense of beings sent out to serve the Lord in this broken and sinful world.
The Old Testament lesson tells us about the sending of Ezekiel as a prophet to the rebellious nation of Israel.  And the Gospel reading narrates Jesus' commissioning and sending of the twelve disciples.
As a former mission developer, these readings jump out at me for obvious reasons.  But I hope they jump out at you as well in light of the challenges the church faces today. 
With the church in serious decline here in the US, and exploding elsewhere in the world, the United States has become the "new mission field." And, I might add, I feel it is within our own denomination where the biggest need to witness exists.
When she was Northeastern Ohio Synod bishop, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was fond of saying that, "every congregation is a mission station."  While those words are true at their core, all of our congregations fall far short of that affirmation.
Both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings raise a couple of key questions to the church in general, and to us as the ELCA in particular: 
V  What is God calling us to do?  More specifically, what is  God
     calling us to do as God's people in our congregations?
V  Are we faithful to that call?
It's worth noting that Jesus is rejected in his hometown. No matter how many people Jesus had healed, how many demons he had driven out, or how many little children's lives he had restored, the message was not always received with open arms or open hearts. People couldn't seem to get beyond the fact that this is Jesus, Mary's boy, a carpenter. He just didn't quite measure up in the eyes of some, because of the circumstances of his origin, his common beginnings.
That same rejection that Jesus experienced in his hometown is what he prepares his disciples for when he sends them on their mission.  People will refuse to listen to the good news that they had to proclaim.
In many ways we are also like the people of Jesus' home town. Closed minds and closed hearts often cause us to miss the message of God's grace.
These thoughts went through my mind as I observed the young people all last week. They have the potential to be bold and faithful witnesses. Our role as adults is to nurture their potential as well as ours. The task at hand for all of us, young and old, is sharing that good news of God's salvation with others, of making Christ known in the world.
This week and always, let us ponder in what ways we are encouraging (or inhibiting) God's work in our lives, our households, our congregations, our communities, and the world.
+Bishop Abraham Allende