July 9, 2018
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 
[Ephesians 1:3-4]
The assigned lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, July 15, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
We often say to someone, "God bless you," usually after a sneeze, without giving it much thought. But this past week, I've thought a lot about the word, "blessing."
For the past several years, around the Fourth of July holiday, it's become a tradition for my wife, my son and me, to enjoy the Cleveland Orchestra's "Salute to America" concert at Blossom Music Center and the fireworks that follow. The concert is infused with patriotic songs, not the least of which is "God Bless America."
The song has become a staple of Major League Baseball and sung during the seventh inning stretch of every Sunday game in ballparks around the country.
So, it prompted me to think about those times in my life in which I experienced the word, blessing. What does it mean to be blessed? How do you interpret the word, "blessing"? Does God bless some countries or groups of people or individuals and not others?
The second reading from the letter to the Ephesians invites us to ponder those questions. Blessed, blessed, blessing - three times, the author, the apostle Paul, uses some form of the word blessing in the very first sentence.
For the next seven weeks, the second reading will be taken from this epistle. And if I may be so bold as to suggest that if anyone wants to know the purpose of the church, it is worth your while to read this letter.
As one commentator wrote, "Reading through the first chapter of Ephesians is much like looking through an old family scrapbook that has been sitting on the shelf for years. As we turn each musty page, we are reminded of people, places, events that we had long since forgotten." [1]
To give these words some context and perspective, we need to understand that the people of Ephesus were a mission congregation.
This obviously resonates with me because it was just about this time, 18 years ago, that I received a call from the Reverend John Mann asking me if I would be interested in traveling to Canton to help him develop a Spanish language worship service. Needless to say, I was intrigued and puzzled. A Spanish service in
Canton, Ohio? I thought the predominant language spoken there was football.
My curiosity was piqued, and I pressed him further on why, of all places, would someone want to worship in Spanish in Canton, Ohio?
He told me the story that a few months earlier he had conducted a funeral service at Trinity Lutheran Church for a Mexican woman who had faithfully worshipped there with her children. He thought there would be very few in attendance. To his surprise, over a hundred fifty people attended. So many that he had to hastily call a Spanish-speaking interpreter. That was the inspiration of the vision which led to my first call as a mission developer to the emerging Latino population of Canton and the surrounding area.
In the congregation begun by Paul, there were, we imagine, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. And that in itself is no small matter. Think about the Middle East today. And also think about the racial, the ethnic, the political and the religious conflict that exists in our own country. Believe it or not, the divisiveness that we see and experience in this day is nothing compared to that great ancient divide. And yet here in this port city of Western Asia minor, late in the first century we have these Jews and Gentiles now all worshipping together as Christians.
To break down all the barriers that had previously stood before them is nothing short of a miracle. It is a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians, then, is celebrating the inclusion of both Gentiles and Jews in this new initiative of God to bring together all people, indeed, all things into unity under Christ.
The church began with outreach to outcasts, of which we were once a part. Just as the church then, as a place of reconciliation, stood for the overcoming of fundamental, deep-seated, ingrained divisions between Jewish and Gentile peoples in the world of the first century, so too does the church today stand for the overcoming of divisions forced on the world by tradition, class, color, and nation.
Being Christians, being part of the church, means reaching out to others, sharing our faith, and welcoming them into our community of love. Our mission is celebrating the love of God we know in
Christ Jesus, and we can only do that by sharing our worship and our witness with others.
All Christians are called to embrace the mission of the church by reaching out to strangers, to outcasts, and to enemies. The cross of Christ, lifted up, draws the world in its diversity and witnesses to the wiping out, the abolition, the breakdown of that which divides.
This is the work of God that all of us are called to do. We are blessed to be a blessing.
This coming Saturday, July 14, I will be at Salem Lutheran Church in Wooster to be part of a panel discussion titled "Church Security: Where Faith and Preservation Collide." This promises to be a lively, but difficult discussion, and the fact that we have to have the discussion at all speaks to the troubled state in which our society finds itself. The program begins at noon.
On Sunday, July 15, I will be with the people of God at Zion Lutheran Church in North Canton.
This week and always, may we set our hope on Christ, so we might live for the praise of his glory. [Ephesians 1:12]
+Bishop Abraham Allende

[1]  Paul R. Escamilla,  Ministry