August 17, 2020
Lord Jesus Christ, be present now;
our hearts in true devotion bow.
Your Spirit send with light divine,
and let your truth within us shine.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #527]
The readings for Sunday, August 23, 2020, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
The Gospel reading for this 12th Sunday after Pentecost has deep personal meaning for me on a couple of different levels. First, it was the gospel text that was preached on the day of my ordination, which fell on January 18th, 2003, the feast of the Confession of St. Peter.
I have no recollection of the sermon that Bishop Marcus Miller preached that day. I was so overwhelmed by the entire day that the details of the sermon were buried by other memories and the emotions I was feeling.
I've told this story several times in different locations and platforms, but I don't recall ever writing about it on these Musings. So if you've read or heard it before, pardon the repetition.
The second thought this gospel brings to mind is the day of my first interview with the entrance panel shortly after I had declared my intention to be a candidate for the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
The members of the candidacy committee are the gatekeepers for the church to ensure that the person who takes this step has some theological grounding as well as the ability to articulate his faith.
My interview was going well until one of the committee members asked, "Who is Jesus?"
My first reaction was, "What a ridiculous question? Doesn't she know?"
I was so taken aback, that I had to say, "I don't understand the question."
I needed to find out what this person was trying to get at? Why was this question so important?
She repeated her question, "Who is Jesus...for you?
I'm glad I used an anti-perspirant that day because every pore in my body began to secrete sweat. After a couple of stammers and stutters and a few false starts I began by reciting what sounded very much like the second article of the Creed; that Jesus was God's only Son, our Lord; that he was born of the Virgin Mary and that he was crucified for our sins, but he rose on the third day and ascended into heaven and will return to judge the living and the dead. I purposely left out the part about suffering under Pontius Pilate because I figured that would give away the fact that my answer wasn't an original idea.
After a few other feeble attempts to answer the question, and trying to recall every other creed or confession I could think of that mentioned Jesus, I just stopped and admitted that I really hadn't given that question a great deal of thought.
Other members of the panel asked a couple other questions before I was sent out of the room to allow them time to make a decision as to whether or not I was a suitable candidate for ministry. I knew that I was sunk and that leaving the room was merely prolonging the agony.
Now you might think that a rather bizarre confession for a pastor to make. But at that time, it was really something that I had never explored deeply. I had been involved with the church for most of my life. Since being baptized at seven months I have had a relationship that I felt was second nature with Jesus Christ. As an adult, I had been involved in teaching Sunday School, coaching youth basketball teams, doing some lay preaching, serving on church councils and committees, attending assemblies and representing my congregation in whatever capacity I could; but I had never given any real intense thought as to who Jesus was for me.
I recall that incident every time I read this Gospel lesson because this reading is highlighted by a series of questions.
Jesus casually asks the disciples "Who do people say I am?" The reply came, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah (because it was believed Elijah would return) while others say Jeremiah (the prophet of gloom and doom) or some other prophet."
Then Jesus cut straight to the chase, "What about you?" He asked the disciples. "Who do you think I am?"
This question is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. In this passage, we hear Jesus asking a personal question of us: "Who do YOU say that I am?"
I would suggest to you that that is the most urgent, the most relevant, the most essential question that confronts us today. Wherever we turn in life we are faced with the implications of this question.
The church of today is in a crucial struggle to remain relevant in the hearts and minds of those who either don't believe or don't know who Jesus is. And as my candidacy experience hopefully demonstrated, Lutherans are somewhat uncomfortable talking about Jesus. Yet it's important to remember that the church is cannot be separated from who Jesus is.
Martin Luther once wrote: "I care not whether he be Christ, but that he be Christ for you."
And that is the message this Gospel lesson demonstrates to us. Without a sense of who Jesus is for you, life is just something that happens to you while you are busy making other plans, to echo John Lennon. And the church is just another social club that exists for no other purpose that to gather on Sunday.
"Who do you say that I am?" Jesus is still asking the question.
My electronic meeting schedule this week is as follows:
Monday: Staff Meeting
Webinar - Being Church Today
Ohio Faith Leaders Prayer Gathering
Tuesday: Good Shepherd, Conneaut - Council Meeting
Thursday: Conference of Bishops Weekly Check-in
Zoom Educational Forum - Strategic Diversity
The next Rostered ministers monthly gathering will be Wednesday, September 2, 2020, beginning at 10 a.m. Please contact the synod office or your conference Dean for the link.
As our Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly draws closer, I would encourage all of us to enter into a time of prayer and discernment for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we prepare to call our next bishop. This assembly will be unlike any previous assembly in history in that it will be held entirely online. Technology has made it possible to conduct the worship and the business of the assembly electronically, including the election of a bishop. If all goes well, we will be one of about a dozen synods of the ELCA that will have elected a bishop through an electronic meeting this year.
For the next four weeks our closing prayer will center on this very important event. The bishop election committee has prepared these prayers and asks that you keep the voting members as well as all potential nominees and pastors who will be named on the ecclesiastical ballot in your prayers.
Great God, in the midst of these uncertain times give us the certainty of your presence. As we draw close to the election of our next bishop, guide our thoughts, illuminate our minds, and help us to listen to you and to each other. Guide us through this important time of thought, prayer, and discernment. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende