August 24, 2020
Let streams of living justice
flow down upon the earth;
give freedom's light to captives,
let all the poor have worth.
The hungry's hands are pleading,
the workers claim their rights,
the mourners long for laughter,
the blinded seek for sight.
Make liberty a beacon,
strike down the iron pow'r;
abolish ancient vengeance:
proclaim your people's hour.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #710]
The readings for Sunday, August 30, 2020, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
Our synod staff, the synod council and various committees are in pre-assembly mode. That means we are scrambling about trying to tie up what seem to be many loose ends in an historic effort to do something none of us has ever done before - conduct an assembly entirely online.
Thus far, four other synods to date have elected bishops electronically. We have learned quite a bit from each of their gatherings. Yet each synod assembly is unique. There is no "one-size-fits-all" formula that can be universally applied across the board.
The decisions that are being made leading up to this assembly will undoubtedly alter the course of our mission together, not only during this age of pandemic, but beyond. What used to be routine matters have become quite complicated. It is our role to figure out how best to carry out the legislative procedures, adopt a budget, and elect leaders, including a bishop.
Many of you have wrestled with similar challenges in your congregational life; among other things: when to gather, the mechanics of worship, how to care for those who are absent, how to stay safe, and on and on.
This has been unsettling to all of us, and each one of us has reacted differently to so much change. Some have accepted the disruption with a calm resignation. Others have become frustrated to the point of anger, which has manifested itself in many and various ways. We yearn to go back to the way things were. We long for some sense of normalcy in our life.
I confess to you, my sisters and brothers, that many times I feel as if I have no idea what I am doing. I can't tell you how often I have wanted to crawl into a hole like the proverbial groundhog and never come out until we have some sense of order and direction. I'm sure I'm not alone in that feeling.
Our readings for this coming Sunday offer a timely reflection of this age in which we are living.
Jeremiah, also known as "the weeping prophet," offers a lament that seems to resonate with what many of us are experiencing.
"Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed," the prophet asks of God? (Jer 15:18)
The apostle Paul, on the other hand, offers a checklist of worthy advice on how to live with each other in faithful relationship. I hesitate to pick out one verse, because they are all of equal value. But if I were to pick the one overarching verse that most directly addresses and informs this moment, it would be verse 12: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer."
I am not preaching this week, but I would venture to guess that many pastors and preachers will make this reading from Paul's letter to the Romans the centerpiece of their sermons. In advance of that, I would encourage all of us to spend some time reading it over and over. It is as complete a set of directives for developing human relationships as one will ever find in Holy Scripture. If you've never engaged in the practice of Lectio Divina, a way of reading scripture contemplatively, this would be an excellent reading with which to start.
And then, there is our Gospel lesson in which Jesus, for the second time, again tells his disciples of the suffering and death that awaits him in Jerusalem. Peter will have none of it. Peter didn't want this sort of ministry. That's not what he signed on for. His goal, and the goal of the other disciples it appears, is to avoid any encounter with anguish and adversity.
And Jesus, who just last week was praising Peter for his brilliance and insightful perception, rebukes him for focusing on earthly things instead of divine things. "Get behind me, Satan," Jesus says to Peter, "You are a stumbling block to me."
Harsh doesn't begin to describe that rebuke.
But we have more in common with Peter than many of us would care to admit. Yet Jesus, in his rebuke to Peter, also tells us that it's not about us. It is always about God and what God is up to.
Jesus calls us to examine how our lives are lived in relationship to what God asks of us, to see whether we can bring ourselves to relinquish control over the direction of our lives and allow God to lead us in the way we should go.
God chooses to use flawed, fallible human beings as witnesses to the kingdom of heaven. Christ does not promise to take the suffering away, but rather that Christ will be with us in all circumstances. in all these things and more, the kingdom of God is taking shape.
There is a prayer that we hear most often at Evening Prayer. I have made it the focus prayer for almost everything I do these days. It states:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ calls us to focus on God's love, a love which supports us through the uncertainty, the doubts, and the fears. It is a love that invites us to imagine a world without suffering and oppression and work to making that vision a reality on earth. We call it the Kingdom of God.
I know I've written this to you in the past, but it bears repeating. God sends out ordinary folk like you and me to be a signal, a witness that God's kingdom is breaking into the lives of people - through us.
My electronic meeting schedule this week is as follows:
Monday: Staff Meeting
Ohio Faith Leaders Prayer Gathering
Wednesday: Assembly Planning Committee
Thursday: Conference of Bishops Weekly Check-in
The next Northeastern Ohio Synod Rostered Ministers Monthly Gathering will be Wednesday, September 2, 2020, beginning at 10:00 a.m.
We are pleased to announce that our guest presenter will be Deacon Mary Ann Schwabe, Coordinator of the Northeastern Ohio Synod's Congregational Resource Team, and Natural Church Development Coordinator for the ELCA. She will be discussing "Anxiety in an Anxious Climate."
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. As already mentioned, 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 three 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.
Loving God, even as our face to face conversations are limited or impossible, be a part of our on-line conversations, meetings and discussions. Increase in us the awareness of your presence in these conversations. Help us to trust in your gifts to us ... gifts of faith, hope, and love. May we use these gifts in our discernment. May we increasingly rely on the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, so that we may know the difference between our opinions and your will for our synod. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende