August 27, 2018
[Jesus said:] "You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
[Mark 7:8]
The assigned lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, September 2, the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
As we approach the end of August I am mindful that this coming Saturday, September 1, I celebrate four years in the office of bishop. Like most humans, it is my custom to assess what Christ has done through me to glorify God in this ministry to which the Holy Spirit has called me.
At just about every one of my parish visitations, when I preach, I consistently open my sermons with the same words of introduction. Those of you whose congregations I have visited have heard them before, so forgive me for subjecting you to the message once again.
I enthusiastically emphasize the joy I feel at being with the people of God, especially at a time of celebration. It gives life to my ministry. If it were not for Sundays and the pleasure of being among God's people in praise and worship, my vocation would be sheer drudgery.
On Sundays, I feel like a pastor (which obviously I am). The rest of the week I often feel like a fireman, waiting for the next alarm to go off.
I confess that administrative work, financial management, committee meetings and the other responsibilities of this office are not my greatest gifts. Dealing with congregational conflict and matters of discipline are draining, exhausting and time-consuming. But Sundays...ah, Sundays is a totally different matter. Everything I do for the rest of the week flows out of my worship experience, no matter where it happens.
One of the goals I set at the beginning of my call as Bishop was to visit as many congregations as I could as quickly as humanly possible. Though I still have quite a few congregations to reach, I remain always open to the invitation.
Visitations are the most effective method by which we strengthen the mission and ministry of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. Growing the relationships among our congregations helps develop a greater spirit of collaboration among them, and a greater sense of partnership with our synod office. We are not, after all, merely some detached entity in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, but rather, we are partners with the people of God in the mission that we share.
I highlight the word, "relationship," because one can't fully or finally understand God without talking about that relationship. When God calls us, God calls us not only into a relationship with God but into community or into relationship with one another. That is why we are the church. We cannot be Christians by ourselves.
Relationship is at the heart of the message of all the readings for this coming Sunday, even though it may not appear to be the case when you hear them at first. It would be helpful to read the Gospel lesson according to Mark without skipping over the omitted verses (9-13, 16-20). (For your convenience, click HERE for the unadulterated version.)
At issue in this encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees is the question of what takes priority in our life, God's love or human tradition?
Human beings need a sense of order to feel secure. We need laws to organize our communities, just as we need doctrines to articulate our beliefs. But tradition, doctrine, and rules, can also become instruments of judgment, of exclusion and oppression.
It may not be a bad idea to evaluate our own religious practices once in a while. It is entirely possible that our religious practices have become so entrenched within us that we have forgotten their meaning or their value.
The great thing about the Christian faith is that it keeps reminding us that it's not all about traditions.  It is about God, a God who loves us so much that God sent the Son to save us, to be with us, to give meaning to our lives that we could not have on our own.  
God's identity and character can only be captured by sharing that love with one another, not by upholding traditions. God's love is made complete in relationship with all of God's children. The profound love of God draws us into relationship with God, with each other, and with the whole of creation.
What I love most about Sunday is that it is a time when we celebrate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Sunday is a time to be touched by God through God's Word and the Sacraments. God in Jesus Christ still loves us in all our sinfulness, and in all our selfishness.
And for all that we say, "Thanks be to God!"
I'm away on vacation this week, and with the Labor Day holiday coming up, the next edition of Monday Musings will actually appear on Tuesday, September 3. Enjoy your time of celebration.
This week and always, may you welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
+Bishop Abraham Allende