September 16, 2019
All depends on our possessing
God's free grace and constant blessing,
though all earthly wealth depart.
They who trust with faith unshaken
by their God are not forsaken
and will keep a dauntless heart.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #589]

The assigned lectionary readings for September 22, 2019, the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
By now it has been widely circulated that I have announced my retirement at the end of my term on August 31, 2020. The reasons for making this announcement at this time are explained in the letter that went out last week, which you can read by clicking HERE.
It has been an odd week, to say the least. I have never retired before, so I don't know how this is supposed to feel. Yet, I promise that this is the only time, other than when it actually happens, that I will mention this event in this column. There is still nearly a year to go and, in anticipation of the many times I will be asked the question, I have no plans other than to focus on the work that still has to be done, rather than what comes afterwards.
One thing I ask of you is your prayers for the synod staff. They have served our synod faithfully, and my decision will obviously have an effect on them. Over the following weeks, this impending change will stir in all of us a heightened, though unintended, sense of anxiety that is often expressed in a myriad of ways.
As usual, God's divine sense of timing connects - in my mind, at least - my announcement with our Gospel for this upcoming Sunday.
When a person starts to think about retirement, we begin to ask ourselves, "How much money will I need to retire comfortably?"
I'm sure those of you that are still working have been making plans. And those of you who are already retired have already gone through the process.
Several years ago, when this topic was the furthest thing from my mind, I was doing some sermon preparation in connection with this Sunday's readings and stumbled across a bit of history that I found fascinating.
There are four words that are written on every denomination of our United States currency that we seldom, if ever, notice. Those words are: In God We Trust.
That phrase was engraved on our coins for the first time in 1864, and has been printed on our currency since 1957.   IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, also a former governor of Ohio, was under pressure from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. So Chase began the process and the rest, as they say, is history.
But do we really trust God?
In trying to make sense out of a difficult parable, I was struck by the very last sentence of the text, in which Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and wealth."
In some translations, such as the New International Version, the sentence is written as, "You cannot serve God and money."
For many people money is their master and lord, their god. Materialism has the capacity to enslave us. It is easy to fall victim to the lure of money. Even as people of faith, we are not immune from that possibility. I would dare say that in the majority of our congregations, we put money above mission.
I have often stated that in our society, our prosperity is a roadblock to faith. If you look at where the church is growing around the world, it is in those countries where faith is all that many people have to cling to.
But more often than not, we in this country are so focused on what we want, so focused on what we are trying to achieve, that we do not see the needs of persons near us, or do not hear the subtle cries for help that are all around each of us, each day. We are not serving God - we are serving wealth.
I hasten to add that the point of these readings is not that Jesus was against wealth or rich people. Money and possessions aren't bad. They just can't produce the kind of full and abundant life that each of us seeks and that Jesus promises. So it's not about the money, it's about our attitude towards the money and those around us.
God desires to see all God's people flourish. Through the prophets, such as Amos in our Old Testament reading, God commanded that Israelite society be a community of sharing, of compassion.
It is for that reason that Jesus cautions us in the reading from Luke's Gospel that, "No slave can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth."  
Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation in The Message, "No worker can serve two bosses: He'll either hate the first and love the second, or adore the first and despise the second. You can't serve both God and the Bank."
We are reminded, even by our own government, by virtue of the motto on the back of our currency, that it is in God whom we put our trust - NOT on wealth. In God's economy, people matter more than profits.
IN GOD WE TRUST. The next time you hold a coin or a bill in your hand, the Gospel reading invites you to take a look at those words and wrestle with the question, "In whom do I put my trust?"
Thursday through Saturday of this week I will be in Tampa, Florida for the 13th Assembly of the Association of Latino Ministries of the ELCA. The association is a support group for Lutheran Latinos in the United States and in Puerto Rico. Its mission is to advocate for the strengthening and growth of the Latino communities of the ELCA, and to promote the missionary outreach of those communities .
Sunday, September 22, I will be with the people of God at Trinity Lutheran Church in Magnolia, Ohio, as the congregation celebrates its 175 th anniversary.

This week and always, may justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. [Amos 5:24]
+Bishop Abraham Allende