September 30, 2019
You are the seed that will grow a new sprout;
you're a star that will shine in the night;
you are the yeast and a small grain of salt,
a beacon to glow in the dark.
You are the dawn that will bring a new day;
you're the wheat that will bear golden grain;
you are a sting and a soft golden touch,
to witness wherever you go.
Go, my friends, go to the world,
proclaim the great love of God;
messengers to tell the way of life,
peace and pardon for all
Be, my friends, a loyal witness
From the dead Christ arose;
"Lo, I'll be with you forever more
till the end of the world."
[With One Voice #753]
The assigned lectionary readings for October 6, 2019, the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
We are wrapping up the Fall Conference of Bishops in Chicago. As I mentioned last week, the main focus of our time together was addressing the leadership concerns in our congregations, along with the decline in the number of congregations that can afford full time pastoral leadership.
We are all well aware of the data that project a bleak future for not just the Lutheran church, but for all mainline denominations. One fact that the data revealed is that the ELCA is a church that is 97% white in a country that is 73% white. Our outgoing ELCA Secretary, the Rev. Chris Boerger, maintains that our congregations have lost touch with our communities. We are moving away from the way our neighborhoods are to becoming a remnant of the church we used to be.
The challenge before us is how do we grow younger as a church, and invite and welcome new people into a life-changing relationship with God, one another and the world.
The churchwide offices of the ELCA is developing a leadership initiative that will roll out its first components early next year. The developers have spent most of this year listening and learning in order to develop strategic insights.
We spent time over the weekend hearing from bishops of different synods across the ELCA landscape who have shared what for them and for us as a church are hopeful signs. It is our hope that learning from each other we will help each other to grow.
Yet I will argue that the answer to these challenges of church growth doesn't lie in programs and strategies, but rather in developing a closer and more trusting relationship with Jesus.
In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus says to his disciples, "if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Yes, Jesus has gone a little over the top, as he sometimes does with his disciples. But what Jesus was trying to get us to understand with his hyperbolic language is something that we're reluctant to believe: That we already have been equipped, been gifted, with everything we need to follow Jesus, change our lives, and change the world.
Jesus is saying to his disciples and us, "your faith is already big enough. You already have all the faith you need to do whatever you want." We only need a little faith to do great things. We just have to use the faith we have.
When I was in the parish, I used to have a plastic sandwich bag full of mustard seeds that I used to trot out for children's sermons to illustrate this point. I had the bag for over a dozen years and never managed to give all the seeds away. When you look at a mustard seed up close you see that the mustard seed is small, tiny. It is the smallest of all seeds.
So that little grain of faith is not hard to obtain because we already have it.
And even the tiniest speck of faith can bring about world-changing and life-changing consequences, if we just use that faith we have. It isn't what God is asking of us. It's what God expects of us, of those of us who claim the name disciples.
The words of Paul to Timothy in the second reading for Sunday say it in a slightly different way, "rekindle the gift of God that is within you...for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord..."
We don't know what the future holds for our church. Yet the purpose of the church is to proclaim over and over again to its people the message of salvation. The hearers can choose to believe or not believe these words, but it should not stop us from proclaiming the message. God has a marvelous way of using what you say and do to bring blessings to others.
There will always be concerns about the future. We will most likely never have the answers. However, there is one who does. Everything is in his hands.
Thursday of this week I will be with the rostered ministers of the Cleveland West Conference at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Hinckley.
Saturday, I will be in Atlanta, for the installation of the Rev. Kevin Strickland as Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.
Sunday morning, I will be with the people of God at Zion Lutheran Church in Doylestown.
And Sunday afternoon, I will be with the people of God at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Sandyville, to install their new pastor, the Rev. Scott Anderson. That service begins at 4:00 p.m. All rostered leaders are invited to vest and process. The color of the day is green.
This week and always, commit your way to the Lord; put your trust in the Lord, and see what God will do. [Psalm 37:5]
+Bishop Abraham Allende