October 22, 2019
The church of Christ, in ev'ry age
beset by change, but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #729]
The assigned lectionary readings for October 27, 2019, Reformation Sunday, are as follows:
This week, millions of Americans will be glued to their television sets to watch the most American of sports - baseball. The Houston Astros and the Washingon Nationals begin World Series play on Tuesday evening and a new champion will be crowned as early as Saturday or as late as next Tuesday, October 29, if the series goes the full seven games.
The two teams are relative newcomers to the Fall Classic. The Astros were founded in 1962 and won their first World Series Championship just two years ago, making it fresh in everyone's mind. The Nationals are in the World Series for the first time in its 14-year history. More about that in a moment.
 Houston players and fans cheer as José Altuve hits winning
 home run to send the Astros to the World Series (Courtesy:
 Cooper Neil/MLB Photos)
Though it no longer holds the fascination it once did, baseball will still command the attention of the sports world for the next several days, momentarily pushing professional football aside, if for a brief moment.
Baseball is also the sport that most reflects the face of America today. Twenty-seven per cent of its players were born outside of the United States. Where once the names in the lineups were distinctively familiar and easy to pronounce - Ruth, Mantle, Feller, Ripken, Brett; they now no longer roll as easily off the lips - Gurriel, Correa, Altuve, Cabrera. By my count, seven nations, and Puerto Rico, are represented in this year's World Series participants. So baseball's impact transcends far beyond national borders.
Even the Washington Nationals' franchise began its existence in Montreal, Canada, in 1969, before it was transplanted to our nation's capital in 2005. (Ponder the irony of that image for a moment.)
A couple years ago, an article by David Roth in the magazine, The Guardian, provided a superb analysis of the historical parallels between the sport of baseball and our American society. The author notes that, "Baseball's future will not be quite like its past, but it would be strange and worrying if it were. Before baseball can enjoy the renaissance that may indeed be just over the will need to get right with what it actually means to be America's National Pastime."
Without reprinting the entire article, which you can read for yourself by clicking on the link above, Roth's premise also can be applied to the church. He points out that, "in a sport so devoted to tradition, the future would first present itself as a threat, or a problem to be solved. Go far enough back in baseball's history...and the same story repeats itself one generation after another."
As we commemorate the Reformation this coming Sunday, the Christian Church in the United States is faced with many of the same challenges as America's Pastime - declining attendance, shrinking budgets, and clergy shortages. This comparison may sound like heresy to some, but for the past several years, billions of words have been written, a ton of theories have been offered, and a massive number of hours have been devoted to research in an attempt to explain the decline of what was once regarded as one of the most stable institutions in this country.
Among the most recent works on this topic is one by a friend and colleague, The Rev. Michael K. Girlinghouse, Bishop of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod of the ELCA, titled Embracing God's Future without Forgetting the Past: A Conversation about Loss, Grief, and Nostalgia in Congregational Life.
As I visit congregations, especially when celebrating anniversaries, the sense of yearning for the past can occasionally seem overwhelming. It's as if we're stuck in a time warp, refusing to look ahead. I say consistently in my sermons to those congregations that an anniversary celebration invites us to not only look backward, but also to look forward and to determine how we live our lives from this moment on, both as individuals and as a worshipping community.
But if I'm reading Bishop Girlinghouse correctly, he maintains that there is value in lingering for a while in that nostalgia, and utilizing it as a tool to effectively think more adaptively and creatively about the future. He argues that until a congregation comes to terms with its perceived losses through a healthy process of grief, it will be paralyzed in the present and unable to think creatively about the future.
"The Church must always be reformed," (from the Latin: Ecclesia semper reformanda est) is a phrase popularized by the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, and derived from a saying by St. Augustine.
At the risk of oversimplifying, God is our refuge and strength, as our Psalm for this Sunday states. Jesus is our Lord and the Lord of the Church.  He will not leave or desert his church. As Christians, we trust in that promise despite the overwhelming circumstances that we preceive as threatening to our communities of faith. Our calling as disciples, then, is to proclaim over and over again the message of the glory and grace of God, which, in the words of Martin Luther, is "the true treasure of the Church."
This week I will be meeting and worshipping with the rostered ministers of the Richland-Ashland Conference on Tuesday at Peace Lutheran Church in Ashland.
Sunday, I will be with the people of God at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Elyria, as they celebrate their 50th anniversary.
This week and always, may you continue in God's word, that you may truly be Christ's disciples; and know the truth that will make you free. [John 8:31-32]
+Bishop Abraham Allende