As you read these words I am away for a few days this week at Sawmill Creek Resort with several clergy and deacon colleagues from all three of our Ohio Synods at the Professional Leaders' Retreat.
We hold this event on an annual basis to provide for some time of fellowship, renewal and continuing education for our rostered ministers. The theme of this year's retreat is prayer.
My colleague, Bishop Daniel Beaudoin, of Northwestern Ohio, has put a special emphasis on prayer for the people in his synod this year. But I'm sure he would tell you that our lives should always be a life of prayer.
But let's be honest: we're all lousy at praying, at least in the fullest sense of the term. I don't say this to be critical. Many, if not all of us, mean well; but our prayer lives are just so far from what they could be.
Think about how often you've said to someone, "You'll be in my prayers," and never give it another thought. Often the words are forgotten just as quickly as they are spoken.
Like many others, I go through those periods when things just come up and I find it easier to tend to those matters at hand than to take care of what is truly important in my life-spending time with God. I'm easily distracted by what I consider to be more pressing matters. There are meetings to attend, reports to be written, people to see. I can't seem to ignore the buzzing cell phone or the distant noises. It is sometimes easier to sleep in than to get up and do my devotions.
On occasions when I am asked, "Bishop, will you lead us in prayer?"
I am often tempted to answer, "No, will you?"
These are admissions that a bishop perhaps should not be making, but I am just as human as you are, with many of the same challenges and struggles. I need to be reminded of the importance of prayer in my life and so do you.
The appointed psalm for this coming Sunday, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, is a portion of Psalm 65. Its theme is that of trust in God, which is implied in the very act of prayer. Verse eight, especially, underscores that:
"Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us."
If you read through the Gospels you'll find Jesus in prayer before every important decision, before every difficult situation. Indeed, Jesus' life itself was a prayer. He was at all times in communion with his Father, when he was alone in the desert tempted by the devil, before choosing his disciples, when he was at meals with his friends, when he was doing miracles of healing, when he was in agony in the garden of Gethsemane and in the upper room awaiting his suffering on the cross. Even in his final moments, he never broke with his Father.
So this should raise the question within us: if Jesus often prayed, how much more do we need to do likewise?
I feel compelled to address briefly a topic that has dominated the news this past weekend, the reported comments of the President of the United States with regard to the countries of Africa and the Nation of Haiti.
Our Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, issued a statement in response to those comments. You can read that by clicking HERE.
What I would like to point out is that words have power. The impact of what one says lasts far longer than the actual utterance. Scripture has an abundance of examples, of which I'll mention three.
In one of his numerous confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus emphasizes that, "...what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles." [Matthew 15:18]
The apostle Paul counsels us in Ephesians 4:29, "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear." [bold emphasis is my doing]
The Eighth Commandment says: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." [Exodus 20:16]
We are further advised by Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Eighth Commandment: "We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."
These are notifications that we should all take to heart. The old adage of "Think before you speak," is one that applies to all of us, but especially, anyone in a position of leadership on any level.
The Northeastern Ohio Synod Council meets this coming Saturday at Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Youngstown. We will be blessed by the presence of our Conference Deans who will share with the council members what the roles of the deans are; discuss how to identify and lift up people into synodical leadership roles; and how to re-engage the non-engaged congregations.
Our purpose is to increase awareness about what each of us does and the roles we play in the synod's mission and ministry. The hope is to develop a synergy between all the ministry partners in the synod - council, committees, congregations, rostered leaders, deans, and synod staff. It's a process that will take time. This is an initial step.
The Lutheran Center will again be closed next Monday, January 22, as is customary following a Saturday Council meeting. Therefore, Monday Musings will again publish on Tuesday.
This week and always, may you continue to put your trust in God, the source of all love and blessings.
+Bishop Abraham Allende