May 28, 2019
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ, our head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord and precious,
binding all the church in one;
holy Zion's help forever
and our confidence alone.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #645]
The readings for this coming Thursday, May 30, the Ascension of Our Lord, are as follows:
And the readings for Sunday, June 2, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
Whether high school or college, I'm certain that any number of you reading this have received an invitation or two to someone's graduation in the last couple of weeks. This is, after all, the time of the year when graduations abound.
What we commonly call graduation is more formally referred to as commencement. Commencement means beginning.
  Robert Smith - Courtesy Getty Images
By now you've heard the story of Robert Smith, the billionaire alumnus of Morehouse College, a historically black institution of higher learning in Atlanta. Smith was the commencement speaker who stunned this year's graduates, and perhaps the entire world, by pledging to pay off the student loan debt of this current class - an astonishing sum that could total as high as 40-million dollars.
As a preacher, my first thought was, "There's a sermon in there somewhere!"
In reality, there are several possible sermons from this gesture, but here's where the Spirit is leading me at this writing. These students are freed to begin their life's work without the burden of massive student loan debt. That immediately brings to mind what our Lord Jesus, by his death and resurrection, did for us. We were liberated from the burden of sin, and with our sins forgiven, we can freely live and love and serve the Lord.
That is at the very heart of Martin Luther's mission theology, that as Christ is a gift to us, we are a gift to others. [1]
So, for the graduating students of Morehouse, Smith's gift truly offers them a new beginning, one which ultimately was made possible by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
  The Ascension of Jesus - Jesus Mafa,
  Cameroon, West Africa
This Thursday the church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord, and it is somewhat fitting that this festival day falls in the middle of commencement season. For Jesus' disciples, this also was a commencement of sorts; a new beginning, because from here on, they would be doing ministry without the physical Jesus present and among them.
They are going out into the world to carry on the ministry for which Jesus has been preparing them for three years. Jesus now sends them out to proclaim the message of the gospel - repentance and forgiveness of sins - in his name. They shall be his witnesses to all the world, beginning at Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Week after week, on Sunday after Sunday or whenever we gather, we recite the words of either the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed and we repeat the line, "He ascended into heaven..." It rolls off our lips with little difficulty and, I would guess, with little thought given to the meaning of those words.
However, in a sermon on the Ascension, Luther suggests that, more than a one-time event, we must conceive of Christ's ascension as something active, energetic, and continuous. He writes:
"Therefore, beware lest you imagine within yourself that he has gone, and now is, far away from us. The very opposite is true: While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near." [2]
And Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, who will give them - and by extension, us - the power to make Jesus' name known.
The promise and the work of the Spirit are of no small significance. Except for those of us who get paid to do it Sunday after Sunday, the average Christian doesn't think of herself or himself as a witness. But Jesus makes it clear in the Ascension readings that the work of witnessing belongs to each and every one who believes. And the Spirit plays a major role.
In his explanation of the Third article of the Apostle's Creed, Luther explains:
"I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith." [3]
Whatever motive Robert Smith may have had for his generosity, I can't help but see it as evidence of the work of the Spirit. By this example, may it move us and others to deepen our involvement in mission, ministry, and witness to others.
This Thursday, May 30, at 7:00 p.m., I will be preaching among the people of God at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Hinckley, as we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord. You may hear some of these same reflections, a little more fully developed.
Up to this point we've been focusing on beginnings. Let us now give attention to a few endings.
On Saturday, June 1, at 6:30 p.m., I will be with the people of Godof First Lutheran Church, and Zion Lutheran Church of Canton, as they say farewell to their Pastor, the Rev. Darla Ann Kratzer, who has accepted a call to a congregation in the South Central Illinois Synod. This is a farewell dinner at Santangelo's in Massillon.
  St. Martin Lutheran Church in Malvern, Ohio
Sunday, June 2
, I will celebrate with the people of God at St. James Lutheran Church, Tuscarawas; and at St. Martin Lutheran Church, Malvern.
This is a significant and bittersweet day as the Rev. Wally Anderson, who has served both congregations, retires. We will celebrate a rite of Thanksgiving at the Conclusion of a Call at both services.
The congregation of St. Martin will also bring its ministry to a close on that day. Therefore, we will observe a service of Leave Taking for that congregation. The building has been turned over to Harcatus, a Community Action Agency in charge of the Head Start program currently using the building. 
This week and always, may you rejoice in the Lord, and give thanks to God's holy name.
+Bishop Abraham Allende

[1] The actual quote reads: "In addition we are to offer our gifts, that is, give of our own to help our fellow man, to do good to him as Christ has done to us." (Luther, Martin. The Complete Works of Martin Luther: Volume 1, Sermons 1-12. Kindle Edition.)
[2] Luther, Martin. The Complete Works of Martin Luther: Volume 3, Sermons 42-67. Kindle Edition.
[3] Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 1162