February 11, 2019
I shall not be, I shall not be moved.
I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
like a tree planted by the water,
I shall not be moved.
[This Far by Faith #147]
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, February 17, 2019, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, are as follows
Easter is late this year. As a result, we rarely hear the assigned lectionary readings for this coming Sunday because we seldom go this far into the Epiphany season. I confess that I have not engaged with these readings for a long time in the pursuit of sermon preparation, and I will not be preaching anywhere. So this is one of those weeks in which I'm entertaining several random thoughts that you may hopefully hear as one coherent theme.
The theme that is running through my mind is: Connection.
Every three months or so I meet for lunch with a group of leaders from different faith traditions simply to check in with each other and share the mutual joys and concerns of our roles as servants of the people we've been called to guide.
For me, it is life-giving to be able to be in fellowship with the members of this group and reassuring to hear them echo similar blessings and challenges involved with their responsibilities of oversight. The friendship of others in this vocation who understand the complexities and implications of the work of the church is indispensable. It is a comfort to know that I am not alone in what can sometimes feel like a lonely task.
It's the same for all of us, no matter what our level of accountability. We need a connection with someone so as not to isolate ourselves.
It's also exciting to gather with others in our church to hear and see what is happening on a wider scale in congregations, other synods, and on a churchwide scale.
I was blessed with both experiences last week as I had my lunch meeting on Monday, then Wednesday flew to our Congregational Vitality gathering in Las Vegas. No, not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
I was only there for one day, but that was enough to infuse me with a renewed spirit of joy and hopefulness for the church.
Here's why. I, along with two of my colleague bishops, was asked to give a brief presentation on what our vision was for our respective synods and what sort of leaders we were seeking to carry out that vision. We also met with seminarians who are considering mission development as their ministerial vocation. I also heard from pastors who are doing some innovative ministry in Latino contexts.
I returned renewed, refreshed, and transformed.
We read the lessons for the coming week against the backdrop of our highly polarized political times. Another shutdown is looming. Elected officials are behaving in ways that befuddle our sense of moral and ethical values. We've almost become numb to the plight of immigrants, the viciousness of gun violence, the revulsion of war, or the general erosion in relationships.
I fly often and I've never made any secret of the fact that airports are my worst nightmare. Usually, the Transportation Safety Authority agents challenge every last ounce of my patience.
And yet, since the government shutdown, I've begun to see them in a different light. I'm debating whether they seem more courteous or I am just more sympathetic to their predicament. They are merely doing their job - a job for which they received no salary for more than a month.
In my travels this past week I noticed an obvious courtesy in the way we talked to each other, the way we treated each other, that seemed absent before. There was a lack of what I used to perceive as bullying.
I had a brief conversation with one of the agents as I recovered my briefcase from the conveyor belt. I asked how she was getting along now that she was being paid again. She replied that things were getting somewhat back to normal but asked that I keep them in my prayers. I said that I had been, and would continue to pray for them, as well as all the federal employees.
These are challenging times in which we live. The challenge for preacher is to try to hold in tension the Good News of the Gospel against the current partisan climate we are experiencing. There's a lot of blessing and cursing in both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. It will come as no surprise that some, I dare say many, will see the lessons as political. It will be important to point out that it is not the preacher, but God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, who states: "Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals."
The antithesis of that is, of course, trust in the Lord.
In our world, within our highly secularized life-style, and with all the media hype around military might, national and community security, protecting our borders, the so-called war on terrorism, globalization etc., what does it mean, in a material and spiritual way, to trust in God?
It's a set of readings that call for critical reflection and study, with more than a small dose of humility.
I wanted to follow up on the mention I made last week about our Spring Bishop's Gathering on Saturday, May 4. The combined Stewardship, Mission Interpreters, and Discipling and Evangelizing Tables are in the process of planning our Spring Bishop's Gathering. The theme for the gathering will be: I Love to Tell the Story, But...Equipping the Baptized to Talk of Their Faith.
The event will be held at St. Jacob's Lutheran Church in North Canton. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Program will go from 9 a.m. until noon. Please save the date on your calendar.
We celebrate Valentine's Day this week, and these final two lines form a poem by John Donne compose my closing blessing:
This day, more cheerfully than ever shine,
This day, which might enflame thy self, Old Valentine.
+Bishop Abraham Allende