March 4, 2019
Eternal Lord of love, behold your church
walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent,
led by your cloud by day, by night your fire,
moved by your love and toward your presence bent:
far off yet here-the goal of all desire.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #321]
These are the Lectionary readings for March 6, Ash Wednesday
And here are the readings for March 10, the First Sunday in Lent
I will be on the road home from the Spring Conference of Bishops late Monday afternoon with a day of rest in between to prepare for Ash Wednesday.
This has been an inspirational Conference because we spent a day and a half in retreat to address the issue of congregational vitality.
There was a rich exchange of ideas as we shared what is happening in various regions of our church. I like to call it holy conversation. The main purpose was not to figure out how to grow numerically, but rather how to invite people to come into a loving relationship with Jesus.
  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
Our guest presenter was Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, author of Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century. I commend this book highly to anyone who is wondering what the future holds for the church in the United States of America.
Granberg-Michaelson maintains that in order for churches to grow, we must listen to other voices, voices from the global South, where Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, the growth in U.S. Roman Catholic churches has been fueled by Latin-American immigrants.
The Lenten season, and the journey to the cross, is an opportune time to reflect on death - death to the nostalgia of the days when our churches were teeming with hundreds of worshippers. It is a time to let go of old ideas and old ways of being church; a time to let go of our false sense of superiority to other cultures; a time to listen - listen to God, listen to others, listen to our community.
 Jesus Is Tempted - Jesus Mafa, Cameroon, West Africa
Every first Sunday in Lent we hear a version of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Of the three versions of this narrative, I have a preference for Luke's account for several reasons. One, it happens to be the longest of the three versions; and secondly, I prefer the order of the placement of the temptations. Luke's arrangement of the episode of the testing is his basic understanding of the mission of Jesus.
This narrative comes immediately after the baptism of Jesus. Jesus has not yet begun public earthly ministry and already he is being tested-for 40 days no less!
When I was in parish ministry, I invariably encountered parents who brought their children for baptism thinking that once their child was baptized, everything was going to be easy. Many who come to the Christian faith as adults also think that once they come to faith in Christ all will be well. God tells us through this temptation story that quite the opposite is true. Our journey of faith more often than not leads us down a path of struggle.
The human experience is full of pain, catastrophe, failure, disappointment and the temptation to give up on God. Self-examination should take place at all times with us, but Lent is that particular time in the church year when we pay attention to that process.
As Jesus journeys to the cross he will be distracted by temptations.  We too will be distracted by temptations throughout life.  And it's hard. In the shadow of that cross we make our way, acknowledging who we are and what we are-sinners who stand in need of God's forgiveness and the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters. Our faith in Jesus sustains us. We have hope in the promise that through our loving God we will have a secure and final destiny.
On  Ash Wednesday March 6 , we will once again celebrate an Ash Wednesday Eucharist with the imposition of ashes, at the Lutheran Center (Synod Offices), 1890 Bailey Road, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, beginning at  noon . If you are in the area, or are looking for a place to worship, we invite you to join us.
Also again this year, we have published our annual Lenten Prayer List for 2019 , listing all rostered ministers and congregations. I encourage you to make prayer for pastors, deacons and congregations a part of your Lenten discipline.
Throughout the season of Lent at the Lutheran Center, we gather daily promptly at noon in the chapel for a brief period of prayer. The time will include a hymn, a reading from Scripture, a brief reflection, as well as intentions (or petitions) for specific persons and congregations taken from the prayer calendar. You are also invited to join us for that brief interlude, which takes no more than fifteen minutes.
Ash Wednesday, at 7:00 p.m ., I will be with the people of God at First Lutheran Church in Strasburg, for their Eucharist with the imposition of Ashes.
Saturday, March 9, there will be a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. for Pr. John Mann at St. Stephen Martyr Lutheran Church in Canton. Pastor Mann, who died Tuesday, February 19, in Missouri, was my internship supervisor and Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Canton. His passion for the gospel, and commitment to precise liturgy and sound preaching were a great inspiration and influence to my formation in ministry.
Sunday, March 10, I will be with the people of God at New Covenant Lutheran Church in East Cleveland. As many of you know, it was the congregation of New Covenant, when it was known as St. James, that first affirmed my sense of call to ordained ministry. Every time I return it is a homecoming of sorts.
This week and always, may no evil befall you, nor affliction come near your dwelling.
[adapted from Psalm 91:10]
+Bishop Abraham Allende