March 19, 2019

There's a wideness in God's mercy,  
      like the wideness of the sea;
      there's a kindness in God's justice
      which is more than liberty.
      There is no place where earth's sorrows
      are more felt than up in heav'n.
      There is no place where earth's failings
      have such kindly judgment giv'n.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #588]

The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, March 24, 2019, the Third Sunday in Lent, are as follows:
Welcome to March Madness!
Before I begin writing these musings, I usually go back into my archives to read the corresponding week in the two previous years since I began this weekly endeavor. I look to see how often I've written on a particular topic so that I don't begin to sound like a broken record. Since we're less than three years old, you would think that repetition wouldn't be an issue. Yet let me share with you just two paragraphs I've written in the previous two years on the third Monday in March:
March 19, 2018
This year on March 24, in Washington D.C. and hundreds of other cities across the world, there will be marches and demonstrations to protest gun violence and mass shootings in United States' schools. The movement, named March for Our Lives, was organized by student survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Florida.
March 20, 2017
A few weeks ago, a man walked into a suburban Kansas City bar and opened fire on two men from India, killing one of them and seriously wounding the other. The shooter, a 51-year-old Navy veteran, hoped to kill more dark-skinned foreigners.
Christchurch, New Zealand, school children honor the victims of the mosque shooting.
I searched for other occasions when I've written on the topic of violence and murder and quickly became exhausted. There was Pittsburgh last October, Charlottesville in August of 2017, I could go on and on.
As I pondered what to write about this Monday, I thought to myself, "What more can I say that I haven't already about evil and hatred in our country and in our world?"
I really wanted to write about the NCAA Basketball Tournament. In fact, I had already written half a page worth of seemingly inane banter. But this past Friday, in Christchurch, New Zealand, another horribly senseless tragedy took place as a gunman walked into a mosque and killed 49 people, injuring nearly two dozen others.
I wish I could tell you that I refuse to write one more word about violence or tragedy, but that would be foolish. To ignore these situations would be irresponsible on my part. I can no more avoid mentioning these events when they occur than I could avoid breathing.
In the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday Jesus is asked about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, and of 18 that were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. We hear this lesson against a backdrop of the Christchurch shootings and the Ethiopian airline crash in which all 157 passengers and crew members were killed.
And to add to all this; Sunday, March 24, we commemorate the assassination of St. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Roman Catholic bishop who was gunned down while celebrating mass in his native El Salvador in the year 1980.
If God is love, why is there so much hatred?
Over the course of history myriads of novelists, playwrights, essayists and poets have struggled to answer these questions.
A couple of my favorites include C. S. Lewis, who wrote The Problem of Pain, from which I gleaned one of my all-time favorite quotes: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
The other is Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People, written as a response to the death of his 14-year-old son from a degenerative disease.
When we experience evil, as people of faith, we try to make sense of it. Our readings for this coming Sunday, especially the Gospel text, invite us to think about what God is trying to teach us.
When we suffer personal setbacks or tragedies, the question to ask is not, "Why me?" but rather, "What is God trying to teach me through this experience?"
Or as Kushner puts it, "Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?"
Jesus doesn't explain it. Instead, he calls those who were listening to him that day, and us, to repentance.  
Repentance. Metanoia is the Greek word. Metanoia is not about feeling a little bit bad and hoping to do a little bit better tomorrow. Metanoia is a radical reorientation of the self; literally a "turning around" of the intellect or will-a change of heart, a change in direction.
It's what we sing in our Gospel acclamation during Lent: Return to the Lord your God.
On a practical level, we can't keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. That would be madness!
Thankfully, we serve a God of second chances; a God who made us and loves us and has sacrificed so much for us; God understands what it means to live in a world where so much is all wrong; and God has set things right between God and us through Jesus' death on the cross. Lent is a season of looking at our lives, of honest self-examination, and of reflection on the suffering, bleeding and dying that Jesus endured to be our Savior.  
Because God cares for each of us, we are assured and refreshed with the joy of knowing that, because of Jesus, our wrong is not held against us.  We are free to trust in God's love for us and God's never-ending and infinite grace and mercy; a grace and mercy that invites us to live each day using God's gifts to heal the brokenness of the world.
Thank you to those who responded to my invitation to engage in conversation regarding "Trustworthy Servants of God." I had several meaningful discussions by phone and in person as well as several emails. All were helpful. Let me say that I feel blessed to serve alongside you as fellow rostered ministers in the Northeastern Ohio Synod. I value your opinions and I thank God for you.
The responses are being sent to our conference chair and the Domestic Mission unit of the ELCA. We will wait and see what results the process yields.
This coming Sunday evening, I will be with the people of God at the Copeland Oaks Retirement Community in Sebring to lead their Vespers service.
This week and always, may you seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near. [Isaiah 55:6]
+Bishop Abraham Allende