ONE BODY, MANY MEMBERS

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

[Romans 12:4-5]

In my brief time as bishop, I have developed a new appreciation for the staff of our churchwide office. These are people who serve God by advancing the mission of the church, not only in Chicago, but all over the world. Many of these men and women sat in on most, if not all the meetings at the Conference of Bishops held at the Lutheran Center earlier this month. Then several of them flew from Chicago to Perrysburg, Ohio, to play an active role in organizing and facilitating the first Networking for Mission event for the Region VI synods, which include all three Ohio synods, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan.

ELCA Networking for Mission Gathering, Zoar Lutheran Church, Perrysburg, Ohio. Final plenary session on Saturday morning.
ELCA Networking for Mission Gathering, Zoar Lutheran Church, Perrysburg, Ohio. Final plenary session on Saturday morning.

For several of the bishops from our region the concern was that the event seemed hastily put together and some of the staff admitted as much. But let me quote Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the Northwest Ohio Synod, who offered the following impressions:

In the Conference of Bishops we have been talking about the need to break down “silos”.  This event did that.  Churchwide staff from a variety of areas (e.g. global mission, communications, mission interpretation, stewardship, churchwide campaign, world hunger), conversed, worshipped, dined with lay leaders, bishops, some synod staff in a manner that was both informative and energizing for all participants (these days I confess it takes a bit to energize me!).  One of the best parts was watching how our lay leaders connected/networked with our gifted churchwide staff (most of whom I have had little interaction in the past).  In my 16 plus years in this office I have not experienced an event quite like this one.

I echo Bishop Lohrmann’s thoughts. I was not eager to spend another two nights away from home after being gone for eight days. But this event was well worth it. I was more than thrilled that over 20 others from our Northeastern Ohio Synod, both clergy and laypersons, were present to interact with staff and with each other. Their concern for what we do as church together gives me a sense of hope that God will be served and we will continue to work faithfully for the mission of the kingdom.

Each bishop was able to gather with his or her synod for about an hour. It was not long enough. I would hope this time spent together inspires us to stay in conversation with each other.

Bishop William Gafkjen of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod shared this paragraph about his synod gathering, which he wrote as part of a report for another organization:

One of our little [synod] group in the room was a pastor who confessed that he has struggled for years with whether to remain a part of the ELCA. Coming to this event was a sort of last chance in his discernment about leaving. Tears rose in his eyes as he spoke about how moved he was to be part of such a great church and to work alongside such remarkably committed and inspiring people. He wished he had worked harder to get some congregational members to the event and proceeded to initiate conversation with the others present from our synod about strategies for “getting this great story told in the congregations across the mission territory.”  Huddled together as a microcosm of our synod in that little room in a church basement, it felt like a mini-Pentecost had descended. I could see glimmers of fire in this pastor’s teary eyes, reflected in the eyes of his sisters and brothers around the table.

The bishops answer questions.  Courtesy of Pastor Julianne Smith
The bishops answer questions.
Courtesy of Pastor Julianne Smith

Bishop Eaton came in Saturday afternoon for a keynote presentation on the role of networks for the early church, in congregational contexts, and in our present situation. She kept this event on her busy schedule despite the fact that her father-in-law had died the previous Wednesday. In Bishop Lohrmann’s words, “Her presentation was winsome.”

After she spoke, Bishop Eaton and the four other bishops present sat down in front of those in attendance for a 45-minute question and answer session. An independent article on that session can be found here.

Overall, I came away inspired. Despite the many days away, the drive home was reflectively cheerful. My hope was renewed that at some point all churches will learn to look outside of their four walls and seek to learn from one another. It’s a matter of either striving and flourishing together or withering alone. The task won’t be easy, but we forge ahead, buoyed by the strength of the one who loves and upholds us, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

CREATED, FORMED, REDEEMED, AND CALLED

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1-3a

With the above text, we began the opening session of the second Bishop Formation Event, which I am attending as part of my first Conference of Bishops at the Lutheran Center in Chicago.

The formation leader, Bishop Michael Girlinghouse of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod, asked us after reading the words, “How do these verses speak to you?”

The six new Bishops with formation leader Mike Girlinghouse, front center.
The six new Bishops with formation leader Mike Girlinghouse, front center.

Each of the six of us new bishops then voiced our thoughts, and that led into sharing with the others some recollections of our respective installations and reflections on our first months in office. I was surprised, as I usually seem to be whenever I’m in the company of the people in this group, by the similarity of our reactions and our experiences. Although there is a uniqueness to each of our stories, the common themes that run through our narratives are rather striking – the joy, the hope, the festiveness of our separate celebrations. These memories serve to bond us even further. That sense of unity will also be a source of comfort and shelter to each of us in the days to come. 

But the scripture verses above accomplish the same purpose. The words that leap off the page for me are four: created, formed, redeemed, and called.

In our moments of fear, in our moments of despair, in our moments of sorrow, these are helpful words to keep in mind. The one who created us, the one who formed us, the one who redeemed us, and the one who has called us, now tells us, “Do not fear!

In this text, the Lord, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, goes on to tell us in specific detail that neither water nor fire will harm us; we shall not be overwhelmed, nor shall we be burned or consumed.

As humans we have a natural tendency to be afraid, to feel overwhelmed. It is in those challenging times that we can turn to these words for refuge and for strength. God is with us. That is God’s promise to us. Keep in mind that God does not say that the problems will necessarily go away, but rather that God will be alongside us as we go through them.

God makes that promise to each and every one of you. Keep these words in mind. Guard them in your heart. Take them with you wherever you go – on the job, in the doctor’s office, in the hospital, whenever tragedy strikes.

A lighter moment, attempting a selfie.
A lighter moment, attempting a selfie.

They are also words to remember in times of pleasure. For the same God who is with you in the sorrow is the same God who is with you in the celebration.

But they are especially reassuring in the low times. It is then when we should hear them loud and clear: “Do not fear. You are mine. I am with you. I am the Lord.”

I don’t know what lies ahead during my time in the office of bishop. But I do know of one thing – God will also be in this office with me. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

REFLECTIONS ON MY INSTALLATION

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Revelation 7:9

I’m still caught up in the euphoria of last Saturday (September 13, 2014) when I was installed as Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. Even though a week has gone by as I write this, the flood of memories still bring a tingle, a smile and a warm feeling that borders on feverish.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Akron.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Akron.

The sanctuary at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Akron was filled to capacity. Besides family, there were people present from all stages of my life, childhood friends, college friends, family friends, students from my teaching days, co-workers from my years in broadcasting, from my time in the Cleveland Indians front office, colleagues in ministry, and former parishioners from both congregations I served.

They came from all regions of the country; places near and far – Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.

The diversity, demographic, ethnic, racial, and denominational was wide-ranging.

And then there was the sea of clergy, all dressed in their white albs and red stoles. I was especially grateful for the presence of several ecumenical partners, who spoke and pledged their cooperation as we strive for that unity that Jesus prayed for us. It resembled the scene from Revelation quoted above.

It also very much resembled a scene from my ordination 11-1/2 years ago. Back then I cried uncontrollably. This time, although it called for a great deal of effort on my part, I was somewhat able to control my emotions. But it was a challenge.

As I processed into the sanctuary, I saw a couple of people and felt tears welling up in my eyes. It was then that I decided not to look either to the right or to the left, so as to avoid eye contact with anyone whose presence would make me begin to cry.

Installation 5As I distributed the bread during communion, several times at the sight of friends, family or parishioners, I alternately felt my throat tightening and my voice quivering as I said the words, “The body of Christ, given for you.”

These are scenes most people never experience in their lifetime. They mostly occur at a person’s funeral. I have been blessed to have witnessed this type of honor twice.

I thank God for all these blessings. I thank those of you who were there. I am also grateful for all the congratulatory wishes, the cards, the gifts, the emails, the phone calls.

Of course, it was not about me, no matter how much people made it out to be. It was about God in Jesus Christ, the church and the synod. It was an expression of joy and a promise of hope. As I repeated several times in the installation ritual as the Presiding Bishop questioned me, “I ask God to help me.”

2014-09-13 Bishop Installation September 13, 2014 099I ask God to help me be faithful in my office; to commit myself to this new trust and responsibility; to carry out this ministry in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the confessions of the Lutheran Church; care for the pastors and congregations of this synod; to love, serve, and pray for God’s people, nourish them with the word and sacraments, and lead them by my own example in faithful service and holy living.

All these and the other promises I made I confide that God will graciously give me the strength and compassion to perform them.

WEEK ONE

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 304 

I made it through one week of being bishop. I showed up on Monday, September 8 for week two. By my calculations there are 310 more to go before the end of my term. The prayer above has become an indispensable part of my morning devotions.  

So what follows are my observations after one week as synod bishop.  

It is as much joy as it is drudgery. As I heard one bishop say many years ago, “Without Jesus Christ, ministry is drudgery.” So the one constant companion that I have made sure to have in my life has been Jesus.  

I confess that there have been times in my life that I have put daily devotions aside, or try to squeeze in time somewhere during the day to take a cursory glance at my devotional reading; but this last week, the time for devotions has become a priority. And I have found that my refuge and strength. I would even add comfort. 

My mind has been going at a whirlwind pace. Even in the midst of sleep it has become a challenge to shut off the brain. In sports, athletes often talk about slowing the game down. It is a metaphor just as appropriate to this office. Life comes at you fast. I have to learn to slow it down.  

On my Facebook page last week someone commented that it was like the first day of school, except that I was the superintendent. However, I felt and still feel more like the student.  

DSC_0527I am learning something new each day. Each day it seems as if one or another staff member is educating me as to how things are done and enlightening me on their patterns and practices. I am adapting to the ebbs and flows of the office.  I am becoming acquainted with pastors I didn’t know very well; congregations I didn’t know existed. And, of course, there are the meetings. By the end of the day I welcome having the building to myself so I can spend some quiet time alone.  

Someone also mentioned to me that the complaints will begin the day after your first day. That person wasn’t too far off. I benefited from a Labor Day holiday, which perhaps delayed the onslaught, but sure enough, it didn’t take long for the dissatisfaction to surface. The grievances weren’t all necessarily directed at me, but I sensed a certain degree of expectation that I could fix what was wrong. 

I can joke about it now, but I confess that the first one stung just a little. I don’t hesitate to remind people that I am new at this. As I reflect back on things, I guess the expectations are perhaps a little greater for someone of my (ahem!) maturity. It may be true that with age comes wisdom but there is still a learning curve no matter how mature one is.   

One big difference I have noticed is that the emails in my inbox have proliferated. It takes nearly a half day to read through all of them. And yes, there are the phone calls. Time management is essential.  

cropped-140906-macholz-installation.jpgSo what did I do for fun? Well, I treated myself to a road trip. On Friday evening I travelled to Rochester, New York, to witness the installation of the Rev. John Macholz, Bishop of the Upstate New York Synod. It gave me a chance to observe what I will go through this upcoming weekend on September 13. It was a glorious day.  

On the way back I managed to stop in on the folks at Advent Lutheran Church in Cleveland as they took part in our national service day by packing bags of groceries for people in need. I wanted to visit more sites but time just didn’t allow it.  

And just in case you’re wondering, YES, I do miss parish ministry. I have not preached in over a month. I am eager to get back into the pulpit.

Advent Service Day 1I have not taught a Sunday school class since early May. However, I have made hospital visits and spent a little bit of time in what you might call counseling. But this feels different. It will take getting used to.  

In closing I promise this will be the only weekly summary I plan to give. I wouldn’t want to bore you. But I covet your prayers as this adventure continues. They really do bring me strength and comfort. I mean it. Peace. 

UP FROM THE ASHES

On Sunday, August 31, First Lutheran Church in Lorain, Ohio, worshipped outdoors. The backdrop of this worship setting was their historic, now charred building across the street which, three days earlier, had been destroyed by fire.

Courtesy of First Lutheran Church
Courtesy of First Lutheran Church

Just two weeks before, the Northeastern Ohio Synod welcomed its newest pastors at a grand and glorious ordination service inside their sanctuary. Now that sanctuary was in ruins.

There were a lot of tears on Sunday. The community was mourning a death. But the sadness was not to have the last word this day. Hope and joy would prevail.

First’s talented music director, Brian Wentzel, carefully crafted a liturgy that, through music and litany, word and sacrament, moved the more than 400 people assembled from sorrowful despair, to hopeful rejoicing; beginning with the despondent chanting of, Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, and ending with the Easter hymn, Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.

Pastor Jimmy Madsen led the congregation in a litany that accurately summarized the feelings of many that were there.

 

O Lord, when we cry out in fear and desperation,

Raise us up from the ashes and hear us.

When fire swallows up our hopes and dreams,

Raise us up from the ashes and help us.

When our lives and livelihoods are consumed by flame,

Raise us up from the ashes and save us.

When smoke clouds our hope and shrouds our joy,

Raise us up from the ashes and give us peace.

In Christ, life springs forth from the dust and ashes.

In Christ, our lives will be raised from the ashes.

In Christ, all things will be made new.

Amen.

The liturgy included a healing service that involved the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. Many welcomed and took advantage of the opportunity. It, among several other additional elements, helped to extend the length of the worship to two and half hours! But, as I am fond of saying, no one complains when a football game goes into overtime. This was not a day to be concerned with going elsewhere. It was a day to reflect, remember and rejoice.

The television crews respectfully remained on the periphery throughout, unobtrusive in their coverage of what was going on in their view.

Pastor Jimmy Madsen preaching at Sunday's outdoor service.
Pastor Jimmy Madsen preaching at Sunday’s outdoor service.

In his sermon, Pastor Jimmy lingered on the history of the building. He didn’t want to move too quickly into the reconstruction. The people needed time to grieve.

What touched me in his sermon was the amount of outreach the church does in the community. This is not just a Lutheran church, it is a church for everyone, which is as it should be. The church is about mission, not maintenance.

In my last several months at Covenant, I would ask various groups the question, “if Covenant closed tomorrow, who would miss it, and why?”

I had put together a graphic pointing out the numerous outreach programs in which the congregation was involved. People were often surprised, mainly, I think, because they weren’t all that involved. They didn’t realize we had been pretty busy.

As bishop, I now want to pose the same question to all of the congregations in the Northeastern Ohio Synod, “If your church closed tomorrow, or if it were destroyed by fire, as in the case of First, who would miss it, and why?”

Do not wall yourself off from the surrounding community, but rather, become a part of it – not with the intention of putting more people in your pews, but to make God’s love in Jesus Christ known to everyone.

First Lutheran will be rebuilt. But in the meantime, it will continue to do mission and ministry in its surrounding neighborhood.

I ask that you hold them in prayer and offer whatever you can as they turn to you in their need. We are, after all, the body of Christ, the church together.

CHANGE IS COMING

Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

[Psalm 127:1a]

Next Monday, September 1, is my first official day as Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Property & construction graphic 1 december 2013As a result, this is more of a nuts and bolts post to inform you of a couple of changes that will be coming to this blog. Although we are not totally rebuilding the house, we are undergoing a “makeover.”

The first will be a change to the title of the blog. Pastor Allende’s Blog doesn’t quite capture what I’m looking for. I haven’t come up with any clever thoughts or ideas yet, so if anyone with a creative mind can conceive a catchy title, please email or message me.

Here is my wish list: I want the title to reflect the office of bishop, the people I serve, and the gospel we proclaim. How’s that for a challenge?

The second change will be to the design. That, thanks to WordPress, is not very difficult. It will still be pretty simple, somewhat like a new coat of paint on the same house.

All my old blog posts will still be accessible through the redesigned site. The web address will also remain the same, so you need not worry that you won’t be able to find me. I know some of you have created links to the site through your church website and elsewhere. I am deeply appreciative of that and I hope to fulfill your wish to hear from me on a regular basis.

That brings me to my final point. I hope to be in regular communication with you. I am challenging myself to post regularly, at least once a week. I ask you to keep me accountable. If you don’t read something fresh from me at least weekly, let me know. As much as possible, I will try to post by Friday. There will be times when I will be out of town or otherwise occupied. On those occasions I will at least post something brief.

The content here will not be the same as what you read in the Bishop’s Newsletter on the unified mailing. This will be more random musings, sometimes personal, sometimes scriptural, but hopefully always relevant.

I eagerly look forward to serving God’s people in the Northeastern Ohio Synod and I pray that the words that you read here will serve to make Christ’s name known and build up God’s kingdom at least in this little corner of the earth. Peace and blessings!

LITTLE IS MUCH WHEN GOD IS IN IT

Sunday, August 3, 2014, I preached and presided for the final time at The Lutheran Church of the Covenant. Again I offer my sermon as a blog post rather than write a separate reflection on the event. Perhaps at a later date I will summarize the range of emotions I experienced that day. But for now, here is what the good people of God at Covenant heard last Sunday morning.

August 3, 2014

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 55:1–5; Psalm 145:8–9, 14–21; Romans 9:1–5; Matthew 14:13–21

2014-08-03 FINAL DAY AT COVENANT 036I don’t have to tell you that this is the final time I will be in this pulpit as your pastor and of all the sermons I’ve written this one was the most difficult and will perhaps be the most emotional. I struggled with writing it and I’m not really sure that it says everything I would love to say to you today. So even though I seldom do so, at some point I may go off script if the Spirit moves me.

The next time I step into this pulpit will be as your bishop, and hopefully, to install your next pastor.

Another factor that makes this a tough preaching assignment is the question of what do I talk about?  How does a Pastor go about summarizing his thoughts as he leaves a congregation he has served for five years; and in the course of that sermon, how does he go about saying goodbye to the people in this congregation that he has come to know and dearly love over that five-year span of time. My role as a preacher is to preach the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Knowing that and holding in tension all those other things I’ve mentioned makes for a tough assignment.

Anytime a Pastor leaves a congregation to serve another, there are a range of emotions that go through the members of that church.  Please keep in mind that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that led you to call me as your pastor back in 2009. In a similar manner, at the Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly last May, it was the work of the Holy Spirit that led the people gathered there to elect me as their next bishop. I wrestled with that. But the wrestling is over. God won, as God does all the time. Some of you are still hoping for a do over of the results. But in the end, I’m not the one who is in charge of my life, where I will live, or what congregations I will serve, It’s God’s call, not mine, not yours. 

One great piece of advice I received was, above all, to make sure the final sermon I preach points people to Christ and not attempt to resolve personal or congregational issues through the sermon, that is unless you want to have the people point the pastor to the door.

And today’s gospel text on the feeding of the five-thousand is, in my opinion, one of the richest passages in all the gospels if not all of scripture. It is so full of teachings and truths that it cannot and must not take a back seat to whatever desire I might have to take a trip down memory lane with you today. This will not be a revival the old Ralph Edwards television show, This Is Your Life.

But the single most wonderful element I found as the common link between this text and the one outstanding characteristic of this congregation is – FOOD!

All summer long we have been gathering with the Lutheran Church of the Master for our Wednesday Picnic and Praise where we study the readings for the upcoming Sunday after we have shared a meal. 

On Thursday evening the Lutheran Church of the Covenant served some 60 people at our monthly Covenant-Hope Community Meal.

On Friday evening, at the closing celebration of Camp Covenant we closed with a meal.

During today’s liturgy we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and following the liturgy we will gather once more for a time of fellowship and a meal.

And today’s text has as its central topic the feeding of five thousand men, in addition to countless women and children.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?

The love of FOOD is not an attribute that is the exclusive property of Lutherans. Even in Jesus time the table was central to people’s daily life as well as their life of faith.

There are a couple of things I think we need to focus on in this text.  The first is what happens when Jesus sees the multitude of people gathering to see him.  Matthew says that he had compassion on them.

Hear those words again.  He had compassion for them. Jesus, who has just learned of the death of John the Baptist, is dealing with his own sense of grief and loss, but he had compassion, not for himself, as he had every right to have, but for them – for others before himself.  Jesus meets the needs of others in his life of obedience to God even if it meant giving up his own desire for solitude.

How do you feel when you watch the news and you see time and time again reports of people starving? How do you feel, when you hear that congress refuses to act on legislation that will extend tax credits to the millions of America’s working poor? How do you respond to their plight?

It is compassion that orders Jesus’ relationship with humanity.  It is compassion that directs him to care for those who seek him.  It is compassion that prompts him to ask the disciples to figure out how they were going to find enough bread for the people to eat.  He wants to meet their needs, and he wants to see those needs met.

This feeding miracle encourages us to look not only at the ministry of Jesus but also at the ministry that we share as the Church – the body of Christ.  Like us, Jesus’ disciples also struggled with the enormity of the problem and suggested to Jesus, “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (v.15).  The disciples are being very practical here.  The people need to eat, and they are all in the middle of nowhere. 

And that brings us to the second point that we should focus on and that is the words of Jesus to his disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (v.16)

YOU give them something to eat.

This command is often missed when people read this story, and not many people get the point that Jesus makes here.

First of all, contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not feed the crowd.  He tells the disciples to feed the crowd. What did Jesus see that the disciples couldn’t?  If we could see a visual of this situation we would see looks of confusion on the faces of the disciples. “What?” they say. “Jesus, what do you mean?  We can’t do that.  We do not have enough.  All we have between us is five loaves and two fish.”

How familiar does this sound to you?  You can hear words like this just about any time, especially when there is a social or political problem that requires an infusion of resources.  Or, to bring it closer to home, when our church is challenged to test our faith—when we are challenged to believe in God’s power to do the impossible in the midst of the reality of the situation that surrounds us.

There is no way the disciples can feed such a large crowd.  They barely have enough food for themselves!  WE barely have enough for ourselves without taking on the struggles of the hungry in the world.  And so they remind Jesus, “We have nothing here.  Look, we’ve got five loaves and two fish” (v.17).

“We have nothing.”

How often is that the human response! “I can’t do that. I don’t have enough money. I’m not smart enough. I’m not talented enough. I have nothing.”

Jesus tells them to bring him what food they have.  Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish, blesses and breaks them, and what happens next is astonishing.  Jesus provides abundance – more than what is needed.  In fact, there are 12 baskets of leftovers!  All in the crowd were fed, and there was a huge amount left over, even after more than five thousand people had eaten!  Jesus had once again provided for God’s people in their time of great need.

The reason for the disciples’ resistance is that they don’t have the physical resources to feed the crowd.  They weren’t necessarily being cold-hearted in their refusal to feed the crowds, but they just didn’t see how it was possible.  Jesus reminds the disciples to bring all that they have to him.  It is only when the disciples bring their loaves and fish to Jesus that the miracle takes place. 

How many times in the life of the church do we look around, and all we see is what we don’t have?  We look at our meager resources and think, ‘we don’t even have enough here for ourselves, much less anyone else’.  The disciples had 2 loaves and 5 fish, but couldn’t see any possible way that God could use that.  And yet they forgot that God created the world from far less than that.

What little have you got to offer the world or to offer God?  What little do we have in our church to offer?  Humanly speaking, you and I have very little to offer, far too little to make any difference anyway.  Our faith is imperfect.  Our leadership skills are imperfect.  Our ability to see others’ needs is often poor.  Our compassion is not what it could be.

And just look at our hungry world! Look at the people in our own community who are desperate and lost. Look at the generations of kids in our community who do not know Jesus Christ and have not heard the Gospel!

These needs are huge! We can’t cope with all this. We can’t do it – we don’t have enough – enough people, enough time, enough courage, enough money, enough energy, enough love. “It’s not good,” we say. “It’s just not in us. We can’t do it.”

It is tempting to hold our hands shut and say that we need these things for ourselves.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that unless we have enough to start with then we can’t help.  Our whole existence as church is by faith, so let us not base our ministry on anything but faith.  If God presents us with an opportunity, let us look for ways that we CAN do it, rather than looking at what we’ve got and then decide whether or not we can do it. 

It’s a big difference.  But it’s the difference between a church stepping out in faith and a church that just exists.  Jesus says to us, no matter how meager our resources, “Bring them to me.”  What we have might not be sufficient in our eyes, but Jesus can take what we offer and produce a bountiful harvest. 

Last Sunday the kids from Camp Covenant stood on this chancel and sang their little hearts out for you. As I walked among you during the sharing of the peace, several of you stated to me how wonderful you felt after hearing from the children. My response to several of you was that, “All we did was open our doors.”

All we did was allow the children the opportunity to enter our building for seven weeks and learn about Jesus.

And not only that, we FED them with nourishment for the body as well as the spirit. And that extended to more than two dozen people daily, non-campers from the surrounding neighborhood who came at lunchtime. As Sister Sharon Steward told you in her presentation, and I quote: “This church is a light in the community. I see it when I stop by on Saturday and see the Farmers’ Market, the rummage sale, and the [monthly] community meal. Little is much when God is in it.”

Little is much when God is in it.

I want you to take these words to heart and remember:  that’s the reason God worked through the call process in the spring of 2009 to bring me into your lives. Remember how you fretted about whether you had enough to pay a full-time pastor? Remember how you focused on what you lacked instead of what you had? Yes, the congregation was aging and attendance was declining – it still is. But what you are doing with so little is a testament to the faith that you have demonstrated at least during the time that I have been with you.

Little is much when God is in it.

I feel that God called me here to proclaim to you two things every time I stepped into this pulpit: 1) How much God loves you and forgives you, and 2) to invite you to listen and draw closer to God, through reading and engaging in God’s Holy Word.

Little is much when God is in it.

2014-08-03 FINAL DAY AT COVENANT 057That promise was for each and every one of you who believed in Jesus Christ, and turned to Him in repentance and faith. 

That was the reason God allowed our paths to cross these past five years, so that you would hear that message from the Word of God each week.  So that you would be able to hear of God’s great love for you.  I wasn’t the one giving the forgiveness, I was merely the chosen instrument God called to bring this about so that you would be strengthened in your faith in Christ.

And it has been a great joy to see many of you grow in your understanding and faith in that time.  It has been a privilege to bring that comforting message of the Gospel to you in good times, and bad times.

2014-08-03 FINAL DAY AT COVENANT 049At the baptismal font, on a wedding day, or by the graveside of one you loved who had died in the faith. 

So remember on this, my final day with you, that God loves you with an everlasting love.

Then the second thing I want you to remember going forward is that you are instruments of God’s love for others.

When we hear the words of Jesus to the disciples, we hear those words as though they were addressed to us also: “YOU give them something to eat.”

And when we say, “We don’t have enough,” Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook so easily as we would like. However. He says, “Bring what you have here to me.” He takes them into his hands, and blesses what little we have and multiplies it. A loaf to Lutheran World Relief; another loaf to the Southeast Clergy Hunger Center; another loaf to Meals on Wheels; another our Covenant-Hope Community Meal; another to Lutheran Metro Ministries; yet another to LAOS; to Calvary Lutheran Church, and on and on.

Our Lord gathers all what little we have in his hands, blesses them, and gives them through us, his disciples, along with a multitude of others who have heard the “YOU” in this text and along with many other resources for a multitude of other causes and associations and institutions and humanitarian societies addressing the distress of the world, to thousands and even millions.

So our poor little loaves and fish nourish and support and shelter thousands upon thousands of nameless and faceless people spread across the face of the earth. Our little is multiplied beyond our comprehension. “We have only five loaves here and two fish,” we say. “It is enough,” Jesus says.

This miracle reminds us that Jesus calls us into the ministry of God’s work in the world.  We see this when Jesus gave the food back to the disciples.  Jesus didn’t distribute the food.  The disciples were his hands and feet.  And by their faith they shared in the blessings that Jesus provided with all who were seated in the grass that day.  They had leftovers – more than what they had begun with. It is God’s work, but it is done with our hands.

So today, as I end my ministry in your midst, please remember that you, the people of God at the Lutheran Church of the Covenant, with the whole church, are still called to be the hands and feet of Christ and share in the abundant blessings of God.

2014-08-03 FINAL DAY AT COVENANT 088May we respond to needs of the world with compassionate hearts, offering all we have to Jesus, that he might bless it for us to share in the ministry of God.

It has been a privilege and an honor to have been your pastor. I thank God for you and wish you all of God’s blessings. In the name of the Father, and of the (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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