“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday in Lent. Even though the majority of our Gospel readings in this year are from the Gospel according to Matthew, the next four weeks we will hear from the Gospel according to John. These four readings are some of the most vivid in all the gospels. Each one includes an encounter between a potential new convert and Jesus Christ. This week, we hear Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus, which includes the best-known verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
While nearly all Christians know John 3:16, not many are aware that it is part of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus. I also happen to have a particular preference for the closing verse of this passage, John 3:17 [cited above].
The Gospel of John in its entirety is a presentation of God’s love for us, and Jesus’ call for us to love one another. It might very well be known as “The Book of Love”, because from start to finish, John tells us that the entire life of Jesus is an expression of God’s love for God’s children. It is especially important to be mindful of this as we navigate the tense political climate in which we find ourselves these days. As people of faith, we are called to be a reflection of God’s love as Christ modeled for us and for all humankind.
As I write these musings I am at the Conference of Bishops. I’m reminded that this is where I was five months ago, when I began these weekly reflections.
For the last several days our 65 synod bishops, together with the staff of the Churchwide office have gathered to discuss issues of importance to the life of the Church. We’ve had constructive conversations around the issues of leadership and congregations; and what it means to be church together. We’ve framed those conversations around questions that hopefully will help clarify roles and expectations of each other as the three expressions of the church: the congregational, the synodical, and the churchwide expression.
These are ongoing conversations. But then, difficult issues never are easily resolved in one meeting or one sitting; or, even at one level of discussion. The entire church should and must be involved. That’s the rationale behind Called Forward Together in Christ, a process of discernment that will determine the priorities of the church. We are about to enter the second stage of that process, and we’ll have more to say about that at our Synod Assembly in June.
Our time together began on Thursday morning, March 2, with regional meetings for the purpose of assigning graduating seminary students to synods so that they can begin interviewing for calls. We are happy to report that two seminarians will begin their first calls to parish ministry in Northeastern Ohio. We welcome Katherine Jacob of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and Cynthia Striker of Trinity Lutheran Seminary; and we give thanks to God for their willingness to serve and for the gifts they bring to the church.
That first day was capped off with a spirit-filled service of common prayer with our Roman Catholic brothers in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What a joyous celebration it was! The service was followed by a festive reception and dinner. If you didn’t get to see it on live stream, you can still watch it by following this link. I encourage you to take 90 minutes to view it by following this link [HERE]
Although it is not a church commemoration, March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. On a national level, in 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month.
Several women are commemorated this week on the Lutheran calendar of commemorations.
On March 7, the Church commemorates Perpetua and Felicity and companions, martyrs at Carthage, (202). Vibia Perpetua was a noblewoman, and Felicity her slave, who were catechumens at Carthage, northern Africa. They, with four other catechumens, had defied the Roman emperor who had forbidden conversions to Christianity, and were put to death in the amphitheater.
On March 10, the Church commemorates Harriet Tubman, (1913); and Sojourner Truth, (1883); renewers of society
Harriet Tubman, born into slavery, helped about 300 others to escape slavery until the institution was abolished. Sojourner Truth, whose birth name was Isabella, was freed after slavery was abolished, and discerned a call to be a preacher. Taking the name Sojourner Truth, she set out on an evangelistic journey, where people found her testimony to be deeply moving.
We give thanks to God for the faithful witness of these women and their contributions to society.
I look forward to being with the good people of Messiah Lutheran Church in Fairview Park this coming Sunday.
May you be filled with, and be a reflection of God’s love this week and always!
+Bishop Abraham Allende