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OCTOBER 16, 2017

[Note: I have been somewhat lax in posting my musings on this platform on a regular basis. For your information, they are accessible, in their original format, on my Facebook page or the Northeastern Ohio Facebook page. They are also available by subscription through the Northeastern Ohio Synod website. Note also that the musings posted here do not include my weekly calendar.]

[Jesus said:] Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

[Matthew 22:21]

It occurred to me last week that in these musings, I often refer to the lessons for the upcoming Sunday, but don’t always provide a link to those readings. So, beginning this week, I will make every effort to post links to all the readings for your convenience, in case you, the reader, would want to read them without having to look elsewhere.

Here are the lessons for Sunday, October 22:

·   Isaiah 45:1-7

·   Psalm 96:1-13

·   1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

·   Matthew 22:15-22

I always use the readings as a springboard to my weekly writing. They offer a convenient framework for my thinking, most notably on mornings when I have no idea what to write about.

The lectionary is a priceless resource for anyone who engages in the reading or study of scripture, particularly a preacher. It is rare that a lectionary preacher, on any given Sunday, cannot apply one or more of the readings to events, or issues in our world or nation that are the dominant topics of discussion in society. Jesus’ response to the trick question the Pharisees ask him in the Gospel reading from Matthew is a prime example (see above). In their sermon preparation for this week, many preachers will wrestle with how to interpret Jesus’ words in light of our current political climate. Some will choose to avoid them altogether and choose another lesson.

For those who aren’t involved in sermon preparation, the lectionary offers a disciplined pattern of studying God’s word. It is wonderful devotional material. Most of all, it is inspiring.

One of my favorite verses in scripture is Paul’s advice to his pupil, Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]

Among the most perplexing issues we as humans wrestle with is discerning God’s will for our lives. The truth is, we will never fully know. But scripture offers us valuable guidance. To quote the blessed Martin Luther, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scriptures.”

Contrary to what some may think of the Bible, it isn’t a list of laws and detailed instructions for carrying them out.  But through the reading of scripture, we grow into mature sons and daughters of God, confident of God’s love, confident of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is through the reading of scripture that we listen to the prompting of the Spirit, allowing it to show us the way of love in our thoughts, our choices and our actions. It is that relationship of love that moves us to respond to others in ways that reflect the love of Jesus that is in us.

This week and always, may we be ever diligent in coming to know God’s mind even better through studying the Scriptures, and may we seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God.

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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September 25, 2017

When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

[Matthew 21:23]

Today’s reflection celebrates one year of Monday Musings. We began on the first Monday in October of 2016.

Karl Barth

As I sit down each week to write this weekly reflection, I am guided to some extent by a quote attributed to the theologian Karl Barth, that one should “hold the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.”

The more accurate version of that quote is: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

I must confess, that has been a challenge these last several weeks. So much has happened that it is difficult to prioritize one issue over another. Natural disasters have dominated the headlines; but the political arena has presented its share of anguish, drama, and yes, entertainment. Some of the remarks that we hear out of Washington would be funny, if they weren’t at times embarrassingly sad.

In this age of social media, everyone – not the least of which is the current occupant in the White House – is quick with an opinion on just about everything. Facebook, twitter, e-mail, Instagram, Pinterest, androids, blue tooth, and all kinds of other technological wizardry; have made me question whether my words would bring any more clarity to a situation, or simply add to the noise.

I must first consider my audience. How Scripture informs me may not necessarily be how it speaks to those of you who regularly read my thoughts. After all, the makeup of the ELCA churches in the Northeastern Ohio Synod hardly reflects the rest of the population. Most of our congregations are suburban and rural. We have very little presence in the urban areas of our 20 counties.

That motivated me to ask a friend of mine recently for some feedback on a few of my recent writings. He is a retired pastor whose opinion I value perhaps more highly than any other human on earth. He wrote back the following, which I received as affirmation:

“As long as they continue to read and to listen, they are participating in the pastoral dialogue that moves the Church forward.”

And that is my hope – that you, the reader, continue to engage in this weekly exchange of ideas. Although it is mostly one-sided – I write, you read – I welcome your response to anything I write. Some of you already do that. It calls me to accountability, which, admittedly, is not always easy or comfortable for me.

In our life together, there are bound to be tensions, there are bound to be anxieties, there are bound to be conflicts.  But pain and anxiety is part of the life of people who want to grow in their service and in their relationship to Christ.  Dialogue is important. As long as people maintain open lines of communication, there is always room for reconciliation. It is essential that we make time for each other, especially for those people with whom we disagree. The moment we cut each other off, we end all hope for understanding.

The Gospel lesson for this upcoming October 1, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, is a vivid illustration of that issue. The Pharisees’ questioning of Jesus’ authority prompts Jesus to launch into a parable of a landowner had two sons and asked them to go work in the vineyard. The first one said he wouldn’t but did. The other said he would but did not. So, Jesus asks his listeners, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

That’s a question we all need to ask ourselves as Monday Musings celebrates its one-year anniversary. But we need to ask it in a more personal, more direct way. To what is Christ calling us, his church, today? And how are we answering that call?

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My blessing this week is patterned after the assigned second reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

This week and always, may we think of ways we can restore or build relationships with each other by humbly serving, looking to the needs of others, putting others first and ourselves last, emptying ourselves and taking the form of Christ’s servants. In our relationships with one another, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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SEPTEMBER 18, 2017

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
  slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

[Psalm 145:8]

When I am invited to visit a congregation, I first check the readings for that Sunday. On occasions such as anniversaries, the selected readings are usually not the assigned lectionary texts. Therefore, I am not preaching on the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, September 24, on the parable of the day laborers waiting to be hired. But oh, would I love to!

There are a myriad of commentaries on this reading, so I will try to avoid repeating what others have already written with the advantage of far more scholarly research. What I want to offer are a few random thoughts on the images this reading calls up in my mind.

Taken July 14, 2006. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES)

Immediately, what leaps to the forefront is the sight of men waiting on a corner somewhere in the world, for work that will help support them and their family for that day. There has always been a need for temporary labor everywhere, so these scenes are not unique to our nation.

What is also common in most countries is that the bulk of these day laborers are foreigners. When I was in South Africa in 2016, I was told the bulk of the men I saw waiting on street corners were from Zimbabwe. Foreign-born workers, especially from Mexico and Central America, are currently the core of the low-wage workforce in southern California (see photo), as well as other parts of the United States.

Our ELCA Social Policy Resolution, Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform (2009), commits our church to protect the rights of people at work. It goes on to state that: “New legislation should facilitate an orderly, regulated future flow of workers, consistent with America’s labor needs and obligations, to contribute to the global common good.”

Of course, those type of commitments require legislation which our representatives in Washington seem to lack the will to propose.

At the risk of generalizing, the people one sees on a street corner are mainly male, young, and low skilled. What is also to be expected is that they will earn low and uncertain levels of income and work under less than ideal conditions. They are also vulnerable to theft of wages, employer abuse, and lack of insurance in the case of a work-related accident or injury. Since many lack documentation, their work sites are also targets of aggressive immigration enforcement.

In recent years, there has been an increase in efforts by labor unions, and community action groups and agencies to organize these workers so that they will not lack these benefits. However, there still exists a level of distrust of these organizations, no matter how reputable they may be. So, the day laborer on the corner is not bound to go away anytime soon. The fear of taking jobs from people who need them is overstated.

Yet those of us with a steady job and a suitable income tend to look down on such persons. Our reaction is either one of resentment or silence.

The resentment stems mostly from the fact that they are foreign-born, primarily, Latino. The last Presidential election campaign gave rise to an anti-immigrant rhetoric that has had the intended results – the Muslim ban, the vandalism of synagogues, the repeal of DACA, among others.

Is it possible that questions raised about immigrant issues have a deeper source than we are willing to admit—not our needs, but our wants and desires?

The Gospel reading asks us to search our hearts for our inner motivations. Note the words with which our story begins. Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like…”

When Jesus speaks of God’s kingdom, he’s not talking about some geographical faraway place beyond the here and now, but rather, about life lived under the reign of God – a God who is generous to a fault, a God whose generosity offends us and baffles us; a God who is inclined to show special generosity to the poor and outcast; a God who makes the so-called “respectable” people to become anxious and nervous.

So, if I were preaching on Matthew’s Gospel this week, this is what I would be wrestling with.

This week and always, may we be empowered by the Spirit of God’s love, that we may be willing to speak for what is right, act for what is just, and seek the healing of all of God’s creation

+Bishop Abraham Allende