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December 28 — The Holy Innocents

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 

[Matthew 2:16 NRSV]

Today, the Church commemorates The Holy Innocents.

As told in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, these were the young children slaughtered by the insecure King Herod, after he learned that he had been tricked by the wise men, who had assured him they would tell him the whereabouts of a new king that had been born in Bethlehem. [Matt. 2:13-23]

Jesus escaped the massacre because an angel appeared to his earthly father, Joseph, in a dream, and told Joseph to take the child and the child’s mother, Mary, and flee to Egypt. They lived in Egypt until after Herod died, when the angel again appears to tell him it is safe to return.

In recent years, the United States has experienced a rise in xenophobia; the dislike and intolerance of foreigners, many of whom are fleeing here for safety from brutal wars and genocide in their countries.

Thus, the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt resonates with immigration and refugee resettlement advocates who equate the plight of the Holy Family with a that of today’s refugees and immigrants.

The last twelve months have been one seemingly interminable clash between the current administration in Washington, which opposes allowing entry to the increasing number of outsiders who appeal for asylum; and the individuals and agencies who work on behalf of the asylum seekers.

The two distinctively different viewpoints each has its staunch circle of supporters.

Linda Hartke – President LIRS

“As Christians, we do not fear our new neighbors who have fled for their very lives – we embrace them. As people of faith, we are called to love and serve our neighbors – and as a result, our churches, our communities and our nation are stronger,” says Linda Hartke, President of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. LIRS is one of the agencies at the forefront of the debate.

Hartke’s sentiment that runs counter to the attitudes of not only the resident in the White House, but also to congressmen who stoke the fires of nationalism under the contrived contention of protecting our country. Congressmen such as Arkansas Republican Representative Tom Cotton:

Congressman Tom Cotton

“You’re going to encourage parents from around the world who live in poverty and oppression and war to illegally immigrate to our country with small children. What could be more dangerous and even immoral than that?”

Cotton was defending his stance on ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program initiated by Executive Order of the previous President, allowing children brought here by their parents at an early age, to remain in this country, despite entering without authorization. Many of them fled conditions of poverty and violence, mainly in the countries of Central America. For the children, this is the only country they’ve known. This is now their home.

On this Holy Innocents Day, many of us will go about our daily routines in relative safety, without fear of violence, war, hunger or oppression. We will most likely give little thought to those who find themselves in those situations.

On this Holy Innocents Day, I invite you to take a moment to ponder their plight. Pray that God will keep them out of harm’s way.

On this Holy Innocents Day, I also invite you to act. A letter, email or phone call encouraging your legislator and those in Washington who make policy, encouraging them to search their hearts and open the doors of this great nation, to welcome the stranger – without fear, but with compassion.

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NOVEMBER 20, 2017

I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

[Ephesians 1:16]

The readings for Christ the King Sunday, or the final Sunday of the church year, are as follows:

·   Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

·   Psalm 95:1-7a

·   Ephesians 1:15-23

·   Matthew 25:31-46

This Thursday, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving with family and, or friends. Though it’s not a religious holiday, the Revised Common Lectionary has a set of readings for the day, which are listed below.

·   Deuteronomy 8:7-18

·   Psalm 65

·   2 Corinthians 9:6-15

·   Luke 17:11-19

Just about every church around celebrates Thanksgiving with some form of service, either as a single congregation or in community with others.

Giving thanks has faith as its base.

The introductory scripture verse at the top of today’s reflection is taken from our second reading for Sunday, in which the apostle Paul expresses his gratitude for the people of God in the church at Ephesus. Paul often opened his letters with words of thanksgiving.

One of the names we call Holy Communion is the Eucharist. That word comes from the Greek eucharisto, which means “thank you.” Jesus gave thanks to God the Father at the Last Supper and we, too, give thanks every time we receive the body and blood of Jesus in the bread that is broken and wine that is poured at communion.

The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God,” has become a standard at Thanksgiving services. This hymn was written back in the 1600’s by a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany, by the name of Martin Rinkart. He was pastor throughout the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city and it became a refuge for many fugitives, which caused overcrowding. As a result, there was disease and famine as well as the regular attacks by armies. At the war’s peak Rinkart conducted up to 50 funerals per day, more than 4000 in the year 1637 alone. He even buried his own wife.

In the middle of all this strife, Rinkart wrote these words:

Now thank we all our God,

with hearts and hands and voices;

who wondrous things hath done

in whom this world rejoices.

In light of the dozens of recent natural disasters and the tragic violence this country has experienced lately, there are hundreds of thousands of stories we could mention of people in the middle of huge suffering, being grateful and thankful toward God, even when human reason can’t make sense of it.

To borrow a quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner, our faith is, “first and foremost a way of seeing. It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a difference.” [Who Needs God, p.19 & 280-1]

Giving thanks has the capacity to free us from fear, release us from anxiety, and embolden us to do more and dare more than we’d ever imagined.

As we gather at our tables for our Thanksgiving meal this Thursday, may we be truly thankful. And may we consider that giving thanks, our attitude of gratitude, just may be the most powerful emotion we have to counter all our adversity.

This week and always, I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.  [Ephesians 1:17-18]

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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NOVEMBER 13, 2017

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

[Psalm 90:12 King James Version]

Here are the readings for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost.

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

This is the next-to-last Sunday before the end of the church year. We continue to hear unsettling images of the end times. The prophet Zephaniah, for example, predicts that: “the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.”

It gives one pause to wonder, “Where’s the good news in that?”

I can tell you with all honesty that when I was in the parish, I detested this time of the year for preaching. That may be a horrible admission to make, but I went back into my sermon archives hoping to find at least a nugget of wisdom to spark my imagination, only to discover a huge gap between Reformation Sunday and Christ the King. There was absolutely nothing there!

Believe me, I hoard EVERYTHING! So the only reason I could think of was that the sermons were so dreadful that I discarded them, which I do from time to time.

Part of the problem may be that many congregations at this time of the year, are in the midst of their annual stewardship campaign. Pledge cards, or statements of intent, or spiritual gift surveys, have been given to or mailed to members. They’ve been asked to consider their response and place these forms in the offering plates either this Sunday or next week, on Christ the King Sunday.

The challenge then, for most pastors, is how to hold in tension, stewardship and the end times. At the risk of oversimplifying, here is the theme I would highlight this Sunday – it would be about trusting in God and not being afraid.

Throughout my time as bishop, I have spoken to individuals and congregations overcome with fear. At this time of the year, the biggest fear is that they will not meet the budget. So they make cuts that affect their ability to do ministry in Jesus’ name.

They cut the salary of the pastor, or staff, they cut their percentage of mission support. They cut programs and what they consider unnecessary costs. They cut back on newsletter mailings and if they have a website, they’ll drop it as unnecessary. The image that comes to mind is the third servant in the Gospel reading, the one who buried his talent instead of investing it. [Matthew 25:24-25]

The point I often stress is that the church is about mission, not maintenance. God has given us, through the Holy Spirit, a variety of gifts.  Those gifts have equipped us, the church, for the work of the ministry and for building up the body of Christ. Whatever we do, or don’t do, affects the whole church. I’m fond of a verse from the letter to the Ephesians: The power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. [Ephesians 3:20]

The greatest risk of all is not risking anything. Being a follower of Jesus is about risking everything. After all, Jesus risked his very life for you. This week’s readings then, are an invitation to risk, to trust in God’s goodness, to live our lives to the fullest of its potential.

We repeat the words of the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Thessalonians for our closing blessing:

This week and always, remember that God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:9, 11]

+Bishop Abraham Allende