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
The first Sunday in November many churches commemorate All Saints. In worship, they will honor those faithful who have died in the past year with some ritual or ceremony of remembrance. The readings for this day – which is actually November 1 on the liturgical calendar – are hopeful lections, designed to move us toward a sense of trust in God’s promise of a time of blessedness.
I am especially drawn to the reading from Revelation, primarily for its inclusivity. It never fails to make me wonder how we are going to live together in heaven, if we can’t even seem to live peacefully together on earth.
When anyone asks what my vision for the church is, without hesitating I answer with this passage from Revelation cited above, of the “great multitude from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples, and languages.”
Yet I think of this image with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment, when I hear of white nationalist demonstrations such as the ones which took place this past weekend in Tennessee. The hatred that seems to be saturating our society is troubling, at the very least. It is a far cry from that heavenly vision that the author of Revelations describes for us.
Of course, hate is not limited to any one race or group. By now, we’ve seen more than our share of extremism, violence, and tragedy, in the name of any number of causes or ideologies, be they religious or secular. The most recent massacre in Las Vegas immediately comes to mind.
The noted church historian and theologian, Justo González, in his book, For the Healing of the Nations, writes about the book of Revelation in an age of cultural conflict. In writing about this passage, he tells the story of his father-in-law, who likes to read mystery novels by reading the last chapter first, and then reading the rest of the book to see how the author arrived at his intended end. That’s obviously not the way we read books, but it is a way to understand why certain things happen along the way.[i]
Our challenge as Christians is to look beyond the hate, look beyond the extremist views, and pray and work for a time when all God’s people will live in peace and harmony with each other; not at some time in the future in heaven, but here, in the present on earth. We cannot remain unaware of the injustice around us as long as people are being singled out for the color of their skin or the accent with which they speak.
As people of God, we are called and commissioned to participate in God’s ongoing and miraculous work to heal, comfort, and restore this world. That is one reason why we worship.
Our worship is a rehearsal of that which awaits us in heaven. It is our way of proclaiming a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
And when we worship, we hear God’s Word; we share in the Holy Meal, we partake of Christ’s body and blood, and are strengthened so that we may go out and transform the world, to show the unbelievers the goal and future of a life in Christ.
On All Saints Sunday, it is a custom at most congregations to commemorate those who have died in the past year. So, in our weekly devotions, we at the Lutheran Center will remember those rostered ministers who faithfully served in our synod and entered the church triumphant over the past year. If any of the following saints served in your congregation at any time during their ministry, we ask that you remember them in your commemorations as well.
† The Rev. Kenneth J. Anderson 8/31/2017
† The Rev. G. Duane Culler 3/25/2017
† The Rev. Walter B. Heber 7/22/2017
† The Rev. Gerald L. Keller 11/25/2016
† The Rev. Diane S. Lundgren 3/13/2017
† The Rev. Richard M. Shibley 2/4/2017
† The Rev. Joyce E. Taipale 8/24/2017
† The Rev. Richard D. Warger 11/26/2016
[i] Justo González, For the Healing of the Nations, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999) p. 98
[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.
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:
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
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?”
Today’s reflection celebrates one year of Monday Musings. We began on the first Monday in October of 2016.
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?
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