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


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


November 6, 2017

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

[Matthew 5:13]

As we enter the final three weeks of the church year, our readings are filled with images of the last days. At first glance, we read a lot about death and destruction. Believe me, these words are as tough to preach on as they are tough to hear. Many pastors I know look for ways to avoid these readings and look for happier, or less gloomy passages to preach on. After all, how can any talk about death be good news?

·   Amos 5:18-24

·  Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 (alternate)

·  Psalm 70

·   Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 (alternate)

·   1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

·   Matthew 25:1-13

What these readings help us keep in mind is that death is real. Death is a part of life. Statistics bear out that one out of every one of us will die. When that final minute will come and how it will happen is known only to God.

Community Vigil at Sutherland Springs, TX – Courtesy of Mark Mulligan, the Houston Chronicle

Those faithful who attended morning services at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, yesterday, certainly didn’t expect that death would greet them so abruptly. Today, their families grieve, as do we, over the unexpected irrational and horrific tragedy that, unfortunately, appears to be becoming a far too familiar experience in our society. It seems as if every weekend, we brace ourselves to expect some sort of mass shooting or other senseless act of violence.

As we go through this week in preparation for Sunday, we grieve, but not, as the apostle Paul states, “as others do who have no hope.” All for us, as Christians, does not end in oblivion, and certainly not in hopelessness.

Though we still feel the pain and sting of loss, though we shake our heads in bewilderment at the cruel savagery of certain groups or individuals, and though we may rage at the politics and policies of gun control; we are above all, mindful that we serve a God of love, a God of hope, a God who commands us to love and care for one another as God loves and cares for us.

That hope is expressed in our relationships with each other. When we take on the nature of God, we live with hope and a sense of worth and do so with and for others.

The adversity in this world, and the uncertainty of our life, cannot overpower the nature of God. In the words of the blessed Martin Luther as sung in “A Mighty Fortress,” which many of us sang repeatedly last week:

Though hordes of devils fill the land

      all threatening to devour us,

      we tremble not, unmoved we stand;

      they cannot overpower us.

Were they to take our house,

      goods, honor, child, or spouse,

      though life be wrenched away,

      they cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever!

This week and always, may you live in hope and encourage one another, trusting in God’s word and the promise of salvation.

+Bishop Abraham Allende