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.
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
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
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?
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 (alternate)
· Psalm 70
· Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 (alternate)
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.
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
“…but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
[Philippians 3:13-14 NRSV]
I recall a conversation I had with my mother when she first moved to Columbus, Ohio, from Pennsylvania. She was living in a senior citizens’ high-rise that had a minimum age requirement of 55 to qualify for residency. Mom was regretting the move and complaining because she hadn’t made friends in her new city.
I said to her, “Mom, why don’t you go down to the lobby and introduce yourself to the ladies that get together there?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she shot back quickly, “I don’t want to be down there around those old people!”
Mind you, my mother, who was 77 at the time, was at least 10 years older than the oldest of the old people with whom she refused to associate.
As I reflect on my recent 73rd birthday celebration, I guess that’s an attitude I’ve inherited. I don’t like to be around old people.
Let me be a little more specific. I don’t like being around “old-thinking people.” There is a difference.
Being open to new thoughts and ideas, exploring different approaches, seeking creative solutions, risking – are attitudes that generate an energy and enthusiasm that keep one young and alive. Though the body betray us, the mind is most often capable of overcoming whatever physical limitations age may impose.
I’m not in the habit of hiding my age, but I understand why people are inclined to do so. Society categorizes by age groups. In the most general terms, one is either a youth, an adult, or a senior. Those labels are then attributed certain characteristics and behaviors. One is expected to, “act his/her age.”
When I go for my annual physical, the doctor is obligated to run certain tests for a person in my age range. He asks questions that baffle me, such as, “Do you have problems with the sniffles?”
It’s amazing to some that I’m not retired. (There are times when I wish I were, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Others are fascinated by my familiarity with technology. Youngsters, especially, are astounded that I preach from a tablet. Granted, I know just enough to be dangerous, but I love gadgets and own just about every new thing that’s out there.
So here is my reason for writing this brief essay. Despite my advanced age and to the surprise of many, three years ago God called me as a leader in God’s Church. On occasion, even I have questioned why. But when one considers that God called Abraham (the biblical one, not me) at the age of 75, I’m a spring chicken by comparison.
As a leader, I am fully confident that God will grant me the health, the strength, the enthusiasm, energy, and wisdom to continue to serve.
And as a newly minted 73-year-old, I refuse to be categorized, labeled, or put in a box.
I have my sainted mother to thank for that.