The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
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.
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
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
This hemisphere has experienced more than its share of natural disasters recently.
As I write, Hurricane Irma is wreaking havoc on the Caribbean and Florida. Two weeks ago, Harvey ripped through the state of Texas. On the heels of that storm, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake along the border of Guatemala and Mexico left dozens of dead, not to mention the damage to property. (This was, by the way, in the same area which I visited last November as part of a Human Rights Observation Mission.)
I also cannot ignore the fact that Monday is September 11 – a date that has become indelibly etched in our minds. The terrorist acts that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in such a violent fashion on that day forever changed our society.
Catastrophes such as these tend to uproot things that we had hoped would stay neatly and conveniently in place. They invariably change our whole lives in ways we cannot predict or control. They certainly make us aware of the perils of our existence.
No one is totally unaffected. Even if we are not directly in the path of the storm or the violence, we all know someone who is. And our response, our mission as God’s people, is to care for those in need. We cannot sit idly by.
We do this in a variety of ways. We pray and we act. Some step in immediately to rescue and help rebuild. Other donate money or supplies. Yet others open their doors to shelter those displaced by the storms.
In all ways, we become the presence of God for others. Our challenge is to live each day as a gift from God, boldly and fearlessly living out the gospel in lives of service, using God’s gifts to heal the brokenness of the world.
Last Tuesday I was blessed to be a part of the Solemn Mass of Installation for Bishop Nelson J. Pérez of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. It was a glorious event. Bishop Pérez exudes a warm, bubbly personality that is genuine and sincere. Though we spoke and interacted only briefly, it was enough to give me the impression that he has a passion for the gospel, a love for the people he is called to serve, and an openness to working ecumenically in the mission of Christ that we all share. I look forward to more discussion, a renewed relationship between the Diocese and the Synod, and a revitalization of our Lutheran-Catholic Covenant.
This week and always, may God’s Spirit act in us, upon us, and through us, and call us to action in service to God.
+Bishop Abraham Allende
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your teaching;
I shall keep it with all my heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for that is my desire.
I trust you all had a blessed, restful, and safe Labor Day holiday weekend. I am thankful for the week that I spent on vacation and feel refreshed and rejuvenated and eager to return to the ministry to which God has called me.
Last Friday, September 1, 2017, marked my third anniversary as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. It’s the mid-point of the call and, as is customary when one reaches a milestone, I took some time to reflect on what has taken place in the previous year as well as look forward to what’s ahead. So much came to mind that my heart was filled with gratitude.
I am grateful for each and every one of the 56,000-plus faithful people of God who make up the 170 congregations of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. It is you who are the witnesses to God’s presence on earth and who carry out God’s mission in the twenty counties of our territory. You are our synod’s most valuable resource.
I am grateful for the youth of our synod. Your presence brings hope and encouragement to those who are fearful for the future of the church. My profound desire is to see the old and the young united in vision and in ministry such as what the prophet Joel envisioned: “…your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” [Joel 2:28]
I am grateful for each and every one of the 200-plus rostered ministers of word and sacrament, and word and service. It is you who are called to serve the people of God in our synod; and lead them in praise and worship of our Lord, and in carrying out God’s mission. I am especially encouraged by those rostered ministers new to our synod in the past three years, who have brought an infusion of energy, vitality, and a fresh perspective to the blessed work that we do.
I am grateful for those of you who have taken a leadership role in our synod by serving on synod and congregational councils, committees, commissions, tables (task forces) and otherwise volunteer your time to do the blessed and challenging work of guiding God’s people.
I am also grateful for the efforts of the seven Conference Deans, who are the “boots on the ground” of our territory and serve as an extension of our office, keeping their people informed and engaged in the blessed work of ministry.
I am grateful for those who serve on the Lutheran Center team – specifically, Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Karl Biermann; Resource Specialist Karen Kaufman, Office Administrator Sony Gilroy, and Administrative Assistant Marilyn Matevia. I mention them by name because, on a daily basis, they support the work of our office and partner with our congregations in their ministry.
There are others who serve contractually – Pastor Laurie Miller, Deacon Mary Ann Schwabe, and accountant Joy Hacker, without whom we could not function effectively.
And lastly, I am grateful to God for the support and guidance I have received during this time in office. I have often mentioned a copy of Luther’s sacristy prayer that hangs on a wall in my office, which I refer to each day, and with which I will close out this reflection:
Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all. Amen
From this point forward on this platform, I will discontinue the practice of listing my weekly calendar. Some of you are aware that Monday Musings is first released as a weekly email available by subscription. Those who read it on my blog are not necessarily interested in my comings and goings as I exercise the duties of the office of bishop. I apologize if this creates any inconvenience to you who read this on WordPress.
If you wish to subscribe to the email, please go to our synod website and do so from there. Here is the address: www.neos-elca.org.
In the meantime, may the presence of the Holy Spirit dwell in you, that you may be a sign of God’s love and forgiveness in your community and in the world
+Bishop Abraham Allende