From Pastor William D. Leitch…We start the month of June with Pentecost. Our festival derives its name from the Jewish festival of Pentecost, observed fifty days after Passover. On the fiftieth day of Easter, we celebrate the Holy Spirit as the power of God among us that heals, forgives, inspires, and unites. The risen Christ breathes the Spirit on his followers on Easter evening. In the one Spirit, we are baptized into one body, and at the Lord’s table, the Spirit unites us for witness in the world.
Eric Babinchak and Hanna Hunt will stand before you and God and affirm their baptism. What does this mean? It means that they now understand and own all the promises that parents, sponsors, and we, the Church, made to help guide them on their faith journey. They have matured to a new level of understanding. They want God in their lives and they are going to strive to go deeper in their relationship with God. They will be bold in proclaiming the Gospel in everything they do and say. It means they are now an active part of the Body of Christ. It means that they understand that they are not in this alone. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit and they continue to have our support. We are a team! And it is a blessing to have Eric and Hanna proclaim their faith to the world.
Affirmation of Baptism is not the end. Just like graduation, it is a marker in our life. At graduation, we are entrusted with new levels of expectations, and we are given greater responsibilities. Just like Jesus’ disciples received orders from Jesus before he ascended into heaven, at Baptism, we receive the same orders, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
And who do we make disciples/believers? Answer: Everyone!
These are the words God gave Moses, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
And just like our response at our Affirmation of Baptism, here is what the response was from the Israelites: “So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
This is what I see in this Scripture from Exodus 19:2-8a: The whole world is God’s, but some believe in other gods, some don’t believe at all, and some struggle to understand and to “go and make believers”. As we are sent to make believers, we go to all of these. We go always as brothers and sisters to these, God’s people. Sometimes to bring the Gospel for the first time. Sometimes to answer their questions. Sometimes to encourage and build up others and prepare them to share the Gospel. But always showing God’s love in everything we say or do.
We have been prepared to go and we have no excuses, because Christ is with us/in us/empowering us. Moses made excuses, but none of them were good enough for God to reject Moses. Jeremiah made excuses, but God used him.
Jeremiah knew the frustration of having his words rejected. Jesus declares that his words may not bring peace, but division. In baptism, we are buried with Christ that we may walk in newness of life. As we take stands for the sake of justice and lose our lives for the sake of others, we need not be afraid. The hairs of our head are counted. In baptism, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Welcome Hanna and Eric. We have work to do!
Together in Christ,
Servant Week, Here we come! (June18-23)…Two years ago our youth scraped and painted a house in Rogers, Ohio. The house was built in 1881. Now our youth have their eyes on another house since last year. This house was built in 1860. It is close to 3,000 sq. ft. of painting. We will scrape what needs scraping, then prime the entire house, then paint it colonial blue with white trim. There may be some repairs included. Nonetheless, we will get the house sealed up to sustain its maintenance. As we get a closer look at some needed repairs, we will scope it, estimate the costs and skills to do it, and then find the right group to do the work. The owners have had some health challenges and got behind in the maintenance. It is our joy to meet them, work with and for them, and to show God’s love for them. The other half of our group will work for the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC). The YNDC now understands how powerful and dedicated our youth are. They are ready to give us their bigger vision of what they hope to get done this summer; then they are ready to get out of our way and let us show how our youth get things done. Our youth have left their “prints” on Youngstown and Rogers, and we intend to continue to make a difference.
Donations Needed: Intergenerational Blanket Making and Diaper Packaging at Synod Assembly…Youth and adults will be making tied fleece blankets for the non-profit organization Hands, Hearts, and Homes (H3O). H3O will then distribute the blankets to homeless individuals in the Cleveland area. Please bring fleece that is cut into 1 to 1 ½ yard sections. Youth and adults will also have the opportunity to package diapers into Ziploc bags that will be delivered to OPEN M in Akron, Ohio. The Opportunity Parish Ecumenical Neighborhood Ministry (OPEN M) is designed to address poverty in the Akron area through wellness, educational, and spiritual services. We are asking for donations of gallon-sized Ziploc bags and diapers of all sizes. Please have your donations to the church by Sunday, June 4, so President Robert McKinney can take them to the Synod Assembly with him on June 10. You may place your donations on the table in the main hallway near the elevator lift.
Luther Seminary, From the Office of the President, The Rev. Dr. Robin J. Steinke to Pr. Bill Leitch…Easter greetings! I am struck by this verse describing the post-resurrection lives of the early disciples. From the readings for Sunday, May 7: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
The disciples knew that life had changed dramatically. In the midst of the rugs being completely rearranged beneath their feet, they centered themselves in learning and being together, eating, and praying. These are our aspirations as well.
At Luther Seminary, we are putting finishing touches on our preparations for graduation, a couple of weeks away. This ritual represents the completion of good work, of devotion to teaching and learning, of endurance, and commitment. Graduation represents a momentous transition for most of the 100+ people who will receive their degrees, as they commence lives in service to the gospel, and lead in Christian communities across the world.
As a supporter of Luther Seminary, you are very much a part of the sense of accomplishment so many feel on graduation day. Because you have prayed, encouraged, given, and responded, this work on behalf of the church is possible. I am deeply grateful for your partnership.
Luther Seminary is leading during its share of change as well. A recent event illustrates this reality. On March 30, The Friends of Luther Seminary closed its ministry after 77 years of faithful service. From a February Board resolution commending their ministry: “Their efforts have included providing bedspreads, home canned produce and bakery treats for students, serving at special functions, and always holding the entire community in prayer. Most recently, the Friends have prayed for students, staff, faculty, and alumni, helped stock the student food shelf, and through fundraising activities have provided scholarships through the Friends Endowed Scholarship Fund currently valued at more than $220,000.”
This group of women made the difficult decision to end the Friend’s active ministry, though the generosity of their scholarship fund will continue it perpetuity. Even the simple shift from “home canned goods” to “stock the student food shelf” is illustrative of the cultural changes this organization of supporters has navigated. During their time of service, the first women came to be students. Their advocacy surely contributed to the fact that women now are participating at all levels of church leadership, including bishops and seminary presidents. I am a beneficiary.
This year, the recipient of the Friend’s scholarship is a first-year Master of Divinity student, Kendrick Hall. Kendrick is an African American Lutheran, a member of a mostly African American Lutheran congregation. His pastor will be featured in the next Story magazine. Kelly Chatman has inspired four current members to follow a call to church leadership. Beautifully, Kendrick is also being supported by the commitment of the Friends, women who care deeply about the vitality of the church, most of whom claim Northern European ancestry.
Much has changed since I graduated from an ELCA seminary. Though enrollment in the ELCA seminary system stayed fairly stable from the late 1980s to 2012, it has been a different story since then. In the course of the last five years, Luther’s enrollment is down between 30% and 40%, depending on how you count. Other ELCA seminaries are seeing similar declines. Add escalating retirements, and this explains why a 2016 report by the ELCA projects that within a few years there will be 1,000 pastoral vacancies in congregations that could otherwise afford to call a full-time pastor.
Let’s ask a wonderful Lutheran question: What does this mean?
This means the church needs more candidates for ministry, and more individuals and congregations who are willing to inspire and invite promising candidates to consider this vocation. What kinds of gifts do they need? Theological curiosity, passion for the gospel, empathy, leadership potential, commitment, cultural competence, and a spirit that is hungry to learn.
Our board met in late April. They remain committed to financial sustainability, and also recognize the need for investment. We have come a long way. In 2012 we were working from a budget of $27 million with revenue of $21 million. The board passed a budget for fiscal year 2018 of $19 million with expected revenue of $18 million. Why a deficit still? They are determined to support the important work of resurrection (adaptive change) that is happening here even as we work long-term to bring depreciation above the line and secure an operating margin of 2.5%.
New models are emerging for the work of forming leaders, better integrating the academy, and the gifts of practitioners. Staff and faculty in congregational mission and leadership have been collaborating to take advantage of the geographical spread of our students, a surprising asset and outcome of our distributed learning program. We both need and have access to practitioners around the country. Talk about getting out of the ivory tower!
The Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio is just days away. More than 1,800 preachers will gather from all over the country for a week of rich learning and inspiration by the best preachers around. Luther Seminary’s Working Preacher resource continues to feed thousands of preachers weekly, and many in San Antonio are no doubt regular users. But you don’t have to be a preacher to appreciate it.
Thank you for your prayers and support. Many of you have been committed to this mission for decades. We are truly partners in raising up leaders so that the gospel might be heard and experienced. Though the pace of change may be disorienting at times, we trust in God’s good intention for this mission, and your good intention as well. It is Easter, and the promise of new life is before us. The tomb is empty!
The Rev. Dr. Robin J. Steinke, President
From Pastor Ann Marie Winters…“SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION: WHAT AND WHY?”
The Christian life is about spiritual transformation of each Christian. It is an exciting adventure for those who see it as an opportunity to grow in closeness to Christ for the sake of the love of others. Would you agree?
Ruth Haley Barton, an author and spiritual director, says, “Every Christian is on a journey to greater wholeness in Christ, or moving toward disintegration.” This life-long journey with Jesus Christ as his disciple is going on all the time; Spiritual formation is being conformed to Christ for the sake of others. Spiritual formation is the “what” of Christianity, and for the sake of others is the “why” of following Christ. Becoming spiritually transformed, we carry the cross of Christ always. That is cruciform living – where our lives look like Christ serving others, and dying to self for them.
As Christians, we do not lead two separate lives – being holy in the church, and worldly in the world. The more we live in God, the more we live for others. One should not be a totally spiritual person without action in the world (spirituality only). And one should not be totally and only in the world without a center in God (only social action). Do you engage with the needs of the world through work? Family? Friendships? Ministry? Use of time and resources?
Emmanuel Lutheran Church has decided to consider these questions together in a retreat workshop to be held on June 24 at Camp Frederick. The congregation will have a time of prayer and renewal in the following weeks as well. Emmanuel is leading the way in “re-discovering Mission”, and we hope to share this program of prayer and renewal with the rest of the Shared Ministry as well.
On the journey with you,
Pastor Ann Marie Winters