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Looking back…

by: Bishop Abraham Allende

In my time as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, I have been blessed to attend two ELCA Youth Gatherings – Detroit in 2015 and Houston in 2018. On both occasions, we worshipped, rejoiced, served, and celebrated God’s wonderful gifts of love, grace, and hope.

Each night at Mass Gathering, we heard powerful messages from a wide variety of speakers and sang a dazzling and diverse array of music from contemporary musicians. During the day each synod either gathered to worship together, went out into the community to serve in different sites around the city, or learned of the many ways the church serves around the world in Interactive Learning. 

The members of the communities where our young people carried out their service projects couldn’t stop thanking them, which was affirming for the youth. And it is through that service that they go out before others and proclaim God’s mercy and grace. 

In both Detroit and Houston, I came away with a renewed feeling of hope for the church. Being around these young people keeps me young. They are eager to serve and demonstrate the love of God by loving their neighbor. The many outreach ministries they performed brought glory to God. 

When we agonize about why young people are leaving church, we need to ask ourselves, what opportunities are we giving them in our congregations to offer their boundless energy and enthusiasm, their passion for the gospel? As adults, we are sometimes unable and often unwilling to give up control. God’s invasion of this world in Jesus is resisted by those who hold power, those whose lives are dedicated to keeping boundaries intact. The challenge is to avoid the temptation of refusing to let go of our sense of authority and denying youth of their willingness to serve.

Bishop Abraham Allende was elected in 2014 to lead the 162 congregation Northeastern Ohio Synod. He previously served the Lutheran Church of the Covenant in Maple Heights, Ohio, and Iglesia Luterana La Trinidad, a Latino mission in Canton. Bishop Allende is a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. A second-career pastor, he has held successful positions in the fields of education, broadcasting and as a professional baseball executive.

To Simply Be

– Allison Tice

As I walked through the streets of Detroit to Ford Field one evening, I witnessed disciples that covered the streets with hope, grace, and love. That evening, I saw a man that was part of the Gathering give his leftovers to a homeless man. It was one of the most moving moments I saw unfold. I witnessed the tears and love shared between the two. Witnessing the simple gesture of sharing a meal and being Christ-like to one another showed me that even the smallest of gifts to others made the biggest impact. I quickly realized that the Gathering needed me, and needed us to show that we aren’t there to “fix” them or “fix” their city, but to walk in servanthood together.

It was then I could answer, “Why the Youth Gathering?” In that moment, I realized why we were there: to build bridges, to show love, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

It was hard for me to grasp the idea that the service projects we would be doing were not monumental, yet they made the greatest impact in Detroit. Through my service project, I helped a local community garden begin planting for the upcoming season. I knew that even through pulling weeds and shoveling dirt, this meant the world to the community in which we were helping. While we were working, it began to rain. In that moment, I could choose to be angry that it was raining… or I could rejoice. I simply chose to remember that I am a called and baptized Child of God. I saw this as God “showering” us with grace and never-ending love.

Why the Youth Gathering? To simply be. Be the church, be the light, and be like Jesus with and among God’s people.


Gathering Abundance and God’s Amazing Grace

– Matt Staniz

One of the biggest ways that I have seen the Gathering transform the lives of young people is by inspiring them to become generous disciples who care about the needs of others and find ways to respond. This radical generosity has taken root among Gathering participants at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Devon, Pennsylvania.

In fact, it has reshaped the way we prepare for our time together with 30,000 Lutheran friends.

As a congregation situated among well-to-do communities in suburban Philadelphia, God reminds us that we have the ability—and the responsibility—to make sure that all of our neighbors experience the same opportunities that we might take for granted.

Because the Gathering is among the greatest opportunities that the young people of Saint Luke have, we know that we are called to extend the ministry of the Gathering to others. As soon as we figure out how much it will cost for our group to fully experience the Gathering, we increase our fundraising goal by enough to give away ten percent of everything we raise. Trusting in God, we contribute most of our pledge to our synod office from the very first dollars we raise so that young people from other communities can register for the Gathering.

In 2015, we also began saving some money for an additional special gift. After returning home, our young people discussed what they discovered during the Gathering and they decided together how God was leading them to use what they had left. The conversations were incredible and important, and the continued impact of the gifts are felt not just by those who receive them, but also by our group. This empowers them to not only be thoughtful stewards of God’s gifts, but also to think deeply about how being a generous disciple impacts their neighbor and the world.

It allows the Gathering to continue to change our lives as we live out God’s amazing and abundant grace!


Gathered and Freed: By Love, For Love

– Drew Ingram

I remember the Confirmation lesson the week I was cut from the basketball team. I was telling myself that I was not good enough at basketball or at anything. The Confirmation lesson title was, “G.O.G.G.: The Gift Of God’s Grace.” We read Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

I heard, understood, and resonated with the truth that no matter what I told myself, God loved me; that love was a gift not because of anything I had done or failed to do.

In the time that followed that moment, all I wanted to do was share this love. Of course, there have been times where I lost this focus and drive. This is why I give thanks to God for the church that shows and tells me the good news of God’s grace and love as we study scripture, remember our baptisms, confess where we have fallen short and hear God’s forgiveness, and come to the table where everyone receives Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

This reality does change everything. It means each and every one of us are set free from the things that turn us in on ourselves. We are free to share God’s love with others. God’s grace and the faithfulness of Christ empower us to remind people that they are loved just as they are, not because they have earned it.

Where you are now, and in Houston in 2018, you are set free to share God’s love with everyone you encounter. Share a meal with someone who is hungry. Listen to someone’s story. Tell them they are loved.


Rev. Drew Ingram is pastor at Spirit in the Hills Lutheran in Spicewood, Texas


November 19-26, 2008 – Nebraska “Safe Haven” law leads to teen abandonments

Warm-up Question: What circumstances do you think might lead a parent of a teenager to abandon or give up that child?

A Nebraska law meant to allow parents to legally abandon newborns at hospitals has instead led parents to drop off over a dozen teenagers since its passage in July. To date, 20 of the 33 children dropped off at Nebraska hospitals have been teens, including a now-missing 17 year old girl who fled after being dropped off with her younger brother. Eight more children dropped off were 11 or 12 years of age.

Lawmakers are set to convene this week to rewrite the law, excluding all children except infants up to 3 days old from being legally abandoned. Since lawmakers announced plans to rewrite the law, the rate of teen drop-offs has increased as desperate parents sense their time running out.

Safe haven laws exist in every state to prevent prosecution of parents who abandon newborns outside safe public places like hospitals, but Nebraska is the only state without an age limit. Lawmakers could not agree on an age limit when writing the law, so it was passed with just the word “child.”

One mother of an 18 year old stated that she thought her daughter would receive help if she turned her over to the state. The daughter had a mental health condition and had been cutting school, stealing, fighting, and sleeping around. Because of her age, however, the teen had to return home with her mother.

“These are largely families at a point of incredible desperation,” said Wayne Sensor, chief executive of Alegent Health hospitals, where 14 children have been left. “They aren’t bad parents or bad kids. They simply don’t know what services are available out there.”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think parents should be able to give their kids to the state if they can’t handle them (or think they can’t)? What arguments for and against this can you think of. What types of behaviors do you think might warrant government intervention in a young person’s life?
  • What kind of help might a high school age youth get from a government agency that they can’t get from their parents?
  • What would be your advice to a parent whose child is in serious trouble? What would you suggest they do?
  • Do you think God keeps track of what we do, our motivations, our good deeds, or our sins?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 23, 2008.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

When I read this passage the first time, I didn’t understand it. After all, Jesus seemed to be saying that we had to minister to the poor and needy (“the least of these”) in order to get into heaven. This seemed to conflict with other scriptures stating that the only thing necessary to have eternal life was to accept Jesus and believed in him. It was “faith verses works,” if you’ve heard that talked about before. God’s grace saves us through our faith, not through anything we do. We can’t work our way into heaven.

Feeling confused, I looked up a commentary on these verses to get an “expert” opinion. What I read gave me an entirely different perspective on these verses.

I assumed, and probably had heard preached before, that the “least of these” that Jesus talked about only referred to the poor. But the commentary said that when Jesus says “the least of these,” he was talking about the treatment of his disciples and all the messengers of his good news in the world. In other words, how people treat the messengers of the good news and how they receive the gospel determines how God will judge them.

Our salvation is definitely a free gift — not something we have to work for or accomplish. A gift does need to be accepted or received though. If we accept that gift, we experience the blessings of God’s kingdom — a kingdom that begins here on earth, right now.

The gospel certainly calls for us to care for people living in poverty or hunger, people being treated unjustly, and others in need. The Bible talks about how necessary service and ministry are to have at the center of our lives, and that it is a responsibility of the church and all people; it’s just not our ticket to heaven. Jesus has done that already, and there’s nothing else we need to do other than accept his gift of love and forgiveness… and start living it in relationship with other people right now.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever done a good deed thinking it would win you favor or points with God? What was it you did?
  • When someone tries to talk to you about Jesus and the gift of salvation, how do you respond or feel?
  • How do you feel about talking to other people about Jesus and the gift of salvation? What do think is important to say, and to demonstrate with your actions and behavior?

Activity Suggestions

Find someone in your church who is a “messenger of the gospel.” This could be your pastor, choir director, youth leader, a Sunday school teacher, young person, old person, or a layperson involved in mission work, for example.

Choose one of the following:

  • Interview your chosen person about his or her experiences with sharing the gospel of Jesus. How has she or he been received and treated? What makes that ministry most difficult? What are the joys involved? As a group, write an article about this person. Publish your article online, in the church newsletter, or in a worship bulletin.
  • Ask what your group can do to support the ministry of your chosen person. Perhaps you can help with preparations for a Sunday school class or for youth group time, put together care packages with a mission worker, or prepare a skit or song to reinforce a pastor’s Sunday morning message.

Closing Prayer

O Lord our God, we pray that you would strengthen all your messengers across the world who share the gospel of Jesus with others. We thank you for their service to you and we pray that they would be treated well and provided for. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Contributed by Jennifer Krausz
Bethlehem, PA