Dear People of Bethlehem,
As our Easter celebration draws to a close, we might summarize what it’s been about. Guided by our readings from the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, the celebration has mainly been about the power of God’s love. The “world” in John’s Gospel puts its trust in the wrong kind of power — the kind of power that Pilate and the Roman empire represent. It’s a power of wealth and military might to force others to do the will of the leaders. Jesus and his “Father” represent the power of love to create life and help it to flourish. It’s the opposite kind of power which tends to the needs and desires of others, especially those considered to have the least power according to the ordinary human standards of empires. We are called to trust (“believe”) in this completely different and opposite kind of power.
This is the same picture we get in the Book of Revelation, which paints the picture of these two kinds of power writ large. It’s a highly symbolic picture of human history in terms “the nations and the kings of the earth” totally getting duped by the violent, beastly power of empire. But God has sent the Lamb slain into the world to begin to turn the tide of history, bringing God’s kind of power into the world through those willing to give their lives to it. This Easter power of the Lamb slain is what we sing about on Sundays! We anticipate the victory of God’s power of love to ultimately save creation from the deadly power of empires.
Bethlehem Lutheran and the Power of Love
I plan to visit as many families as I can this summer, and the thing I’d like to hear from you is your thoughts about how we can live the power of God’s love in the world. In John’s Gospel, Jesus boils all the commandments down to one: Love one another as I have loved you. The ultimate horizon of Jesus’ love is ‘laying down one’s life for one’s friends.’ But it begins with the humblest of acts of service, exemplified by Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night before giving his life for them. Our living into this commandment to love, then, is basically every kind of loving service in between those two things — humbly washing feet and giving one’s life for another. So what I want to hear from you is what ways the people of Bethlehem have lived out this love in the past. What are your strengths when it comes to loving service? What kinds of things might we dream about doing in the future?
Reaching out in Love to the People of Ukraine
One of the greatest needs for loving service in the world right now is to help all the refugees from the terrible war in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is perpetrating the worst of imperialistic power. Millions around the world are responding with the power of the Lamb slain, the power of love to bring healing and comfort.
At our Greater Milwaukee Synod Assembly (May 20-21), we focused on one of those ways to help the people of Ukraine. One of the very best refugee organizations in the world is our own Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS). The CEO of LIRS was our keynote speaker, and the offering for our worship was for LIRS. With such a great need right now to help the Ukrainian refugees, Bishop Erickson challenged us to raise $20,000 with our offering, keeping it open for the next two weeks in order to include all the people in our congregations.
So I am passing this challenge along to you: on the next two Sundays, May 29 and June 5, bring a special offering designated for LIRS. . . . This is both an easy and meaningful way to show God’s love in the world to meet a crucial need for bringing new life — an ideal way to cap-off our Easter-season celebration!
Peace, Pastor Paul