News and Resources from the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Living Our Mission

Sharp Sword, Polished Arrow

Bishop05p.jpgGod equipped prophets—and continues with us—to bring hope to God’s people

By Elizabeth A. Eaton

Picture this: Surrounded by an alien culture; worried about keeping young people engaged; a nonfunctioning government; a religious establishment in disarray; the economy is a mess; competing and beguiling demands on people’s attention, time and loyalty; a worship facility in serious need of repair; a dizzying rate of change; and people either tempted to throw out all forms of the past or to cling mindlessly to tradition for fear of change.

Sound familiar? This describes the people of God in exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem.

This was the world to which the prophet Isaiah was called to speak God’s word of judgment, promise and hope. Isaiah 49:1-7 is the Old Testament reading for Tuesday of Holy Week. It’s the day when our pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers are invited to renew the vows they made when consecrated, commissioned or ordained. It is the day when the oil for baptism or healing is blessed. It’s a time for these dear servants of the gospel to come to be fed with word and sacrament. It’s also a time to be encouraged to continue their ministry and the ministry entrusted to God’s servants throughout the ages.

The world in Isaiah’s time was in turmoil. It’s clear he doubted anything was being accomplished: “I have labored in vain, I spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isaiah 49:4).

We feel that way sometimes—the “parking lot meetings” that take place after church council, years of preaching and teaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus and yet we still argue about which group gets to use the church parlor (I once had two committees arguing over the use of a slotted spoon), or worship wars over styles of music, contention between parishioners while wearing WWJD bracelets.

But it is to this wonderful, often frustrating, ever-changing mission that we have been called and have been equipped. Like Isaiah, God has given us God’s word that has the power of life. And, equipped with God’s word, we are armed with a sharp sword and a polished arrow (Isaiah 49:2).

It is likely Isaiah might have felt a little underequipped when contending with kings. After all, in a world that decides the rise and fall of nations with real swords and arrows (or guns, money or political power), the metaphorical weapon of God’s word might seem like a feeble piece of equipment. In difficult, conflicted, intractable situations I sometimes feel a little naked armed only with the word of God. But time and time again God has sent prophets into the breach equipped only with God’s word of life.

One can imagine the reaction of opponents armed with real weapons when faced with the Lord’s servants armed with God’s word.

Think: Pharaoh when he saw Moses. The Canaanite kings when they saw Deborah. The lions when they saw Daniel. Really? Haman when he saw Esther. Goliath when he saw David. An ossified and compromised church when it saw an Augustinian monk. Really? Institutional racism when it saw Martin Luther King Jr. The Montgomery Transit Authority when it saw Rosa Parks. The Salvadoran generals when they saw Oscar Romero. The Liberian warlords when they saw Laymah Gbowee. Death when it saw Jesus hanging on the cross. Really? A culture of cynicism and materialism. A culture gripped by anxiety. The indifferent and the hostile. The angry and the desperate … when they see you. Really!

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19).

In his commentary on Second Isaiah, Harvard Divinity School Old Testament professor Paul D. Hanson wrote, “For the human servant called to serve the world-embracing purposes of God, one of the chief temptations is to scale back the assignment to human dimensions.” We all do that from time to time. We lose sight of the cross. We are distracted by threatening forces around us. But it is to us, we earthen vessels, and for such a time as this that God’s mission has been entrusted. We may not see the fruits of our labor, but through us God will bring hope to God’s people.

It is likely Isaiah might have felt a little underequipped when contending with kings.

This column originally appeared in the May issue of The Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

World Malaria Week

The ELCA Malaria Campaign is working with companions in 12 African countries, and we’d like to make it 13. Our goal this week (April 25 – May 2) is to raise $250,000; enough to kick-start programing in Namibia, the last country added to our rollout plan. Our primary partner in Namibia is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia.

And to help make this possible, a group of generous friends have offered to match your gifts – dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Help build on the work that is already underway in Zimbabwe. Meet Simkhulekele.

Simkhulekele is a mother living in a rural village in Zimbabwe. She used to struggle to afford healthy food to send with her children. They used to carry corn snacks and water every day, and she worried about their nutrition. Then Simkhulekele joined a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in her village, sponsored by the Lutheran malaria program in Zimbabwe. Through the VSLA, Simkhulekele joined with other members of her community to save money together. Simkhulekele was able to access a small loan from her VSLA, and she used that money to do some small income-generating projects at home. Those projects give her money to buy more nutritious food for her children. “Now there is a great improvement in our household diet,” says Simkhulekele. Her children now take nutritious food in their school lunches and their bodies are strong enough to fight off malaria.

We are almost there. But we can’t do it without your help. We are a church that rolls up our sleeves and makes a difference. Together, we are changing lives in 12 countries across Africa. And together we can make it 13.

There are three ways you can give and have your gift matched.
Donate online before 11:59 p.m. CDT Friday, May 2, 2014.
Donate by calling 800-638-3522 during business hours now through Friday, May 2, at 5:00 p.m. CDT. Operators are standing by.
Donate by mail by sending checks to ELCA Malaria Campaign, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764. Please have your check in the mail by May 2, 2014, and be sure to write “World Malaria Day” in the memo line of your check.

Act of Indescribable Beauty

Act of indescribable beauty

Crucifixion led to defeat of sin, death—only through death, resurrection of Jesus

Bishop05p.jpgBy Elizabeth A. Eaton

In 2010, I was part of the Northeastern Ohio Synod/Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown pilgrimage to Germany and Italy. We visited Martin Luther sites and then traveled to Rome.

It was an interesting experience to be in the places that formed our spiritual identities in the company of those who, in our respective narratives, had the role of the “other,” or even the “enemy,” during and after the Reformation. But we came to a deeper respect and appreciation for each other’s tradition by being pilgrims together.

All of us were asked what the most memorable part of the trip was. For me that moment came after I was home.

The last day in Rome I caught a lulu of a cold. As I lay in bed the Friday after we returned searching the TV for a football game, I came across a televangelist. I was mesmerized. He was preaching to a packed house in a converted NBA coliseum. His text was from Matthew 21, the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree, the disciples’ wonderment at Jesus’ authority and Jesus’ teaching about faith being able to move mountains.

The televangelist’s exegesis (explanation) of the passage led him to conclude that Jesus said we must “speak to the mountain”—prayer was not enough. If we wanted a better job we needed to “speak to that mountain” and all the heavenly forces would be set in motion. Poor health? Fear of foreclosure? Troubled marriage? “Speak to that mountain” and get it fixed.

Wow. When my father was dying why didn’t I speak to that mountain? When Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh be taken away, why didn’t he speak to that mountain? Here it was, the “Name It and Claim It Health and Wealth Gospel.” The people in that arena were cheering.

At that point I remembered our stop at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany. This is where theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was brutally executed just before the end of World War II: Bonhoeffer who spoke against “cheap grace” or what I have come to call “entitlement grace”; Bonhoeffer who in his ministry and death experienced the costly grace of discipleship.

Flossenburg was a forced labor camp. Inmates worked in rock quarries until they died of exhaustion, exposure, starvation or disease. The prison population was 20 percent Jewish. The rest were political prisoners, the mentally ill, addicts, homosexuals, prisoners of war and the Roma people. One Flossenburg survivor who had been transferred from Auschwitz said the slow death of the labor camp was worse.

After liberation the surviving prisoners constructed a stone chapel out of the rubble of the guard towers. In it was a stone triptych behind the altar. On one side panel was carved the image of a prisoner trying to lift an impossibly heavy block of stone while being beaten by a guard. On the other side panel was a carving of a woman bent under the weight of a basket of rubble as a child clung to her. Our guide said the basket of rubble represented the awful burden of the women left behind when the men were taken to the camp.

In the center panel was a carving of Jesus on the cross. Here, literally carved in stone, was the theology of the cross. In the midst of our suffering, because of our suffering, because of the suffering we cause, is the cross of Christ. There was no place for the empty promise of the “Name It and Claim It” gospel. There was only space for the cross, carved by the bruised hands of the suffering.

The speak-to-the-mountain-theology-of-glory is a tempting and seductive message. It packs churches and raises money. It is happy, upbeat, fun—but empty.

When Paul prayed that his affliction be taken away the Lord answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It turns out that the televangelist was partly right. The heavenly forces were set in motion, but it was motion that led to the defeat of sin and death only through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus’ crucifixion was neither pretty nor happy, but it was an act of indescribable beauty that brings true joy.

This column originally appeared in the April issue of The Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Cherish All Children

By: Dianne Klafehn

We have changed our name. The Board of Directors made the decision to change our name. They wanted a name that would encourage congregations to think more broadly about the children they serve and expand their prevention efforts beyond their own children. We also want to provide greater clarity to the public about our identity as an organization. A vote was taken across the participating congregations and it was decided that Cherish ALL Children fit that need.

It’s a good thing, every now and then, to look again and be reminded of our mission: Cherish All Children is a national Lutheran ministry of prayer, education, relationship-building, and action to prevent child sexual exploitation.

As an organization, we empower, equip, and encourage congregations and leaders to get more deeply involved in prevention. We invite congregations to:

  • Pray for children, ages birth to 25, within their congregation and beyond;
  • Educate members about preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation;
  • Build relationships with others in the community who also work on prevention;
  • Be in action on behalf of children.

On our website you can add your name to the Wednesday Prayer. This offers thoughts and prayers around one of the upcoming Sunday’s lessons. Use them as you speak with God quietly and/or share them with your congregations during worship.

Also on our website is the E-Quipped for Prevention newsletter, you can find stories, resources, and ideas for moving this ministry forward in your congregation. You may also add your name to our E-Quipped mailing list, if you are not already on it.

For those who have not begun or are considering participation in this ministry and would like more information contact Dianne Klafehn, Cherish All Children Synod Leader for the Upstate New York Synod Women of the ELCA at 315-216-4416 or

Thank you for being a partner in this ministry!

From a cross, a dazzling light

From a cross, a dazzling light

The essence of Christ: Loving, selfless suffering and death for the life of the world

Bishop05p.jpgBy Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white (Matthew 17:1-2).

The Transfiguration is a strange story—the mountain, the light, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the utterly confounded disciples, the voice of God. How do we make sense of this supernatural event? What does the Transfiguration of our Lord have to do with us? I confess that I couldn’t figure it out. So, when serving in the parish, I scheduled Youth Sunday on Transfiguration Sunday, thereby successfully avoiding preaching about it for years.

I have heard many sermons and have sung hymns that describe the awe of being in the radiant presence of Christ and the wonder of seeing the law and the prophets embodied by Moses and Elijah, that capture the desire of the disciples to remain on the mountain and then bid them and us to go back down to the plain. There is wisdom in that. But I never understood why Jesus was transfigured.

The story of the Transfiguration comes right after Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say I am?”; Peter’s confession of faith, “You are the Christ”; and Jesus making clear that the Christ would go to Jerusalem, suffer and be killed. This wasn’t well received by Peter. A suffering messiah? What would that accomplish? A dead messiah? How could such helplessness restore the kingdom to Israel? If they were going to take on Rome and its client-king Herod, it would be better to have a real demonstration of power.

It’s after Jesus tells his disciples about his coming passion that he takes this side trip up the mountain to confer with Moses and Elijah. Only in Luke do we hear what they were talking about: “Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31). This is the kernel of the gospel. All of Jesus’ preaching and teaching and healing, though important and precious to our faith, are secondary to God’s act of reconciliation accomplished by Christ on the cross. This is the essence of Christ: loving, selfless suffering and death for the life of the world.

Now the transfiguration makes sense. If Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome, and if that light would blaze most clearly on the cross, it makes perfect sense that the radiant essence of Christ would break out on that mountain when Jesus was talking about his crucifixion.

That explains the Transfiguration, but what does it have to do with us?

Stephen Bouman, executive director for the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission unit and former bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod, tells this story about one of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. A pastor in the synod also served as a chaplain to the fire department. The pastor saw the first plane hit and ran to the site. When he arrived the firefighters were putting on their gear. The pastor gathered them together, marked the cross on their foreheads with oil and prayed. Then the firefighters ran into the building. The people who survived said they could see the crosses shining on the firefighters’ foreheads. The firefighters were transfigured. In that great darkness and suffering the light of Christ appeared.

In baptism we have been marked with the cross of Christ. We are redeemed by the suffering and dying messiah and now participate in Christ’s resurrection. And we are sent into the dark places of the world. Through our weakness the glory of Christ is revealed to a broken and hurting world. The light of the cross shines on our foreheads.
The Transfiguration is celebrated on the Sunday before Lent, March 2 this year. May the light of Christ be our guide on our Lenten journey. May it grow brighter as we approach the cross. And may we, joined with the death and resurrection of Christ through baptism, be light for the world.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address is This column originally appeared in the March issue of The Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Proclaiming Hope

This mission magazine tells the stories of just a few of the many ways lives are being made new by the power of the Holy Spirit through the ministries of the Upstate New York Synod. We hope you will be inspired by te work we do together in Jesus' name.

Questions Regarding Mission
New Mission
Lutheran Disaster Response
Social Ministry
Outreach with Young Adults
Congregational Renewal
Congregational Redevelopment
Growing Disciples
Companion Synods
Missionary Support
Theological Education
Outdoor Ministry
Campus Ministry

Download a PDF file of the entire magazine.