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

Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings for Sunday, February 21, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Imani N. Dodley
Reformation, Rochester

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Killing the prophets and the messengers that God has sent to you.” Luke 13:34

This week would have been the 68th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ordination. I wonder if the young Martin Luther, who had not yet received his doctorate in Systematic Theology or Nobel Peace prize would have taken those vows on February 25, 1948 if he had known all the things he would see and experience. Would Dr. King still have made the covenant before God and the congregation to “preach God’s Word, to be prepared in season and out of season, to correct, rebuke and encourage – with patience and careful instruction” knowing that he would face a litany of ludicrousness that half of us would not deal with as pastors!

From accusations of tax fraud, arrest, “bloody Sunday,” assaulted, arrested again, eulogies for those killed in the September 15 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church, wiretaps, arrested yet again and yes assassination, would Dr. King still have said yes to God? Let me be perfectly frank, I believe that I would have told those laying their hands on me at my ordination…

“get the h*@# out of here, I’m done! I don’t want to be the one that is a prophet, it’s bad enough being the messenger of God, prophets get killed! Look at what happened to Jesus! Look at what happened to King! And I am no Jesus! And I am no King!”

Jesus is weeping over what was once the Holy City. He was lamenting over Jerusalem that was so addicted to the violence and the refusal to care for those less fortunate from the widow to those stricken with illness. Jesus is despaired by the lack of their compassion for their fellow brother and sister. And the same is with King. I believe he wept over the issues of our country. From his opposition of the Vietnam War and leading thousands of protestors in support of the striking sanitation workers after two collectors were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck for economic equality. You can hear the lament in his voice when he says, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through” (“I’ve been to the Mountaintop”).

But I am no Jesus! And I am no King!

Or am I…

As I look upon the city of Rochester, NY and the state of our world, I am grieved deeply around the availability and affordability of healthcare for most Americans. I am angry of our lack of response to those that are hungry and homeless. I am despaired by the level of crime and violence and how we don’t look at the issue of mass incarceration. I am confused about the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S. and how the City of Rochester is the 5th in poverty in our country. I am disturbed that we haven’t figured out how to dismantle racism and address the issue of white privilege. Those are not issues that I had expected to have to deal with at my ordination. I wanted to have a church that was financially successful and without conflict within. I wanted the masses to come in and fill our pews while we all sang “Kumbayah” and we held hands and embodied Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So let me be frank; Dammit – I wanted it to be easy and just happen. I don’t want to be a prophet. But maybe that’s just me.

But that’s the calling. For all of us. Whether we are ordained or the person in the pew. We are called to speak out against the injustices in the world. We are all called to be the hands and feet of Christ, making us like Jesus. We are called to move from chaos to community as King suggested, making us like King. I know how scary that is because we have seen the end results of both of their lives. The Truth is prophets are killed.

Yes, we have to remember the truth of them being killed and repent for those moments of lack of response to the issues and the people. That’s Lent.

BUT as Tony Campolo says, “Sunday is Coming” and as a
Resurrected people that Pray First, Walk Together and (to) Change Lives let us live in that truth during difficult realities and speak resurrection to those areas that need a prophet.

Midweek Musings for Sunday February 14, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Imani N. Dodley
Reformation, Rochester

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 is one lesson that we experience this first Sunday of Lent, the beginning of a season where we stress that lovely word, repentance. Let’s say it again shall we, repentance. Changing of heart. Changing of our minds. Our attitudes. Our lives. It is us, turning back or around to face God.

Now, let’s just stop right there. I know me. I know my foolish heart. I know my crazy mind. I know my secret attitudes. And I know what I did last night with my life! So excuse me if I’m not to amped up and ready to turn around and face God! That is far more nerve wracking than facing my father one time when I was a teenager. (By the way that’s him in the picture) There was a time when I was about 17 when I had climbed out of my window, down the trellis, with a backpack that had one of my fathers bottles of liquor, all to go party with my friends (see a boy of course). And you know what happened, come back home, maybe a little drunk and he is sitting on the couch at 3:27 a.m. waiting up and waiting for me to face him.

In that moment my father had an expectation that I would admit my stuff, what I did and who I did it with and invite me to begin to walk more and more into who he had raised me to be, as a single father. It was then when he started calling me Imani. What many of you do not know is that I was born, Kimberly Elizabeth. Yup, doesn’t get any more sugary sweet than that! In that moment after my father questioned me and had me sitting up and facing him until almost 5 a.m. he then said, “I want you to walk into the vision that God has for you.” Now, that was a buzz kill. Then he said, almost without hesitation, “You will be Imani Nadhari, you will begin to walk into the name of Faith in the Vision.” That’s what my name means in Swahili. In that moment, my father, gave me an opportunity that night to begin again. My father gave me an opportunity to live and walk differently and offer the world a better me. From that moment, my father took me through a rite of passage with the guiding principles of the Nguzo Saba (which means First Fruits), learning about my history, both within my family and within African American culture and the word of God.

Well, that was a few years ago and I owe so much to my father. Those principles, my history and scripture, is something that I taught my children and I carry all of them with me and they have taught me how to live within and serve in community. Those principles are:

*Self Determination
*Collective Work and Responsibility
*Cooperative Economics
*and of course – Faith

The Israelites understood the idea of offering the first fruits of any harvest to God and the Deuteronomy text records one of the first instances of the ceremony of offering God the best of what they had to offer. Through each offering of their first fruits, each time they did that act, they recognized that they where beginning anew. Every harvest was a new beginning and it was a time to get back to the basics of who they are and who they were called to be.

They recited, their common past, their history, their history with the mystery who is God and teaching it to their children. The Israelites, were making the past present and changing their behavior with this understanding. They remembered and told the story of how they came from bondage in Egypt, through the Exodus, to freedom. They knew they owed it all to God, who gave his word and kept it. They moved from slaves in a foreign land to “owning” their own land. They understood essentially the same principles that my father taught me through the Nguzo Saba; unity, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith are essential to practice because it helped them to remember and give thanks to the God who took such good care of them.

Maybe this Lenten season can be a time of holy remembering of who we are, what we have been through and how the faithful God that we serve has journeyed and carried us through it all. Maybe the beginning of Lent can be another version of “first fruits” bringing back to God what originated through him in the first place. Our-selves.

Blessings on your Lenten journey
Rev. Imani N. Dodley

Midweek Musings for Sunday, February 7, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Imani N. Dodley
Reformation, Rochester

“Without struggle there can be no progress.” Frederick Douglass
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Full Mountaintop Speech

Last year, March 31st to be exact I climbed this mountain in Arizona. It was a struggle to say the least with the hot sun beatingunnamed-6 down on us, the threat of snakes at every turn that like to sunbathe at the height of the day and just the simple fact that I have cranky hips. There was nothing comfortable about this hike, except for the brief moments of flat land and the occasional pause for a drink of water. Several times, I said to Eric that this is crazy and the normal person would not do this, let’s just turn back. But as the hike continued and I looked around at the beauty of this untouched wilderness I could begin to understand what Frederick Douglass says, “without struggle, there can be no progress.” Without struggling through each step, each mile and each potential snake on the trail I would not have experienced the beauty at the end. But I will save that for later.

The Transfiguration story is about a moment of just wanting progress without the struggle. Peter, James and John are with Jesus and they experience him with that lovely “Holy Glow” as I like to call it. Peter, one of my favorites, says, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” and then the text says, “not knowing what he said.” Well that would be me! I would be the one wanting to take the easy way out of a moment that made me uncomfortable, pushed my limits or scared the holy crap out of me! Peter is truly my brother from another mother! Peter doesn’t want to wrestle with the moment. Peter doesn’t seem to want to move past his comfort zone. Peter wants to keep things status quo and start building dwelling places because that is what he knows. The unknown, the mystery is scary to him. Peter is all of our brother from another mother! Peter is many of us in our churches. The unknown, the status quo and those moments are just too scary, so we try to skip the struggle and so we do not progress.

This month is Black History month and through the civil rights movement we have seen the struggles that so many have journeyed through in order to have progress in our nation. Both black and white, man and woman, “slave” and free. We have stood side by side in some of the most painful and tragic moments in our history and have heard prophetic voices telling us that we have to carry on and hike this very difficult hike. This was true then and it is true now. In our churches, in the ELCA we have to face the fact that we have a difficult hike before us and have the uncomfortable conversation around issues of racism in our institutions and in our personal selves. OUCH. We have to face the fact that even if we don’t want to believe that it is true that the fact of the matter is that the “struggle is real” and we have to struggle in order to have progress.

My hope is that we can faithfully engage in conversation around the issue of racism and not move to just moving quickly past the moment, the mystery and the discomfort and try to build “dwellings” to say “we did it now lets move on. Because if we do, we miss a kairos moment. We have to listen to the voice from the cloud that says, “listen” so we know what to do next. That is what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did. I love in his speech that he says that he was glad he didn’t sneeze because he wouldn’t have been alive if he did after he was brutally stabbed. But he was so impressed by the little girl that was white that wrote him a letter saying, “I’m glad you didn’t sneeze!” It was a pivotal moment I believe that brought him to his mountaintop experience. It was a moment that he was able to see across the ridge to a beautiful oasis that opened him up to see more of what he was called and commissioned to do. The same is true for us, this is a pivotal moment in our history and we have to struggle a little to get to that mountaintop, but we can get there. One of the things that I learned while hiking in Arizona is that just beyond the bend of a mountain, just beyond the last rock that you grab ahold at the top is sometimes a precious jewel that takes your breath away and if you stop short you will never experience it. As we finished this hike, this struggle we saw this oasis. It was refreshing and so worth it! How much more would it be for us, the church, if we face and climb the mountain of racism? Won’t you climb it with me?

Midweek Musings for Sunday, January 31, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Synod Vice President Thomas Madden

The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love; and that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Psalm 71:1-6
Watch video here
1In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
2In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
3Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
6Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. You shall go to all to whom I send you.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Alleluia. (Jer. 1:7, 8)

Holy Gospel

Luke 4: 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


I just finished reading yet another news item related to the presidential primary campaigns. We’re months deep into a news cycle that won’t end until the second Tuesday in November. And don’t look then for any relief-the 2020 presidential election news cycle is sure to begin the second Wednesday of November.

We’ve had more than our fill of stump speeches, positioning and posturing. Candidates preach to their respective choirs, tailoring their messages to appease one so-called “friendly audience” or another. Where’s the news in that? The choirs come to hear exactly the message they want to hear. This election season it seems more than ever that some candidates are seemingly gaining ground by speaking to people’s basest self-interests and fears.

Pundits caution that winning primary elections by appealing to one extreme or another challenges the ultimate candidates in the general election. Their primary messages, targeted at this constituency or that special-interest group, may not play so well across the wider electorate. The presidential candidates will again need to tailor their messages to appeal to a broader base without alienating the constituencies that handed them the primary vote in the first place.

It makes it difficult to find the truth in the candidates’ messages.

Jesus, the favorite son from Nazareth, makes good abroad, returns home to a presumably friendly audience, and yet surprisingly is rejected by his own people to the point they practically push him over a cliff. Why the unexpected rejection?

Perhaps it was Jesus’ campaign speech, proclaiming that he was sent for the benefit of those rejected by society, which led society to reject Jesus himself. What was in it for them, anyway?

Jesus sticks to his message of truth, a message he has been preaching all along regarding present realities and God’s promise of hope. He gives voice to the lowly, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the rejected and the captive. That apparently was not the message the hometown crowd came to hear. What they failed to hear, however, was Jesus’ message that God’s favor is upon all. The lowly are lifted up and the affluent are blessed to show compassion. The playing field is leveled.

The simple truth is that God’s love is for all. As people of God, and as a church, we need to be purveyors of that truth. We are called to open our eyes to injustice and work to break down the barriers created by society that keep some from receiving God’s love.

We are called to know and do the truth.

Thanks be to God!

Midweek Musings for Sunday, January 24, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Synod Vice President Thomas Madden

The Third Sunday After Epiphany

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Psalm 19
Watch video here

1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
11Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
13Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, and to proclaim release to the captives. Alleluia.(Luke 4:18)

Holy Gospel
Luke 4: 14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18″The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This week’s Gospel parallels Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism when the Spirit descended from the heavens upon Jesus and the voice proclaimed him as Lord. This time in the synagogue, empowered again by the Spirit, the voice is Jesus’ very own as he proclaims that he is sent to bring the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom-the message that God is present with and cares for God’s people.

But on first read, does it sound as if this good news is for just a subset of people?
The poor: In the US, these would be individuals with annual incomes less than $11,770.
The captives: We might think first of the imprisoned or those held against their will, especially in times of war.
The blind: Legal blindness occurs when a person has central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correction.
The oppressed: Aren’t they ones subjected to burdensome or harsh authority, especially those living under tyrannical regimes?

As people of a relatively privileged society and a culture of self-help, it may be difficult to see how Jesus’ good news applies to us. We’ve got it all together, don’t we?

So how then do we understand the truth that Jesus was sent to redeem all of humanity, that God, in Jesus Christ, was reconciling the world to himself-the whole world?

If we assume a countercultural mindset, conceding that we too are deprived of real needs, held captive by circumstances that stranglehold us and are oppressed by deep hurts and fears, then we are freed to receive the good news from God: release, sight, healing and freedom, as Luke says.

But it doesn’t end there. We also are freed to proclaim and be God’s good news for others.

Thanks be to God!

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.