With You Till the End of Time

With You Till the End of Time

by Jonathan Tindor

Sister Dottie Almoney sees Lent as a time to reset her mind to the truth that God’s love extends so far that God—through Jesus—came to identify, love and suffer with us.

Sr. Dottie, director of education and outreach at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Penn., takes the idea of reaching out to anyone, everyone, everywhere in some way, seriously.

“Lent is a type of reset button for me.” Sr. Dottie says. “It is a time of reflection both physically and spiritually. I have been taking a hard look at what I purchase and consume.” This is a part of her overall examination of life during Lent.

“I have been paying close attention to how I carry out my call to serve others,” Sr. Dottie says.

Working with focus
St. Peter’s has additional services during Lent. Sr. Dottie, is preaching at one of the Sunday morning services and the Maundy Thursday service, where she also leads the foot washing.

“My work really does not change,” she says. This is because her ministry is remarkably focused on God’s love for everyone.

“We have a monthly gathering of Pub theology,” She says. And then, “I love this small group!”

Concerning an upcoming trip to Washington DC for Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2019 conference, Sr. Dottie is going because: “Jesus commands us to love God and love our neighbor. Loving our neighbor is advocating for their rights as children of God.”

Sr. Dottie is excited about the conference because she is hoping to work to change some legislation and learn how to inspire others to do the same thing.

The same focus of reaching people where they are with God’s love runs throughout her sermon from St. Peter’s March 24, 2019, New Day Service.

“I’m going to preach on the one that is a little bit more dicey,” she says about her text, Luke 13, when some people ask Jesus whose sin caused a massacre and a building to collapse.

She says, almost as if you were sitting down at a table with her, that the same kind of things happen in more recent history. She points to the Nazis in world war II, 9/11, and school shootings. Just as in Jesus time, we ask:

“If God is a God of love, then why do bad things happen?”

People have been asking this question for centuries and theologians, philosophers, pastors, and lay people have developed complex answers.

Sr. Dottie does not do this. Instead, she uses the unanswered question to connect with her listeners, demonstrating the universality of human suffering and the confusion and pain that it causes.

A God who is accessible
Meeting people where they are with God’s love is at the core of what Sr. Dottie does. This comes out of a deep conviction that this is what God does for all people.

“In the cross, we see just how far God is willing to go to be with us and for us,” she says. This, in her telling, is part of the story of Lent. On the road to the cross, she says, people ask Jesus whose sin caused recent tragedies. Jesus says no one.

“Suffering and calamity are not God’s punishment for sin,’ she says. She goes on to add that sin and suffering are not disconnected. People can suffer because of a sinful choice made by themselves or someone else.

“If I decide this morning that I am going to go out into the parking lot and puncture every one of your tires, it doesn’t mean you did anything to deserve it.” She pauses, and then says, “Not all of you anyway. It just means you are suffering the consequence of my bad choice.”

Sr. Dottie says that innocent people get caught up in the consequences of bad choices all the time. The amazing thing is that God loved us enough to become a person, like us, and suffer with us.

The Lenten call
“Now, Lent is the perfect time to examine our behaviors,” she says, closing her sermon. “Each night look back at your day. Did you cause somebody else to suffer? If you did, come to God in prayer and ask for forgiveness.”

“Or maybe you suffer from somebody else’s actions. If so, remember that God was with you and continues to be with you, weeping alongside you. Pray to God for comfort and to strengthen you. And pray for that one who caused you suffering as well.”

“‘God doesn’t stop the bad things from happening; that’s never been part of the promise. The promise is: I am with you. I am with you now until the end of time'” (Madeleine L’Engle).

Sr. Dottie Alomeny is chair of the Board of Directors of the Deaconess Community.