April 18, 2017 He Is Not Here- Luke 24:1-5

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But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Luke 24:1-5 (NRSV)

We have heard the Easter story so many times that it seems “normal” to us. But if we really put ourselves in the place of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb how would we feel?  Frightened?  As if someone were playing a sick joke?  After all, the natural order of flesh is that dead is dead.  People don’t just spring back to life, especially after being dead for at least 36 hours.

My initial thought would probably have been that someone had taken Jesus’ body and hidden it as a cruel joke, in spite of the words from the angelic appearing men. After all, He wasn’t there, dead or alive.  The logical approach would have been to be like Thomas who didn’t believe Jesus was alive until he saw Jesus’ pierced hands and feet. The women may still have needed to see Him for themselves to believe that he truly was alive.  Doubt is part of faith.  There is nothing about belief that says that we are supposed to check our brains at the door. (1 John 4:1-4) There is an old Russian proverb that says, “Trust, but verify.” It’s important to discern even as you believe.

Yet faith often defies logic- the sick are cured, the blind can see, the impossible becomes possible. Even in the everyday there are countless pocket miracles in which we can clearly see the hand of God if we only look for it.  It is not so much about our faith (which is weak and riddled with doubt at best) but in the One in Whom we believe.

The power of the Resurrection is that life wins. Death has lost its power.  Jesus was supposed to be dead, but now He is not in the tomb.  The tomb could not hold Him.

What does that mean for us?

February 20, 2017 Spiritual Disciplines- When We Fast…Matthew 6:16-18

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When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:16-18 (NRSV)

Spiritual disciplines are worthwhile pursuits- things such as prayer, worship, study, fasting, meditation and service.   Why are we praying, worshiping, studying, fasting, meditating, or serving?  If we are just putting on a show to impress people or to be “holier than thou,” we are wasting our time and effort, but if we are doing these things as part of the natural rhythm of our lives, because we long to live as God created us to live, and to get closer to the heart of God, then we are acting with the proper motive.  We don’t need to toot our own horns.  Our lives and actions should speak for themselves without us feeling the need to draw attention to them.

In the Lutheran understanding of theology, God comes to us.  He comes to us in life and love and creation, in His inspired word (the Bible) and most fully and human in the Person of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit works in and through us, empowering us to do what God created us to do.

The opening phrase of Genesis: “In the beginning, God” means everything.  We can only do those things that bring us closer to God in response to the gifts He has first given us.  This is a Big Deal.  We can’t earn, deserve or buy our way into God’s favor.  He has already given us His favor, His love, and His grace.  We are called to respond to God’s calling for our lives and service and growth because that is His will and purpose for us.

Our culture glorifies posers.  It’s trendy to put on a good show.  It’s fun to be entertained. It’s human nature to show the world just how great we think we are. But is there substance behind the show?  Are we making genuine sacrifices to the glory of God, in response to His love and grace, or is our pious or charitable behavior just a front to make others think we are some kind of great people?  Are we doing the right things for the right reasons, or do we just want to look extra holy or extra good when other people are looking?

Jesus calls us to the counter culture.  Jesus calls us to be the one who slips an anonymous donation in the food bank box, or to help the person stranded along the road to change a tire.  He calls us to be the encourager who tells a frazzled cashier that it will be OK and that her day is going to get better.  He wants us to seek Him in the silence of our hearts when no one else is around to see or hear and He has our undivided attention.

Jesus calls us to those small, anonymous acts of kindness that may or may not be remembered, but may be life changing for someone.

Ever wonder about meeting an “angel unaware,“ that anonymous encourager, or the one who pays it forward without leaving a name?  Perhaps as Jesus people, we are called to be the “angels unaware?”

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December 15, 2016 And the Angel Said… Luke 1:30-33, Luke 1:19, Hebrews 13:2

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The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33 (NRSV)

When angels are mentioned in the Bible, the reference is usually to the angel of the Lord, or to a “heavenly host.”  Angels can take on the form of a man (such as the angels who gave Lot the warning about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – Genesis 19:1-16) or they can manifest as a voice from a burning bush, (Exodus 3:2) a pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:19), or as mighty warriors (Psalm 78:49.)

Angels as portrayed in the Bible show very little resemblance to greeting card cherubs or sweet little collectible figurines.

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The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. Luke 1:19 (NRSV)

The angel Gabriel, who approached Mary, would have been a formidable and terrifying presence, rather than a sweet little cartoon character. The fact that we are given Gabriel’s name implies that he had an even more important mission than other times that angels of the Lord appeared in the Bible but were not named.  Gabriel would have been a rather majestic and imposing figure.  He probably looked more like this than a Precious Moments figurine:

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I think I would have been afraid, very afraid, if an angel of God- especially Gabriel- appeared in front of me.

So what’s the big deal about angels?

When angels speak to people, the voice of God is speaking through them, which is a very big deal indeed.  God spoke through His angels to the prophets.

Angels brought incredible, supernatural news-news that required an awe-inspiring messenger- to the people in the Bible.

Do angels still speak to us today?

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

If we were to encounter an angel, would our minds and hearts be open not only to give and show hospitality, but also to receive the blessings they come to announce?