January 3, 2018- In the Beginning, God…Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-5

god is everywhere

 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (NIV)

The beginning of Genesis and the beginning of the Gospel of John are eerily similar in that both writers are pointing out the same core truths:

God was God before the beginning.

God created heaven and earth.

God created light and separated it from dark.

God created life.

These truths may sound simplistic to those of us who were raised in a religious tradition, but what about people who have questions about the existence of God?

We as orthodox (small o) Christians (which include Lutheran Christians and most other Protestants, as well as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox,) believe three basic foundational truths about the nature of God:

God is omnipotent- (all powerful)

God is omnipresent- (fully everywhere at all places and all times, all the time)

God is omniscient- (all knowing)

Given these three truths about God, we can imagine Him planning and working the coming together of the cosmos, and the formation of the galaxies and stars and planets. None of what we see in the heavens- or here on earth- came to be by random chance.  There is nothing we can see, touch, experience or imagine that is outside of God’s understanding or authority.

When we put the rubber to the road, what do these foundational truths about God mean for us in our everyday life and in the struggles we have now?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

God is with us. He has been with us since before the beginning.  He is with us now.  He will be with us forever, when this world is no more.

As we continue the celebration of Jesus’ incarnation and birth we can take comfort and marvel in the fact that even before the beginning, God is, and for always, God is with us.

December 14, 2017- Nothing is Impossible with God- Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 40:3-5

immaculate-conception-jose-claudio-antolinez

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  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.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

People with analytical, rational personalities like to stick to proven science and fact. It’s hard for us analytical types to look beyond what we can see and touch, document and quantify.

As to the credibility of this part of the Christmas story, most of us learn the mechanics and the science behind procreation sometime in middle school, if not sooner. It’s common knowledge that a woman who is a virgin cannot conceive a child. Yet we are supposed to believe that a young girl turned up pregnant and no human male was involved.  Hmmm, sketchy indeed.

God is not following the accepted rules of science here. First Elizabeth – who was barren and likely even post-menopausal – finds herself to be carrying a long-desired son, in spite of her husband’s doubts.  Then Mary, who had never been with a man, was to give birth to the very Son of God.  God is putting forth a powerful statement here. He will bring about His purpose through any means He chooses, whether it seems plausible to humanity or not. God thinks outside our boxes- because He can.

This account of Jesus’ conception and birth creates a dilemma for those who only accept what is proven through the scientific method. How can such a conception take place? Are we really supposed to believe in a virgin birth, and why is the virgin birth so important that it is clearly mentioned in Scripture and affirmed as a core teaching of the Christian church in the Apostle’s, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds?

What we believe about the conception and birth of Jesus reflects what we believe to be true about God.

If God is truly omnipotent (all powerful,) then why can’t the Author of creation cause a barren woman to conceive? What would be so impossible for the I AM God to put together a child in a virgin’s womb?

If we believe God is truly omnipresent (everywhere at all times,) how can we wonder where He is, or think that He is limited in any way? We creatures may be constrained by the rules of science and the laws of physics, but God is not confined to our linear, three dimensioned world.

If we believe God is truly omniscient (all knowing,) then how can we fail to have confidence in His good plans?

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 (NRSV)

In this waiting time of Advent, perhaps we should examine our expectations and our understanding of God. Do we try to put Him in a box? Maybe we can look at all the ways- both mundane and extraordinary- that is He present with us?  How does He make Himself known?

 

 

 

May 10, 2017 – Evidence of the Unseen- Hebrews 11:1-3

jesus and the disciplesNow faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. Hebrews 11:1-3 (NRSV)

It is hard for us to imagine what it would have been like to walk with Jesus and the disciples.  Would there have been something special about Jesus’ physical appearance that would have stood out, or would he have looked just like an average guy?  I would like to think that He really did look like one of us.

When Jesus and the disciples are portrayed in artwork, the artists generally make them stand out.  In sacred art, Jesus has His obligatory halo, as do Mary, and the apostles, and various other saints of the church.  As one who grew up in a tradition that tends to put the saints of the Bible on pedestals, the message implied in the artwork and in the stained glass was clear.  These were the saints, the true believers…and then there’s, uh, you.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love and appreciate sacred art, but it is important to remember that God is the hero of the Biblical story, and we are all participants in it.

When they lived in the real world of flesh and blood, it’s pretty obvious nobody knew Jesus or His disciples by their halos or by the aura of lights surrounding them.  I am pretty sure neither Jesus nor His disciples were pristine clean 24/7 either.  They got dirty.  They had callouses and worry lines and messed up hair.

Perhaps it is easier to believe in an untouchable God than it is to believe in God incarnate, Who wept, Who got dirty and sweaty and worked with His hands.  Of course, He is all of those things.

Is it easier to believe in the omniscient (all knowing,) omnipresent (at all places at all times) and omnipotent (all powerful) God than it is to believe God in the flesh Who comes to us in a simple meal or a conversation with a friend?

The worlds were prepared for us by God, beyond space and time.  We are provided for in His plan for all eternity, yet Jesus came to this earth to share our experience and to give Himself for us.  What an amazing truth for us to put our faith in- and to pass along to others.

April 3, 2017 What About Judas?-Matthew 26:20-25

judas

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating , He said, “Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.” 

They were very sad and began to say to Him one after the other, “Surely You don’t mean me, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man!  It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:20-25 (NRSV)

Over the centuries there has been an ongoing question among Christian believers as to the fate of Judas Iscariot, the “traitor apostle.”

Early church fathers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine agreed that Judas was condemned to hell for eternity. Judas was the only apostle who was replaced upon his death.  Judas had also died by suicide, a sin traditionally considered a “mortal sin”- which in Catholic theology is a sin that consigns one to hell if it is unconfessed and unabsolved.

The more compelling question to most Protestants about Judas is, “Did Judas have free will?” Did Judas really stand there and listen to Jesus tell him, “You will betray Me,” and then go ahead and do it, if he had the free will to choose otherwise?

To wonder about Judas’ ultimate fate (only God can see a person’s heart completely and fully) or to beg the question of Judas’ ability to choose right from wrong misses the point. As in all other narratives in the Bible, the question is where is God in this?  Did God create Judas only to use him to betray Jesus and then consign Judas to hell for doing what he was created to do?

The place to begin to learn from the story of Judas is to begin with the nature of God. There are three things we know about our I AM God, that He is:

Omnipotent-God is all powerful. God Who created the universe can do anything He chooses to do.

Omnipresent-God is everywhere at all times all at once.  He is just as much present right here and now as He is in the middle of a cornfield in 1863, and at every other possible someplace and some time. God is equally here right now, and five seconds from now, and five thousand years from now.  Time is not linear for God, and He is beyond the limits of space as well.  (The metaphysics that goes along with that is quite mindblowing if you think about it too long.)

Omniscient-God is all knowing. God already knows what is going to happen and what we are going to choose to do ahead of time.

 

Knowing these three things about God, then what are the lessons we can learn from Judas?

We can know that while God knows our heart and what we are going to do, we still have to choose. Our actions still have consequences.  Much as we can warn our children about the potential bad choices they will make, we often know when they are going to do exactly what we warned them not to do.   Jesus knew Judas’ heart.  Because Jesus is God, He knew the choice that Judas had already made- but it was still Judas’ choice.

God knows we are going to screw up. He knows where, when and how bad we are going to screw up, and even whether or not we will come back to Him in repentance.  But even in that repentance we have to choose.  A wise pastor once said, “It is to God’s credit that you are saved, but if you are damned, you chose damnation yourself.”

So we wonder if God is in control of everything, then why should we bother to pray, or to live as He has called us, or to pursue spiritual disciplines? If God just picks and chooses who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, what’s the point?

The point is that these good things, like prayer and service and forgiveness are for us, gifts that God freely gives to those who would receive them. The fact that God knows who will accept these gifts and who will reject them isn’t the point.  The point is that all of God’s good gifts of provision, forgiveness, grace, salvation and mercy are there for all who choose to accept them.  The consequences for us of rejecting God’s gifts are also very real.  He is not going to force us to live the way that is best for us.  He is not going to force us to accept His gifts.  God isn’t going to make us love Him by coercion.

innocent blood

We are sinners, as was Judas. Judas’ sin was no worse than our sins, because in all sorts of ways, we betray Jesus all the time.  Jesus suffered and died on the Cross to save ALL sinners, to pay the price for ALL of us.  Judas’ response to the knowledge of being a sinner is where the lesson lies.  Do we consign ourselves to be reconciled to God or separated from Him?  Do we choose to repent of our sins, accept the forgiveness and grace of God, and surrender our lives to Jesus, or do we wallow in despair and kill off anything in us that would be open to God and His will for us?

This is the lesson of Judas- how do we respond to God’s grace and freely given gifts? The question isn’t so much, “What about Judas?” as it is, “What about us?”