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Yep, I am back in school. I have received my first syllabus, been diligently reading, scheduled my first residency, and have even started a paper.

I am part of a cohort in Asbury Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program “Preaching and Leading: Shaping Prophetic Communities.”

If I understand the first syllabus correctly, the program leads with a focus on the preacher as a person. Or, more accurately, as a disciple. We are reflecting on the people and practices of our own spiritual journey. We are examining our experiences of growth and setback along the way. We are highlighting points of discipleship that have made us who we are. Needless to say, I have been reminded of many of you in recent days.

So, I am adapting to a new schedule. And I am thanking you in advance for your prayers and encouragement.

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Early in the Gospel there is a familiar scene with two characters, a virgin and an angel. We often think of it as a seasonal scene. But there is nothing seasonal about its message. They have a conversation about something impossible. But the angel makes it clear that nothing is impossible with God.

The fact is, God seems to spend a lot of time in the place we call impossible. The entire bible is full of scenarios that can be described as impossible. We know that people cannot survive fiery furnaces. We know that axe heads do not float. We know that virgins do not have children. And we know that dead people do not come back to life. We know that some things are simply impossible.

The final chapter of Matthew’s Gospel brings us to another familiar scene. It was a Sunday. Guards were attempting to follow orders at the cemetery. Women arrive to find that the stone in front of the tomb had been moved. An angel was sitting on top of the stone. (For some reason I love that detail).

The angel speaks. He says something like “Sorry if I frightened you. Don’t be afraid. But if you came looking for Jesus, he is not here. Take a look. Then go tell his disciples.” This might have been the same angel that visited the virgin early in the gospel. This might be the same angel who earlier wanted us to know that nothing is impossible with God. Perhaps he is present here to remind us of that very thing.

God enters places we call impossible and Matthew wants us to know that even there we can expect God’s possibility. God is always surprising us with more and better. God is always making a way out of no way. But the scene we find in Matthew brings us to a question. “What happens next?”

Matthew gives us an answer. After witnessing life after death, now that we live in a world where nothing is impossible with God, it is time for the people of God to begin living in ways to show how the world has changed. It may still seem impossible that a group of people can start living in such a way that the world changes.

It may seem impossible that the group who gathers at your church on Sunday mornings can be part of such a significant plan to change the world. Yet, here we are in the gospel and realizing that is exactly what God has planned for us. The fact is, if Jesus can be raised from the dead, surely he has the authority to change the world. Even through unlikely people like us. Because nothing is impossible with God.

“Science has limits. Someone will think beyond the obvious and further influence the way we think about ourselves. Yet valuable data will always be overlooked. While it is not the intention of science, perhaps Lent is as good a time as any other to ask about spiritual contexts. How do we incorporate some of the complicated mystery of a person into one’s assessment? What about theological contexts? Is it possible that being created in the image of God could define one’s identity more clearly than a clinical diagnosis? Is it possible that a filling with the Spirit may influence someone more than their psycho-social stressors? Is it possible that walking through Lent with fellow believers can shape one’s behavior more than their next prescription?”

Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 50

“Dazzling. Spectacular. Brilliant.” Those are some things I was saying to myself last night. Maybe I said them out loud, I can’t remember.

But I do remember the sky show I witnessed at sunset. It was a conjunction. An alignment of celestial bodies. A meeting of the three closest worlds to earth. The first sliver of the waxing Lenten moon was showing itself clearly. Not too far away, to it’s upper right was the second brightest light of the night sky, Venus. And for three in a row, Mercury was to the upper right of Venus.

As amazing as that was in itself. The sunset was equally amazing. Silhouettes of trees covered the horizon in front of a golden background sky. Moving skyward this color blended into a combination of orange and red and pink. Continuing skyward, that faded into a shade of blue that grew deeper as it got higher until it looked like darkness. It was the perfect canvas for this alignment of Moon, Venus, and Mercury.

I did not hear about any books that were written to profit from this event. I am not aware of any opportunistic preacher who was claiming it as a prophetic sign. But this was clearly the handiwork of God. As much so as any recent sky show we have seen.

It makes me wonder what the psalmist was looking at when he wrote “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” It is not recorded but I bet he also said “Dazzling. Spectacular. Brilliant.”

“Lent suggests life is more like a narrative than an outline. It does not remove blurry lines. Lent may provide some answers, but also new questions. Lent allows topics to overlap with one another. Although it is a temptation to separate one from the other. Lent reminds us of the reality that everyday topics intersect with big picture topics. We seem to have a natural inability to balance our focus of the kingdom of heaven with the details of earth. We are not to solve these dilemmas. Instead, we accept them and encourage others to see reality, to recognize the kingdom in the midst of these mundane and ordinary parts of our schedules. Lordship and dominion intersect with everyday tasks. The Word of the Lord meets the ink of our Day-timer.”

Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.49

“Time in the Gospel will remind us we aren’t the first to look at beauty and pronounce it good.We aren’t the first to find ourselves up to our elbows in a creative moment. We aren’t the first to roll away a stone to reveal what is behind it. After time in the Gospel, we might come out wide-eyed, muddy, bloody, and elbow deep in our story, excited to tell others where we have been and what we have discovered.”

From Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.48

March Days

I really like March days that come with a hanging chill in the air. Not the same chill that came with the January air. Still, the kind of chill that reminds you it is not yet spring. The kind of day when the forecast calls for snow and you can feel it before you see it. The kind of day that makes you glad you added another layer before leaving the house. The kind of day that makes you glad for hats and gloves and insulated boots.

I really like March days where a brisk pace or a steep climb increase not only the heart rate but the body temperature. The kind of day when the cold against your face is countered by the comfort of wearing multiple layers. The kind of day when a deep breath of cold oxygen can be followed by watching warm carbon dioxide floating away into the sky. Today is one of those days and I really like it.