Thursday, December 2

Rev. Michael Costello

And God spoke all these words. … When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20: 1, 18-21)

As God speaks and the commandments are given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, “all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking.” What would be your response? Would you be afraid?

In Exodus the people were afraid of encountering God directly and wanted Moses to convey what God was saying. But just like the angels that would announce the good news of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s Gospel, Moses responds by saying, “Do not be afraid.” He continues: “God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

In Exodus and throughout the entire biblical narrative God is revealed in order to bring fallen humanity back to what it was created to be—free from sin to know and love God completely.

The church is given means of grace through which God promises to be present for us, just as God was present for Moses. Through these means we are given the very gift of communion with God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What a blessed surprise!

In baptism, God’s claim on our life is one that cannot be washed away. In God’s Word, we hear God’s never-ending love given in the very person of Jesus. In communion, we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. In Christian community we receive what Bonhoeffer called the “mutual conversation and consolation of the saints.”

Surprise! God is near! We may not hear thunder or see lightning and smoke, but through the means of grace God is present with and for us. Do not be afraid but rejoice!

Almighty God, you come to us that we may be forgiven and love you more. Help us not to be afraid, but to rejoice in the life you have given us through Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1

Rev. Robert Shaner

“cross with Chi Rho, alpha and omega” by Leo Reynolds is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50: 18-21a)

No surprise —

  • “Techni-colored coat” Joseph is not loved by his siblings
  • Jealous brothers throw him into a pit to die.
  • When a caravan appeared, the brothers sold Joseph

Surprise —

  • Through dream interpretations, Joseph ends up in Pharoah’s court.
  • In famine when brothers come begging, Joseph is Pharoah’s go-to man.
  • “I am Joseph, your brother.”
  • Vengeance is not the answer … (retribution belongs to God).
  • The estranged brothers weep together.
  • God’s people survive, ending up in Egypt.

In God (the alpha and omega) rests the redemptive, epic story full of surprises, revealing a God binding up wounds, restoring relationships, mending broken lives, healing every woe. God’s grace (undeserved blessings) always surprises us with extravagant love with Advent bringing us to the great surprise, the incarnation, the God who chooses to live with and die for us.

No surprise— grace is always there, often when least expected, even when harm may have been intended or our lives may have experienced trying or difficult times. In such moments comes God’s unexpected lavish generosity. Surprise — God not only came, but is coming!

Come, Lord Jesus, open our eyes, our minds and hearts to your daily surprises inviting us to be reconciled to our sisters and brothers. Amen.

Tuesday, November 30

Ella Bullock

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

The passage is the culmination of the Abraham and Isaac story. Abraham was tested when God requested that Abraham make a sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. Abraham must have been confused. God had established a covenant with Abraham. He had said that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Why had God requested that Abraham sacrifice the one and only son that could continue this legacy?

At the last possible minute, the angel of the Lord arrives and lets Abraham know that he does not need to kill his son. God reiterates his promise to Abraham. Because he was willing to sacrifice his one and only son, he will be blessed.

This story foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made for us. Centuries prior to Jesus’ arrival on earth, a similar scenario had occurred. Abraham, Isaac’s father, did not have to sacrifice his only son. By contrast, God paid the ultimate sacrifice for us all through Jesus’ sacrifice.

During this season of Advent, we anticipate and prepare for Christ’s arrival on earth. However, this was only the beginning of the story. Christ came to earth ultimately to serve as the sacrifice for us. Through this sacrifice, we are blessed.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us beyond measure. We are grateful for your coming to earth and paying the ultimate sacrifice for us. Amen

Monday, November 29

Rachel Armstrong

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9: 12-15)

These verses reveal the first rainbow God ever created. This was, of course, a great surprise to Noah and his family. As for me, whenever I see a rainbow, I am overcome with a pleasant excitement. For most of us, I believe, seeing a rainbow is a lovely and rare surprise that can lift a mood instantly. I like to think of this as God’s way of using nature to brighten our days and give us something to be happy for.

Another less obvious surprise in this text, that I personally had never noticed before, is that God says that when he sees the rainbow in the sky he will remember the covenant made to us. I had always thought the purpose of the rainbow was to remind us of the covenant, but God made it as a reminder of his promises for himself! This is something I encourage you all to ponder anytime you see a rainbow, rare as they are.

Dear God, We thank you for sending us such a beautiful message as a reminder of the covenant you made with us, for not only you, but for us. Thank you for using your creation to bring us joy, and for loving us unconditionally. Help us to be reminded of your love and to be grateful to you every day, rain or shine, whether or not the reminder of your love is in the sky. Ame

Sunday, November 28

Welcome to your daily advent devotion from Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, IL Our theme for Advent is Surprise! God has been surprising humanity since Genesis. In these devotions we explore a variety of surprises throughout scripture, seeing how our generous and loving God has and continues to show up in surprising and unexpected ways. May your journey to the manger be filled with surprise and wonder!

Rev. Troy Medlin

And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

It does not take long for sin to enter the human story. Just three chapters in, we see humanity’s intrinsic pull towards ourselves and away from God and one another. We know this is true. This is not all that surprising. We know that like Adam and Eve we oftentimes feel shame and guilt. We know we have not lived up to our own standards we set for ourselves. This truth is familiar to us. As familiar as an old and worn sweater. It fits snug and we cannot seem to get rid of it.

What is surprising, though, about God, and the story that unfolds in scripture is what God’s response to our shame, guilt and sin is. After the initial consequences of sin are laid out God does something else. Just 21 verses later God comes to them. God comes to them and responds with kindness, and mercy. God clothes Adam and Eve. In the midst of alienation, shame, vulnerability, and loss. God clothes them. This is an act of pure grace.

In places of alienation, shame, vulnerability, loss, and even death God will continue to come to us in surprising ways offering good news and promise throughout this season of waiting. All of it pointing to the one who will clothe us with himself. The one who in baptism has become our clothing, our covering, and our salvation. Clothed with Christ we are free from sin and death. Alienated no longer we are covered in the warm blanket of God’s own presence both now and forever. This surprising promise comes just three chapters in. Warm and welcomed we wait for all the surprises God still has in store.

God of promise, give us eyes to see the surprising ways you come to us again and again. May we know that we are covered by you and safe forever. Fitted with the garments of salvation that will never wear out. May they be as familiar as an old and worn sweater. It fits snug and we cannot seem to get rid of it. Amen.

Coming Soon!

Welcome back to Grace Devotions!

Sunday, November 28th marks the first Sunday in Advent. If you are receiving this notice, you have already signed up for our daily devotions from Grace Lutheran in River Forest, IL. Your first devotion will arrive on the 28th.

Our theme for Advent is Surprise! God has been surprising humanity since Genesis. We explore a variety of surprises throughout scripture, seeing how our generous and loving God has and continues to show up in surprising and unexpected ways.

Feel free to forward this message to family and friends who might appreciate this daily devotion for Advent. All are welcome to sign up! If you want to know more about Grace Lutheran, check out the website (www.graceriverforest.org) and/or leave a comment in the comments section!

May your journey to the manger be filled with surprise and wonder!

Thank you for being part of our journey.

Resurrection Living

Rev. David R. Lyle

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:1-7)

The women go but not with hope. They go simply to do what must be done when a loved one dies. Even this task poses impossible challenges, for who among them can roll away a stone so heavy? The point is rendered moot, and the women mute, as they are met by the most surprising scene of all. The stone is rolled away and Jesus is nowhere to be found. Christ is not here behind death’s closed door. He is alive, in Galilee and beyond, playing in places throughout creation. He has been raised. Alleluia!

At the end of our discipline we fall headlong into deep waters of mysterious grace. There is little left to do but to chase after Christ and cling to him in faith. Just so, the disciplines of Lent are revealed as the marks of resurrection living. The life of Christian discipline is not the Sisyphean striving of those without hope. It is the joyful response of those who are already right where they need to be. Today, we stand with the women, blinking in the light of the newly risen Son. He calls our name and brings us back to life. Alleluia!

The stone is rolled away, the life of discipleship beckons. Christ goes ahead of us, calling us to follow him on a journey of joy beyond measure. Go! There you will see him. Alleluia!

Easter Prayer: Risen Christ, the light of your life drives out all shadows. Let me walk in this light always. Amen.

Thank you for traveling with us through these Lenten Disciplines. May the realities of confession, repentance, fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and acts of mercy live in your life as together we celebrate God’s unending love for us revealed at the cross. And may the resurrected Christ free our hearts that we might proclaim that love to all the world.

The Dying and Rising

Dr. Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’”
(Matthew 28: 2-7a)

Holy Saturday, the day between the cross and the resurrection. Imagine Christ in the tomb, bending toward Easter, before it’s noticed. The garden in the deep night after God’s rapt silence has no breath. No echo even in the soon to be vacant tomb which no one yet has visited, no one seen, and yet everywhere his breathing, the turn begins, the blanket of sunrise in mist stretches to swaddle the earth, gouged and waiting. We are “hidden with Christ in God” we read in Colossians. As a human baby Christ was first hidden in Mary’s womb, and his birth brought God to meet the living face to face. In his death he was hidden in the tomb, and his resurrection gave life to the dead forever. Hesychius of Jerusalem, a fifth-century Orthodox monk, wrote, “In my journey I beheld a new wonder—an open tomb, a man risen from the dead, bones exulting, souls rejoicing, men and women refashioned, the heavens opened and powers crying out: ‘Be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in.’” The doors are open and the women, the first in the world to confront the empty tomb, rush to tell all.

Prayer: Lord God, we have died in our baptism and we hide in you, knowing that with you we will appear in glory. Refashion us in our resurrection to be people of justice and peace.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

What Wondrous Love

Julie E. Hinz

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

This day is a favorite church holiday for this writer. Without the understanding of the horrors of Good Friday, Easter would be just another Sunday. We need the “great ordeal” of Jesus’ death so that the miracle of Easter can shine more brightly in its triumphant glory.

Even in the midst of horrific physical pain, immense emotional anguish, verbal abuse, spiritual warfare, Jesus shows us who he is with this final act of mercy and love. Tucked inside those horrors the love of our Savior continues to glow; like a dying ember when hit with a sudden burst of oxygen, mercy flares up when encountering the need of one of God’s beloved children. Looking beyond himself and the horrors of the moment, Jesus looks into the heart of the man dying beside him, bringing hope and salvation to a condemned criminal whose death parallels his own. What wondrous love is this!

Our earthly trials will never reach the magnitude of those suffered by our Savior in his last hours. But knowing our eternities are secure in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are given the freedom to love, to serve, to forgive, to show mercy to every neighbor.

Prayer: God of our dying and rising, grant us your spirit in all things so that living or dying, we might live fully as your disciples, reflecting your love, mercy, grace, and peace to all we encounter, to the end of our days. Amen.

To Know and To Do

Rev. Michael Costello

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13: 12-17)

There are two verbs at the center of this passage from John—to know and to do.

Jesus asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?” He goes on to explain that as he has washed the disciples’ feet, they ought to wash one another’s feet. This is good to know. But Jesus tells the disciples that because of his example they should also do as he has done to them.

Although we often worship on screens these days, the message we all know still comes through: God, in the person of Jesus Christ, gave his very life for us and for our salvation. “Jesus loves me, this I know.” But what shall we do?

We are to embody Jesus’ example, to wash one another’s feet. We are called to serve, and sacrificially so, for the sake of healing, clothing, feeding, perhaps even saving the life of another. During these times, that may be as simple picking up the phone or sending an e-mail.

This passage concludes: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” May we listen clearly to know even more Christ’s saving deeds for us and, with hearts full of joy, may we also act, doing the work of embodying Jesus’ sacrificial love.

Prayer: God our Father, help us to know your saving love for us through your Son, and by your Spirit’s power help us to love one another as you first loved us; through the same Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.