7.30.2009

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 13), Year B

2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a
Psalm 51:1-12
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In the Jewish tradition, there is a prayer, the Shema, that articulates the most important beliefs in the Jewish faith. The complete text includes Deuteronomy 6:4, 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41. It is to be spoken faithfully twice a day in morning and evening prayer services. It is probably familiar to you, beginning "Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." It is a prayer that calls people to speak these central truths faithfully to the children, to keep them close at hand in their homes, to speak them for themselves throughout the day.

Throughout the scriptures there are stories, prayers, and songs that bear repeating. In their repetition, they slowly become part of the fabric of our understanding and our mysteries. There are weeks when the lectionary texts tie together with a neat little thematic bow. This week, the connection for us was more about the centrality of the teaching in each text. These are foundational texts for Christians.

In 2 Samuel, David's world is unraveling around his poor choice to have relations with Bathsheba and to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed in battle. Nathan (can we pause to say that we really appreciate Nathan?) the prophet comes to David with a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man has large flocks, and the poor man has only one beloved ewe which he treasures. Along comes a weary traveler, and the rich man cannot bear to slaughter any of his flock, so he calls for the poor man's ewe. David is incensed by the injustice of the rich man, and then Natan neatly points out that David is the rich man. He has stolen Bathsheba, Uriah's treasure, for his own pleasure. As a result, David and all of Israel will suffer. And if you continue reading, David's kingdom is fraught with turmoil. David realizes pretty quickly that Nathan has brought him a profound truth. He has sinned against the LORD and that cannot bode well and he knows this. He knows it deep in his being because he has been raised with these stories and truths. He has considered himself a faithful servant and something very real (lust, greed, desire) got in the way. But David has to keep plodding forward, even knowing that he has done something wrong in the sight of God. He can't just stop and curl up in the fetal position and take his knocks. He has to keep ruling, keep being in relationships with his people. Now it is not lost on us that Jesus was understood to be a descendant of this ancient king. The line of David was and is important to this story about God and his relationship with humans. It doesn't all end with one bad move. It keeps moving forward.

Psalm 51 is a prayer of confession and repentance that relates pretty directly to what David must have experienced. The psalmist prays for cleansing and for further teaching and understanding. It doesn't end with the one bad move. Something has to be gained from that one bad move that informs the rest of life.

In the passage from the Ephesians, there is some very fundamental teaching about the church as one body - the body of Christ. We have to admit certain leanings here. We are pretty clear in our own world that the church was not created for itself, to become something self-feeding, but instead the church is a gathering of souls knit together to be the hands and feet and lymph nodes and heart and stomach and tongue of Christ in the world. The Ephesians passage was probably written to a church community facing many challenges - different teachings, a waning belief in the Jesus who walked and talked and performed miracles and then was crucified, dead, and buried and rose from the dead. It was probably a community facing the perils of a material world, struggling with natural human tendencies to build empires of leadership and hierarchy and structure and rules. But the author of the epistle is clear, "we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ..." It's not about these other things, you see. It is about knowing and loving Christ, and in doing so, loving the whole world.

Finally, in the passage from John, we continue along a path with Jesus and his disciples. They have fed the crowds with loaves and fishes, and now they have moved on, across the water to Capernaum. And the crowd has followed Jesus and the disciples. These people have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing Jesus perform amazing miracles and they continue to seek his miracles as ongoing proof of his specialness. But Jesus reframes a fundamental understanding. Moses was the LORD's vehicle for distributing manna to the Israelites. In much the same way, Jesus explains that it is not Jesus doing these things on earth, but God's work. But there is a bit of a difference - Jesus isn't the vehicle, Jesus is actually the manna, the bread of life. Wow. And it is the responsibility of these people to share this bread with others...that is how they will perform the works of God...sharing Jesus. Wow. It's like a precursor to "Love one another."

The scriptures are rich with the very lessons that are the warp and the weft of our souls if we allow them to be. This week was a special gift of reminders for us. How about you?

What stories, lessons, songs or teachings can you not live without in scripture? in other writings?
How do you share these with the world?

Father, Abba, LORD, God -
fill me.
Fill my heart.
Fill my head.
Fill my lips.
Fill my hands.
- use me.
Use my heart.
Use my head.
Use my lips.
Use my hands and feet.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Peace be with you.

7.23.2009

Proper 12

2 Samuel 11.1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3.14-21
John 6.1-21

Robert Fulghum writes that as a school teacher he wore two buttons on his jacket. One said, "Question Authority" and the other said "Think for Yourself."

[SIDE NOTE: There is likely a lot of sociological work to be done trying to understand the impact on children and their successes and failures in life if they are taught these mantras early in life...in fact, we have been noticing in our own circles some of the fallout that can happen as a result. As lay-sociologists our completely untrained hypothesis is that when this mentality is given to children early in life it has a noticeable impact on an individual's ability to respect the experience of others.....but all of this is getting off topic!]

Question Authority.
Think For Yourself.

These mantras are often liberating for folks who have never been invited to think for themselves or to question authority. Many of us (in varying degrees and in varying facets of our lives) look for leaders that we can trust and that lead in ways where we don't have to spend as much effort Thinking for Ourselves on every single detail of life. It seems we are naturally drawn to find people we can trust. Many of us desire leaders we can follow.

The military and many companies (and many families) are built on the opposite of these premises--Do Not Question Authority, and Someone Else Will Do the Thinking For You.

Alas, some leaders cannot be completely trusted. Some authorities need to be questioned and even corrected.

This week we continue following the story of King David. This passage from 2 Samuel gives us an ugly example of Bad Leadership and an Unquestioning Follower.

Most of us are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba--he sees her bathing, invites her to his place, the put on some nice music, become "familiar" with one another, she becomes pregnant, and David (King of the army) has her husband Uriah (a member of David's army) killed. Now the story shows David attempting to cover his tracks by having Uriah come home from the battlefield and "visit" his wife, but Uriah refuses. Why? Well, we could certainly use our imaginations and guess that maybe Uriah and Bathsheba didn't have that great of a marriage in the first place....or maybe Uriah was dealing with some physical problems...or perhaps they had chosen to not have kids and focus on their careers; but the scriptural account does not tell it that way. It tells us Uriah would not go home and spend time with his wife because he was committed to his role in the army and didn't want to do anything that would let his peers, his leader, or his commander (King David) down. Uriah was Unquestioningly Committed to following David wherever he commanded. And it turned out, at least in this instance, David (Uriah's leader, the leader of the Army, and the King of God's chosen people) was not to be trusted.

In the Psalm this week we find a writer (possibly David himself) who is unquestioningly committed to God and the leadership of God. He is committed to the right judgment of God and he is committed to believing 100% there is no better side to be on than the side of God.

In the passage from John we see lots and lots of people leaving their homes and roaming the countryside to follow Jesus. These folks have every reason to believe that following Jesus is nothing but benefit. Suddenly the disciples realize that there are thousands of people that have followed them to a remote field and there is not enough supplies to feed all of these people. When Jesus (their leader) asks them what they are going to do they look at him with uncertainty and disbelief. In other accounts of this story there are more responses of disbelief...they assume Jesus is off of his first century rocker. And then, as Jesus is wont to do, he comes through with a miraculous feeding of thousands with some simple loaves and fishes. And the disciples find themselves again realizing they should trust Jesus and follow his leadership.

The passage from Ephesians shows Paul echoing some of the same type of sentiments found in the Psalm. Paul is explaining to the followers in Ephesus why and how he is sooooo committed to following the leadership of Jesus. There is no question in his mind that this is the right thing to do. Following the leadership of Christ is the thing that gives him the chance to grow and develop more than he can ever imagine.

- How do you balance "trusting your leaders" with "questioning authority"?
- Do you unconditionally trust God? Is it Wise or Foolish to do so? Is it Easy or Hard to do so?

God...
Most of the time we want to trust You,
and often we do not.
We want to be able to trust those around us,
and often we cannot.
We want to, at the very least, trust ourselves,
and often we have a hard time with that too.
We have too many times had trust broken
and broken trust.
Forgive us where we have misled others.
Help us as we attempt to forgive those who have
misled us.
We pray to know your Grace and Peace
deep down inside us.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Peace be with you.

7.16.2009

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 11), Year B

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

We list "caregiver" among our many roles and titles. We care for kids, for homes, for parents, for pets, for co-workers, for classmates. And some days that is a heavy burden - some days it is a lonely place. We can get overwhelmed by the responsibility or we can credit ourselves with donning a mantle of responsibility. We can become proud and in the next moment feel martyred by our burdens.

But in this week's readings, we were reminded that we are not just caregivers...we receive care as well. We are divinely cared for and have been through history. This plays out in the scripture, but it also plays out in the reality of our lives. In our vulnerable moments, we are deeply loved. There are moments when, against all odds, we find ourselves on our feet standing tall. Often when we are at the end of our rope, when we believe that not one more bad thing can happen, we are lifted up in miraculous and unexpected ways.

And even though it has happened over and over again, we find it a little breathtaking each time it happens. Each time that we experience unfathomable grace or inexplicable calm in the storm of life, there is awe...God is present with us and for us and loves us deeply.

In the text from 2 Samuel, we see some continuation of David's enthusiasm from last week. He decides that it is inappropriate that he, David, sleeps in a house of cedar while the Ark of God resides in a tent, as it has for generations. He's working closely with the prophet Nathan, who has a pretty intimate dialogue going with God. And God is a little appalled, it would seem, by David's notion of building a Temple. (Although, we are intrigued that God saves this task for a future king. Perhaps there will be more on that later.) God is pretty clear - God hasn't needed the care and keeping of an edifice, and in fact, God has provided much more than God needed at each step in the liberation of the Israelites.

The Psalmist recounts God's unique selection and care and keeping of David. This Psalm reads as if we are listening in to the mind of God as God thinks about the hopes and dreams about David's future and the ways he will be provided and cared for and protected and tested.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus and the disciples are keeping a grueling pace. The apostles had just returned from one of their first solo missions to do the work that Jesus had sent them out to do. And when they got back, Jesus cared for them physically by making sure they went away to rest some. Now, as is often true in the gospel stories, their respite did not last for long because folks tracked Jesus and the disciples down asking to be taught and healed, but the important thing here is the intention. Jesus knew that even these folks who were out doing "God's Work" needed physical and mental and emotional and spiritual rest so they could restore themselves and be prepared to do the work again.

In the epistle to the community at Ephesus, the writer addresses this community of gentiles, connecting them to the God of Israel through the teaching and inclusive, embracing ministry of Jesus. It reads to us today as a little wordy and round-a-bout in getting to its purpose, but this passage really is attempting to reach out for folks and care for them and make sure they understand they (the Gentiles) are included and loved and accepted as a part of the community of followers of Christ.

Is it easy to remember that you are loved and cared for? Why or why not?

God,
no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves,
we have no idea how You "work."
We do not know Your Schedule.
We do not know how it is You Love each of us.
What we do know is that You Do.
Help us as we attempt to let go of the Need to Know
Help us as we attempt to let go of Understanding Why
Help us as we attempt to quiet our needs to control You
Help us as we learn to allow ourselves to be Loved and Cared for.
Amen.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 10), Year B

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

It is really tough being in relationship with other folks. It is hard work. And one of the ways it is difficult is because what may be a good idea for me may not be a good idea for you. And that can be frustrating. My good idea (if / when enacted) might cause discomfort or harm or damage to you....but it might still be a good idea / action for me.

And then there are those ideas that we all have where it sounds like a good idea in our head, but it turns out it is not a good idea for anyone.

How we look at our world depends so much upon what we have already seen and what we expect to see and how we think we will be affected. And it is really hard not to judge ideas - ours and others - out of our own perspective, which is admittedly not always a very "open" space.

This all seems a bit philosophical and confusing right now. Let's use this week's texts as examples.

In the passage from 2 Samuel we find the scene of a wonderful celebration. The Ark of God (this was also known as the Ark of the Covenant...or God's house...it was the physical location where the Spirit of God was believed to reside) was being moved in to The City of David / Zion / Jerusalem (that is all the same place). Everyone was happy and excited. There were trumpets...there were thousands of people...there were animals being sacrificed....it seems like quite a party. David was especially excited. In all of his excitement he stripped down and danced naked (or at least almost naked) behind the Ark of God as it was being taken in to the city. From the way we read the scriptures, it seems this was a genuine, natural expression of joy on David's part. In his head it was a good idea. However, Michal (Saul's daughter and one of David's wives) despised him and scolded him for the way he was acting. David thought it was a good idea and Michal did not....who was right there? Did it matter that Michal thought it was a bad idea?

This concept runs all through David's story, all through history, all through our lives life and all through the other stories we find in scripture. How do we wade our way through our differences and stay in healthy places with one another?

In Psalm 24 we find (as we do in so many Psalms) stories of who will receive blessing from God and who will not. This points to the reality that in most situations where judgment is passed there are at least two parties involved--the person doing the action and the person judging the action from the outside. And in most situations a person who does whatever action usually thinks it is a good idea, however when we run in to situations where my good idea is held against the expectations of a different person or belief system, suddenly my good idea may not be such a good idea. And all of this finds voice in the Psalms...it is those whose actions / choices (good ideas) that are considered good ideas / choices by a certain group of others (or maybe even by God) that will receive the blessings of God.

In the passage from Ephesians we find the writer (who was probably not Paul) speaking to a community of people trying to figure out how to live this new Christian way and doing something that many of us do / have done as we develop the ways we choose to live. He takes most of the personal choice out of the equation. He talks about how the ideas / desires any of us as individuals have are not as important because the actions and ideas of God through Jesus trumps anything he or his readers might have chosen for themselves. He lays out a vision of how the greater plan is supposed to work - of how God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, redeems us from our own actions and judgment.

And then we come to the passage in Mark where we find the story of King Herod having an idea, thinking it is a good one, and then realizing it is not. You know the story. King Herod had put John the Baptizer (or St. John the Forerunner for you Orthodox readers) in prison because he (Herod) did not care for the messages he (John the B) was teaching (this would be echoed several hundred years later with the King of England). While John was in prison, Herod's daughter Herodias (who evidently had a problem with John) danced for Herod at his birthday party. She danced so well (here comes the idea that sounded good in Herod's head) that he offered his daughter anything she wanted. She came back to him and said she wanted the head of John the Baptizer. This made Herod sad because while he did not like John's messages he also feared John and did not want to kill him. Herod had an idea that sounded good to him, but it turned out to not be a good idea. He found himself in a bit of a pickle. We wonder what his daughter Herodias really thought about her ideas after being presented with John's head, too.

One of our current heroes is a writer and farmer named Wendell Berry. In a conversation about the care of the creation between him and his friend Wes Jackson (of the Land Institute http://www.landinstitute.org/) Wendell said to Wes "Whatever doesn't fit the place...whatever contradicts the genius of the place....is wrong. It doesn't make any difference if it is true or not. If it doesn't belong, it's wrong. It is not true that 'what works anywhere, works everywhere.'"

And so we leave the lectionary reflections this week with these questions:
Is it true that what works (is a good idea) for you may not work (be a good idea) for every one?
If that is true, in what ways can we live and interact so that we are able to respect God, respect one another, and respect ourselves?

God,I just don't always know what is good for me
or for the people I love...
or for the people I have to work with every day.
But I do know that you love me
and that you will love me
Help me remember that it's not always mine
to know or to judge
But also help me to be fully present
and alive
for others in your
Creation.

7.05.2009

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 9) Year B

2 Samuel 5.1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12.2-10
Mark 6.1-33


Sometimes we try to diminish it, but physicality is important.

Again and again as we read through the sacred texts of Judaism and
Christianity we find a lot of importance given to physical things like
places and bodies.

Often folks talk about how God is everywhere and how we as individual
believers don't need to be in any one place to commune with God.
Well, we think that is mostly true. However, whether we look to our
own individual experiences or we look to the stories we find in
scripture, we see that while there is not necessarily any one place
people must go to commune with God, there are certainly places where
it seems to the presence of God is "more present" or more available or
more accessible or something.

And specific physical locations and specific aspects of our own bodies
seem to be important to our own spirituality and how we interact with
one another and with ourselves and with God.

As we look toward the Hebrew text for the week, it is no secret even
today how important the physicality of the dirt and stones and olive
trees of Israel or Palestine or Judea or Hebron or the City of David
are. For the Israelites, who were once slaves without their own
"place," the land is critically important and God-given. The
political stake of land protection and domination mixes and mingles in
this text with the spiritual connection that they feel for these
places. Truly, their geopolitical interests arise from their
understanding of what God has done for them. David's kingship over
these places is real because "the LORD, the God of hosts, was with
him." Think of the importance of place as we approach the birthday of
our purple mountain's majesty and amber waves of grain.

The psalmist writes in praise of Zion, the place from which God's
protection emanates. It is intriguing to us that it is the
expectation that it was the physical glory of Zion that would bear
witness to the next generation about the glory and power of God.
These praises are written, like 1 and 2 Samuel, as a reflection during
the reign of David, a uniquely unified time in the political history
of Judah and Israel. But the unity, the good times, the developing
infrastructure must have held great promise.

And then, in the gospel of Mark, we see Jesus returning to his
hometown. Many of us probably have feelings about "hometown." Maybe
hometown is a place of refuge and comfort. For others, it might be a
reminder of the things and places of the past that we choose to
escape. Jesus has been in ministry with the apostles and has been
teaching and performing miracles outside of his hometown. Perhaps he
was expecting to arrive in his hometown to be recognized for "Who" he
was. But they were sort of astounded by the teachings he brought, as
if he was somehow out of bounds as a carpenter and hometown boy to be
speaking and acting in the way that he was.

In Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, he does not directly
address place, but he does talk about receiving a special revelation.
This sort of revelation via cosmic journey was sort of "in vogue"
among Jewish writers in the era in which Paul wrote. It was through
this revelation that Paul claims to embrace his weakness as a human,
to endure criticism, hardship and persecution because in Christ, he is
strong.

We are bodily creatures attuned to the places in which we dwell...our
work, our home, our hometowns, our holy spots. And we wonder, is God
equally present in all of these places? Do we invite God to be
equally present in all of these places? Or does God "belong" somewhere
specific in our lives.

What places seem sacred to you? Why?
Where are you at home? Is God's presence known there? Why or why not?


God of sand and trees and rocks and air...
Guide each of us as we discover, and return to,
the places we find and have found you.
Help us as we attempt to respect and rest in Your Presence
in us and in the buildings and people and mountains and rivers
where you have made yourself known.
Help us as we attempt to follow you.
Amen.