22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 17), Year B

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
or Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

(A Note about this Week's Lectionary Readings: This is one of those weeks when something sort of extraordinary happens in the lectionary - the primary reading from Hebrew scripture is from Song of Solomon...a "wisdom" book that only appears once in the three year cycle (it is the alternate text two or three other times). Perhaps you are familiar with Song of Solomon because it has been read frequently at weddings... It's an interesting book - a collection of love poems of sorts, written in images that could be very suggestive. It is a celebration, pure and simple, of physical forms and of the energy and attraction generated between physical forms. The Rabbis treated it as an allegory about God's love (reverence) for Israel. It was a hotly contested inclusion in the Christian canon (the books that the church recognized as "holy" and "inspired" - books to be revered - that were voted on and affirmed finally and completely (after hundreds of years of use, debate, councils, etc.) by the Council of Trent in 1546 but it had been established as an important work in the Hebrew canon (which, by the way was not established in a way nearly so formal as the Christian canon. The Hebrew canon was arrived at by use - that is, books that were used regularly in worship over tens and hundreds of years were eventually recognized as "canon" for the reason that they had been heavily used (and revered) in worship and daily life).)

We came home after last Sunday's worship service with a few questions (eg. did Clowns REALLY serve communion?), but the primary question was this: "What do we really revere?"

Do you have anything that you hold in deep reverence?

If the answer there is yes, can you explain why that is true?

What does it mean for you (not other people - YOU) to revere something?

Our suspicion is that can take different forms for different people, but it can also take many forms even for one person. We might hold special our marriage relationship in a different way than we revere the holy space of the National Cathedral and that might be different than our reverence for free elections and a free market economy which might be different than how we revere peach cobbler.

There are many situations throughout history and today in our society where one person / group attempts to impose / mandate what others should hold as holy and how. People on both sides of the abortion debate, for example, revere something. Many forms of religion dictate who should believe what and how. In families, parents sometimes strive to dictate what their children will believe, understand and think.

That should be okay, right? How else do we pass on our beliefs?

This week's readings show us some different ways that folks expressed the things they revered and how they hoped others might accept those things.

We've looked at both the primary and alternate readings from Hebrew scripture this week because both illustrate behavior that reflects someone's reverence. In the Song of Solomon, we watch lovers (God and Israel) address one another with terms of affection and endearment, one calling the other to follow in a season of goodness. In Deuteronomy, Moses is addressing the Israelites, explaining that it is the faithful observance of the law he is teaching that will ensure their safe passage into the promised land. But he's not just offering them a safeguard, but he's also suggesting that their obedience should be a grateful response for what has already been done in their lives.

The psalmist provides a couple of models here for reverence. In Psalm 45, the psalmist is overflowing with praise that he/she addresses directly. It's as if this person is overjoyed and knows that the way to exercise that joy is to honor the one who has created it. In Psalm 15, obedience seems to be the avenue. Those who want to dwell in the tent of God will behave in just ways.

The letter of James was attributed early on to James, the brother of Jesus. There is not proof of this, but this is a letter that seems rooted in allegiance to Torah. The letter is largely advice to a community about how to behave. And the particular reading for this week is a reminder that right behavior is a key to God's righteous treatment. The advice is sort of in conflict with Paul's theory that people are justified by their faith alone. James seems to advocate that good works help the process along - but not good works for the sake of gaining something. Rather, he is talking about behaving out of recognition for God's goodness and thereby receiving further goodness.

This week's reading from Mark is a great story about the Pharisees observing the disciples and commenting on their failure to wash before eating. Now...try sharing this with kids. They get that, right? But in the tradition of the Pharisees, there was a lot of ritual - ritual based on Torah - to the everyday things of life, including eating. Food and bodies had to be ritually pure. And it was the observation of the Pharisees that these disciples of Jesus were not keeping the Law in this way. Jesus comes right back at them by quoting Isaiah and names their behavior a keeping of human tradition rather than the Law of God. Now, in all fairness to those Pharisees, we think that they were probably trying really hard to do the right thing -- they are trying to show reverence in their own way -- except that according to Jesus, their way might not be honoring God. And he uses a very vivid image - it's not what is outside of us that makes us dirty, rather it is the things that we choose to do and the behaviors that we choose that are really filthy. Hmmm.

We feel a little bit like we (matt and laura) don't really hold anything in reverence like Moses intended the Law to be kept. And that has us wondering - are we missing out? What do we need to stay true to what we feel called?

Holy One whose name we dare not say out loud because we are not Holy ourselves...
Help us to take something seriously today.
Help us to believe You are worth honoring.
Help us to believe Others are precious and lovely and worth our reverence and respect.
Help us to believe we are your Special Creations that should be treated as such.
Help us to do more than believe these things.
Help us to live as if all of the things and people and special places in our lives were created to honor You.
Help us to take something seriously today...in your Holy Name.

© 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 Grace & Peace be with you.


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 16), Year B

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41 - 43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

In the area in which we live – the greater DC metro area – even in the throes of an economic downturn, the norm is Larger Than Life. We have noticed recently the declining numbers of Hummers on the road (praise God), and sure, people seem to NOT be building new monstrous houses in our area. But the tabloids are still smattered with the spectacular, unbelievably good or alternately unbelievably bad lives of celebrities. And people are still eating super-sized fast food. And at the beginning of the fall retail frenzy (you know the one – where back-to-school flows into Halloween chachky flows into Christmas flows into President’s day?) all indicators in the parking lot and the ads are that we are still interested in being “larger than life.”

But we’re not the only generation to be concerned for the larger things in life. The bible is full of big stuff…big kings, big failures, big events. It seems that all of humanity is fascinated with Large. Or Strong. Or Powerful. Or Wonderful.

And this week, we were reminded in our reading that sometimes our Larger Than Life worldview affects our expectation and understanding and acceptance of God.

Starting in 1 Kings, we pick up again on the story of Solomon. Last week, he asked for wisdom and is praised for his simple priorities, and this week he is overseeing the consecration of The Temple. No expense has been spared to construct a Splendid dwelling place for the Lord. Then Solomon prays a big prayer asking the Lord to continue looking favorably on the people of Israel and to keep the line of David strong and royal (not a Big ask, right?). And he asks that the whole world know and recognize the name of the Lord. And there is much praise (there is no other god on heaven or earth like You…) and there is much hope and there is much expectation. Larger Than Life.

The psalmist continues with a hymn of praise and adoration. It is gushing about the Lord’s power and might…one day in your courts is greater than a thousand elsewhere and No good thing is withheld from the upright.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the writer paints of a picture of God’s power as armor that believers can don to shield them from attack and strengthen them for a battle. Because believing in this God – living in this different way and following the teachings of Jesus – is really risky at the time of this writing. And these people are truly having to arm themselves for martyrdom in the face of persecution. In our Larger Than Life world, we don’t find ourselves threatened because of our beliefs very often…not in this Larger Than Life society America.

Finally, in the Gospel of John, the Larger Than Life expectations of some of the mass of disciples following Jesus and the Twelve get turned upside down. For several weeks, we’ve been reading the teaching in this Gospel about the Bread of Life. Jesus continues to talk about his own flesh and blood…and he’s pretty adamant that those who eat of him will gain something precious – eternal life! (Larger Than Life?) Then he goes on to say something very interesting – it is spirit that gives life. Without spirit, the flesh is useless. And Jesus is offering words of spirit and life – not Superman muscle, but a message about living small, about being one with the least of these, about giving it all away to gain spirit and Life.

God of creation…
We enter this world
Very small
Very meek
Very needy
Marvels of creation
Flesh and blood and need.
And we run the risk
Of spending our growth
On living larger
Thinking larger
Being larger
Having more
Achieving some dizzying height.
Help us see small
To become like children
To wonder
To be simple
To have little
And want less.


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 14), Year B

2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4.25-5.2
John 6.35, 41-51

Sometimes we think about what it would take for there to be no suffering in the world. You know, in an effort to remove the first tenet of Buddhism, how would we need to direct our magic wand to make it where there was no longer suffering?

Well, one option might be if we could eliminate death. Wouldn’t that be cool? Imagine, no one dying. That would certainly take away a lot of suffering wouldn’t it?

But even if this dream of an idea were true, it would not eliminate all suffering. There would still be form after form of things that would cause each of us pain, some of it completely self-induced.

So much of David’s life can be used as an illustration of suffering - much of it the self-induced variety. He seems to keep making choices to fulfill his hungers that result in tragedy. This week our scripture focuses in on the end of the story between David and his son Absalom. There is no way for us to imagine what sort of grief David (and likely Absalom) lived with in the years they were estranged from one another. They had a Complicated relationship and from what we see of their story they were not able (for whatever reason) to find a way to try and find a way back together. Before the end of their story, it was already a sad, painful situation. And then their story ended in a really horrible way. David commanded his army to defeat Absalom’s insurgent group and Absalom’s life ends with him stabbed to death by his father’s men while hanging from a tree. In spite of all the suffering that had gone before, in spite of the contentious relationship, David bears enormous grief at news of Absalom's death.

In Psalm 130 we again get an insight in to what David might have been feeling at such a difficult time. Reading this we can see some of the grief he may have experienced and some of the ways he yearned to have God help to take away some of the pain and suffering he was experiencing. As we mentioned last week, this gives us some insight to some of the fallout that can sometimes show up when a person gets so consumed by greed and the search for power.

In John we see Jesus continuing to explain who he is and his purpose in being there. Of course, he is not doing this directly. He explains to his listeners that he is the Bread of Life from Heaven and that he is From God and has seen the Father. He tells folks that if they accept the Bread that comes down from heaven (him), they will not die. Now, this is quite an exciting promise…to live forever. We do not know if his hearers understood his words to be making promises for this life or for a life to come, but we can certainly imagine a message like this would get the attention of people. Again, we are all a little greedy to get as much life as we can and avoid the fear and pain and discomfort and suffering of death. Jesus is attempting to offer them a type of relief from some suffering….he is not offering a relief from all suffering, but he is offering solace from some extiential suffering.

Now when we turn to this week’s reading from the letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, we see a different approach to attempting to ease the suffering of others. The writers of this letter are fairly directive on how the readers ought to live. There is a lot of direction about putting away anger and grief and angst and agita. Where Jesus offered folks options so they could choose to live with less suffering, the writer of this letter tells them directly what they should do. But we wonder, can you really just set all of that aside? Or does it need to be acknowledged somehow?

Is there anything that can eliminate all suffering?
What does the promise of living forever do for you?
Are there types of suffering that are worse than death?
What do we lose in the absence of suffering?

Creator, Holy, Everywhere, God
If we are made in your image,
we imagine that we experience a mere whisper
of the pain and the loss
that You experience each moment.
If we are made in your image,
we imagine that the pain and loss
of living has meaning.
Help us to distinguish between
our delicate humanness - being in your image
and our greeds and passions for more or less
of what is offered up by your creation.