Reign of Christ - 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 29), Year B

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18)
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

(A note about this day in the lectionary year: This Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian Year, is often called the feast of Christ the King, or a celebration of the Reign of Christ. It was intended originally to be a feast recognizing Christ's supremacy, and the lectionary passages point to the notion of "kingship." In recent years, gender-specific terms, particularly those that reinforce male dominance, have been removed from hymns and liturgy, making "Reign of Christ" a more appealing name. There are also those for whom the image of a ruler is not in keeping with their understanding of Christ. And so, in some circles, people have adopted the language of "the KINship of Christ" which highlights our common relationship with Christ in shared humanity rather than Christ's supremacy over anything.)

We have spent a lot of time thinking about this and there is something that no matter how strongly we exercise our imaginations we cannot grasp: What must it be like to be a King?

We Americans have not officially had a King since we were officially Americans. Of course, there are a few Kings here and there alive and employed in the world today. We can read about Kings that have existed in different lands and in different times. But first person experience with Kingship is limited.

Between the two of us, we have met lots of people that have fulfilled a wide variety of jobs, but never a King.

In the movies Kings are portrayed as having a plush lifestyle--golden toothbrushes and velvet tissues and such. But it cannot be all good, right?

Think of the pressure of being a King.

And usually, a King does not answer to anyone else.

But in our scriptures this week we get an interesting perspective of Kings whose lives are not all milk baths and windows made of diamonds. These scriptures show us Kings who are subject to a higher power.

In the passage from 2 Samuel we get to listen in to the last words of King David. He is reflecting on how great things go with those who rule over their people justly and rule in the fear of God...and how things can go poorly for the godless rulers. He is aware of being in service to God and he is aware of the ways (both positively and negatively) his service might be rewarded. There seems to be an awareness of the weighty-ness of his position. There is a burden in his accountability and relationship to Yahweh similar to that expressed by Moses. David was the first Jewish King...and his authority was given to him as he was anointed by Samuel. And Samuel's power to anoint a king also came from God.

In Psalm 132 we see again some of the internal struggle of a King as he attempts to do what he can to serve God. And it seems to be real labor, not a life of ease and luxury. And there seems to be an exchange. God has chosen Zion and has anointed a King and when that King is loyal, his heirs are assured the throne. The psalmist is regaling the hearer with God's promise to Israel to remain with them in the land while they are loyal. It is a burdensome mutual accountability, in some ways.

We (Matt and Laura) often want to compare a King to our President. But that breaks down in a bunch of ways....especially when we are thinking of a President of a democracy such as ours. Our President (as least on paper) serves / owes allegiance to We The People....and to no other. And as we understand a King as found in these passages, it seems that the King also found himself saddled with the responsibility of owing allegiance to God - perhaps in spite of the people at times. (Flash back to Moses - those Israelites were a complaining bunch who wouldn't have willingly guided Moses to the same conclusions that Yahweh did.)

In Revelation we find Jesus being praised as the ruler of the Kings of the earth....and yet, even he is subject to his God and Father.

In John we find Jesus and Pilate engaged in what turns out to be a bit of a philosophical conversation. Pilate begins by trying to understand why Jesus has been brought before him. However, in their dialogue it seems Jesus pushes past the questions of earthly Kingship and a worry about who "rules" over any one group of people. His statement seems to close down that line of questioning: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. Now this answer is so far beyond what Pilate was living into. Pilate was a politician. He was doing all he could to stay in right graces with the Roman powers that were gripping the area. He was a few rungs down on the ladder, too. And here is Jesus standing before him responding in what must have seemed an answer from another galaxy - my Kingdom is not of this world.

It is mind-boggling to consider where our understandings come from. In many ways, the kingships of the early and middle-ages were based on a biblical notion that authority came from God. But the human addiction to and misuse of authority eventually altered the notion kings, kingdoms and rule and our reaction to them. When we peel back the layers and get back to the biblical concept of kingship and authority, its a mind-blowing responsibility...and reminds us of our prayers for those "burdened with power."

Was David a just King? What were the benefits of his position? Drawbacks?
What human needs have changed our understanding of authority? of kingship?
What titles do you have for Jesus? Do you perceive Jesus as an authority? A comforter? A shepherd?

God of Power and Might,
Humble us to recognize the burden of authority
and help us to temper our understanding of authority
in recognition that we are stewards of your gifts
to be used for your Kingdom.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with 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.


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 28), Year B

From where does authority come? What power does authority possess? Are their indicators of authority?

In the readings this week, we see a number of different approaches to God -- through various chanels of perceived authority. It just has us wondering how we shape our approach to God based on how we understand the authority of God and of others who claim authority related to God. Is God found in a specific place, or is our approach more likely to be noted and get results in a certain place? Are there people through whom our petitions move faster and with greater urgency? Hmmm. And what authority do we have and from where does it come? Our actions, our station in life, our faith?

This week, we have an extended reading from 1 Samuel. The first tells a story somewhat familiar in Hebrew scripture. Hannah is the second wife to Elkanah, and she has not been able to conceive. She enters the temple and offers her prayers, and she commits that if the Lord will bless her with a son, he will be raised in the purest ways and prepared for service to God. (Specifically, Hannah commits to raising her son as a nazarite, see Numbers 6:8). Eli, the priest in the Temple at the time, observes Hannah's troubled behavior and accuses her of being drunk. But Hannah doesn't back down, she explains her petition to Eli. And his response is promising. He assures her that the Lord will hear and grant her petition. Now, Hannah chose to go to the Lord in prayer, and it seems odd that it was Eli that responded...but Hagar's story about praying for Ishmael's safety in the wilderness is similar - the Lord responds to the child, not to Hagar. This is a time and place where women have little authority, and their direct approach was met with indirect response. Now this promised son is Samuel, who will be last judge in the era of Judges among the Israelites. Judges represented the various tribes in a loose confederacy that was Israel at the time. Samuel will also annoint the first two Kings - heralding a central strong authority among all of the tribes, and Kings are something promised by God way, way back in the journey to the promised land. As a prophet, he heralds a new era of authority among the Isralites. In some ways, the Lord's response is not specifically to Hannah, but to the Israelites as a whole. God's hand is very directly involved in the new direction of authority on the ground - or is it?

Instead of a selection from the book of Psalms, the next reading is a continuation from 1 Samuel, Hannah's song of praise in response to the good news she receives. And she isn't just praising God for her own good fortune. Her psalm of praise is full of signs of the Lord's righteousness. And she offers it with such joy and passion. Now she didn't go back to Eli to thank him, or to ask him to offer thanks on her behalf...she again goes right to God in prayer. She is full of hope - and it is as if she sees the potential big picture - a time of righteousness reigning over the land where the poor are raised up.

In our continued reading of Hebrews, we read a pretty great insight about community and authority. The writer describes a host of priests who offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, but there attempts are futile compared to what is accomplished in the singular sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we have a hard time wrapping ourselves around that language - especially in this day and age. But the people hearing this message had been deeply entrenched in a sacrificial system and they understood a certain hierarchy of petition, thanksgiving and related sacrifices. The author of Hebrews is helping them to see Jesus' death as the final sacrifice needed. And with that sacrifice, all are clean, all are forgiven, and all are empowered. And now their job seems to be to empower one another as community - provoking one another to good deeds. Now there is a turn of terms - provoking goodness. You are forgiven and as such you should go encourage everyone to goodness. The people are being given back a lot of authority, it would seem.

Finally in the reading from Mark's Gospel, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, and also warns the disciples that in the aftermath of such change, there will be false prophets and teachers and preachers about which to worry. And he really saddles them with responsibility for discerning truth. So the temple, a clear symbol of authority and power in their culture, would be destroyed. But that wouldn't mean an authority vacuum. People would have to discern where authority existed, where it was authentic. (A passing thought - given that dialogue, how do you suppose that they discerned Paul's eventual authority?)

The changing landscape of authority is a consistent theme across the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. What would writers say today about where God's authority resides?

How do you approach God? Are there different "channels" of approach for you?
Where do you see shifts in authority occurring in the world around you?
Who do you see having no authority? What does scripture have to say about that?

Here I am.
Make me. Mold me. Use me.
Open my eyes and ears
So that I may discern
Where I have authority
To evoke your Kingdom
In this world.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with 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.


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 28), Year B

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

So, the Scriptures are ancient texts written in another time and place with a context that is often really difficult for us to grasp in our present lives. And so we try to remember to ask ourselves early and often what these texts might be saying to us today. It's important to recognize when and where and why a text was written so that we are better able to identify our own response to it. And we still probably need to ask, even if we can point to context and say - wow things were different then - why we get bugged by certain things.

The texts this week sort of fit into the category of contexts to which we have difficulty relating.

The reading from Ruth gives us sort of a snapshot contextual snapshot of how two widows - a mother and her daughter-in-law - manage to survive the harsh realities of their society. It's hard to imagine the fate that Ruth and Naomi encountered when their spouses died. Naomi has left her roots behind in Bethlehem to follow her husband and sons. When they die, Ruth promises to stay with Naomi and leaves her own homeland to become a stranger in a strange land - to enter Israel with Naomi. In turn, Naomi helps Ruth to attract the attention and affection of wealthy landowner Boaz, effectively bonding Ruth to the Israelites. In the selection for this week, we are entering sort of an awkward point of the story by our societal standards. Naomi has basically instructed Ruth to go lay with Boaz on the threshing floor. Then we flash forward through the text to the point at which it is revealed that Ruth has conceived, she and Boaz have married and somehow Naomi ends up with the baby - a boy - to nurse. Ruth has provided Naomi with something none of her seven sons were able to provide - economic security in their society. Now, this is a tough story for us to wrap our 21st century norms around...and yet, it has stood the test of time, made it into the cannon and continues to be read. What does this story - named for Ruth but as much about Naomi - say to us today? For one, there are some interesting questions to be asked about immigrants. Ruth is an immigrant who completely adopts her new culture and invests herself in it for survival and out of loyalty to Naomi. Does Ruth give up anything in the process?

The psalmist is echoing some of the themes about the importance of family and of sons in particular that we find in Ruth. Also, the psalmist is naming the importance of keeping the Lord central to our comings and our goings. Now all of this talk about "sons" as opposed to daughters is very particular to the culture in which this psalm was written. Is it easy to substitute sons and daughters? Are there other things that could replace "sons" in this text for today?

In the selection from Hebrews, the writer is establishing Jesus' death on the cross as the atoning sacrifice that wipes away all of our sins. Now most of us cannot really grasp the importance of these passages referencing the High Priest entering the Holy Place or about Jesus entering the Sanctuary. Even the High-est Church Folks of us today do not have the social / religious / personal reverence for the Sacred Places that the Jews of that time had. It is so hard for us to grasp the comparisons that are being made in this passage. Also (we....Laura and Matt) do not and cannot understand the importance and depth of the references to sacrifice here and how they connect to the Jewish expectations of the day. Sacrifice was so much more real and meant so much more in that space. Also, the writer of Hebrews is attempting to do something quite important here. He is attempting to show a Jewish audience that the sacrifice of Jesus and by Jesus was an ultimate sacrifice for sins as opposed to the constant and consistent sacrifices for sins that were performed by the priests in the Temple. Context is so important.

In the passage from Mark, the context is quite different, but it is fairly easy for us to relate to it we believe. He was teaching the disciples about personal / social / financial responsibility using examples from what they saw around them. It appears they are standing outside of the synagogue and he goes after the scribes (the folks who were responsible for literally keeping the law alive through repeating and recording) as models for how one ought NOT behave. He was encouraging the disciples to not let power and authority and control go to their heads....to not let their job titles or the color of their robes determine how they should behave. This example was immediately juxaposed against a poor widow who gave as all she had to support the synagogue...she was held up as the example of giving all to God. Of course it is easy to draw our own contextual parallels to today. You can choose your favorite: corporate leaders, government leaders, religious leaders, etc.

Do you have the same cultural curiosity and respect for the scriptures as you might have for a new friend from another country?
How do you take the stories and messages you find in scripture and apply them to your personal journey here in 2009 America?
How does a cultural awareness impact how you behave and respond to the world around you?

God, help us see how you continue to speak.
It is so tempting for me to believe you Have Spoken...
....and that is it.
But I know you continue to speak.
It is easier to believe you Have Spoken...
....that makes it eaiser for me...
....I could just study the scriptures thoroughly....
....and I would Know.
But realistically, I know you continue to speak.
You spoke to the darkness and the light.
You spoke to Moses.
You spoke to Mary.
You spoke to Martin Luther.
You speak to Me.
You continue to speak.
Help me to listen.