1.28.2010

4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

You know, being in a "call-based" community really makes us more aware at the prevalence of Call Stories in scripture.

This week, we're going to pick up where last week's KC worship left off. Last week's lectionary featured Jesus sitting in the temple in his hometown having read from the prophet Isaiah, declaring himself the fulfillment of that prophecy. We were reminded that this portion of the gospel story is sometimes referred to as Jesus' mission statement.

But not all of our individual calls come through so clearly. We are seldom able to state them with such resolve, and our own experience is that our calls morph and bend and change over time and experience. And sometimes we know what we are supposed to do, sometimes we know how we are supposed to do it, and sometimes we don't want to do what we are called to do, and sometimes we don't like where we're called to. And sometimes the guidance is how not what. It's a mixed up bag. And it seems that bag is kind of tossed at us this week in a jumbly heap.

Jeremiah's call story is like many of the prophets. He resists, insists that he is not prepared. In particular, he tells God that he doesn't know how to speak. And God's response is to give him God's words, quite literally, touching his mouth. Now watch for next week's passage, because there is a similar theme. Our mouths and our words must be an important part of call...and isn't it sort of human nature to feel ill equipped to be a messenger for God? God also leaves Jeremiah with hefty responsibility - "I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." That's big stuff.

The Psalmist's petition for God's refuge seems like sort of a fitting response to the weighty reality of any call. If we're going to take this call stuff seriously, we better be asking for this care and shelter and guidance.

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we read a really iconic verse about love. And while it is a lovely sentiment, it's a little difficult to figure out why we're reading it in this lectionary collection. It turns out this is less of a Call Story and more of an explanation of how to go forward in your call....sort of a Call Equipping passage. If you read a little more - the chapter before and the chapter that follows - it starts to address call in some way. The preceding chapter is Paul's explanation of the church as a body made up of many parts. The chapter that follows is a description of the many kinds of spiritual gifts that we might have and the many ways they might be used. And nestled in between is an important reminder that our actions, our intentions, our relationships are nothing if not practiced in love. It's an important reminder of HOW we must carry out whatever we care called to do. In love. With love.

Finally, in our continued reading from Luke's gospel, Jesus follows up his revealed mission statement with a bit of a poke at the hometown crowd. He basically tells his hometown fans that he hasn't really come to serve only them - he recounts the story of Elijah and the Widow and Elisha and Namaan. And he points out that while there were plenty of Israelites that God could have helped through these prophets' actions, God chose instead to have the prophets work with foreigners. Not a bold statement of support for the home team! And the actions of both Elijah and Elisha were a little unorthodox - Elijah insisting that the widow feed him in a time of great famine and Elisha prescribing a ritual bath in the Jordan for Naaman of Syria. These prophets were called to do unexpected, unfathomable things and along the way to serve those that were not understood as the chosen of God. This call thing takes us to uncharted waters and sets outrageous expectations and somehow it all works together to make a difference.

Our community spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to Hear, Receive, and Respond to the Call of God in our lives. Most of us can identify with the anxiety and fear a Call sometimes creates. Most of us have calculated out the ramifications of following toward what we feel God is calling us to do. And still, God Calls us. God Calls us to love ourselves, to love each other, to love the world around us...and to love God. It is hard, and still God Calls.

God, this really can be difficult.
The world around me presents so many wonderful options
that have nothing to do with making it a better place...
things that are easy for me to do and that make my life
easier and softer and safer.
And then, when I look deeper, the world also presents so many
horrible things.
So many people and places and things that are in
desperate need to be loved and cared for and nurtured.
And often attending to the second option precludes
the first option.
This can be really difficult.
Like Paul, I know the things I want to do
and I often don't do them.
Guide me as I attempt to love You.
Help me as I attempt to love Your Creations.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2010 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.

1.21.2010

Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Year C

Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12.12-31
Luke 4.14-21

By show of hands, does anyone out there ever feel like you cannot do Everything Just Right?

Or maybe, more exactly, do you ever get frustrated because you cannot Do or Control Everything?

Accomplishment and competency are pretty highly valued in the places we hang around professionally. It is not explicitly written in anyone's employee handbook, but there are some unspoken expectations that encourage each member to be responsible for all parts.

And we understand that this feeling / fear may be unique to us, but there is also some sort of feeling / fear built in that whispers, "You should know everything. You should know all the rules. You should be good at everything. If there is a failure in another department, you might get blamed...since you are not Completely Competent."

Have you heard that voice?

It is a rotten liar of a voice.

The reality of life in and with God is a much more Grace-Filled and Gracious and Generous space. This week the lectionary scriptures remind us of God's Grace....and they also remind us that it is okay (even necessary) that each of us not be in control of Everything. It is important that each of us understand and play our particular role.

This first passage from Nehemiah is a beautiful example of the Grace of God. "All the people" that are gathering here and listening to Ezra read the book of the law of Moses were Israleites that had recently returned from exile to a destroyed Jersulaem (this story follows on the end of the story found in Chronicles). These folks (or their families) had last seen Jerusalem burning in their rear-view mirror. While they were gone they likely had varied abilities to read and adhere to the law of Moses (being oppressed in a foreign land and all). And so on their return, they took great efforts to re-establish the temple and to re-adhere to the law as they heard it taught. But look at what Ezra and Nehemiah do--they read the law and as people are weeping and feeling guilty for not maintaining all of the laws while in exile, Ezra and Nehemiah extend Grace to them. These two who were in charge of keeping everyone in line (according to Mosiac law), essentially said, "yes, it has been hard....and we have all had our hard times...now put that in the past and appreciate being here and living the the Love of God." (that is our rough interpretation)

Psalm 19 is beautiful. Stop and go read it. You can read it here if you like. It is beautiful. And one of it's important aspects of beauty is that it's writer is quite aware of his/her place in the universe. She knows what God is in charge of. He knows it is his responsibility to keep track of himself. The writer of this Psalm understands (to a depth we don't often experience) dependence on God.

This passage from Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth does not need much commentary here. It is the passage that has become the standard as an explanation of 'the Body of Christ'. Eyes and hands finding themselves mutually dependent and such. The important awareness here (for us) is that each member with each member's gifts and deficits and talents and faults is important. Each member does the part she shows up able to do. Each member performs the role he was created to perform. There is no one that is responsible for the success of the whole....and no one can do the part of the other. The hand cannot hear and the foot cannot taste....the hand and foot have their own roles! And the explanation Paul puts out there is that each member fully live in to her / his role.

Jesus lays this example of each person being responsible for their role in a fantastic way that only he could pull off. He walks in to the synagogue in Nazereth, reads one verse from Isaiah describing why he is here, and then says to the folks listening, "I have just read my job description....now if you will excuse me, I have some work to do." And pay attention to what he doesn't say. He does not claim military skill or might. He does not claim ecological equilibrium. He says he came to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the oppressed set free, and the proclamation of the Lord's favor. He knew what he was there to do and he knew he was not there to Do Everything. We see it in this scene and throughout his life, death, and resurrection. He does some amazing and unusual things, but he does not do Everything Others Expect nor does he attempt to Control Everything.
It is hard to acknowledge that we cannot do it all and know it all. And there is grace waiting for us in that recognition - release, recovery, freedom, favor.

God,
These ears of mine cannot hear all of the world's suffering.
They cannot recognize the emotion of each person that speaks.
These eyes cannot see all the world's potential.
This mouth of mine cannot speak the right words.
These feet cannot move fast enought to get it all done.
These hands are not always gentle.
This heart is not always pure.
Embrace me as I am.
I know that you will.
Absorb me into the body of creation
and guide my heart.
Put me to good use in your Kingdom vision.
Remind me that I am Yours
And that is enough.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2010 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.

1.13.2010

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

We've shared some in the past few weeks about our human tendency toward self-reliance - our expectations about our own ability. We've also thought some about how beloved we really are and how hard it is for us to accept that. This week's lectionary readings invite us into similar places, this time reminding us that God is not some icon or some presence that breaks through in drama and light. God is present and active in many ways at many times. Our challenge is to accept that, to observe that, to embrace that, to invite that and to not get in the way. And we also think this probably obligates us to some pretty dramatic response.

Think about it...if we accept that God is among us, in the details, we have to take that pretty seriously, don't we? This applies in ten thousand directions--If we really believe what we say we believe about God, doesn't it make a serious impact in the ways we live our lives?

The prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a time when Jerusalem is fully restored, and the Jewish people will be returned to favor - the delight of the Lord. This is late in the book of Isaiah and is set in a time when some of the Jewish people have begun to return to Jerusalem. Perhaps reconstruction of the Temple is well under way. But life is not yet what those returning had hoped, and the prophet is still looking toward a more complete restoration. And also here, the prophet is actually reminding God of God's responsibility to do just that. Now there is an interesting encounter, don't you think? We petition, we praise, we lament...how often to we remind God to act in God's nature? We have to have expectations about God's action to remind God of action!

The psalmist is full of praise for God's sure action on behalf of the people. There is confidence here - not just reflection. This person is praising not just the experience of God in the past, but the expectation of God in the future.

Paul's letter to the church in Corinth introduces a new wrinkle to this reflection. Paul is attributing action to God through the Spirit. Unlike the idols that these pagans once revered, the Spirit is actively bestowing gifts on each individual for the good of the community. And Paul is telling the people about this action of the Spirit. We assume he feels like they need to know. They need to know so that this new movement they are following is different from their old way of life. And they need to be looking for God's work among them.

In John's gospel, we witness Jesus' first miracle - a "game changer" for him and for those who are following him. And this account serves as a trumpet herald. Something is happening, things have shifted...this man who has been moving through the countryside gathering disciples has made a major move. There are lots of nuances in this passage and it is worth a deeper read set within the context of understanding the ministry of Jesus Christ. But here, amidst this collection of readings, we are aware that this is God's incarnate movement among the Jewish people. A game changer. God at work in the world.

God, I want to believe everything You have said and everything I believe I believe about You.
And I know I sometimes do not.
I want to listen for Your movements and Trust in Your Goodness,
and sometimes I do not.
It seems no matter how much I can intellectually convince myself to Believe The Right Way,
I often find myself doing otherwise.
Thank You for not holding my unbelief against me.
Thank You for continuing to reach out Your Hand
no matter how often I push it away.
Thank You for showing me patience and love in abundance.
Thank You for making it possible to believe.
Amen.

© 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.

1.05.2010

First Sunday after the Epiphany - Baptism of Jesus, Year C

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


Do you ever find yourself waiting for your perfection to just descend from somewhere? Or do you imagine yourself a work in progress? But really, are you ever finished?

This past week in worship, Pastor Heather described God's call on all of us as not just for one of our gifts or some bit of our time. No, God asks nothing less than all of us. But that can be a bit disturbing. At least in our own little world, we tend to be full of understanding about our deficiencies: We don't have the time to do that. We don't have the skill to do this. We don't have the compassion for this work. We just can't seem to measure up.

And yet, in our readings this week, there is an important reminder. We are God's beloved creation, called by name. If we accept that we are people of the Spirit and we accept God's grace in our lives, what can we possibly NOT do for the Kingdom? Honestly, if you and I are really that known and loved by the Creator of All That Is, why should we think such diminutive and defeated thoughts of ourselves?

Now that is tough to swallow - and not just the burden of it. What is sometimes tough to swallow is the grace, the acceptance, the Love in which we can wrap ourselves if we choose to accept it.

The prophet Isaiah is speaking to Israelites who were in the midst of serious and varied unrest (Assyrians attacking, kings frequently changing, etc), and he is reminding them that God is faithful. God has called the people Israel His chosen, and as such, they can pass through troubling times again and again. And surely there is example upon example of times when the Israelites or Job even little old "we" have been stuck in troubled circumstances. But in those times, have we been forgotten by God, or have we merely forgotten that we are God's? It is not as though bad things don't happen. But the reminder from the prophet is "Do not fear, for I am with you..."

The psalmist calls listeners to give God credit for God's ability. It is a reminder to recognize God's power and presence at every turn. And it ends with a petition. "May the LORD give strength to (the LORD's) people! May the LORD bless (the LORD's) people with peace!" What role do you suppose we each have in how we receive strength or peace from the LORD? What happens if we are given Strength or blesses with Peace, and we cannot see, or are not willing, to accept it?

In the readings from both the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of Luke, we begin to see this week's story taking shape. In Acts, Peter and John have been sent to Samaria to be with the people who had accepted God. Their task is to pray that, beyond acknowledging God's power and presence through the teachings of Jesus, they might receive the spirit. We get the impression that receiving the spirit would empower them differently. The church received the spirit and was able then to move beyond a quiet movement, it was able to communicate across ethnicity and geography differently. God's movement expanded through the spirit.

And in Luke, we witness John's baptism of Jesus. The account tells us that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and a voice was heard to say, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." How many times do we hear that sort of affirmation in our own lives. Is it possible that it happens and we do not hear it? What could we do if we believed that we were truly beloved and pleasing with every ounce of our being? What couldn't we do?

God, for some reason we like to
cover our eyes and block our Your Light.
You call us Worthy and Loved
and we plug our ears.
Somehow we have taken the virtue of
Humility
and
perverted
it.
We would rather remind
ourselves and
You
of how unworthy and unlovable
we think we are.
Forgive our Piety.
Forgive our refusal to believe.
We know we are
Yours.
We know we are
Worthy.
We know we are
Loved.
You have told us.
You have shown us.
Be patient with us as
we find it is safe to
unplug our ears
and uncover our eyes
and accept
Your Love.
*amen

© 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.