5th Sunday in Easter, Year C

Acts 11:1-18 • Psalm 148 • Revelation 21:1-6 • John 13:31-35

What happens when the rules suddenly change? What if the lines you had become accustomed to were suddenly not there?
We don't know about you, but we sort of appreciate solid guidelines and rules. They help us know when we are doing things correctly and they help us know when we are doing things wrong. Rules and guidelines also help us to know who is with us and who is not with us. They help us know who / what we can judge as appropriate and who / what we can judge as inappropriate.

But what happens if a line gets moved? What happens if the rules suddenly change and behavior is different and you can no longer judge the people you used to judge?

In this week's lectionary readings we get a few examples of lines being moved and how folks have to re-examine or re-think their ways of behaving.

In John's Gospel, the resurrected Jesus is departing once again, and he commissions his followers with a new commandment - love one another - as I (Jesus) have loved you. On the surface, the commandment to "love one another" is part of the tradition of Jewish society. Jesus and his disciples would have been attentive to the widow and the orphan and the resident alien. But this is the resurrected Jesus - Jesus who died on a cross in the process of loving people regardless of their creed, their temple status, their race - suggesting to his disciples that this is the new standard. Be willing to die for those you love. And you are called to love one another. Can you imagine that slowly sinking in, amidst the grief and the awe and the hope? He is telling folks that are used to following lots of rules and lots of guidelines to dictate their behavior that the thing they should focus on is just loving one another.

In this week's passage from Acts we see a lot of lines being moved. Peter is faced not only with eating foods that were forbidden to eat according to Jewish dietary laws, but he is also faced with the reality that "God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." The things that were used to define Jews and also followers of Jesus (who at the time were mostly Jews) suddenly didn't apply. As given through a dream of Peter, the followers of Jesus could eat what they wanted with Jews as well as Gentiles. The circle is suddenly drawn wider than anyone could have imagined.

The psalmist shares praise for all of God's creative wonder. In particular, the psalmist credits God with the boundaries of creation - beyond which no one shall pass. Rules. Boundaries. Guidelines. Static limits in creation.

And then in the Revelation of John we see some fantastic line moving. In his vision John sees "a new heaven and a new earth" and a "new Jerusalem" where "death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more" where the one on the throne says "I am making all things new." Wow. How are we supposed to exist when lines get moved like that?

Who makes the rules? And what happens when they change? Suddenly? Gradually?

I chafe at the notion
that there are things that have dominion
over me - my powerful self.
But oh, I also like the comfort
of knowing who I am.
Knowing what is expected of me.
Knowing who is right
and who is wrong.
But you challenge me
with surprises I cannot fathom
that change the very road
as it passes below my wheels.
Give me faith
to rest in the shifting lanes,
with hands and heart
willing to do follow you.

© 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.


Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year C

Acts 9:36-43Psalm 23Revelation 7:9-17John 10:22-30

Sometimes it is tough to know what we are looking at.

Sometimes our experience and our context or our lack of experience and context all add up to a moment where we are staring dumbly at whatever is right in front of us.

Sometimes situations are overwhelming and we stare dumbly (like a sheep) and are unable to recognize what is going on or make a choice about what to do or where to go.

Sometimes it is hard for us to know what is right in front of us and we need someone to shepherd us and explain to us or reveal to us what it is we see.

In the passage from Acts this week, we get a snippet that is short on details. The short story is Peter brought a woman named Tabitha back to life. We don't know if the disciples who called him to come and visit them had any intention of Peter bringing her back to life. All we know is that the disciples were in distress and they called Peter to come and be with them and Peter prayed and he brought this woman...this disciple, Tabitha, back to life. Now, did Peter have the same response Jesus had when he told some others, "she is not dead, she is asleep"? We don't know. We do know that Peter arrived, sized up the situation, and knew that there was something available there that no one else saw as an option.

There are no new words to string together about Psalm 23. For us, the important reflection here is that sometimes we need to trust that God will guide us when we are blinded by all of the other things that are difficult in our lives.

In Revelation, those who have come through the trial - people of all nations and languages - are washed clean "in the blood of the Lamb." We wonder if their coming through trial must have included leaning on someone/something to guide them? The very language of the paschal lamb hearkens back to the Passover experience of the Hebrews who protected by the Lord through the plagues to be led out of slavery in Egypt by Moses (who, by the way, was a shepherd).

In the passage from the gospel of John we see Jesus being questioned by a group of folks near the temple. Essentially, they say 'Just tell us if you are the Messiah...we don't want to read between the lines.' And Jesus says, 'I am not going to do the work for you on this one. You can look at all I have done and listen to what I have said and draw your own conclusions. It is up to you to see what is in front of you.'

Part of our humanity includes fierce independence at times. Other times, it includes being clueless and stubborn (hmm...all three seem strangely related). Sometimes, we need a shepherd.

Gracious God,
Lamb of God,
I want to be right and I want to be strong
and I want to do it myself.
Willful. That's me.
But that willfullness
Leaves me scared and breathless
and needy and alone.
Shepherd me.
Be my shepherd.
In many ways
tend me and know my name.

© 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.


Third Sunday of Easter - Year C

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) Psalm 30 Revelation 5:11-14 John 21:1-19

The Voice of God? The Songs of Angels? Jesus Cooking Breakfast?

These are all images from the lectionary readings this week. And they are all pretty foreign...to us at least.

To have interaction this directly with God seems overwhelming from here. Even to have such interaction in a Dream or a Vision seems like something that only happens in stories about people that lived a long time ago in foreign lands.

There is plenty in the bible that we can relate to easily. People who make mistakes, people who are trying to figure life out, people praising God in the heavens, farmers, gardeners, money-changers, etc....there are plenty of things that are 'earthy' that we can handle and understand and grasp. But the Voice of God? That seems so far away.

And in the old Testament, people believed they would perish if they saw God's face. It would seem to us that glimpsing God and interacting so closely with God might be similarly risky. RIght? Annie Dillard asserts, "It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

Encounters with God change us somehow. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Moses became a leader. Saul became Paul. Peter became the rock on which the church was built. And it is among these interactions the lectionary wanders this week.

The passage from Acts recounts the story of Saul's conversion. As he is headed into Damascus to persecute those who followed Jesus, he hears Jesus speak to him. He's left blind and has to be led into the city by his fellow travelers. Somehow Jesus sends Ananias to heal Saul - to restore his sight. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Saul leaves the place changed...so changed that his very identity morphs - he is baptized and becomes Paul, who will go on to build communities of Christians throughout the Mediterranean.

The psalmist sings praise and thanksgiving for the Lord who has delivered her from Sheol. God has turned her mourning into dancing and her sackcloth into joy. Transformation with a capital T.

All of Revelation recounts a prophetic vision. This week's passage recounts the singing angels and a chorus of creatures on earth and in heaven. They are praising a new heaven and a new earth - a New Jerusalem....a Jerusalem without walls. The whole of creation is transformed by an encounter with God.

And finally, in the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus appears to his followers who are struggling to catch fish. There is so much going on here. Remember that Jesus called James and John from their nets to follow him. Now after the resurrection, Jesus appears to Simon Peter, Thomas and two other unnamed disciples who have gone out to fish. They are having no luck. We can sort imagine that fishing might have been an effort at normalcy given all they had just experienced. But then on shore appears a familiar sight and Jesus calls to them, instructing them to cast their nets on the other side. They bring up so many fish they can barely return to shore. Once there, Jesus has prepared a fire and beckons that they join him as he prepares their abundant catch. The disciples have now encountered the risen Christ three times. And this time, Jesus shares an intimate dialogue with Simon Peter, the same man who had denied him three times after leaving the last supper. Peter, do you love me? Lord, you know that I do. Feed my sheep. There is something transformational about that charge. It is almost a sending forth - an acknowledgment and in fact a challenge that it is ok to move forward and continue the work that Jesus began.

It's hard for us to relate to these transformational, life-altering, unbelievable experiences.

Or is it?

God, I often pray to be Transformed,
but I am not sure I am 100% for the idea.
I mean, will it hurt?
Will I still get to laugh at things on television?
Will I still get to sleep in a bed
in a home with conditioned air?
I pray that You will fill me,
but I have to admit I am really scared of the idea.
I don't know that I really am ready
to have less of me and more of You.
Certainly, in theory, I like the idea;
but I am just getting used to
the way things are now.
I want to follow You.
I want to serve You.
I want to do your work in this world.
And I am scared of changing my name.

© 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.


Resurrection of the Lord, Year C

Isaiah 65:17-25 • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • Acts 10:34-43 • Luke 24:1-12

We had the amazing experience this week of being invited to join a Rabbi and his family for the second Seder of this year's Passover celebration. It was a fantastic evening of tradition and fellowship and food. And most memorably, it was a remembrance of God's activity in the world. For many Jews, Passover is a time of remembering God's dramatic presence and movement in their lives and in the lives of their ancestors, generation after generation. We were mindful of the intersection of Passover with Holy Week - Jesus was entering Jerusalem to observe the Passover. He was engaging in the same act of remembrance and expectancy 2000 years ago.

Through Lent and Easter, we get really focused on the life ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ. Most Christians do confess that Christ's ministry changed (in some way) our relationship to God, at the very least adding an element of that relationship through the real availability of Jesus. And we (Laura and Matt) are really pondering whether somehow in that process, our relationship to God has changed from what the Jews understood it to be. Or perhaps our willingness to be aware of that presence has changed?

Hmmm. Is God still an active presence, still moving in the world? Or was his activity in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus his last dramatic presence and movement?

Now this can be a slippery slope. You've probably had the conversation with someone saying, "I just don't understand how God (or Jesus) could do this to me. What have I done to deserve this?" Or "I am good with Jesus. It's going to be ok." Or "It's in God's hands." Following our own longing logic we can be quick to say that if God is moving and active in the world it might mean that God uses those actions in judgment and intent.

If we have a personal relationship with Jesus, how does that impact how the world works? Does it impact how we see the world? It's enough to make our heads spin.

And what, you ask, does all of this have to do with Easter? With the Resurrection? With an Empty Tomb?

The prophet Isaiah is relaying God's vision for a new heaven and a new earth to the Jews who (have/are/will) return to Jerusalem after a grueling exile that lasts for generations. Now this vision of restoration mirrors the experience of the Hebrews as they fled before the Egyptians toward the Red Sea. But look at the amazing things that are promised - no weeping and crying, an end to infant mortality, long and fruitful life, a responsive God, a blessed life. Why do we read this text on Easter Sunday as Christians? Well, as Christians with the benefit of reading the whole story we often view Jesus as the fulfillment of these promises. Hmm. Our Jewish hosts look to this same scripture as a promise that exists and is in some ways fulfilled in every generation.

The psalmist is praising God who has been "steadfast" and whose love "endures forever." There is reference in this psalm to bad things that have happened (punishments) and a request that the "gates of righteousness" be entered. There is also acknowledgment of promises fulfilled in this psalm, as the stone rejected has become the cornerstone. We read this text on Easter Sunday because in the gospels Jesus actually points to this notion of the stone that was rejected becoming the cornerstone and tells folks to be careful in the judgment. Well...does that mean that this too is potentially an expectation that has the potential to be fulfilled in every generation?

The writer of Acts gives us the story of Peter preaching and it is obvious Peter is also attempting to work out what Jesus has to do with human's relationship to God. He is illustrating how the relationship is different and the role Jesus played in the process of that relationship changing. Peter is saying something that Jews of that day were not saying--God shows no partiality. And that message was new starting with John the Baptizer, leading to Jesus's teachings and death and resurrection. Because of John, Because of Jesus, the relationship of God to the world is different.

And in the passage from Luke we don't actually see Jesus on that first Easter morning. We really don't even have any good or direct commentary about how the relationship with God might be different. What we do see is several people who actually had a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ...people who had laughed and eaten with him, people who had literally sat at his feet and learned from him, people who had deserted him, and people who at that moment were desperately mourning him. These people who hugged him and then cried as he died found themselves finding an empty tomb. And it was in that moment that they began to process and understand how their relationship with God had dramatically changed.

Is God still an active presence, still moving in the world? Or was his activity in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus his last dramatic presence and movement? If we have a personal relationship with Jesus, how does that impact how the world works? Does it impact how we see the world?

We want to be awed by your power
and see it every day:
traveling mercies
shed skin
And we want to be shocked at times
by the unimaginable:
water turned to wine
safe passage
empty tombs.

© 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.