6.25.2010

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8), Year C


At KC, we talk a lot about Call.

We talk about being Called to ministries, Called to help others, Called to clean up, Called to lead a class, Called to be a part of a Care Group, etc.


In this week's lectionary readings, we see a couple of interesting examples of the Calls of different individuals sort of bumping up against one another.


In the story from 2 Kings we see Elijah and Elisha together right before Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven. In fact, Elijah apparently knows he has been Called to heaven and seems to be preparing for that. And so he wants to say his goodbyes to Elisha and leave in in one place so he (Elijah) can go ahead on his own. But it turns out Elisha is his own man of God and seems to have his own Calling in this scene. He essentially tells Elijah that he has been Called to not leave Elijah's side. Now this goes on and on and eventually Elijah literally goes up in a Blaze of Glory. But isn't it interesting to watch how two folks have to work their relationship out when they both feel Called to things that are a little contrary to one another?


What happens if you and I both feel Called to two different things that seem to point in different directions?


And then in Luke's account of the life of Jesus, we see that Jesus has been Called to head toward Jerusalem. In that journey toward Jerusalem we see that there were some Samaritans that did not feel Called to welcome him, which made the disciples feel Called to command fire to consume the Samaritans. Along the way, Jesus Calls a guy to follow him, but the guy feels Called to bury his father.

Can a person have competing Calls within him/herself? Is there a hierarchy of Calls? Do some Calls trump other Calls? Can we claim that a Call has been misinterpreted, or is that part of the discernment process?

All of this gets further complicated by our commitment to community. Especially when the community relies on Call to get things done. In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he talks about our common call to love one another. It would seem important then to consider our Call in light of that. How does our Call contribute to the world by providing love to another? And when our Calls collide, which inevitably they do, how do we adjust and respect one another.

The Psalmist weighs in as well. "I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me." How interesting that the Lord's counsel and the heart's instruction are two separate events.

Lord,
let me hear your word
and see the path you lay out for me.
And let me see the web of paths
Your Kingdom vision creates
for all of creation.
The composite view is breathtaking
and mighty.
My path is but one in many.
Help me be humble
but confident
as I step out toward Kingdom.
Amen.

6.18.2010

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7), Year C

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Psalm 42 and 43 •
Galatians 3:23-29 •
Luke 8:26-39


We're going to take the liberty this week of choosing the "First Reading," the one that follows a "continuous" reading of signficant events in the Hebrew scripture.

It is hard to know sometimes where our help comes from. Seriously. Remembering some early post-college days, there were months when meager paychecks just couldn't possibly cover the cost of living. And out of no where, a rebate from some distant purchase would show up...or a gift would arrive...or a friend would have a load of leftovers from a party. Or there are days when the weight of the world just rests on our shoulders and we are overcome by a sense of isolation, loss, impotence. And then someone calls or reaches out. Provision, safety, comfort, companionship. Sometimes, even when we don't ask for it, IT JUST SHOWS UP. Whatever IT is and however IT does it.

Now, it doesn't always work this way. And that is part of the mystery too. There isn't always a way out of the tight spot, a satisfying conclusion, salvation or deliverance. It's not universal, predictable or particularly just from our human view of things.

In 1 Kings, we continue with another tale from the life of Elijah. We're reading out of sequence here, so this story actually precedes the events of last week (Jezebel having Naboth stoned so that Ahab could acquire his land - she's pretty vicious!). Elijah has been effectively (albeit violently) routing false prophets and he is threatened by Jezebel. She must have been quite a force to be dealt with as Elijah flees into the wilderness (generally code for personal crisis in the Hebrew scripture). There he prays for his own demise - Lord, take me now. We imagine him falling asleep in a hopeless pile only to be awakened by an angel commanding him to eat. Out of no where he is fed. And then it happens again. And then he has strength for his journey to the mount of Horeb, where he speaks to God. He vents his frustration - he's been loyal. He's has exterminated the prophets of Baal and now he is alone and threatened and afraid. The Lord promises to pass by, but the Lord is not revealed in thurder or earthquake or fire, but instead in "sheer silence." This God isn't always revealed in mighty acts. Sometimes this God shows up in quiet and ordinary ways.

The psalmist, like Elijah in this story, is pleading for God to be revealed and present.

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he continues the exploration of the relationship between faith and works. He's freeing these people from what he has come to realize are the false boundaries of the Law, inviting them instead to rest in their belief and faith in the teachings of Jesus.

Finally in Luke's gospel, we read one of those memorable healing stories. A demon posessed man is confined to a miserable life among the tombs. This is a man turned out by his community. He was "untouchable" living among the tombs. And Jesus speaks to him, drives a "Legion" of demons out of him and into some nearby pigs who then run into the Sea of Galilee and drown. The townspeople, perhaps overwhelmed by the loss of livestock, drive Jesus out - less impressed by his action in driving out the demons and leaving one man clean than they are with the loss of pigs or so it would seem. The man who had the demons wants to follow Jesus and instead, Jesus sends him back to let the town know exactly what God had done for him through Jesus. It is sort of funny, in a way, that the community really didn't want to see or know more about what God had done (or what Jesus had done) in this situation. It was right there in big bold action and they turned away. And what about the possessed man? Had he asked for help or did it just happen to show up?

It is hard to be a human - to be stuck with need for rational explanations, to have fears and desires. For this week, we just hope that we recognize God when (and if) God shows up.

God,
in earthquakes
and fires
and wind
and silence,
help us be aware
and waiting
and wanting
and receiving.
But also
help us be aware
and poised
and ready
and giving.
Help us show up
to be your light
with others
as well as being aware
of your light
with ourselves.
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

6.11.2010

Third Sunday of Pentecost - Year C

[Time for a little refresher about how the lectionary works...and then some commentary about when it works beyond the plan. During "Ordinary Time" the lectionary provides two reading options for the Hebrew scripture. The "first readings" begin with Genesis in Year A and follow through in sort of chronological order through the major prophets in Year C. The "second readings" are intended to be thematically tied to the selected Gospel lesson for that week.]

All that said, there is a funny resonance this week among ALL of the readings from where we sit. (Admittedly, we sit in a fairly geeky spot relative to this stuff.) The readings all touch on what happens because of our human nature - what happens when we are tempted by power or greed or lust, when we just can't do what society deems "the right thing." And what happens between us and God because of our humanness.

Come on. You know you do it. You can't quite avoid passing on the latest news (gossip) about a member of your community. Your generous heart falters at the sight of yet another pan-handler at the intersection. The "right" way of getting something done doesn't seem to be working and you take matters into your own hands, perhaps greasing a palm here and there, perhaps even causing someone some discomfort or extra work. Let's face it, all of us reading this have social power we are able to use for evil over others--if you are reading this on a computer and using internet access to receive it, you have more than a lot of the rest of the world. We are human - with bumps and warts and temptation and greed.

But what happens when we recognize our humanness...when we give up trying to be perfect and recognize that God loves us through it all. Do we live out loud? Do we respond to the world differently? We (Matt and Laura) know that in our brokenness, we've discovered a greater ability to love and be loved, by God and the world.

The reading from 1 Kings provides some important history about the Land that God gave the Israelites. King Ahab observed that Naboth, a Jezreelite had some desirable land adjoining his own. He made some overtures to Naboth inquiring about purchasing the land. Naboth refuses. This is the Land that the LORD has granted his people. Now enters one of the more colorful characters - Jezebel assures King Ahab that she can get the land for him. So she basically conspires to have Naboth killed and then sends Ahab to claim the property. God sends Elijah to Ahab with a message - you took what isn't yours and you will suffer as a result. There are some funny human things going on in this story. What was Jezebel's motivation? She seemed to just want to do something nice for her man at some level. And did Ahab question how she accomplished the deed? Was he ok with her forging his signature on official documents? Did Jezebel have guilt? Notice what happens to Ahab...God says, "I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel". [On a literary note, does it make you read Moby Dick in a different way knowing what you know about the Captain's namesake?]

The psalm paired with this reading is probably intended to focus on how God makes things right, sets the evil-doer straight. But it is interesting to us that while it is a lament, there is also a petition - make straight my path. Yes, God. I can't navigate alone. Make my path a straight one, please.

The "second reading" is from Samuel - a story that we visited earlier in the year. David has had Uriah killed so that he might take Bathsheba legitimately as his wife. Hmm. Not unlike Jezebel, David's passion consumed him and he just did what he needed to do to get what he wanted. And here's the amazing human moment: Nathan tells a story about a rich traveler who steals a poor man's lamb because he does not want to use one of his own for a feast. David is aghast...but Nathan's word is simple. David, this is about you. Didn't you see it? Do you know what you just did? You just killed a man so that you could lay with his wife! And you have a whole bevvy of other women at your disposal. David knows he has sinned. And there will be a price to pay. However, notice that David's price is not quite as steep as Ahab's. The child of David and Bathsheba is killed....David is not 'cut off' from the rest of his offspring. Why do you think that is true?

The psalmist is giving thanks for God's presence and forgiveness. LIke the earlier psalm, there is an understanding the reliance on God is a necessity.

Now in Paul's letter to the Galatian church, he is exploring how we are justified. He's writing about the difference between the then predominant Jewish implementation of the Law - you were right with God when you followed the Law - and the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught that the letter of the law was less important than loving God and neighbor and acting out of that love at all times. It's easy to take the leap in the lectionary readings from Hebrew scripture to Gospels and Epistles and embrace a critique of the way things were, but in general, we believe there is more nuance than that in the contrast between these readings. Paul was shaped by the prophet Elijah and Nathan, by stories of Jezebel and David. He knew he had his own flaws and he knew that his connection to God through Jesus was what would save him.

Finally, in Luke's gospel we read about a woman who bathes Jesus' feet with her tears and her hair and then anoints them with valuable ointment. It is an act of bold hospitality and devotion under the nose of the Pharisee who had invited Jesus. The Pharisee is stunned at the act and asks Jesus why he is ok with this. Jesus spends time teaching about hospitality and forgiveness. Most striking perhaps is this: "But to the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Hmm. Our ability to love God and to love others and ourselves somehow relates to our very own sinfulness and our understanding that we are forgiven and beloved to God.

Jesus taught something new and radical - that God's love was there if we accepted it and when we did, everything could be different.

God, this self-reflective business is silly.
Why do I have to be aware of the
evil I perpetrate
and admit it
before I can be
forgiven?
Can't you just zap me a little
when I get out of line?
Like the dogs
with the invisible fence?
They have learned to respect the
warning beeps.
I would too.
And that would be so much
easier.
If I was just
prevented
from going astray
instead of having
to keep myself
in line.
I am not to be trusted
left on my own.
No matter now I try,
I sometimes find myself
on the other side
of the
line.
God forgive me
when I follow
the other voices.
Forgive me when
I plug my ears
to avoid hearing
your voice.
God forgive me.
Amen.

6.03.2010

Second Sunday after Pentecost - Year C

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) and Psalm 146 •
1 Kings 17:17-24 and Psalm 30 •
Galatians 1:11-24 •
Luke 7:11-17

Every day, not far from where you live, a parent sits at the bedside of a dying child.

Most of the time that is a lonely place, no matter who else is around. It is lonely and slow. Hospital time is slow time waiting at the bedside of someone you love. And that mother or father has lots of time to examine what it is that brought their family to this point where they are sitting at the bedside of their dying child. Lots of time.

Lots of time to wonder why this beautiful child is dying. No matter how much science and logic someone wants to apply to the situation, it does not make sense. However, we as humans have been trained to love our logic and so the parent constantly wonders why. And usually (not always) the thoughts turn to God.

Why would God let this happen?
Why would God do this to my child? to me?
Did I not go to church enough?
Have I not done enough good?
Is my child being punished for something I have done or not done?
Am I not a good enough parent?
Have I somehow failed and done this to my own child?
Is God trying to teach me something?
Do I not have enough faith?
Does God love me?

This is a horrendous place to be in. No one on earth is prepared to hear the news that their child might die, is going to die, or has died. And no matter now dire the circumstances, every parent holds on to every shred of hope (real or imagined) until the very end.

Now why is that? Why, even in the face of having been told by a variety of medical professionals that nothing can be done, would a parent still be able to generate hope that something might change? There are lots and lots of reasons. The primary reason is depth of love a parent has for a child. A parent never wants to believe it will be true that their child will die. And so, any treatment that is mentioned that might give even another day of life is considered and often tried. A parent never gives up hope.

And a parent who has any sort of Abrahamic faith (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) background also has some other stories floating around in their faith-based DNA reminding them that it would not be against precedent for God to intervene and heal their child. In this week's lectionary readings we see two stories of God using someone to give life back to someone who has died.

In 1 Kings we see Elijah sent to live in a new place where he meets a widow. After Elijah shows up the widow's food inexplicabably does not run out. And then, the woman's son gets deathly sick. Elijah takes the boy, prays over him, and the child is revived.

And then in Luke we see a brief scene where Jesus brings a guy (a widow's only son) back to life. The guy dies, Jesus sees the grief of the woman, he has compassion on her, and then brought the man back to life.

Even Paul's letter to the Galatians recounts a rather miraculous tale of Paul being chosen and plucked back from his righteous persecution of Christians. God's hand is somewhere in what seems an unlikely situation.

They are all miraculous stories by varying degrees.

Miracles.

A child dies (or almost dies) and is brought back to life.

A gift that is all but taken away is given back.

Here is where it gets difficult though. What about the kids that die....and don't come back? What about the families who find themselves launched in to an uncharted sea of grief? How do we reconcile these things? Does one have more faith than another? Does one somehow deserve it?

There is no easy answer for understanding the how and the why. In the story of Job or in the writing of Ecclesiastes, good things happen and bad things happen, and God goes on and on. Present. Aware. Emotional.
God,
in the midst of hurt
and bewilderment
and wilderness
it is hard to see You
to hear You
to taste You.
Clothed in our own
minds and hearts,
rational thinking and raw feeling,
it is hard to know
that You are God.
Remind us.
Hold us.
Be fully present
even as we wonder
at Your ways.
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