8.19.2010

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16), Year C

Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Psalm 71:1-6
Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

True confession time.

Writing these reflections each week is tough. Sometimes it is a grind. When we started almost three years ago, we were enthusiastic...we looked weeks ahead. We were often done by Sunday afternoon the week prior. We had robust conversations over the texts at dinner, on walks, before we dozed off. But slowly, life slipped in and it has gotten progressively more difficult to sit down each week and make time for really thinking about how the text speaks to us. Somewhere about Advent during this Year C, we both thought about quitting. But we'd been at it for two years and we wanted to see the three year cycle through to completion.

This summer it has been super hard. Oh, you've noticed. Sometimes you don't get a reflection until Friday! Not so much time for YOU to reflect then, is there? Sometimes you don't get a reflection at all! After our week of vacation, we couldn't muster the strength or discipline for facing the text. We called it a second week of vacation.

But if you've been watching the text over the past several weeks, you also know that we are moving into the calls experienced by the prophets. Somehow, these texts are speaking right to the struggle we're having today with this discipline of writing each week about the text. And in some ways, it is this struggle with call that brings us back each week. And probably for another full three-year lectionary cycle. You see, we feel pretty strongly called to engage these texts from different points in our life. And starting in Advent, we'll be back in Year A - and life for us has changed SIGNIFICANTLY in that time. We've both moved, at least twice. We've changed jobs. We've bought a house and a car. We've gotten married. We've vacationed with the kids as a real family. So there is a pretty good chance that we're bringing new life experience in the Kingdom to these readings for another three years.

So let's dive into the text that helps us recognize that.

The text from Jeremiah is a call story. God calls to Jeremiah and Jeremiah protests that he lacks experience and sophistication to do what he's being asked to do. Now, perhaps you have this experience. God doesn't very easily take NO for an answer once God's called you. Whatever you are called to has this way of continuing to surface. God takes a pretty active role in Jeremiah's decision. Jeremiah tells of the Lord reaching out and touching his mouth...literally putting God's words there for Jeremiah to speak. God goes on to make it very clear that Jeremiah is charged with great responsibility - "I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, and to build and to plant." In some ways, Jeremiah is being called to be part of a new creation.

The accompanying Psalm praises God for protection since birth, and pairs well with the Lord's words to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you..."

Throughout Isaiah 58, the prophet calls the Israelites to authentic service to God rather than ritual. Essentially, the promise is of the Lord's guidance if only we will feed the hungry and tend to the needy. If you look at the prophecy closely, not only does the prophet promise God's protection, but also the restoration of Israel. Responding to our various calls makes the world a better place - but imagine it being even better than better. Better than what we currently envision as "good." Kingdom on earth as in heaven, perhaps.

The accompanying Psalm is a praise Psalm that includes an often quoted revelation about how the psalmist understood God...the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Now we've read a lot of Hebrew scripture this summer in which God seems pretty angry. But true to the covenant with the Israelites, the Lord keeps returning to them...and expects the people to keep returning to God. Is God patient with our failed recognition or acceptance of the things God calls us too? Given our tendency toward procrastination or cluelessness at times, we sure hope so!

The reading from Hebrews continues from reflections of the faithfulness of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Sarah, Rahab and many other Israelite "heroes" toward an encouragement to recognize the gift that we receive in God's grace. Christians refer to Jesus' death and resurrection as a sign of a new covenant relationship with God. As in days of old, we are called to keep returning to relationship with God. Life changes. We stumble and stray and make mistakes. But we can return. If we miss a call, perhaps another will surface. God loves us. And it would seem God waits for us. But in recognition of that, this letter encourages the community to give thanks with reverence and awe.

Finally, in Luke's gospel, we read about Jesus healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath. This isn't the first time he's found himself caught up in a controversy with the religious leaders about what he should or should not be doing on the Sabbath. Do you ever find yourself in that spot where there are layers of rules, and what you feel is the right thing to do really is forbidden or not generally acceptable? It sort of reminds us of the conversation we had at KC recently about how to serve our homeless brothers and sisters. I mean, there are social workers telling us not to give the homeless person on the corner money. And sometimes, a few dollars in their pocket will really make the difference. There are all of these shades of gray. Call feels that way sometimes, too. Recently, we've felt pretty called to speak out against the anger and controversy brewing over the construction of a Muslim community center near the site of the World Trade Center attack. There are people who will tell us that by supporting our fellow Muslim citizens in their quest for a community center that we are being insensitive to the families who lost loved ones there. It seems like a personal no-win situation. And sometimes we're called into sticky spots like that. But it's hard to listen when it isn't comfortable. Ugh.

And so...on this journey for us through "Proper 16," it feels all about call. We feel called. It's not always really clear. It's not always really easy. We don't always feel well-equipped. But if we're faithful, we know that God is with us, right? That maybe in our faithful response, we shed a little light on the Kingdom, right?

God,
put your words
into my mouth
that I may speak
your Kingdom
into being...
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.

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