Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21), Year C

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 •
1 Timothy 6:6-19 •
Luke 16:19-31

Depending on how well you know us, this may or may not surprise you: we like having Things.

We enjoy Beautiful Things, Well Made Things, Amusing Things, Things that Provide Security, Things that Provide Sustenance, Frivolous Things, Things that Are Useful, Things that Sit on a Shelf, Big Things, Little Things, and on and on.

The world is full of Wonderful Things for us to possess. And if you were in our home, you would see that we do.

Possession is a tricky thing though. On the most consumeristic end of the spectrum folks believe that we should own any and everything we see--from shoes to forests--and we will make a space in our garage or off-site storage space to keep it. And then on the other end of the spectrum folks believe we should own very little if anything at all. Some orders of monks who sleep in a space that is not their own and wear clothes that are not their own borrow a bowl to acquire anything they might eat in a day.

It seems we all have a drive to possess things. Most of the time it comes from each of us discerning the Things we MUST have to survive, and owning those things and keeping them close. Of course, in our culture there is a pretty wide interpretation to the question of what is necessary to survive.

There is some personal satisfaction that comes from owning something. There is some healthy pride involved in working to earn enough money to buy something that keeps you alive and prospering.

This week's passage from Jeremiah finds Jeremiah in the middle of Jerusalem being seized by Babylon. And in the middle of this fight, surrounded by what we imagine to be high anxiety and stress, God instructs Jeremiah to conduct some Real Estate business. Jeremiah was to gather two land deeds together, and then preserve those deeds so that one day, when Israelites returned to Jerusalem "fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land." This was an issue of the preservation of a people and their history and their land an their Things.

Perhaps the psalmist is hinting at where we should put our faith and our effort? Perhaps the song is one that reminds us that God - not Things - is our comfort and our strength?

In the letter to Timothy we get a couple of popular phrases people use around money and possession of Things. "We brought nothing in to the world, so that we can take nothing out of it." and "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." In this passage the writer is encouraging his readers to appreciate the Things that are necessary for life, but to not put too much focus on the Things themselves.....use the Things as tools to help you focus your life on God and on doing good works for others. He is saying that Things are not evil themselves, but focusing too much on those Things will get you off track.

And in the Gospel of Luke, we read another troubling parable about a fine man dressed in purple and Lazarus, the man covered with sores lying at the fine man's gate. After they've both died, the fine man faces Abraham and asks why Lazarus seems so comfortable in the afterlife. He's told that he had his comfort in his earthly life...and now he's condemned to flames. Um....does that mean we have to suffer? Oh dear. Please say that isn't true. Surely there is middle ground.

We have laughed these past weeks about a couple of mishaps in our world. First, pantry moths invaded (INVADED) our stockpiles of flour and grits and oatmeal and beans and pasta (not once, but twice). Yuck. And then, one of our very full closet shelves fell (not once, but twice). And we wonder, is there some reality to the wrongness of having too much? Of storing too many Things. Are we lacking Faith that we will have what we Need when we Need it?

help me to remember
that I am loved
that I am sheltered
that I have hope.
And when I don't
have these Things
help me remember
that You are waiting
to hear my voice.

© 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.


17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20), Year C

* Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Psalm 79:1-9 •
* Amos 8:4-7 and Psalm 113 •
* 1 Timothy 2:1-7 •
* Luke 16:1-13

You are focused on the wrong things.

For the better part of our existence, this is a woeful understatement. Of course we (Matt & Laura) spend a decent amount of time focused on the wrong things. How about you?

Really - it's not a difficult reality to name and to look at. We can all look back on our lives and see spaces where we put all of our energy and all of our time in to exactly the wrong things. We know these things happen, but what do we DO about it?

This week the lectionary readings have us keenly aware of how often we are focused on the wrong things...things that do not matter...things that might provide some comfort, some pleasure, some measure of superiority. But do they make the world a better place? Do they call forward the Kingdom of God into this time and this place among those with whom we interact?

The passage from Jeremiah begins in a dark way. We spent some time really sorting through who was speaking here. We are hearing the divine God through the words of Jeremiah. God is sad and disappointed and weary and frustrated. It isn't often that we attribute these emotions to the Divine. But here, God has tended the people of Israel, he has saved them from captivity, he has set leaders before them time and time again. When judges and priests were not enough, the God of Israel raised up Kings, even though it supplanted God's sovereign power. Now the people are focused less and less on their relationship with God and more and more on their safety, their supremacy, and their political might. How frustrating that must be for the Creator and Liberator who has turned back to these people with mercy and grace time and time again.

In Luke, we are faced with very difficult parable about a wealthy man's business manager who is found lacking. When he realizes that he is going to lose his job, he goes out to the wealthy man's debtors and colludes with them to falsify what they truly owe, endearing himself to these people so that they might be kind to him later when he is without a job. It helps to read the parables and teachings surrounding this one. This parable follows on the heels of the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. And it precedes a teaching about the Kingdom of God in which Jesus tells the pharisees that while they justify themselves based on what others think, God knows their hearts and judges them accordingly. There is a warning among these stories...God knows God's creation and will seek after it. Does God know you? How will God find your heart?

1 Timothy is a letter to a community written before the early church sorted out its understanding of the Trinity - the relationship between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We were drawn to a few things here. In this translation, the author is pretty clear that Jesus is a mediator of God, the only one mediator, and a human. Let all of those things sink in. The author is also encouraging the community to pray for its Kings (occupying leaders like the Romans and Greeks? neighboring Kings?). So the passage begins encouraging a universalism of sorts - pray for everyone. Then it quickly limits the focus - there is only one mediator of the one God. Ouch. (Go ahead, read further...1 Timothy is also source text for many controversial teachings about women's roles in the church).

Lay all of these things beside one another and the result can be a baffling patchwork - if we're trying to make it all work together.
But that brings us back to our original thought. When we look at all the different things these passages aim toward, how do we know if we are focused on the right things?

God, we hear so many messages
and it is hard to know which one to
listen to.
Even beyond the average voices
that compete for our competition,
it is tough to know
which is the right thing to
focus on.
Guide us.
Help us discern.
Be with us as
we find our way.

© 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.


Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19), Year C

Preface: This week, we are sending this out late. No excuses. We
could have skipped, but this week's texts are just too meaningful for
us...touched places that are raw and reactive...there is too much here
for us to pass it by. And so, we're at the beach and this is sort of
worshipful engagement - finishing this up over muscadines, tidewater
peaches and a view of the water at Ocracoke Island. Recently, several
folks have asked how "we" (Laura & Matt) do "this" (co-author these
reflections). Generally speaking, we read the text, have a brief
conversation about what we took from the text, and then one of us
(Matt or Laura) writes out of that conversation and personal
meditation. Then the other takes it, tries to complete what was
started, and it's all ready for readers. It's not always that
seamless. But in general, it works. It enriches our lives and helps
us be mindful of how these stories shape our lives and how our lives
shape our understanding of these stories.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable
in your sight, O Lord, for you are my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm
19:14, paraphrased)

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Have you ever been the receiver of Mercy?

Have you ever been Forgiven?

Have you ever gone so far afield....done things SO wrong....been SO
off....ventured SO deeply into SUCH darkness that you felt you were

....and then....

you were loved again?

That does not make any sense, does it?

(For the record, Laura can't read these first few sentences without
crying. It is overwhelming and real.)

In the stories we find in scripture we see so many times where the
People of God egregiously transgress and God again and again reminds
them that they are the Loved Creation of God. To the worst offender,
the farthest outcast, the most lost sheep, Mercy is shown and
Forgiveness is offered. Sometimes the transgressor is seeking that
Mercy, and sometimes they are not. And still, time and time again,
God shows up...often in unexpected ways.

The passage from Jeremiah this week is DARK. It talks of devastation
and judgment and about a God who will not relent. And to those who
heard the prophet, this must have been scary indeed. Prophets were
called to name injustice, to envision and describe the results of the
communities action, to foretell destruction. Jeremiah lived in
precarious times - through many kings and the fall of Solomon's Temple
in Jerusalem. Israel has evolved to be much more than a band of
tribes living in covenant. There is great political wrangling among
various Kingdoms. Jeremiah is warning what this build up of power and
tension will bring. The tone and threat are repeated again and again
through the Hebrew scriptures, calling the faithful back to God.
There were lots of dark times in Israel's past. But even as bad times
continue to unfold, Yahweh did relent, time and time again as the
story goes on (right up to now!).

The Psalmist has shared this lived history of dark times followed by
light times. With this experience in the background, the prayer here
is for deliverance - for Mercy.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus shares two parables for the same teaching.
The first is about a Shepherd who, when losing just one of 100 sheep,
will go looking for the One that is Lost. Now we've talked about
sheep before. They are not bright. The are fully dependent upon
their shepherd. And really, 1 in 100 doesn't seem like a terrible
loss. But the shepherd will go looking...that is the shepherd's job.
And the woman with 10 pieces of silver loses one. The one that is
lost has no value until it is found. She goes to great lengths to
find that one lost piece of silver. It is a time of rejoicing - what
was lost is now found. Both parables leave us with questions (which
is what parables do, right?). Does the value of the 99 sheep or the 9
unlost coins change? Are they part of a greater whole that relies on
finding what is lost? What makes the shepherd or the woman go to such
lengths to find what is lost?

The letters of 1 and 2 Timothy are written to be read as if they were
written to Paul. They were probably written later than Paul was
writing and they were probably written at a time when early churches
were really struggling to understand who was teaching "truth,"
understandings of Jesus' life and ministry that were real and
undistorted (sounds familiar?). The writer is grateful to Jesus
Christ for the grace and mercy received through Jesus' life, ministry,
death and resurrection. The bulk of the rest of the letter is
instruction of how the church and its leadership should behave in
response to that Mercy and Grace.

And so we ask the "So what?" We are receivers of Mercy and Grace.
We've experienced being unlovable and finding ourselves loved. What
do we do with that?

It is not just God. Humans appear to have at least SOME capacity to
show Mercy and Forgive. Because we are Forgiven, we are called to be
vessels of Forgiveness. Because we have been shown Mercy, we are
compelled to be Merciful. Because we have experienced Grace, we are
inclined to be vessels of that same Grace extended to others.

Redeeming and Relenting God,
thank you for Grace
for Mercy
for Love where I feel unlovable.
Help me to turn
and embrace others
with your embrace.

© 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.


15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18), Year C

Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Is God in charge of All Of This (this world, our daily lives, etc)?

How much control do we have over All Of This?

We don't know about you, but we go back and forth about what we think and what we hope the answer is to these questions.

Because there are times when the ends of the spectrum of possibilities could be comforting. For example, if God is completely in charge of things (read here No Free Will) we would all be able to blame EVERYTHING on God....suspicious moles to hurricanes could all be put on the virtual shoulders of God.


If we are able to act and control things all on our own, then we could really be living out the American (Emersonian) Dream of Self Reliance. We would ultimately get exactly out of life that which we put in to it and that which we earn by the sweat of our own brows. The good and the bad would happen, and it would all be our responsibility-no one else to blame...no one to take the credit other than ourselves.

Our life experience and our reading of scripture tell us neither of these approaches are all that accurate.

This week we see God speaking to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. They are communicating through the image of a potter working at a potter's wheel. The potter was creating a vessel, it does not work out right, the potter breaks down the clay, and then he makes a new vessel. Now this analogy breaks down a bit because the clay does not have a choice in how it is misshapen in the first place or if it wants to try again. BUT God says to the people that since they have strayed (become a misshapen vessel), if they choose to turn from their evil God will reshape them in to God's people. The people have a choice in turning toward or away from God AND God will then exercise a choice to welcome or turn away from the people. It turns out there must be some sort of interactive relationship present here.

Psalm 139 is one of the greatest examples of a portrait portraying this intimate relationship. This does not speak too much to who is responsible for actions or how decisions are made, but it does point to a human who is ultimately aware of his/her connection to, and dependence on, God as his/her Creator.

In Paul's letter to Philemon we see Paul attempting to model the God / Human relationship. He is reaching out to a slave master named Philemon on behalf of a slave named Onesimus that he has befriended. This letter is modeling the same relationship we see set up in Jeremiah--Paul has chosen to put his faith in Philemon to ask for his help and then it is left up to Philemon to choose how he will respond. The other thing that is significant here is that Paul is appealing to Philemon's common faith in Jesus Christ as a base upon which they can build their relationship. It seems that in most relationships all sides play an important role in how things work out.

I the passage from the gospel of Luke we find Jesus sharing what seems to be some of his 'harshest' teachings. He is encouraging folks to think about themselves and what they might have to give up or sacrifice if they want to follow him. He uses the example of a builder estimating the cost of an entire building before beginning the project so he does not get halfway through and run out of money. Jesus is illustrating that we have a choice to begin something or not....and if we are not prepared to begin it, we should not!
In every situation, from individual relationships to cosmic relationships, all sides have some influence in how things get played out. Of course there are always consequences in all directions, but every time, we make our choice of how we will behave in the situation and then others get to make their choices.

There is a magnificent realization here. We are created for relationships. And we are created by relationships. And we create in relationship.

Here I am.
Thank you for hearing,
even when I don't like
the response.
Thanks for showing up.
Use me. Hear me.
And send me out
to hear and respond
to react and to love.

© 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.