First Sunday in Advent, Year A

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

It is a dark season. The sun disappears late in the afternoon and even throughout the day, the quality of light is thin and cold. And we have not yet come to the shortest days.

In our shared life of faith, it is a season of waiting. We are moving toward a keystone in the Christian year, but first, the waiting is important. And the gathering darkness reminds us of the work to be done.

The season begins with just one candle, one small light in the darkness and with a vision of gathering light that lies ahead.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a time when Judah and Israel are gathered together, when many come together as one, and when swords have no purpose. This is a vision of Peace for many.

The psalmist, too, is singing a song about Peace that is hoped for. Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem is important for the greater good.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes to a waiting community. He encourages these people to stop waiting in the dark and instead to move toward light. Focus on the right things - not your material needs, not needs of the flesh. Not food, not sex, not fast cars or big TVs. What then, are the right things?

The passage from Matthew is troublesome. The idea of a thief in the night taking one and not another is hard for us to grasp. But remember that it is a dark season. And this is a warning to be watchful. It is important to note that Jesus uses the Flood story as an anchor and an example. We also know that after the flood, God made a promise that never would God's creation be destroyed again.

Our prayer is to be transformed. To join the gathering light. To be light. God-filled and overflowing with the abundant love of our creator, abundantly able to love creation and to generate more light, to spark light in others. 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.


Reign of Christ (Proper 29), Year C

Leadership is a pretty intense calling.

At some point in our lives, we are all called to take on a mantle of responsibility not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

Slow down and read that again.

We are called to take on a mantle of responsibility not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

Sometimes that leadership role is pretty obvious - we are parents or we are teachers or we are managers or we are group facilitators. Other times it is more elusive - we vote, we spend money, we make consumer choices. We lead by action, by intention and by example.

This is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, traditionally a time of recognizing the Kingship or Lordship of Christ. In Christ, God chose to take on the mantle of flesh and walk amidst the creation to set an example and show the way...to lead in a new direction and do a new thing.

The prophet Jeremiah points to an image that Jesus understood deeply and used in teaching - the shepherd. The prophet is delivering God's judgment on those called on to shepherd a flock. Over the course of Israel's history, God has provided a changing model of leadership - prophets and judges and kings. David was raised up as God's anointed and promised a secure family line of kings for the future. Here we have the voice of Jeremiah naming and shaming bad leadership while pointing to a day when God will again do a new thing, raise up a new shepherd. Jeremiah wrote from a time when the Kingdom was divided - when Jerusalem and Judah were grappling with neighboring powers for status and influence. God's chosen people didn't seem very attuned to God's leadership through the anointed lines.

Instead of a Psalm, we have a passage from Luke - It is Zechariah's prophecy, spoken as soon as his tongue is freed from the curse he encountered at doubting God, about what is about to unfold in the birth of John the Baptist and the revealed pregnancy of Mary. The story is pointing us toward a new idea of leadership, a new fulfillment of the covenant promises God made to Israel thousands of years earlier.

In Paul's letter to the Colossian church, he frames Christ as the "head" of a body. Now there is a leadership model that we can probably fully understand. But if we know the other ways the "body of Christ" is described in history, we also know that the body is less effective without hands, fingers, elbows, knees, feet and toes. While this passage doesn't quite go this far, it's not really a stretch to say that the head can't lead without the rest of the body.

Finally, there is sort of a chronologically offbeat selection from the Gospel of Luke. In the moments before Advent, we are called into the Easter story. Jesus is on the cross accompanied by other criminals. The crowd and one of the criminals is mocking Jesus, who's cross is labeled "King of the Jews." In some ways, this is a crowd that had hope for the new king they had long been promised. This is not the turn they expected and they are sorely disappointed. This king (Leader) has not achieved success by their understanding. (It's hard to accept that we might not really know how to measure "good" leadership, isn't it?) But Jesus seems to understand this state of confusion..."They do not know what they are doing." Indeed. How often that is the case as our expectation of leadership and the reality of leadership clash.

Leadership is an intense calling. It is not always an easy task. It is not always a rewarded task. It carries with it a weight that is not present for those who are led.

And even though these difficulties are true, sometimes we are called to take on the mantle of responsibility not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

God, I often am not sure I want to follow my own advice
much less to have others looking to me for direction.
I want to be a good leader for others
And I want to follow you
And sometimes those two don't match up.
Guide me as I try to understand how to

© 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.


Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28), Year C

What if we have it all wrong?

Not just "we" individuals. What if we, as an American society, have it all wrong?

What if power and wealth do not matter? What if the house you live in and the car you drive and the clothes you wear and the education you attain do not matter? What if the American dream is really a nightmare that is sucking the resources of creation dry? What if our economy is collapsing because of our greed? What if when you were baptized or what creed you say or what cross you wear does not matter?

And what if "we" individuals have to take a stand as we figure that out and comes to grips with it, no matter the social, political, economic, physical or spiritual price in order to set things right? What if the answer is not in a better health care system or a better tax base or a better educational mandate? What if the answer is not simple or easily discerned?

What if the best we can do is love God and love one another and wait for the answer to show up?

What if it all depends upon loving God and loving one another, no matter how counter-cultural that may be? And there is no other way...

The writings we know from the prophet Isaiah actually cover writings from at least three different circumstances. The first part of this week's selected text is actually written by the latest writer. It is written to a community who has returned from exile in Babylon to Judea, only to find that things aren't all that fantastic back in Judea. But like the first writer, the prophet reports a new promise from God on the horizon - a new heaven and a new earth. Instead of a Psalm response to this reading, we get another reading from Isaiah...ironically from the earliest writer - a hymn of praise for God's mercy and for perhaps undeserved salvation.

In the second letter to the church at Thessalonica, the writer is grappling again with dashed expectations. The first letter looks forward to Jesus' immanent return. But this letter seems to be a reminder that lots of things have to happen before that. It encourages patience and warns about false teachers. It seems to have been written in response to a sense that somebody got it wrong.

Finally, in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is suggesting that there will come a time when the temple crumbles, when everything is tossed into chaos by natural disaster and war and conflict and financial collapse. (Hmmm.) He suggests that there will be an opportunity for his followers to testify with their very lives. Jesus promises to give wisdom and words to respond. I wonder if people expected this to all come to be quickly - in months or years? Did they understand every word literally? Do we?

God has hung with creation through aeons of having it all wrong in myriad different ways. And God continues to show up. Are we watching, waiting, listening?

We raise our weary hands and hearts
and confess that we have had it all wrong
once again
and we need someone
to hit the rest button.