12.31.2011

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS DAY Year B

In the realm of giving and receiving gifts, there is a particular moment that some people are good at and some are not.

Gratitude.

You have just received a special gift and now you are in the position of finding some way of attempting to express how grateful you are.

Obviously, the depth and expression of gratitude correlates with the gift. AND the depth and expression of gratitude also correlates with the life experience and understanding of the receiver.

Often, the more one understands the circumstances of a gift (what the giver may have had to sacrifice to give the gift and how this gift might change the receiver's life), the more one is able to express gratitude.

This week we see examples of people who were expressing deep gratitude for life-changing gifts.

In the passage from Isaiah we are seeing the words of a prophet that is excited because he has been given the gift, opportunity, and challenge of proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor to the people of Israel. He is overflowing with excitement for the chance he has to tell of all the great things The Lord has promised to do for the people.

In Psalm 148 we see another classic example of exuberant praise and gratitude. This writer is so grateful for what he sees God has done in his life and in the world that he is encouraging everyone (all the way down to the sea monsters) to praise God.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia, we see Paul offering some direct explanation of how / why they should be grateful: "Because you are his heirs, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."  So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir." Paul wants to make sure they see and understand the place they were and the place they are.

And in the second chapter of the Good News according to Luke, we see one of the most beautiful expressions of gratitude. It is a passage that has become popularly known as the Song of Simeon. In this scene Mary and Joseph have taken baby Jesus to the temple. According to Jewish custom, it was the time for the purification of the parents of a newborn, and it was also the time when Jesus would be circumcised  "as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord". And while they were there a devout and righteous man named Simeon arrived. Simeon was a special guy. "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah." When he met the baby Jesus, these words flowed from his mouth: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."   

Gratitude.

How do you, how do we say or show we are grateful for an almost incomprehensible gift?

God, guide us as we attempt
to Thank You
with our lives.
Each day, 
each moment,
may we show gratitude
with our 
words
actions
thoughts
relationships
interactions
foul-ups
successes
bright spots
dark holes
conscious choices
unconscious reactions
(and on and on and on)
.....God,
we are grateful.
Please be patient with us
as we attempt to express it
with all we are.
Amen.

© matt norvell 2011 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

12.23.2011

NATIVITY OF THE LORD - PROPER I Year B

Isaiah 9:2-7 • Psalm 96 • Titus 2:11-14 • Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)


What is the best news you have ever received?

Let's think about it for a minute.....Good News.

What made it so good? What was different between the moment before and the moment after?

The moment you learned you were going to have a child? A grandchild? The moment you learned about a new job? The time the mechanic said your car wouldn't start because of a broken $5 part rather than a $1000 repair? The moment you learned the pain in your side was not cancer?

In many instances that I can think of, Good News often brings with it the promise of a brighter or better future. Good News brings hope. Good News improves a situation that is already pretty good. Good News brings light in to dark situations. Good News helps people move forward another day. Good News gives the future a future where maybe there was no future before.

In Isaiah we see Israelites who are excited about the reign of a new king. This passage refers to King Hezekiah coming to be the ruler of Israel. Often any new King was greeted with exuberance and excitement. And obviously his ascent to the throne brought with it some hope for how the future might be better than it is today.

The writer of Psalm 96 seems to be living with some Good News. His opening line is "sing to the Lord a new song". He has a motivation sing a new song because he has hope of a bright future loved and protected by a strong God.

In this passage of Paul's letter to Titus (one of Paul's early missionary companions) there is a lightness present. There is an optimism about the future based on the grace and salvation (for all) brought in to the world through the appearance and presence of Jesus Christ. The message is hopeful toward the future.

And when we look specifically at the passage found in Luke chapter 2, we see the primary recipients of Good News are the shepherds. Jesus is born and the first people to get the news (other than mom and dad and their stable mates) are shepherds. Now the life of a shepherd around Bethlehem was likely not that easy. They were essentially nomadic ranchers who were likely under the same Roman oppression as everyone else at the time. And the little town is not surrounded by flat land with lush fields of grass...it is rocky and hilly and likely took significant effort to feed sheep. And they were the first ones to get the Good News: "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."

Imagine the effect this Good News might have had on them. Imagine what sort of a vision of the future might have opened up for them on the side of that hill that night.

As we prepare to remember the birth of Jesus of Nazareth,
May the futures of all people be filled with the hope and promise of Good News.
May you live today in a way that helps to make the Kingdom present here today.
May all beings be filled with the Grace and Peace of God.


© matt norvell 2011 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.

12.16.2011

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT Year B

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 • Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 • Romans 16:25-27 • Luke 1:26-38

I don't know about you all, but it is difficult for me to pay attention to news right now. Sure, this can be a hard exercise at many times of the year, but for me it is a particularly trying right now because we are in political primary season AND we are in the Christmas season.

As I watch all of these well-intentioned people attempting to become the Republican Candidate, it seems like a child's class room with all of the students eagerly raising their hands hoping to be chosen to lead the class out to the playground. It is tough to watch all of these folks and their spokespeople clamoring to be at the head of the line because they expend so much effort hiding their own cowlicks and pimples while throwing elbows and drawing mustaches on their opponents.

As I read the scriptures that tell the Christmas story, I see people who are Chosen without volunteering or advocating for themselves. I see people that God selects. And I see people that thoughtfully (sometimes with some doubt) choose to accept their assignment.

It seems we are caught in between knowing we are Chosen and loved by God just as we are, and working so hard to gain God's favor by our own efforts. There is a distance between being Chosen and working to be noticed.

It is interesting to watch the story of David and his rise to becoming King and all that happens during his reign. He is initially Chosen by God, and then in this scene he gets a bit prideful and tells God he would like to build God a house, and God reminds David that God will be in charge of his own house AND will also remain in charge of the people of Israel AND of their King (David). And David's story goes on and on from here. Back and forth. Remembering he is loved and Chosen by God just as he is, and then trying so hard to gain God's favor. Back and forth.

Psalm 89 is a poetic retelling of God's choosing David. Historically, it seems important (even within our own political struggles) to note that in every time and every land every leader is criticized and every leader and candidate is marked as Chosen by God by somebody.

The passage we have from Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome is the end of his letter. It is a final blessing to he readers. It is a final exhortation to them as he closes this letter of counsel and instruction. And in this closing he is recounting things he wants to make sure people remember. It is a little difficult to read, but if you know the back stories that led to this point, it has several references to people who were Chosen. He refers to himself (Paul) who was dramatically Chosen, and it refers to Jesus, who was significantly chosen.

And in the passage from the first chapter of the gospel of Luke, we see two more great examples of someone Being Chosen. We see the stories of both Mary and Elizabeth learning they are Chosen to be the mothers of Jesus and a baby named John. Imagine what it would have been like if Mary had run for the office of Mother of The Son of God...what would that have been like? What if she had worked and worked to be noticed? There is a great distance between being chosen and working to be noticed.

God, help us to allow ourselves
to be your Chosen people.
Help us to know we cannot
earn Your love
and guide us
as we
allow it.
Amen.

© matt norvell 2011 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.

12.09.2011

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT Year B

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 • Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55 • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 • John 1:6-8, 19-28

There are some days when everything is obviously going your way.

You wake up a minute before your alarm so you don't have to be shaken from sleep, you remembered to wash the coffee pot before you went to bed last night, you get to your desk and there is only one email in your inbox and it is from someone thanking you for being you, it turns out today is a day when you are able to get a free lunch while listening to a presentation about beautiful art, the letter carrier brings you news that your investments are on the rise, a friend invites you over for dinner, and your favorite song is playing on the radio as you brush your teeth to prepare for bed.

Some days, things really go our way....AND we are lucky enough to be aware of what is happening.

In contrast to some of the other messages of woe we have read in the last few weeks, this week's lectionary readings show us some words from folks whose stars are on the rise.

The passage from Isaiah is all positive. Here the writer certainly understands the difficulty of the current situation, but he can see how things are going to be Great. He can see it and can describe it in detail. "Good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners..."! The old will be made new again, and the people of God will be restored. This is a message that brings life to a people who are living in darkness.

The writer of Psalm 126 gives us a perfect opening line: "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream." This is a psalm of a people who have been restored and are now giggling from morning to night because they know what it is like to be without and they now know what it is like to be restored.

The passage from John is similar to last week's gospel text. We again see people questioning Saint John the Forerunner as to what he is doing and by whose authority he is baptizing people. And at the end of this passage I imagine John having to stifle his joy and having a bit of a grin on his face as he says "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." John knew that better days were coming.

And in this week's selection from the first letter of Paul to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica, Paul gives some great (and direct) instruction to his readers. He is teaching them how to live so that they will be able to experience the same joy he experienced. He is offering them a blessing and praying that they will find themselves in the Light of God.

Some days it all goes our way.

God we are grateful for the lives we are able to live.
We are grateful for the sunrise.
We are grateful for our heartbeat.
We are grateful for the morning frost.
We are grateful for our breath.
We are grateful to know that even in
Darkness,
We are Yours.
We are grateful to know that even in
Light,
We are Yours.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

12.02.2011

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT Year B

Isaiah 40:1-11 • Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 • 2 Peter 3:8-15a • Mark 1:1-8

Expectation and Anticipation.

We can optimistically and hopefully expect, or anticipate, something. We can also expect, or anticipate, something with dread.

Looking forward to the future.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The season of Advent is traditionally charged with Anticipation and Expectation. And when we look at this week's scriptures we can see these themes present--sometimes with great hope and excitement, and sometimes with some dread and trepidation.

The passage from Isaiah is so beautiful. This is being spoken to a broken people who have been held down in a variety of ways by a variety of people. And these words of God, shared by the Prophet Isaiah, are so uplifting and encouraging. It really must have given its hearers a lot of optimistic anticipation.

The passage from Psalm 85 is similar. And in both of these passages there is this forward looking expectation that God will continue to be faithful to them and bring the people out of their difficult situations and continue to protect them and hold them up.

The passages from 2 Peter and Mark are similar in their optimistic anticipation, however they are also heavy with some negative, or at the least uncertain, images.

In this passage from the beginning of Mark there is not as much of a beautiful image of an ideal future as there is the anticipation of a coming Lord. Saint John the Forerunner is baptizing people in preparation for the coming of this Lord, and in this particular passage all the information we get about him is that he is powerful and will baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Now, I can imagine this was encouraging and welcome to some, but it seems like this is a message that could go either way as far as being encouraging. News of a coming powerful Lord planning to baptize me with the Holy Spirit does not always give me something to look forward to.

In the second letter of Peter we get a message of how God will come and set the heavens ablaze and dissolve them and replace them with a new heaven and a new earth, etc. Violent, world-changing, reality-changing imagery. And, certainly, that could be positive especially for those who are desperate for things to change. But what about those folks who are reasonably pleased with how things are right now?

Honestly, there are days we eagerly anticipate things dramatically changing. And there are days we are hesitant for anything to be different because things seem pretty good right now. However, we are also aware that there are always those for whom dramatic change is the only good option.

The coming of the Lord who will bring change to individuals and to the world is not always an exciting thing to anticipate...however, we are promised it has come and is coming. How do we live in this space of the already and the not yet?

God, we are not certain which voice to listen to.
We hear Yours
We hear Your promises
We hear Your call
And
We hear the call of the world around us
We hear the world's promises
We hear our own desires
And we don't always know which voice to listen to.
Guide us.
Be gentle with us.
Be forceful with us.
Help us as we attempt to follow You.
Amen.

11.25.2011

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT Year B November 27, 2011

Isaiah 64:1-9 • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 • 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 • Mark 13:24-37


Some folks reading this know what it is like to beg for your life.

Some of us have been faced with dark circumstances or dire situations that we thought we might not survive, and we pleaded with Whomever might listen so we might be spared and live on to see another day.

The people of Israel were desperate for their circumstances to be different. In this passage from Isaiah, we see people who are scared for their lives and are calling for help. They are describing what a dire situation they are in, and we see them pleading with God to reach down and please do something to relieve their suffering and make it different.

In Psalm 80 we see another petitioner who is searching his own experience and mind to understand what might have gone wrong to create this current circumstance. And we see another (similar to Isaiah) desperate plea for God to reach down and intervene and change the difficult circumstance.

At the end of both the Isaiah and Psalm passages there is even some deal making going on in an attempt to add incentive the request to God: O God, if you save us, we will never turn our backs on you again.

These were people who were afraid the history of their people was about to end. They were facing the possibility the people of Israel might cease to exist, and they were desperate to find a way to turn it around and make it different.

We traditionally read these passages here on this first Sunday of the Advent season and we look at them as a People, a Nation, calling for the Messiah to come. The children of Israel had been through so much and had the relationship history with God that they were calling on God to send a Saviour, a Messiah, that would restore them as a people. The hope and expectation was that, at a minimum, they would be brought back out from under the oppression of other people; and, at a maximum, they would be restored to a place of prominence culturally, nationally, and religiously.

And so then Jesus enters the scene. Good news, right? Problem solved, right?

At the end of the gospel of Mark we get these less than encouraging words from Jesus. This is after he has done miracles and taught and led disciples, and it is just before he is betrayed, killed, and brought back from death. And in this important time Jesus himself is talking about what it will be like when the Messiah comes.

Huh?

Jesus is telling them about the End Times that are to come (future tense) and the Son of Man / Messiah that is to come (future tense). He is still continuing the hopeful message that a Messiah will come and restore the right order to the world and the 'correct' position to the people of Israel. He is offering Hope and Promise...and he is encouraging Faithfulness and Awareness...and he is saying that all is still to come.

This doesn't seem like a really satisfying answer to folks who are looking for visible, concrete change.

And in the passage we have from Paul's first letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth, we see the message has evolved a bit. Paul is talking about the work of Jesus in a "Both - And" sort of way. He talks about the ways the work and message of Jesus that they have all received is there to continually encourage them as they strive to be faithful followers today; AND he talks about how they are doing this so they will be prepared and 'blameless' on the 'day of our Lord Jesus Christ (future tense).

Both Jesus and Paul and working with people who are still desperate for a new way of life. Their listeners and readers are on the low end of society and are hoping for a social and a spiritual revolution. Jesus offered such a message with his teaching and Paul reemphasized it with his teaching and guidance. BUT (or should we say AND?) they are both still looking ahead and pointing toward a change that is still yet to come.

Where do you look when faced with dark circumstances or dire situations? What sort of an answer are you hoping for? What sort of intervention are you expecting?

God, help us to see the short and long view.
We are so desperate to get away from
the pain of this moment.
We are afraid of the current circumstance.
We need to be saved.
We need to be assured.
We need to know there is Hope.
And we need to have our
Vision of Hope
our realm of expectations
our list of possible answers
loosened and expanded.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

11.04.2011

Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Joshua 24: 1 - 3a, 14 - 25
Psalm 78: 1 - 7
1 Thessalonians 4: 13 - 18
Matthew 25: 1 - 13

Think back on your commitments - on the big promises you've made in your life. What motivated you to make those commitments? Ambition? Fear? A promise of something? Reward?

Here on the brink of the KC commitment retreat, we can't help but read this week's text through the lens of commitment. How do our motivations affect our commitments? What do we expect to happen to our commitments? Do our past commitments affect those we make going forward? In the KC community, we reconsider our commitments annually. Are their other places we should/shouldn't do that in our lives?

Hmm.

Joshua addresses the gathered Israelites in a farewell address. They are in the Land, and Joshua is challenging them to renew their covenant to One God, Yahweh. Joshua knows the hearts of these people well, they've been through a lot together. And so he's not looking for an easy promise. He challenges them, reminding them of their faithlessness. He warns them that God is a jealous God who will not tolerate their infidelities. But they insist - they will serve only God. We sort of wonder if Joshua walked away shaking his head, knowing that the commitments they made were beyond their human capacity.

The psalmist reflects on promises the Israelites have made to look to the past and tell future generations about the covenants made and returned to time and again between God and God's chosen people.

The parable of the 10 bridegrooms can be a little daunting. Jesus is teaching about end times and encouraging the gathered to wait with readiness. A coming of end times was a prevalent belief in Jesus' time. He was foretelling a thing foretold by prophets for hundreds of years. For this week, we're tuned into his warning to be ready. Ready for what? And how do we commit to being ready? Do we assure that we're not left trimming our wick without a bridegroom by making some special commitment? It kind of feels like we've heard it interpreted that way - turn or burn sort of stuff, you know.

In Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica, he's addressing the community's grief over those who have died before Jesus' return. Like many of Paul's letters, he's encouraging the community to care for one another in uncertain times. He's also addressing God's commitment to believers, assuring them that they need not fear being separated from their earlier departed loved ones - all of them will be gathered up into the clouds at the appointed hour. Paul interprets that as a commitment that Jesus made in some way. How does the commitment of Jesus differ from our commitments to the world?

God, save us from making
Commitments we don't intend to keep.
Save us from making
Commitments out of fear.
Save us from making
Commitments out of personal ambition.
Help us to
(as best we can)
be pure with our intentions
be pure with our commitments.
Help us as we attempt to
Commit whatever portion of our lives
we are able to Commit
to You.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

10.21.2011

PROPER 25 (30) Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year A

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 • Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and Psalm 1 • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 • Matthew 22:34-46

This may sound silly and obvious to you, but we will say it anyway: Our (yours and ours) current Story is a part of a Bigger Story.

Now we are not necessarily saying we are all a part of One Bigger Story....some would argue we are all a part of a Bigger-Uber-Meta-Narrative...and while that may be true, that is not what we are poking around at today.

Each of us have a Story we came from. Even those of us who never met our parents or those of us who do not talk to our family or those of us whose country of origin is elsewhere or those of us who have no idea where we came from--even a lack of Story is a Story....your Story is that you do not know what your Story is.

And we tell our Stories. Our Stories are how we identify who we are. As we tell our Stories (the good and the bad) we are processing where we have come from, who we are, how life has shaped us, and where we might be going.

It is the telling of our Story that helps us to integrate our current experience (our current Story) in to the Bigger Story.

And when we examine the world of the Hebrews and the world of early Christianity we see again and again the ways folks were remembering their Stories and telling them again to connect them both to those they came from and to those that were coming behind them. Constantly in scripture we see people working to connect their current Story to their Bigger Story.

Look at this week's passage from Deuternonomy. The connection of the current Story to the Bigger Story is as easy as the sentence, "the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Here God is talking to Moses and telling him that the land Moses is looking at is the land God had been promising the Israelites for generations. And every time in scripture the trio of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are invoked, it is a reference to the Bigger Story of the people of Israel.

Just about every one of the Psalms are a connection of the current Story to the Bigger Story. So many of them are directly historical and the rest of them are poetry recounting where the people had come from and the variety of things folks had been through to get there. Look at the opening line of Psalm 90: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." And then the writer goes on to recount the Bigger Story and then ties it to his or her current Story.

In the letters of Paul we see him continuously working to place his current Story in the context of his Bigger Story and the Bigger Story of the Jews and the Bigger Story of the followers of Jesus and the Bigger Story of the development of the history of God. Paul was a part of a society that valued its connection to ancestors and past leaders. He was always working to show that his / their current Story was really a development and extension and re-writing of a Bigger Story that already existed.

Jesus also was living in a world where making the connection to those that had gone before was vital to having credibility in the current moment. Look at this passage from Matthew 22. The people who are questioning him (Keepers of The Story) were asking him about his understanding and connection to the Bigger Story of the history of the children of Israel. He answered their questions and then asked his own question of them. He wanted to know what their understanding of how their current Story fit in with the Bigger Story. Specifically he wanted to see how they understood the Bigger Story of the Messiah as a part of their current Story.

It is important for all of us to tell our Stories. It is important for us to work to figure out and remember the Bigger Stories we are a part of and how we fit in to them. Telling our Stories gives us the chance to integrate our current experience and understand where we fit in to the Bigger Story.

God, guide us as we discover our place.
Guide us as we look back and connect our dots.
Guide us as we leave signs and markers for those who come behind us.
Guide us as we remember where we have come from.
Guide us as we courageously live in to our Story every day.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

9.23.2011

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21), Year A

Authority is a slippery thing.

We almost said Authority and Power are slippery things, but that is too much to think about at once.

This week many folks in this country have openly struggled with (or firmly stood on one side or the other) the question of a judicial system having the Authority to kill a man who may or may not have taken the Authority upon himself to kill another man several years ago. And so many questioned the Authority of local Georgia courts, they questioned the Authority of federal courts, and on and on.

We are all under many levels of Authority. Some we choose, some are chosen for us, some are given to us, some are imposed on us.

But it seems we have always had a notion as humans that we can question Authority.

Even those of us who are obviously not as experienced or educated as those in Authority over us....even we feel we have the right to question an Authority. Reason is not necessarily applicable.

When put in a tight spot, we question the Authority of our leaders.

Moses was leading the descendants of Israel away from Egypt and slavery as God had instructed. In fact, at the beginning, most folks seemed to be in favor of not being slaves in Egypt any more. But things got hard...they got thirsty...and they questioned the Authority of Moses to be leading them. All that questioning got Moses worked up to make him question what God would have him do.

Again in Psalm 78 we see the revised and glossed over version of that situation. Years later the Psalmist is remembering what happened as God opened doors and rivers to keep the people of Israel safe and alive. The Psalmist doesn't mention all of the questions that came up, but since we can read the first part of the story we know what happened.

Paul pretty consistently is dealing with questions / issues around Authority. In this passage from his letter to the followers of Jesus in Philippi he encourages his readers to honor the Authority Christ has over them, he reminds them of the Authority he has as their mentor and teacher, and he helps them think about the Authority each of the people might have over his or her own thoughts and actions.

In this week's passage from Matthew we see the the Authority of Jesus being questioned. He counters with a question about the Authority of John the Forerunner. And then, while the chief priests and elders were contemplating that, he tells a parable of two sons who say one thing to their father and then do another (obviously respecting their father's Authority in different ways).

Authority is slippery. When do we honor it? When do we question it? When do we subvert it? When do we build it up?

God of Creation and Covenant
Help me to recognize
Authority that matters
and to Question
the Justice
the Mercy
the Validity
of the authority
that arises from Murkier Places
and overshadows You.
Amen.


© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

9.16.2011

Proper 20 (25) Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year A

* Exodus 16:2-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 •
* Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Psalm 145:1-8 •
* Philippians 1:21-30 •
* Matthew 20:1-16


Both of us work in institutions surrounded by people at the top of the academic world. We work with people who revere knowledge. And not just any old knowledge, but logical, rational, provable, cite-able, repeatable knowledge.

In general our society holds on to the idea that the best information is backed up by facts. Success is identified most of the time by the accumulation of 'things' we can point to. In the order of the world, everyone has someone above them and someone below them. Social order is one of the ways we can Prove who we are and what we have accomplished.

We (the bigger, close to universal 'We') are people who appreciate Proof.

Even the Pre-Enlightenment folks of the Hebrew and early Christian world struggled with needing Proof.

In this week's passage from Exodus we see an example of God looking for Proof of commitment from the Israelites and the Israelites looking for Proof of commitment from God. The people of Israel had been wandering around in the wilderness for a while (little did they know how long this would last!) and they were COMPLAINING...lack of food, lack of water, lack of safe and dry places to sleep...of course, it had slipped their minds that there was also a lack of Egyptian slave holders. They were unconvinced that this trip to the desert was God's work and they needed Proof Moses was the right guy to follow. And in turn, God told Moses that every morning there would be bread on the ground and every evening there would be quail on the ground and all they had to do was Prove that they could follow instructions and only take as much as they needed for the day. Both sides were testing the relationship.

Psalm 105 is the beautiful, lyrical, revisionist history version of the story of the Exodus. Go read it. It describes the story in an almost completely positive tone without remembering the dirty and hard parts. It is sort of like us singing patriotic songs of American wars without recounting or remembering the sweat, blood, and death that occurred.

In this week's passage from Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi, we see some interesting stuff from Paul. At the beginning of this passage he talks about the struggle he is having between wanting to 'go' and be with Christ and needing to stay and be a leader to others. Today, Paul would get admitted for a psychiatric work-up the way he is talking about possibly wanting to die to achieve a goal. But then he goes on to emphasize what a good thing it is for him to live and how important it is for these new followers of Jesus to live fully because that will continue the witness of Jesus. And then, as he does in many other places throughout his letters, Paul talks about how suffering in this life is Proof of salvation and Proof that an individual is on the right path. This is a message that many still carry today--if you are a follower of Jesus, a life of suffering if Proof you are on the right track. Of course, there is also a popular notion today that if you are a follower of Jesus you will be prosperous and not have a care in the world. Feel free to reconcile these things on your own. : )

The passage from Matthew this week gives us a parable from Jesus. You all know it. A landowner hired laborers to work for him at four different times throughout the day and at the end of the day he paid them all the same. The guys (we assume they were guys...maybe not) hired first were angry that the ones hired last were paid the same amount but did not work the same amount. Evidently the guys hired last had nothing to say on the matter.

But why were the first set of workers upset? They got paid what they expected to be paid at the beginning of the day. Our suspicion (based on personal experience) is that they wanted Proof that their extra effort had more value. They needed Proof...they needed validation that their work was appreciated more than the workers who did not break a sweat.

And the landowner / Jesus ties it up with "So the last will be first and the first will be last."

That is not all that satisfying for folks who need Proof, is it?

But Jesus is saying that there is Proof enough to go around. The last person is loved and valued as much as the first person...equal...no divisions...no preference based on preference, size, shape, color, or hours worked.

Hmmm.

Is that Proof enough for you?

God, help me to stop worrying about
who is above me
and
who is below me.
Remove the desire for rankings
and competitions
from my heart.
Be with me as I attempt to be at
Peace
with who
I am
and the knowledge
that who
I am
is
loved
by
You.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

9.08.2011

PROPER 19 (24) Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year A

Exodus 14:19-31 and Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

We live in a "post-9/11 world." In the United States, there is no way
to escape that chronological designation...9/11/01 marked the end of
an era and the beginning of a new era. But how the new era is defined
is still within our influence. It could be an era marked by
polarization, by conflict, by pointing to our differences. It could
also be an era marked by grace, mercy, reconciliation, drawing the
circle wide. We have the opportunity to remember and in remembering,
remold ourselves within our human family - to find the new shapes and
attitudes and behaviors that bring us closer together instead of
further apart.

"Where were you when..." is a common refrain right now. But today
we're wondering, "Where are we now?" How have we been shaped and
changed? How have others been shaped and changed?

The lectionary texts for this week are the very same texts that
followed September 11, 2001. Uncanny? Yes, especially when you read
them. Go do it. We've got time.

In Exodus, we read the account of Moses parting the Red Sea and
leading the Israelites across. As the Egyptians follow, the sea
closes back over them, consuming them. The Israelites still had a long
journey ahead of them, but they were finally rid of the Egyptians. We
know that in the wilderness, there came a time when those Israelites
thought it might be better to return as slaves to Pharaoh. They must
have been shaped by the experience of slavery, by the Exodus, and by
their encounters with the living God. It changed their behavior
(sometimes only temporarily), their traditions, their loyalty. The
dramatic events of the Exodus reordered their lives. And what about
the Egyptians who lost all of their first born children? Whose
husbands and sons drowned as the sea closed in? Were they reformed?

The psalmist recounts the mighty acts of God in the Exodus. If God
can do these things to free his beloved people, how much more can God
do? The psalms are full of acts of worship that recall specific
life-altering things, good and bad.

Paul's letter to the church at Rome is a reflection on judging others.
Simply put, he asks that his readers not do it. God is the only
judge. He also suggests that intention is more important than the act
in some cases. Some choose to eat a certain thing to honor God.
Others choose to abstain from eating to honor God. What is important
is the intention to honor God. As we approach September 11, the word
"judge" makes us squirm just a bit. We've heard/seen/participated in
some "judgment" around the events of 9/11. Has our judgment of other
cultures, of our political system, of our safety nets, of our economy,
of our neighbors changed in that passage of time?

Perhaps this week's reading from Matthew is most haunting. Peter has
asked some tough questions about forgiveness. And Jesus' teaching is
every bit as tough. Do it again and again, without condition and
without end. Loving one another is an exercise in forgiving - all the
time, every time. Who's mastered that? And since 9/11, how many
times have we been challenged to forgive someone or some idea or some
institution?

Where are the places that you've struggled to forgive
since that day? Has your struggle to forgive reformed you? Are there
things/people/ideas that you've packed away rather than do the work to
forgive?

God, we are caught with such short vision.
We only see the injury or wrong that was
just done
to us.
We preach forgiveness
during times of peace.
When pressed, we often to not respond
graciously
or gently
or with forgiveness.
Help us as we attempt to
love
as we have been
loved.
Help us as we attempt to
forgive
as we have been
forgiven.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

9.01.2011

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18), Year A

Exodus 12:1-14 and Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20


"I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I thought that you were gone, but now I know you're with me.
You are the voice that whispers all I need to hear."
(from CROSSINGS by Y.M. Barnwell (c)1992) Recorded by Sweet Honey in the Rock

What are the memories and rituals and rules and laws that guide your
daily actions? We're not talking about the progression through a
four-way stop here - we're talking about root values (and maybe that
means we are talking about a four-way stop afterall). What governs the
way that you understand your relationship with family, with
co-workers, with neighbors nearby and across the globe?

Our scriptures for this week include stories and instruction intended
to guide us in a right way. But they caused us to wonder about
different types of instruction and how it shapes us not just our
behavior, but who we are in the deepest parts of our soul from
generation to generation.

The book of Exodus is the story of the Israelites flight from Egypt
and their time in the wilderness under Moses' leadership. (We're
really fond of this story. We have a dog named Moses and he's
currently leading us through wilderness. He's not handy with the water
from a rock trick yet, however.) Anyway... We're reading a dramatic
moment here. The plagues to this point have had little affect on
Pharoah, and God has decided that something drastic must be done. He's
giving instructions for how the Israelites should sacrifice and
prepare their homes so that they are "passed over" by the final plague
- the death of the firstborns. By marking their doorposts with blood,
they can be assured that the Lord will pass over their homes and leave
their firstborns unharmed. In order to remember all that the Lord has
done, faithful Jews today observe many of the ritual suggested in this
passage in their Passover seder. They remember by doing and in doing
they are shaped. And their shape should affect the way they make daily
choices about their life.

The psalms is praising the Lord's action and remembering how the
people are saved by such actions. The psalms were written as acts of
worship - praise, petition, lament - so that the community could
remember and attribute to God the appropriate response at similar
times.

In the passage from Matthew's gospel, Jesus has come down from the mountain after
the transfiguration and has been teaching lessons that clarify or cast
question on the Law and how it is enacted and what it really means.
In the verses read this week, Jesus is teaching the proper ways to
handle conflict among the disciples. He recognizes this is bound to
happen. We don't know about your life, but there are about 15
practical applications of this teaching in our life DAILY. Imagine
reviewing this prior to staff meetings or visiting it at a family
dinner once a week. These are practical guidelines - especially for
groups working together in love. If we truly are living out the
command to love one another, doesn't this set of guidelines help us
out?

And finally, in Paul's letter to the church at Rome, Paul has been
teaching about authority and has turned to Love - not the love of self
but a guiding love of "other," of the neighbor, that he understands
should permeate our lives. He's providing guidance - the commandments
he references all come down specifically to loving with selfless care
and concern another person.

We are where we are today because of the places from which we have come and the rituals and practices that have shaped us.

God, help us as we attempt to
focus our energies
on loving
and respecting
each other
while we
remember
the ways
we have been
loved
and
respected.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

8.24.2011

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17), Year A

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28


Sometimes we are given tasks that seem impossible.

Losing weight.

Living within our financial means (personally or nationally).

Allowing a teenager to make his or her own (potentially painful) choices.

Telling the leader of a country that he should let all of the slaves go.

Blessing those that cause us harm.

Feeding our enemy.

Giving up all the other things of life to focus on following where we
are called.


How are we supposed to achieve these things? Part of the difficulty is
that we are drawn to fulfill these tasks and take on these callings.
Sure, some of us are highly driven and disciplined folks who can
simply choose to do one thing or another without much of a question.
But what about the rest of us mortals who struggle with greed and ego
and self preservation and control issues and such?

Certainly we see examples of tasks that seem impossible throughout our
own lives and also all through scripture. In this week's scriptures we
see some significant challenges being laid down.

In the story of Moses found in Exodus we find Moses finding himself
talking with the presence of God in a bush that is on fire. Now that
is an important part of the story, but the burning bush is not the
thing to remember about this passage. The important thing here is to
pay attention to what God says to Moses in / through this bush. He
tells Moses to go in to the house of the Pharaoh (the family / house
that raised him) and tell the Pharaoh that he should let all of the
Israelites (who happened to be a great source of slave labor in Egypt
at the time) freely go back to their homeland. Seems like a tall
order. Sure, God (through the voice of a burning bush) offers Moses
some reassurance that he will be supported and God will make it all
happen, but Moses still had the job of going in to deliver the message
to the Pharaoh.

The selection we have from Psalm 105 is recounting this story (years
and years and years later) of Moses leading the Israelites out of
Egpyt. Moses's responsibility was high and the impact of his faithful
following had lasting impact.

Jesus continues the trend of suggesting seemingly impossible tasks in
this section of Matthew. "Those who will save their life will lose it,
those who lose their life for my sake will find it...if any of you
want to become my followers, deny yourself and take up your cross and
follow me." These must have been (and still are) fairly radical and
inflammatory words to those who were just hanging around on the edges
following Jesus around. Again, Jesus does suggest that help and reward
will be offered to those that follow him, but he also is putting a
seriously challenging task in front of folks.

And then we see the ways Paul was encouraging the followers of Jesus
in Rome to live. Again, as we remember that many of the letters Paul
wrote and that we have collected in our bible were him offering
direction of how they (as the new and often only followers of Jesus in
the neighborhood) should behave and interact with the world. And this
is a great example of the ways Paul (like Jesus did) encouraged his
readers to go literally above and beyond the modern and conventional
expectations. He sets a high bar because he understands the stakes to
be high.

Help me God
to see past my own amazement
at your presence in my life
to DO something
that honors you
and brings the Kingdom
to light
as you will have
it emerge.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

8.21.2011

PROPER 16 (21) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Year A

Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124 •
Romans 12:1-8 •
Matthew 16:13-20

The biblical text was a written work of art, meant to be read -
consumed in fact - time and time again...until it became memory.

Sometimes it's fun to look at different translations to appreciate the
drama that specific words can add. And so, this week, from the King
James Version:

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. (Exodus 1:8)

Sounds a little foreboding, eh?

Or how about this, from Paul's letter to the church at Rome:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of
God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable
to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this
world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you
may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and
perfect.

Quite a challenge to be transformed rather than conformed. We feel
confronted by this challenge daily.

Or perhaps from the Gospel of Matthew (imagine the red letters of your
study bible as you read...):

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not
revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my
church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you
bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
will be loosed in heaven."

This week as we read the scriptures, we were reminded that life
doesn't always unfold the way that we expect it to. Sometimes it takes
dramatic turns. It's a little bit like being on an ever-changing
amusement park ride. Sometimes its like floating in a swan boat on
quiet water. Sometimes it is like a death-defying set of corkscrews
at 75 miles per hour. Sometimes it is smooth track and other times
it's the classic wooden coaster that knocks your head around and jars
your vertebrae. And you don't really ever quite know what is next.

Joseph has been a favorite of Pharaoh, and as a result, the Hebrews
have been able to prosper and grow in Egypt. But there arose a
Pharaoh that wasn't buddies with Joseph. Gulp. Now, the story frames
the birth of Moses and his placement in the household of Pharaoh, but
let's imagine Joseph's dread as he watched his favor disappear, his
people falter, and grief and fear come upon them. How often are we
moving along when circumstances change and everything we thought we
knew evaporates. (We're thinking, in part, about the economy. How
about you?)

The psalmist is lifting praise for God's saving action. Israel, by
the time the Psalms were written, has seen good times and bad. And
through it all, they've come to respect God's action, even when it
doesn't always make life simple. In general, the psalmist believe
that even the bad times would have been much, much worse without God's
presence.

In Matthew's gospel, we see Jesus as he is really getting in to the swing of things. Before this scene he has had a serious interaction with the Phairsees and Saducees, and he has had some sort of shaky interactions with the disciples that seem to have left him a little frustrated with them. He was not being warmly welcomed with open arms. And now
remember that Simon Peter was destined to be a fisherman. But with
Jesus he's become a fisher of men. And he's now being told that he is
the rock upon which Jesus' church will be built. Do you suppose this
was a radical departure from his expectations? And Jesus is sort of
cornering Simon Peter - Who do you think I am? And when Simon Peter
confesses his faith that this Jesus is the Messiah, he's blessed as
the Rock. Umm...change of destiny? And then, by the way, don't tell
anybody. Poor Peter.

Finally, in Paul's letter to the church in Rome, he uses the language
of sacrifice, a concept that would have been well-understood by
observant Jews at the time, and turns it on its ear, suggesting that
the believer should offer themselves as holy and LIVING sacrifices.
This believing stuff...it requires that you give something of
yourself, that you remove yourself from the world in some way, and
that you will use your gifts to the benefit of others. He claims that
we all have gifts - not all the gifts, just a few - that the community
needs. Now what if you want to have the gift of prophecy and get the
gift of teaching? Start teaching.

So what hairpin curves have been thrown your way of late? In what ways
has this ride called life flipped your stomach? Or maybe you're
enjoying a quiet ride right now?

Where is God on the journey?

God, we scratch and fight every day to have things be
a little easier.
And they get tougher.
We try hard to be responsible
and understand
and plan
and look ahead.
And then the things we counted on
fail
and we have to
start over.
Forgive us when we curse
our circumstances.
Forgive us when we are so focused
on the frustrations
of re-navigating.
Be with us as we continue to learn to trust
and keep walking
toward You.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

8.13.2011

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Genesis 45:1-15 and Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28


We all have many different genres of relationships in our lives. We have friends, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, faith community members, and we have an important and slightly mysterious one we call Family.

We (Laura and Matt) have just spent the last week with two different sets of Family. We both had the opportunity to spend time with Family we are related to by blood and also Family we are related to by marriage. As far as we know, they were all great visits with our extended Family.

But the term Family doesn’t have a universal meaning and definition of relationship, does it? Some of us have Family that we don’t like. Some of us have Family we never see. Some of us have Family we love and appreciate and maybe even live with. Some of us will do anything in the world for our Family…and some of us will not.

Some of us think of our Church Family. Some of us have a work Family. Some of us have neighbors that are more important to us than our blood Family.

The word and idea of Family can mean a lot of things and can generate a wide variety of responses within each of us.

This week we see some different examples of what Family means to different folks and how Family plays out in different lives.

The first story is one of the most beautiful stories of forgiveness found anywhere. The short version is that Joseph reveals to his Family that he is alive and a big deal in Egypt and that he loves them and is going to take care of them even though they tried to kill him and sold him in to slavery. Wow. Family ran deep and important for Joseph.

The Psalmist is praising blood relations, and after the whirlwind tour of various family relationships in Genesis this summer, it is understandable that the Psalmist would observe the benefits of peace among kin!

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, while struggling with some bigger questions of obedience, is also wrestling with the question of who is in and who is out of God’s Family. He certainly continued to claim his Israelite heritage and Family connection, and he is telling others outside of the Israelite Family that there is a place for them at the table too.

There are a couple of different things happening in the passage from Matthew this week, but they are generally connected. First, the second part. We see a Cannanite (non-Jewish) woman come to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter. Jesus shoos her away because she is not a Jew, and she comes back asks that maybe everyone might deserve his healing and love.

Jesus was drawing his circle of Family very specifically, and this woman gently invites him to re-think who got included in his Family.

Now this reflects back to the first portion of the selection from Matthew. Jesus has just offered a teaching that takes a swipe at some of the traditional dietary laws—“It is not what goes in to the mouth that matters, but what comes out of it”. In that teaching itself, he is breaking down some of the traditional lines folks were drawing. And after that teaching, a woman who may have been listening to him asks him to really apply what he had been talking about more broadly.

Sometimes it is dangerous for us to think about who we might have responsibility to as a part of our family. Sometimes we might find ourselves being called to include someone in our Family we have not before. Sometimes we might find ourselves being called to leave a Family table we always thought we were a part of.

Abba,

Open our eyes

And our minds

And our hearts to see

The Family

In our midst

And beyond our current vision

So that we may

Include

Those you would have us

Include.

Amen.


© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

7.29.2011

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21


Have you ever felt you have seen the Face of God?

Now before you start asking, 'what do you mean, the Face of God?', let us say...we are not really sure ourselves.

Maybe the question is better stated, Have you ever felt you were in the direct and obvious presence of God?
Certainly there are many examples where folks talk about seeing the Face of God in everyone they encounter, in those they serve, in the homeless, in the sick, in children, etc. And maybe that is as close as any of us ever get.

But we are wondering about something a little more dramatic and cosmic...have you ever experienced the Face of God?

In the is week's passage from Genesis Jacob names a physical location Peniel (the face of God) and says, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." This happens after he has a fantastic struggle with an unidentified man all through the night. As day is breaking, Jacob asks the man for a blessing and the man says, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Yup...this is where Israel was born, right here...without this moment there are no Israelites, no Israel. Jacob saw the face of God and his name and destiny were changed.

If you have read much of our stuff at all you know we really dig the writer(s) of the Psalms. If there ever was anyone who really connected and saw the Face of God, it was her / him. Here in the 15th verse of Psalm 17 we see the bold statement of a hope, a dream, and maybe a reality:
"As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness."

In the passage we have from Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, we see a guy who had seen the Face of God and was still working out something of an internal struggle. He is a Jew...for a while he was an Uber Jew...who is now a guy who has seen the Face of God in a blinding light and is now having to struggle with the understanding he has of his Israelite heritage on one hand and his personal and intimate knowledge of God and and through Jesus on the other. And as a Jew, he's been grounded in an understanding that the God of the past is concerned and will act in the future. So if Jesus is the Messiah, and Jews reject this, is God still with his covenant people? Sometimes Paul sounds like he thinks this is the case. From a perspective of 2000 years later, we think maybe Paul saw God and could only understand his here and now. We get that.

And then we get one of the great Jesus / disciple interactions in the passage from Matthew. The folks of the area around the Sea of Gallilee were following Jesus around and wanting to get close to him to hear his teaching and be healed, and there was a constant resource question--with all of these people sitting around all day listening to teachings, how do they get fed? The disciples want to send the folks home, and Jesus wants the disciples to feed them. They give him a sheepish look and start pulling food out of their baskets. Imagine being the disciples after this happens. Certainly, leading up to this point they had experienced a wide range of stuff that gave them insight that Jesus was someone special. But this really pushed the envelope. Jesus made food show up from nowhere! It seems that after that moment, they had to be aware they had been looking in to the Face of God.

Have you seen the face of God? Did it leave you limping?

Bruise me,
blind me,
baffle me God.
I want to be
marked
by seeing you.
Amen.


© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

7.22.2011

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Genesis 29:15-28 and Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 •
1 Kings 3:5-12 and Psalm 119:129-136 •
Romans 8:26-39 •
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Space Shuttle touched down at Cape Canaveral, Florida this week ending an iconic age of space travel for the US. Our lifetime was marked by the development of this program - the narrative of "normalizing" space travel followed us through childhood. We can remember where we were for both the Columbia and Challenger disasters. We watched technology unfold in practical terms as the space program morphed and grew with reusable transportation into space.

And the generation right before ours marked time through Sputnik and the Apollo missions. The space race. The realization of accomplishments once only the fantasy world of Buck Rogers.

At some point, a journey into space was beyond our collective human imagination. But not anymore. Over time, the unimaginable was imagined and realized.

And if we look just at technology, we can point to so many examples of this. A friend was pondering her new external hard drive with a terabyte of capacity. Remember when 64K was "all that?"

There is a special element of the unimaginable that connects God's work in the scripture readings this week. And it has us wondering, can we ever really begin to fathom the God of creation? Can we anticipate the "next big thing?" Or are we going to always be amazed and surprised by God's movement - some of which seems like gift, some of which seems like tragedy?

In the ongoing drama of the generations of Abraham, Jacob gets double crossed by Laban while trying to earn the right to marry the graceful Rachel. After years of Jacob working for the right to marry Rachel, Laban pulls a bait and switch on the wedding night - a fact Jacob doesn't discover until the next morning (we'll not even go down the path of believability there...). Jacob awakens to discover he's spent his wedding night instead with the older daughter Leah. Laban's response was matter of fact - this is the way it is done - the older daughter is offered in marriage first. In another amazing and unimaginable turn, Jacob agrees to work another 7 years to marry Rachel as his second wife.

In the alternate text from 1 Kings, Solomon has a dream in which God asks him for his wish, and Solomon requests wisdom. Now if you read some of Solomon's backstory, that might be a little bit surprising. And God's response is over-the-top generous. Because Solomon didn't ask for riches or long life or power, God throws all of those into the mix along with the requested wisdom. Unfathomable generosity possesses this Creator.

The psalmist is full of praise for a gracious, generous and abiding God. There is a common thread in the Hebrew texts about asking and receiving. The psalmist understood this interactive relationship with God. God was there to attend and expected the people to show up.

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven in parables - stories with their own form of somewhat unfathomable hyperbole. Here we have the mustard seed - a tiny seed that, when tended, becomes a huge and wildly productive plant. The mysterious action of yeast. The puzzling notion of hiding treasure and then going away to sell all we own to buy the field in which we've hidden the treasure. We tend to look at these teachings slightly cross-eyed. Can it really be that we would sacrifice our all for treasure we ourselves had planted? As life unfolds, we know more and more people living in materially sacrificial ways to tend to loving others, helping the poor, mending the sick. Is it possible that what is imaginable becomes imagined and realized in our relationship with God?

And in Paul's letter to the church at Rome, he's swimming around in some heady doctrine. If you have spent too much time in the world of denominational quibbles, you might want to side-step words like "predestine" and "elect". But Paul's also painting a beautiful picture of our interaction with the Spirit and the Spirit's interaction with God and God's resulting interaction with us. He's marveling that God loves creation so much that Jesus would be sacrificed for our awareness, our attention and our very salvation. We assume that these early Christians to whom Paul writes were experiencing great persecution. They were possibly being asked to sacrifice a great deal for their faith. And Paul is encouraging them to imagine the unimaginable commitment God has made to them through Christ.

If God is for us, who is against us. Fathom that!

God, we assume that you see
every mustard seed,
every smile,
and every step on the moon
as a miracle.
Of course you would...
You are God.
Help us to see
every moment,
every blade of grass,
every sun-warmed tomato,
every rabbit that eats the tomatoes,
every laugh,
every tear,
every sweaty moment in traffic
every line of binary code...
help us as we attempt to see
your presence
your miracle
in every
drop of our lives.
Amen.


© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

7.15.2011

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11), Year A

*
* Genesis 28:10-19a

* Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

* Romans 8:12-25

* Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


Some hours, some days, some weeks just don't seem to work. Maybe it's nothing specific, just a vague feeling that something is "off." Or it could be the non-stop stream of "why me?" moments and seeming bad luck. Flat tire, burnt dinner, lost wallet, you name it.

There are hours, days, weeks that need a reset button to be sure.

Maybe when we're "aware," we know something in our "off" days needs fixed. That's why the self-help section of the bookstore is vast and ever-growing. Surely we can just implement a three step plan and fix whatever it is that is "out of tune?"

But really, when we slow down and take a deep breath, we know (Laura & Matt, Matt & Laura) that these times are often times when we feel disconnected - we've lost touch with the fact that we are created beings created to be in connection with God, our creator. And not in just vague connection - in relationship. For some that is a father/child relationship. For others it might be a confessor/confessee relationship. Or a playful exchange relationship. Or a channeling artist relationship. No two relationships are alike...surely it is true of our relationship with God. And when we're not taking time to tend that relationship, nothing seems to work - not our self-discipline, not our desire to light the world, and most certainly not our relationships with our fellow creation.

In those moments, we need a bit of a spiritual reset - a CTRL ALT DEL and the resulting reboot of our connection to God and the world.

In the passage from Genesis, we continue to unfold the narrative history of the people who will eventually be known as the Israelites. Jacob (remember his power struggle with brother Esau) has a dream in which God promises him really big things. But most of all, God promises to be with his people. All the time. In lots of places. With LOTS of descendants. We know both from where this story has come and by where it will go, those people were in various stages of "connectedness" with God throughout the story. And God remains.

The Psalmist is praising with wonder God's presence in good and bad, desired or not. There's an important recognition here about God being with us even when we're not particularly excited about that. It sort of calls to mind that classic kid stunt of plugging the ears while chanting, "I can't hear you!"

In Paul's letter to the church in Rome, one picture he paints for his hearers is that of our "sonship" with God. Now clearly there are some gender-based language hurdles here, but Paul is defining the relationship that Christians have with God - heirs to the Kingdom. This is a community facing great difficulty. And Paul is reminding them of a "not yet" reality that belongs to them as heirs. We don't know that these people were not actively seeking to relate to God - it's very possible that they were. But in the midst of their ugly circumstances, they are still children of God.

Finally, the text from Matthew is one of the "the Kingdom of Heaven is like..." parables of Jesus. Weeds sewn among the wheat require that the healthy crop share its soil, air, water, and space with the weed crop. Do you ever feel squeezed by fellow humanity in those moments when nothing is quite right? The inward pressing of our fellow created humans can sometimes indicate that something is not quite right. And in some ways, Jesus names it pretty plainly. The wheat has been sewn by the Son of Man (presumably representing those in relationship with God?) and the weed has been sewn by "evil powers." Our favorite definition of sin is "that which keeps us from being in full relationship with God."

God, help us as we attempt to live in to the
simplicity of our relationship
with You.
Guide us as we attempt to do away with
projected expectations
and assumed requirements.
Help us to
reset
and
be
present
with
You.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

7.07.2011

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10), Year A

Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


There is no getting away from ourselves.

Our minds and bodies and spirits are all connected. They always and constantly influence each other.

Sometimes we fall in to a belief that our mind is our Most Important Part...and then our body reminds us we need to eat or move or sneeze.
Our we reach a place where we put so much emphasis on taking care of our body...and then we notice our brain doesn't work as well because it hasn't been used much recently.

Or we get so wrapped up in ourselves we are convinced that as long as we are good thinkers and eat all our vegetables, we need nothing else....and then we recognize we are empty shells because we have not given appropriate respect to our own spiritual life and development.

And every once in a while we ONLY pay attention to our spiritual life and development...we set it up as the greatest good believing that if we attend to our spirit, everything else will be okay...and we find ourselves unhealthy because we don't eat well or move our bodies. Remember, even the most remote and ascetic monks eat a bit and take a walk each day.

The point is that in each of us, all of our parts are connected. And when we don't pay attention to a particular part or if we take one part for granted, we can find ourselves unbalanced.

We are integrated beings and when we put too much emphasis on one aspect of ourselves, it is easy for us to lose other parts of ourselves.

In this week's passage from Genesis we get the next phase in the story of Isaac and Rebekah's life together. We jump from her watering his camels to them having children--Esau and Jacob. Most of us know the story...after they were older, Esau was out hunting and came in famished and asked Jacob for some stew he had made. Today it sounds like a couple of kids just playing around, but Jacob gave Esau some stew only after Esau swore to give over his birthright (privileges accorded to the firstborn male of the family) to Jacob. Esau's words mattered here. Body, mind, soul, spirit, property, respect...so much was tied up and tied together in a person's birthright....and Esau gave that up for a bowl of stew because he was intensely focused on a bodily need. On a side note...for those of you keeping score at home, it was Jacob...who later had his named changed to Israel...who gave birth to the twelve tribes, etc that tricked (or screwed) his brother out his birthright and inheritance. How do we reconcile Judiasm and eventually Christianity developing out of this snookering (which was just one in a series of snookerings)?

The writer of Psalm 119 certainly understood the ways his self was integrated. He understood the ways his oaths to God were connected to his physical condition. He understood that he needed to trust God spiritually and physically....he understood that his spiritual life had a direct connection to his physical life and safety.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, he does more to dramatically demarcate the body (flesh) from the spirit. He is really parsing out how the indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus Christ actually works in each of us individually...he is almost focusing on the mechanics of it. But in the end, he still says that if a person is filled with the Spirit of God, then that person's body will be filled with life also. If the spirit is healthy and connected, then the body will be healthy and connected.

And in the passage from Matthew we get a beautiful picture of integration from Jesus. He tells the parable of a sower who scattered seed...some fell on good earth, some fell on thorny soil, and some fell on rocky ground. As he describes what happens to the seeds in each circumstance we can see that the ultimate hope is that a seed is a good seed, takes root, flourishes, and produces fruit. It is not enough to be the best seed ever, or just grow roots, or to only have leaves...ideally, a healthy seed eventually produces fruit. And we, as integrated beings are meant to be physically and mentally and spiritually healthy (all) so we may grow in to what we were created to be.

If we ignore any part of who we are, we will never become all we were created to be.

Creator and sustainer
Keep me mindful
of the complexity of your creation
and who I am in that creation
and who I am as creation.
Help me see the fruits of all my parts
- all my integrated created wonder -
so that all of me
is fruitful
for Your Kingdom.
Amen.

© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.

6.24.2011

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

If you have followed us for long, you probably understand that sometimes (? all the time ?), writing these reflections give us the opportunity to work out our personal demons.

And in that tradition...here goes:

Amy Delong, ordained United Methodist Elder who has lived in a loving and committed relationship with another woman for 15 years, has been on trial with the church. She was charged with two violations of church law as an ordained Elder - one being an avowed homosexual living in a relationship, the second having conducted a commitment ceremony for another gay couple in 2009. As this is written, the jury has delivered a split verdict, finding Amy innocent of the first charge and guilty of the second.

There is a movement afoot in the United Methodist church. A lot of people think that the church's rules about homosexuality are wrong. A lot of people think homosexuality is wrong and therefore the church should have rules. As a global church, the rules of the United Methodist church are built by people living with diverse cultural norms. The dialogue has been going on for a long time. Both sides probably have moments of thinking there is an obviously dominant solution to all of this. But only one thing is clear...there is NO clear answer. And all of this is the divided moral compass of just ONE community. Most of us belong in some way to many, many different communities.

It's all so messy. Life is SO messy.

The is no ONE answer to solve complicated and messy situations. However, there are opportunities for each of us to find ways to love each other and love ourselves in small areas and corners of the larger situations.

Our scriptures this week plunge us into the messiness of a life with God. Our Year A tour through the Israelite history has us reading a difficult story in Genesis about Abraham and Isaac. Remember that Abraham (born Abram) and his wife Sarah (born Sarai) agreed to follow God where he would lead them, and in exchange, God has committed to make of them a great nation. Even from the point of this covenant forward, Abraham and Sarah lead messy lives with messy moral dilemmas. In this week's reading, God has asked (told) Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. Now Isaac is Abraham's only legitimate son...and God has promised great things to come from Sarah and Abraham's family. Imagine Abraham's confusion. But Abraham goes. He makes the journey to Moriah, Read this text. And then read it again. It is a skillfully told story with Abraham leading an unsuspecting Isaac along. Isaac is carrying the wood and Abraham the fire. Isaac asks about the lamb, and Abraham responds, God will provide the lamb. It is a story that gives us chills. And just as Abraham draws his knife, an angel calls him back. He passed the test.

The psalmist laments the very hardship of life...and fully expects God is present in the hardship. And the faithful soul rejoices amidst the lament for that!

In Paul's letter to the church in Rome, he is examining some of the messiness of our human nature. He has a bit of a concern that the promise of God's grace in Christ's death and resurrection may lead some to a life of sinfulness...because we're forgiven, right? He insists instead that we are sort of obligated by our union with Christ (through baptism) to be righteous - as sin free as we can manage. He knows that will be hard, that as humans we are slaves to something and we have to choose between being slaves to our sinful nature or slaves to our allegiance to God in Christ. Messy stuff.

Now certainly Jesus didn't speak the words selected from Matthew for this week's reading for the purpose of summarizing a discussion about the messiness of life with an assurance that messiness is ok - live into it and love others and you'll be ok. But hey, that's sure how it draws these passages together. Jesus also cuts through some of the complications it is easy for us all to get caught up in. We find ourselves wanting to make a huge deal out of things and we try to create a greater "system" around providing love and care, and Jesus sums it up with "
whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward." Life and circumstances are SO MESSY.....AND we can still love others with a simple gift of a cold cup of water.

And so...I suspect that everyone on all sides of that tricky trial have a chance to love each other in a variety of ways and certainly are still beloved in the eyes of God.

Life is messy.

God, so often we are desperate to see the BIG picture

We want to know THE solution

We want to solve ALL the problems.

And in that process

We forget it is not our

Responsibility to SOLVE

It is our responsibility to LOVE

In whatever way is in front of us.

May it be so in our lives

Each day.

Amen.


© matt & laura norvell 2011 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.