1.27.2011

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A

Preface: We highly recommend that you navigate here http://www.mp3rocket.com/mp3/-1_00/Sweet-Honey-in-the-Rock-Beatitudes.htm and listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock while you read this week...

Micah 6:1-8 • Psalm 15 • 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 • Matthew 5:1-12

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?

If you love me, feed my sheep.

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

We swim in a faith with a simple premise: because God first loved us, we are called to love one another.

But somehow, the noise in the world around us drowns that out. Our to do lists surely have more than one simple item - love others. In general, we measure our life's value on things far from the number of people we love. And even if we have our eye on that priority, the world conspires to drive it further down the list.

Our readings for this week ground us in the things that matter most.

The prophet Micah lived amidst great political unrest - kings sought to gain power through the acquisition of territories. Time and effort are dedicated to fortifications, supply stores, military prowess and power. And the widow and the orphan suffer. Micah is a fan of the tradition of Moses, and he calls the people out - religiosity is empty without social justice. He reminds the people of what God has done...and God isn't seeking a new temple, a new territory...all the Lord requires is that we do justice (notice, DO justice - not just talk about it), love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Similarly, the Psalmist recalls some really simple, basic ways of sharing existence with our fellow human.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is troubled by some brewing divisions in the community. The first line of this week's reading reflects on the meaning of the cross. In the Roman society of Christ's crucifixion, the cross was a way of defeating someone, of breaking their will and of making them an example to the down-trodden. But here, Paul really recalls Jesus's obedience as an act of Love poured out for others..."God chose what is low and despised in the world...to reduce to nothing things that are..." Perhaps in this community, people are focused on things that don't really matter - what is different between them rather than how they can simply love one another.

Finally, after launching a ministry of teaching and healing, Jesus gathers a crowd for a teaching that many know well. You can probably imagine the gathered hearing this message that turned the world of their daily lives and expectations on its ear. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted and you when you are reviled and persecuted... Really? We thought we were blessed by our house and our car and our checking account and our meaningful jobs. Sure we're blessed by family and friends, but we feel awfully blessed by the wealth and privilege of our freedom, our education, our consumption. This "sermon" continues through a lot of important messages - being salt and light, reinterpretations of the Law how to pray. It is a base teaching in being simple, obedient and loving

Just in case you made a bunch of resolutions to do and be and get at the New Year, this might be a refreshing week of simplification. God loves you. Love one another.

God, I want to believe that you love me.
I want to love others.
God, I want to trust that you love me.
I try to love others.
God, so often I don't believe I can be loved.
I cannot love others.
God, I feel I need to earn your love.
Why should I love others?
God, I want to accept your love.
I want to love me.
I want to love You.
I want to love others.
I love you God.
Thank you for loving me.
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.

1.22.2011

Third Sunday after the Epiphany Year A


Offering relief to one who is suffering may be one of the holiest gifts that can be given.

A suffering person often feels alone, hopeless, and helpless. A person who is suffering cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel...in fact, there is often no light at all....and no tunnel....just limits and walls and darkness.

Suffering shows up in 10,000 ways. And being able to offer some relief from suffering can happen in 10,000 ways.

You know this from your own life. You have suffered. We all have suffered in some way or another in our lives. In one way or another we have all found ourselves sitting in darkness.

And (hopefully) we all also know the great relief that can come when someone else reaches out and brings some Light to our dark and hopeless situation.

Often, when Light comes, we are filled with more than relief....we are elated....we know that we are not alone and that there is a chance things will be better.

This is an important theme through all of scripture. Some folks even believe that this is the primary message of the bible--the Light of God always overcomes the darkness of the world.

In this week's reading of Isaiah we see one of the happiest moments in all of scripture: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them a light has shined." Isaiah was actually writing about things that had already happened and things that he hoped would happen again in the future. The people reading / hearing his words knew and understand darkness and oppression, and they also could understand the dream of the Light shining on them again. An interesting side note in this passage....look at one of the ways Isaiah said they would rejoice: "they rejoice....as people exult when dividing plunder". Now it is fun to make a modern day comparison here to kids dividing up Halloween candy, but I think Isaiah had something else in mind.

In Psalm 27 we see a person who has experienced both darkness and Light....we see a person who knows what it means to be down and what it means to be up. Read Psalm 27 and then read Psalm 23. There are so many of the same images and messages shared between the two.

In the portion of Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth we are looking at this week we see Paul doing a bit of housekeeping around what appears to be a quarrel within that community. People were fighting over the lineage of their belief--one was baptized by Paul, others were baptized by Apollos, or Cephas, etc. Paul appears to be upset about this for a variety of reasons, but the primary issue is they were putting themselves back in to a darkness from which they had been pulled. He wanted them to understand that they no longer needed to divide their loyalties among gods or people, but that there is power and Light and relief and freedom found when focusing on Christ.

The message that Isaiah shared was so powerful, as the writer of Matthew was telling the story of Jesus, he quoted it to emphasize what it was that Jesus was doing. That writer saw that Jesus's message of repentance as bringing Light in to the darkness. And this is a hard message to argue with....after calling disciples, what do we see Jesus does? He travels "throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people." That seems to be a great example of offering relief to suffering people and bringing Light in to darkness.

God of Light,
why do I love the darkness so much?
Why can I not accept the Light
you shine?
Why is it important for me to
keep my head under the covers
and make myself suffer?
Help me as I attempt to accept
Your Light.
Help me as I learn to
follow your example
and bring
Light
to
the
World.
Amen.

1.13.2011

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Isaiah 49:1-7 • Psalm 40:1-11 • 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 • John 1:29-42

We often begin things and are called to things that take us in wide and varied directions. Sometimes we begin with one intention and we end up doing things and going places we could never have imagined.

We all have examples of this in both pedestrian and dramatic ways.

Have you ever been hired for a job and six months later wonder how you job description has any connection to what you actually do?

Or maybe you struck up a conversation with a person who is homeless and found yourself running a Day Center.

When Barack Obama took his oath of office, he had no idea he would be giving the eulogy for a 9 year old girl in Arizona.

None of us can ever know where things will lead.

It is especially hard to predict where we might end up if we are following...or being pushed or pulled by God.

Imagine Isaiah's situation. Isaiah talks of how he was intimately known by God before he (Isaiah) was born, and when Isaiah talks about how he feels unworthy God tells him that Isaiah would now have greater responsibility than God originally intended.

The Psalmist was doing his best to follow God and evidently found himself in a desolate pit. However, he continued on trusting God and God set his feet on a rock and made his steps secure. He began to follow, found himself in a sticky bog, continued to follow, and found himself secure again.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, we see Paul giving thanks for all the changes he has seen in them as they have followed Jesus. He is offering them a bit of re-framing so they can see some of where they have come from and to.

In the gospel of John we get another view of our friend Saint John the Forerunner. He is telling a bit of his own story that he did not understand when he began. In this account we see some disciples that began to follow Jesus who had no idea where they would end up. Peter surely didn't imagine that he would be the rock upon which Christ built his church. And we see Jesus himself on the front end of his ministry that he may not have had an idea of where it would end.

We all look for and find our piece of work in this world. Sometimes our work seeks us out and finds us. And it is our responsibility to attempt to be faithful every day to the work and to the lives that get laid out in front of us. And over time, we might learn to roll with the surprises, with the unexpected terror and joy that is the life of the called.

God
What makes you think that I can do what is you ask me to do?
What makes you think that I can stretch this way and that?
What makes you think that I will hear and listen and obey?
Oh, yes. I am your creation. And I am in your presence.
Surely I will come around.
Walk beside me.
And give me a push out of the safe places.
Thy will be done.
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.

1.05.2011

Baptism of the Lord, Year A


Throughout the Advent season, we consider the incarnation - the idea of the Word made flesh to dwell among us. Emmanuel - God with us.

That is a wild idea, isn't it? God. With. Us. Here.

Flash forward - Jesus has aged a bit, and he's baptized by Saint John the Forerunner (remember, we talked about him during the Advent season, too!). He's all grown up and his ministry is beginning to really sizzle. How did we get from incarnation to baptism? Do they have anything to do with one another? And what does that mean to us?

God is with us in a very intimate way - we are potentially filled with the Holy Spirit and have the opportunity to be the light of Christ to those around us. We're called to do just that, to be the incarnate hands and feet of Christ in the world.

The prophet Isaiah is recounting the Lord's words. And at first, it sounds as though God is talking about one specific person he's chosen to bless and to strengthen to establish justice on the earth. But if you read on, there is a wider promise here. "I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand...to open the eyes of the blind..." As God's creation, we seem to be empowered to a greater mission far beyond satisfying the world. We seem to be empowered to free the captive and to declare the year of the Lord's favor.

The psalmist is lifting an litany of positive attributes of the Lord. But the litany ends with a petition that the Lord give strength to his people and bless them with peace.

Matthew's gospel describes Jesus' baptism and the miracle of God's voice heard proclaiming, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." These are the words that launched Jesus' ministry. For those of us baptized, does our baptism initiate a new obligation or a new embodiment? A new incarnation?

Finally, in the account from Acts, Peter is addressing the apostles who were early witnesses of the resurrection. He is reminding them of their duty - their responsibility - to testify to what they had seen, experienced and learned.

God, it seems there is something in the water.
As much as we attempt to discount the physical
and emphasize the metaphysical,
it seems there is something that is vital
about the water.
There is something important
in the flesh and blood.
There is something about
this breath
and this sweat
and these tears.
Help me to appreciate
the water
and not get lost
in the clouds.
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.

1.03.2011

Nativity of the Lord, Proper III, Year A

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)
John 1:1-14


A nephew posted this quote as a recent Facebook status:

"Sometimes I wonder...will God ever forgive us for what we have done for one another? Then I look around and realize...God left this place long ago."

It is from the movie, Blood Diamond, an dramatic adventure released in 2006. But citation aside, what a stark statement of belief...or lack thereof. What a sad reflection, especially in a season many of us recognize as one of waiting and watching.

But it has us thinking...how are we evidence that God IS in the world? How are we proof that God has NOT left this place?

In a season where seekers and believers are anticipating God, there is much to be done to be the hands and feet and heart of God among those who hurt, who ache, who long...and for those who don't even know to ask questions.

The text from Isaiah is rejoicing at the opportunity to return to the and - to Jerusalem - from exile. At the time, the opportunity to return would have been understood as evidence of God's favor. It was a tangible sign that God had turned back to his people Israel, had maintained his promises, and kept covenant and would expect the people to do the same.

Similarly, the Psalmist sings praise for the marvelous works of God. Perhaps it helps to envision David dancing before the Ark with great joy and thanksgiving as it is carried into Jerusalem, returned to its rightful place in the heart of Israel, marking God's presence with God's people. Do we have sure evidence - a real presence - like that with us today? If we did, where would it be housed?

But Paul reframes God's presence in his letter to the Hebrews. He talks about God's presence being known through the birth of a real human being - a man named Jesus.

And the well-known selection from John's gospel describes a presence that was in the beginning with God, that was through all of creation with God, that was the light of life in all people..."And the Word became flesh and lived among us..." Here is a pretty good case for our ability to be the real presence of God to others. If we accept the challenge, we are infused with this light by our very creation. We are light in the world.

But there are so many who do not experience this light.

Oh come Emmanuel
And equip me
Not to say the right words
Or pray the right prayers
Or sing the right hymns
Or even to do the right things.
Equip me to embody the very light
Of your creation
That others can See
And be Warmed.
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.