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
by seeing 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.


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.

© 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.


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

© 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.


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.

© 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.