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.