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.