8.11.2012

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B


  • 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 and Psalm 130 •
  • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 •
  • John 6:35, 41-51
  •  
    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is Newton's work.  His third law of motion.  Science.
     
    You reap what you sow.
     
    We are strangely connected and affected by our choices, well past their implementation.  Sometimes the connection between action and reaction is separated by so much time and distance that we cannot really see the connection between the two.  It is lost in our history somewhere. 
     
    But our actions always (always!) have consequences.  Some consequences are "positive," others not so much. Sometimes we go through life completely unaware of a chain of events in which we were participants. Knowing this - being aware that all of our choices affect others - has the power to ground us in something bigger. 

    Are there filters through which you would like all of your choices to pass? Are there times when you need to sort back through the chapters of your life to see how things are connected?  Are you able to be graceful with yourself when you realize that some choices cause harm?

    We are in a season when all you hear in the media is the discord among political groups as they grapple with what is best...and best for what or whom is often debatable.  And in the heat of that, it's easy to start casting your own stones, stating things in strong ways, making choices for or against people and ideas. Regardless of the outcome of any one election or the vote on any one bill, we all end up having to live with one another, with the consequences of our choices in the process, with the words that we have said and the choices we have made along the way.  How then do we guard our hearts and our tongues so that we are able to reach out to one another as beloved children of God - no matter what happens next?

    In our Hebrew scripture for this week, King David asks his military leader Joab to deal gently with Absalom.  David's family story is better than any daytime soap opera written. Absalom has fled his father's wrath after killing his brother Amnon, a murder committed in rage that Amnon raped Absalom's sister Tamar. But David later forgave Absalom and brought him back to the kingdom but would not speak to him.  (Did you follow all of that?  It's complicated.  And sort of feels like the fall out from David's poor life choices earlier...and each bad choice by each family member keeps digging a deeper pit of despair for the whole clan).  Joab has had a bitter falling out with Absalom in previous chapters.  Absalom encounters Joab and his armor bearers in the forest, and as he is trying to flee, Absalom is "hung" when he is caught up on a branch.  Joab orders one of his men to kill Absalom, and the man refuses, having heard King David order Joab to deal gently with Absalom.  Joab takes matters into his own hands and uses three spears to pierce Absalom's heart.  WOW.  It's like a bad shoot-em-up mafia flick.  Here is a whole group of people who have gotten so wrapped up in personal passion and power that they cannot even begin to untangle the knot back to the first offense!  And it is the downfall of an entire Kingdom in many, many ways. 

    Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus includes advice for living in harmony together.  Juxtaposed against the chaotic saga of David's clan, it feels like a reminder of what is good and true and right.  Deal gently, speak the truth, do not go to bed on your Anger but work it out.  But it's hard.  It's hard to get caught up in the emotion of whatever is going on to remember the big picture.  It's hard in politics, it's hard in church leadership, it's hard in our families.  How often are we able to stop as the emotion starts to take over, to take that breath and remember that those we are dealing with are precious in God's sight (regardless of how we think of them in that moment).

    Jesus, in John's gospel, is offering himself as the very bread of life.  Compared to Manna, he has something to offer that nourishes beyond bodily need.  Jesus is invoking God's covenant, that one made with Israel, and extending it to all who will follow.  Not just the Jew.  Not just the gentile.  Not excluding the sinner or the tax collector or the Roman.  It's as if Jesus is reminding them that they can get wrapped up in their differences, or they can remember that all shall be taught by God.

    Sometimes we think that the choices we make are life and death choices.  But surrounding every choice is a web of relationships and beings affected.  Is the choice the thing? Or the surrounding relationships?  In a season of polarized debate, hateful language, absolutes, are we willing to sacrifice our common humanity to be "right?"

    God,
    may the words of our hearts
    and the meditations of our hearts
    together
    be holy and acceptable
    to You,
    for you are
    our Rock and
    our Redeemer.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We 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.

    8.04.2012

    Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12), Year B

    2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a and Psalm 51:1-12
    Ephesians 4:1-16
    John 6:24-35

    We pile up degrees and titles and certifications and experiences and as a result often think quite highly of ourselves. But sometimes all of the accolades and accomplishments blind us. We get praised and rewarded for knowing and doing, and sometimes we are blind to what is present. We get caught up in the confidence that we know how things work and lose the ability to see things in a new or different way.

     Sometimes we need some help seeing what is in front of us. David needed help seeing what was in front of him. He had just used his kingly power to have the husband of his pregnant mistress killed....and did't see anything wrong with it. It took Nathan the prophet shining a light on the situation from a different direction for David to comprehend what he had done. He thought he understood the order of things [the king can do whatever he wants], but he needed to be reminded that his power had limits and he had responsibility to those above and below him.

    Paul is another classic example of someone who needed help seeing what was in front of him. In this particular passage from Ephesians we see him working to help the followers of Jesus in Ephesus understand who Jesus is and how their lives are different as a result. It was all available to them, but those folks needed someone to help them see it.

    And in the passage from John we see Jesus helping people see what is in front of them. The disciples asked, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" and Jesus responded, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent." Jesus is showing them that they already have all they need right in front of them, they just need to believe and trust it.

     God,
    help me to let go
    of the things that,
    while I think make me
    wise and
    wonderful and
    valuable,
    in fact blind me
    and hold me down,
    keeping me from You
    and Your Way.
    Amen.

     © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We 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.

    7.28.2012

    Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12), Year B




  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and Psalm 14 •
  • 2 Kings 4:42-44 and Psalm 145:10-18 •
  • Ephesians 3:14-21 •
  • John 6:1-21

  • In yoga, a person practices a progressive series of poses and each pose builds and expands in some way on the previous pose.  After 20 minutes or so of stretching in ways some believe unimaginable, it can be relatlively easy to balance on one foot, hands aloft, one foot tucked against the pubic bone, bent knee turned out - tree pose.  Tall and elegant and in the midst of a very good practice, still, straight, strong, balanced. 

    But it's much, much harder (impossible for some) to do tree pose in the middle of the day without a lead up of stretches and bends and poses.  Try it.  One day, while grocery shopping, running errands, making dinner, drop what you are doing and try to do tree pose.

    Not so easy.  Wobbly.  Weak. 

    Balance comes when we work toward it with intention, with appropriate self-care, with self-love, when we let go of things that do not matter, and focus on becoming that balanced being, that tall, unwavering tree.
    As we were thinking about balance, we recognized it connected to this week's lectionary readings with a word that captured us: Satisfied.  What does it mean to be Satisfied?  And does being Satisfied have anything to do with our balance? Our ability to stand firm and straight and strong? Our ability to stay standing despite the wind, the chaos, the temptations and disappointments, the political wind?  Are we centered deeply enough, Satisfied with who we are and what we are doing to become a tall and elegant tree, arms aloft like branches?

    From the Hebrew scriptures, we read the familiar story of David and Bathsheba.  Let's focus on just a few facts in the story.  First, it is the spring of the year when Kings go off to battle, and David is at home looking out over his city.  What's up with that? Somewhere he went from being the commander of the armies to guy who stayed home.  He sees Bathsheba bathing on her roof and sends for her...one thing leads to another.  There is also a connection here between engagement and Satisfaction. It seems when folks do not have specific responsibilities driving them, they are less Satisfied. Next thing we know, David is concocting crazy schemes to try to get Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, to lay with his wife - all of this while Uriah is neck-deep in a battle in which David is not actively participating.  What's going on in David's life?  We can't really know.  We know that God has promised David a legacy.  We know that David is in a season of battles with surrounding kingdoms, winning fame and fortune along the way. We haven't seen David praying much in this "season."  And it makes us wonder just where his priorities were...what focus was absent from his life that caused him to be at loose ends on his rooftop?

    The second Hebrew text and the reading from John's Gospel both deal with miraculous feedings.  It was in the John passage that we were captured by that single word, "Satisfied."  Jesus has been traveling and teaching and now faces a really large crowd.  They have been listening passionately while day draws on.  The disciples want to send them home, but clearly Jesus senses the importance of their gathering and he insists that the disciples attend to the crowd's need for food and drink.  The disciples can't imagine how the meager loaves and fishes they have identified will do the trick.  Jesus blesses the food and it is distributed....each having "as much as they wanted" and being Satisfied.  We haven't looked closely at different translations (confession!) but we were so drawn to this single word that it seemed God was present in the text in our reading.  SATISFIED.  What does it mean to be Satisfied...not Satiated.  Not full. Satisfied. 

    We are a society that expects to be full to the brim - to have life that is overflowing with meaning, to have plates overflowing with food, to have cars overflowing with gas.  Is it possible that we expect too much and in our expectation we are distracted from the things that really matter?  Is it possible that David was drunk with political success and had forgotten that he was God's chosen leader and God had promised him good things?  Is it possible that we are focused on our credibility, our possessions, our status in such a way that we forget that we all share a common call from God?  That we are all part of the same covenant?  That we are God's beloved creation called to share what we have so that all may experience the Kingdom of God? Are we Satisfied?  What parts of us need stretched so that we can find that stately, firm, tall and mighty balance?

    For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
    from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
    I pray that, according to the riches of his glory,
    he may grant that you may be strengthened
    in your inner being with power through his Spirit,
    and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,
    as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
    I pray that you may have the power to comprehend,
    with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
    and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
    so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
    Now to him who by the power at work within us
    is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
    to him be glory in the church
    and in Christ Jesus to all generations,
    forever and ever. Amen.
    (Ephesians 3: 14 - 21)



    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We 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.

    7.21.2012

    Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B



    Here is a little discovery you have likely made in the relationships in your own life: There is often a significant difference between help that is requested and help that is imposed.

    An example shows up in our home every once in a while:

    A - I have a real problem on my hands. I need to get X, Y, and Z done and I don't have the time to do them all.
    B - Oh, no problem. I will do Z for you...and on the way I can also do Y.
    A -  Uh...I did not ask for help, I was just naming my frustrations.

    vs. 

    A - I have a real problem on my hands. I need to get X, Y, and Z done and I don't have the time to do them all. Could you please help me and maybe do Y or Z?

    Now, if you do not notice the difference between these two situations, the rest of this reflection may be lost on you. 

    What we are highlighting here is the concept that sometimes each of us thinks we know what is best for someone else and we begin to offer a solution or our help without it being solicited. Yes, it is true...sometimes this is not a problem...unsolicited help is sometimes offered and accepted without a problem. However, often, this is not true. 

    Often, many of us (in most situations) prefer to ask for help when we know we need it. Sometimes unsolicited help is actually unneeded help. Sometimes unsolicited help is well-intentioned, and ends up being insulting or damaging. Remember the middle school jingle, 'When you ASSume, you make.....'

    This week we have fantastic examples to hold up against one another to illustrate ways and reasons we should all pay attention to our surroundings and motivations.

    In the part of David's story we see this week, we find him planning to impose his help on God. David had just gotten settled in his new home and he thought it would be a great idea to build a house for God. God responded through Nathan the prophet that God was not interested in David doing this. God reminded him that God had done a fine job providing for God's self and also for the Israelites and if God needed a house to live in, God would build a house.

    And in the part of Jesus's story we see in Mark, we find people coming to Jesus and directly asking and begging for help. We see at other points in the ministry of Jesus him directly asking people, "do you want to be healed?". There seems to be something important about people actually being able to name their own needs. 

    It seems to be a high level of respect that any of us can offer to another to allow him or her to name his or her needs for us rather than us making an assumption about what is needed. Maybe it is an important way for us to love one another by just being present with someone until a solution arises in response to a need.

    In a letter from Paul to the church at Ephesus, he explains how the covenant of God, through the teaching, healing, death and resurrection of Jesus is available to all.  As partners without identity other than "Christian," we become the building blocks, the flying buttresses, the rafters and the roofing for a "house" that could include all.  It's hard to know how to include if we aren't able to be present, to listen and to really understand the other - not to help them in the way that we want to help them, but in the way that they need help.

    Creator,
    Redeemer,
    Sustainer,
    Embrace,
    Breath, 
    Love,
    help us to listen and feel
    not just to you 
    but to those around us
    so that we might hear and feel
    your call
    to a better place,
    humankind 
    focused on goodness,
    wellness,
    being
    rather than doing.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    7.07.2012

    Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 9)


    We don't know about you, but there are times (more often than we wish) when we wonder if we have what it takes (wisdom, courage, strength, etc) to do and be the things we are called to do and be.

    Some days the expectations seems so high and the task at hand so important...and we feel so weak and frightened.

    Some days we wonder if we have what it takes to do and be the things we are called to do and be.

    And gratefully, we have people in our lives who remind us that even though we might not have everything we might hope for, we have enough for what we need to do and be what we are called to do and be.

    Think of David. He had been called to be King right after his mentor Saul. He likely needed encouragement from time to time to remind him he would be able to be the servant and leader he was called to be.  We know that he made some bad choices and had to work his way through that.  And in this passage from 2 Samuel, we see some of the folks from his kingdom offering him the encouragement he needed. They remind him of what he had done in the past and they anointed him as their king to encourage him going forward.

    Look at the conversation between Ezekiel the prophet and God. God imbues the prophet with confidence and the power of God to go out and share God's message. With the way the instruction was given to him, Ezekiel obviously knew God was on his side and that should be enough to help him do and be what he was called to do and be.

    In Paul's second letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth we see him struggling with whether or not he could be and do what he was called to be and do. We see him wondering if he has the ability to keep his boasting in check and he finds he is given the needed encouragement from God to be able to do and be what he is called to do and be.  And he seems to understand that being overtly powerful is not the answer - being humble and willing will help him to be and do what he's called to.

    And if Mark's gospel we see Jesus entering his hometown after having done miracles and healings in a variety of places. And while he was home his ability and who he was were questioned. We have to imagine it was hard even for the Son of God to be second guessed by people that he knew and loved. From that place he prepared and equipped the disciples to go out clean up unclean spirits. He put his confidence in them that they could go out and do the work that they were called to do. They were commanded to take nothing with them and to go forward in confidence that what they needed would show up.

    Sometimes we let our doubts hold us back.  Sometimes we limit ourselves by not believing that God is ever-present.  Sometimes we think we have answers and in fact the answers we need come from a higher place.

    God,
    in a world that call me to be everything
    all the time
    in every place
    with all the toys,
    help me to remember that I am yours
    and you are with me
    all the time
    in every place.
    And that is enough.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    6.22.2012

    Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

    1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or
    1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133 •
    Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 •
    2 Corinthians 6:1-13 •
    Mark 4:35-41


    We're a pretty self-empowered bunch, we educated middle-class Americans. We've adopted mantras like "If you build it, they will come," "the sky's the limit," "you've got this," "You can be anything you want to be."

    Is there anything we can't imagine? Nothing we can't do with our myriad gifts and abilties as humans? Any power or expectation or force that exceeds ours? Problems we can't solve? Movements we can't subdue? Sometimes it feels like the language of culture says 'NO, there is not.'
    But are these the right things to focus on?

    This week in scripture, we're challenged to accept the limits of our own imagination, ability and understanding.

    In both passages from Samuel, the story of David, not yet King, continues to unfold. First is a story so well known that it is part of cultural myth - David & Goliath. It's a story we interpret as the little guys abilty to overcome the big bully. But take a moment to read what is really happening. David is confident in the Lord's protection. Saul suits him up with armor, but David gives it back. He actually takes his mark in his face-off with Goliath in the name of God. It's a little difficult in our day and age to grapple with a God of war, but in a time when culture, politics, sociology and religion were not distinguishable facets, every battle was one of Good and Evil. David sought to defeat the Philistine for the glory of God. And he knew he wasn't doing it on his own.

    In the next "chapter" in David's story, we see Saul take him in. As readers we know that David has already been anointed King and so we see a power struggle begin to unfold. Saul's own son Jonathon became David's friend and soul mate. And something mysterious happened to Saul. The text says he was overtaken by an evil spirit (from God - yikes). David evades Saul's crazy rants and even manages to sooth Saul with his harp. The story tells us that God departed from Saul and was with David. Are there times when we cannot be successful then without God? What role does our relationship with God play in our ability to do things?

    We can certainly read these stories as messages of Hope--The little guy always has a chance against evil. However, what does it do to all of us when we internalize this message and start to view ourselves as somehow Failing or Less Than if we do not surmount the insurmountable odds?

    We are fortunate this week to have THREE choices of Hebrew text...and the third is from Job. Job is the text in Hebrew scripture that calls into question all previous understood "truths" about who God was and how God behaved. For unknown reasons, Job is subject to horrible suffering. He loses family, he suffers his own illness, this property disappears. Job's life sucks. And he works through all the reasons why - he's been righteous, he's attended to the Lord...and still he suffers. Our selection is from God's response to lots and lots of chapters that detail Job's suffering, his sadness, despair, frustration and eventual anger with God. And there is little comfort in God's response. It sort of reads like this, "who are you to question God, to pretend to understand how things work, to apply human logic and notions of cause and affect?" These aren't words that make us lean back and say, "God's got my back." They aren't words that justify claiming that God is good all the time. This isn't a dialogue that assures us that all we need is a "close personal relationship" with God or Jesus Christ. These are bewildering words that leave us wondering if we really know anything at all.

    Paul writes to the church at Corinth and he's chastising. Look closely at how he describes the life of his followers who he says are doing things right and well: they are imprisoned and beaten, they are hungry and afflicted. But while they are sorrowful, they are rejoicing. There is no prosperity gospel here. These people are relying on something bigger than themselves. By societies measures, they are downtrodden. But their God is real. They are not subject to their own power and ability, but to God. And Paul describes them as if they are blessed even in the midst of their difficult life. What are we working for? Ease?

    In a whirlwind of confusing responses to relationship with God, Mark's account of a storm at sea which terrifies the disciples adds another nuance. Jesus has been traveling with his disciples and it is late. He's asleep in their boat and a storm comes up. When the disciples cannot stand their own fear and discomfort any longer, they wake Jesus who calms the storm and then scolds them for their lack of faith. Wait a minute - they believed Jesus could do something about it. But it seems Jesus might have expected them to do something about it themselves. He sees their reliance on him as a lack of faith. In whose name do we claim comfort in our lives?

    And again, look at the message both Paul and Jesus are putting out there in contrast to what we find in the stories of David. They are talking about reliance on God bringing internal and personal satisfaction and peace rather than outward and political or financial success.
    Are we focused on the right things?

    God, we are easily distracted.
    We follow the shiny objects
    of money
    and success
    and ease.
    We shy away
    from satisfaction
    and peace
    and love.
    Help us
    as we attempt to focus
    on those things
    that bring real beauty
    and compassion
    to us
    and to the World.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you

    6.17.2012

    Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B



    Let's spend some time today considering Power.

    We are, in our American (mostly) middle-class upbringing, raised to believe that we as individuals have some Power.  Power of self-determination, Power of choice, willPower, Power over those who are weak, Power to do good or evil.  We believe that we possess Power.

    Our scripture reading invites us to ponder God's Power, and the space we give that in our lives.  Do you leave room for God's Power?  Do you recognize that Power at work in your life daily? hourly? minute by minute?  If not, what happens to your own sense of Power if you do?

    From Samuel, we have the story of Saul's demise and David's anointing.  Remember the story - The Israelites have clamored for a King and God through Samuel finally relented and Israel raised up a King - Saul.  Turns out Saul was sort of a rotten choice for a King, at least by early standards, and Samuel petitioned God to intervene.  God sent him to find and anoint a new King in the town of Bethlehem.  Samuel shows up at Jesse's place and starts working through Jesse's sons - beginning with the Oldest, because of course the most fit would be the elder son.  Turns out that was not what God said. God wasn't looking at the marks that the Israelites were looking at.  He was looking at the "heart." And so, the youngest son, ruddy and handsome, was God's chosen "King."  Now maybe calling this unexpected choice "Power" is a bit of a stretch.  But then again, maybe not.  What was it that God knew, understood, intended to overlook all the rest for this boy?

    The prophet Ezekial is trying to make meaning out of an incredibly tumultuous time in Jewish history.  He writes both before and after the destruction of the first Temple.  He's both speaking judgment and consolation to the exiles.  In 17, he's foretelling a day when Israel will once again be mighty and it will only be mighty at God's hand.  Now the Jewish tradition has much to think about in the space of why life was so hard and when Jerusalem might be restored.  And in Ezekial's prophecy is a recognition that God has the ability to raise from a small sprig a new creation, a new forest that will teem with life once again upon a mountaintop.

    The Psalmist is offering benediction (with hope for better times) and praise to a Mighty God.

    In Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, he's saying some things about the work of disciples. As people who recognize the Power of God in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have something to tell others.  We're not bragging about our own lives, our goodness, our ability.  We are bearing witness to the way we understand God at work in the world.  What we have is not ours by our own hand.  Our ability is not ours by our own hand.  Are we straight up and honest with ourselves about that?  And when we are, what do we do with that?

    Finally, in Mark we read two brief parables that seek to illustrate something about the Kingdom of God.  If you want to geek out a bit on biblical stuff, the first parable is the only parable NOT found in parallel in another Gospel (bible trivia for the day). The first points to an agricultural mystery (you have to reach back to ancient times and abandon your own enlightened understanding of biology here) - that seeds dropped on the ground become something totally different, plants that grow and produce.  Now at one level, that is a mystery.  And then, if we start looking for symbolic value, what "seed" is planted that grows and expands and produces? So many possibilities...then and now. Faith.  Love.  Teaching.  Similarly, the familiar parable of the mustard seed suggests that God is involved in making something really happen from something seemingly inconsequential.  Power.  God's got it.

    We're not suggesting that each of these scriptures was written about Power.  But we are suggesting that it's worth looking at our lives through the lens of our understanding of God's Power.  What is our understanding of that?  What is the proper place for that Power in our lives?  What responsibility do we have to share what we understand about that Power?  What does our own power have to do with that greater Power?

    God 
    You are
    Powerful
    And we cannot 
    even begin to see what that really means
    how that really works
    what that really does
    because we simply 
    cannot
    conceive
    of that Power.
    Help us
    to be wary
    and aware 
    of your Power
    in our midst
    daily.

    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    6.09.2012

    Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

    1 Samuel 8.4-11
    Genesis 3.8-15
    Psalm 130
    II Corinthians 4.13-5.1
    Mark 3.20-35

    As humans, we don't have a great track record of governing ourselves or of imagining that what we have is better than that which we don't have - choosing to be satisfied is not a native instinct.

    Americans (and especially those of us at KC) often trend toward believing we don't need anyone telling us what to do.  We like to think of ourselves as autonomous, right?  We like to think that we know better and deserve more than the world knows or is able to give us.  

    A tiny illustration shows up in Genesis. Adam and Eve were given free reign in the garden with just a couple of boundaries.....and they transgressed those boundaries. The first example in scripture that even with rules and the best God has to offer, we'll push boundaries.  Is that just part of our human condition?

    Maybe we don't like folks telling us what to do, but as we have lived in community with other humans we have certainly benefited from consulting one another and trusting one another and supporting one another.

    In the story we find in Samuel we see the people of Israel asking, begging, and demanding a King. They had spent some time without a leader. They had tried following prophets and judges and they came to the conclusion they wanted a King like all of their neighbors.  And they are warned that with a King will come a host of other woes.  Keep reading the stories.  All those woes show up...and more.

    And even though God and Samuel both tried to talk the people out of it, they pushed on and got their King....Saul.

    Later on we see some examples of how we respond well and even thrive when we have someone to follow. In Paul's second letter to the people of Corinth he lays out for them the ways their connection to God through Jesus is to their benefit. Connection, not autonomy.  Really, on average, how many of us here in America believe that our inner nature is being renewed...in spite of all the difficulty life deals?

    In Jesus' hometown, he's doubted and chastised and accused.  The people that live there are imagining something sinister behind his ministry.  They accuse him of being a demon, because surely only a demon can cast out a demon.  It's a slightly different view, but sometimes our dissatisfaction with what we have or don't have manifests itself as contempt for what someone else DOES have.  Maybe they didn't understand what it was that Jesus was doing and that made them uncomfortable. But instead of looking closely, asking questions, engaging, they speak against that which they can't understand.  


    What does it take to be comfortable in our own skin, with that which we already have - and not just comfortable but appreciative?  What does it take for us to believe that we want to be right where we are with the people we are with and the things and skills and gifts we already have?

    LORD,
    help me settle my longing beyond
    what I already AM
    what I already know
    what I already see
    and help me discover joy
    and gift
    and contentment
    and satisfaction
    and goodness.
    All good gifts
    when I recognize them.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    6.02.2012

    Trinity Sunday, Year B

     
    If you hang with us long enough talking about church-type-things, you will come to know that we have difficulty with a popular responsive declaration:
    God is good (all the time).
    All the time (God is good).

    It's one of those things that some folks love to say and hear.  And we believe that our human ability to comprehend God is far too limited to say those words aloud without profound discussion about their Truth. We are aware of the many folks sitting in the average worship service who have no ability to affirm such an idea. (Our discomfort with this phrase is connected to the phrase "everything happens for a reason" when people attribute it to God.....thus implying murders, earthquakes, and cancer are intentional movements of God....some shit just happens...but that is for another discussion).

    When we profess that God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, somewhere in there, we have to acknowledge that we cannot even begin to understand God.  Describing God as Good falls short if we do not share the breadth of understanding of how our human minds limit that descriptor.

    This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, a "feast day" of the church.  As protestants, we're not very good at observing feast days...but if we pause and reflect, this might be one of those days, like Pentecost, to pause and let out a little bit of an astonished gasp.  God is pretty amazing - more complicated than we can fully understand.  Last week we celebrated the "birth of the church," as the Holy Spirit came crashing into Jerusalem igniting believers.  On Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the complexity of God - the interrelated balance of a God in three "forms" - Father, Spirit, Son; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Goodness, Love, Wisdom.  Our very humanness limits our ability to describe this God and our work, in many ways it is to know in our core even what we cannot begin to describe.

    Our readings this week open up this question about God's nature.  In the Hebrew scripture, Isaiah describes an experience of call with God.  The prophet sees an amazing vision of God on a throne, attended by Seraphs.  Isaiah hears the praise offered by the Seraphs, confesses his unworthiness, experiences a ritual cleansing as his mouth is touched by hot coals, and receives a call to be sent out in God's name.  This is a form that our worship can take on Sunday mornings.  Here on Trinity Sunday, pay special attention to the words that the prophet uses to describe his experience.  Amazing, unfamiliar, astounding beasts attend to the LORD whose hem literally fills the Temple.  The very vision highlights the prophet's own smallness, unworthiness.  And yet, he is called.  Even though he cannot begin to understand all that he sees, he recognizes his role when he is called.  Have you received such a call?

    The Psalmist describes an awesome God above all things--words like glory, strength, splendor, majesty.  This is praise for a truly awe-inspiring God.

    In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul encourages the community to live according the the Spirit, not the flesh.  In our rational, logical world, this can feel like a call to accept the limits of rational thinking. But Paul alludes to those moments in our life when no human power will pull us out of the depths and we cry out to God.  Has that happened to you?  In those moments, we are relying on our deepest soul-beliefs. Do we have the commitment to live in that deep soul-belief when we are not in crisis?

    Finally, John's gospel describes an encounter by the cover of night a meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is a pharisee...and it seems that he is intrigued by evidence of Jesus' divinity.  He seems to "know" at a cellular level that there is something remarkable about this "man."  But Nicodemus' earthly understanding is limiting his ability to accept that a "man" can be "divine."  He's really befuddled by this notion of being "born" again.  Get out of your head, Nicodemus!  Jesus isn't talking about the physical birth that we can all access in our rational rolodex.  Nope - this is a different kind of birth. And Jesus tries to explain how God has sent him into the world out of love for that very world.  Hard stuff to wrap our minds around.

    We're not suggesting that we check our brains at the door when we consider God.  But we do need to confess the limits of our humanity if we embrace the full divinity of God - embodied in the three in one. We need to fully engage our minds and spirits as we consider who we are and who God might be.

    God, protect us from ourselves.
    Forgive us when we make mindless statements.
    Forgive us when we claim to know more than we do.
    Guide us away from wounding others with our less than thoughtful beliefs.
    Help us as we attempt to be present with who we are and what we really know.
    Help us to trust that we are loved and we are enough just as we are.
    Amen.


    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    5.26.2012

    Day of Pentecost, Year B

    Ezekiel 37:1-14 •Psalm 104:24-34, 35b •Acts 2:1-21 •John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

    Stop for a moment and think about how you understood the world 25 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago.  For us, it was a much smaller, more contained world 25 years ago.  We were not connected to our global neighbors.  News of an uprising in Egypt might have reached us in a day or two...certainly not tweets from protestors in the heart of Cairo as the first chants were yelled, the first police response made.  We likely would have read the news in the newspaper - and maybe seen more in depth coverage a month or two later in one of the news magazines.

    Ray Kurzweil, inventor of "optical character recognition," (the technology that makes scanners do their thing, turning images into words) wrote a book in the late 90s, "The Age of Spiritual Machines."  He talked a lot about the rate of technology acquisition speeding up, the world contracting as a result, our reach and grasp expanding.  He also wrote about what this meant for artificial intelligence - machines would begin to "think," to draw conclusions and then take next steps.  Surely it would only be a matter of time before they became feeling and spiritual with emotions and preferences and biases and... It was and is all a little overwhelming.

    At Pentecost, we remember and celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the early church.  This was the Advocate of whom Jesus had spoken in John's gospel, sent to provide God's word, presence and power in the midst of the people of God.  Some think of it as the "birthday" of the church.  Today we find ourselves wondering where the Spirit is descending with tongues of fire and rushing winds?  Is it the church?  Another gathering?  What is that rushing wind today? And those tongues of fire? And what languages are made the same?

    In the reading from the Hebrew scripture, the LORD reveals to Ezekial a stark valley full of dry bones.  This is one of those texts with such vivid imagery...take a moment to read and imagine - and to wade around in the subtext.  Imagine being overwhelmed by a valley full of bones - bones bleached white with time.  Israel had been through so much.  She was weary with war and exile....Lost.  The Lord challenges Ezekial - do you believe these bones can live?  Then prophesy to them...tell them to live...tell them to receive the breath of life.  Don't just breathe. Live.  These bones LIVE. Where is the Valley of Dry Bones today? And who is prophesying life and breath into these bones?

    The psalmist  is amazed by the dizzying reach of God's creation.  We have access to "know" more about that creation today.  Sometimes our knowing overshadows are ability to be in awe and to praise.   What Leviathans sport in our seas today?

    In the passge from Acts we find the familiar Pentecost story.  Jesus' faithful followers were gathered in Jerusalem, waiting. They are overtaken by a divine act and although they are all Galileans, they can be understood by the array of pilgrims and merchants from so many places passing through the great city that day.  They spoke of God's deeds and powers and all within hearing understood.  Peter quotes the prophet Joel who spoke of end-times.  'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.'

    In many ways, we are a valley of dry bones.  What prophets will speak life? And in what places is the Spirit rushing in?  And are we watching for that? Because there is a saying about lightening not striking the same place twice.  It's not biblical, but we suspect the next movement of the spirit is not in the church.

    God of power and presence and spirit...
    light on us in places that have potential
    and in places that are dry
    and desperate for the breath of life

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We 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.

    4.22.2012

    THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER Year B




    It is interesting to see the ways folks work to make sense of things.

    Similar to last week's readings, this week we see a range of reactions to the resurrection of Jesus. And this week, it feels a bit like watching a variety of news reporters all working to make sense of the same event.

    And like our variety of news outlets today, everyone comes at it with their particular view, audience, and interest in mind.

    Looking at them is as close to chronological order as we can, first we see a pretty straight forward first person account of the resurrection in the gospel of Luke. Jesus himself is present and is making sure every one at the scene is getting accurate information about has happened. After having a snack with them and letting them pinch him and such, he reminds them "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."  In this scene Jesus is doing his best to make sure the disciples put the pieces together of all that they have experienced and witnessed.

    The next account we get comes from book of Acts which many assume was written by the same writer that wrote the gospel of Luke. Even though this may have been the same reporter, he is reporting on a different scene that is separated from the resurrection by some space and time. In this scene, we find disciples still trying to share the good news of Jesus with folks. However, Peter is sort of putting his own spin on the message. He berates his listeners by emphasizing how they were the ones who handed Jesus over and who killed Jesus and how they were ignorant and such. Not necessarily the same note of "Feed my sheep" that Jesus left on, but we have to trust that Peter knew his audience and felt that an insulting scare tactic was the right approach. WE don't think it was, but evidently Peter thought it was the right way to relay the message.

    And in the passage from 1 John (which we assume was written about 50-70 years after the community described in Acts) we find a much more reflective and narrative news piece. The writer of this passage has obviously had some time to think through the life of Jesus and hone in on what he sees as the primary message to be shared. It seems he wants his audience to understand the importance of simple obedience. He refers to the love of God the Father protecting and inviting us, the children of God, in to obedient relationship.

    It is always important for us to pay attention to the context and audience of the passages of scripture we encounter. Every word is written in a particular context with a particular audience in mind. 

    And an important responsibility we have is to think about the messages we share in the particular contexts and with the particular audiences where we find ourselves. We all remember the words of Saint Francis to "Preach the gospel at all times--if necessary, use words", and find ourselves each day preaching the gospel in one way or the other.

    What message do you choose? How do you choose to portray it?

    God of creation, 
    Of resurrection, 
    Of breath,
    Representing you, 
    Sharing your light
    Requires my knowing you
    And my neighbor
    My co worker
    My partner 
    The stranger 
    The neighborhood 
    The world itself
    So that your light
    Your message
    Lands 
    Where you would have it.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We 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.

    4.14.2012

    SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER Year B



    I am not a marketing person, however I do know that the method and context used to communicate a message matters. Different purposes and different audiences require different methods of communication and really, very different words, sentence structure, tone.

    In this week's readings we see a couple of different methods employed to share the message of Jesus in those early years after his death and resurrection.

    In the gospel of John we see the most direct connection between Jesus and anybody after his resurrection. He appears to some of the disciples behind closed doors, shows them his wounds, and offers them a teaching. He even gives Thomas a personal follow up visit later just to make sure Thomas was paying attention to what was happening. Why would Jesus make such an intentional visit to the disciples? It seems he wanted to make sure that the people who had been closest to him were able to go forward from that moment and testify to what they had seen without any doubt. Jesus knew that these folks would be his primary sources and he invested a lot in them.

    In the next generation of the story of Jesus being shared we see in the letter labeled 1 John some folks who were obviously followers of Jesus as they are a few years removed from his earthly presence. They are telling the story to people who they know will not have the chance to physically meet Jesus, and so they are sharing their eye-witness accounts. They are sharing the teachings they received and that they are super excited to pass on to others now.

    At a similar time we see the one of the early Christian communities being formed in the stories related in the book of Acts. There we see how folks were coming together to live together and share their resources in an attempt to live out the message of Jesus in a slightly different way. And again, what we see is a group of people with a message they desperately want to share with the world, and they are finding their way to share it.

    All of this was written within one or two short generations of Jesus' ministry on earth.  What is the message that we can share, particularly within the context of our Christian communities, about Jesus today.  Our eye-witness accounts are generally something very different.  And yet, can you imagine telling an account similar to that in Acts today? And I bet you can also imagine sharing some of the same experiences as in 1 John.  Hmm.  Maybe our eye-witness account ISN'T all that different after all. 
     
    Give it a try - what is your experience of the Risen Christ? What is our shared experience of the Risen Christ?
     
    God
    Sometimes my rational mind
    wants to discount my experience
    with the Holy.
    Because, You know, I'm enlightened.
    I'm savvy. 
    I'm a thinker.
    Thank you for community
    that is a reminder
    of how much I share with others
    that is felt
    visceral
    startling
    sensual
    real.
    Thank you for experiences
    of the Risen Christ
    in our midst.
    Amen.  

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We 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.

    4.06.2012

    RESURRECTION OF THE LORD Year B




    Imagine promises fulfilled.

    Imagine peace.

    Imagine no more hunger.

    Imagine no more suffering.

    Imagine grace and mercy

    Imagine forgiveness of sins.

    Imagine seeing and knowing God.

    Imagine physical connection and communion with God.

    Imagine imaginings realized.


    Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures we see places where people are imagining life being better. We see them living toward promises and covenants made with God. We see them faithful and wayward, we see them grateful and repentant, we see them in bondage and free. In their their most dire moments we find them dreaming and Imagining how the world will look when the promises of God are fulfilled.

    This is not all that different from us today.

    Today we still dream toward and live with the promises of God that we received through Jesus. We are still living toward the dreams of peace, grace, mercy, forgiveness, no more hunger, no more suffering--for all the world. Jesus taught us that God does God's part and we do our part to fulfill these Imaginings.

    Last night at our seder meal I was given the honor of reading a part of the "New American Haggadah" (a section written by Lemony Snicket...honest). In the seder there is a section that always looks toward "Next Year in Jerusalem" which looks toward the dream that maybe next year at Passover, there will be peace and all Jews will be back in Jerusalem and able to share the Passover meal together. Imagine what that would look like:  "Even if you do not believe you will celebrate Passover next year in Jerusalem, you may say these words and think of your own home, which I hope is one of freedom and safety, and the journeys of all the people in the world, which are often difficult and treacherous, as they try to find homes for themselves. Next year, we hope everyone in the world has freedom and safety and can celebrate holidays in a home full of fellow travelers who wish them well. Let us be grateful for the homes we have, and hopeful for the homes of others, this year wherever we may be, and next year in Jerusalem."

    Imagine what the Kingdom of God can look like in your life, right here, today.

    I pray you work to help bring the Light of God in to the dark places of this world.

    May your life be filled, every moment of every day, with the Grace and Peace of God.
     
    Amen.


    © matt norvell 2012 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.