1.27.2012

FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY Year B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20  • 
Psalm 111  • 
1 Corinthians 8:1-13  • 
Mark 1:21-28


How close can we be to God?
How close should we be to God?
How direct of a relationship do we want to have with God?

In a lot of our modern Christianity we see people reaching out and yearning for a Direct Relationship with God. And this shows up in a lot of ways. 

Some folks talk say with pride, "I don't need anyone to talk to God for me". Some folks refer to Jesus as their "buddy". Some refer to Jesus as their True Love.

Of course, there are some among us today that have a different view of this relationship:
"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982).

One way or another, it seems this might be something important to think about.

In the passage this week from Deuteronomy 18 we see the words of Moses speaking to the followers of God. He is reminding them of what they said when Moses was receiving the commandments from God on Mount Horeb. The people said, (in Exodus) "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." Moses is reminding them that they asked for an intermediary and he is telling them that another prophet will rise up one day. Moses says (on behalf of God) "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak--that prophet shall die." There have been, and are, arguments about who this references. Some say Jesus, some say Mohammed, some say it references a prophet (messiah) still yet to come.

In the passage from Mark we see Jesus relieving a man of an unclean spirit and observers wondering by what authority a person could do this. The people in the synagogue were amazed that he could command spirits and he could teach scriptures with authority and he could do both of these like no one they had ever seen. At this point, Jesus is not talking too much about who he is or by what authority he is doing these things. But the people are certainly seeing experiencing something that was unusual for them. They did not appear to have a direct experience of such spiritual events.

In the passage from Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth, we find Paul working to work out some of these relationships. The primary issue he is addressing revolves around eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. He is working to draw a wide circle of inclusion here. He is allowing for folks who do not hold the exact same belief as the followers of Jesus. He acknowledges there are those who do not yet understand the 'system' - There is God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Lord - and believe that 'idols' may or may not have some sway in the world. And for those people, eating meat sacrificed to idols is an abomination. And so, Paul says, even though I don't agree with them, I can avoid eating that meat so that I do not offend them so much that they will not listen to me. All of this speaks to the role that Paul understands that we as individual followers of God play. It is our responsibility to help point others toward God through Jesus. We are not playing the role of prophet or intermediary, but we do have some responsibility to help set the stage so that others may believe.

What is our role as follower of Jesus?
What is our relationship to the God we claim to serve?

God, help us to know our place in the world.
Help us to respect who You are
and who we are.
Help us as we attempt to reflect
Your Light
to those who 
find themselves
in darkness.
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. 


1.20.2012

THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY Year B




This week in the story of Jonah, in Psalm 62, in an early moment in
the active ministry of Jesus, and in a letter from Paul to the
followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth we read messages telling
folks that the ways they were living were about to change
significantly.

This particular passage in Jonah comes after the scenes that make
Jonah famous. Before this passage, Jonah had resisted sharing the news
God had asked him to share....and he ended up inside a great fish. But
we see him here, telling folks that God had told them that their city
would be overthrown.

In Psalm 62 there is lots of language about trusting fully in God
because so much of the rest of the world is but a breath and a
delusion.

In the passage from the early part of Mark's gospel Jesus says "The
time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and
believe the good news" And then walks out and starts asking fishermen
to leave their livelihoods and start a brand new venture.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he warns his
readers "the appointed time has grown short...the present form of this
world is passing away."

And so what do you do...what do we do when we are directly faced with
messages of certain change (positive or negative)? How do you respond
when challenged, or called to account for your misdeeds, or promised
that a new way of believing will bring joy to your life?

We are all faced with situations like these. We are told things will
be different--sometimes better and sometimes worse--and we have to
choose what our response is going to be. Will we try to ignore the
message? Will you take note but keep going in your own direction? Will
you drop your net and follow?

God, I know I sometimes complain
about what I have.
But I don't know that I am ready for change.
At least I am familiar with these things
that I have to complain about.
Help me as I learn to trust
and rest in
Your love
and Your protection
In the face of whatever
change comes my way.
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. 

1.13.2012

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY Year B



1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

All of us are Connected to 10, 000 things in 10, 000 different ways. Socially, physically, emotionally, we are Connected.

But some folks have....a different Connection.

Some people have an awareness...maybe it is a knowledge of themselves, or a knowledge of people, or a knowledge of the world...but some folks have an awareness and a sensitivity that allows them to Just Know things.

Some people call it intuition. Some call it the connections of the universe. Some call it insight given by God...some call it the Voice of God.

Some folks seem to have an intimate knowledge of themselves, of people, and the world that not all of us have access to.

I don't claim to know what it is. However, I do know some people are Connected in a different way than others.

A great example of this is found in the story of Samuel and Eli. Both were servants in the temple, Eli was the elder and Samuel was the younger. In the night Samuel hears a voice calling him and thinks it is Eli. It turns out it was the LORD calling out to Samuel and the LORD told Samuel that the house of Eli would be punished in an extensive and unforgiving way. It was in these moments that Samuel came to be known as one who was Connected....he was a prophet of the LORD.

In Psalm 139 we have a beautiful (and classic) song of knowledge and Connection. This is written by a person who has a deep and serious understanding of the ways that the LORD is Connected to him. He understands the intimacy of the knowledge God has of him.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul is explaining the importance of the Connection between their human bodies and their spiritual relationship with God. And because there is such an important Connection, each person should pay attention to what s/he does with his/her body, because that matters. This is important for us too. There is a chance that treating one's body well can bring you in to closer Connection and treating your body poorly can impede your Connection to God.

Huh.

And in the text from John this week we see Jesus showing his Connections. Basically, as a new guy named Nathaniel walked up to him, Jesus spoke to him and knew things about him that made Nathaniel immediately respond, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Now, we don't really know what Jesus knew of this guy...we don't really know what Nathaniel knew about Jesus. But what we do know is that they shared a sudden, profound, and unusual Connection in that moment.

Trying to write about this feels like I am trying to draw a picture the wind. It is hard to describe, but I suspect we have all had moments where we experienced one of these profound Connections.

Can you identify those for yourself? Are there ways you have learned to pay more attention to those Connections?

God, we know You are always with us.
We know You surround us.
And yet we are not always there.
Help us as we learn to clear away
the obstacles that
we build
between Us
and You.
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.

1.07.2012

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD Year B




As Americans, we have a natural barrier to reading the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

We are inherently suspicious of royalty.

Whether you agree with the current Libertarians or not, our early American (the formerly British ones...not the nice folks that already lived here) brothers and sisters came to this land with a clear "leave me alone, you stinkin Monarch" vibe. 

AND when we read our scriptures, the passages are filled with references to King and Lord. The context in which most of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are written is a context in which there is a King, or the threat of a King, or the memory of a King...and understanding this is important to our reading the stories and instruction we find there.

And in this week's lectionary readings where we are remembering the beginning of the liturgical season of Epiphany, our lack of royalty enthusiasm can inhibit our reading a bit.

The season of Epiphany celebrates the coming of Light to the world. On this day we remember the three Kings (from the 'east'....often named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) stopping to visit King Herod to ask where the King of the Jews has been born. Today, we can work to try to understand what all of the implications of this event might have been, but it is awful difficult for us to really crawl in to the context and understand what it might have meant to King Herod (a friend of the Romans and overlord of the Jews) to have three foreign Kings show up ask about a new King of the Jews that had been born.

And, as anti-royalists, we also have to do some extra work to join with the excitement that we find in all of these passages this week where folks are so happy that a King / Lord has come to bring light in to their world. In the passage from Isaiah, we read, "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you." In the Psalm from this week we see a prayer that God imbue the King with power to defend and protect them forever: "May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth." In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus he talks to his readers about the ways that the coming of Christ has realigned the balance of power that he understands.

However, our current context can give us some some unique ability to read these scriptures in a different way that might be just as valid. We may not have the understanding of what it means to live under the rule of a King, but each of us as individuals can understand what it means to live in darkness and be revived by the Light. Each of us either has experienced (or knows someone who has experienced) oppression at the hands of a system not of our own creation...and we can understand a yearning toward a leader that will right those wrongs. 

Have you been brought out of darkness? Can you imagine what it means to put your hope and trust in a King? Can you imagine traveling many days to search for a King that will bring Light to the world?

God, help us as we attempt to 
be servants
and followers.
Help us as we attempt to 
subvert our independence
and individualism
in an effort 
to accepting
Your authority
in our lives.
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.