3.25.2012

Fifth Sunday in Lent - Year B

Jeremiah 31:31-34  •  Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16  •   Hebrews 5:5-10  • John 12:20-33

I almost got involved in a pyramid scheme one time.

I had just graduated from college with a less than overtly marketable English and Philosophy degree. I had blindly searched for a job for a while. I began to just respond to as many ads in the paper as I could. One day a guy called back that sounded really interested to talk with me.

When I arrived at the appointment I was sat in a room with about a dozen other people and we were barraged with a sales pitch about water ionizing filters and vitamin supplements. But more than the clean water and vitamins, these folks were showing pictures of the company's owner and the wide variety of wealth he had accumulated as a result of selling these products. After a while, those of us who stayed were broken off in to a one on one conversation with current salesmen. They pitched the "business model" and how important it was for me to sell the products to everyone I knew AND for me to bring in some other people in as salesmen because for every dollar's worth of vitamins they sold, I got a cut.

Ugh.

The thing that was impressive to me about this whole thing was to see how Motivated these people were. Of course, they were motivated only by money. They talked about selling clean water and vitamins, but they were motivated by money. But there were Motivated. And they were Motivated to spread the word and bring in as many people to their belief system...er...company because the more people there were in the system, the better it was for everyone!

When we are really excited about something, we work as hard as we can to share that excitement with others. When we have something that we really believe and that we really know will make a difference, our Motivation suddenly is about multiplication rather than just simple addition.

When we look at this week's passage from Jeremiah, we see God taking a different approach with the people of Israel. Up to this point, the expectations were set up for people to follow God primarily based on rules and laws and commandments. Here we see God talking about making a new covenant with the people that is "in their hearts." So the appeal is to a deeper known relationship rather than an enforced code of laws. And this deeper connection creates a greater Motivation in the person. It is like when you went from 'reciting' the words to the Pledge of Allegiance or the Nicene Creed to really understanding the meaning of the words and commitments you are making.

We see in most of the Psalms a writer who is Motivated more by the relationship with God. He is always dealing with joy and praise and guilt and shame that comes from being in a relationship with someone. In Psalm 51 we see it again. This writer is flogging himself and throwing himself at the feet of God and asking for forgiveness and desperately wanting to be in relationship with God.

In the passage from John we see Jesus talking about how his message was being multiplied. In this passage we see the importance of others being motivated to understand and implement the message. Jesus tells them that "unless a grain of wheat falls in to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." One person teaching a message is helpful, but spreading that message to others and then having them spread that message creates a different type of success.

The writer of Hebrews talks about the Motivation that Jesus was operating from. He talks about Jesus understanding that he was appointed by God as a priest to the people. Salvation came through him because of his "reverent submission" and "obedience". Jesus understood his purpose and brought others in to work with him and motivated them to help him go out and fulfill that purpose.

When we are really excited about something, we work as hard as we can to share that excitement with others. When we have something that we really believe and that we really know will make a difference, our Motivation suddenly is about multiplication rather than just simple addition.


God, help me avoid my cynicism.
Help me drop my guard.
Help me not worry about
what others think.
Help me to reach out and
share the messages
I know to be true.
Your words of
Hope
Peace
and Love.
Help me as I attempt to be
who you created me
to be.
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.

Fourth Sunday in Lent - Year B

Numbers 21:4-9  •  Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22  •  Ephesians 2:1-10  •  John 3:14-21


I apologize I have not had time to write a full lectionary reflection
this week.

The story that comes from Numbers is one of my favorites. The people
disobey, God sends serpents to bite and kill them, they repent, and
God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent on top of a stick for the
people to look at for their salvation from the snakes.

Looking at the bronze serpent on the pole did not prevent people from
being bitten, it prevented them from dying once they were bitten. Once
the person was wounded, then she or he would look at the bronze
serpent and be healed.

Wow.

Jesus echoes this in the passage from John.

Now there are many many things we could talk about here, but here is
my favorite to ponder: what if looking at the thing that is killing
you is your only way to salvation? What if the way to overcome a wound
is by turning and facing it fully? What if the thing that is killing
us is the thing that also might bring us in to the light?

God, we desire healing.
We do not want to live in pain.
We naturally try to hide
from the things that
cause us pain and discomfort.
We do not want to examine
our wounds or where they
came from.
Give us the courage
to look in the places we
need to look and
to shine light
in the places
that no longer
need to hide
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.

THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT Year B

Exodus 20:1-17  •  Psalm 19  •  1 Corinthians 1:18-25  •  John 2:13-22




Do you remember a few years ago there was a person running for elected
office that seemed to take great pleasure in calling herself a
Maverick?


Our culture has sort of an odd relationship with Mavericks. On one
hand we don't really like folks who blatantly break rules and deviate
from the social norm when that deviation ends in hurting someone else
(eg. a murder, a pedophile, or Rush Limbaugh). And on the other hand
we often hold up as positive examples the people whose creativity and
ingenuity and passion are not held back by conventional thinking.


As human society has developed, it has developed guidelines and rules
and norms and laws that have helped it to function. There are civil
laws and there are social laws and there are religious laws and
sometimes they overlap. And people (with a variety of intentions) all
developed these laws with the goal of making society a place where the
greatest number of people can live in a safe and respected way.


While there are many instances where we have all been justified in
questioning the validity of social / civil / religious laws, in
general we follow them. In general, we trust the wisdom of the process
and intention and authorities that develop them.


In Exodus we see the 10 commandments given. Certainly it is true that
they put some boundaries on people that did not exist before. However,
imagine what a relief it might have been for some folks to be
explicitly told what it meant to follow God! Up to this point there
had been some direction, but very little community wide messaging.
There are some of us today that do not operate well when we do not
know the boundaries, and I imagine that was true then too.


Throughout time (and for us today) we can point to the importance of
"coloring within the lines"....the practice keeps us grounded...it
keeps us connected to the places from which we come. Following the
"traditional" patterns help to shape us and our outlook on ourselves
and the world.


As the Psalmist says, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the
soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the
precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment
of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;the fear of the LORD is
pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and
righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much
fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the
honeycomb.Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them
there is great reward." There can be reward in following the
traditions and laws.


In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, we see Paul
illustrating how important the laws of God and teachings of Jesus were
to him. He emphasizes that God's wisdom provides guidance above and
beyond any of the individual choices we may or may not make on a
regular basis.


And in the passage from John we have the famous scene of Jesus running
the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. He was upset for a
variety of reasons, I imagine; however, the words he uses here
illustrate that an important target of his anger was the people not
following the traditional practices and laws concerning keeping the
temple holy and pure.


What practices are you willing to get upset about today when they are
transgressed?
What benefits can you recognize from knowing the 'laws' of God and
following them?
What challenges do you run in to when you attempt to know and follow
the 'laws' of God?


God, help us.
We are drawn to structure and order
and we are repelled by it.
We yearn for the safety
of familiarity
and we are also interested
in freedom
and independence.
Help us to find our place
in You.
Help us to know our place
in You.
Help us to trust our place
in You.
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.

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT Year B

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16  •  Psalm 22:23-31  •  Romans 4:13-25  •  Mark 8:31-38






Some days I am overwhelmed by the faith shown by folks.


In scripture, we saw it last week when we read the end of the story of
Noah and the baptism of Jesus. And we see it again this week as we
read the story of Abram/Abraham and see Jesus teaching folks about how
he was going to be killed.


All of these people are showing a deep trust in God. They are each
facing a grim scenario, and yet they believe that, live or die, it is
the right thing to do.


Wow.


And in every day life, people trust in unproven medical techniques,
people have faith in unproven political leaders, people put their
lives on the line to fight for ideas they believe in.


I don't know that I have that in me.


I like to believe I am faithful...and courageous...and willing to step
out and trust God in dire circumstances. And I am not sure that is
true [and I am not anxious to test myself].


We see the first person account of Abraham in the passage from
Genesis, and then in Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome
we get his retelling and commentary on the life and actions of
Abraham. He had been a man who faithfully followed God and believed
that eventually God would fulfill His promise to make Abraham the
"father of many nations". However this became less and less likely as
Abram and Sarai's fertility were slipping away day by day. And yet, he
stayed faithful and so did God. Paul makes it sound quite majestic and
courageous: "Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become
"the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous
shall your descendants be." He did not weaken in faith when he
considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was
about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of
Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of
God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,being
fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness."


Believing even in the face of completely contrary circumstances...wow.


And then we find this interesting story from the gospel according to
Mark. It begins with Jesus telling folks that he will be killed and
rise again...and then the disciples want to talk him out of this crazy
thinking...and he lays down an intimidating mandate for his followers:
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take
up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life
will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the
sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain
the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in
return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in
this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will
also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy
angels." Jesus draws a high contrast map explaining the kind of faith
necessary to be one of his followers. He sets the bar high so that
those choosing to follow him understand the possible consequences.


Yikes.


How faithful are you?
In what (or whom) do you place your faith?
Are there ways you would like your faith to grow or change?


God, guide us all
as we attempt to be faithful
to you.
Faithful in small things
on easy days
when little is requested....
and faithful in big things
on hard days
when our lives are threatened.
Guide us, Dear 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.