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.