Previous month:
September 2010
Next month:
November 2010

All Saints Day, Year C

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Psalm 149

Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31

All Saints Day is an important one to us in the Christian year.

As we get older and experience more life and have more people who are important to us die, this day becomes more and more significant.

There are certainly historical underpinnings found in many denominations of the Christian church. And, while those are important, they are not as important as the opportunity for personal reflection it provides.

Unfortunately, as Christians, we don't get a good religious holiday that sort of orders us to reflect on our year. Our Jewish friends have the High Holy Days that encourage believers to think through their last 12 months and remember positive things and repent of negative things. This is an important practice for us humans.

Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for people to reflect on their lives. Many do it at / around the New Year, many Covey fans do a day in review., etc. But there seems to be something important about doing this review of your life and the ways the important people in it have influenced you within the frame of a person's spiritual life. 

It helps each of us pay attention to where we fit in to the world. When we remember those we love who have died, we are doing a lot.

  • We remind ourselves of the fragility of these bodies.We remember the depths of love.
  • We remember the ups and downs of relationships.
  • We remember that love and money can sustain life, but they cannot prevent death.
  • We find ourselves thinking about how we might fit in to the Big Picture.
  • We are forced to ask what we really believe about what happens after our last breath.

All Saints Day really is an important day. If we are willing to engage in the process of remembering who we have been with and what we can learn from them, it can be an important day for us.

  • Have I done enough?
  • Have I done the right things?
  • Am I following the right path?
  • Do I stand on the right side?
  • How much time do I have left?

All Saints Day provides a chance for some weighty and beneficial reflective time. 

On the average day, questions of Significance and Life and Death are never too far from the surface.

We believe every story and statement of scripture engages its reader around these same sorts of questions.

For example this week, we see the prophet Daniel struggling with visions of life and death for his people and the land he knew. He was put in a position to offer prophecy against all of the current inhabiters of the land - all of the controlling kingdoms of the time....if that does not make you examine your own mortality, nothing will.  His vision foretells the fall of four powers and the rise of s single power...a single way of life.

Psalm 149 is singing praises to God for a few different stated reasons, but the underlying one is that The Lord has kept the writer and his people alive and has punished or killed those who might want to oppress them.  The culture at this time was marked by two ways - good and bad, right and wrong, allies and enemies, life and death.  There were no shades of gray.  The souls of the enemy were not of great concern.

In the greeting from a letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, Paul is encouraging his readers to remember that the life and death of Jesus and the ways they are following / serving God all have bearing on each individual's possibilities after death.

In the passage from the gospel of Luke we see Jesus teaching the disciples. He is offering a series of Blessings and Woes.....and the Blessings and Woes seem to be instructing folks that their actions today matter and have repercussions. He is encouraging them to think about the lasting significance of who they are and what they are doing.  He also encourages them to bless those that may hurt them, that may curse them, that may repress them - to love their enemy as well as their neighbor, not in the future but right now.  Jesus is encouraging them to live with some shades of gray.

It is fitting that, as the leaves turn from green to red to yellow to brown and then fall, leaving branches bare, that we consider the departure of breath...of life as we know it right now.  It is a fitting time to think about the Saints, all the saints, and the ways that their lives made a difference.

Gracious and mysterious God,

I want to pay attention.

I want to remember.

I want to love and be loved

even when it seems unlikely.


Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25), Year C

Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Maybe it is just our current station in life-what we bring to the text
often shows up-but it seems we often see in scripture an emphasis
placed on Humility.

Here are some questions that keep rattling around for us:
How is Humility important?
What happens to us when we become 'less Humble'?
What role does Humility play in our relationships? Is it important
there? Why or why not?
Are the Humble somehow rewarded?

Certainly, in this week's scriptures the question is driven by a
fantastic line from the writer of the Gospel of Luke: Jesus also told
this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were
righteous and regarded others with contempt.

We had never noticed that this parable was set up with such a
directive stage setting!

Jesus goes on to talk about the Pharisee (pious religious figure)
patting himself on the back in prayer while the Tax Collector (assumed
social low life) is praying only for the mercy of God. Jesus then
offers the commentary to those "who trusted in themselves that they
were righteous and regarded others with contempt": "All who exalt
themselves will be Humbled, but all who Humble themselves will be

That message is a rare one today, isn't it?

Matt just finished an annual performance review and was encouraged by
his supervisor to cut down on Humility some and "advertise himself" a
bit more.

And how do we balance Humility and confidence?

Is the writer of this passage in 2nd Timothy Humble or arrogant? "I
have fought the fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the
faith.....from now on there is reserved for me the crown of
righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on
that day, and not only to me but to all who have longed for his
appearing."  Is he simply confident in his faith, or has he stepped
over a line and is "tooting his own horn"? Or, has the author truly
"poured" himself out and as a result, is claiming righteousness as a
response to his self-sacrifice to this point?  Can we be proud of who
we are and how far we have come and how far God has brought us without
becoming arrogant?

And what happens if we do slide over the line and become arrogant?
What happens if we stray from our Humility?

Our guess is that a healthy element of Humility keeps a person
reminded that s/he lives in connection to others and that others are
important to his/her existence. And a derth of Humility puts a person
in a place where s/he is only dependent and trusting in his/her own

In the Hebrew culture, there was a prominent tradition of Wisdom. The
culture was underpinned by a notion that there was a right way and a
wrong way.  In the passage from Joel, we get the impression that the
people have chosen a right way and will be rewarded in some way.  The
Lord is present and vindicating their hardship with early rain, ample
supplies, good health and annointings.  It is as if the prophet can
promise these things because of the Humiliating circumstances the
community has endured.

We live in a sharply divided space where we are sometimes convinced
that success is based on our achievement (as defined by our material
culture).  But Jesus taught in a world that was much less divided.
Success was interlaced with God and with righteousness and with how
people lived out the covenant of the Israelites. Somehow Humility
seems more palatable when its interlaced in a total package of Life
and Balance and Humanity.

I want to humble myself before you...
to be ok with falling to my knees
to be ok with taking the lesser share
to be ok with pouring myself out
and receiving no notice
no accolade.
Help me taste righteousness
in all its combined flavor
both the sweet and the bitter
balanced -

© matt & laura norvell 2010
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.

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24), Year C

Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104
Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

So much of our existence as humans revolves around relationships.

If you are physically and intellectually talented enough to be reading
this on a web page or in an email, you certainly have your fair share
of experience navigating, succeeding, trying, failing, and exploring
relationships with other folks. It is often tough work to be in
relationship with someone else.

Even in situations where you may not have much of a connection with
the other, it can still be difficult for you to express your needs /
feelings / desires and for the other person to express their needs /
feelings / desires and for the both of you to understand one another.
We all show up with our own stuff and experience the world (and other
people) through our own histories.

And in relationships that are important to us, even greater challenges
can show up because we might feel we have something at stake. Maybe
our life depends on getting something from the other person who holds
the power, maybe we need to preserve the relationship because it helps
to give our lives definition, maybe the important relationship helps
to define who we are and without it we would find ourselves

Having some skill at being in relationships and preserving them is
important to our survival.

In this week's lectionary selection from Jeremiah we see God reaching
out and re-committing to the relationship with the Israelites. And as
often happens when two parties are re-committing to a relationship
where trust has been broken in the past, some different expectations
are set out this time. God says it will not be like last
time...individuals will have more responsibility for their own
actions. And most importantly in this passage, God forgives the people
so that they can re-enter relationship with one another.

In the short passage we get from Psalm 119 we see the writer
essentially singing a love song to God about how wonderful it is to be
in relationship with God. How wonderful it is to know the law of God
and have insight in to the world because of that relationship.

The alternate reading from the Hebrew scriptures is the familiar story
of Jacob wresting with a stranger that he later recognizes with God at
night in the Wilderness.  Our relationship with God isn't always some
corporate thing - God and The People.  Sometimes it is deeply
personal, one on one, physical.  Wrestling.

In this week's passage from II Timothy we continue to see a writer
whose world has been shaped by faith in the stories of God's actions
in Jesus Christ.  From the way he writes, we assume he would resonate
with John Wesley's sentiment about sharing the good news of Jesus: "I
set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn." He wants
everyone to know what he knows about God and he knows that it is
urgent to tell the story because there are others telling a different,
false story.  Our telling the story from day to day and generation to
generation really requires that it is Our story - Our relationship
with God that becomes witness to God's grace.

And in Luke's account of the life of Jesus we find Jesus giving us
encouragement about a way to commit ourselves to relationships when
there is something that is vitally important to us. In this story of
the widow incessantly petitioning the unjust judge we find
encouragement to persist even if the relationship is not one that we
want (or need) to be in long term.

We have a choice about engaging in a relationship.  And then we have
myriad choices within that relationship about how we will act, how we
will persist, how we will continue.  It is overwhelming to count the
relationship we find ourselves in.  And yet, just acknowledging that
they exist calls us to a different way of being.

I am here.  I wait for you.
And sometimes, you wait for me.
Thank you for showing up...
for engaging...
for reaching out to me.
I pray that I learn
in relationship to You
how to reach out and engage
with the rest of creation.

© matt & laura norvell 2010
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.

"The Social Network" Is Not About Jesus

A number of years ago, Dan and I had dinner with a couple we had known in college but whom we hadn't seen for a while.  They had gotten married and moved to Boston where he had a post-graduate fellowship to do medical research.  She was working at a job she didn't love and complained--not just a few times--that her husband was constantly at work.  He only talked about his work, too, and after our dinner I told Dan, "He's going to wreck his marriage if he keeps that up."  Dan looked at me with surprise and said, "Yea, but I have to say, it would be worth it.  Did you hear what he's working on?  That guy may well discover a cure to cancer!"

I've thought of that conversation and that couple many times since that night, especially when the subject of work-life balance comes up, which it does quite frequently in my brain and in my social circles.  And I thought of them again--and all of the questions our evening with them raised--when our family saw the movie "The Social Network" yesterday.

I put a lot of thought and effort into making sure there is more to my life than my work.  I do this because I value being a parent and a partner to Dan and a family member and a friend.  But I also seek balance in my life because I am convinced it is a requirement to being half-way decent at my job.  The quality of my work as a pastor, I've come to see, is closely related to my emotional and spiritual well-being.  

But is this really true of everyone?  I've met a some people who are clearly doing (or going to do) exceptional things with their lives.  Negotiate peace agreements.  Perform music at a world-class level.  Run a winning presidential campaign.  Find a cure for cancer.  My impression in each case was that the rest of us should get in line to help this pursue do what they do best.  To mutter under my breath something about how this person probably doesn't have enough quality time with her children seems ridiculous.  To suggest that they should take their turn coaching soccer or running the Girl Scout cookie sales seems absurd.

Now before anyone accuses me of Ayn Rand-ish tendencies, I should point out that this theory of mine hasn't really been put to the test.  Watching "The Social Network" made it clear to me that it's probably good that I am not best friends with a world-class computer genius.  I know the movie is a fictional portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.  But it is based enough facts (including several highly publicized law suits) to suggest that there is some truth to its portrayal of Zuckerberg as valuing the advancement of Facebook over his friendship with many of the people who helped him get started. 

But the movie suggests--and I can imagine this is true--that this was really for the best.  In the end, Zuckerberg's instincts were in fact better than those of his early partners.  So he ditched his friends and his site grew exponentially and influentially.  I left the movie stewing about this.  Was I supposed to feel bad about his loss of his college friends?  If he had spent his time explaining his vision to his friends and waiting until they had consensus, wouldn't he have been wasting his genius?  Wasn't it their job to recognize his brilliance and fall in place behind him?

I have become famous (or notorious) among my family and friends for declaring that every movie I like is actually about Jesus.  I liked "The Social Network" but it is most decidedly not about Jesus.  Jesus was exceptional--and his contemporaries recognized him as such and wanted to be around him and gain his favor.  When one of his closest disciples, Peter, challenged his vision, Jesus famously responded, "Get behind me, Satan!"  But in the end, a big part of what Jesus did was call out the gifts of others.  He told his disciples that they would go on to do "even greater things" as they live their lives in him.

I have a hunch that if "The Social Network" was a documentary and not a fictional work, the story would look at least a bit more like the story of Jesus.  I bet that Facebook really is the work of a collection of people who have been inspired by and empowered if not by Zuckerberg himself, then by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg or someone else who works as a buffer between Zuckerberg and the rest of the company.  I believe that there are geniuses in the world--and I have been honored to meet more than a few.  I think that "life balance" can be overrated.  But in the end, the people who make a lasting difference on the world are the people who can activate the intelligence and passion and Divine Spark in others.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22), Year C

Lamentations 1:1-6 and Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137  •
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-9  •
2 Timothy 1:1-14  •
Luke 17:5-10 Faith a choice? Or could it possibly be a requirement? Is it
naturally built in?

Of course, we are limiting the choices here, but when we read the
lectionary selections this week we were struck by the different
representations of the ways people responded with Faith.

When we look at the two passages from Lamentations, the passage from
Habakkuk....even the Psalms...we see people who are at the end of
their Israelite ropes; and yet, these folks still are expressing
messages of hope and trust in God.

These folks have had their homeland invaded and destroyed, they have
been displaced, they have been insulted and beaten and run down.

And yet, they are still talk about their faith in God. They are still
in conversation with God about how they can get back on top and how
their enemies might be subdued.

We talked recently at KC on a Sunday morning irrational hope in the
face of insurmountable situations, and that is what we see here.

But this Faith these folks display.....where does it come from? Do
they choose to have it? Are they born with it? Do they have any other

There is a chance there might be some illumination of this question
from an unusual passage in Luke. We see Jesus in conversation with the
disciples. Just prior to this passage Jesus commands them to always
(seventy times seven) forgive folks who sin against them. The
disciples response is to ask for more Faith. And then Jesus responds
telling them that a person does not need a Great Amount of
Faith....just Faith the size of a mustard seed. It is almost as if he
is telling them that you either Have Faith or You Don' is not
an issue of quantity. He goes on to further illustrate this with a
story about a servant / slave's responsibilities. As we read this it
seems Jesus is saying that a slave / servant does not look for a
reward or gratitude for simply doing his job. And it appears Jesus is
connecting this to a Duty of each of us to Have Faith. It is not an
option, it is not something we should expect an extra reward for, it
is something we should Just Do....Have Faith.

And in the 2 Timothy passage, an experienced and faithful voice is
giving encouragement to Timothy, reminding Timothy of the faith that
has passed on to him by his mother and his grandmother and God's given
gift of power and self-discipline.  Timothy is being encouraged to
weather the hard times by relying on what he knows deeply about his
own faith.  We sometimes refer to this as cell memory...the stuff deep
within us that when we remember it is there, we can rely on in dark
moments.  A built-in safety net.

We are puzzled and amazed by the Faith we have.  And sometimes we are
puzzled and amazed by the Faith we do not have.  And it is intriguing
when we are able to hold someone else up because they cannot hold
themselves Up.  And when someone's Faith boosts us when we are in the

In my dark nights
be present with me
in ways that I cannot fully understand
or explain
in my light days
help me share
those ways with others around me
when they cannot fully understand
or explain.

© matt & laura norvell 2010
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.