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Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

WARNING: this is a dangerous line of thinking.

What if we were to really trust God?

What if we were to really completely and honestly and completely throw ourselves in to believing God will provide for the things we need?

Of course an important first bump in the road for us comes when we are discerning the things we Need.

Does anyone else feel uncomfortable with where this might lead?

In this week's lectionary selections we have readings that are encouraging the reader to trust and depend on God.

We will approach them in reverse order this time....mainly because Jesus's message is such a counter-cultural message, we cannot turn away from it. 

In the passage from the gospel of Matthew, the first statement we have is "no one can serve two cannot serve God and wealth." we have to turn down the volume on our plasma television, put away our pay stubs, and stop our dishwasher so we can read that again. 

"You cannot serve God and wealth." 

Jesus goes on to offer several reasons why it is important to just focus on serving God. He even offers some insight in to how this might be done--primairly, the message is each of us should focus on being who we are and what we have under our control (what we actually have under our control, not what we would like to have under our control) and leave the rest of the orchestration up to God.

This does not sit well with us. For those of you who know us, you know that we are Accomplishers. We are Doers. We are Assessers and Control Takers.

Of course, we are also often Stressed Out. We are often Pulled Tight. We often are near the edge of being Burned Up.

Side Note: [Some scholars argue that this is evidence of Eastern / Buddhist influences in the Palestinian culture. The Buddha's teachings had been percolating for about 500 years at this point, and these points of Jesus seem quite similar to the Buddha's teachings of finding peace and resources within one's self and the contemplation of the smallest parts of creation. Consider the lillies.]

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he focuses on an important message that it is not a human's job to judge him or her self or anyone else. Judgment belongs to God.

The psalmist describes something that might be bewildering for us - a peace that passes understanding, if you will. Like a child full dependent and fully trusting on its mother, the psalmist rests in the hope of the Lord.

And in the passage from Isaiah we hear another message directly from God as to why we should trust God to provide for our Needs. For 8 verses here God recounts to the people how God has provided for them in the past and how God will provide for them in the future.

This is dangerous thinking.

It is uncomfortable to think about.

And it just might be a message of freedom that we all need.

I've lost touch with my roots...
with my flying instinct
while I am spinning in the world.
But as your creation
I seek deep knowing
of what I really need.
Help me rest 
in knowing that You
are God.
I am not.

© matt & laura norvell 2011
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.


Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

We live with three young people (and two dogs and two resilient goldfish) who are, every day, actively learning about how to operate their own bodies and how to interact with other humans and the world around them. Of course, each of us continues to work on this no matter how old we are, but it is overtly obvious with teens.

How much food you need to eat for breakfast to make it to lunch. How much one needs to study to do well on a test. How much notice an adult needs to change driving plans. What happens if you never clean your room. How smelly can I be and stand to be around myself? How much do I need to eat for lunch to make it through school? Where do I need to write down important events so I can remember them? How much do I need to eat after school so I can make it through sports practice without passing out? What happens if I get upset and yell at my friends / my teacher / a stranger / my parents? How much do I need to eat for dinner to make it through studying so I can go to bed? The list goes on.

Some of the answers to these questions can be dictated from an adult. Some of them cannot. Some of them require new information. Some of these questions can be answered by inferring from other information you already know. We learn ways of living and surviving from experience, from mentors, from authorities.

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures have many directives in them. There are many many instances where its readers are told how to live and behave and conduct themselves. And the directives from one scripture to the next are not always compatible. 

This week in Leviticus we see Moses getting instructions from God that Moses was to share with the Israelites. These instructions range from when and why to harvest to how judgment should be rendered and who should render it.  There is a funny rhythm to the refrain...many lines end with "I am the LORD."  On first reading, it might sound a bit familiar - a refrain almost like, "because I said so..."  But as we sit with this passage, the lines blur, and suddenly it is as if the directives become descriptions.  Created in God's image seems all encompassing - we're called to make our very behavior reflect God's nature.
In Psalm 119 we see the writer pleading for God to offer direction in a variety of areas in his or her life.  And at the end of the selected text, there is a very touching plea, "in your righteousness, give me life."  It is as if life comes from doing as God would have us do.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth we see him offering his readers some instruction and direction on the ways they are connected to God.  In a way, Paul is describing God's indwelling with us.  With Jesus as our foundation, we have to build in accordance with God...otherwise we might lose our building permit.  We've been given this magnificent example, our Emmanuel.  And we're charged to live out that example.

And in Matthew we see Jesus offering some direct reinterpretation of Hebrew law where he elevates the commitment and the consequences a bit.  He's telling his listeners (and we think he's telling us) that we really must be living up to the expectation set by the blurry lines of Leviticus - that we are are to act as God acts with mercy and love, not just for those who will be merciful and loving as well, but for our enemies and our persecutors.

Growing up in and around a variety of church settings we have heard folks say, "The Bible has an answer for any question you might have."

On the surface, this statement is sort of comforting. However, it isn't easy to tease out simple truths. If you start to poke at this statement a bit you find that either you do not get a satisfactory answer to where dinosaurs came from and went, or you get the answer that you are a sinner or unbeliever for thinking the earth is over 10,000 years old.  And there are a lot of conflicting directives there too.  But isn't that sort of "true to life?"  Aren't we getting all sorts of answers from all sorts of places at different times and in different circumstances?

All of this is to say that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures give us many many commandments and directives for how to live our lives. And, no matter how thoroughly Leviticus is read, there are still some things that we have to take responsibility for ourselves and discern on our own how it is we are to live.  But we're given great examples in the life of Christ and in the generations of those who have followed by loving their neighbor, the widow, the orphan and the enemy.
Creator God,
There is conflicting information
flying at me faster than the speed of light.
Be present with me,
dwell in my very breath
so that in breathing
I am able to discern
how to be your creation
in the confusion.


© matt & laura norvell 2011
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.

Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A

    * Deuteronomy 30:15-20
    * Psalm 119:1-8
    * 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
    * Matthew 5:21-37

This week, our readings all point to a common theme - God's investment in human will, and the outcome of our choices. We have choices of how to live, and there are consequences to those choices.

In Deuteronomy, as the Hebrews are receiving the the commandments, they are warned - the choice is theirs...blesses or curses. This passage pretty specifically lays out what happens when we obey the commandments and what happens when we do not obey the commandments.

The psalmist sings praises for those who choose a right path. The opening phrase says it all: Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.

And in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth, he sort of turns this theme around a corner...the choices don't matter as much as the fact that we are God's and therefore have those choices.

The real meat (sorry vegetarians) of this week's readings comes in the passage from Matthew.

For several weeks at this point in the church year, we are reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew.  It’s a long teaching offered to a large crowd of people.  It twists and turns. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus name those that were “blessed…” – the meek, the poor, the weak, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness.  In last week’s readings, we heard Jesus proclaim all to be salt and light – essential elements of the well-rounded life – and then challenge all to share that salt and light boldly to the glory of God.  It was all pretty comforting to that point.

And then in a quick turn, just about the time we’re feeling empowered – blessed, light, bright and salty - Jesus warns that unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees  (we’re talking people who would be seen as Uber Holy) we will NEVER see the kingdom of heaven.

And this week, believe it or not, it gets even tougher.

Jesus is unpacking Jewish law – the Torah that has ordered the civic, religious, spiritual and economic lives of the Jewish people for thousands of years.  He’s speaking to a crowd that is watching the world change rapidly. Occupied by Rome, the tribes long-established in this land have lost so much.  Surely their laws and customs and traditions cannot be far behind.  And Jesus speaks in terms that make the law bigger, more encompassing, more comprehensive… He makes these laws not just prohibitions but imperatives.  Not only should we not kill, but we must love ABUNDANTLY.  Not only should we not be adulterous, we must not even have desire for another.  Not only should we not swear falsely…we must not swear at all! In the midst of so much cultural change, Jesus takes the bedrock of the law and makes it even harder to be righteous.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool’, you will be liable to the hell* of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,*25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court* with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” and then come and offer your gift.

Whoa. We have to be more righteous than Scribes and Pharisees to see the Kingdom of Heaven, AND if we bear a grudge or act in anger or call people names, we will experience a Hell of Fire.

We're sort of losing sight of being salt and light. Are you?  We're not feeling real hot about the state of our righteousness.

True confessions:  We are not very nice people sometimes.  We haven’t ever killed anyone…we don’t even think we’ve ever physically hurt someone, at least not intentionally, but we’ve said some pretty nasty things…and thought some pretty nasty things. And meant them. We get angry.  We feel hurt and strike out with  words or by withholding affection.

Recently Laura had a heated conversation with her ex-husband, the father of her children, about a matter of the children’s safety and well-being.  She was “alone” in our bedroom.  As she hung up the phone, she shouted out her grief and her anger and her hurt…and the kids heard.  You must know that this passage has set heavily upon her since then.  There is some reconciling to do.  In their hurt, they said and did things that caused their father to know what Laura had done.  In his hurt, there were more ugly things said.

Hell of fire.

As Laura's father was dying, they engaged in a deep written dialogue about God and Jesus and faith…he spoke these words: “I do not believe in a vengeful God, Laura.  I believe in a very gentle handed God who allows us to create our own heaven and hell.”

Kingdom of Heaven, Hell of Fire – both products of our human choices.

During the last 3 miles of Laura's first half-marathon, a coach stood on the side of the road and yelled, “The next 5k is what you make it.  It can be the best 5k you’ve ever run. Or it can be the absolute worst.  Heaven or hell, what will it be?”

In a way, Jesus is like that coach standing on the side of the road, reminding us that we have choices…that we create our own Kingdom of Heaven or Hell of Fire right here.

Really.  We choose.

You are blessed, light, bright and salty….  You have the power to be graceful, merciful, light-filled, and loving.  And when you are not, you are forgiven.
It’s your race. You get choose: Kingdom of Heaven or Hell of Fire.

God, the world of intention is tricky.
Sometimes I say things I don't mean
(good and bad)
Sometimes I say things that are mean
(accurate and otherwise)
Sometimes I lust after things and people
(that are mine and that belong to others)
Sometimes I love others
And sometimes I don't.
It is hard to control this fantastic biologic
Spirit Container
You Created.
Guide me as I learn and relearn
The ways that bring me

© matt & laura norvell 2011
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.

5th Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A

We are BIG on Grace and Mercy and Forgiveness. There is no way around that.

Both of us have been people who did not offer Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness, and both of us have been people who have not received Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness....and after some consideration, we both believe it is better to offer and receive Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness rather than withholding it.

There is so much to be said about the notion that we do not have to do anything....actually, that there is not anything we CAN participate in or receive salvation.

AND there is so much to be said about what we do with our lives and how we respond to ourselves, the world, and God once we understand our role and relationship and place with God.

This week's readings all talk about how important it is to really be doing something with the faith we profess.

Isaiah has so many wonderful interactions between God and God's people. Some of them warm and fuzzy and some of them maybe a little uncomfortable and aggressive. This week's passage shows God (at least the inspiration of God through the pen of Isaiah) sort of poking the people and accusing them of being less than consistent between their words, actions, and intentions. The people think they are being righteous, but God says they are fasting with the intention of personal gain and recognition. And then God makes clear that if they remove the contentiousness and quarreling and evil from among themselves, if they offer food to the hungry, then God will be there to support and satisfy them at every turn.

We don't often like to think of faithfulness to God as a contingent relationship, but it appears that God does have some expectations of the people.

The message of Psalm 112 is summed up in the first verse: Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments. There is much more commentary about how happy and how the happiness will manifest itself, but that is the basic point: Delight yourself in God / the commandments of God, and you will find happiness.

Paul goes at this from a slightly different direction. He illustrates the things / revelations that come to those who are Believers / Followers / Spiritual.  Paul has a way of making things sound complicated, but really, when you are really tuned in, really aware of God and your relationship with God, do you suppose it is easier...or maybe just a natural outflow...that you are better able to love others?

In the passage from Matthew, Jesus talks of the product of a person's life being changed. When you have received the Light of God, it is your responsibility to share it with others. And that light illuminates those around you in ways that light the whole world.  Laura recently tapped into a memory about her father's first bout with cancer and the way he suffered with damage to his taste buds.  Who knew that salt made the whole world better? Italian artists began to play with the way that light fell in their paintings - chiaroscuro was born. The way that they depicted light changed the art world....but isn't that what light does?  Changes the world?

Created by God, sharing our humanity with Christ, infused with the Holy Spirit...change the world.

somedays we just check the box
we just show up at worship
we put a check in the basket
we make our commitments
and follow along
and forget
forget the beauty
of our interrelatedness
and our creation
and our dependence
on your very breath...
the essence of our BEing
and we can
and share that breath


© matt & laura norvell 2011
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.