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Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

If you have followed us for long, you probably understand that sometimes (? all the time ?), writing these reflections give us the opportunity to work out our personal demons.

And in that goes:

Amy Delong, ordained United Methodist Elder who has lived in a loving and committed relationship with another woman for 15 years, has been on trial with the church. She was charged with two violations of church law as an ordained Elder - one being an avowed homosexual living in a relationship, the second having conducted a commitment ceremony for another gay couple in 2009. As this is written, the jury has delivered a split verdict, finding Amy innocent of the first charge and guilty of the second.

There is a movement afoot in the United Methodist church. A lot of people think that the church's rules about homosexuality are wrong. A lot of people think homosexuality is wrong and therefore the church should have rules. As a global church, the rules of the United Methodist church are built by people living with diverse cultural norms. The dialogue has been going on for a long time. Both sides probably have moments of thinking there is an obviously dominant solution to all of this. But only one thing is clear...there is NO clear answer. And all of this is the divided moral compass of just ONE community. Most of us belong in some way to many, many different communities.

It's all so messy. Life is SO messy.

The is no ONE answer to solve complicated and messy situations. However, there are opportunities for each of us to find ways to love each other and love ourselves in small areas and corners of the larger situations.

Our scriptures this week plunge us into the messiness of a life with God. Our Year A tour through the Israelite history has us reading a difficult story in Genesis about Abraham and Isaac. Remember that Abraham (born Abram) and his wife Sarah (born Sarai) agreed to follow God where he would lead them, and in exchange, God has committed to make of them a great nation. Even from the point of this covenant forward, Abraham and Sarah lead messy lives with messy moral dilemmas. In this week's reading, God has asked (told) Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. Now Isaac is Abraham's only legitimate son...and God has promised great things to come from Sarah and Abraham's family. Imagine Abraham's confusion. But Abraham goes. He makes the journey to Moriah, Read this text. And then read it again. It is a skillfully told story with Abraham leading an unsuspecting Isaac along. Isaac is carrying the wood and Abraham the fire. Isaac asks about the lamb, and Abraham responds, God will provide the lamb. It is a story that gives us chills. And just as Abraham draws his knife, an angel calls him back. He passed the test.

The psalmist laments the very hardship of life...and fully expects God is present in the hardship. And the faithful soul rejoices amidst the lament for that!

In Paul's letter to the church in Rome, he is examining some of the messiness of our human nature. He has a bit of a concern that the promise of God's grace in Christ's death and resurrection may lead some to a life of sinfulness...because we're forgiven, right? He insists instead that we are sort of obligated by our union with Christ (through baptism) to be righteous - as sin free as we can manage. He knows that will be hard, that as humans we are slaves to something and we have to choose between being slaves to our sinful nature or slaves to our allegiance to God in Christ. Messy stuff.

Now certainly Jesus didn't speak the words selected from Matthew for this week's reading for the purpose of summarizing a discussion about the messiness of life with an assurance that messiness is ok - live into it and love others and you'll be ok. But hey, that's sure how it draws these passages together. Jesus also cuts through some of the complications it is easy for us all to get caught up in. We find ourselves wanting to make a huge deal out of things and we try to create a greater "system" around providing love and care, and Jesus sums it up with "
whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward." Life and circumstances are SO MESSY.....AND we can still love others with a simple gift of a cold cup of water.

And so...I suspect that everyone on all sides of that tricky trial have a chance to love each other in a variety of ways and certainly are still beloved in the eyes of God.

Life is messy.

God, so often we are desperate to see the BIG picture

We want to know THE solution

We want to solve ALL the problems.

And in that process

We forget it is not our

Responsibility to SOLVE

It is our responsibility to LOVE

In whatever way is in front of us.

May it be so in our lives

Each day.



© 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.

Trinity Sunday, Year A

We have said this before: The Trinity is a tricky idea to grasp.

Sometimes folks talk about different persons of the Trinity...sometimes folks describe the Trinity as different manifestations of God...sometimes people delve in to metaphors (three points of the same leaf, three folds in a napkin)...the difficulty is that all of these, while partially illuminating, all fall short.

The term The Trinity was created by Christians. Jesus doesn't talk about it, Paul doesn't use the term, it is not found in your bible or mine. As far as we know it was first used (at least written) by a guy named Theophilus of Antioch in 180 BCE. As the Christian faith grew and matured and folks were trying to get a handle on these three ways of experiencing God and express them in credal statements others could agree on, the term was born.

And so, what do we do with it?

How is the Trinity important to us?

chapter of Genesis. Here we see God specifically reaching out and creating and caring and loving the Creation. An interesting bit in this passage creates some possibly different Trinitarian chapter 1, verse 26 God is quoted as saying, "Let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness..." (emphasis ours). What do you make of that? Who was God speaking to or with at the beginning of Creation? Could be angels....could be Jesus...could be.....?

In Psalm 8 we see an example of how we has humans relate to God the Father. Much of the time we see God the Father as a protector and provider and the creator. An omnipotent presence in the world and our lives. Now this can become problematic for folks who have a negative experience of "father." We happen to think that there is flexibility here (although many will argue with that) - this passage is about a protector, provider, creator.

In the end of Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth we can see some of the beginning of Trinitarian thinking. He closes his letter with, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." Wouldn't it be fantastic if we ended every interaction that way?

And in Jesus' closing words as recorded in the gospel of Matthew we find Jesus offering us a phrase that is still used in many ways in churches today...."baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....". This is new language to them. Jesus is certainly clearly laying out for his followers where his authority comes from and how it connects to God the Father, AND he connects himself to the Holy Spirit / Comforter that he had promised would be with them. We wonder how long they "chewed" on that commission. 

God interacts with us in a variety of ways, and we interact with God in a variety of ways. 

We wonder, how do YOU describe "God in three persons, blessed trinity?"
when I rest in the palm of your hand,
when you rest at the table with me,
when your presence is in the very air I breathe,
remind me that Your essence,
Your presence
Your provision
Are for me
to witness
and to share.
© 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.


Year A - Easter Day of Pentecost

  • Numbers 11:24-30 
  • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b 
  • Acts 2: 1 - 21
  • John 7:37-39

Ever have that moment when you have experienced some great awareness, insight or revelation.  You try to name it, to share it, to tell someone else. And the experience is lost on them.  They register no understanding of the profound nature of your experience.

Maybe in a moment of great nerve, you actually tried to share your experience, your insight, your revelation with a room full of people.

And flopped?

They stared blankly and blinked.  Or they might have even chuckled.  Made demeaning suggestions about your state of mind?

Pentecost is the day in the liturgical year where we recognize the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised his followers a presence that would always be with them.  And 50 days after Easter, Christians recognize the arrival of this presence.  Some think of it as the birthday of the church - the arrival of the Spirit to guide and be present with early Christians as they sought to enact the teachings of Jesus in a "post-Jesus" age.

Our readings for today give shape to the story of Pentecost.  But they also shed real light on human response to things not easily understood - more of our rational mind battling with our spiritual selves to determine what can be real -- true?

In Numbers, Moses has shared his experience of God and gathered a group of 70 elders, upon whom the spirit descends.  They prophesy during the experience, but the scripture tells us that they do not prophesy again.  However, while the 70 are gathered and doing "important work" with Moses, two others back at the camp have the experience of prophesy.  Someone runs to report this to Moses - surely they weren't "chosen" and therefore shouldn't be doing this right?  But Moses has a different response - hey, it's ok.  Wouldn't it be great if we could ALL do that.

Now that Numbers passage has been interpreted for the Christian lectionary as a prophesy of its own - a foreshadowing of how Jesus' life and presence would change things.  (Hmm. Do we think that the Spirit was NOT present among the Jewish people?)  In the Acts passage, a group of believers is gathered and they have an amazing experience of wind and tongues of fire and of hearing truth spoken in words that they understand in spite of a difference in languages actually being spoken.  Imagine the times you have been engaged in some difficult dialogue and although you were speaking the same language, no one understood the other.  Makes this experience of the gathered pretty amazing, doesn't it?  But again, there is a naysayer in their midst...they are drunk with new wine.  Moses was probably on to something...because it's pretty possible that the people suggesting drunkeness were just a little self-conscious about the fact that THEY weren't also miraculously able to understand all that was going on.

The passage from John recounts an earlier experience of Jesus and his followers.  He names that out of believers' hearts will flow rivers of "living water".  Living water is a theme that would have been understood among the Jewish people. The gospel writer interprets pretty directly for the reader - these are words spoken about the Spirit - a Spirit not yet with the people because Jesus wasn't through with what he needed to do and be.  Believers will be a source of life. 

Have you ever been the doubter?  The person who couldn't quite understand the enthusiasm, the vision, the passion in the voice that is speaking to you?  And instead of embracing that enthusiasm and giving thanks that SOMEONE had it, indulged in some judgment instead? 

Is it possible that every day, a source of life is spoken into being by a believer in our midst?  Or we are the speaker?

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer God
May the words of our mouths
and the meditations of our hearts together
be holy and acceptable
and heard
and understood
by those in our midst
And may we hear
and understood
the words of others' mouths
and meditations of others' hearts.
For You are our Rock and our Redeemer.

© 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.

Ascension of the Lord Year A



Being taken up in to the clouds?

How serious do we need to take this? How serious was it? How important is it? What is the point?

Well, at least one of us has no problem believing Jesus was taken up in to the clouds in front of some of his followers. We have never seen any one do that, however we have also not ever stood in the physical presence of the God-Man / Man-God. We like to make room for the possibility that he could do what he felt appropriate at the time.

The fact of Jesus being physically whisked away in to the clouds (as fantastic as it may sound to us today) doesn't seem to be the primary point of the scene. As we read the story as presented in the gospel of Luke and in the book of Acts (which many suspect were written by the same author) we see Jesus gathering his followers for one last bit of instruction before he goes. This is something of a parallel to the "Great Commission" found at the end of the gospel of Matthew. In both Luke and in Acts he instructs those listening that they will be His witnesses to all nations.

In Luke he instructs them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in his name to all nations and in Acts he simply tells them they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

And then he rises up in to the air and disappears.

What an exclamation point! That is such an impressive way to show the importance of a teaching. Most folks are doing well if they can pound the table a bit or get folks to clap after an important point. For Jesus, he emphasizes his words by Completely Leaving.

But it seems like those words would stick, doesn't it? It seems like after hearing that instruction and seeing Jesus disapparate, Peter must have turned to James and said, "Well, I guess we should get on with telling others about Jesus...right now."

Paul wasn't there, but he was certainly privvy to the witness of the folks that were there that day. And evidence of how seriously he took that teaching is present in the letters he wrote and the work he did to spread the Good News throughout the world.

This seems like an important message for us to pay attention to.

It seems like it is set apart and put at the end to make sure we do not miss it.

It seems we should each take some time and think of how the last words of Jesus connect to us today.
You will be my witnesses to all the ends of the earth. 
What does it mean to witness?
What is the hope to which the early church was called and what is to be done with that hope?
What does it mean to proclaim repentence and forgiveness to all the nations?
Where do we start?
God of amazing miracle and unknowable strength,
Unbind me from the limits of my vocabulary
and culture
and tradition
to witness to your power and your ability and your grace
to the ends of the earth.
Give me grace and love and mercy
to do it as you would have it done.
© 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.