Ruth–The Finale

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

The tag of this mornings reading is the point of the story. God has taken an outsider who was faithful to her mother in law, and made her the great grandmother of one of the most famous characters in the entire Bible. Naomi’s journey of being forced to leave her home, to the death of her husband and sons, is wrapped up her returning home to be the most blessed state there is—being a grandmother!

There is some interior evidence in this story which shows that it was written quite a while after the actual events. The writer thinks it is necessary to explain to us that there was an old custom in those days. How many years after the event would it have to be for no one to even be aware of that particular practice anymore?

This entire story is filled with traditions we don’t really understand. Land was not to be sold and transferred from one family to another. It was to stay with the people who originally owned it. If no one in the family were to survive, there was a system for figuring out where the land should go. The closest relative should get it. However, and this is a BIG however, if it is possible for the original owner’s family to continue to own the land, it must be kept in their name. It is this exception that Boaz is counting on when he let’s Ruth know that he’ll take care of it. I love the way the story plays out. Boaz indicates he’d be willing to take over the land, but knows there is a closer relative who has the first chance. He let’s this man know he is in line to have it. The man is happy to get the land, but not so happy to be getting a new wife in the deal. And, especially unhappy to know that the land would belong to any children he might have with this new wife. His current wife would kill him if he took this on. When this nameless relative declines, Boaz graciously steps forward and says he will take on the responsibility.

I love too how the women of the town gather around the new baby and bless it. I think we’ve lost some of that gift. If you are a grandparent, your primary job is to bless children, to adore them, to dote on them, to spoil them.   They don’t even have to be your grandchildren, just random kids on the street. People experience plenty of curses and judgment (especially from people of faith I’m sorry to say). They don’t receive nearly enough blessing. You don’t have to be ordained, you don’t even need to be a grandparent (but it might help). Just start blessing children. Start with a silent blessing. Then try blessing someone you know. Then just start proclaiming blessings everywhere you go. Children are a blessing from God, all children are precious to God and loved by God, but many of them don’t know it yet. We just need to remind them of who they really are.

Quotes for the Week

“Some people come in our life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons.”                     Mother Teresa

“Let us make one point, that we meet each other with a smile, when it is difficult to smile. Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family.”                Ibid

“Those who were raised in poverty and have been successful to overcome the shame of it, understands the hardship of those who are left behind.”      Ellen J. Barrier

 

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”               Orson Welles

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity” Gilda Radner

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”                  Madeleine L’Engle

“Life keeps throwing me curve balls and I don’t even own a bat. At least my dodging skills are improving.”  Jayleigh Cape

Lesson Ruth 4:1-17 (The Message)

Boaz went straight to the public square and took his place there. Before long the “closer relative,” the one mentioned earlier by Boaz, strolled by.

“Step aside, old friend,” said Boaz. “Take a seat.” The man sat down.

Boaz then gathered ten of the town elders together and said, “Sit down here with us; we’ve got some business to take care of.” And they sat down.

3-4 Boaz then said to his relative, “The piece of property that belonged to our relative Elimelech is being sold by his widow Naomi, who has just returned from the country of Moab. I thought you ought to know about it. Buy it back if you want it—you can make it official in the presence of those sitting here and before the town elders. You have first redeemer rights. If you don’t want it, tell me so I’ll know where I stand. You’re first in line to do this and I’m next after you.”

He said, “I’ll buy it.”

Then Boaz added, “You realize, don’t you, that when you buy the field from Naomi, you also get Ruth the Moabite, the widow of our dead relative, along with the redeemer responsibility to have children with her to carry on the family inheritance.”

Then the relative said, “Oh, I can’t do that—I’d jeopardize my own family’s inheritance. You go ahead and buy it—you can have my rights—I can’t do it.”

In the olden times in Israel, this is how they handled official business regarding matters of property and inheritance: a man would take off his shoe and give it to the other person. This was the same as an official seal or personal signature in Israel.

So when Boaz’s “redeemer” relative said, “Go ahead and buy it,” he signed the deal by pulling off his shoe.

9-10 Boaz then addressed the elders and all the people in the town square that day: “You are witnesses today that I have bought from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech and Kilion and Mahlon, including responsibility for Ruth the foreigner, the widow of Mahlon—I’ll take her as my wife and keep the name of the deceased alive along with his inheritance. The memory and reputation of the deceased is not going to disappear out of this family or from his hometown. To all this you are witnesses this very day.”

11-12 All the people in the town square that day, backing up the elders, said, “Yes, we are witnesses. May God make this woman who is coming into your household like Rachel and Leah, the two women who built the family of Israel. May God make you a pillar in Ephrathah and famous in Bethlehem! With the children God gives you from this young woman, may your family rival the family of Perez, the son Tamar bore to Judah.”

13 Boaz married Ruth. She became his wife. Boaz slept with her. By God’s gracious gift she conceived and had a son.

14-15 The town women said to Naomi, “Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life. May this baby grow up to be famous in Israel! He’ll make you young again! He’ll take care of you in old age. And this daughter-in-law who has brought him into the world and loves you so much, why, she’s worth more to you than seven sons!”

16 Naomi took the baby and held him in her arms, cuddling him, cooing over him, waiting on him hand and foot.

17 The neighborhood women started calling him “Naomi’s baby boy!” But his real name was Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.

 

Quotes for the Week

Who in this life has blessed you? What did they do that was a blessing to you?

How might we go about the task of blessing others?

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Devotional for August 24, 2014 – Daring to Act    

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                               

Wow. This week in Ruth is a page turner.   As I was reading I was thinking, those who say that the Old Testament is boring obviously haven’t read this book.  It is full of danger, suspense and bold moves.  Those who say that the bible is lacking in strong women obviously haven’t read the book of Ruth. It is full of women taking action and daring to take the next steps.  Those who say that we must adhere to “traditional” marriage obviously haven’t read what “traditional” marriage was because this type of marriage is more about property than about anything else and addresses the faults in that polygamist system. Those who say that God was only wrathful in the Old Testament haven’t read Ruth and thought about hope, faithfulness and providing for one another.

Back to the chapter at hand. For months perhaps Ruth has been following Boaz’s crew around. She has been provided for and due to what we heard before, has caught the eye of the prominent older man. Naomi sees the writing on the wall and sees what could be done.  She takes the matter at hand.  She wants her daughter in law and herself to be provided for their entire lives.  She is about to make a really risky move.  Up until now, Naomi has been sure to keep Ruth out of harms way.  She has made sure that she isn’t taken advantage of and now she could be placing her beloved in a risky situation. She tells Ruth to offer herself to Boaz but only after he is full of wine and food and is asleep and even then, don’t take it too far.  They need to play this just right.

If Naomi can make sure that Ruth is in the right place at the right time, she has faith that things will turn out just fine. Ruth takes her mother in law’s advice and goes to Boaz.  What we, as modern readers, miss is that Ruth is making a bold and daring marriage proposal here. Boaz could react poorly. Instead, he is touched.  Ruth could have anyone and yet she is so committed to her family that she is offering her life to Boaz (“cover your servant”).  He is touched that she would offer love to him.  He also protects her honor by sending her home with lots of food and does the next honorable thing, goes to the closer relative (a surprising plot twist that will be explored next week).

Naomi and Ruth’s bold moves have paid off. Boaz has reacted as he should, taking care of the widows and responding with admiration.  They took a move to take action.  While this is unlikely for the day, it is not that far off from us at times. There are many times when we can’t find the steps and yet we are being called to be bold.  We are being called not to a static life but a life of taking action to create change in the world.  Could we take steps to make the situations here on earth better for each other?                                                                                                                                                           

Quotes of the Week      

“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ― Susan Sontag   

 

“Action expresses priorities.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

 “It is terribly important to realize that the leap of faith is not so much a leap of thought as of action. For while in many matters it is first we must see then we will act; in matters of faith it is first we must do then we will know, first we will be and then we will see. One must, in short, dare to act wholeheartedly without absolute certainty.” ― William Sloane Coffin Jr  

 

 “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ― Helen Keller

 

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”  ― Brené Brown

 

 “ASAP. Whatever that means. It must mean, ‘Act swiftly awesome pachyderm!” ― Dr. SeussHorton Hears a Who!                                                                                                                                    

 

Ruth 3:1-18 (The Message)                                                                                                                                

 

One day her mother-in-law Naomi said to Ruth, “My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor.                                                                                                                     

 

“Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.”  Ruth said, “If you say so, I’ll do it, just as you’ve told me.” She went down to the threshing floor and put her mother-in-law’s plan into action. Boaz had a good time, eating and drinking his fill—he felt great. Then he went off to get some sleep, lying down at the end of a stack of barley. Ruth quietly followed; she lay down to signal her availability for marriage.  In the middle of the night the man was suddenly startled and sat up. Surprise! This woman asleep at his feet!  He said, “And who are you?”                                                       

 

She said, “I am Ruth, your maiden; take me under your protecting wing. You’re my close relative, you know, in the circle of covenant redeemers—you do have the right to marry me.” He said, “God bless you, my dear daughter! What a splendid expression of love! And when you could have had your pick of any of the young men around. And now, my dear daughter, don’t you worry about a thing; I’ll do all you could want or ask. Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are—a real prize! You’re right, I am a close relative to you, but there is one even closer than I am. So stay the rest of the night. In the morning, if he wants to exercise his customary rights and responsibilities as the closest covenant redeemer, he’ll have his chance; but if he isn’t interested, as God lives, I’ll do it. Now go back to sleep until morning.”  

 

Ruth slept at his feet until dawn, but she got up while it was still dark and wouldn’t be recognized. Then Boaz said to himself, “No one must know that Ruth came to the threshing floor.”  So Boaz said, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and spread it out.” She spread it out and he poured it full of barley, six measures, and put it on her shoulders. Then she went back to town. When she came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “And how did things go, my dear daughter?”

 

Ruth told her everything that the man had done for her, adding, “And he gave me all this barley besides—six quarts! He told me, ‘You can’t go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law!’” Naomi said, “Sit back and relax, my dear daughter, until we find out how things turn out; that man isn’t going to fool around. Mark my words, he’s going to get everything wrapped up today.”

Questions for the Week

When was a time when you had to take matters in your own hands?

What does it take to be bold in the world?  What calls you to be bold?

What keeps you from taking action?

 

 

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Gleaning and Hope

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                                                                                      Last week Pastor Mark gave us wonderful background to the story of Ruth.  This narrative gives us a glimpse into a family that is devastated by loss.  Naomi and Ruth have seen hardship and trauma.  They are left to figure out what to do next.  Naomi decides to return to her homeland with her daughter in law.  She tried to get Ruth to go back to her homeland but the connection is too strong.  This Moabite, daughter in law, Ruth, will not return.  She is determined to travel with Naomi.

When we enter into the story in chapter 2, the homecoming was sweet for Naomi but she was left with bitterness in her heart for her loss.  In fact, she tells people to call her “Mara” meaning bitter.  She and Ruth need to come up with a plan for survival.  Times are tough for two widows in a foreign land.  The system tells them that men need to take care of them.  I can imagine these two women scared for the future but determined to survive and not get trampled on.

Ruth heads out to glean for food.  In these times, food left over in the fields for widows and orphans to harvest (or glean) was biblical law for the farmers.  The law dictated that farmers were not to harvest the corners of their field so that others might come and be able to eat.  Widows might also look in the fields to see if there were any leftovers to gather and glean. (By the way, this is how Jesus and his disciples ate every once in a while. They even got in trouble for gleaning on the Sabbath).  Ruth gets lucky and goes to a field of someone related to Naomi’s late husband.  She returns home with about 30 lbs of food.  What a day!  She worked hard and when she tells Ruth who this field belongs to, hope begins to glimmer.  Up until this point, Naomi has had comfort with companionship but hope has been hard to come by.  But here, with food in belly, hope seems more realistic.

Because of this connection in the community, Ruth is cared for as well.  She gains a community of other women so that she might not be taken advantage of in the fields.  She is fed.  Emptiness is being filled.  God is working through circumstance and ordinary people.  God’s work is embodied in people.  And Naomi sees this, recognizes this and calls out blessing.  The world is looking up.  What will happen next in this story!  The plot thickens….

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                                      “They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” ― Tom Bodett

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”  ― Barbara KingsolverAnimal Dreams

 

“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak s*** anyone can throw at us.” ― Anne Lamott

 

“Hope will never be silent.” – Harvey Milk

 

“Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” ― Tina Fey             

                                                                                                                       

Ruth 2:1-23 (NRSV) Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.  Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.”  Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.  Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”  But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.  When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 1She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied.  Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.” Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.’”  Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.” So she stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.

Questions for the Week

What gives you hope in the world?

How might we be able to support the gleaners in our midst?

Where have people surprised you with kindness lately?

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Ruth–The Art of Story Telling

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

My apologies to Courtney, that I get to start off on the Ruth story! Maybe August should be an all female month of theme writers! But I do love the book of Ruth. It is, according to one commentary, “The perfect example of the art of story telling.” And like most good stories, it is sneaky. It weaves a very controversial theological theme, brought to us in such an appealing story, that we take it all in before we realize just how unsettling it is. This story highlights how radically different, grudging obedience is to passionate commitment.

Why do I love the book of Ruth? If you have done any systematic reading of the Bible (and especially the Old Testament) you will come quickly to love, absolutely love, anything with a narrative. The book of Ruth is the best example. The story starts with a family. The men (a father and two sons) who are usually the focus of a narrative, are mentioned and very quickly thrown by the wayside. Ruth and her family have left home to find food and end up settling in this foreign place. Now her sons marry foreign women. This is totally forbidden in the Hebrew Scriptures. Previously, people of faith have taken incredible steps to avoid being joined to just such foreigners. Abraham and Sarah send a slave all the way back to their homeland to find a suitable wife for their son. In his old age, Isaac sends Jacob back to find a wife. According to Deuteronomy 23:3 “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD, even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever;” Boy, does this little story fly in the face of that directive. Why? Because in three short generations this Moabite’s great grandson will rule God’s people. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is David.

This book is a radical corrective to Deuteronomy. Where you were born does not matter, your parent’s faith does not matter. How you live your life, that’s what matters. Now Orpah was faithful to her mother in law, Naomi. She stays with her through the one entreaty to leave, but finally gives in on the second and heads back to her own people. Only Ruth is radically committed to her mother in law. She will not leave. It is she who utters the beautiful words “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge I will lodge . . . “ These words are typically used at wedding ceremonies which kind of misses the point. This is the promise of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. It is the promise of one woman—one from a different country, from a different religious background, from a different generation—to another woman.

This commitment from Ruth probably saves Naomi. She is dependent on her husband to survive, and he is dead. Now she is dependent on her oldest son. He is dead. Finally she is dependent on her youngest son, and even he is gone. She has no socially prescribed way to provide for her own needs. She must be depressed. Her name means to be satisfied, or abundant water. Ironic, because she was driven away from her home by a severe drought. Sent off full, she is now returning empty. Her husband and two sons are all dead. When she and Ruth arrive back home, she tells people to start calling her “bitter” or Mara. The one whose name means abundance is totally empty.

But there is hope. She has a companion. There is not much in scripture to indicate that Naomi’s help would come from a Moabite woman. In fact most of what we’ve read in scripture up to this point would indicate that it would be impossible. But Ruth and Naomi are heading back to Israel at the time of renewed rains and an abundant harvest. God is doing a new thing. I can’t wait for the next installment of this story!

Quotes for the Week

“Patriarchy is like the elephant in the room that we don’t talk about, but how could it not affect the planet radically when it’s the superstructure of human society.”                        Ani DiFranco

“Each new generation of children grows up in the new environment its parents have created, and each generation of brains becomes wired in a different way. The human mind can change radically in just a few generations.”   Alison Gopnik

“End-of-the-world stories tend to ring true. I’ve always been drawn to them, but as I wrote my own, I found surprising pleasure in creating a world that is so radically changed, yet where there’s so much meaning and value in every small and ordinary thing we have, and take for granted: hot showers, enough food, friends, routines.”                       Karen Thompson Walker

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they come from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them — with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them …”  Eudora Welty

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”  Sue Monk Kidd

Lesson: Ruth 1:1-22 (NRSV)

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi and Her Moabite Daughters-in-Law

6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. “7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.” ”

“Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you,

Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

17        Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.

May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them,

“Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara,    for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.

21        I went away full,  but the LORD “has brought me back empty;                                              why call me Naomi,                                                                                          when the LORD has dealt harshly with me,  and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

22 So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.”

Questions for the Week

What is a story that has shaped who you are and how you view the world (one you’ve read, or one you’ve lived.)

Is there a person who has made a dramatic impact on your life by their radical commitment?

Does the story of Ruth have anything to say about the refugees who are currently streaming into our country? Why, or why not?

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Devotional for August 3, 2014 – God is love                  

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                                      This week we wrap up our series on 1 John with the familiar and comforting words that “God is love.”  Sometimes we take this wholly for granted.  In the atmosphere around the community of John, this would have been shocking.  To have this intimate relationship with God was out of the realm of possibility and yet so valuable and powerful in our faith.  God is love and therefore we are perfected when loving God and loving the other.  As in most cases, one of my favorite theologians writes about this love eloquently.  Frederick Buechner defines salvation in these terms, in terms of God’s love.

“Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn’t believe in God if you paid him. Some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love. Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to Business as Usual, it may lose you the ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul. How about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment-the soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.”

When I read these words, I understand how then we must love because God is love.  If sin separates us from God, God’s love perfects us and brings us closer to the goal. God, who is love, opens us up by love (the whole abiding in God and God abiding in us).  We are confident because God is love.  If God was power, we would approach in fear.  And then how would we treat one another? Instead, if we are true followers of Christ, God’s love incarnate, then we can’t help but love and create more relationship.  We are that moment of love abiding in us.  The goal is to not forget, embrace, and pass that love along to one another.

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                          “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”  ― Robert A. Heinlein   

 “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

 

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”  ― Mother Teresa

 

“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

 

“Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.” ― Lemony SnicketHorseradish

                                                                                                                             

1 John 4:7-21 (NRSV)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.  God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,[are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Questions for the Week

When have you felt loved by God?

How do you show love to others?

When is it hard to love? Why?

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God in the Flesh

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

So, we have to “test the spirits”. What does that mean, exactly, and why is it necessary? Let’s start with the first. Not every idiot who says they are speaking for God is, in fact, speaking for God. (It’s one of the reasons I’m extremely glad I stopped watching any form of broadcast TV several years ago!) I don’t think we have to limit it to spirits, we can apply it to preachers, evangelists, and even friends. In the case of the community of John, the problem seems to have been Docetism. What is that? Here’s a quote from Christianity101.com:

Beginning with the apostle Paul, the leaders of the early church had to address wrong headed ideas that threatened the integrity of the gospel message. One of the first, Docetism, was mentioned in our discussion of the first century. Docetic, which comes from the Greek word meaning “to appear.” Those who proposed this heresy maintained that Jesus really did not possess, or inhabit a physical body, but only “appeared” to have a body. The basis of Docetism is that Jesus was truly a spiritual being, and as such, could not have had a true body.

Does this sound slightly familiar? There is a slow creep of Greek philosophy into the faith. It holds that all physical things (especially our bodies) are lesser, lower order spiritual natures. If this is the case, and if Jesus is the Son of God, it goes to figure that Jesus really could not have had a real, physical nature. It just appeared that he did. This idea goes against both the Jewish, and the early Christian spiritualties. God created the physical world and called it good. Jesus was famous for sitting and eating and drinking with a cagey group of people. The community of John was especially steeped in this tradition. The Gospel of John begins with a clear recalling of the Genesis creation text: “In the beginning was the word . . .”

So, what are the spirits we must be careful of now? Here is my top ten list–in no particular order. (Feel free to make create your own!)

  1. Anyone who says they know why a catastrophe has occurred. They don’t have a clue, and they should keep their mouths shut.
  2. Anyone who says God wants us all to be rich.       Dave Ramsay heads in this direction, Joel Osteen worships there.
  3. Anyone who says being a Christian will take away all of your problems, and that your life will be smooth sailing from that point on. Lie! Becoming a part of a Christian community will probably be one of the more challenging things you will ever do, and it won’t take away your problems (sorry about that!)
  4. Anyone who says that a guy named Joe Smith had some solid gold tablets, but, kind of, well, misplaced them.
  5. Anyone who won’t let you celebrate Christmas or your birthday. These folks also use Jehovah as their reference to God, which any Old Testament scholar will tell you was a clever tool to keep people from using God’s name, but never one which was used to refer to God in scripture.
  6. Anyone who uses a science fiction book on which to base their faith. They also will want to hook you up to a machine to discover the exact moments in your previous life where you messed up and need help. L Ron Hubbard thought this whole thing up.
  7. Anyone who can tell you exactly who Jesus hates. Jesus only seemed to have gotten really angry at religious officials who judged others. He said love your enemies. Go, and do likewise.
  8. Anyone who thinks the Bible is the literal word of God dictated to certain people in certain times.
  9. Anyone who ignores their brothers and sisters in need, or ignores global warming, but lives an opulent lifestyle. (Me, for example . . . )
  10. And, finally, anyone who makes a top ten list of other people’s faults, but doesn’t look at their own.

There are tests for all of these things. We must test them against the Biblical traditions, but that’s not enough. It’s also important to see where the Holy Spirit is leading us through our own faith traditions. This is one reason I think it is important that we continue to have ties to our Methodist and Lutheran historical churches. Oh, what the heck, let’s just complete the quad and include human reason and experience as well!

Quotes for the Week

“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really want to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” L Ron Howard

“Make money. Make more money. Make other people make money.” Ibid

“Riches are such dangerous things . . . they are usually a curse. People are cursed by blessings, they are destroyed by riches.” John Piper

“I wonder: when a Jehovah’s Witness dies and goes to Heaven, does God hide behind the door and pretend He’s not home?” Brian Celio

Lesson: 1 John 4:1-6 (The Message)

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

2-3 Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!

4-6 My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.

Questions for the Week

  1. How do you “test the spirits?” How do you figure out what to believe, and what to reject?
  2. What current false teaching makes you the most upset? Why?
  3. What false beliefs would make your top 10 list?
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Devotional for July 20, 2014 –  If we say we have no sin…

Written by Jenn Richter

Bible Background          

The recipients of the first epistle of John were dealing with a serious division in their community, fueled by the infant cries of Gnosticism. This school of thought, which wouldn’t become fully fleshed out for another couple of centuries, declared, in essence, that spirit is good and matter is evil. Many believed that the Son of God could not have come in flesh because how could a good God inhabit an evil body? But by denying that God came to us in person, Jesus became once again just a man, with no power to change our hearts and lives, and God was once again The Spirit in the Sky, accessible only to those of superior enlightenment. They had tossed the central message of the Gospel out into the dust.

At the same time that they were declaring the body to be evil, the Gnostics were also using their beliefs to justify licentiousness. If only the spirit is important, they reasoned, what you do with your body doesn’t matter at all. When John writes this letter, he asks the people of the church to pause and back up a bit. There are three tests of a true Christian, he said. First, they believe that God became flesh and brought the message of God’s love to us in a sweaty, sometimes smelly body that was prone to bruise and bleed – just like us. Second, they acknowledge that Christ was a teacher and had plenty to say about what behavior is acceptable– and what is not. Because of their love for Christ and their recognition of what he went through to connect with us, they strive to follow his teachings. And third, they recognize that Christ’s most important lessons boil down to one tenet: Love your neighbor as yourself. If a person truly understands who Christ is, he will not use his connection with God to justify stealing from his neighbor, cheating on his spouse, lying to his boss … If a person claims to love God but continually mistreats God’s children, he is fooling himself; he doesn’t know God.

That said, John recognizes that we are all fallible human being. We make mistakes. Despite our best efforts, we all sin on occasion. John says, look, sin is real. And sin is destructive. Don’t go there. But if you do, remember … that’s why Jesus came in the first place – to pay the price for our sins and to set us right with the Father. But, he cautions, don’t get all high and mighty about this. Jesus came, not just for us, but for all of God’s children. None of us are so spiritual that we are exempt from Christ’s expectations, nor are any of us too human for his love to reach through and pick us up when we fall.                                                                                                                                           

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                      

“Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped; acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by relieving it of impossible burdens.” – Arthur Gordon

“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” ― Martin Luther

“God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” ― Desmond Tutu

1 John 1:5-2:2 (NRSV)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Questions for the Week

In what ways does your life display your love for Christ?

Have you ever had a believer in Christ show you unconditional love in a time of personal weakness? What difference did it make in your life?

 

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