Devotional for September 21, 2014 –   Joseph in prison   

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                          Between last week and this week, a few generations have passed in Genesis.  Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah and established a great nation as promised by God.    Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, Isaac has Jacob and Esau and one of Jacob’s kids by Rachel is Joseph.  Joseph has some brothers.  They don’t respond well to their little brothers dreams and do the most drastic thing. They sell him off.  This could be a dream of older siblings but rarely do I actually see it happen.  Leave it to the bible to give us the juiciest storyline possible.

Joseph is taken to Egypt.  Not where an Israelite really wants to be but here he is.  Joseph is ends up in a good location but things turn south again due to his good heart and great looks.  He catches the eye of his master’s wife and things get ugly fast.  Although Joseph tries to do the right thing, he ends up in prison.  Things are not looking up.

Things happen in our lives.  Really really awful things happen in our lives.  We don’t always end up in prison but it can certainly seem as though we are being punished for something.  Even though we are doing our best we somehow still lose that job, can’t pay the bills, struggle with our living situation, can’t quite get it all together. Basically, even with our big hearts, we sometimes feel as though we just…can’t…win.  And this sucks.  It seems as though perhaps we have done something wrong.  Even those of us, where this definitely isn’t our view of God, turn this direction.  What did we do to deserve this?

What I love about this story that we are about to read is that God is a character as well.  God is not far off and God is not doing anything to anyone. God shows up anyway.  The author of Genesis tells us that God goes with Joseph.  An active character in Joseph’s journey.  Joseph isn’t alone.  We now know that God is with him.  God promises this to Joseph.  Even in prison God actively surrounds Joseph with God’s presence.  God reaches out kindness.  God makes sure that Joseph and the jailer get along.  God is the one surrounding Joseph, not punishing.  While prison is what humans have done to Joseph, God shows up around Joseph.

A few months ago, I went through a hard time and while I felt as though nothing was going right, people kept showing up in just the right moments.  Someone who was going through this stuff with me kept asking, “Where is God now?”  And I couldn’t help but reply, “In the people that have surrounded us.” God promises to be with us in prison, whatever that prison may be.  God will use Joseph to save family, to save God’s people, and to work towards a better kingdom of God.  God will use us as well to create the kingdom of God on earth and to restore all of creation back to God’s loving embrace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                          

“God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval.”  ― Gregory BoyleTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is, that things are what they are and will be what they will be.” – Oscar Wilde

“It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.”  ― Howard Zinn

“Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.” ― Dorothy Day

“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” ― Nelson Mandela

Genesis 39:1-23 (Message)                                                                                                                             After Joseph had been taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelites, Potiphar an Egyptian, one of Pharaoh’s officials and the manager of his household, bought him from them.  As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him. He ended up living in the home of his Egyptian master. His master recognized that God was with him, saw that God was working for good in everything he did. He became very fond of Joseph and made him his personal aide. He put him in charge of all his personal affairs, turning everything over to him. From that moment on, God blessed the home of the Egyptian—all because of Joseph. The blessing of God spread over everything he owned, at home and in the fields, and all Potiphar had to concern himself with was eating three meals a day.

Joseph was a strikingly handsome man. As time went on, his master’s wife became infatuated with Joseph and one day said, “Sleep with me.”He wouldn’t do it. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master doesn’t give a second thought to anything that goes on here—he’s put me in charge of everything he owns. He treats me as an equal. The only thing he hasn’t turned over to me is you. You’re his wife, after all! How could I violate his trust and sin against God?”  She pestered him day after day after day, but he stood his ground. He refused to go to bed with her.

On one of these days he came to the house to do his work and none of the household servants happened to be there. She grabbed him by his cloak, saying, “Sleep with me!” He left his coat in her hand and ran out of the house. When she realized that he had left his coat in her hand and run outside, she called to her house servants: “Look—this Hebrew shows up and before you know it he’s trying to seduce us. He tried to make love to me but I yelled as loud as I could. With all my yelling and screaming, he left his coat beside me here and ran outside.”  She kept his coat right there until his master came home. She told him the same story. She said, “The Hebrew slave, the one you brought to us, came after me and tried to use me for his plaything. When I yelled and screamed, he left his coat with me and ran outside.”

When his master heard his wife’s story, telling him, “These are the things your slave did to me,” he was furious. Joseph’s master took him and threw him into the jail where the king’s prisoners were locked up. But there in jail God was still with Joseph: He reached out in kindness to him; he put him on good terms with the head jailer.

The head jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners—he ended up managing the whole operation. The head jailer gave Joseph free rein, never even checked on him, because God was with him; whatever he did God made sure it worked out for the best.

Questions for the Week

What is your prison?

Are there times when you feel as though you are caught in injustice? What happened?

Where is God with you? Where have you seen God in prison with you?

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“All Who Wander Are Not Lost” JRR Tolkein

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

Theme Background

According to author, Thomas Cahill, in his book, The Gift of the Jews today’s story is the beginning of western civilization. Without it there would be: no travel, no adventure, no advertising! How? Up until this point in human history there was no “new and improved.” Everything was established by the position of the stars and planets, and life was thought to be a repeating cycle. This is why an astrologist can tell you your future. It has all happened before. All you have to do is check where you are in the cycle and you’ll know what is about to happen. Also, up until this point, no one had ever moved from their home without being forced to do so. You moved because of war, or famine, or natural disasters. Sarai and Abram receive a promise from God that they will be blessed if they move. They move because of the promise of a new future. No one has ever done this before.

And Abraham is not the only one to be blessed in this process. Through Sarai and Abraham “all of the families of the earth will be blessed.” At the Co-operative ministries we feel that this blessing comes to all families—those who are single, those who have two mothers, those with two fathers, those headed by a single parent, those with extended families that help hold everything together. And what is God’s plan for blessing? How is God going to bless everyone on earth? Turns out the answer is laughter. Maybe we should all just tell a bunch of jokes this Sunday and have a time of holy laughter? Some churches have people laugh out loud until they can feel the Holy Spirit moving inside of them.

God gives Sarai and Abraham the promise “to your offspring I will give this land.” It is a faithful promise. The only problem is that it’s not going to come to fruition for several hundred years. Abram and Sarai will live as resident aliens the rest of their lives. Their offspring will be forced to live in exile in Egypt because of a drought. They will live several hundred years in Egypt, many of those as slaves. They will be delivered from Egypt, and then spend 40 more years in the wilderness. And then God will give them the land. It’s a true promise, and it will come true, but not in Sarai and Abram’s lifetimes. Not even close.

After this reading today we have what I like to call, “The series of lies.” Abram is worried about how he’ll be welcomed, and worried because Sarai is so beautiful that people will kill him to get to her. So he tells people, one after another, that Sarai is his sister. Well it turns out he’s not lying exactly.   She is his half sister! Yes, we turn to the Bible to find all of our family values!

In verse 10 they go to Egypt to reside there as aliens, because there was a severe famine in the land. Doesn’t that sound familiar? After just finishing the story of Ruth where Naomi has been forced to go to a foreign land because of a drought in Israel, this story has a resonance to it. People move around. Sometimes they go because of the promise of a better life. This is the narrative we use to talk about our ancestors coming to live in this country. They were living in another land, and they heard about a better life in America, so they picked up everything they owned and they came. In many cases they didn’t own much.

Some of the people moving to our country now come to survive. There is violence and terror in their land and they cannot survive there. Some come because of economic violence—they can’t afford to feed their children or make a living so they move. There is a long history of people moving from one place to another. Some for promises of a better life, some to survive. I can’t imagine you can pass laws to stop them. People will take incredible steps when they are threatened or facing hardships.   Today’s reading calls us to remember that our spiritual narrative is one of a resident alien. He wondered the countries of the Middle East. Scripture calls us to welcome the alien in our land, because “A wandering Aramean was our ancestor.”

Quotes for the Week

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”             Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

“Our lives improve only when we take chances — and the first and most difficult task we can take is to be honest with ourselves.”      Walter Anderson

“And so by the fifteenth century, on October 8, the Europeans were looking for a new place to try to get to, and they came up with a new concept: the West.”              Dave Barry

“A man walks into a clock repair shop and the repairman is German and says: So? Vat sims to be ze problem? It’s my grandfather clock. It doesn’t go ‘tick-tock-tick-tock’ anymore. Now it just goes ‘tick-tick-tick.’ Hmmm! I sink I can fix zis. Let me look inside. Ve haf vays of making you tock!”      Prairie Home Companion 2011

A mother took her little boy to church. While in church the little boy said, “Mommy, I have to pee.” The mother said to the little boy, “It’s not appropriate to say the word ‘pee’ in church. So, from now on whenever you have to ‘pee’ just tell me that you have to ‘whisper.'”
The following Sunday, the little boy went to church with his father and during the service said to his father, “Daddy, I have to whisper.” The father looked at him and said, “Okay, whisper in my ear.” Ibid

Lesson Genesis 12:1-9 (NRSV)

The Call of Abram  1 NOW the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. “7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.”

Questions for the Week

What is one change in your life that you are struggling with?

Is there a promise you are still hoping will be fulfilled?

Is there a time in your life you were a wonderer? What was it like?

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Devotional for September 7, 2014 –   Promises of the Rainbow                                                              

            Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                                                      Narrative lectionary recognizes that in our culture we begin again with the school year and so here we are.  Back in Genesis for the beginning of the beginning of the year. For the next two months we see a strand of narrative flowing through the Old Testament and highlighting the new covenants made with God.  Over and over again, I think we will see God creating new relationships and re emphasizing relationships with the Israelite people.  They get selfish, they mess up, God shows up, creates new relationship, sets things right and the story continues. 

For this week we begin our narrative with Noah and his ark.  There are a couple of ways to tell this story.  Many of us know the story of Noah but know it told light.  We know the children’s version.  Noah builds an arky…arky.  There are animals by twosies and then God says God won’t flood again.  The other way to tell the story is about death and destruction.  God floods the earth to destroy all because the world is so messed up.  Neither way is totally a right way to tell the story.  Neither really tells us what God is really doing in this narrative. 

A truer way to tell this story may be in looking at harmony verses disunity.  The creation that God created in Genesis is fighting against one another.  People are destroying each other. This story is about God undoing creation by bringing the waters back over the land and pushing people and animals to have to deal with one another and then setting things right.  Perhaps the dry land isn’t the salvation in this story, perhaps the boat just might be.  Harmony is established when we face each other with a need for each other.  While on the boat, humankind and the animal kingdom had to come together.

When Noah and his crew finally reach land, God puts up the bow, the rainbow, an arc that could possibly be seen as a war bow.  God hangs up the bow and promises to not undo creation again. To hang up one’s bow in this culture is to retire from battle.  God is done fighting with us.   God re-parts the seas from the land.  And then makes a covenant.  The covenant signifies that God is in sacred relationship between all of creation.  This is the first covenant with humans and animals in the bible. God desires their flourishing.  Destruction is off the table. This is the first time that God reestablishes relationship in a new way with God’s own creations.  God promises to not wipe us out again.   God promises to restore all of creation.  What a great mission!  In turn, our part of the bargain is to maintain space for all to flourish.  We still have some work to do in this category.  The good news? God doesn’t seem to give up on this one.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                          God doesn’t want us to have rigid rituals with Him. In the new covenant, He is more interested in having a relationship with us.” – Joseph Prince

 

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.” -Maya Angelou

 

“My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.” – William Wordsworth

 

“People tend to resist a change into something new and different. But after it’s succeeded, they easily say that the change is a must.” ― Toba Beta

 

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton

 

Genesis 6:16-22, 9:8-15 (Message)                                                                                                                                

“Build yourself a ship from teakwood. Make rooms in it. Coat it with pitch inside and out. Make it 450 feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Build a roof for it and put in a window eighteen inches from the top; put in a door on the side of the ship; and make three decks, lower, middle, and upper.  I’m going to bring a flood on the Earth that will destroy everything alive under Heaven. Total destruction. But I’m going to establish a covenant with you: You’ll board the ship, and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives will come on board with you. You are also to take two of each living creature, a male and a female, on board the ship, to preserve their lives with you: two of every species of bird, mammal, and reptile—two of everything so as to preserve their lives along with yours. Also get all the food you’ll need and store it up for you and them.”  Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”

God continued, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.”

 

Questions for the Week

How will we continue to strive toward unity rather than disunity?

Where do you see signs of God’s promise with us?

When are you forced to interact with God’s creation?

 

           

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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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