I was glad

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
    within your gates, O Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:2-3 CEB)

This is the place in which God’s people gather to worship.
This is sacred ground.

Peace be within these walls,
and security within your towers.” (Psalm 122: 7 CEB)
We find peace and comfort and challenge within these walls. 

Find that peace and comfort today but be challenged to be God’s emissaries to the world when you leave.
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek [God’s] good. (Psalm 122:9 CEB)

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1 CEB)

Advertisements
Posted in Call to Worship, Old Testament, Psalm 122, Psalms, Uncategorized

With each child born

Call to Worship

With each child born,
be they be the Christ child, your child, or our own baby…

Hope is rekindled.
God loves God’s creation.

Confident the time will come when the lamb and leopard live in peace together, we worship the one whose realm has already begun to unfold.

Be humble. Be present. Praise the Creating One. Amen.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Call to Worship, Isaiah, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 11:2-6, Matthew, Matthew 18, Matthew 18:1-5, New Testament, Old Testament, Uncategorized

Born of the Spirit

Come here, little one.
Sit with Jesus in joy.
Grow in faith.

Listen to the words of sage Jesus.
Each of us are God’s beloved.

The wolf will live with the lamb and the calf and lion will feed together…
and a little child shall lead them.  (Isaiah 11:6)

Come and worship.
Humble yourself like a child.  (Matthew 18:4)
We are born of the Spirit, let us grow in faith together. Amen.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Call to Worship, Isaiah, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 11:2-6, Matthew, Matthew 18, Matthew 18:1-5, New Testament, Old Testament, Uncategorized

Offering Ourselves in Worship

*Call to Worship

Come and worship!
We come to praise and worship the Creating One, the Loving One, the Almighty of Now and To-Come!

Bring your offerings!
We bring our love offerings to our God as we take our love of neighbor into the world.

May our worship and praise be acceptable to God.
When we leave, may our love of neighbor be acceptable in God’s sight.

Praise! Think! Love! Do Justice!
With God’s luring spirit we gather to learn and be inspired. Amen.

Posted in Call to Worship, Genesis, Genesis 4, Genesis 4:1-16, Invitation to Offering, Old Testament, Uncategorized

Prayer for a Rough Week

Embracing Spirit,

it’s been a rough week
more shootings
political discord
polarization
our hopes dashed
and the death of loved ones

it’s also been a hopeful week
relationships & connections
kindnesses shown
& commitments to the stranger
and the birth of new ones

all the same it’s not been perfect
your world is not what we want it to be
people fight
they scream; we scream and whine too
we close ourselves off from one another
and the children cry at our borders

it’s too much
we yearn for you to step in
fix it, God! we cry

but we know better
we know we are your co-creators
we know that we have free will
and that you do not make the world what it is

you nudge us
you encourage us
but you do not make us do anything
we are the ones who must change
we must grow
following jesus, we must choose love

[moment of silence]

it sounds easy
but it’s not
we don’t know what to do
we fear whatever we do
that it is not enough
it is only our part, you remind us

and so in this time of confusion
hurt
volatility
demonization of poor
stranger
brown
woman
those who are trans
even of children
all those we call other

[pause]

not sure where to turn or what to do
we trust you
we pray as jesus prayed

our creator…

Posted in Pastoral Prayer, Prayers, Uncategorized

Ruth 4: Somos Uno

Listen: https://beingtim.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/ruth-4.m4a

God within us,Ruth_orange_238
divinity connecting us.
We are one.
Somos Uno. 

+++

The Moabites were despised by the Israelites because they were descendants of a sexual union between Lot and his eldest daughter. 

In the first chapter of Ruth when Naomi and her husband emigrated to Moab, they were crossing an entrenched border separating humanity.

Maybe it was the famine.
Maybe it was the Holy Spirit.
Regardless Naomi crossed that border. 

For ten years they lived in Moab. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women. Then her husband died. [pause] Then the two sons died. 

Her whole family dead, Naomi mourned. She cried out “call me Mara, for the Almighty has made me very bitter! …The Lord has testified against me” (Ruth 1:20, 21 CEB).

Abandoned through death, they were two women without men to care for them or protect them or give them status (as was necessary in ancient times). And so Naomi went home to Bethlehem. 

Though she would be despised in Israel, Ruth, Naomi’s Moabite daughter-in-law emigrated with her. 

Maybe it was desperation.
Maybe it was love of God and Naomi.
Regardless Ruth crossed that border.

Because she was from a despised group the Israelites kept their distance from Ruth. They failed to welcome Naomi with anything more than curiosity. 

Without a means of supporting herself or her mother-in-law, Ruth turned to gleaning the fields. 

(Ancient custom and God’s command required that the edges of the field be left for those in need.)

There Ruth met Boaz. He was the landowner and a kind man who ordered his workers not to assault or humiliate her. Later Ruth learned he was a kinsman redeemer in the family of Naomi’s husband. 

A kinsman redeemer is a relative who’s expected to support widowed family members. Another redeemer, however, was in line to do so before Boaz.

 

With few options, Naomi and Ruth strategized a means for survival. Ruth went to the threshing floor. After Boaz was good and drunk and passed out, she uncovered his feet and lay at them. 

Waking in the middle of the night, Boaz saw Ruth and asked:

“Who are you?” … She replied, “I’m Ruth your servant. Spread out your robe over your servant, because you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9 CEB)

“Don’t be afraid,” Boaz told her, “I will do all that you ask.

Maybe it was infatuation.
Maybe it was the divinity within.
Regardless Boaz crossed that border between Israel and Moab. 

He immediately went to the town gate — the place where legal issues were decided. 

A man of power and influence, Boaz called a minyan of elders as witnesses. He called to the first in line redeemer. He used his skills to convince the first in line redeemer to give up his claim to land…

and, of course, to Ruth just as he had promised.

Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. 

May the LORD grant that the woman who is coming into your household be like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel. (Ruth 4:11 CEB)

They were married, were intimate, and gave birth to a son. Through their son’s lineage will come King David. Ruth, a despised Moabite immigrant will become the great grandmother of Israel’s most revered king: David.

Maybe it was Ruth’s bold action.
Maybe it was the Holy Spirit.
Regardless the newborn weaves immigrant blood into the lineage of Israel.

+++

On its surface this is the story of Naomi’s grief and restoration. She moves from despair at the loss of her entire family to cuddling her grandson Obed.

 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.  (Ruth 4:16 NRSV)

And that is Good News. In the surface story, the nature of God is revealed. Though difficult times come upon individuals and nations, transformation and resurrection are the way of creation.

[pause]

But we’d be remiss if we skipped rocks on the surface and failed to dive into the deep baptizing waters of the Book of Ruth. 

We’d miss the depth of God’s dreams for humanity if we saw only the tale of Naomi’s hardship and return of her hope.

[pause]

The ancient world was a harsh and dangerous place. To travel was difficult. Customs were developed about how to treat the sojourner and immigrant. 

But people are people. We get suspicious of others. We fear. We don’t always follow customs or rules. One of the most famous — and, frankly, misused sections of the Bible — is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

It’s remarkable really that this story has been turned into an excuse for hatred of those who are LGBTQ+ when it is a story of the opposite. 

It is about the  importance of love of neighbor, of hospitality, and welcoming sojourners and immigrants.

This is true literally, interpretively, and even the Bible itself tells us this is so. The prophet Ezekiel said,

This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; 

but she didn’t help the poor and the needy. (Ezekiel 16:49 CEB)

It was not by chance that this story in Ruth is about immigration from Israel to Moab and from Moab to Israel. Recall that Moabites were descendants of the sexual union between Lot and his eldest daughter. 

Abraham’s cousin Lot was an imperfect man to say the least. He did offer his daughters up to be raped by men pounding on his door after all. He did sleep with his own daughters and began the lineage of the Moabite people.

But Lot got one thing right. He knew that God expected us to welcome the stranger. He knew this — love of God and neighbor was sacrosanct. In fact, that’s what got him into trouble in Sodom.

[pause]

Lot was an immigrant in Sodom who followed the ancient custom of taking the outsider into his own home. He puts up and feeds the strangers who come to Sodom.

And for listening to God’s command, for his hospitality, the men of the town threaten to rape him. (That’s where people get the idea that this is about homosexuality.)

You see, the men of the town hate outsiders. They barely tolerate the immigrant Lot and are ready to harm him for stepping out of line.

And so, Moabite lineage is of welcoming others as much as it is about Lot’s sexual immorality…(though the Israelites fixate on the sexual.)

[pause]

When famine strikes Bethlehem, Naomi and her husband emigrate to Moab. Their success in Moab implies they are welcomed by the Moabites as custom and God requires. 

Their sons marry Moabite women of some standing. (Some sources believe Ruth and Orpah came from a royal family.)

[pause]

When tragedy strikes the family, it is Ruth who becomes the immigrant. She crosses the border into Israel where she is ignored and derided as an outsider. 

Recall in chapter two when Boaz first meets Ruth, his workers go to great pains to remind him that she is Moabite. The implication is clear: Moabite women are less than. She is not worthy of Boaz.

But Boaz crosses the border, too. He sees the whole image of God within Ruth rather than rejecting her as subhuman.

Maybe it was his character.
Maybe it was the Holy Spirit.
Regardless the greatness of Israel will come through this immigrant woman.

+++

In the surface story, it is Ruth who is redeemer for Naomi. Diving deeper, we find that it is through Ruth and her actions that wholeness is restored not just one woman but to Israel. 

Through an immigrant woman — a woman whose people are derided by the powerful and commoner alike — Israel’s King David will lead the nation to greatness.

[pause]

We, too, can trace our spiritual roots to this bold immigrant woman. In the gospel of Matthew we learn that she is forebear in the lineage of Jesus whom we call savior.

Jesus continued Ruth’s tradition of crossing borders. He stood with the marginalized. He sided with the poor, the widow, and the oppressed. He saw the image of God within all he met. 

May we, as twenty-first century disciples of Jesus cross the borders that divide humanity. May we love extravagantly even in the face of derision and spite.

God within us,
divinity connecting us.
We are one.
Somos Uno. 

Amen.

Tagged with:
Posted in Old Testament, Ruth, Ruth 4, Sermon, Uncategorized

Ruth 3: Seeing As God Sees

Listen: https://beingtim.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/ruth-3.m4a

Ruth_orange_238Well, this is one of those parts of the Bible that you’re never sure you want to preach. It is laced with sexual innuendo and maybe explicit sexual behavior. 

+++

Just look at this third chapter! Naomi tells Ruth to get gussied up, go to the threshing floor, and after Boaz is good and drunk and passed out…

…uncover his feet and lay there. [clear throat]

The Hebrew word for foot is often a euphemism for another part of the body: genitalia. 

Linafelt and Beall note that,

the scenario is laced with other sexually loaded terms as well. The verb [meaning] “to lie down,” occurs eight times in the chapter, and while it often means in Hebrew simply to sleep it also often has the explicit meaning of to engage in sexual intercourse. 

The verb [translated as] “to know,” occurs six times in the chapter and is also a frequent term in Hebrew for sexual intercourse…

[pause]

Naomi tells Ruth to trick Boaz in order that he might marry her and provide for them both. 

And Ruth complies. Willingly. Without hesitation or even questioning. It’s a devious plan whether sexual relations happen or not. 

[pause]

How? Just how did our deep friendship between these two women turn into such a sordid tale? Are these two women really that crafty and devious? 

Have I been wrong about Ruth’s virtue? 

+++

Our story began two weeks ago when a famine hit Bethlehem. Naomi and her husband Elimelech took their two sons and moved to Moab. This was a bold move because as Israelites, they were supposed to despise Moabites.

(Moabites were descendants of the sexual union between Lot and his eldest daughter. Lot, of course, is the very same man who in the Sodom & Gomorrah story offered his daughters up to be raped by men pounding on his door.)

Because of this lineage, Moabites were believed by Israelites to be less than pure in the sexual morality. Particularly the women. 

The family made a home for themselves in Moab for ten years. During that time, the sons married Moabite women: Orpah & Ruth.

Then Naomi’s husband died. [PAUSE] Then her two sons died. 

Naomi had lost her whole family. 

Women without men were in a precarious position.  They were immediately thrown into survival mode because without the protection of a man, they might not survive. 

Understanding their situation, Naomi encouraged her daughters in law to return to their families. Orpah complied. Ruth did not saying,

“Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16 CEB)

Two weeks ago I suggested that Ruth saw God for the abundantly loving one that God is. I said that was a primary reason she refused to abandon Naomi.  

Destitute, the two women returned to Naomi’s homeland. Ruth knew she would be a despised woman in Bethlehem and went anyway. 

I said it was because of her love for Naomi and God. Could I have been wrong?

In the second chapter — last week — Ruth went gleaning to gather food. By chance she met the landowner Boaz. 

Boaz took a special interest in Ruth. Perhaps he was just being protective because of what she did for Naomi. 

Or maybe he had a romantic interest. Regardless, he told his men not to assault or humiliate her.

When Ruth told Naomi about her day, Naomi revealed that Boaz was a relative.

+++ 

Which brings us back to chapter three. Naomi and Ruth plot like an old black & white movie to catch a husband for Ruth.

Specifically Boaz. Boaz is perfect because he is well off. There’s a good chance of success because he’s shown some interest in Ruth already. 

Annnnd… as a kinsman redeemer he is in line to support the widowed Naomi and Ruth. A kinsman redeemer is a relative who’s expected to support widowed family members. 

But there is a line of succession. The dead husband’s brother would be first but, of course both brothers are dead. Boaz, is a redeemer but not next in line.

Where this story gets uncomfortable — and is  unlike any Cary Grant or Irene Dunne, or Doris Day flick I’ve seen — is when Naomi tells Ruth to go to Boaz once he’s drunk, uncover his lower extremities — his feet [cough] — and lay down.

Sure, sometimes feet are just feet, but often, as we’ve established before, they’re genitalia. With all the other sexual language it is hard not to think that was Naomi’s intention for Ruth. 

Adele Reinhartz suggests that:

In this case, Naomi [and Ruth] may have a bolder and less respectable act in mind. Similarly, the verb lie down, which appears eight times in this chapter, may be a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

Either way, for a woman to “bathe, put on some perfume, wear nice clothes, and then go down to the threshing floor” (Ruth 3:3a CEB) and lay at his drunken feet is at best manipulative.

Especially if Boaz is partially clothed when he awakes! Maybe Ruth and Naomi are not the paragons of virtue we’ve — I’ve — made them out to be so far!

+++

[PAUSE]

Oh, it’s so great to be pure! So wonderful to be the arbiter of right and wrong across the millennia! 

Such a joy and privilege I have to be an educated, white, straight, cisgender, middle class American in the twenty-first century! 

From my vantage point — my correct vantage point — what Ruth and Naomi did was immoral!

[pause]

Sigh. But despite traditional Christian insistence that morality is absolute, it is not.

 We are viewing this from a perspective of privilege. It’s easy to be straightforward, to avoid manipulation when your survival is not at stake. But Ruth and Naomi had few choices. 

When the dominant culture doesn’t accept you and when systems of oppression make it impossible for you and yours to survive — let only thrive — you develop other ways of coping.

In the working class neighborhood where I grew up, common wisdom was that I could meet my future wife at college or at church — respectable places — but my best friend, a gay man, had to resort to the clubs.

And Christians had the gall to judge him!

You see when the churches were supposedly hating the sin and loving the sinner, the only way to survive was to shun the very churches that shunned you. 

Like Ruth and Naomi my gay friend was only doing what he had to do in order to survive. 

And, though, we are Open & Affirming, we have a very long way to go to regain the trust we threw away. 

[pause]

When the US dominates the economy of the Americas, using Mexico and other Latin American nations in order to enrich ourselves without concern for local peoples…

[pause]

For example, Chiquita and other US corporations bought up so much Guatemalan land in the mid-twentieth century that there was not enough land for the people to grow the food they needed to be self-sustaining.

When Guatemala’s duly elected president tried to implement land reform to enable the people to sustain themselves Chiquita turned to Washington.

And so, “In 1954, the United States CIA led a coup in Guatemala, which overthrew the Árbenz government. 

The CIA then installed Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas as the country’s new president.”

When we disrupt economies and stable governments for our own interests, why are we surprised that families will journey miles on foot to enter this country — legally or illegally? 

It is a matter of survival just as Ruth gussied herself up and uncovered the feet of Boaz.

Survival. 

[pause]

When you’re among a marginalized group sometimes you have to do things that middle class morality frowns upon. As a member of a marginalized group herself, a colleague of mine put it this way:

“Sometimes we have to do in reality what we would not do otherwise to survive.”

Her comment reminds me of those with whom I interact who are homeless. Sometimes I get embellished stories as people ask for help. They tell me what they think I want to hear.

Sometimes people are pushy. 

Sometimes people game the system just as Ruth and Naomi gamed the system to survive.

+++

I think God weeps that after millennia, we still fail to use the abundance of this world in such a way that we all have what we need. 

I imagine God was not so concerned about the particularities of morality in ancient Israel anymore than about the  particularities of our immigrant and  homeless neighbors’ survival strategies.

Rather I think God weeps that our collective sin made it necessary for Ruth and Naomi to manipulate Boaz so that they might survive.

And that too often in Christ’s church we worry too much about the particularities of morality while failing to assure that everyone of us thrives as the Creator intended.

Amen.

Tagged with:
Posted in Old Testament, Ruth, Ruth 3, Sermon, Uncategorized
Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Category Search.