Friday, November 6, 2015

Ruth and Facebook

My sermon this Sunday begins on Facebook:

News Feed

733 pm during World Series game nov1 first xmas related commercial aaagh
Lisa  and Lois  like this.
Diane Hagen Beach
Diane   Hallmark channel started showing 24-7 holiday movies a few days ago. Last year, I think they ran into January. Do you have any idea how many really bad holiday movies there are? Yikes!
John Leech
John Leech The hallmark movie plot : she finally meets the right man. Grandma is happy.
John Leech
John Leech The hallmark Christmas movie plot: she finally meets the right man, just in time for Christmas. Grandma is very happy.
Diane Hagen Beach
Diane  Got it in one, unless it's the equal opportunity version where the guy is looking for the right woman! LOL

The story of Ruth that we read today is a lot like a Hallmark Channel movie - at first glance. A capable woman meets a righteous man, marries him, settles down, and they have a child. Grandma is happy. 

But the story did not start that way. The four-episode story of Ruth begins with a much graver situation than you'll find in any Hallmark movie.

As the story begins a woman leaves her hometown of Bethlehem - where there is no bread: it's a time of famine - and travels with her husband and her two sons across a couple of boundaries. They cross the valley of the Jordan to an unlikely place, the unfriended land of Moab. But there is food there. And her sons find wives. But her husband dies and after ten years her sons die as well. She is left, in that ancient patriarchal culture, without male support. Husbands and sons were the security for women. Without them the woman - the women - fall to the bottom of society.

The woman hears that the famine is over in her homeland, and so she makes plans to return. Her daughters-in-law accompany her part of the way but she discourages them. She has no husband and no prospect of sons. She cannot hold out hope to them that, in-laws as they are - but now to become foreigners in a strange land - they would find any comfort there.

Orpah goes back. Fair enough. Ruth surprises her mother-in-law and vows to continue with her, to stay in relationship with her, and indeed to adopt her homeland and her family - and her God - as her own. So forsaking all others she goes with the older widow on her journey.

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me

When they arrive it is early spring. The barley harvest is beginning. It's the first sign of hope, as episode one closes.
In episode two, the women of Bethlehem welcome home their relative, Naomi. But Naomi is bitter at this point and sees no happy way out of her circumstance. Bereft of husband and sons, and prospect of a child, she has little left. Except Ruth.

Ruth with permission from her mother-in-law becomes a gleaner, one of the poor ones following the harvesters as they reap the grain. And she is seen. The owner of the field approaches, speaks his appreciation of all she has done. She has taken care of her mother-in-law, leaving all her other support behind her. He blesses her for seeking protection under the wings of God.

The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.

The man, Boaz, sees that Ruth has placed her total trust in God. He praises that. And he looks after her that day and sees that she does not go home empty-handed. Naomi is glad to hear how the day went for Ruth and indeed notices that the owner of the field was none other than her own close relative. A hopeful ending to episode two.

Episode three begins some weeks later as the harvest season is coming to a close. Naomi, now in much better spirits, has come up with an idea. And so Ruth seeks out Boaz - and the upshot is here in today's reading. She seeks shelter under his wing - for life. And in episode four, we get the happy ending. Ruth and Boaz marry, and Naomi gets a grandchild.

But remember where we started and see the story as a whole. The book began with six characters, three men and three women, only two of whom survive to the second chapter. From exile the older woman returns to her own land, and with her comes a woman who is seeking safety, shelter, and a new home in a place she has never been before. God bless you, says a new friend, for what you have done. And the story turns away from famine, scarcity, and sorrow to abundance, fullness, and joy.

That is the story of Ruth - an immigrant and a widow - who found a welcome in the household of God, among the people of God in a place she had never known, that now she would make her home.

Questions I am asked and challenged by:

What do you do to make a home of a place you have never been before? And what do you do to make your place a home for the alien, the widow, the stranger, and those seeking a new life in a place they have never been before?

Ten or eleven years ago at the bishop's conference on the border (organized by Tom Buechele) some one asked if there were any Bible passages about borders and migration. Three came to mind, right away:
"My father was a wandering Aramean,..." or, as the King James has it, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father,..." (Dt 26.5) This is the story of how Jacob, patriarch of the Hebrew people, migrated to a foreign land in a time of famine.

"You were strangers once in Egypt...." (Dt 10.19) "Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
 This is an admonishment to the people of Israel to extend hospitality to foreigners. And even, at Passover, to welcome them into their homes for the family dinner on an equal footing with themselves.

And the kicker:

"I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Mt 25.35) Jesus at the final gathering of all peoples responds with welcome to those who have been welcoming...

When I first came to southern Arizona eleven years ago I had to find ways to make it home. One advantage I had was a bit of history of my own from long ago: my grandfather was a forest ranger in the Arizona territory before the first world war. And my future parents-in-law met at the University of Arizona. But family connections are not enough. I had to get to know the place, the land, the fauna and flora. And I had to get to know the story of Arizona, the stories of the people who live here.

Those stories are many, and carry on. Among them are many stories of people who have come to Arizona for work, for family, or to start a new and better life. There are people who have fled war, civil strife, or natural disaster. Famine. And there are those who find here a fresh start in a place of abundance. They are welcomed. There are some who are greeted with an attitude of scarcity, of not sharing. (Where I once lived in another state, we called this "closing the door behind you" as all of us had been immigrants not long since.)

The story of Ruth - of Naomi and Boaz and the people of Bethlehem - gives us hope. It gives us a story of welcome and hospitality. It gives us in quiet ways a story of how God can work with what we have - even if it is only two women who stick together in hard times - and make a new thing begin.

How do we make something bloom in the desert? How do we make ourselves at home in a new time or a new place? How do we begin to welcome home those who have been long away? Or those who have never been under our roof before?

And how do we celebrate the welcome of God to all of us as God welcomes us into his house, his hospitality, and we find shelter under his wings?

8 November 2015
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 27

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Notes for a sermon given at St. John's Episcopal Church, Bisbee, Arizona. JRL+

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