While our building is closed for the COVID-19 quarantine, you can find our on-line gathering opportunities here. Each day you will find a daily reading and prayer from Pastor Wayne and links to video offerings when they become available. If you have a need, please call 717-525-1196.
Today’s reading from Galatians 3...
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
As the Apostle Paul continues his letter to the Galatian church, he continues to help Jewish and Gentile Christians understand each other. In today’s reading, as well as tomorrow’s, he is helping them both to understand the purpose of the law (specifically, the Ten Commandments). In the passage we read today, he first turns to the Jewish misunderstanding of the purpose of the law.
Paul begins by speaking of a curse (3:10). The law was seen as the dividing line that separated those who were chosen and loved by God from those who were not. From the Jewish perspective in Paul’s time, it was the Jews who were given the law and called to obey it. That meant they were chosen and loved by God. Those who lived outside the Jewish law were not. That meant that the Gentiles were the accursed. The error was that acceptance and obedience to the law was intended to define the Jewish people apart from others. This was a misunderstanding of the law’s purpose.
You have likely been out on an interstate highway in the middle of a traffic jam. Before the days of internet access on our phones, we had no way of knowing what was happening beyond what we could see. On one occasion, I had been at a stand-still for more than half an hour before traffic slowly began moving again. More than a mile up the road I could see the problem: a tractor-trailer was on its side. Traffic was flowing again as huge tow trucks had dragged the mess off the road.
Those big tractor-trailers that travel the interstates are designed to deliver goods, not to cause road blocks. The point Paul is making in this paragraph is that the Jewish people had become the later. They were given the news of God and God’s law and God’s message of merciful love to deliver it to the world (3:14), but unfortunately, became a roadblock as used the law instead as a means to define who was Jewish, counting those “outside” the law and Judaism to be cursed (3:10).
The church is in many ways like the people of Israel in the Old Testament period. We are called to deliver the news of God and God’s merciful love to a world who needs it. It is so easy - sometimes even without knowing - to hinder the delivery and become instead a road block. May it not be so!
Just one more word of challenge. Often we think that if we are in neutral, parked on the side of the road, then we are not causing any harm to the process. We allow ourselves this position because it inflicts little guilt on our conscience. Don’t be fooled. If we are not actively delivering, we are indeed hindering delivery. There is no neutral.
How will you be delivering God’s message today? Call someone today.
Let us pray...
God of heaven and earth, we are amazed that you have entrusted us with this task. We wonder why you think we could deliver you message to the world. But let us not wonder too long as we accept the mission you have given us. May we be diligent in make our deliveries today. Amen.
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Today’s reading from Galatians 3...
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
There is a phrase that talks about being “penny wise and pound foolish.” To understand it, you need to know that a pound in this case refers to British currency and is something like a dollar. (As of today 1 British pound = 1.24 US dollars.)
Such a situation often happens after our pounds have already been invested and then unforeseen things begin to happen. Often out of fear, decisions are made that forsake the long-term commitments made with our pounds in order to save a few pennies in the short-term. For example, afraid of overspending on gas, you drive twenty minutes out of your way to save a penny per gallon.
Can you think of ways that you have been “penny wise and pound foolish?”
For the Galatians, they were giving up on their faith in the grace of Jesus Christ. They had given their very lives to this commitment. And now that the Judaizers had come, sowing fear in claiming that Paul had misled them, they were becoming penny foolish.
The source of their fear came from the undermining message that they first needed obedience to the Jewish law in order to become Christians (3:2). Paul asks a pointed questions: How’s that going for you? Can you even be perfected in the flesh? (3:3) For Gentile men, the centerpiece of this misleading message was that they must be circumcised. (They would have had to put that in the fine print at the bottom in the Galatian Church brochure! “Gentile men who wish to become Christians must first be circumcised.”)
In their fear that God would forsake them, they reverted back to a works-based religion. “Do this and that and don’t do this and that, then God will accept you.” This is a virus on the church and the faith of its people. In today’s reading, Paul reminds them of two things.
First, they have the spirit of God (3:2&5) to walk with them, to guide and direct them, and even to love and cherish them as God’s children. If they seek to “cover the bases” and “fill in the gaps” in order to cover their spiritual backsides, then they have believed that the Holy Spirit hasn’t – or can’t – do HIS job. What are we believing about God in this situation? Always remember: God’s grace is sufficient for you. (2 Cor. 12:9)
Second, they (and you) are already sons of Abraham. This is a phrase that the Judaizers would have likely used, saying “You must first become children of Abraham in order to become Christians.” Abraham himself came before God in faith and like him we also come to God in faith. (Genesis 15:1-6)
There is a story of a tightrope walker named Charles Blondin (1824-1897). In one of his amazing displays, he set up a cable across Niagara Falls. First he walked several times across the falls, then he did several stunts while on the wire, even sitting on a stool and eating lunch. In a final act, he invited anyone from the audience to get on his back and go with him across the raging waters.
There was one brave (or maybe foolish!) soul who stepped forward. The man, perched on Blondin’s back, made it safely across. It was quite a lot of faith in Blondin’s ability.
But what if that man, at the half-way point said, “I don’t think you can do it anymore. I’d like to get off!” This is in effect what happens when we put our trust in anything other than Christ for the safety and security of our lives. We are climbing off the back of the one who can carry us through.
In this season of COVID-19, it seems we are tempted to trust more in latex gloves, face masks and hand sanitizer to preserve their lives. What are the things you are trusting your life to today? Are they tempting you to trust them more then Christ?
Let us pray...
Lord, today we renew our trust in you to preserve our life, even unto eternal life. May we engage in hand-washing and social-distancing as an act of loving our neighbor, not as a way to save our own lives. You are the life for us today. Amen.
Today’s reading from Galatians 2...
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
The Apostle Paul had laid the foundation for this new church of Jewish and Gentile Christians to begin building, not with wood or stone, but with people solid in Christian faith. These people (as are all Christians) were called to live a life in personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, by whose death and resurrection they are made right with God. The result of that relationship is then to be reflected in the way we live in obedience to God’s intentions.
But in Paul’s absence, the ‘Judaizers’ had been to visit the Galatians and compromised the foundation by teaching “a different Gospel” (1:6). They taught these vulnerable new Christians that Paul had it wrong. They must become fully Jewish in order to receive the Jewish Messiah. They must first be in full compliance with the law and ritual of Judaism before they can know Jesus. The Judaizers went so far as to suggest that Paul did not have the proper authority to teach about Jesus since he was not among the original twelve apostles.
Remember that Paul used to be called Saul and was a notorious persecutor of Christians. His reputation has proceeded him. How could he ever be known as an ally, much less a missionary for the church of Jesus Christ?
In the letter to the Galatians, Paul uses the latter half of chapter one and two thirds of chapter two to explain his authority as one sent to proclaim the Gospel. He was called and sent by God. His authority was not given to him by humans. Remember from yesterday’s reading we heard him say...
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached
by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor
was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
To further emphasize what has happened for Jews and Gentiles alike, in today’s reading Paul now begins to show the Gentiles that they also need not have any human to certify that they are now acceptable to God. This is, in effect, what priests, scribes and Pharisees had been doing as they certify adherence to the law. Read again 2:15&15...
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know
that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus
Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by
faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no
one will be justified.
So it is by faith in Christ that we are justified. But what exactly does that mean?
One way of thinking about justification is to think about the idea of balance. If a line of text is ‘center justified’, the letters are equally balanced on the left and right. It looks like this...
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
What would balance look like in your life today? All of this self-isolating has this effect: it has thrown our daily lives out of balance. Our alone time is out of balance with our community time.
In contrast, the rest of this text is left justified. All of the paragraphs begin on the left margin. Lines begin and end based on that reference instead of the center or right margin.
The Apostle Paul teaches that our lives are God-justified. All of our lines find their beginning and end in Him. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (2:20)
What will it mean that your life is “God justified” today?
Let us pray...
Father God, may your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We give glory, honor, and praise to your holy name. You are the God of all creation; all power, wisdom, and knowledge are in you. You are the God of holiness, mercy, and love.
Father, in the name of Jesus, who died and rose again, we are a blessed people; in you all of our needs are met, the way is made, and the door is open to us. In this time of being apart, may our marriages and families be strengthened as we reconnect at home. May people discover the blessing of quiet prayer and the reading of your word.
May we rediscover that all our lines begin and end in you. Amen.
For the next few days of our daily readings, we will be looking at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. To begin, here is an introduction to the letter that is found in the Renovaré Study Bible...
Freedom is one of the deepest longings of the human soul. Poems have been written, songs sung, philosophies developed, and wars fought – all for the cause of freedom. So it is not surprising that when Jesus stepped onto the stage of human history some of his earliest public words were, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ... to proclaim release to the captives ... to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). Echoing the words of his Master, the apostle Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1) – Christ has set us free to become the persons God has created and redeemed us to be.
For some this freedom is too wild, too unpredictable, and too available. Surely, they say, God never intended to include anyone and everyone. We must have standards and controls. People have to do or know the right things in order to please God. Thus the perversions, distortions and substitutes for Jesus’ original offer are born.
So now the authentic fee life in Christ needs a warning label to keep us alert to this danger. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians serves us well in this capacity. The poison to avoid is a “different gospel” (1:6). The Galatians were in danger of ingesting a toxic mix of self-help, outward religious observance, and lies about God. This was the first in a long line of different gospels that continue even now to raise their ugly heads. The warning sounded by Paul in his letter has largely gone unheeded. However, those willing to listen to its message will preserve and deepen the life of freedom that Jesus can to give. And what a glorious freedom it is! We have been set free from “the present evil age” (1:4), the “works of the law” (2:6) and the “works of the flesh” (5:19).
Paul, astonished and outraged, is not content to warn. In Galatians he provides the antidote for each virus that has infected the church. For the false human gospel he offers the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). Rather than the works of the law he prescribes simple faith in the grace of God. Instead of “trying harder” to gain God’s approval he directs us to life in the Spirit.
Today’s reading from Galatians 1...
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray...
Redeeming God, we praise you for the freedom you have graciously given us. No one else could make it possible. May we live our freedom in ways that honor and bless you.
In this season of quarantine, when it feels as if our freedom has been curtailed, we ask that we might not be spiritually beholden to the voices that tell us all is lost. Help us to filter the news with our faith in you, our sovereign God.
We pray these things in your precious and powerful name. Amen.
A Reading from Ruth 4...
Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
In chapter four of the book of Ruth, we observe Boaz navigate the legal channels required to make Ruth his wife. One of the things we should notice is that he did not cut any corners. He made sure that everything was done in an orderly and transparent manner. As much as he may have wanted to make Ruth his wife, he did not rush the process or look for any loopholes.
There is a catch phrase that comes out of the Presbyterian Church tradition that says all things should be done “decently and in order.” For better or for worse, that phase became a bit of a cliché, in that doing things decently and order became a way of serving the bureaucracy rather than serving God.
Not so for Boaz. He did not let the desire of his heart get ahead of God’s will. As we read Ruth 4, we see that he made sure of that by doing things in an orderly and transparent way according to the customs of his day.
In general, this is one of the tools God gives us to discern his will for our lives. If we have a situation to face or a choice to make, God gives us resources to discern is will. We should use them in this order:
1. Scripture. If we need to make a decision, that decision must be made in
alignment with God’s word. (see 2 Timothy 3:16&17)
2. Prayer. As we talk with God in prayer about the decision we face, we must
also listen for God’s intentions. His intentions for us are often confirmed
by a sense of peace regarding to the way forward. (see Philippians 4:6&7)
3. Godly friends. As we talk with people of faith about the way forward, that
sense of peace about the way forward is often confirmed.
(see Proverbs 27:17)
4. Open or closed doors. This is what we read about in Ruth 4 today. Boaz
was diligent in confirming that the door to marry Ruth was open. In fact,
he openly offered everything to the man who was legally next in line. If
the next-in-line had taken the offer, and the door to marriage was closed
to Boaz, he would have accepted it as God’s intentions.
5. Once we confirmed that the choice we have made or the desire of our
heart is in alignment with these four things, we can know that our
decision or desire is in alignment with God’s will.
Over these last few days, we have made just a few observations from the book of Ruth. There is certainly more that could be learned. The feature of this episode that most intrigues me is the way that these regular people are trying to do their best in the situations in which they find themselves. These are not superheroes; they are like you and me.
Faith in God gets them through to a place where God provides.
By the way, the child that is born to Boaz and Ruth turns out to be the grandfather of King David and the ancestor of Jesus the Messiah. Beyond our day-to-day lives, God also has a long-term plan as well.
Let us pray...
Thank you Father for guiding us through our life’s situation. We often feel as if we have little to chart the course through difficulty; but it is not so. You give us much to help us see your will and way. May we avail ourselves of the tools you give to find your will and way; and the courage to follow. Amen.
Today’s reading from Ruth 3...
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her [Ruth], “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” 5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
This section of Ruth’s story may leave modern readers scratching their heads wondering “what is going on here?” It is certainly hard for us to know what is going on behind these ancient customs.
We have seen the bond and commitment that these two women have had with each other. Naomi did not want Ruth to be an unmarried foreign woman any longer than necessary. Unfortunately, that status might have put her at risk in that time and place. Ruth needed a family to belong to for protection and provision, and Naomi hatched a plan.
In the legal structure of the time, an unmarried man had the responsibility to marry the widow of a male relative who have died. This is what it meant to be a kinsman-redeemer. Noami suggested that Ruth appeal to Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer so that Ruth would officially become his wife and part of his household. Naomi’s plan, however, was not without risk.
It was the time of the barley harvest and the harvesters work from sun up until sun down. And when the sun went down, there was a big meal and the men were in “good spirits.” Boaz and the workers slept in the barn, right in the place where they would be working at sun rise. This was a man’s domain. No women were allowed to potentially “distract” the workers.
During the night, according to Naomi’s plan, Ruth dressed in best clothing and put on a beautiful fragrance. She silently slipped into the barn and carefully found the place where Boaz was sleeping. Ruth quietly made her presence known by uncovering his feet and lying down next to him.
Here was the gamble. Ruth approached Boaz in a place she did not belong. Boaz could have revealed her to the others as a woman who had come among the men and had her tossed out as a nuisance... or worse, a woman of ill-repute.
Boaz, however, understood that Ruth was a woman of good character. This risky action was not a sexual advance but instead to cast herself upon his mercy. Thanks be to God, Boaz sees Ruth’s action as it was intended. He is honored that she would think of him as a person so trustworthy that she would entrust herself and her reputation to him.
So what is the application of this passage? Compared to other parts of the Bible, it is not quite as clear. But here is what I would suggest to you.
In 2:11&12 Boaz said to Ruth, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Boaz is able to see in Ruth a new and growing faith in the God of Israel. She is unfamiliar with the rituals and rules among God’s people, and when Naomi suggested a very risky plan, Ruth may not have recognized the risk. But Boaz recognized Ruth’s faith, and that made all the difference. We need eyes to see fledgling faith in others. And we need to encourage it, even when it is expressed in ways that we do not expect.
Who do you know that is new to Christian faith? How might you encourage that person today?
Let us pray...
May we be people among others who are discovering faith in you. Help us to encourage and guide them into spiritual maturity.
In our time of quarantine, prompt in us the extra effort to reach out to others by the means we have available. Let the lonely not be alone. Amen
Today’s reading from Ruth 2...
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. 4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”
As we continue tracking the story of Naomi and Ruth, we find in chapter 2 that they have arrived in Bethlehem safe and sound. Immediately we are introduced to a new character named Boaz. He is a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband.
Ruth intends to get some food for herself and Naomi by means typical of a poor person in that time and place. The Law of Moses called farmers and their harvesters (‘reapers’ in 2:3) to leave some of the field’s produce behind so that those who were poor may then come and pick grain for themselves. Providentially Ruth did this in the field belonging to Boaz.
Our first experience of Boaz happens as he returns to the field. He had been in the town of Bethlehem. It would seem he is a person of good reputation and influence there. Returning to the field, note how he interacted with his workers. He greeted them by saying, “The Lord be with you!” And to him, they all shouted “the Lord bless you!” in return (2:4).
Perhaps this is a small thing, but it reveals something wonderful about the work place Boaz has created. The atmosphere is one of mutual respect. They are glad to see each other and freely express that gladness. They also indicate the foundation on which this is set. It is the Lord. The Lord’s presence in their lives makes everything possible. The dignity of their work, the possibility of feeding the poor, the friendship they have with one another and their boss, all this is possible as they acknowledge the Lord as their source.
This part of the narrative raises two questions for our own communities; especially the Road to Emmaus community.
First, as a church, are we creating an atmosphere in which dignity, mutual appreciation and gratitude are in the air? Is there a gladness in greeting each other? Are we so happy to see one another that we might say out loud “the Lord bless you!”?
One of the primary ways that we can foster such an atmosphere is to do what Boaz quite naturally did for Ruth and others like her. He created a safe place for the vulnerable to work toward wholeness. Boaz made sure that Ruth could safely pick grain to feed herself and Naomi. Our second question is this: as Road to Emmaus Church, what would be the equivalent? There are lots of ways to do so.
Let us pray...
Lord, we want to be a community that blesses. We yearn to be a people where gladness and work are mingled together as we do what you call us to. May we find new ways to connect with those who are vulnerable, integrating them into the community of Christ and helping them toward self-sufficiency.
Be with our communities as we help each other toward the end of the quarantine period. May it have its good effect and soon may we be together again. Amen.
Click here at 7:00pm to participate.
Today’s reading from Ruth 1...
No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And 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 urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And 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, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
The book of Ruth opens with these words: “In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land...” This is a description of double-trouble. The history of the “Judges” was for God’s people a period of corruption and mismanagement among its leadership. The author of Ruth recalls this to the reader’s mind along with a compounding problem: famine. It is likely that the administrative mishandling of the Judges had a part to play in the scarcity.
The scene is set. Life was increasingly difficult. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons decided to leave their hometown of Bethlehem and traveled to the land of Moab. It is likely they intended to be away until things got better. How long could it take until crops could be re-planted and harvested; maybe just a year?
It was far worse. They were in Moab for more than ten years. During that time Elimelech died. Their sons had met and married girls from Moab: Orpah and Ruth. And after ten years, both of Naomi’s sons also died. Woe was heaped upon woe. You can hear it in Naomi’s voice: “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (1:13)
With no extended family in Moab to support her, Ruth had no choice but to go back to Bethlehem. She heard that food was again available. In her mind it made no sense to bring with her these two Moab daughters-in-law. Ruth could provide no future for them. She released them from any official tie they had so that they may return to their family’s support. Orpah and Ruth both loved Naomi. It was a hard decision, but Orpah said goodbye, kissed Naomi and returned to her family.
Ruth on the other hand, decided to remain with Naomi and go with her to Bethlehem. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.” (1:16)
In the face of hardship, loss and tragedy, here are two women with very different responses.
Naomi has become bitter. In fact that is what she wants to be called: Mara (1:20). The name means ‘bitter’, in direct contrast to her given name which means ‘pleasant.’ She has come to believe that the Lord has done all of this to make her life bitter and difficult. It is an easy pit to fall into when the going gets rough. The difficulty of our immediate surroundings make the whole world look dark. There is a Yiddish proverb: “to a fly in the horseradish, the whole world is horseradish.”
When Ruth speaks those words from verse 16, she is not simply trying to cheer Naomi up. She is making a statement of faith. Despite her mother-in-law’s bitterness, it looks as if she has come to believe something about the God of Israel. Ruth is prepared to act as the daughter of God that she now is. She will stay by Naomi’s side and she will go where God will lead her.
It is unfair to compare one person’s faith to another. The book of Ruth, however, shows us two people who face the same set of circumstances in different ways. As you face the circumstances of this day, I pray you will do so with the lessons we learn from the story of Ruth.
Let us pray...
This season of our lives has a set of difficult circumstances. We pray that we might face them with a steadfast and enduring faith. May today’s difficulty not dim our vision so that the whole world looks dark. Help us to see the light and hope that you still give to the world and to life. Amen.
Today’s reading from Genesis 28...
Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother's father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother. 3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” 5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
You no doubt know of a place called Bethel. There are cities and towns, colleges and seminaries (and cemeteries!), churches and synagogues, all bearing the name Bethel.
The first syllable of the word – beth – is the Hebrew word for house. The second syllable – el – refers to God, as in Elohim. Bethel means ‘house of God.’
Our reading today comes immediately after the sordid story of Jacob’s deception. He tricked his old and blind father Isaac so that he might secure the blessing that belonged to his older brother Esau. Esau was, of course, incensed by the ruse and vowed to kill his brother Jacob once their father was dead.
Their mother favored Jacob and she told Isaac that Jacob should leave to find an appropriate wife. It was a convenient excuse to cover Jacob’s escape from his brother’s revenge. While Jacob is on the run, there are two things that happen that reveal the graciousness of God in the midst of humanity’s messiness.
The first of these blessings comes in the reiteration of the covenant God made with Abraham (28:3-4). Jacob is part of the plan of God, even as he clearly fallible. The same is true for you and me. Our frail and fallible humanity is the raw material that God intends to refine and use for his glorious will. Surprisingly, like with Jacob, sometimes God uses a person before they are fully refined.
The second blessing comes in the dream often referred to as ‘Jacob’s ladder’ (28:12-15). Above it is the very presence of the Lord, and going up and down this stairway are the angels of heaven. The Lord promises again the land that will belong to Israel, that there will be a great population of God’s people who will live there and that God will be with them.
Jacob woke from this dream, having found that despite all his conniving, God has not struck him down! The Lord has been gracious. There Jacob built a stone monument and called the place Bethel.
Among the Good News of the biblical account is that God meets us where we are. In our alloy of insecurity and courage, faith and doubt, awe and self-interest, understanding and foolishness, God still loves us.
This is our Bethel, our house of God. You will not be in a church building this week, but God meets you right where you are today. Rejoice and be glad!
What will be your monument to him today?
Let us pray...
Thank you, Lord and God, for being so surprisingly gracious to us. You have the right and authority to release your wrath against us, and yet you gently show us our sin and call us to repentance.
May we be changed by this and choose a new way of living that glorifies you in everything we do. Amen.