Sunday, February 26, 2017

Inheritance and Investment

Ruth 4:1-17

Everybody loves a bargain. There's something about a tag that says "buy one get one" that seems to be beckoning people to buy things just to get another one for 50% off or even, and maybe better, free. It encourages compulsive buying, and merchants know that. 

The story of Ruth is a familiar one -- Naomi and Elimelech moved to Moab with their sons who married two Moabite women. Elimelech and the two sons died, leaving the three women alone and unprotected with no family around them. Naomi decides to move back home but encourages the daughters-in-law to remain in Moab. One does just that, but Ruth, the other, vows to follow Naomi back to her home. She does, and follows Naomi's instructions about gleaning in a relative's field and other things that would make their lives better.

Elimelech had owned some land, and Naomi decided to sell it since there were no direct heirs in Elimelech's line because there  were no sons. We know at least two kinsmen at least, were interested in the property, so one of them, Boaz, met the other in the marketplace and asks the relative's plans regarding the inheritance, whether or not the cousin would accept it. Boaz made quite a formal event of it making sure that there were witnesses needed to make it a binding thing no matter which way it went. The kinsman said he would redeem the inheritance, probably thinking it would increase his portfolio quite nicely. Then Boaz adds a little reminder. "If you take the land, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite widow of a dead man, and you will raise sons to be Ruth's late husband's inheritors."

The kinsman thought about that for a minute and then decided that the deal just wasn't a good thing for him and so he left it all to Boaz. . It sounds funny to us to use land as a primary factor in inheritance and then,  oh, by the way, throw in a human being in the process. It sounds almost demeaning. It was if Ruth were no more than a chattel, a possession to be bargained for willy-nilly, or sent here or there depending on the circumstances. Frankly, as a 21st century woman, it galls me. I realize  the times were very different then, and I can't argue with the culture 3000 or so years ago.

Inheritance is always been an important thing. Most people had very little to leave as an inheritance. If they were lucky, they had the clothes on their back and the family that they left behind. With better luck, they might on a stall in the marketplace and maybe even their own house or room above their place in the market. They lived in a time where goods were thought of as limited resources. The more you had, the less there was for me, because there was only so much to go around. Today it does seem that the world does go by that belief, given that 1% of the world's people have as much as almost all of the 99% of others, ranging from wealthy to comfortable to poor to utterly destitute. Some even base their theology on that belief in limited resources and the Prosperity Gospel where God loves the rich so much more than the poor (or they wouldn't be so poor!).

Back to Ruth and Boaz. We know at the end that indeed Boaz does take Ruth as his wife and, per the custom of the people, he has a child by her who is considered to be the son of her late first husband, Mahlon. That was a common thing, to prevent names and bloodlines from being lost. Even if adopted, it was as if the child were born to the adoptive family rather than its own birth family which, if you think about it, is as it should be.

Meanwhile after the birth of Obed, the son of Ruth,  he was taken to Naomi to be a new son to her. She placed him on her knees as was the custom and adopted him. In essence, he got a mother and grandmother all the same time, and still had Ruth and Boaz as parents. Boaz got the land and got a family as well. It was a pretty good deal, plus it brought Boaz into the lineage of a child to be born at some future point in time who would make all children inheritors of a great kingdom.

Think of it -- an inheritance of a part of a great kingdom, FREE! Ok, so the price of entrance is a belief in this kingdom and a willingness to work to make that kingdom a reality. God isn't asking us to take out a mortgage with God to be part of this kingdom, so there's nothing to buy or which could be bought to get a person into the place of inheritor. Instead, God is inviting us to be investors of time and talent (and sometimes money to help others) in this dream of God. Sounds a lot better than "Buy one, get one free," at least to my way of thinking. What about you?

Go thou and invest wisely in thy inheritance. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 25, 2017.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


One of the things I like most about Education for Ministry is the theological reflections that we do. We look at an object, picture, Scripture, quote, or piece of music and try to see it from different personal and group perspectives. The goal is to consider where we are in the world of this metaphor (the picture or other artifact), where God is, what we are called to do, and what we can do in our lives and ministries (which are often the same). It is a fascinating process, and the core of the EfM program

The picture that we looked at this past week in our group is the one shown above, a picture of a
person standing in front of a stone ruin and looking upwards. We knew beforehand that this was the ruin of a monastery or an abbey on a small island off the coast of Ireland, and that it had been abandoned for a long period of time. There was no glass in the windows, no roof over the empty space inside, but it appeared so solid and, in some ways, solid, permanent, and stable.

Despite the fact that it had been abandoned for whatever reason, there was also a sign that people took care of the site, and that it was a place where people still came to visit. It was noted that on the other side of the structure was a graveyard with tilted stones,  and people often came with their blankets and their picnic baskets and their children to sit among the stones to have  a picnic lunch. It was, in a way, like a family place, unlike an amusement park where you're always supposed to be busy. In this place you could sit quietly or walk around and look and feel a part of a different but welcoming world. 

The thing that struck me with the stones. Being from a place back East where history is a very important thing, I'm rather used to old buildings, even reconstructed old buildings. The church I attended at home was built in the late 1600s. The walls are the original walls, and they have a permanence about them. I remember sitting in the pews on Sundays back in the days when we did morning prayer three weeks out of the four, chanting the canticles, and feeling the presence of people who had worshiped in that church since its founding. It was a very thin space, and touching the stone of the church wall reminded me of all that had transpired in the life of this church. Touching the stone brought me in contact with the past. It was a feeling of stability. 

I look at the picture and I have the same kind of feeling. I want to touch the stone. I want to feel the presence of those who lived and worshiped there, and the essence of all the prayers that had gone up from that place and, possibly, that still go up from that place. 

The stone walls of the monastery or abbey represent  a part of our tradition, part of our history. Our culture today is quite different, and I can see where some people would think keeping this old ruin is a waste of time, money, and even space. It's more logical to take the stones down and build a conference center, or a hotel, or something that will bring in money, at least for the owners. I think that comes partially from the rootlessness many of us feel these days. For some of us, we have to be constantly pushing ahead, looking to the future, shedding things that no longer work for us or represent who we perceive ourselves to be. On the other hand, though, some of us cling to some of the old ways (not necessarily all of them, i.e., slavery, droit du signeur, and the like). We are comfortable hearing the Bible in the English of the 16th century, find the music of the 16th-19th century both soothing and invigorating in a way the incessant sub-sub-woofers of today can't be, and we look with pride at buildings that have survived for centuries that give us a feeling of comfort, stability, and permanence.

Jesus was, in a sense, a very mobile person for someone of his time. His roots were deep in Judaism and its history. Yet in many of his sayings, sermons, and talks, he often spoke of a new world, a rebuilding of God's kingdom on earth, that would change everything. He had plenty of critics, and he had plenty of people who didn't want to hear the message because, like the old unofficial Episcopal  motto used to be, "But we've never done it that way!" They wanted to do things exactly the way their ancestors had done That was their stability in a troubling time. Some people today go into monasteries and convents because they want simplicity of the life, the structure of the prayer times and the work times and the meditation times, and the close connection to God. Others, though,  just want to keep moving keep moving especially up when it comes to the corporate ladders.

Sometimes it takes getting a bit of distance from the everyday and the mundane to make us understand what this world is about. Jesus often retreated to quiet, secluded, places to play and to meditate and communicate. Maybe for others it would be a church, or garden, a forest, an ocean view, or any one of a number of things. As long as there is a time to retreat, even if just for a few hours, to reconnect with ourselves and God, in peace and perhaps solitude. It was true for many of our saints who lived as monks, nuns, hermits, anchoresses and anchorites in the past. There are those who still follow that, who find their roots in God, and stability in scheduled hours of work, study, and prayer.

The challenge this week is to find a place that resonates with me, to find something old, that has an aura about it, that speaks of stability, peace, and sanctity. I may not find it here, but as long as I have images like the monastery or the abbey, I can put myself into the picture and become part of what it represents. I can feel the presence of those who have sent prayers heavenward from that spot, and join with them in spirit as well.

I challenge all of us to follow Jesus to sacred places where there's room for permanence, stability, silence and meditation. I hope we can all find a place like that because in this current world, a little silence and a whole lotta feelings of stability would be a true gift from God.

Go thou and find thy space. God bless.

Picture: Copyright: Laurie Gudim, used by permission.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 18, 2017.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Practice Persistence

...I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.   - 2 Timothy 4:1d-5

I can't speak for anyone else but I dread opening a paper or looking at the news on the internet or Facebook because there rarely seems to be anything good. Okay, some nice people have posted some lovely baby pictures,  and there's one adorable little girl singing with her grandmother as they read a book together. Then the people who post pictures of kittens. May God bless them forever, because that's one thing that helps keep me sane. Give me kittens any day over politics. In fact, give me a kitten any day over almost anything. They do tend to brighten the day.

As if we didn't have enough anxiety running around before the election, it seems like the anxiety is growing because suddenly, some were so enthusiastic are suddenly beginning to wonder what they were voting for. I'm not saying everybody; I can't speak for everybody. I can speak for myself, and I have to say I do wonder what people who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus can find to cancel out the seemingly contradictions of what Jesus teaches us. But it's nothing new. It happens periodically that, somewhere in the world, a leader goes a bit bonkers and believes too much of their own press, or thinks their truth is the only truth.

Paul wrote a letter to Timothy just before his own martyrdom. It seems to apply today every bit as much as it did in the world that Paul knew. I love the part about the itching ears. It seems such an accurate phrase for people who believe what they're told without actually discerning whether or not what they're told is actually true and factual, not alternative facts or patent lies.  

Everyone wants to believe that they have the right idea. Everybody who proclaims to be a Christian, more often than not, has a specific view of what the Bible actually says and who said it. Those who believe that it's the inerrant word of God and that every word is literally true and factual present an entirely different case than someone who, to quote Karl Barth, "...Take  the Bible too seriously to take it literally." In short, the Bible is too important to be just words that can be recited at will and ignored when it comes to actually living it.  

We can't waste time in wringing our hands and expressing our anxiety. That's not going to help anyone, least of all ourselves. It's not going to help the world, and it's not going to help those most in need of good news. So now what?. Go back to early in the verse proclaim the message. Be persistent.

During World War II, almost every country that had the German shadow over it had its own groups of persistent people who worked to defeat those they saw as the enemy. They hid refugees, helped rescue those who were threatened with deportation to death camps, and countless lost and injured soldiers and pilots who they helped back to safety, all at a risk of their own lives. They didn't save everyone, but they did what they could and did it with persistence. If something didn't work one day, try again the next. Maybe that's something we can take from the past and use it to spread the gospel message. Resist by being persistent. 

Be persistent. It's like a new watchword for the year. It's become a slogan that brings a number of groups together for common good which is giving people a voice and a measure of control over their own lives, without interference from the government, or maybe even the church, or maybe a single person. We need to be persistent. Following Christ takes persistence. It's not easy;  never has been, never will be. But it's the job we have been given. It's an evangelical method message that we are to bring to the world and is how we are to live our lives, with persistence, with joy, and with less concern about sound doctrine than the lessons that Jesus taught us.

Time to get going on this folks. God loves the persistent, because so many of the people of the Bible exhibited persistence. Even though they didn't get their way immediately, or have their wishes and hopes fulfilled immediately, eventually things worked out. So now it's our turn.

Go thou and be persistent. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 12, 2017.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Bearing Burdens and Carrying Loads

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.  - Galatians 6:2-5

There are a number of ways of reflecting on a passage of Scripture. One way that is familiar and comfortable for me is to use a form of theological reflection in the Ignatian style. The passage is read and then the reader sits in silence for a bit, then reads it again and sees what stands out, a word or a phrase. This standout is a place to begin the reflection, and subsequent readings of the passage  are drawn into it. The practice is called Lectio Divina, and it's been practiced for hundreds of years.

Looking at the passage from Galatians for today, the phrase that stood out for me was from verse 5, "[F]or all must carry their own loads." The more I thought about it the more certain I became that yes, we must, because no one else can do it for us. It fits with a number of times in my own life where I've had to face consequences of my own difficulties, work through diseases that have compromised my health, and have had to work through times of grief, pain, and utter confusion. Yes, I had a lot of support, which was a blessing. I had friends and family that cared and that helped me to get through the things that I had to get through. Ultimately, though, it was up to me to carry my own load. I was responsible for myself and my reactions to whatever came. I had to carry my own load.  

I looked at the passage for the second time and this time something else struck me. In verse 2 Paul tells us "...[B]ear one another's burdens." This set up a question in my mind. If I'm supposed to carry my own load, how am I also supposed to carry burdens for others? It seemed like a dichotomy to me that I could not reconcile, so I sat with it for a while and thought some more.

I remembered times when I had a burden that I had to carry, I still had others who helped me and encouraged me without taking any of the burden on themselves. They were spiritual, sometimes physical, and sometimes financial supports that helped me bear the burden. Then it occurred to me that they were doing verse 2 while I was doing verse5. Suddenly it started to make sense. I went back to verse 2 again, this time reading the whole "...[B]ear one another's burdens, and in this way you can you will fulfill the law of Christ." Okay, maybe there's not such a dichotomy after all. There are times we have burdens and there are  times we are called to help others with burdens. Traditionally, we are called to be one in the spirit, and if one is burdened, all the others would similarly be burdened or the givers of support so that the burden is shared. That's the way Jesus seemed to feel it needed to be done. That's what's behind "Love thy neighbor", and "do good."

Paul goes on to say "For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves." Certainly everybody thinks that their burdens are the worst in the world, and to some extent that's true. They are the worst in the world, because each of us has our own burdens and our own reactions to those burdens.  The thing is, we can't ignore the others are having problems just because Paul in one place tells us we should concentrate our own. We can't be egotistical about bearing burdens. Paul continues "All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbors work, will become a cause for pride."

I never thought it was a source of pride to look back on the tough times and feel a sense of satisfaction (okay, pride) that I had gone through it, I had survived it, I had learned from it, and I had come out stronger because of what I'd been through. I don't describe problem or difficulty as coming straight from God, but from myself, or perhaps heredity, or perhaps just stuff that happens. God was present as support but God didn't cause my difficulties. God didn't take away beloved people in death. God didn't give me cancer. God didn't make my birth mother walk away from me as an infant. I don't think a loving God would deliberately cause things that would be hurtful or injurious to God's own children. God had been through that with Jesus, and I'm sure that one time was enough. Be that as it may, I lived through my problems, I still live through some of them because they're not all solved yet, but I can I have survived. I can't take  pride in it because it didn't make me better than anyone else, it just made me a stronger and a survivor.

Then I get to the to the verse that I originally thought about carrying our own own loads. The passage makes more sense to me now that I've had time to actually sit and think about it. The question of bearing burdens for another and carrying my own load doesn't seem so separate that I can't think of them together.

Each of us has burdens to bear. Each of us has support people to help us. Each of us has God in our corner, and each of us forms a support for others who may be going through similar things or who are dear friends and loved ones we want to be helpful to and supportive of. Paul seems to link them together for a reason.

Maybe Paul is not always so hard to understand after all. It just may take a little Lectio Divina now and then.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 4, 2017.