Einstein, Hamilton and Advent

A sermon for Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

A hundred years ago Einstein worked out the math for his theory of gravity. Eight years before, leaning just a bit too far back in his chair, he realized falling feels just like weightlessness (Overvye). And if falling and gravity feel the same, he figured they must have the same cause (Corum and Daniel). Newton’s theory was that gravity was a force between two objects. For him, space-time was the stage on which matter and energy danced (Overvye). For Einstein, space-time is also an actor that “bends, folds, wraps itself around massive objects, disappears down black holes, jiggles, radiates in waves, whirls around like stuff in a mixer, rip, tears, stretches, grows, and collapses” (Overvye). Space-time tells matter – energy how to move, and matter – energy tells space-time how to curve (Overvye). Having seen how matter and energy are related, he now reveals how space-time and energy-matter mutually define the actions of the other. He reveals that there is a mutual interdependence at the center of how the universe works.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. And although I despise Black Friday, I am, as I expect you are, irrespective of [quote] ecclesiastical {quote] expectations looking forward to Christmas. I have expectations about a tree, decorations, presents, another great meal, and family and friends. I imagine your anticipations are similar. I hope that you and I make the time to ponder the festivities around God’s incarnate appearance. And I expect you also know the equal importance of spending time pondering the return of the King.

All today’s reading hold, remembrances of the past, the truth of the present, in tension, waiting for a hope-filled future. Jeremiah is under house arrest. King Zedekiah is tired of all his doom and gloom prophecies. Jeremiah has recently bought a piece of land, not as a shrewd investment but as an act of hope, an act of trust that Israel really does have a future. While Israel is actually on the brink of disaster, their hope is in trusting that God is righteous and that God will restore Israel (Hoezee). Though written as if an individual is offering the Psalm, it is about the totality of life, which connects with understanding Advent connecting past, present and future (Jacobson). Jesus’ language is full of apocalyptic language. And we should not forget that by Luke’s day, the situation was worse. With the Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed the basis of Judaism was shattered. And though written for a primarily Gentile audience the impact is notable. There is distress among nations. There is confusion. Everyone is seeing signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, in the seas and waves (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner, Sermon Brain Wave). If they aren’t already, they are oh so close to being out of control. And most people, as do we are pretending as if ‘the time to come’ will not affect them. Luke, as is Jesus, is telling folks “Yes it will” (Hoch). And at the same time they encourage people to wait, to have hope, the Son of Man will return. The Thessalonians have taken a tremendous risk in turning away from the dominant culture of idols to follow this Jesus, the Messiah of the God of Israel, a tiny insignificant distant land, on the word of Paul, a wandering itinerate preacher, of dubious Jewish background. For them and Paul, whose own situation is precarious, relationship is everything. Paul is celebrating the news that they have not given up on him, as he has not given up on them (Pillar). And neither have given up on Jesus’ imminent return (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner, Sermon Brain Wave).

All these audiences live in the tension between the remembrance of what was, the fear of what is, as they wait, they hope for the promise to come. Biblical people remember the glories of David, live in the terror of occupation and perhaps exile, and hope for the messianic return. We remember our country’s foundation myths; we live in fear of ISIS, Paris, Mali, and corporate greed, and we hope for the promise of Bethlehem and the return of the King. It would appear as if everyone has gotten time all jumbled up. I expect so, but not necessarily ‘what was’ with ‘was is’, or ‘what might be.’ The confusion is between the passage of time, yesterday, today and tomorrow, with ‘the time supreme time for,’ the ‘right moment’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos). Jesus tells the crowds to be alert. Not to miss the danger, but so they won’t miss the right moment – the Kingdom of God (Heeds). It is similar for us. The challenge is how to use the hours of each day, to see and share the Kingdom of God that is already intruding into the world (Seller). And in looking and sharing we should be wary of exclusionary thoughts and actions that limit our awareness and acceptance of others with their spiritual baggage and insecurities (Hegedus).

The play Hamilton is a nontraditional musical that has swept off-Broadway. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda has masterfully presented the life and times of Alexander Hamilton. Kristin Fontaine was hooked when her son plugged his phone into their home stereo system. She was initially put off by its hip hop – rap style; but by the end of the second track she was hooked. She has bought the album, researched the lyrics, and dug into the history. She was intrigued by the next to last piece: The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me. You may remember Aaron Burr fatally wounded Hamilton in a duel. The title comes from Burr’s reported statement near the end of his life:

Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me (Fontaine).

It is a sad tale that illustrates the wisdom behind the Anglican via media. Via Media is not about finding the average of competing theologies. In truth, it is about growing a faith community that is wide enough to hold the diversity of faith traditions together in one overarching relationship. It is a very Advent like ideal.

Advent is a season to remember that ‘what was’ is related to ‘what is’ that together are related to ‘what will be.’ The history of ‘what was,’ biblical and otherwise, is mixed. There was promise, failure, the potential for restoration, yearning, waiting, which in Hebrew imputes hope, so there is hope. The story of ‘what is’ is also a mixed story. There are the remembrances, the longing for the good old days, there are challenges and failures, there are stories of grace and astounding surprises and success – place where we glimpse the Kingdom breaking in, and there are moments and stories of unmitigated horror, oppression, abuse, and terror. We pray, we wait for reconciliation, we hope. The story of ‘what will be’ is unknown; Jesus tells us: no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son (NRSV – Mark 13:32). What we do know is that God created a different life for us and the divine promise is that, in God’s time we, all of us, all of God’s people, will live life as promised (Lewis).

Einstein revealed a grand cosmic dance where everything through eternity pirouette in mutual dynamics. Advent is a time to reaffirm our trust in our righteous God; whose Kingdom includes all, whose love reconciles all, whose presence is already emerging, the Alpha-Omega, who is, who was, and who will be, who welcomes us to the eternal dance.

 


 

References

Corum, Jonathan and Jennifer Daniel. “What Is General Relativity?” New York Times (2015). <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/24/science/what-is-einsteins-general-relativity.html?&gt;.

Fontaine, Kristin. The world is big enough. 24 11 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-the-world-is-big-enough/&gt;.

Hegedus, Frank. “Be Alert, Advent 1(C) – 2015.” 29 11 2015. Sermons that Work. Hoch, Robert. Commentary on Luke 21:2536. 29 11 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lection Gospel Luke 21:25-36. 29 11 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf. Commentary on Psalm 25:110. 29 11 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 29 11 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Why Advent? 29 11 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Overvye, Dennis. “A Century Ago, Einstein’s Theory of.” New York Times (2015). <http://nyti.ms/1NpejJQ&gt;.

Pillar, Edward. Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3:913. 29 11 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sellery, David. As time goes bye. 24 11 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-thy-kingdom-come/&gt;.

Fear or Faith

A sermon for Christ the King

A Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19), Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

The airwaves have been nonstop with news about the terrorist attack in Paris Friday a week ago. I have been deeply troubled by the response of half our states’ governors’ call not to allow Syrian refugees into their states. Republican Presidential candidates have made similar statements. Late last week the House passed legislation that places new extraordinarily stringent restrictions on Syrian refugees. A part of me understands, but I deeply disagree with the approach. Part of me is concerned about crass political manipulation that seeks, no, is creating /ratcheting up fear, and then promising to keep us safe. It’s likely why Trump’s poll numbers are climbing.

There has been responses from those who disagree with all this. Some have quoted Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus on the base of the Statue of Liberty

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!”  cries she
With silent lips.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Presiding Bishop Curry released Be not afraid, in which he wrote:

Often in the gospels, fear grips the people of God, and time and again, either the angels, or Our Lord himself, respond with the same words of comfort: “Be not afraid.

Curry, as do I, acknowledges the fear is real. but he continues: And yet, especially when we feel legitimate fear, our faith reminds us “Be not afraid.” The larger truth is that our ultimate security comes from God in Christ. He also reminds us of a lesson from Leviticus: [where] God says to the people of Israel that,

the foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt (Curry).

David Sellery in Episcopal Café wrote “[the] peace of Christ not a product of conquest it is a labor of love.”  Before we can build the kingdom we are called to build we must overcome the kingdom of fear (Sellery).

Last Friday’s attack on the Hotel in Mali only exacerbates the fear. That is exactly what terrorist seek to do, invoke fear, and cause us to give up the values we cherish most, and they fear most.

 

You know I am not a believer in God’s manipulation of life on earth. Nonetheless, I find the synchronicity, that all this is happening the week preceding the Sunday we set aside to recognize Christ the King, provocative. The appointed lessons speak directly to our response to such crises as we experienced last week.

Last week we read from the first chapter of 1st Samuel, about Samuel’s birth; today we read from near the end of 2nd Samuel and David’s last words. Though we’ve not lived under a monarch for better than two centuries, when we hear ‘king,’ we think of power and hierarchy. And yet David, Israel’s prototypical king, is sharing a view of human government that is centered on justice and acknowledges that such virtue is only possible for king because of divine presence (Klein).

From John’s Gospel account, we heard from the passion when Jesus is interviewed by Pilate. When asked about being a king one thing Jesus says is “My kingdom is not from this world.” It is a subtle language bit; Jesus is not talking about a physical location; he is revealing of the source of his authority. This is one of two times ‘kingdom’ is in John’s gospel account, the other is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Both occur in the presence of a progenitor of power: Nicodemus a ruler from the Temple and religious establishments and Pilate, a ruler from empire, and government (Lewis).

Revelation is always difficult for us to understand. We struggle to let go of the idea that it is a prediction of the future. But as with all apocalyptic literature, it is expressing the hope of an oppressed people. A key to understanding is in this morning’s opening verse: “who is and who was and who is to come,” Listen to the sequence: “… who is, and who was and who is to come….” It is not in time sequence. The divine voice begins “who is.” In short, the most important message is that the Kingdom is right here, right now (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And for an oppressed people, for a people living in fear knowing that God is here and now, that God will not let go and that God will make it right, enables you to survive anything (Hoezee).

A common element in all these lessons is that divine kingship is not about power or land, it is about the relationship; the relationship between ourselves and God, and the relationship between each other, between all God’s people. It raises a question about our faith, our trust in God. Do we really trust God will take care of it all?

You may recall the story of Gideon defeating the Midianites. The Lord told him his thirty-two thousand troops were too many and sent those who were afraid home. There were still too many so the Lord had them drink from the water and sorted them by how they drank, choosing the three hundred who lapped from the bank.  Why? So Israel would not think they did this on their own (Judges 7:1- 7). In 1st Maccabees when Judas is about to lead an inferior force into the field he rallies his troops: it is better to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary (or the Temple). But as his will in heaven may be, so shall he do (1 Mac 3:59-60). His call expresses a clear trust in God, no matter the outcome.

What do these and similar biblical stories reveal to us about our engagement against terrorism when we always seek numerical, political, technological, logistical, strategic, and tactical advantage? What does it reveal that we have not seen the results we expected even after a decade-plus effort?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there should be a forceful response. Still, as Dr. Martin Luther King wrote: Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that (Lose) (King).

To balance a forceful response love requires a national public well-reasoned examination of our moral priorities. We must determine:  Do we put our trust in God or in our own prowess? And by the way ~ rants about sexual purity are not a well reasoned national examination of our moral priority.

“Jesus, what is the source of your authority?”  is a very real question for Pilate. It is a very real question for us (Pankey). We will begin to know the answer when we can pray with honesty the Collect for our Enemies, which asks God to guide them and us from prejudice to truth; from hatred, cruelty and revenge to stand reconciled before the Lord our God (BCP).

I owe David Brooks a note of thanks. It is his column Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts that seeded my journey along this path. He draws on the work of Rabbi Johnathan Sacks whose greatest contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power (Brooks).

No doubt there will more violent fear filled events in the days, months and years to come. Only we can decide if we will choose to live in fear or to live in faith.

 


 

References

Brooks, David. “Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts.” The New York Times (2015).

Church, The Episcopal. Book of Common Prayer. 1979.

Curry, Michael. “Be Not Afraid.” Episcopal Church Public Affairs. New York, 18 11 2015. web. <publicaffairs@episcopalchurch.org>.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Text Revelation 1:4b-8. 22 11 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 22 11 2015.

King, Martimn Luther. “Where Do We Go From Here.” King, Martin Luther. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. 1967. 62.

Klein, Ralph W. Commentary on 2 Samuel 23: 1-7. 22 11 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Kings of Relationship. 22 11 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Christ the King. 22 11 2015.

Pankey, Steve. “Whence Cometh Thy Power.” 17 11 2015. Word Press: Draughting Theology.

Sellery, David. Thy Kingdom Come. 11 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-thy-kingdom-come/&gt;.

 

 

 

Uncertainty

A Sermon for Proper 28

1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Mark 13:1-8

I’m sure you remember some 23 weeks ago when we read from 1st Samuel the story of Israel asking Samuel for a king to rule over them. Well, this morning we read the story leading up to Samuel’s birth.

Hannah is t Elkanah’s primary wife; however, she is barren. Pennianah, Elkanah’s second wife, had children and harangued Hannah about her children at every turn (Wines, 2015). Her husband did not make life easier when he asks her “Am I not worth ten sons to you?” He just didn’t understand what it meant for a woman to be barren. He did not feel the sense of shame arising from the belief that she is being punished by God for some undefined reason (Miguelina, 2015). Think Job. Needless to say, there is tension in Elkanah’s family.

This is not a new story. You remember that Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were barren. You remember the tension in Jacob’s family between Leah, who had children and Rachel who did not. However, there are some significant differences.

On one trip to Shilo, Israel’s primary shrine, the Temple has not yet been built, Hannah sits before the Lord praying and weeping (Harrelson, 2003). Unlike the other barren women, she presents her concerns to God (Wines, 2015). Eli, chief priest of the shrine, assumes Hannah is drunk and confronts her. She explains that she is deeply troubled and is offering her anxiety and grief to God. Showing no interest in Hannah, without asking what her complaint is, he brushes her off saying, “the Lord will grant your request” (Hoezee, 2015) (Wines, 2015). The next thing we know Hannah is pregnant.

We have no idea how much time passes between Shiloh and conception. Unlike Sarah, Rebekah, or Sarah, or Elizabeth and Mary there is no angelic pronouncement of pregnancy. There is no apparent supernatural intervention. Nonetheless, Hannah gives God credit, by naming her son Samuel, which means, “I’ve asked of him from the Lord” and by returning him to God, for life, as a Nazirite servant (Harrelson, 2003).

In place of a psalm this morning, we recited The Song of Hannah.” It is similar to the Song of Mary, in that it is lifted from scripture, here chapter 4 of First Samuel. Unlike Mary, she does not speak to God but rather about God. She Praises God’s willingness to intervene for those on the margins of life. As Doug Bratt notes, the Song of Hannah praises God for creation and for caring about creation (Hoezee, 2015).  The song as a whole offers hope, in the face of despair; because it attests to God’s willingness to intervene.

There is an unexpected link between Hannah’s story and Mark’s account of the disciples’ awe at seeing the Temple, and Jesus response. Both stories are apocalyptic. The connection emerges when we remember apocalyptic literature is the writings of the oppressed. Moreover, it is not end of the world stuff; the word means “unveiling” or “revealing” (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) (Wines, 2015). Gleanings emerge from the whole context, not just this morning’s appointed verses. Jesus is not so much concerned with the state of the Temple as he is that the disciples understand:  the world is not now nor is it soon to be safe, the Jewish and Roman authorities are not now, nor will they be the disciples’ friends, and those who families have rejected them will not soon welcome them home. When Mark is writing the Temple is a smoking ruined pile of rubble. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that in the face of the world’s troubles God is always present (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015). In short Jesus is asking the disciples to follow Hannah’s example in facing life’s uncertainty (Miguelina, 2015).

Hannah’s world was uncertain. Beyond her barrenness, Eli was unaware of his sons’ belligerent behaviors. Even though Joshua secured the promised land, well mostly, the surrounding kingdoms continually threatened Israel. And within Israel there was significant animosity among the tribes. Jesus’s world was uncertain; as it always is when your country has been conquered and is occupied by a foreign power. Mark’s world was even more uncertain; the center of Jewish religious life, the Temple, has been razed. With the home of God on earth gone, how does one live in God’s presence? In all ages, including ours, life has been uncertain. We are unsettled by ISIS, Syrian refugees, continuing conflict in Libya, Yemen, and countries of North Africa and Egypt. The Russian Airliner presumably bombed, and the terrorist rampage in Paris Friday raises everyone’s anxiety. Many are not thrilled by the vitriolic, bitter nature of the current political season, nationally and locally. For some finances or employment are sources of uncertainty; for others, retirement or health disrupt life. Or perhaps it’s children, ~ or maybe it’s parents. I haven’t read this mornings’ paper, so I may not be aware of the latest source uncertainty.

Some seek to peer into the future and glean what’s to be as a source of certitude to counter life’s uncertainty (Lose, 2015). It doesn’t work; elsewhere in scripture Jesus tells the disciples, no one, not even he, can know the future (Mark 13:22). But, as Hannah reveals, we are not without an antidote; courage is the antidote to uncertainty (Lose, 2015). Br. Luke in a posting last week reminds us, courage is not the lack of fear, rather ~ it is stepping into whatever it is that confronts us (Ditewig, 2015). At times that includes letting go of what weighs us down, the indulgences that disorder our lives, and leaving them at the altar, which frees us to move into life as God envisions it (Tristram, 2015)(SSJE, Br. Geoffrey. And we never have to pretend to be who we are not, life is what it is; God knows us, loves us, as we are gently turned towards who we shall be (Vryhof, 2015).  And of course, we have the ultimate source confidence. Our great high priest Jesus by whom we, with certainty, approach the throne of grace with boldness, to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need, in time of uncertainty (Hebrews 4).


References

Ditewig, B. L. (2015, 11 11). Courage. Retrieved from Give Us A Word.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 11 15). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 1 Samuel 1:4-20. Retrieved from Working Preacher.

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 11 15). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.

Lose, D. (2015, 11 15). Pentecost 25 B: Pretenders to the Throne. Retrieved from In the Meantime.

Miguelina, t. R. (2015, 11 15). Pentecost 25, Pretenders to the Throne. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Tristram, B. (2015, 11 13). Let Go. Retrieved from Give Us A Word.

Vryhof, B. D. (2015, 11 12). Invitation. (S. o. Evangelist, Producer) Retrieved from Brother, Give Us A Word: http://ssje.org/word/

Wines, A. (2015, 11 15). Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:420. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

Sordid Grace

A Sermon for Proper 27

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

A classmate of mine, Shania, had once been a carter serving the high society in Savanah Ga. She attested to the truth of the portrayal of Savanah’s society in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. She shared the story of one socialite who wasn’t satisfied with her family’s social position; that was primarily the results of its short history. So she decided to do some genealogy work, looking back to the Civil War and Revolutionary War for ancestors of note. She wasn’t successful, at least not as she had hoped. There were no heroes; however, there was a great-great-grandfather who had been hung as a horse thief.

They were no longer a nomadic society, but the elders of a tribe or clan village were the arbitrators of law and justice.

Elimelech and Naomi live in Bethlehem with their sons Mahlon and Chilion. Famine was in the land, and Elimelech moves them to Moab. Nothing is said about famine there. We do know it is risky because Moab is a traditional enemy of the Hebrews, and its inhabitants are looked down upon as morally inferior (Harrelson). Regardless, Mahlon and Chilion marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. It appears that Elimelech has made a wise decision, until he and both sons die. Naomi and her daughters in laws are at great risk with no providers or protectors.

Naomi decides she will return to Bethlehem which paradoxically means “House of Bread/Food” (Harrelson). Orpah decides to go home; Ruth swears loyalty

Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16, NRSV)

Naomi’s decision is precarious. It has been ten years, and the family lands would not have been left fallow. Redeeming them will be a challenge, even if she can identify one of Elimelech’s relatives. As an alien, Ruth is at even greater risk (Hoezee).

When they arrive in Bethlehem Naomi is recognized. Still, they have no shelter, and no source of income or food. The story says nothing about where they live. It says Ruth goes out to glean the fields, which is the traditional way the poor and destitute feed themselves. I recall a prohibition against joining fields, because it reduces food sources for the poor,      even if joining them could make the fields more profitable. But back to the story. It so happens, the field Ruth chose belongs to Boaz, an in-law of Naomi through Elimelech. He treats Ruth well (Luther Seminary, n.d.). Here we catch up to today’s story.

After Ruth tells Naomi about her encounter with Boaz, Naomi has an idea and gives her detailed instructions. She tells Ruth to clean up, dress up, gussy up and after the party that follows the harvest, and it will be a big party – lots of feasting, then go lay down by Boaz’s feet and do what he says. It’s is a risqué and risky ruse (Wines) (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner). However, everything goes as planned. Boaz recognizes that Ruth could have solved her needs be seeking out one of the eligible younger men; however, that would have done nothing for Naomi. Her seeking out Boaz is Naomi’s only hope of redemption (Harrelson). He is impressed and promises to do as she has asked.

There is a potential problem because there is a relative who has a potentially superior claim to redeem the land. So, Boaz gives Ruth a cloak full of grain, as food security and perhaps a sign of good faith, and promises to get things all settled. Boaz goes to the gate to find the relative and learn his desire. It is complicated because in the 10-year absence the land would not have been left fallow meaning someone is working and profiting from it (Harrelson).

Boaz inquires about the relative’s intent to redeem Elimelech’s land, making it known that if he won’t redeem it Boaz will. The relative decides not to exercise his privilege and Boaz claim is made and witnessed by 10 elders. The others at the gate bestow a blessing that includes references to Tamar and Perez, her son, whose birth is another intriguing story about assuring family lineage. Tamar and Perez are Boaz’s 5th generation relatives.

Ruth and Boaz have a son, Obed. Curiously the story has the Bethlehem’s women refer to Obed as Naomi’s son. However, recognizing him as Naomi’s is the only way the lands of Naomi’s family can be redeemed, and her future secured (Harrelson). Our reading ends noting that Obed is David’s grandfather; making Ruth, an alien, David’s, the prototype King of Israel, great-grandmother.

At one level, this is a story of redemption. Redemption is the process by which people, property, and prestige lost through poverty, violence, or some other cause are restored to a family. The “redeemer” is the designated family member who is expected to recover what has been or is in danger of being lost from a family’s control (Harrelson). Much of the Leviticus and Deuteronomy law about intimate relationships is all about maintaining clear lines of property ownership, which, in an agrarian society, assures survival.

The tale, for all its simplicity, is remarkably complex, with lots of intimations and innuendos. All of which require the hearer to know the background story of the Hebrews, and the rest of the story, to understand any given scene, to really understand what’s going on (Wines). As always, much learning can be lost when verses are skipped, as we did today; but again I wander.

The story of Ruth is also about the mysterious ways of God. At a national level, where purity of bloodlines is paramount, and looking ahead we are perhaps surprised when we realize that David descends from lineage outside Israel. David’s ancestors are unsavory aliens. Put that into today’s presidential debate! Same is truth for Jesus; Ruth, Boaz, Obed, and David are part of Jesus’ lineage in the opening of Matthew’s Gospel account (Harrelson) (Hoezee). Jesus’ ancestors are also unsavory aliens.

As we see the movement of the story from emptiness to fullness, from bitterness to joy, from brokenness to Shalom we witness the silent hand of God at work (Wines) (Hoezee). In the midst of worldly indifference, God cares (Wines). Naomi’s redemption is not the results of her exemplary behavior. It is a story of the quiet graciousness, of Ruth and Boaz, individually and together revealing God’s grace. As we see aspects of Naomi in our life’s story, we recognize how we also receive unmerited love. We see how our redemption is due to someone else’s faithfulness, not our own (Harrelson).

The story is another revelation of how the words and actions God’s people, and that includes all peoples, from every family, tribe, and nation, reveal God’s work, and God’s love. The story shows that Naomi and Ruth are servants to each other, as our Baptism calls us to be (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner). The story is full of people crossing boundaries, the decision to go to Moab; Ruth’s pledge of loyalty to Naomi, Boaz’s gracious treatment of Ruth, and Ruth and Boaz’s allowing Obed to be recognized as Naomi’s son all cross significant cultural boundaries. The story shows us what can heal and blossom when people from different social positions decide that relationships are more important than cultural definitions (Wines).

Shania’s client got all caught up in the shame of her family’s sordid history. I wonder what could happen if she explored her family’s journey to its current, albeit modest, social position.

Each of our family’s history, our church’s history (local and writ large), our community’s, state’s and country’s histories all have episodes of sordid darkness that has its effects on our lives today. We can pretend that history does not exist. We can wallow in the muck and darkness. We can allow our lives, at all levels, to be defined by ignoble gloom, evoking fear, intolerance, and shame, etc. Or, we can seek those moments of grace, where, from the least expected quarters of life, the silent hand of God changes lives, filling the empty, raising joy from bitterness, and restoring Shalom from brokenness. We might even dare to seek those times when we are called to be the silent hands of God. After-all, it is divine desire that all peoples become children of God and heirs of eternal life, in the fullest image of God.


References

Gaventa, B. R., & Petersen, D. (n.d.). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 11 8). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17. Retrieved from Working Preacher.

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 11 8). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.

Luther Seminary. (n.d.). Retrieved 11 8, 2015, from Enter the Bible: http://www.enterthebible.org/

Wines, A. (2015, 11 8). Commentary on Ruth 3:15;. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

For all the saints

A sermon for All Saints

Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44

Wythe and Margaret Payton were staples in my home parish. They were elderly, with that silver grey hair the denotes a deep – deep wisdom. During his career in the Navy, they worship in the Episcopal Church. After his retirement, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister and they worshiped there. After that retirement, as agreed, they returned to worship in the Episcopal church. They seem to have a knack for negotiating what could be difficult issues, they were worth listening to.

As I was preparing to go to seminary Margaret gifted me Wythe’s Interpreters’ Bible Commentary and Dictionary. (Wythe had died some years before.) It was a very generous gift, not to mention useful. Having packed all 15 plus volumes, I thanked Margaret for her generosity. She had a final word of advice: Just remember, the closer you get to God the harder the devil pounds on you.

You may have heard that returning from Little Rock Wednesday evening the timing belt in my Sportage shredded. I made use of our new AAA membership and was towed to the North Little Rock Pep Boys, which was still open, on the advice of the tow truck driver. By 8:15 Thursday morning, the prognosis was shared, and the expectation was I’d be on the road by 3 or 4 that afternoon. I got a call at lunch, there was more damage than first knowable, and parts would not be available until Friday morning. Having a funeral to do Friday afternoon, Angie and I decided she would come to get me.

As we were next to a Michaels, which we never pass by; we took advantage of this opportunity. On the way out of the parking lot, a car turning in misjudged the turn and smacked us driver front to driver front. After all the usual and customary reports and exchanges and being a bit leery of the drive home we stopped by Pep Boys, which is right around the corner, and by now a trusted entity, to get the car checked out. The manager’s expressive “Oh No!” was curiously supportive. The car was safe to drive, and we began our long drive home, that was safely and timely accomplished. At some point in retelling the story, I started saying: I must have it all wrong or be really close because someone is pounding on us.

Now I know I am no capital ‘S’ saint. I also know I was tended to by a host of little ‘s’ saints, all of whom we remember today. There was the 70-year-old tow truck driver, the Pep Boy’s manager, and service counter folks. The staff at the Holiday Inn who were such generous hosts allowing me spread out in the lobby to work while I was waiting for repairs and for Angie to arrive. And the unaware waitress and waiter who took care of my lunch and our dinner needs. Our children expressed concern, disbelief, offered sage counsel, wished us safe travels … and oh yes they requested we let them know when we got home. And of course, there is my full-time little ‘s’ saint Angie.

This whole experience and the occasion of All Saints Day got me to thinking why we remember all the saints. I’m sure you know the saints we remember today are all those who have gone before, and all of us. Yes, there are those whose lives are spectacularly inspirational; but none of us see ourselves as living into that sort of expectation. The truth is it is for easy us to feel as if our own personal battles, tragedies and losses don’t really matter in the big picture. Today we are reminded they do. They matter because each of you matters, to the rest of us, to the whole of the Church, and to God in Jesus. Today also helps us to remember that none of us is alone. We share our griefs, our losses, our burdens and tragedies, with each other; even if we don’t know the details (Rice, 2015).

In this morning’s read from John we hear Jesus remind Martha: Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God? In today’s world belief has an empirical implication; belief and fact are closely related. This is not so for Martha and Jesus. For them belief also means faith and both have an implication of trust. The English is poor, but we could hear Jesus says, “if you faithed?” or “if you trusted?” Part of our lives as saints shows others our belief, our faith, our trust in God in Jesus. In addition to supporting each other, just by being in the same boat, we also support strangers who see how we choose to act and be in the world. Such a vision reveals glimpses of the presence of God’s love. Others witness the nitty-gritty of Christian life, as opposed to the too often projections of perfection (Lewis, 2015).

Today’s dominant view of the end of times and salvation is escapist. Those who believe they will escape to the Kingdom of God. There is better imagery in scripture, including the Revelation to John. It is helpful to know that from surrounding cultures, especially Babylonian culture, the sea is associated with chaos, destruction and death. John of Patmos’s vision that the sea was no more is not a vision of desertification; it is a vision of all things being made anew, the swallowing up of death (to borrow a phrase from Isaiah) (Carey, 2015). It’s also significant that John sees heaven coming to earth, and not the rapturesque escaping of the righteous. The divine spokesman is very clear:

See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them…

We are renewed with the world; we do not escape from it. As saints, we live in a new creation right where we are. As saints how we live our lives in ever day decisions shows others, the Kingdom of God is right here – right now. Perhaps not fully; but enough to believe, to have faith in, to trust God in Jesus.

So, on this fallback, All Saints, Commitment, Presiding Bishop Installation Sunday I’m thankful for all the saints and invite you to join me in trying to be one too.


References

Carey, G. (2015, 11 1). Commentary on Revelation 21:1-6a. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

Lewis, K. (2015, 9 6). God Said Yes to Me. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Portier-Young, A. (2015, 11 1). Commentary on Isaiah 25:6-9. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Rice, W. (2015, 11 1). All Saints Day, Year B – 2015. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.