Reflection: March 4

Published on Mar 6th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         At our Wednesday evening Lenten Study about women in the Bible, Dr. Lisa Michele Wolfe is the presenter. She’s a humourous, knowledgeable and entertaining teacher. She’s an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and teaches at Oklahoma City University. She describes herself as a “Bible nerd.” We’ve just gone through the book of Ruth.

         Ruth was the grandmother of King David in ancient Israel’s history. She was a Moabite at a time when Moabites were the hated enemy of Israel. But she was the one who went back to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi after Naomi’s husband and Ruth’s husband had died. Ruth is the inspiration of the hymn at the back of More Voices, “Wherever You May Go, I Will Follow.” Dr. Wolfe opened up the book of Ruth in a whole new way; she showed how names were really important. For example, Bethlehem means “House of Bread-land;” Moab essentially means “land of the despised enemy;” Naomi means “Sweetness and light or pleasant;” Ruth means “My Cup Runs Over”— Ruth’s name is related to the word that means “saturated and abundance.”

         The story is that Naomi and her family went to Moab—the land of the despised enemy—because there was a famine in Bethlehem—the house of bread-land. Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The three men died in the story leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, all widows. Orpah, which means “back of the neck,” literally showed the back of her neck when she went back to her people. But Ruth—“My Cup Runs Over”— stayed with Naomi and gave us that famous quote, “wherever you may go, I will follow. And your people shall be my people. And your God will be my God.”

         In a very interesting way, Dr. Wolfe invited us to see the story of Ruth as a story of grace, that hospitality is more than just welcome; it is a radical turning upside down of our assumptions and preconceived notions. The despised enemies were to be welcomed and included in the community. Ruth is the embodiment of that parable. Dr. Wolfe then invited us to find the grace in our lives, not as people who provide grace and hospitality to others, but as people who receive grace and hospitality from others. As good, liberal Christians, we are good at giving hospitality, but not so much when it comes to receiving hospitality and grace from others. Like Tony Robinson—I mentioned a few weeks ago—who asked the question about different cultural churches, and Jim Forbes, an African-American teacher and preacher offered the generalization that European congregations see themselves as givers of grace to others and African-American congregations as people who see themselves as needing grace.

         Dr. Wolfe got me thinking. The same with the book that we are reading in the early morning book group, David Steindl-Rast’s The Way of Silence. The chapter we just read was, in part, about the difference between meaning and purpose. Our Western culture is very purpose-driven, but we give short-shrift to meaning. An over-emphasis on purpose can lead to burn-out and isolation. But meaning, as a counter balance, can provide the deeper context for what we do and why.

         The story of Jesus cleansing the Temple that comes at the beginning of John’s Gospel is all about meaning. Jesus challenged the meaning of the Law and that it had become co-opted by power. It was no longer a means of grace, the Torah. He challenged the meaning of the Temple, that it was to be a place of prayer and grace, not a place for exchanging money to buy a sacrifice to appease some angry God. He challenged ultimately the meaning of God’s intention for the world, that God is about building bridges across divides—what we call reconciliation; God is about healing and wholeness—what we call salvation; and God is about advocating for a radical equality regarding money and power—what we call justice.

         So, what meaning are we seeking to live out? Where are we surprised by Grace? How shall we live?

         I’ve appreciated what we came up with respect to our Futuring Vision statement, which is, I think, all about meaning. To paraphrase: we are co-creators with God and other groups for a just world, a life-giving world, a healing world. We see meaning in the mystery of God that helps us see God’s grace in unexpected places and situations. We understand that we are part of a community that seeks to affirm God’s place in the world and that God is deeply passionate about love in relationships.

         I confess that I sometimes forget about meaning—surprise-surprise, I know. Get things done! But Christianity isn’t so much about achievement and getting things done. It’s about sharing the journey; it’s about exchanging ideas. It’s about making connections. It’s about deepening our consciousness of being part of the web of life. Yes, we need to have purpose and get things accomplished, but the deeper meaning of love and compassion must shine through.

         The deeper meaning of love and compassion shone through for Ruth and Naomi. It did for Jesus, and we live that out… the KinDom of love and hope. Incidentally, David, Ruth’s grandson, wrote a certain psalm about a certain cup that runs over: “My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will live in the house of our God forever.” Is there a better purpose than this, the expression of the deep meaning of abundance and grace?

Amen.

 

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