This week I am off on vacation, a time of rest and walking to build my strength up. I am grateful to Chris Wennerholm and Lois Hunt for helping the congregation this week. Chris used Spanish to help members of the congregation see that is it uncomfortable sometimes when we try to build a life when we can’t even understand the language.
Ruth is a Moabite. This becomes very important when we get past the story and realize that this story is here because Ruth is King David’s grandmother. A young foreigner joins with an abandoned Jewish mother in law and the two outcasts return to the Holy Land and by their faith and some shrewd planning find a new home, new family, and become spiritual grandmothers of the faith.
The sermon, read by Lois Hunt, was an epistle from Pastor Ted to the Church in Fortuna and explores something of the issues around the increase in other races and cultures that is growing in Fortuna Ca and in the rest of the world. You can read the text of this epistle here.
Concerning our Grandmother Ruth
Grace and Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be upon each of you this day.
As you read this letter I am hopefully resting near the ocean in Mendocino County, a testament to my love of the coast as I go on vacation in a place nearly identical to our home.
I remember you this day with the peace and joy in my heart that comes only from the grace of God that is present with each of us in this very moment binding us together even when we are separated. That connection so fills me with joy that I know that God works in you at all times and that Jesus makes a home for each one of us in this grand day. Of course each day is another grand day and so strung together we are given the gift of a life lived in the presence of God. And this moment by moment presence is our true home.
But not so for all of us. I remember too well the last weeks where each day did not necessarily seem a blessing, but filled with pain. For me this is a temporary situation, and for this I thank God. For me, I was surrounded by your prayers, and for that I thank God. But for others, they live in suffering all the time. Many suffer without someone to hold them even in prayer. This is not because they deserve this suffering or because they did something wrong, but because the world of Grace that God has given us is also filled with sufferings that many of you know well. But some live among us as if God were not there at all. The are not able to comprehend the value of breath and beauty that surrounds us living in this most blessed of places. And it is these suffering souls that we should hold constantly pray.
For some, the grace filled world that God gives to us has never been a home. Certainly there are many who driven from place to place never get familiarity or safety or community. Some are traveling to seek a new home of promise like our pilgrim ancestor or like our grandmothers and grandfathers of the faith Abraham and Sarah, or Moses. Many of your own grandmothers and grandfathers found this little Eden on the northern California Coast running from some misadventure somewhere else.
It is deeply sad that some never find a place to rest from suffering. So we must remember that we are all called by Jesus who said of himself that foxes have dens, birds have nests but the Son of Humanity has no place to rest his head. We are bound by his example, that those of us who know the promise of God in this place hold dear those who are trying to find their place.
For in God, there are no boundaries and divisions of place and territory. There are no boundaries of family or religion. God cares for each one alike, each place alike, each nation and state alike. Each culture alike, far beyond our comprehension of it. God loves our diversity, even of faith. And it is our job to make the human population around us our own human family not as we become alike, but in all our variations. Our grandfather the apostle Paul said that in our different and varying gifts we discover the body of Christ among us.
The first laws given by our grandmothers and grandfathers of the faith -- even before the ten commandments and the covenantal promises of God -- were the laws of hospitality. Our great ancestors came from a desert land, they were wanderers themselves coming to a place unknown. They learned early the necessity of entry into a land from a generous hand. Throughout the ages, those invitations to community have been part of our faith.
So too, when God called the people out of Egypt. Once again, wanderers, they needed God’s grace to find a home and so our stories begin as wanderers in the desert of our own lives.
And this brings me to the purpose of this letter. For today, in our gracious town, we are going through a change that will forever alter the world that some have come to know. In California, in our whole country and slowly in Humboldt County, God is bringing the marvelous promise of a rainbow of nations and languages into our midst. Some come in the hope of a new promise in a new home. Some come fleeing their past circumstance. Some are brought here slaves of an evil business that drives too much of the hidden economy of our county. But, no matter how they come, there is the possibility of a new beginning, a gift of the promise of our baptism together, but only if we have eyes to see the rainbow and are not blinded by the distracting lights of our differences and of all the changes going on around us.
We are people God has given creation as a gift from the time of Noah. The many colors of the rainbow mark a blessing, but many still pay attention only to the rainclouds. But we have faith that the God who brings us home at last is inviting us to treat the strangers in our midst as guests and friends, and to do that we must begin to get to know them.
We are a people of the fire of Pentecost. The many languages of the world offer tremendous possibilities to praise God. And yet most of us have never spoken another language like those first disciples, and learning a new culture is met most often with fear than hope.
So across California, instead of hospitality, this change often brings about tension and trials in the passage. Fear of change drives people inward and often violence erupts. We will see gangs forming and supremacist groups reacting. As for our great ancestors the Israelites, often when people move into a new land there can be great violence, but we are called to a different way. A way of creating home and honoring differences because we know that God has created us with all those differences. We each have different gifts which are all a blessing because the same Spirit feeds us all.
And so to set out this journey before us, we turn to our history, especially today the grandmother of the Great King David. Ruth was a Moabite woman, a member of a nation that only a few short years before was an enemy of Israel. But she bound herself to Naomi when in grief Naomi found herself exiled in a foreign land among strangers and alone. Ruth’s love made her reach out and join with Naomi when they returned home to Naomi’s homeland but that that would neither accept the stranger nor the one who had married a foreigner. They returned to the land of promise as strangers, homeless, feared and with nothing. With nowhere else to go, the two came back in faith as outcasts into the land God had given our ancestors.
Our ancestors treated them badly having no connection and no compulsion to treat them with love. At home for Naomi, and in a foreign place for Ruth, they began to starve to death. We remember Jesus who calls us to make anyone who is in need our neighbor, but it was not so for them. Ruth learned a new language and new customs trying to provide for herself and her mother in law. They both found themselves working in fields for whatever they could scrape by.
I am sure that there were those passing by who scoffed at them saying they were good for nothing, having no home, no family, no work and picking what they could from life, ridiculing them for such menial work. But in truth many who ridicule their livelihoods are just afraid of strangers who don’t speak and act like what is familiar.
We must fear this reaction because it breeds something that is a danger to our whole country. Fearfulness builds walls. These walls create deeper divisions and misunderstanding. As people from another place increase, the tensions increase. They develop systems of work and home and protection that are not our systems. And as the boundaries widen, violence always follows. We see in so many neighborhoods across the country the gang, the violence, the drugs, each a product of this fearful wall building.
So today we remember one who shows us another way. Our grandfather Boaz was able to see a possibility in the presence of a stranger. He did not act from fear, but from love.
Remember, before Boaz even knows what is going on, Ruth is already faithfully working, already in faithful relationships, already changing her life, what she lacks is opportunity and community.
- A First Step: Boaz notices Ruth working hard in his own field, in his own territory. The first step of welcoming is seeing someone.
- A Second Step: Boaz find out about Ruth what she is doing and how she is doing it. He asks first about her work, and then begins to find about about who she is. The second step is curiousity.
- A Third Step: Boaz changes the system of injustice a little to make room and talks to her. Boaz is able to see that what he probably thought were good rules were actually oppressive and he changes them. In a place where many held onto these rules for protection, he must have unsettled many. But this third step creates the bridge of humanity that is the very first nature of God’s grace and the one that God shows us in forgiving the sinners to create a path to righteousness.
- A Fourth Step: Boaz meets Ruth. Notice that this comes in different places in the story where Boaz reaches out to her and she reaches out to him. The bridge of justice has created a path to friendship. And in this, they find that they are bound to one another in ways they could never have imagined before.
- A Fifth Step They get married. This makes for a wonderful love story, but the truth of these old stories lies in a deeper image. Marriage is the symbol for a deep spiritual unity, the joining together of differences to make family which is our call from the God of all Christians.
These two paths couldn’t be more different. From fear comes isolation comes injustice comes violence. Whether this be between two people, two cultures, two neighborhood families or two warring countries. But from seeing comes curiosity comes justice comes familiarity comes family which is our true home.
This is graceful work that takes time and love that overcomes fear. Most of the violences that plague this transition in California have not been widespread in our area, but they are coming. We must begin now to change fear to love, isolation to connection, and walls and boundaries to family. We must be intentional and even outrageous in this work of our faith. We must involve our children. We must learn new languages and customs and we must be ready to have our own customs changed as we learn.
God blesses me this day by knowing that you and I are linked even though we are separated by distance.
God blesses me this day by knowing that the people around us are given as a hidden gift to make our family rich.
God blesses me this day by giving me strength and faith to face these challenges.
God blesses me this day by knowing that our community will grow stronger as we become more diverse, more fluent, more cultured, and even more confused at times.
May God bless you this day. May God bless the one who reads this word and who hears this word. And may God bless the Spirit who will give us the understanding and power to cross the barriers as our grandfather Boaz and grandmother Ruth have shown us.