God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wherever You Go I Will Go

Have you ever wondered why some of us have amazing stories of call or can dramatically speak of the point when God has stopped us in the midst of what we are doing and sets us on a new path that we didn’t imagine was possible. In The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Curtis James argues that the spot where Ruth, Orpah and Naomi stop on the way from Moab to Bethlehem is a place where just such a call happens, a life is changed forever. Ruth is told she must make a choice, she must choose to return to her family and not follow Naomi into an unknown and what looks like a doomed future. Their prospects together would be grim with both of them being widows and Ruth being a foreigner on top of this.

But in that moment on that path Ruth makes this pledge: "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you! (Ruth 1:16-17)”. Ruth chooses the harder path, for in that moment her life is changed. She chooses to follow not only God Almighty, El Shaddai; she chooses to become part of God’ people; she chooses to follow the mother of her heart and not her birth.

I was on the outside when you said
You needed me
I was looking at myself
I was blind, I could not see.
A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by the hand
If he stops to think, he starts to cry
Oh why?
…I was looking through the window
I was lost, I am found.
…If you walk away, walk away
I walk away, walk away
I will follow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Book of Ruth - The Romance

When I was in graduate school getting ready to take my doctoral exams in political science, my feminist studies professor gave me books of suggested reading. One of the books she wanted me to read was READING THE ROMANCE by Janice Radway. This was an academic study of romance literature. A professor wanted to learn why women read romance novels. What was being satisfied by the reading of these books. I don’t remember much of the book, I always wondered why my prof wanted me to read this book. Granted I had said I was thinking about writing my dissertation on Feminist Utopian Literature as a way to say that feminists had come up with a theory of state, but feminist utopias and romance novel are very different literature. The one thing I remember about the book is she argued that the Romance stories the woman found the most satisfying where the ones where a reconciliation took place with a mother. In many of these stories mothers are absent from the picture and a good story was when in the process of falling in love they also found either a caretaker (the male lead acting like this) or they female lead finds the mother she lost.

One of the reasons given for why people love the book of Ruth is that it is the great romance of the bible. In this story, other wives, sisters, or slaves don’t play a role. Ruth is a romance, a love story, where a failed relationship in a foreign land with a first husband who is both barren and sickly is replaced by a love story of a poor foreign widow with a prominent landowner Boaz. So what makes Ruth a great love story, is it the fact that a poor foreign widow is saved from poverty by a wealthy landowner. While this is one of the stories running through the book, I wonder if part of what makes this story so satisfying is the same thing that makes a romance novel powerful – the relationship with the mother figure.

In Ruth, we have a powerful romance but we also have a powerful love story between Ruth and Naomi. Naomi, the foreign mother-in-law who loses her sons and husband, tries to get rid of her daughter-in-laws. Naomi who describes herself as bitter and empty, through the actions and steadfast love of Ruth once again becomes full. Does Ruth as a story move us because everything that was lost is reborn, renewed, found, filled.

Mother...am I still your son
You know I've waited for so long to hear you say so
Mother...you left and made me someone
Now I'm still a child, no one tells me no
Looking for a sound that's going to drown out the world
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Looking for the father of my two little girls
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Got the swing got the sway got my straw in lemonade
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Still looking for the face I had before the world was made
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Bubble popping sugar dropping rock and roll (Mother...)
Soothe me mother
Move me father
Fool me brother
Woo me sister
Soothe me mother
Rule me father
Show me mother
      MOFO by U2

Friday, September 17, 2010

Redemption in the Book of Ruth

"Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding—dying for me!"
Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.
John Calvin

Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.
Peter Willkims

My Redeemer Lives
You Lift my burdens
I'll rise with You
I'm dancing on this mountain top to see your kingdom come
My Redeemer Lives
Reuben Morgan

Redeemer. A word that has come to be important in our hymns. Redeemer. What does it mean?

There was a movie that was on TV when I was little about Ruth. It was one of my favorite movies of the time. I loved that there was this bible story that was actually starred a girl and it was a love story. Who knew the bible could have a love story. When asked what story I want told before bed I would often ask my dad to tell me the story of Ruth. It was a story that struck a chord in me. This next six weeks I will be preaching on the book of Ruth. This will be my first time studying this book as a pastor and figuring out how it applies to my life and the life of the people I minister to.
One of the themes of this book is about Redemption. A word I have to admit I am not hat comfortable with. I haven’t spent much time thinking about it. I have that initial gut reaction that ties redemption to salvation and salvation takes me back to painful high school times of being treated poorly because I didn’t by a theology of salvation and didn’t believe I was going to hell because I had a different understanding of God. I didn’t have this belief in Jesus coming to redeem the sins of the world. I knew that was a way to speak about Jesus acts and presence but it wasn’t a meaningful interpretation of Jesus’ life and ministry for me.
So here is a book about redemption. What does it mean to be redeemed?
I decided to look up the word in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, way more information than I wanted, but it says that redemption means that something alienated or made captive is recovered. The version of redemption found in Ruth is go-al which is a kinsman purchasing or procuring the freedom of kinsman who has fallen into slavery. So Ruth is a book about a kinsman saving Ruth and Naomi. I guess the question for us is who is the kinsman redeemer? Is it Boaz, the one who bring food, marriage and children? Is it Ruth who brings Naomi from emptiness to fullness? Or is the redeemer God, the God who believes that we are kinsman, that God is our next of kin and delivers us from trouble? I think a case can be made for all of these answers. That God works through this family to bring them through famine to food, from barrenness to children, from widowhood to marriage, from exile to home. Each of these actor, Ruth, Boaz, and God play a role in bringing redemption in this book.

God, my redeemer, help me to hear your voice as I study Ruth, may teh book show me your redemptive acts.  Amen

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Then whoever invokes a blessing in the land shall bless by the God of faithfulness,
and whoever takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of faithfulness;
because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my sight. Isaiah 65:16

God of faithfulness – a God who is steadfast, a God who keeps promises, a God who believes in us. This God of faithfulness is a God who is part of the land and the land is part of what god promises to us and on which we are to make promises and bless. The Land, God, and people are tied together in oaths.

What does it mean to invoke blessing in the land? God’s usual blessings are of children in the bible that is why we have those stories of women doing anything to have children. But then why does God not deliverer children to all those who want and pray for children? So is there a different part of this oath giving that makes sense? Are we meant to become a part of the land we live in? Are we to know the land as more than a road, a house, a scene to look at? Are we to feel and hear the land? Can blessing and oaths take place without being part of the land we are in? To know the land is one part of beginning to know God.

God of faithfulness help us to be faithful in and with the land. Amen.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Place at the Table

This week in worship I am preaching on Luke 14:1-24, a story about the feast of the Lord or the great banquet. The invitations to this banquet have been sent and we are waiting to see who will be at the feast.

In movie Chocolat, the outcasts are being faced with being run out of town and losing their place. Food plays a central role in this movie. A chocolaterie opens during lent in a catholic town. This shop has become a place of healing for the town where people come with their problems and leave feeling a little bit better. Yet the count, feels threatened by this new locus of healing. So he decides to run the riffraff out of town. He has told everyone without explicitly saying so to stopping coming to the shop. So they try to run this healer out of town. She is in crisis because her daughter wants a normal life. But they will always be the outsiders, the stranger, the aliens in this town. And now they are actively be encouraged to leave. What is she to do? She is crying to one of her closest friend a grouchy old lady who she rents the shop from. This gruff woman says throw me a party. She replies no one will come if they know I am throwing the party. The old woman says, “Who has to know.” So they send invitations to the people she has helped to come to this party.

Jesus in this passage says it is better when issuing invitations, not to invite your friends and relations; for you will just receive a similar invitation in return; instead invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. They may appear to have nothing to offer. Being welcoming to them is to embody the welcome of God. Jesus tells a story. The invitations have been sent but no one can come. They are two concerned with wealth and the new circumstances of life. They brush off the invitation. So the man throwing the party sends his servant out into the street to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Even when all of these are at the party there is still room for more. So the servant goes back out and compels those left to come. This parable conveys the story of Jesus mission. The kingdom of God in not about power but about gifting and honoring others. Jesus is inviting us to come to the celebration, to enter the kingdom. But most of us are help back from responding. Those with the least are most open to the invitation because they have an emptiness that God can help them fill.

When the party takes place in Chocolat, look at who is at the table. There is a couple who has drifted apart and was just living in the same house, but who now through the healing of this outcast are happy again. There is the grandmother with diabetes who has been estranged from her daughter who only wanted to help her but they couldn’t speak to each other. This kept the grandmother away from the grand son and this outcast brought them back together. At this table is a boat person, despised by the entire community because they are immoral, cheaters, liars, and thieves. At this table is a widow whose husband died forty years ago and through the outcast found new companionship. At this table is the outcast, the wanderer who goes from place to place and her child, a child without a father. Here at this party all are welcome. Who will you invite to your party?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turn Back to God

Turn back to God.  The message heard on the Washington Mall this weekend from Glen Beck.  I'll say right off the bat I cannot listen to Beck he makes me mad.  I didn't listen to the entire rally, I went for the crib notes on the news websites.  But the theme that everyone kept raising was how religion played a role in the proceedings and that Beck called us to turn back to God.  So how can I disagree with this.  I guess our disagreement would come in how we experience God and what we believe God is calling us to do when we turn back. 

One of my favorite sermon series is to preach the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark as an example of the ministry that Jesus inaugurates and calls us to practice.  "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'" Mark 1:14-15.  Jesus dramatically arrives on the scene and tells us the time is now, the Kingdom of God is no longer off in a distant it is here, repent (turn around, turn back to God), and believe the good news.  Jesus asks us to repent, to turn around, to turn back to God.  To repent is to move from those things that have separated you from God and the good news and to turn back.  Then Jesus sets out to show us how the kingdom has come near.  He begins by calling his first followers, fishermen who immediately drop their nets and follow him.  Then he began healing the sick and freeing people from their demons.  He prayed, he preached, he journeyed throughout the land.  He visited churches and met a man with leprosy who asked Jesus to make him clean.  Jesus tells him of course I choose to make you well. 

So if we are to turn back to God, which I don't disagree with aren't we to Repent in the way Jesus calls us to turn around.  We are to believe the good news and then help the Kingdom of God to continue to draw near.
Come with me, come wander,
Come welcome the world,
Where strangers might smile
Or where stones may be hurled;
Come leave what you cling to,
Lay down what you clutch
And find, with hands empty,
That hearts can hold much.

Sing Hey for the carpenter
Leaving his tools!
Sing Hey for the Pharisees
Leaving their rules!
Sing Hey for the fishermen
Leaving their nets!
Sing Hey for the people
Who leave their regrets!

Come walk in my company,
Come sleep by my side,
Come savour a lifestyle
With nothing to hide;
Come sit at my table
And eat with my friends,
Discovering that love
Which the world never ends.

Come share in my laughter,
Come close to my fears,
Come find yourself washed
With the kiss of my tears;
Come stand close at hand
While I suffer and die,
And find in three days
How I never will lie.

Come leave your possessions,
Come share out your treasure,
Come give and receive
Without method or measure;
Come loose every bond
That's restraining the spirit,
Enabling the earth
To be yours to inherit.
                        John L. Bell