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Nurturing God: Mother’s Day

Yesterday, in Panama, was Mother’s Day.  A day everyone travels home to visit Mum. Like a sacred pilgrimage.  

And this got me thinking about what is the source of a woman’s strength & energy? How is it that a “masculine” God could possibly fill us with energy to be tender, merciful, compassionate, & caring?  

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justice, Shekinah, practicing presence, glory of the Lord, glory of God, light, shining

A river of justice

Readings:

  • Joshua 24: 1-3; 14-25
  • Amos 5: 18-24

5:24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

As you walk out of Church today, what will have changed? What difference will it have made to come to church this morning and worshiped God?  What does choosing God, rather other gods, mean today? How does worshiping God change our lives?

Noris read for us this morning Amos, chapter 5, verses 18 to 24. I want to re-read those to you now, from the version “The Message”:

18-20 Woe to all of you who want God’s Judgment Day!
    Why would you want to see God, want him to come?
When God comes, it will be bad news before it’s good news,
    the worst of times, not the best of times.
Here’s what it’s like: A man runs from a lion
    right into the jaws of a bear. …
At God’s coming we face hard reality, not fantasy—
    a black cloud with no silver lining.

21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want.
That’s. All. I. Want.

God’s anger in Amos was because the religious festivals were not followed up by just actions. God gave the means to reverse the people’s systems of injustice, to end inequity and oppression. But the river of people who were supposed to flow out of the temple (like when we all leave this Church this morning) to fulfill God’s promises walked out of the temple and did nothing.

You were given arms that can reach out to those who suffer: who are those arms wrapped around? Yourself? You were given feet to take the first steps towards those who feel alone, afraid, oppressed: where are your feet planted? In your comfortable life? You were given ears to hear the stories of justice denied: are you listening? You were given a mouth to speak Truth: but words are used to harm and tear down, rather than to build, and certainly not to speak Truth!**

Thursday, November 9th many Panamanians waited expectantly for a reveal of names and details regarding the Obredecht corruption cases. A nation waiting and hoping for justice to prevail and corruption to set a food on the proverbial banana skin and the other foot in the grave. It wasn’t enough.

This brings to mind, for me, Proverbs 24: 24

Whoever says to the guilty “You are innocent” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.

All I read on Twitter & Facebook is frustrations and cursing of the lack of action and lack of justice. What more can and should be done? Panama needs to restart and rethink fighting corruption from a grassroots level. It needs to start in the home. Social justice and righteousness are needed from each person and member of society. And for us, it starts as we walk out of Church today. Worshiping God is not just about what we do for one hour on Sunday morning. Worshiping God is in each thought, each word & each deed.

1 John 4: 20 through 5:3  remind us:

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. …

How do we love our brother and sister? Well, let me warn you, it’s not sentimental. It’s not that “feeling” of love. It’s about your actions -and they speak much louder than any words. John warns us about this: “we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fat, this is love for God: to keep his commands.”

Let’s take a quick walk through the Bible and discover the ways we show love to our neighbours – children of God – all created, like you and me, in the image and likeness of God:

Leviticus 19: 9-18 

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. …
… The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. …
… You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. …
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor… ou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”

Proverbs 29: 7 

The righteous care about justice for the poor…

Isaiah 1: 17 

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58: 6-7 

… this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Jeremiah 22: 3 

… Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Matthew 6: 14-15 

For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 25: 35-36

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Romans 14: 13

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

Galatians 6:2 

Carry each other’s burdens…

1 Thessalonians 5: 11

… encourage one another and build each other up…

1 Peter 3: 8

be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

I want us to imagine, just for a moment, a world in which all Christians lived according to all these rules and fulfilled these commands. In Joshua 24 we read how the people of Israel chose to follow God and follow his commandments. What would this look like for Christians? Let’s take a moment, just to imagine this:

  • no sexual harassment
  • no hunger
  • everyone paid a fair wage
  • no slander
  • no hate, no vengeance, no grudges
  • justice for the poor
  • oppressed people who are defended vigorously, fatherless children who are protected, widows who have someone standing up for them
  • no one wrongly imprisoned
  • no human trafficking or slavery
  • the homeless living in proper shelters, the hungry given food
  • relatives receiving hep from their families
  • no wrong or violence against the immigrant
  • no innocent blood shed
  • forgiving others graciously when they make mistakes, even if they intentionally act wrongly
  • strangers invited in
  • sick cared for
  • those in prison visited and encouraged
  • no one passing judgement on you

This is justice rolling down like waters. This is an ever-flowing stream of righteousness! This is loving your neighbor and loving God.

As we go out today, let us remember this promise from Psalm 106: 3

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Always. It’s such a big word.

So, as we leave this Church this morning, may we be a small stream of water, a trickle in the giant ocean of injustice… going against the tide and shining our light in this world of darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

**https://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2014/just-amos

 

Sermon: International Women’s Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and I would like to take this time to celebrate women in the Church!

I realise that throughout Church history, we have had leaders who have said:

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… ”

– Saint Augustine of Hippo, Church Father, Bishop of Hippo Regius, 354 – 430

Or even Luther who stated:

“No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

Throughout the history of the Church, we have found philosophers, scholars and debates about the role of women in society & the Church.  The very idea that women might participate actively in the Church received support in the early years of the Church, but over time, this fell out of favor.  We find the following decision issued by the Synod of Carthage (398 AD).

“A woman, however learned and holy, may not take upon herself to teach in an assembly of men.”

These types of attitudes lead Elizabeth Cady Stanton to comment:

“The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”

Shirley Williams said:

shirleywilliams

But then there are also celebrations of women in the Church also.

“These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God … Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found.”

–Saint Jerome, (the 2nd most prolific writer after Augustine in ancient Latin Cristianity) after criticism for dedicating his books to women

Most recently, Pope Francis said

“We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”

We know that some of Jesus’ earliest followers were women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, & Susanna.  We find women at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and women were the first to see Jesus after his resurrection.

“When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven… But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

–Luke 24:9-11

We find the importance of women in Paul’s ministry: women were important members of the early christian church movement.  Homes of believers were where groups of Christians met and held meetings.  Those who could offer their homes for meetings were obviously considered to be important in this setting, and often went hand in hand with leadership roles.  We find Lydia of Philippi (a wealthy dealer in purpose cloth).  Acts mentions that “she and her household” were baptised.  (Acts 16: 11-15).

Although we may consider that the 1st century woman’s role was in the home, turning her home into a public religious setting opened up for these women opportunities for religious leadership.  These women were given leadership roles, dignity and status in return for their patronage, receiving a renewed dignity within Paul’s movement.

Even in Titus 2 we find:

Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not be malicious gossips… spending their time tearing others apart…  Instead, they should teach others what is good.

The role of women was that of active teachers… But striving for unity, not division.  There was no room in the early church for women who caused division.

Given that Paul is supposed to have said in 1st Corinthians things like:

  • Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is the same as having her head shaved
  • Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
  • Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

But, funnily enough, he then finishes this paragraph with

  • So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues.

So… women were to be eager to prophesy, but were not supposed to speak?

Of course, the most quoted scripture regarding the role of women in the Church is probably 2 Timothy 2: 12:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”

woman-1197111_1920And yet this appears to conflict directly with so many of Paul’s letters and greetings, and the women that he mentions in his Epistles.  I’m just going to list for you the women that Paul sends his special greetings to, and some of the circumstances in which he greets them:

  • Prisca (or Priscilla) and her husband Aquila, mentioned six times in the Bible, as missionary partners with the Apostle Paul (and in the craft of tent-making). The author of Acts states that they were refugees who came first to Corinth when the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. I’ve always noticed that when Paul referred to this couple, he always mentioned her first – so that some scholars suggest that she was the head of the family unit.
  • Mary and “the beloved Persis” are commended for their hard work.
  • There is then the greeting for Julia, who worked and travelled as a missionary with her husband.  He also sends greetings to Tryphena, Tryphosa and to Rufs’ mother, who “labour for the Lord’s work”.
  • Phoebe, a leader from the church at Cenchreae, a port city near Corinth is commended for her hospitality. Paul attaches to her three titles: diakonos meaning a deacon (lit. “servant”), sister, and prostatis meaning “a woman in a supportive role, patron, benefactor”.There is no difference when the title of deacon is used for Phoebe and Timothy. Diakonos (Gk.) is grammatically a masculine word, the same word that Paul uses in regards to his own ministry. Phoebe is the only woman to be named “deacon”. In Romans Phoebe is seen as acting as Paul’s envoy. Phoebe is named as a Patron of Paul, meaning that she would have been financially contributing to Paul’s mission. Phoebe was especially influential in the early Church seen in Jerusalem from the 4th century inscription: “Here lies the slave and bride of Christ, Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in Christ.”

Paul in his letter to Timothy discusses the criteria for Deacons in the early Church which is explicitly directed to both male and females. Women flourished in the deaconate between the 2nd and 6th centuries. The position required pastoral care to women, instructing female candidates and anoint them at Baptism. They were also required to be present whenever a female would address a bishop.

  • And in Romans 16: 7 we find “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.”  Junia was in prison with Paul – and possibly the only female apostle we will find mentioned in the New Testament.  Junia may have been an evangelist and church-planter, just like Paul.  Some translations made her name into “Junias” – i.e. a man.  But it appears that this has since been corrected into the feminine version.  I can only ask, How inspiring and wise must this woman have been to have been deemed by Paul worthy of the title “apostle”?

We also find

  • Chloe, a prominent woman of Corinth.
  • Euodia & Syntyche, Paul’s fellow workers in the gospel (mentioned in Philippians).

I find it difficult to relate these instances of respect and high esteem to the concept of a Paul that hated women and put them down.  These messages of thanks were to women (and men) who had played a vital role in Paul’s ministry.

But what do we do if two thoughts or passages seem to conflict? This is where the heart of the gender debate begins…  On one hand, we have those who say, “well if the Bible says to do it, then we ought to do it.”

Well, Leviticus 19 says that “You shall not put on a garment made of two kinds of materials.” If you’re wearing a cotton polyester blend or any other blend for that matter, you’re disobeying Biblical command this morning.  Well, you may be saying that’s an obscure Old Testament command. And you’d be right.

But five times, Paul and Peter tell Christians to “Greet one another with holy kisses.” Done any kissing in church lately?

Oh! That verse is historical & cultural…

So what if in Timothy Paul wasn’t talking about women generally, but some particular & specific women that Timothy was having problems with?  We may never fully know or understand the circumstances of this particular verse in Timothy.

I think it’s a fair conclusion that the testimony found in the bulk of Scripture, including the Pauline texts, speak plainly for women to be able to fulfill any ministry or position that the Spirit of God places upon them, whether it be teacher, prophet, pastor, evangelists or apostle.

When we look at the church, more times than not, there will be more women than men in church. Often times this is seen as a failure on the part of the church. In reality it may be the success of women being in MORE tuned with the Spirit of God. If there is to be a great awakening in the church, it will take place because we, the women in the church will see begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Women may hold the key to unleashing the power available in the church.

As we read in this morning’s Epistle, God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. We may not fully understand the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we should whole-heartedly believe and cling to it.

Let us pray:

Creator God,

We give you thanks for the ministries that you have given to each one of us. We give you thanks not only for those women who have served you over the centuries, but also for those who serve you in whatever capacity today.

Today we specifically ask for your protection and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over six million people have died in the conflict so far.  We pray for the 40,000 women & children each day that are raped and tortured… asking for your healing hand over their lives.  We pray for justice for them – that even thought their country may not have anything of economic interest to the West, that you enlighten our leaders to see the needs of these people and intervene.

Today we ask that the lines of gender, race, wealth, and status completely disappear as we are transformed by your Spirit to be the “new creatures” in Christ we are called to be. May your church truly become the place where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” for we are indeed all one in the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

Mother’s Day

Mothers…

Lectionary Readings (December 9, 2012):

What is a Mother?

A Mother has so many things to do,
From washing, ironing, cleaning to tying a shoe.
She scrubs, she mends, she cooks and sews,
She bathes the children and washes their clothes.
When they forget to wash their faces clean,
And their clothes are the muddiest you’ve ever seen,
Who repairs the clothes and scrubs them like new?
Of course, that is what a Mother will do.

Who becomes the doctor or the nurse when they are ill,
Applying a bandage or giving them a pill?
Who becomes a teacher when a child has homework?
She must never her duty shirk.
Who becomes a detective to find a toy or a book?
For missing things she must look and look?
Who becomes a listener to every heartache,
To every accomplishment that a child makes?
Who scolds their children when they are naughty,
Or remind them of God when they are too haughty?
Who tends her family with love and patience, too?
Of course that is what a Mother will do.
– Unknown

The Hebrew word translated as “mother” in our Bibles was “AME” – which means “the bond of the family” or “the force that strengthens and holds things together”.  Mum’s the glue that holds the family together – and when we recognize this, we can joyfully exclaim “Mothers are a special gift from God”.

George Washington is attributed as having said:

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her

President Abraham Lincoln believed:

All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother. I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.

I have been blessed with that Christian mother that has prayed for me – however many thousand miles away I may go or wherever I may be, I know that I am always in her thoughts and prayers.

Many of you will have heard the story of Tony Campolo’s wife, a brilliant woman: She has a PHD & is capable of pursuing a very profitable career. But she elected to stay home with her children when they were young.  Her decision didn’t bother her at all except when other women would ask, “What do you do?” She would answer, “I’m a homemaker. I stay home & take care of my children & my husband.”

They would usually respond with “Oh” & then ignore her from then on.  So Mrs. Campolo came up with this response when she was asked what she did: “I’m socializing two Homo-sapiens in Judeo-Christian values so they’ll appropriate the eschatological values of utopia. And what do you do?” They would often blurt out “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a lawyer” & then wander off with a dazed look in their eyes.

Our mothers – even long after we’ve grown up and moved out of home – they are still caring for us.  So, when we read in Philippians:

It’s not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way ….

We remember that mothers make sacrifices –over the years we have experienced the sacrifice that our mothers made and come to appreciate how Mother has stuck with us all the way – through our mistakes and our life lessons, through the ups and downs.

These verses from Philippians could have been written from a mother to a child or from a child back to their mother:

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God! Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have kept on believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

It’s not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way …. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. ….

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. … You … use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. You live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Notice first and foremost what is front and centre of this prayer: love.

Love should be the central focus of our relationships – with our mother, with our children, with our family, with others in the church, with strangers around us.  As Christians, it should be ASSUMED that the one characteristic that we possess is this:  LOVE.

I John 4: 8 says that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” and Jesus summed up the entire law and the prophets as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

In Galatians 5: 2, love is listed as one of the fruit of the Spirit and it is such an important fruit, and so central to a Christian’s spiritual life that, in first Corinthians 2, he goes so far as to say that all other spiritual gifts are useless without it.

In his letter to the Colossians Paul says that love is the very thing that binds together all other Christian virtues, including but not limited to: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.[1]

Paul begins his prayer with the love of the Philippian church. And he prays that this “love may abound…”, that it may overflow.  Think of the recent rains in Panama, and imagine a small stream after those days of rain — the stream is completely flooding and spilling over its banks. Paul is praying that our love might overflow — not just once, but continually overflowing: more and more.

It’s easy to forget about the love that others have shown for us – we can so easily focus on the negative things about others (their neglect or their failures), but Mother’s day is a time when we remember the good things, and with this day we celebrate the faithfulness of our Mother’s love:  Mothers who show their love and concern in phone calls and cards; perhaps even in reproof.

The verses in Philippians also remind us of how our mothers have never given up on us.  I can just imagine my Mum saying over the phone or writing to me in a letter or email:

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish…

God doesn’t start a project or change in our lives and then scrap it – while there may be many aspects of my character (impatience, irritation, passive-aggressive tendencies, etc.) that need shaping and I have a long way to go – God keeps on whittling away.  And Mum keeps right on praying that the changes will be completed for my good.

Our mothers are joyful about our growth and maturity, because they trust in God to make people better.  Mothers are constantly in prayer, and waiting for God to work… watching with joyful anticipation to see how every our changed attitude encourages others to want to be better.  They believe… even when they aren’t seeing those immediate results.

Our mothers shape our faith in God and teach us to pray.  I read about the case of the notorious sceptic, Robert Ingersoll.  When he was in his heyday, two college students went to hear him lecture.

As they walked down the street after the lecture, one said to the other,

“Well, I guess he knocked the props out from under Christianity, didn’t he?”

The other said,

“No, I don’t think he did. Ingersoll did not explain my mother’s life, and until he can explain my mother’s life I will stand by my mother’s God.”

Doctor Ursula Anderson puts forth the theory that mothers have a key role in the effort of taking the violence out of this world.[2] Mothers have the delicate mission of shaping the child’s life in the first years: they are widely recognized as being the strongest single influence in a person’s life.

The following poem reminds us of the importance of how Mum’s life teaches her children:

THE ONE WHO FOLLOWS ME

A careful mother I ought to be,
A little one is following me.
I do not dare to go astray,
For fear she’ll go the self-same way.
I cannot once escape her eyes,
Whatever she sees me do, she tries.
Like me she says she’s going to be,
That little one who follows me.
She thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me she must not see,
That little one who follows me.
I must remember as I go
through summer’s sun and winter’s snow
I am building for the years to be
that little one who follows me.

I remember as a child trying to follow in Mum or Dad’s footsteps – because they were so much bigger and taller, their legs were longer – you might have to hop between each step to be able to step in the next footprint.  But for some reason, as a child, we are driven to try to follow in those footsteps – we want to be like them.

Our mothers pray for us, like Paul did for his young church in Philippians:

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. … You … use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. You live a … circumspect and exemplary (life), a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

As we grow and mature into adults, the prayers offered by our mother for us change – that we will become the adults who shape the next generation, that offer that safe haven for others.

I want to finish this morning with:

Mother’s Love

Her love is like an island
In life’s ocean, vast and wide
A peaceful, quiet shelter
From the wind, the rain, the tide.
‘Tis bound on the north by Hope,
By Patience on the West,
By tender Counsel on the South
And on the East by Rest.
Above it like a beacon light
Shine Faith, and Truth, and Prayer;
And thro’ the changing scenes of life
I find a haven there.
– Author Unknown


[1] Colossians 3:14

[2] Where Is God In Why We Are the Way We Are

The Submissive / Obedient Woman

Lectionary Readings (November 11, 2012):

Our lectionary readings, both last week and this week, include the story of Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother.  We didn’t touch on this last week, so this week I thought I would go ahead and give you a short look at the story of Ruth.

We may ask ourselves, as we might with the story of Esther, “Why was Ruth included in the Bible at all?” Where is God mentioned in this book – apart from Naomi’s grieving comment “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me?

Scholars find that the book of Ruth was written as a historical novelette (theological and didactic historiography – in that it reconstructs historical events to some degree, but it tells the history by means of imaginative literary devices for the purpose of religious instruction and inspiration), and so it is both entertaining and instructive, and composed either during or shortly after the reign of King David.[1]

But the actual story which is told takes place during the time of Judges, in the final decades of that turbulent age, while there was yet “no king in Israel”, in the middle of a famine.  In stark contrast to the book of Judges, with scenes of crimes against God and man: treachery, brutal wars, massacres, cities in ruins – Ruth sheds a ray of light, piety, fidelity, social responsibility and rural tranquility.  It’s the story of a normal person, facing everyday domestic crises which frequently arise in the everyday life of an ordinary person.

And so

  • Elimelech (meaning, interestingly enough, “my God is King”),
  • his wife Naomi (whose name means “favour, delight, loveliness, beauty, and is regarded as having favour with God and man”),
  • and their two sons (Mahlon and Chilion) emigrate to the nearby country of Moab.  Clearly these two names are simply metaphors – Mahlon means “sick” and Chilion means “weakening or pining”.  Would you really name your children “sickness” and “wasting”.

They settle there, Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women.  Mahlon marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.

Little is known of the Moabite language, and so it is difficult to determine the precise meaning of the names Ruth and Orpah.  And yet, Orpah is related to the Hebrew word for neck, as used figuratively in the phrase “stiff necked or stubborn”; while Ruth, on the other hand, appears to be a contracted form of a noun, which in Hebrew means “companionship, friendship, fellowship”.

Unfortunately, in a tragic series of events, Mahlon and Chilion both die, leaving Naomi without her sons or husband.  Naomi’s pain is evident when she tells her daughter-in-law: “it is exceedingly bitter to me… that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”  There will be times in our lives, like Naomi, when the hardest four words for us to pray will be from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”

And so Naomi decides to return to Israel, and she tells her daughter-in-laws to return to their own families and remarry.  Under their mother’s case and direction, the two young widows would have assumed their premarital status, making them eligible to remarry.

Orpah reluctantly agrees, while Ruth begs Naomi to allow her to stay and to return to Israel with her.  In a passionate declaration, Ruth says to Naomi:

For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.  May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.2

Naomi, who had left Bethlehem with the name “my gracious one”, returns and asks to be call Mara “the bitter one”, in sorrow for all she had lost, perhaps too caught up in her sorrow to realise that she had brought her blessing back with her (as we will see later).

And so we find Ruth, gleaning in the fields, after the reapers.  Under the law, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow were allowed to gather the stalks of grain which the reapers had missed or dropped – it was a simple part of the everyday life, which ensured that the poor were cared for out of the abundance of the nation’s wealth.

But Ruth was given a special treatment.  Boaz, the land owner, asked about her, and then came and said to her:

Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.  Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them.  Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.[3]

When Ruth asks why he is being so kind, she receives a very simple reply:

All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me… the Lord repay you for what you have done, and full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge![4]

And Boaz goes further than this – he even instructs the reapers to intentionally drop more sheaves for Ruth to pick up, letting her work among the sheaves, not behind his maidens, and ensures that she is given bread and wine during the lunch.

Naomi is pleasantly surprised with the outcome, as Ruth has had a very successful day gleaning.  And upon learning of Boaz’s special interest in Ruth, Naomi then contrives to get Ruth married to Boaz by invoking her kinship with him.  She tells Ruth what to do and where to go, and Ruth follows her instructions.

Now the marriage of Ruth and Boaz was of a type known as a Levirate marriage.  Since there is no heir to inherit Elimelech’s land, levirate custom would have required her husband’s brother (but since he was dead also, then the next of kin), to marry the widow in order to continue the family line.  It was particularly important in Israel for the land to stay in the family.  If the family mortgaged the land, a kinsman was required to purchase it back into the family.  So, in this case, whoever married Ruth would pay Naomi for the property, but the property would then be inherited by Ruth’s child, in the name of her original spouse.  So there was a financial cost involved in this kinsman’s redemption.

Naomi sends Ruth to sleep at Boaz’ feet, after he’s had his wine and celebrated that the crops are in, taking a chance that Boaz may take advantage of her, but instead, Boaz helps Naomi and Ruth through the rituals of the inheritance, after which he marries Ruth.

Ruth ends with “and they lived happily ever after” –

… she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed… which means “servant”)

What’s interesting is that the book of Ruth is in stark contrast to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which demanded that the Jews divorce their foreign wives.  If we consider that the book of Ruth was originally placed next to Ezra and Nehemiah, we can understand how petty and short-sighted this policy of racial purity was.  More importantly, Ruth showed that not only could a foreigner be fully assimilated, but more importantly they might be God’s instrument for a higher good.

You may be wondering at this point, why did I put the title of my sermon as “the Submissive/Obedient Woman”.  All I’ve done so far is shared with you this historical novelette we find in Ruth.

Lessons:

So, let’s consider the lessons we can learn from Ruth.  I’ve grouped these into:

  1.  The general lessons applicable to all of us
  2. The lessons from Naomi’s life
  3. The lessons from Boaz; and finally
  4. The lessons from Ruth

Let’s start with the general lessons:

  • God’s love applies to everyone – there is no distinction of race, gender, marital status or religion. Ruth teaches us inclusivity, when a young woman voluntarily embraces another people, land, culture and, most importantly, God.   It is the perfect example of a true belief in the Creator God, even in the ancient world of the Israelites where separation is made obvious between the Israelites and the Gentiles.  This inclusivity transcends all cultural and racial boundaries, with the objective of unity the human race: Unity under God.
  • No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace – whenever we turn to God, we will find our Creator there, with His arms open wide to receive us.
  • God knows and provides for the needs of His people.  The book of Ruth reminds of His merciful providence for all who fear and trust in Him.  Our Creator knows who we are and where we came from.  No part of our life, however minute, escapes His notice.

How about the lessons from Naomi’s life?

  • How to relate with your daughters-in-law – there is obviously a lot of love between the three women.  When the girls had come to live with her and her sons, they were obviously welcomed into the home and became like daughters to her.  Her love for these two women is obvious in the tears cried when she decides to leave and return to Bethlehem.
  • We can’t overlook the fact that God is working in our lives, even when we are unaware of His activity.  We may choose to be miserable and feel that God has abandoned us, but even then God is working in ways that we can’t see for our benefit.
  • This story of broken hearts shows just how important the events of our lives are in God’s eyes – important enough to become a book of the Bible.
  • Even in Naomi’s grief, it’s obvious that before this she must have had an amazing testimony of belief in God – strong enough to convince Ruth to say:  “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God.” Even if in her grief Naomi had forgotten her faith in God, her life had been a testimony of her faith.
  • From Naomi we learn of God’s providential care: from destitute widow, to holding her foster-child in her arms.

Lessons we can learn from Boaz:

  • Boaz ensured that his fields were available to the sojourner, the widows and the fatherless – he was his brother’s keeper in the widest sense of the word.  He didn’t know who was gleaning his fields after the reapers went through, but he accepted that this was his responsibility and charity.
  • Boaz is a model of altruism – as Christians we usually use the term “loving-kindness”.  He promoted the well-being of others.
  • We also learn from Boaz integrity – his high stature is not only based on his wealth, but also on his benevolence.  While having the opportunity to take advantage of Ruth, he treats her with respect and sends her home knowing that he will deal with the issue formally with his kinsman.  He acts with authority at the town gate, providing his kinsman with the opportunity to purchase the family land.

Lessons we can learn from Ruth:

  • There is value in unselfish virtue in times of trial – we don’t know Naomi’s physical condition or what made Ruth decide to go with her. But there was obviously a feeling of needing to protect and take care of Naomi, and accompany her and ensure that she was going to be alright.
  • Ruth also teaches us the dignity and sacredness of what we may view as secular and commonplace in life – working in the fields… bringing home the bread or the bacon… All of this is an integral part of our spiritual lives.
  • We learn from Ruth that God commends the power of love to overcome alienation, hostility and prejudice.  I wonder how the people of Bethlehem first treated Ruth when she arrived back with Naomi.  And yet, when Boaz speaks with her, he has already heard, because it was the talk of the town: All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me… the Lord repay you for what you have done, and full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!

The submissive, obedient woman:

This is where I want to talk about the submissive, obedient woman, and what it means to me.  Many of us baulk at the words today “obedience” and “submission”.  When we read in Ephesians 5: 21-32:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, ….   But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

This is repeated again in Colossians 3:18:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord

For many of us, as one author states:

Submissive” now has a negative ring, causing women to cringe and run the opposite direction.  Most people picture a submissive wife as a woman with a soft, frail voice who runs around at her husband’s beck and call while he plops down in the recliner and hollers for another drink.[5]

But from the example we find in Ruth, I would say this is not so.  This submissive, obedient woman is strong, intelligent, hard-working and caring.  She is decisive, as Ruth was, DECIDING for herself, that she chooses to follow.  Her promise to Naomi: where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God – this was a voluntary choice. She wasn’t blindly going to be at Naomi’s beck and call.  She was consciously making a choice to follow.
I am sure, some days when Ruth first arrived in Bethlehem and was discriminated against or when she was out there gleaning in the fields, with her back and arms and legs aching from the toil, that she had thoughts running through her head:

  • “Why did I choose to come back here with Naomi?”
  • “Why didn’t I stay back in Moab and marry that nice young man that my parents had lined up for me?”
  •  “Why did I follow Naomi, when she’s always so bitter and feeling sorry for herself; what happened to that gracious woman that used to be my mother-in-law?”
  • “What more can I do for Naomi, to bring back the joy and laughter in her life?”

But I’m also sure that there was a sense of satisfaction in Ruth’s life – she CHOSE this.  She wasn’t a victim.  Being submissive, choosing to follow Naomi’s advice was a voluntary status of behaviour – it’s not forced upon Ruth.

Women are not meant to be controlled by force of strength or economic hardship or guilt.  But rather, we are told to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to treat them as we would want to be treated.

To be submissive is not a FEMALE ONLY trait but should be the attitude of all Christians. We learn and grow from talking to each other and are told to keep a humble and contrite heart.

We are to develop relationships of trust and confidence and respect with all men so there is an element of submission in everything we do.

To understand the meaning of being submissive from God’s perspective we must first of all submit to God and do as he has instructed; even when we can’t see that “happily ever after”.

Our greatest example of this is Jesus, who submitted to the Father’s will until death, trusting fully that there was an ultimate reward for this sacrifice.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD, she is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.[6] 

[1] http://bible.org/article/introduction-book-ruth

[2] Ruth 1:16-17

[3] Ruth 2: 8-9

[4] Ruth 2: 11-12

[5] http://www.everydaychristian.com/blogs/post/modern_submissive_woman_series_part_one/

[6] Proverbs 31: 30-31