Monday, August 31, 2009
Why the Mediator Had to Be True God and True Man
We acknowledge and confess that this wonderful union between the Godhead and the humanity in Christ Jesus did arise from the eternal and immutable decree of God from which all our salvation springs and depends.
Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine. Why? We know that he understands us completely. He understands our sorrow, our broken hearts, our tears and temptations. He knows what it is like to have a body that breaks down, to have a spirit that can be depressed. He understands our weakness. Because Jesus was fully human, we can call upon him and know that he understands us completely. He has been there, and because of that, we know we can trust him.
But had he been merely human, he could not have saved us. Only because he was truly divine was he able to resist temptation. Only because he was fully divine was he able to fully defeat the powers of death and temptation and lead the sinless life. The fullness of the divinity that dwells within him allows him to be our savior and our friend, our comforter and our strength.
Because of this mystery of Christ as fully human and fully divine, we have a Savior who is reliable, who is compassionate, who is stronger and wiser than we can ever be, but who knows what it feels like to have tears pour down his face at the death of a friend. Thanks be to God for God's infinite wisdom!
Stir within me that desire for you. As I rouse from my slumbers, awaken my body and my soul so that today might be a day lived fully aware, fully alive, rather than simply a day I trudge through to ensure I make it through. As the entire world stirs, may I turn from the night and face the sun, watching as a world is transformed by the light that shines upon it. Transform me on this blessed day so that I may serve you, faithfully, and pour out all I am so that you may fill me.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I've been reading Jeremiah quite a bit lately. It's terrifying and beautiful, wonderful and scary. There is so much love woven into these pages. Thanks be to God that our God loves us enough to be angry, to be hurt by our careless ways, by our sinful nature. Thanks be to God that we have the chance to turn back and accept our Lord once again.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Kids night out is tonight, and the kids will be having an all night prayer-a-thon Saturday night. They’ll be leading worship on Sunday! (I’ll be preaching, as well)
Don’t forget! For ages 11-18, we’ll have focus sheets on the table in the Narthex. Pick one up for use during worship.
Laundry Detergent this week!
Yard Sale news—On October 3 we’ll be having a church yard sale to raise money for future Living Waters trips. More information will be forthcoming, but save your items! Booths will be available to rent for the community for $25.
Jacob Geerlings’ blog from Kenya
From Migrant worker to astronaut
The Monastic Moment (From The Monastic Way)
More is gained in one hour from God’s good things than in a whole lifetime of our own. (John of the Cross)
Text for Sunday, August 30
Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.” He said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman. But now, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsman more closely related than I. Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do it. If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you. Lie down until the morning.”
I recently finished Marshall Frady's Billy Graham: A Parable of American Righteousness. I'd had it for some time, but in my recent spate of biography-reading I decided to finally buckle down and get it finished.
I've always admired Billy Graham. I've been to one rally, in Cincinnati in 2003. I find his speaking to be inspirational, and the speeches I have heard and seen on television have always brought me to my knees. He has a gift for inspiring.
I expected this book to be a laudatory account of his life. Much to my surprise, it was anything but. It did not attack Billy Graham, but it pointed out the conflict that has run throughout his life, resulting from his attraction to the halls of power and the way that businessmen and politicians have used him. Billy Graham has endorsed political candidates, political stances, and tried to influence particular bills. Early on, he was supporting businesses, all in the name of helping his ministry. Throughout the book Frady does an excellent job of portraying Graham as torn between his love of being close to power and the importance he places on his ministry and integrity.
As a minister I particularly enjoyed this book because it detailed many of the choices Graham had to make, especially in relation to supporting presidents, many of whom he considered friends. From the outside it looked like they were using Graham, but I don't think Graham reliazed or felt that. What would I have done in his shoes? Would I have turned down the offers, the money for the ministry, the support, the chance to proclaim the name of Christ in the halls of power, the chance to walk with a president? Would I have said no? Could I have said no? I probably would have made many of the same decisions Graham did, motivated by some combination of ego and faithfulness.
Graham loves his ministry. And yet throughout the years it has been an epic wrestling match trying to keep himself completely devoted to 'winning souls.' I will freely admit I have some recoil at this philosophy of measuring success by the number of decisions for Christ--where is the relationship, the education, the transformation? Many studies have shown that, of all the 'decisions' made, many never wind up in churches. At most crusades, the congregation is made up mostly of church members. But if just one is transformed, truly changed, does that make all the effort worth it? Christ, the shepherd for the lost sheep, would make the effort. Maybe the crusades are too elaborate, too production-line, but if they have truly converted just one soul, maybe that makes it worth all the expense, all the effort?
This book was a great depiction of Graham's struggles and triumphs, a true look at the man behind the ministry and the journey he has taken. If you want to know more about Billy Graham, this book is worth your time.
You are always planning something new. We think of the seasons of our lives and we are often wondering what comes next, but you have constant dreams for us. You are always watering some seed, even if we thought it was long dead. Our minds are often closed to your wondrous possibilities. Awaken in us a new sense of vision, renewed dreams, so that we might see the rest of our lives as you see them, alive with possibility.
I love you--Amen
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Is the world safe just because it's green?
What would Amazon.com reviews have to say about King Lear?
Perhaps religion and Harry Potter can get along after all?
Christianity Today's review of Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards
May I see the world as you see it today. Not as black and white, with people trudging through it, but as a place filled with passionate colors and beautiful moments. May I see each individual as your child, your beloved, and may I have the courage to live with the love you show us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Our trip to Honduras ended with a promise. We had installed the water system and it was working. The water that came from the end of the filtration system tasted better than the water that comes from my tap at home. It has a clean, refreshing taste, and it is remarkable to believe that regardless of what goes in the intake, the water going out all tastes the same.
Our installation finished, we were charged with finding a site for next year. This was our promise. We visited a school, not a mile down the road from where we were staying, with seventy children in dusty classrooms. The water there was filthy, and the seventy-seven houses in the community did not have access to clean water. We will do everything we can to change that next year. It seems like a long way away, but I am confidant that it will be here before I realize it is possible. Next year...
Living Waters helped me to change the world. It wasn't a huge change, but it was a change. That filtration system we installed will change the lives of all who drink from it, rather than drinking from a polluted source. Each individual who we met will now associate clean water with Chattanooga, TN. It was such a blessing to be a part of their walk for a short time.
It changed me, as well. Honduras is not so far away, anymore. The people of Honduras are not so far from my heart, either. Amidst all the political turmoil and unrest that is charging down the streets of Honduras, there are Christians in search of something to eat, of safe water to drink. May we never forget our brothers and sisters in need, both here in Chattanooga and around the world. In the mountains of Honduras my eyes were opened to a different kind of need, and I pray that will continue to change me, to soften my heart and change the way I see, so that I will be more compelled to serve, to love, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, the hope beyond any hope we can conjure up, in all that I do.
Thanks be to God!
Be the peace within my soul today. All the turmoil in the world drifts around my ears and finds its way into my heart, distracting and disturbing me from worshiping you. May your peace that dwells within my heart speak so loudly that quiet descends upon my life. You are God, today and tomorrow, and I long to worship you and you alone, despite my ability to live in such a way that often denies that fact. Praise be to you this morning and every moment of this day, so that my entire life is lived before your holy throne.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Last night, Rachel and I watched God Grew Tired of Us. It's the story of three Lost Boys from Sudan who are resettled in the US and the adjustments they have to make.
The movie starts with the story of the Lost Boys. To sum up, they started out with 27,000 boys from Sudan who were displaced by the Civil War. Most of their families were killed, and they started walking to Ethiopia. They briefly settled in a camp there, but soon had to leave, walking back through Sudan to a camp in northern Kenya. By the time they had arrived, they had walked 1,000 miles. There were 12,000 left. I cannot even begin to imagine...
That is where I sit with most of the movie. I cannot imagine. They show the Lost Boys who were resettled to America being shown how to use a toilet, how to turn on a light, what a potato chip is. Every inch of this country is new to them, and it is a strange place where people do not talk to one another or to them. They work all the time, but their hearts are constantly turned back to the Sudan. What can they do?
It's easy to think of moving to the US as a tremendous blessing, but the reality is that it is hard, and they have been torn away from many of their family and friends. They want to go back and help, to make a difference, so they work and work and work and send their money back. Towards the end of the movie one of them is able to bring his mother to the US, and it got a little dusty in the room when they showed their reunion.
It's a heartbreaking story, but a heartwarming one as well, for it shows instances of hope and stories of those working to make a difference. The question that sits upon my soul is: Knowing the story, what difference am I prepared to make?
God Grew Tired of Us, the website
The John Dau Foundation, through which one of the Lost Boys is working for change in the Sudan
I was reading last night and I kept coming back to this passage. I believe that there is something powerful in the idea that when we sin, there are actually two different sins. The first is turning from God. The second is turning to something else. It is not simply our denial of God that hurts; it is also our replacing God with something else, something futile that has no true, lasting power.
It also has hope in some strange way for me. It means that my life must consist of a constant effort to make two steps. The first is to set down those cracked cisterns, to stop trying to fill them when my efforts are futile. It is a lifelong effort. The second is to turn back to God. It is not one, fluid motion that I will complete. It is two steps, and they are intricately linked. I cannot take one without the other, and yet I cannot wait for one to be complete before I take up the other. It is a tug of war for the allegiance of my soul; I know who I want to win, I just have to want it bad enough to stop filling all these cracked cisterns and allow God to fill me completely.
Thank you for the gift of hope. It is this wondrous thing you have placed inside us to guide our hearts even when the world around us seems to be devoid of any true hope. In the midst of thunderstorms and disasters in the world outside as well as the one inside, you have blessed us with hope, so that we might look forward to tomorrow. Even in the midst of our sin, we have hope because you have redeemed us, called us by name, claimed us as your own. You are the light of the world, and we are always moving towards that light with hope upon our lips and buried deep within our soul, burning inside to help illumine the way for us to walk.
Monday, August 24, 2009
A heartbreaking story about Chattanooga's Main Street
The new face of the homeless
Just a quick note to let you know that the registration deadline for the September 2009 session of Clean Water U is Tuesday, August 25 - right around the corner. This will be our last CWU session at Hopewell until March 2010.
For all you Star Wars fans: Design flaws in the original movie.
As I stand on the brink of this new day, may I be overcome with joy as you color it with possibility. May I recognize the slightest blessings as gifts from you, and may I be ready to praise you at the reality of your presence near me. May the opportunity to work hard be a chance to praise you, and may the quiet moments of the day serve to give me pause to reflect on your presence and love. May I serve you faithfully today.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
You are awesome. From one horizon to the other, your name is written across the stars. When the planets wrap themselves in glory and shine like the sun, it is you they are praising. When the clouds part and the sun shines and we bask in its warmth, it is you that deserves our praise. When the rains come and water the earth and the plants grow, reaching toward the heavens with everything they are, it is you we should praise. When we wake in the morning and stare at the morning colors and realize we have one more day, it is you we should thank. May you be upon our minds, our tongues and our hearts today, Great Lord.
I love you
Friday, August 21, 2009
A brother questioned an old man, saying, ‘Here are two brothers. One of them leads a solitary life for six days a week, giving himself much pain, and the other serves the sick. Whose work does God accept with the greatest favour?’ The old man said, ‘Even if the one who withdraws for six days were to hang himself up by his nostrils, he could not equal the one who serves the sick.’
(A Desert Father)
Jacob Geerlings’ blog from Kenya
At This Point, an online journal from Columbia Seminary. The current issue: How is the church to be the church in the midst of the economic turmoil?
Chattanooga Race for the Cure
The new Outdoor Chattanooga building
Do video games make us healthy?
Brutality in Honduras
Text for Sunday, August 23
Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
May this day be a holy offering to you. Each of us has a different idea of what an offering is, and you've given us different gifts so that we might lift our hearts to you. Teach us again to worship you, in new ways, with new gifts. Widen our imaginations so that we might learn to worship you in ways unexpected, at work and at play. May we see all of life as a chance to worship, and may we be joyous when thinking about the opportunity to pour ourselves out on your holy throne so that we may be filled with you.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Joel Allen Schroeder is the director of a new documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson. Subtitled A Thank You to the Creator of Calvin and Hobbes, the film aims to "look to the readers and fans to tell the story of the strip and its creator. ... The undying appreciation and love of Calvin and Hobbes and the man behind it will be evident in the anecdotes, stories, and memories shared by readers of the strip and friends and colleagues of Mr. Watterson."
Here is a link to the website.
There is also a book coming out this fall entitled Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. I will be pre-ordering that one!
I forgot to put some of my sunset pictures in yesterday. 'Sunset Mode' on the camera is fun.
This is the assembled system! We woke up early Saturday morning and started to glue it. By noon, we were all a little fuzzy from the stench of PVC glue. I would imagine that somewhere on the can it probably recommends not using it in a small, ventless room. We had dry fit everything on Friday, so Saturday was simply about gluing. And boy, did we glue. Unfortunately, we failed in one area. We did not 'glue the hound out of it'. And because of that...
This is the moment of truth, when we turned the system on for the first time to discover what we had wrought. Unfortunately, just after this triumphant moment, we noticed the leaks. At least twenty of them, some far larger than others, each heartbreaking in its own special way. We thought we knew what we were doing, but we simply hadn't used enough glue. So we took a Sharpie and started marking the leaks, each of us knowing full well what Sunday would hold--it would be the day we started to fix everything.
Of all the things that could go wrong, I'm grateful that this is what happened. It could have been much worse, and I didn't want things to go perfectly. We had the chance to learn, and I'm grateful for that, even if it did cause quite a bit of frustration and stress. Now we know.
I loved this drill. Caused quite a bit of work, as the bit was about 1/3 the size we needed, but it was still fun to use, even if we had to spend a while chipping out block afterward.
Defiance was one of those movies I put off watching for some reason. I think it was that I had heard so little about it, as though it appeared in my consciousness for a brief moment at the right time for me to put in my Netflix queue, but then disappeared, lost among the detritus of so many other parts of life. Being a huge James Bond fan, I was interested to see Daniel Craig in a different role, but apparently not that interested.
When it did come, Rachel and I were not exactly tripping over ourselves to watch it. We ended up starting it at 8:30 on a Wednesday night simply because we needed to get Nacho Libre by Saturday, which meant we had to watch Defiance. Turns out we were both riveted for the next 2.5 hours.
Defiance is the story of four brothers during WWII. They are Jewish and live in the forest in Belarus along with over a thousand other Jews fleeing the Nazis. Each brother takes a different path, but Daniel Craig ends up leading the community that forms there in the forest. His brother, not quite as nonviolent as Craig, goes and fights with the Russians against the Nazis.
The movie is made all the more incredible by the fact that its based on real events. It is a violent movie, and I wouldn't recommend it for children, but it was fascinating. It brought up so many big questions.
How could anyone seek out and kill other people like that? What happens in the minds of individuals that leads them to be so violent towards one another, especially based on religion? How do people get there?
How does a persecuted people find the strength to carry on? How do they keep from giving up? How does faith keep moving forward? What words do you use to pray when you are watching your family die?
This was a brilliant movie about a heartbreaking truth. I'd recommend it for anyone who enjoys movies that make them wrestle with history, with the sins of our past and the realities of the present.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
This is what we began with. Well, all that and 160 feet of PVC. We had more fittings than we knew what to do with, three filters, one meter, one ozonator, some electrical parts, and a bunch of other fittings odd parts that I'm still not even sure what they are. None of us had much experience working with PVC, something that would, in time, come back to bite us. Each of us was excited to get the work done.
We woke up early on Friday morning (The sun comes up around 5 since they don't do the whole daylight savings time thing down there) and got started. It took us a few minutes to figure out exactly what we were looking at and how we were going to get started, but then we started assembling plywood and 2x4's so we could begin. Before long, we had mounted the board and started to place the pump and filter heads in place. The work was going faster than we had expected, and we were excited as we began to see things take shape.
By the time we finished working on Friday evening, we were ready to wake up Saturday and start gluing PVC together! We were even beginning to think that perhaps we might have clean water by Saturday evening. We thought it would leave us plenty of time to troubleshoot on Sunday and look for a site for our 2010 installation on Monday.
We were also starting to get a better understanding of what life in Honduras was like. Driving in we had seen so much, but now we were able to sit and talk with some of the people at the orphanage. I had so many questions, but the reality of everyday life in Honduras was simply so different than anything I have experienced that I still cannot grasp my head around it. I don't believe that life is necessarily better or worse, but it is so different that I have trouble fathoming it. They are certainly worse off due simply to the lack of clean water, and it is exciting to be part of something that can change that.
I have taken clean water for granted since I can remember, but being in Honduras I was suspicious of every single tap, simply because I didn't know. I can't imagine something as simple as the bathroom sink having the potential to make you very sick. It's heartbreaking to see children drinking from taps that you know are contaminated and being powerless to stop it.
The missionary families welcomed us into their hearts, into their homes, and we sat at table with them and shared in the Lord's fellowship. It was a blessing to be there, and the food was amazing!
With a little water and some sunlight, plants burst forth from the ground, spewing color and beauty across the landscapes of our lives. They require some care, but they are so eager to grow that they reach higher and higher as though their entire existence served only to reach for the heavens so that you might know of their praise. All they do is a praise offering to you.
May my life today be the same praise offering. May I join my song so that my life reaches towards the heavens, humbly offering my thoughts and deeds, my words and gifts, to your holy service, so that the name of Jesus Christ might be heard in every language, in every way, throughout this place.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."
A little boy was in a relative's wedding.
As he was coming down the aisle, he would take two steps, stop, and turn to the crowd.
While facing the crowd, he would put his hands up like claws and roar.
So it went, step, step, ROAR, step, step, ROAR, all the way down the aisle.
As you can imagine, the crowd was near tears from laughing so hard by the time he reached the pulpit.
When asked what he was doing, the child sniffed and said,
"I was being the Ring Bear."
On July 30 Shane, Dorothy and I boarded a plane bound for San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 294 pounds worth of a Living Waters Filtration system stuffed into six very full suitcases. They closed the door to the plane, on all of the fears and anxieties that had been running wind sprints through my mind for the past month. My mind and body were stressed beyond capacity, trying to come to terms with the political unrest in Honduras and the risk that something might happen to us. I was counting the cost of going, as well as the cost of not going. We could place the trip on indefinite delay, but that might simply place more stress on me. As though this was not difficult enough, we then had to sit on the tarmac for almost another two hours before we finally left Atlanta behind. The waiting had been almost too much, but the journey had begun.
Landing in Honduras and walking off the plane, it is immediately clear that you are a foreigner, a sojourner in a strange land. The heat is oppressive, the language unfamiliar, and I found myself staring around in wonder, trying to come to terms with exactly where I was and how this would change me. I was in the midst of some new creation that I was a part of, and uncertain of what life would look like on the other side.
We were met by our gracious hosts, who loaded us into vans to begin the third leg of our journey, one that had started at five in the morning with a drive to Atlanta. This drive, however, was completely different. There were no superhighways, no wide, easy roads. It had a different feel as we ventured through tiny towns, dots on the map where people lived in huts, selling fruit by the side of the road. We waited for construction as children pressed their faces against our window, hoping against hope that we might find enough pity to buy their pastries. We bumped over rough roads, past lumbering trucks, and finally spent forty-five minutes rocking over a potted road to reach our destination.
Once there, we unloaded our bags, unloaded our souls from the weariness of traveling, and began to build relationships as well as the water filtration system. More on that tomorrow...
Pressing On, the ministry of Keith and Joanna Daniels, who serve Christ in the Yamaranguila area
New Vision Ministry, operated by Porter Briggs, the complex which graciously welcomed us and where we installed the system
Living Waters for the World
I often find my mind wandering far from you. I get lost amid the plans I have for today and the dreams I have for tomorrow.
Sometimes I hear the voice of a songbird, and it draws my mind back to you. You have made each bird unique, given each its own song, and called them to make the world a more beautiful place. You love this earth, and each of your creations, from the whales down to the smallest insects. You call each of us into a life of faithfulness, and I pray that my song may join with the rest of creation as we all sing your praises and follow not our own will, but yours.
Monday, August 17, 2009
1809: In Pennsylvania, Thomas Campbell, 46, and his son Alexander, 20, formed the American Movement for Christian Unity, which later became the Disciples of Christ Church.
For those who were at the potluck yesterday: Crabtree Farms
Cancer, my parents, and doubts about God
From El Salvador to Chattanooga, the story of the owner of Taco Rico
Rev. Daky and Dr. Reneau will speak at Rivermont Presbyterian Church on Monday, Sept. 28. A box lunch will be available for a nominal cost at 11:30 am. The program will begin at 12:30 pm and last approximately 45 minutes followed by time for questions.
The Godfather turns 40
1In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11
But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “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. 17Where 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!” 18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
19So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20She said to them, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. 21I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 22So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Where you go, I will go
The human mind is an amazing thing. We don’t fully understand how it works, but somehow it processes, discards and stores more information per minute than we can begin to fathom. The human brain generates about 25 watts of power when we’re awake, enough to power a light bulb. It’s estimated that we think about 70,000 thoughts every day, most of which we don’t remember. If we did, where would we store such thoughts? We lament our ability to forget things, but these moments stand our precisely because of our incredible ability to remember. The human mind can think about things from different perspectives. It can consider another point of view, recognize situations and faces, and process incoming information and prod the body to react in different ways. It can produce incredible joy and paralyzing fear. It is nothing short of a miracle.
And yet one of the human mind’s most amazing characteristics is the ability to ruminate on one subject over and over again. Do you know what I’m talking about? The treadmill in your mind that ideas often hop upon, leaving you unable to think about anything else. You could not change the subject if you wanted to. You simply sit and think about one thing, over and over. It becomes an obsession. We may have 70,000 thoughts in a given day, but when we’re obsessed with something, it seems as though we only have the same one 70,000 times.
At times like this we often find ourselves taking ‘heavy walks’. We go outside to try and clear our heads, hoping that some fresh air will help us think better. We go out with friends and loved ones, hoping that we’ll be able to talk things out, to come to some clearer understanding of what is happening, hoping to get those ideas off that treadmill.
I’d imagine that the first few steps of this journey back to Bethlehem were heavy. Ruth, Naomi and Orpah set out in hopes of finding some new life, but the heartbreak that bound them together must have made it difficult for them to be excited about the future. Naomi had lost her husband, and ten years later lost both sons, and these two women were all that were left for her. The women, too, bound by obligation, had nothing left now that their husbands were gone. Widows each, finding community in each other, hoping for some light to shine in their darkness.
I wonder what their thoughts were as they trudged onward. Orpah, perhaps with her head turned round, looking back to the country she had always known, to the place she had played as a girl, where her family was. Perhaps she was trying to come up with the words, a reason, any excuse to go back. Ruth, with her head pointed at her mother-in-law, this woman of foreign birth, a strong woman, somehow able to bear all that has happened to her and still find the strength to keep going. Naomi, with her head pointed forwards, looking ahead, perhaps wondering about all those choices they had made, back in their youth, when life was ripe and waiting to be plucked. A brief sojourn in Moab, waiting out the famine, had turned into heartbreak and weeping. They had set out with so much, and now she was returning with so little.
At some point in their journey they turned, one to another, and Naomi implored them to go back. “Go back. Go back to your homes, to the places you grew up, where you may once again find peace and love and the innocence that you have lost. Go back, to a place I cannot go, where you might once again find someone to love you, someone to protect you, someone to live with. Go back.”
Tears were shed, protests were offered, but Orpah turned back, unable to go forward, unable to find the strength Naomi had, the fortitude of Ruth, looking for the life she had known, the comfort of family, the chance to start over.
There would be no turning back for Ruth. No words from Naomi could change her mind. The storms of life had ravaged the landscape she knew so well, but there were not winds that could change her mind. “Follow your sister,” Naomi pleaded, but the words must have sounded empty as they escaped Naomi’s throat, for she must have been able to see in Ruth’s eyes that no protest would work. Ruth was going to follow Naomi, and she offers up her 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. 1:17 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!"
Such a pledge would cease the protesting from most of us. So they returned to Bethlehem, to a home familiar and yet foreign, a small town outside of Jerusalem, where they recognized Naomi, and saw her come home without the ones they had seen leave, only this Moabite woman to accompany her. The brief sojourn, doubtless filled with many ‘we’ll be back soon’s had become a decade long absence, and now heartbreak strolled into town.
This story invites us in to many different places. Over the course of our lives we become familiar with the stories of these women. Tragedy and heartbreak, grief and loss, does not escape us. While I pray that none will know heartache the size of Naomi’s, as we are all human, we all know that life is fleeting, sometimes disappearing before our very eyes. Grief changes us all in different ways, and we often find ourselves in the shoes of Orpah, hoping for some way to go back, to start over, to escape the memories of the pain we know too well. Others follow in the footsteps of Ruth, finding the strength of a friend inspiring, and we cling to them, knowing that we cannot carry on without them, and we will follow them as far as they may lead, for without them our strength would dissolve. Others know the walk of Naomi, where the shoulders are hunched, the feet are weary, and yet somehow they simply press on, for life has not ceased. There are questions to be asked, tears to be shed, and yet now is not the time for that. While life stops for an instant, it must carry forward.
One of the many amazing parts of this story is in the words of Ruth. “your God shall be my God.” We have watched Naomi flee a famine to build a home in a foreign land. We have read about how her husband dies, her sons die, and yet somehow Ruth has seen such faith that she wants Naomi’s God to be her God. There is a lesson in here for us. Even in the most difficult times of our lives, people are reading the pages of our lives. Even when absolutely everything in life seems to be fighting against us, people are watching. Our friends, our families, strangers, are watching us, to see what kind of faith we have. Do we have a shallow faith, one that is easily discarded at the first sign of turmoil? Or is our faith deep enough so that we are free to weep, to rage against God, but ultimately to always come back to faith. Naomi lives a life of deep faith, one that persists even through this darkest period of her life, and leaves such an effect on Ruth that she wants this God to be her God.
Ultimately, we get a peak at what the future is. Despite all the tragedy we read about in chapter one, it concludes with a hint. “They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” In all of the tragedy that has been sewn into their lives, God has something big in store. God is not going to give up on Ruth and Naomi, to allow their lives and their deep faith not to bring forth fruit. God is still looking towards spring, for we worship a God of the new creation, a God who is always bringing forth new life out of the darkest winter. May we never forget this, even in the darkest nights of our lives, that the God we worship, the God we cry out to, the God who knows our strongest tears, is the same God who creates anew each day.
Let us pray.