Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘friendship’

Alarming Love

Romans 13:8-11a

Matthew 18:15-20

Sell your crap.

Pay your debt.

Do what you love.

This was the title of Adam Baker’s TED TALK in 2011—the story of how his family moved away from being the “typical” debt-laden U.S. family trapped by the next thing to buy to a family that envisioned freedom from that debt and then took the necessary steps to truly be free.

Let’s listen to a bit.

Adam argues that most of us live a life based on a script.

And we did not write that script—someone else did, or perhaps even a government, or a company, or an institution wrote that script for us.

The script, sadly, can become our life.

And that script involves debt.

debtFinancially, many people in the world are born into debt. Those who are fortunate enough to be born into a family without debt have a better chance, but even so, they often accumulate debt of their own. It piles up, because we follow the script of what we are supposed to buy, what is the next “logical” step in our relationships, when to get the house with the yard, the new car, and where to send our kids to college.

But is this really freedom?

I don’t think so—not if we’re following someone else’s script.

Not if we’re buying things because we think we need them or because that celebrity or that commercial told us to.

Not if we’re moving from one life decision to the next without actually reflecting on those decisions because…

We’re just following someone else’s script for our lives.

So I want to talk about debt; obviously, so far we have been talking about the financial kind of debt, because that will help us in the rest of this discussion.

In order to understand relationship debt, we first have to understand financial debt.

I include two Bible passages—one from Matthew [words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth] and the other from Romans [Paul’s letter to the Roman church] to help us honestly reflect and hopefully act.

First, Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew’s discussion about debt is based on human relationships and Torah Law. The Torah is the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. In Matthew’s debt discussion, the author includes references to Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The Jesus of Matthew is concerned about how people treat each other. There was [and is] conflict between humans. How do we deal with such conflict?

The root of said human conflicts is a problem—which happens to be a problematic word—and that word is sin.

Not enough time to break down just how misunderstood this word is. So let’s just stick to Matthew’s view.

Sin isn’t about morality but more about missing the mark. Sin is a failure to be human—as we are created to be.

So when two people fight about something, talk behind each other’s back, hurt one another—this is sin or missing the mark showing itself. And there is no prayer, or physical offering at the altar, or religious duty that one can do to solve such conflicts. Notice here that it is completely up to the humans themselves to work this out. There is no mediator-priest.

The first step is to confront the other person directly. Honesty and direct communication come first. The goal of the confrontation, however, is to prove who is “right” or “wrong” but to reconcile. The goal is reconciliation and thus the direct confrontation is motivated by love.

Jesus concludes the relationship debt teaching with this:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Just in case we weren’t paying attention, we have the ball in our court.

Whatever we hold onto, we carry with us.

Any debts we have weigh us down.
If we keep others in debt to us, they are weighed down.

But if we choose to lose our own personal debts and release the debts of others, there is great freedom for all.

But clearly, Jesus leaves it up to us.
If two or more of us AGREE on earth, it will be done.

Do we agree to forgive the debts of others?

Do we agree to clear our lives of the debt that weighs us down?

————————————————————————————————

And now to Paul and his letter to the Roman church—a church under an empire and in great debt.

Time to WAKE UP!

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Paul flips things around: owe no one [including Rome] any THING.

But love one another.

Loving fulfills the law.

Then he lists some of the commandments [back to the Torah again, like in Matthew] but adds an emphasis that was Jesus’ teaching:
Any can be summed up in this word,
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The reasoning?
Love does not harm another person.
So love does indeed fulfill all the law.

If you don’t harm people, you won’t break commandments.
You only owe one thing this to the world and all its creatures—love.

And we are invited to wake up to this reality every day.

It’s not a script; it’s not predictable; it’s not popular; it’s not mainstream; it won’t be easy; it will be risky; love is like that when it’s actually lived out.

It’s like theologian Karl Barth once wrote:
Love of one another ought to be undertaken as the protest against the course of this world.

Friends, owe nothing to empires, institutions, companies, things, and even people! Don’t allow debt of any kind to weigh down your life and your humanity.

True freedom is letting go of any debts that exist.
And in true freedom you will learn how to love.

The Great Life Adventure

Matthew 14:22-33

Hobbit_coverThe Hobbit, a book by JRR Tolkien, begins with this line: “in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The author Tolkien lets us the reader know that this is not a nasty or unkempt hole, like the lair of a mouse, but rather a cozy place, filled with fine furniture, doilies, and a well-stocked kitchen. Bilbo Baggins is this particular hobbit, and it is from this comfortable space that he is called to a great adventure.

It is Gandalf, a wizard, who initially interrupts Bilbo’s comfortable life.

Let’s watch a scene from the movie version of the story: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

 

Obviously, Bilbo is not very enthusiastic about the idea.

And after meeting the large group of dwarves who will “contract” him for this adventure—Bilbo is even less enthusiastic. They are messy and rambunctious and not of his kind. Why would he choose to go on an adventure with them?

Of course.

Why leave a place of complete comfort and predictability to enter a life of challenge, risk, and uncertainty?

Why?

This is the theme presented to us in another story of adventure—the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples. We are looking at Matthew’s version.

It’s easy to get distracted in these stories by the seemingly “miraculous” things that Jesus does. Case in point—walking on water as if it’s nobody’s bizness.

But we shouldn’t let ourselves get too distracted by the “miracles” that we so often associate Jesus with. The push of Matthew’s story is not to dazzle us with Jesus’ magic tricks. Matthew’s author wants the reader to recognize the calling of Jesus of Nazareth—to that group of friends he called disciples—but also a calling to the wider community. It is up to you how you want to interpret the so-called miracles stories of the Bible. My point of view is that miracles do not require Divine intervention to be a miracle. I think that unexpected, extraordinary things happen each day when we participate in the world and when we are fully human.

And there’s another twist to this story, of course—one that I invite you to think about. Consider this scene of the disciples on a boat without Jesus. When they “see” him, they see a ghost. They hear familiar words [take heart, do not be afraid] and then Peter makes his attempt to scurry across the lake like one of those cool, green lizards in the rain forest. To me, this story looks just like the other resurrection appearance/vision stories after Jesus’ death. The disciples were alone, Jesus appears; they see a ghost or something else, Jesus assures them with peace and do not be afraid; then, someone in the disciples group says or does something that makes it a teaching moment. Then, the group as a whole finds renewed strength to continue their journey.

As I always say, it’s up to you. I choose to see this story in that way [and not literally at all], but you need to develop your own perspective.

Regardless, one of the clear themes of the story is getting rid of fear and then journeying out to the unknown. It’s about a great adventure that involves taking risks and facing doubts and fears.

I think Bilbo’s story is quite similar in the Hobbit.

Let’s watch another clip of The Hobbit, in which Bilbo’s cozy house is back to normal. The dwarves and Gandalf the Wizard have gone. His dishes, bowls, and plates are all in order. It seems like nothing ever happened. Perhaps Bilbo was able to rid himself of that adventure idea that he was so set against.

What made Bilbo decide to leave his cozy house and comfortable existence?

Why did he choose the adventure?

After all, the adventure would be scary at times. Hungry trolls who rather enjoy the taste of hobbits; nasty orcs; giant spiders; a fire-breathing dragon.

But Bilbo chose to go on this adventure anyway.

He chose to leave behind the comforts of his material things.
He chose to befriend and share life with creatures of different kinds and cultures.
He chose to journey into the unknown.
He chose to face the evils in the world—the scary things.

Bilbo faced his doubts, his fears, his complacency, and his attachments.

And on the adventure, Bilbo learned about gifts and talents he never knew he had; he learned how to love; how to give; how to be an adventurous hobbit.

And so it is, friends.

The world is indeed a scary place sometimes
There are winds that blow and we feel unstable.
There are times when we feel alone and useless.
Sometimes you may feel that you don’t have a purpose at all.

But the great adventure of life itself is a gift worth embracing.

Jesus of Nazareth called his friends and companions to greater things. They were asked to take risks and to leave their places of comfort.

Why?
Because on the journey of their adventure, they discovered, learned, grew, and transformed.

Will you consider the adventure of life over the routine of comfort?

You have undiscovered gifts and talents to explore and try out.
You can discover how to love people in honest ways.
You can learn how to give freely without expecting something.
You can learn how to empty yourself of all the fears and anxieties that keep you locked behind closed doors.

On the adventure, you can learn to be free of attachments.

No matter what stage of life you are in, the adventure can begin again.

Today.

You are staring at the door; will you venture out into the open?

Mmmm…Salty…

Matthew 5:13-20   

We’re about to talk about NaCl. But before we dig into salt, some things to think about: Prior to this, Jesus of Nazareth gave his famous speech called the beatitudes and here we find the Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel continuing with some words you can also find in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, though their versions are shorter:[1] Mark 8:49: For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” And Luke 14:34-35: Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored [or used for seasoning?] It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Matthew’s take is a bit different, isn’t it? In Matthew’s story, Jesus actually compares humans to salt. You are the salt of the earth. So let’s talk NaCl. Salt is important, is it not? saltcrystalsMost historical records say that the use of salt dates back to 6000 B.C.E. Egyptians used salt for a variety of things, including religious ceremonies and even money.[2] That’s right, salt was money. We get the word salary from the word salt, actually.   When something is not worth its salt that means of course that it is not fulfilling your expectations. Salt is worthy of its lofty, historical status. Consider that we are talking about Dead Sea salt from Galilee. deadseaSaltYes, that wonderful salt that comes in rock crystal form and can be used for such things as a muscle-relaxing, skin reviving warm bath, a non-corrosive cleaner, or an incredibly delicious hummus. In fact, there are more than 14,000 uses for salt.

So that’s pretty useful, wouldn’t you say?

But does salt actually lose flavor? You may think that it doesn’t, but sure it does. Salt from the Dead Sea or any other body of water is mixed with sand and other things. It is not entirely “pure” salt [NaCl]. The chemical impurities can decompose. When mixed with water or when exposed to a lot of sunlight, this salt mixture can indeed lose its saltiness. So it was true that in the time of Jesus, merchants in Galilee would sometimes encounter a salt mixture that was not useful because it had lost its flavor. It was trampled underfoot because, logically, people walked on the shores and therefore walked on the salt. So back to the metaphor.

How are humans like salt?

Matthew’s story has Jesus talking in the present and not the future tense. He says: You ARE the salt of the earth. So the followers of Jesus of Nazareth were already grounded in the identity of coming from the earth [and the sea], and having flavor, and also being incredibly useful for a thousand different things. This is important to note, because in the sad history [and present day] of human existence, we continue to say that some people are more important than others, more useful, more full of flavor, etc. But Jesus, in this case, says you all [plural] are the salt of the earth. Everyone is useful and has flavor and is uniquely salty. Even Homer J. Simpson. 24820BPThe-Simpsons-Homer-Mmm-SaltyBut Jesus [and Matthew] are not finished.

Not only are people salt of the earth, but also light of the world.

Just like with the salt, we need some context here if we are to get the light reference. Jesus was not talking to rich dudes; or political rulers; or even religious leaders. Jesus was talking to people who would be called poor by many and certainly would be considered poor in the material sense today. They were called salt and now they were called light. In their context, a house often had just one room. Therefore, anyone who enters such a house will immediately see the lamp on top of a stand. Remember, they did not have electricity—like many people in the Philly area this past week! So in Jesus’ time, many people would have an oil lamp on a stand, and the way they would put out the fire of the lamp was to put a bushel basket over the lamp. This is practical and necessary to do before going to bed so smoke and fumes stay inside the basket.[3] Keep in mind also that in this era, there were not hundreds of neon signs flashing, street lights, car headlights, or anything like that. When it was night, it was really, really dark. You could see the stars. So when the lamps were snuffed out, it was dark and hard to see. an-ancient-style-oil-lamp1 So, says Jesus, it is important that in calling these humans light, they should not put their light under a bushel basket. They should instead shine like a light on top of a hill. They should be bright. They should not be afraid to shine. They should be illuminating light—regardless of what others try to tell them they are or are not. And like the salt metaphor, people of light are connected to other people, and useful, and open. So there are two things that jump out at me here.

First of all, in Matthew’s story, Jesus is not calling religious people salt and light.

He’s not saying that if you believe this specific thing or if you go to this specific church—you are definitely salty and bright. Jesus is saying, to a group of often-marginalized and overlooked people, that they are already salty and bright. They don’t have to convert; they don’t have to follow certain moral codes; they don’t even have to join a certain religious club. They are already salt. They are already light.

As they are.

It’s just natural.

Secondly, the salty and bright people should not get discouraged or afraid.

Salt can lose its uniqueness and flavor. As people, we can, too. Enter stage left: assimilation and the pressure to fit in. Someone tells you that you need to change who you are because you do not fit their definition of a human being. You’re gay or lesbian…change your preference. You’re transgender…make up your mind. You’re poor…get a job. You’re sad a lot…take medication. You’re full of doubt…have more faith. You speak another language…learn English.

You don’t fit my definition of human…so change already!

We can be pressured to change who we are. But we shouldn’t. We don’t need to change the essence of who we are, because we are all unique. We are all salty. We all have flavor. We’re naturally ourselves. Actually, we can add a lot of good in the world if we are fully ourselves—honest and candid and real. In that way, we will also accept others as they are. So listen, don’t give power to others, allowing them to take away your saltiness or to cover up your light. You are already salty and bright. Don’t let others tell you that you can’t sing that way, or paint a picture like that, or that you should be just like them or that you’re not worthy to shine or to be salty. And don’t try to copy everyone else. Your light is uniquely bright because it comes from inside you. Likewise, don’t ever tell someone else that she/he cannot be salty or bright. Don’t force others to be just like you. Let their uniqueness shine through. And remember how Jesus closed this part of his Matthew speech. He talked about the Law, or in other words, the Torah commandments, which were summed up in: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.[4] Being salty is being loving and compassionate. Being a light is shining love and compassion for all people. This does not mean that you save the world or make yourself famously salty and bright. It means that in your little, seemingly insignificant life, you have the salt and light already in you.

You have the capacity to love.

Because your so-called religiousness won’t do the trick; your holiness will never be enough; everybody breaks religious rules and fails to uphold religious doctrines and disciplines. Everyone. You will inevitably fall asleep praying; you will get tired of worship; you will sometimes not want to do the work of meetings and administration; you will get annoyed with church people; you will be sad and apathetic sometimes; your doubts about God will not fade away; and you may struggle with your spirituality every day of your life. You will have days and maybe months when you will struggle to get up in the morning and you may feel that you don’t have much of a purpose. You will sit in class at school and wonder if you matter. You will go to work only because you have to and not because you love what you do. You will stay in relationships because of obligation and not because of compassion. You will have moments when your light will dim and your saltiness will fade. Yes, you are human. But you can love. You can encourage someone who has been pushed down. You can welcome someone who has been left out. You can show compassion to someone who is barely hanging on. You can add flavor to someone’s day with laughter or a fresh perspective. You can treat people well—no matter where they are from or how they look. You can get up each day, and go to bed at night, with the realization that you were born salty and born with light. So be salty. Be bright. Recognize the beautiful flavor and light in all others. Be fully yourself and embrace the fullness of others. Amen.


[1] New Revised Standard Version. For side-by-side Gospel comparing, check out: http://www.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/meta-4g.htm
[3] Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Bruce J. Malina,
[4] Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV.

Life As Vocation

Matthew 4:12-23

womenFishing

Women fishing in Bangladesh

Here’s how this story goes: Jesus just got tested in the wilderness. He then returns to Galilee after his cousin John is arrested for eating too many locusts; or something like that. Then Jesus finds two willing fishermen and begins an adventurous journey with them.

This story originates in Mark’s Gospel. Matthew mostly copies Mark, but also adds the Isaiah reference and changes what Jesus is quoted as saying, eliminating The time is fulfilled and changing the kingdom of God to the kingdom of heaven. Also, Matthew leaves out the bit about Simon [Peter] and Andrew leaving their hired hands behind along with their dad in the fishing boat.

The story takes place in Capernaum–a major port city. It was a great trading and meeting center. It would have been a great locale in which to spread news or to communicate with a wide variety of people. Capernaum is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee [actually a lake, as you can see].

capernaum1

But the story also references Naphtali and Zebulon. This is less geographical and more cultural. Naphtali and Zebulon were the names of two tribes of people who lived in the northern region of Israel [also west of the lake of Galilee].

naphtali So consider that while Matthew includes the reference from the prophet Isaiah, it is not about predicting that Jesus would walk from Nazareth to Capernaum. If this were an actual literal prophetic prediction, Matthew would actually look stupid. Why? Because Naphtali and Zebulun were two separate regions. Capernaum was only in Naphtali and not Zebulun. You can see this on this map. Also, look at the actual Isaiah text from which Matthew borrows:

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.[1]

Isaiah says by way of the sea [meaning the Mediterranean Sea there on the left] while Jesus in Matthew’s story traveled by the Sea [or Lake] of Galilee. Keep in mind that while some love to jump to prophetic conclusions and put two and two together by using OT passages to predict NT Jesus events—this alters the spirit and meaning of the story. Matthew uses the Isaiah reference [and geography and culture] to show that Jesus didn’t just care about the Jewish people, but also about those who were called Gentiles. We are supposed to notice the Zebulun and Naphtali reference and also the phrase repent for the kingdom of heaven is near because John said that earlier in the story in the wilderness of Judah [Jewish land] and now Jesus was saying the same thing in the Northern territories where there were more Gentiles. You see the movement of the story? I hope this helps.

Let’s continue on the journey. Nazareth to Capernaum was about 26 miles, depending on the route one decided to take.

Put it in context. If you traveled from the address of the United Church of Christ in Warminster, PA to where the University of Pennsylvania is in University City, you have just gone from Nazareth to Capernaum. Yes, keep in mind that most of the stories about Jesus take place in a very small geographical area.

So we have journeyed to Capernaum and we’re on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, there is fresh water and lots of fish. The lake is controlled by the wealthy Greeks and Romans and Jewish folk who were in with King Herod. Fishermen worked for them. Yes, that’s right—local fishermen had to buy fishing licenses just so they could fish. It was all regulated and of course, everything, including the fish, was taxed. Much like today, those who worked tirelessly raising crops on land or those who fished the sea–sadly they saw most of their food exported to other lands and they gained very little for their own families. It is to this group of people that Jesus appeals. Keep in mind that in Matthew’s Gospel and the other three, the issue of debt and money comes up a lot. We need to notice this in the story.

But most of the time we’re obsessed with the “fishers of people” idea and kind of end up thinking like Peter in this cartoon:

peter.stupid.fishIt’s true. Recently, a smart little girl inquisitively asked:

Why would they fish for people? And why did the other people go in the water in the first place?

Uh, yeah. This is a weird thing to say: go fish for people.

That’s why I really believe that details in a story are important. You see, we often see this Biblical story of calling disciples as some up-in-the-clouds, impossible tale. And so we are disconnected from it. But like most of the stories about Jesus, this one is quite ordinary and human, and therefore it is a story with which we can identify.

I still have a question, though: why did Peter and Andrew listen to this Jesus of Nazareth, leave behind their fishing equipment, and then follow him on a crazy adventure? Why?

I think most people assume that these two guys just picked up and left their previous lives to make some sort of incredible religious commitment. Many look at any story and assume that anyone who follows Jesus has to drop everything and make an overwhelming pledge to change their lives completely. Perhaps that’s why there are so many people who relate Christianity to fanaticism.

And they would be right, in many cases.

But I’m certainly not criticizing people who really do need to drop everything because they may live destructively and need this type of major change. Certainly, I have known people for whom practicing the Christian faith helped them to overcome addictions or destructive behaviors that kept them from living full lives. I don’t underestimate the joy and healing they discovered. But I think everyone’s experience is different. And I also think that religion itself is so very limited and also created by us, so being “called” or “following” Jesus will look different for every person.

That’s the point.

Your life is a calling.

You don’t have to be a fisherperson, a pastor, overtly religious, or someone who experiences an enlightening moment or a conversion. Your life, from its very beginning, has been and is a calling.

But yes—we are called to live with more imagination. And with more love. And with less hate. And we are called to live with more mercy, forgiveness, and more honesty. And we are called out of comfort and into conflict, recognizing that the conflict leads us to meet new and amazing people who will journey with us. Along the way, we start to realize that comfort is overrated. We can even find strength to leave it behind, as well as all the attachments to material things and prejudices that limit us so much and keep us from living a full life. And yes–we’re called out of fear to love—a very difficult calling, for sure, because we are called to face our fears and to stop ignoring them or  running away from them. And all of this looks so different for each and every person, doesn’t it?

Recently, the Lilly Foundation, an endowment organization that funds religious research, interviewed pastors, seminarians, church and ministry leaders, etc. about their careers. The study found that most of these people felt called to their vocation. Okay, but the problem is that most people don’t feel the same way. They don’t feel called like most pastors do. They hear sermons and read religious stuff but often they don’t think that what they do outside of the church has much to do with some calling worthy of God’s attention. Most people see Peter and Andrew or any of the other 1st or 2nd century disciples as super Jesus followers and faith heroes who they could never measure up to and with whom they cannot identify.

Well, that’s a big problem.

We are missing the whole point, then. I mean, it’s all well and good to interview pastors and seminarians and other professionals, but being a pastor myself, I see great limitations here. Look, personally I do find joy and fulfillment in my work as an ordained minister—both with UCCW and also with the Interfaith Center. But my “calling” [vocation] is not any higher or more worthy of God’s attention than anyone else’s. I don’t think of what I do as more Christian or more faithful to following Jesus.

And no, I did not put down my nets and follow Jesus like Andrew and Peter. I just didn’t.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried my best to be myself and to treat people well, and to love fearlessly and to speak and act creatively and compassionately. But that has zero to do with me being a pastor. That’s just my life. And for me, following Jesus’ life and teachings has helped to make me a better person. It has helped me forgive and help and empathize and heal.

Your life and calling is just as special as mine. Look, this Lily Foundation study discovered something much more important than what religious professionals think. They found that all these people had the greatest sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose—not because of their religious jobs–but because of their relationships.

Relationships. With people.

In Matthew’s story, Jesus doesn’t call the two fishermen [or any others for that matter] to change jobs. Jesus instead calls them into relationship. They are to be fishers of people. And while this sounds weird to most of us because we are not casting nets, you get the idea. We are called into relationships and we always have been.

And this is creative and not limited. Just like fishing. Check out the creativity of these guys:

creativefishingYour relationship with God, with this, Jesus—should be a good thing. It should add joy, healing, wisdom, wholeness. It should not limit you or take away your playful imagination or your creativity or make you think that you need to change who you are. No way. Likewise with your relationships in this life here on this planet. You should be challenged, uplifted, inspired, strengthened, and fulfilled by your relationships with people. Others should feel the same when they are in relationship with you. And no, you don’t have to have some really religious conversion story or some so-called “higher” calling to do that.

No way. Just be you.

And so, ask yourself:

How will I step out of my comfort zone and be in relationship with others?
How will I be a compassionate friend?
How will I be a loving partner?
How will I be creative, free, and joyful at work and at school and with others?
How will my relationship with God inspire and heal me?
How will this relationship with God move me to healthy relationships with others?

Live the story.


[1] Isaiah 9:1-2, NRSV.

Prayers of Love, Prayers of Unity

John 17:20-26

It happens. A strange letter arrives in the mail, a weird email in my inbox, a random post on my Facebook page. People I don’t know, or I may know of them, but they are certainly not close friends or colleagues. I’m invited to something–a gathering of pastors for prayer; a group of community leaders for discussion; an event sponsored by some political figure. It is more than an invitation, I find out. The more I read the fine print, the more I realize that they want me to support their cause. A prayer meeting is not just to pray; it is to express how the government is evil and things like abortion, same-sex marriage, and undocumented workers are destroying the very fabric of the U.S. So come and pray about that. Or, the community meeting is not about learning or education or even networking. It’s about money, and how much money I can give to certain lobbyist groups, causes, or organizations. And the “Christian breakfast” invites are really fronts for political rallies for some candidate that of course, is looking for my vote and all of your votes. xianSpam

Each one of these comes with strings attached. And in every request, there are many assumptions made. First, whoever is inviting me assumes that as a Christian, I am just like them. I think like them, pray exactly like them, read and interpret the Bible just like them, worship like them, even vote like them. So the organizers of such gatherings are shocked when I call or email them back with a response of no—not because I cannot attend, but because I choose not to attend. How could that be? Am I not a Christian, just like them?

It is a common theme in our world today, I think. If someone doesn’t believe or think or even look like we do, they could not possibly be connected to us. We assume separation. People who disagree draw lines in the sand, rather than hearing out the other’s argument. People with differing worldviews never share a coffee, glass of wine or a beer, or a lunch. Even those who hang out or befriend another of a different religion, political stance, or philosophical view are told that they are watering down their own beliefs and stances. It seems that all too often we have to be exactly the same, or we cannot be together at all.

That is why, in this moment, I think it extra important for us to walk through John’s Gospel. Written last out of the other three Gospels, John has a nuanced perspective. Consider that when it was written, people had formed different religious and cultural groups, identifying themselves as followers of Jesus. We call them churches now, but these groups didn’t look much like what we see today. They were communities of people who lived together and supported each other. They were people from various backgrounds. They didn’t believe the same things. They interpreted their experiences of Jesus and God very differently. They even argued and had strong disagreements about ethics and theology. All of this is in the Gospel of John if we look for it.

Consider that these stories were written long after Jesus’ death and at a time when these faith communities were already expanding; assume that contextual, relevant interpretations of Jesus’ life and teachings were being made. In other words, John’s Gospel interprets Jesus in light of the context and experience of that particular time and culture. We get a glimpse into a time, place, and culture simply by reading the words written about Jesus and even the words attributed to Jesus. You can read a novel about some historical figure like Abraham Lincoln or even see a movie, but it won’t really make sense to you unless you have some grounding in the historical context and cultural dynamics.

It’s no different with the Bible.

In the 1st and 2nd century in Israel and Palestine [and then in Greece, etc.] traditions were for the most part, passed on by oral tradition. They didn’t have email archives, metal file cabinets, videos, or audio files of Jesus. They had memory; and experiences; and stories told by one person to another and then to another, and then to another. Much later, scribes wrote it all down. In fact, John’s Gospel is particularly unique in its storytelling, because most scholars believe that various authors put it together over an extended period of time. It was a community of people called “Johannine.” In their context, Jesus’ story was often about relationship. And so it is in John 17, the longest speech attributed to Jesus—in the form of a prayer–26 verses.

 This prayer of Jesus focuses on unity, love, and relationship.

Let’s explore those three things. First, love. We have been talking about this a lot in John, and with good reason. To love is a command of Jesus. God is love. Those who love are of God. There is a direct correlation between acts of love and acts of God. If a person shows love to another, they show God to that person. Likewise, if a person refuses to show love to another, God is not present in that act and they are not of God. But this is not meant to be mere metaphysical language. Jesus was clear with the disciples about love. It wasn’t a feeling alone; it was how you lived. The disciples could love with the love of God. They were capable of it. Otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t have told them to do it in the first place!

Second, love is tied to that word relationship. Jesus had a unique and intimate relationship with God, who he called Abba [Father]. God knew Jesus; Jesus knew God; Jesus made God known to the disciples; they were to make God known to the world. That is a lot of knowing!

So look at the actual Greek word: ginoskoto know. Its meaning is intense. Ginosko means deep, interior perception that influences one’s emotions and actions.[1]

Knowing in John’s Gospel is not just about being aware—oh yeah, I know that guy, or at least, I know of him…

Knowing means being changed. Knowing affects your life. Knowing moves you to be. This relationship connects you to something bigger.

God knows all of us.

We are known by God.

Jesus knows God; God knows Jesus.

Jesus made God known to others.

We are to make God known to others.

And how does that happen: love.

But this leads us to the most difficult and misunderstood part of this prayer: unity. In the letters and emails and posts I get, this word unity is thought to mean the absence of disagreement or conflict. We are supposedly unified, because we believe the same things. We are unified because we hold the same commitments. We are unified by what we eat or wear or the language we speak. We are unified by our sameness. Don’t get me wrong—I am a big fan of finding people who connect with me because we share a common value, concern, or passion. I am a bridge-builder.

But being one or the idea of unity isn’t about sameness.

I mean, the colleagues and friends I have who stand with me on certain issues or share important values with me are quite different than me in a lot of ways. Some practice other religions or don’t practice any religion. Some of them speak other languages. Some live in different states, towns, or countries. Others participate in things in which I have no interest. Some don’t go to church. Some enjoy hobbies that are completely boring to me. On some issues, we completely disagree. They vote for different people or don’t vote at all. So are we unified? Are we one?

That is the question. You see, I think in American Christianity we often forget that being one isn’t about a piece of paper we sign, saying we believe the same things. It isn’t about doctrine or dogma or even some mission statement we agree upon. Unity, according to this prayer of Jesus, is based on the two things we already unpacked: relationship and love.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t mention the Apostle’s Creed or some Council in Nicaea. The disciples don’t sign on the dotted line. But they are challenged to make a choice, aren’t they? They are challenged to mirror the life-giving relationship of Jesus and God.

Be unified in your relationship: know each other by how you love each other; be known to each other by the love you receive; and then make love known to the world.

Funny enough, the unity of Jesus isn’t even meant to benefit the church.

Unity is meant to bless the world.

The phrase so that the world may know is repeated again and again by Jesus, and it’s almost annoying! But I think there’s a reason for the repetition, because we tend to ignore this challenge!

We like unity if it makes us feel better about our religion or because unity strengthens our numbers and gives us a louder voice so we can fight against others who disagree with us. We like unity if it gives us black-and-white understandings of God, morals and ethics, and salvation.

Less to think about.

We embrace unity if it allows us to avoid conflict and especially that particular issue that we have trouble with…

But this kind of unity? It’s not really about us at all!

It’s about others.

We are supposed to be one so that the world notices our love.

And this unifying love points them to the unifying love of God though Jesus.

Crazy as it may sound, churches and people of faith, if we are really interested in following Jesus, we need to be with other people who are different in order to experience a loving, unified relationship with God and in order to show love to the world. Love pushes us to widen the circle, reach out, and include. But we shouldn’t assume that they will think, believe, pray, sing, dress, talk, or behave exactly like us. In fact, we are challenged to embrace the differences, the disagreements, and the uniqueness. Why? Because in that kind of crazy, inclusive, diverse, raw community, we get a glimpse of what Jesus was praying about.

We start to get it—that God knows us and loves us as we are.

We open our minds to grasp that Jesus lived this loving relationship on earth.

We begin to know God and be known out of love–not obligation or fear.

Then, we live that love in the world–not obligating others, not causing fear.

Friends, the more we love, the more our relationship with God is real.

The more we love, the more we know ourselves better.

And the more we love, the more our relationships make a real impact.

Amen.


[1] Strong’s #1097 – γινώσκω.

 

Life of Pi and the Story of Ruth

Ruth 4:  Redeeming and Being Redeemed 

“I have a story that will make you believe in God.”

Life of Pi is a novel full of fantasy, philosophy, adventure, religious exploration, and great story-telling. Author Yann Martel finally got Life of Pi published in 2001. Of course, a movie adaptation of the book is now in theaters, directed by Ang Lee. The main character/protagonist is Piscine Molitor, French for “pool.” As a boy, Piscine decides to change his name to “Pi” Patel. Pi grows up in India in Pondicherry. From an early age, Pi explores issues of spirituality, rationality, doubt, and God—all the while growing up with various animals in a zoo that his parents own. The story takes a dramatic turn when Pi’s family is involved in a shipwreck. Pi survives 227 days at sea, stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean. The twist is that his constant companion on the boat happens to be a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Here is one of the trailers of the movie, Life of Pi:

Life of Pi is a challenging story—one the author claims is non-fiction, even though as a reader, we wonder how that could be with all of the fantasy and surrealism. After all, the story begins with an old man in the French-speaking part of India in a fantasy town. The old man tells a novelist [who acts as narrator]: I have a story that will make you believe in God. And yet, Life of Pi does not push a particular religion, dogma, or doctrine. Instead, it closely links storytelling and religious beliefs. The book explains to the reader that on a literal level, each religion comes up with its own set of tales and fables which are used to spread the teachings and illustrate the beliefs of that particular faith. The boy Pi loves all these stories and enjoys hearing and telling them. So do I. But like Pi, I sense that sometimes we don’t listen very well to the stories themselves. We sometimes get caught up in our own agendas and motivations. We can forget that all stories can be aspects of a greater, universal story, and in this case, a greater story about love.   

The Bible is indeed a big book of stories. And in fact, as we take our final look at the story of Ruth in the Hebrew Scriptures, we ought to remember that these stories first belonged to ancient Israelites. They were passed down from generation to generation. These stories are still told by Jews around the world. And many of these stories are shared by Muslims and Christians, Buddhists, and Bahai’s, too. Chapter four of Ruth is indeed the end—I told you it was short! Here we find Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi in what seems like a happier ending to the tale that began so horribly. Boaz, true to his word, went into town to find the younger man who could be Ruth’s next-of-kin, called her provider [redeemer]—the one who could offer land, food, and security to her. Boaz surrounded himself with elders of the city so they could witness the exchange of intentions. The young man, Boaz shared, had the option of buying Naomi’s late husband Elimelech’s land, since the young man was the next-of-kin. So the man agreed to buy the land, or in their words, redeem it.

But Boaz continued: if the man bought the land, he would also “acquire” Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Elimelech’s son, so that Elimelech’s name would remain in his land. Suddenly, the young man changed his mind. This would not be a wise financial investment, as far as he was concerned. Land, yes. Ruth, no. Apparently, the young man had caught the disease of Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners. Marrying Ruth would most certainly damage his reputation and perhaps his wealth. So he gave up his right to claim the land to Boaz. Go figure. Anyone else sense that Boaz had this all figured out from the beginning?

The custom at the time in Israel, says the story, was for a sandal to be exchanged when a transaction of redemption took place. So the young man removed his sandal and gave it to Boaz. In front of all the elders, this happened. It was official. Boaz claimed Ruth as his wife; people agreed to be witnesses. And then, this declaration about Ruth: May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel…

Indeed, Ruth and Boaz got hitched. Finally, right? And soon after, the story tells us that Ruth got pregnant. She had a son. Women of Bethlehem celebrated for Naomi, saying: Blessed be the Lord! He [the child] shall be a restorer of life to you; your daughter-in-law [Ruth], who is more to you than seven sons, loves you. Naomi took the child, named Obed, in her arms. She cared for him. All is well. The story should end there, right? But it doesn’t. The story doesn’t end with Naomi restored to life, the land [and Ruth] redeemed. The story ends with this:

Obed became the father of Jesse who was the father of David.

 And then a longer list of the names of the Perez family tree. The end.

Now in every story there are symbols, histories, and perspectives to keep in mind. None of us will really embrace the story of Ruth unless we know something about redemption—a word we often hear in U.S. Christian circles as something reserved for explanations of Jesus Christ “saving” or “redeeming” people from sin. We hear redemption and head right for atonement and the cross. But that’s far too limiting and quite unfaithful to the Ruth story. And actually, not far removed from Black Friday and the shopping frenzy that will continue until December 25th, we don’t have to look hard to understand what redemption actually meant historically. Redemption is about business. It’s about buying and selling and consumerism, as we would call it today. Everyone here is familiar with gift cards, right? You may have bought some for family and friends already. What is the language we use when someone uses her gift card? Redeem. She, the consumer, redeems her gift card. He redeems his iTunes code to buy a song.

Redeeming is about exchanging bonds, gift cards, or whatever–for money or goods. We know how this works. We also know how redemption works with debt. If you have a mortgage, someone can redeem it by paying it off. If any of us have been unfortunate enough as to experience our house being foreclosed upon, we know that it can be bought back or redeemed. So I’m trying to bring home the point that we ought to read Ruth’s story as it is, with its own lens. We should not project other things onto it, including Jesus of Nazareth or much later projections of atonement or redemption because of original sin. This actually lessens the power of the story itself. Ruth is about a widow who was poor, a foreigner, and a person who practiced another religion. Ancient Israelite law made two things clear to Ruth and Naomi: 1] Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband, had land but now that land was up for grabs, because the women could not inherit it on their own; 2] foreigners were not welcome to marry Israelites.

You can read about this in the book of Leviticus, specifically chapter 25. So basically, Naomi and Ruth had no men in their lives who were family. That meant that they were destined to live in poverty and on the outskirts of society. Unless…someone redeemed their situation. There is a Hebrew word for this type of person. It is go’el, in English, a kinsman-redeemer. The young man who was a distant relative of Naomi could have been their go-el. But he refused out of Xenophobia [see previous comment about not marrying foreigners] and out of his desire to keep land for himself. If he would have married Ruth, she would have had access to his land as well. For the young man, redemption was measure for measure. He wasn’t acting oddly because he simply followed the status quo of his time. This is essential in the story, because it helps us understand why Boaz’s action ended up being the climax in the Ruth tale. You see, Boaz had no financial reason to redeem Elimelech’s land; he had no social or religious reason to marry Ruth. His redemption was not about measure for measure, but about mercy and love.

Boaz redeemed and played the role of go’el, for a reason. He loved. It’s clear, long before Boaz calls the elders of Bethlehem together to witness the transaction that Boaz cared for Ruth greatly. He admired her even. Boaz saw how Ruth was kind, loyal, and loving to Naomi. Ruth redeemed Naomi, even without money, land, or power. Even though Obed’s birth was a blessing, the women of Bethlehem proclaimed that Ruth was more important to Naomi than seven sons! Why? Because she loved her. Ruth was go’el for Naomi when society didn’t even think it was possible. And so Boaz responded to Ruth’s character by showing her Xenophilia—a love of foreigners. He cared less for his reputation and more for Ruth as a person. He loved; he redeemed.

And so the story can lift us out of our consumerism, out of our obsession with getting as much as we can, of maintaining our reputations and not making waves out of fear. The story begins and ends with Naomi’s doubt and even anger towards God. She moves from hopelessness to restoration. She feels, at the beginning, that God hates her. Until Ruth proves her wrong.

“I have a story that will make you believe in God.”

Pi is sitting down with the Canadian novelist to share a meal to begin telling his story. They prepare to eat and Pi bows his head in prayer. He closes by saying Amen.

Canadian Writer: I didn’t know Hindus say “amen.”

Pi: Catholic Hindus do.

Writer: Catholic Hindus?

Pi: We get to feel guilty before hundreds of Gods instead of just one.

Writer: But you’re a Hindu first?

Pi: None of us knows God until someone introduces us.

None of us knows God until someone introduces us.

While the writer is trying to “pin down” exactly what Pi believes, seeking some sort of explanation for these crazy stories, Pi reminds him to just listen to the story. So I say to you, just listen to the story. Ruth isn’t about a family tree, or Jesus of Nazareth, or Christmas or shopping or even sin.

The story is:

Ruth loves Naomi when she doesn’t have to; Naomi is redeemed.
Boaz notices Ruth’s love; Boaz chooses to love when he doesn’t have to; Ruth is redeemed.
People in Bethlehem see this love and they are redeemed.
Naomi thought God was absent and even against her until Ruth loved her.
Ruth thought that her gender, nationality, and religion limited her until Boaz loved her.
None of us knows God until someone introduces us.

How, like Ruth, will you be both redeemer and one who is redeemed? Remember, it’s not about “saving” someone; we don’t have the power to save people. But we can love. We can be caring and merciful when it’s not expected of us. We can go above and beyond. We can redeem relationships that are broken; prejudices that separate us; injustices that push down and hurt; hate that destroys.

Friends, so much in the next month will be about other things that seek to distract us from the great story of love. So many times, we’re tempted to read into stories our own interpretations that make us feel better, confirm what we already believe, or give us something we want. And yes, just like with Ruth, next week we’ll be talking about Bethlehem again and another baby born there. But I encourage you to let the stories surprise you, challenge what you believe, and push you to see higher, further, and differently.

For none of us knows God until someone introduces us.

No one knows love unless they see love in others.

No one finds healing unless someone offers a healing hand to them.

No one has hope until someone cares for them when all is lost.

No one finds redemption unless you or I decide to offer it to them.

I have a story that will make you believe in God.

Listen well to the love and redemption in your story. And now live it for others. Amen.

Character-Building and Redeeming

Ruth 3:1-18

Fear, Anger, and Sadness: Who Walks with Us?

No matter what age we are, or where we are on our journey—I think all of us know what it’s like to be scared, angry, or sad. When I was a kid, I moved a lot. I remember my first day of middle school in Iowa after moving from Indiana. I was scared. I didn’t know anyone in my school. The teachers were new; the hallways were strange; the students weren’t my friends. I felt alone. And I was scared. Then, as a teenager, I remember some vicious bullies roaming the hallways of our school. They didn’t just terrorize me—they picked on all sorts of kids. Sometimes they bullied a guy because he got good grades; other times, they bullied a girl who didn’t come from a family with lots of money so she wore hand-me-down clothes; they also bullied anyone they identified as different. This made me mad, furious–angry. Fast forward to my time as a young adult studying in seminary. I remember my first internship in a church and my first board meetings. I expected discussions and perhaps arguments about how we ought to serve the community, help those in need, lift up those who were down or include those who were left out. But those discussions rarely took place. Instead, time and energy was spent arguing over which songs to sing in worship services; the clothes that people wore; the dogma or doctrine that people “should” believe; and the amount of money the church should save for itself. It made me incredibly sad–depressed, even.

On life’s journey, I think all of us visit places that are scary, angry, or sad. Perhaps some of you are in one of those places today. Maybe you’re trying to get out of one of those places but cannot find the way. Such places in life, I believe, are even worse when we’re alone. We go from being scared to paralyzed; angry to hateful; sad to depressed. But in our stories, if we are not alone—if someone is with us through it all—things can change. Back when I started middle school in Iowa, I was frightened because I did feel alone. But by day number two, a kid named Derrick started talking to me in history class. Before I knew it, he invited me to his house. Soon enough, we were friends. And then a new school was less scary. As a teenager, I was angry at all the bullies around; it wasn’t fair how they treated us; the teachers turned away from it and other students let it happen. But friends gathered around me, stood up for me, and I learned how to stand up for others. Our anger turned into action as we stood with the kids who were constantly picked on. We chose to say “no, stop” when it was easier to just ignore it. And in seminary, as sad as I had ever been because of the hypocrisy and apathy of the institutional church—when I felt alone–my sadness was capable of becoming deep depression. But there were colleagues and friends, some working in churches, some studying in seminary—who stood with me. We shared our sadness, prayed for each other, laughed together, and refused to let hypocrisy and apathy overcome us.

Friends, it’s true that all the scary, angry, and sad places in life look different when we’re not alone, when we walk with others. It changes the game when we’re in a community or alongside a friend, a life partner, or a blessed colleague—people who pull us out of those places with support, love, and care. Then the difficult places can become opportune places to build character, to learn and grow, and even—to find something that was lost, or to heal, or to redeem.

This is the story of Ruth—a story of sadness, anger, and fear—an ancient Israelite story of friendship—that brings about joy, courage, transformation, and redemption. We are looking at chapter 3 of this story, but let’s recap chapters 1 and 2 with the help of these paintings from Marc Chagall:

Chapter 1: Israel was in the middle of a famine. A man named Elimelech journeyed from Bethlehem in Judah, with his wife Naomi and his two sons to Moab. Elimelech died, and so Naomi was left with her two sons. Both sons married Moabite women. One was named Orpah, and the other was named Ruth. Later on, both of the sons died, and Naomi was left with only Orpah and Ruth. Eventually, Naomi heard that the famine was over in her homeland, and so she decided to return to Judah. She told her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab. Both Orpah and Ruth refused. Naomi insisted they stay, because in those days, a woman of Naomi’s old age would struggle to survive; she had nothing to offer Ruth and Orpah. So the three women cried, and they hugged, and Orpah went back to her family. But Ruth stayed with Naomi. No matter how much Naomi insisted, Ruth refused to leave her side. Ruth was willing to leave her home and all that she knew with no guarantees that it would work out. All for Naomi. So both women went to Bethlehem together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Chapter 2 begins with this: Naomi had a relative on her late husband’s side. He was a wealthy man named Boaz. One day, Ruth told Naomi that she wanted to go collect the scraps left in the fields as people harvested the barley crop. It was common practice for the ancient Israelites to leave the stalks that fell after picking the barley. This was a spiritual practice of caring for the poor and foreigners who had nothing to eat. The field Ruth chose to collect in belonged to Boaz. Not long after, Boaz noticed Ruth and asked about her. His workers told him that she was the Moabite girl who came with Naomi.

So Boaz and Ruth meet for the first time. Boaz, not obligated to really care about this widow from Moab, tells Ruth: Don’t go collect in another field. Stay here close to my girls. Keep your eyes on where they’re picking the crop, and follow them. No one will bother you. And when you’re thirsty, go drink from the jars of water that the men have drawn.

Surprised, Ruth wonders why Boaz would show such kindness to someone like her. Boaz tells Ruth that it is her character that intrigues him, how she had stood by Naomi through thick and thin, how she had taken risks to leave her family and her homeland. So he makes sure that Ruth has enough to eat. And when Ruth tells Naomi this news about Boaz, the bitter, once-sad and angry Naomi praises God.

Now in chapter 3 and Naomi has changed completely. No longer down in the dumps, she now plays matchmaker. She has hope for Ruth and her household. Naomi knows that Boaz will be sorting the barley that was picked. So Ruth, Naomi thinks, why not clean yourself up real nice, make sure you smell good, dress up to the nines, and go to that threshing floor. When Boaz lies down to sleep, uncover his feet and lie down yourself. Quite a risk. Up to this point, Ruth had been protected from such a scenario. But now Naomi was asking her to put herself in a very vulnerable situation. Ruth isn’t sure, but her friendship with Naomi has brought her this far and given her much courage. So Ruth waits until Boaz is lying down and he uncovers his feet. Of course, the story is playing with words here, for the uncovering of feet is well—not about feet. I’ll leave the birds and the bees explanation to all you parents out there. But can you feel the tension in the story? What will happen to Ruth? How will Boaz react? The spreading of Boaz’s robe would be a symbol of betrothal. Is the story about to end with a happy marriage? No. Even though Ruth calls Boaz her redeemer, [the one who would allow Ruth to have land, food, and community], Boaz doesn’t accept. Don’t get me wrong—he is grateful for Ruth’s act of loyalty and her thankfulness. But Boaz mentions another man, a guy who is younger. But Boaz is clear that he will help Ruth. Either way, she would not be left alone.

At this point, you and I will leave the story there and wait to turn the page. There’s drama here, isn’t there? Unexpected twists abound. Rules are broken; obligations and duty are pushed aside in favor of friendship and mercy. Women destined to live in poverty, on an uncertain path, with seemingly little hope. And yet, a lasting friendship forms that binds them together. Their fear becomes courage; their sadness, joy.

An unlikely friendship between an Israelite woman and a Moabite woman is more than just a nice story. The book of Ruth was a protest against the Nehemiah-Ezra marriage laws established at the time, prohibiting Israelites from marrying foreigners. Clearly, Ruth’s story was challenging how society defined marriage, relationship, and even love. Obligation and duty gave way to friendships well beyond the established categories.

Ruth and Naomi had little in common. They were of different generations, from different cultures, practiced different religions, and claimed different homelands. But they trusted each other, even when things looked bleak. They picked each other up and shared what they had—be it wisdom, experience, talent, strength, or courage. And together, they were able to overcome the many obstacles of life. Together.

On Thursday, I attended Stars of David, a world premiere play, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towards the end of the play, there is a touching scene between a mother and daughter. The twelve-year-old daughter is crying—expressing to her mother all the fear and anxiety and inadequacy she feels as she prepares for her Bat Mitzvah. She can’t learn the Hebrew. She can’t get the traditions right. She’s feels like she’s going to fail; she’s unsure that she can go through with it. She’s scared, frustrated, and sad at the same time. Her mother looks at her with love in her eyes and simply says:

Life can be uncertain and scary sometimes. We can even go to dark places. But when you go with someone who cares about you, what was scary and dark becomes an adventure that you share together.

 Who are the people who journey with you in life—stay with you, through it all? Be thankful for them. Let them know how much they matter to you.

 Who are the people around you who are sad, afraid, or angry? How can you be a good friend to them—lift them up, encourage and bless them–not out of obligation, but out of genuine care?

Choose to be such a friend to others. And choose, like Naomi, to accept the people God brings into your life to challenge you and bless you—even when those friends come from unlikely places.

May Ruth live in your story. Amen.

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