Monday, November 12, 2018

What They Did for Love: Widows Might

There is a woman who for an extended period of time tweeted chapter by chapter paraphrases of the bible and when she got through the book of Ruth what she posted was I figured it out! Jane Austen wrote the book of Ruth! Now, of course, she got the order a little bit backward but she's not wrong about the similarities. Widows and other women whose well being and fortunes are decimated by the lack of good brothers and ultimately by the death of the men in their family is a common plot device in Austen's novels. If you don't know the book of Ruth it is of course about Ruth but more so about her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi is from Bethlehem and she has married a man in another land: a neighboring despised enemy people. In a devastating turn of events her husband dies and both of her sons die so that she and her two daughters in law Orpah and Ruth are left utterly homeless and destitute. So Naomi chooses to return to Bethlehem. Orpah eventually stays behind in her country but Ruth accompanies her widowed mother-in-law into a foreign land. In today's episode much like the plots of plenty of novels and movies she puts herself in the sight line of a relative of Naomi who can protect and care for them at the very least. 

If it weren't for the biblical text my time and place and experiences I might forget how completely vulnerable women like Ruth and Naomi and nameless widow in the gospel can be. Yet today's texts lead me to wonder,  maybe when you have so little you're free. Free of the stuff and burdens that way a lot of us down. These women had absolutely no guarantee of any kind of better situation, they could have been greeted as the enemy and a collaborator. Yet they trusted in God's blessing and support and they dared to give their whole selves to the promise of a people rooted in God's steadfast loving-kindness. There are a number of widows in the new testament as well. This lesson today of a widow giving what amounts to pennies with true devotion. Well in my mind this is also the woman who lost a coin the parable of the woman who lost the coin and goes searching everywhere for it, and rejoices and calls all her friends when she finds it. Somewhere in my imagination that same woman is this widow and giving all that she has to God with the grateful delight. 

We will be beginning the stewardship campaign this week, and I don't honestly expect anyone to give all that they have like the widow today. Now - I'm not telling you not to do it if you feel called to be free of material and financial burdens and give it all to the vulnerable and repair this world - yes do it and how can I help? However, I am a pragmatic person and like you I have responsibilities and burdens and demands on my time and on my talent and on my bank account. Our stewardship campaign will be an invitation to reflect on all that we have and all that we need and to give thanks. It is a call to consider the preciousness of our God-given lives and this community. Our stewardship campaign is focused on three words - love, prepare, serve and it is absolutely intended to keep the ball rolling here to raise the financial contributions that enable the life-giving ministry of Grace Church. 

It's an important year in the story of this congregation. You are preparing to call a new settled priest to serve alongside you here. It might be tempting to react to the situation from the perspective of fear and scarcity and holding back and hiding your heads and waiting for the future to arrive. Instead, we challenge you to hope and trust like Ruth and Naomi and our nameless widow today and respond with trust to God's promise of generosity towards us. We invite you to experience this moment as an opportunity to put this mission in line with God's dream and prepare for this community’s future. Gratitude and sacrificial giving are not always the obvious choice in life. That is why it is an act of faith. I encourage you to take the time to prayerfully pray the three words (with actions) love, (hand on heart) prepare, (stir) serve (hands out). Three words to hold closely as you consider your promise to this life together. We hope you will consider three things in your pledge this year one is to consider making your financial pledge proportionally, and that you gratefully consider making an increase. The second thing we want you to consider is a promise to invite people in your life to experience grace church. There's a plenty of pain and loneliness in the world and there are people in your life who never ever been invited to find the kind of community and foundation of smart loving kindness that is present in this body of Christ. The third thing we want you to consider this year to become a planned giver. Planned giving is simply what happens to your money when you die. You can provide for the future in ways that the husbands of Ruth and Naomi could not. 

The specific reading we had from the book of Ruth today is not my favorite choice. It is not the example that I would want to set for young people in our life. Establish yourself by marrying well it is straight out of the parts of Austen novel’s that I don’t identify with and she was critiquing. But when I really stop to think about it there's no difference between the choices these women are making and my friend who works two jobs and is an artist. One job pays okay but it's not really what he wants to do. He has another job that doesn’t pay much however it puts him in the vicinity of people who like and buy art. A choice that isn’t that different from when I seek out writing opportunities that raise my church wide profile (or add popular hashtags to blog posts.) 

We know that plenty of you work or have worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. You may live in multi-generational households that may not have been your first choice. We know that all of us are living in uncertain times facing an ever-increasing real cost of living and a cruel gap between the highest and the average income. I, however, I trust that part of what you love about Grace Church isn't just the nostalgia and beautiful ceremony but the challenge to a better self you encounter in the arms of Jesus. He praises the sacrificial giving of the widow in our lesson today and calls on all of us to consider how we respond to God's steadfast love. Ruth and Naomi dared greatly to find grace in Bethlehem. 

Somewhere out there-there is a stranger a priest who's contemplating the idea that a new setting to proclaim the word of God, a new parish to love and care for God's people is waiting for them. That person is trusting that God is with us and that someone somewhere is also prepared and waiting to welcome that person in. I wonder how our gratitude can love, prepare, and serve toward the future you share with that unnamed stranger. I wonder what you will say and what you can share about what you are grateful to God for in the life together here at Grace.

November 11, 2018

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