Boaz and Ruth: Gleaning God’s Bounty

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
September 21, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
Boaz and Ruth: Gleaning God’s Bounty
Excerpts from Ruth 1 & 2
In the days when the judges ruled in Judah, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem went to live in the country of Moab—he and his wife Naomi and their two sons. But Naomi’s husband died. Her sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both of Naomi’s sons also died, so that she was left without her sons or her husband. Naomi decided to return to Judah, for she had heard that the Lord had given the people food there, but she said to her daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mother’s house, and may the Lord deal kindly with you.” She kissed them, and they wept aloud. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her, saying, “Do not force me to leave you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” The two of them went on until they reached Bethlehem. It was the beginning of the barley harvest, and Ruth 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.” Naomi said to her, “Go, my daughter,” so she went. She gleaned in the field behind the reapers, and she came to the part of the field belonging to a man named Boaz. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He saw Ruth and asked his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 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, do not leave this field to go glean in another one, but keep close to my young women. 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 knelt down before him and said to him, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to me, even though I am not one of your servants.” And Ruth stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.

There is a small town in Wisconsin named Boaz. It’s in Richland County, so we used to drive almost past it every time we took Highway 14 from La Crosse to Madison. The population of Boaz in 2010 was 156. It covers about one-third of a square mile and, like any good, self-respecting Midwestern town, Boaz has a community park and a United Methodist Church. At the Lonesome Dove Bar & Grill, there’s free wi-fi, and you can get a beer on tap for $1.50. There’s also Karen’s Supper Club and a place called Bunny’s … and that’s about it.
Boaz was incorporated in 1939, and I must say that after reflecting on today’s scripture reading, I am inspired by the name the city parents chose. Boaz. Somebody on the Village Board must have known this Old Testament story and convinced the others it would send a nice message about their community: this was a place where “outsiders” could come and find a warm welcome, a hot meal, (a cold beer), and a little extra wiggle room when it came to generosity.
Because Boaz, in our scripture reading, was a rich man who made room in his field for a young widow named Ruth. Granted, there was a Jewish law—still is, in fact—that says the landowners must not harvest their crops all the way to the edges or all the way into the corners. They must not harvest the corners, and they must not go back over a harvested field a second time.
They were to leave the gleanings from the field for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner. And those less fortunate individuals knew about this Jewish law and would come at harvest time and glean the food that was left behind by the harvesters.
And here’s a bit of bible trivia for you. Have you ever wondered why Orthodox Jewish men wear their beards and their sideburns so long? It’s because Leviticus 19:27 says—in the same chapter of the moral code as the law about gleaning—“You shall not cut [harvest] the hair off the corner of your head [your temple] or trim [harvest] the corners of your beard [your sideburns].” This means that Jewish men were to wear on their very heads and faces a permanent reminder that their God has a heart for the poor, and they were to act in the same spirit.
From the sounds of this story in the book of Ruth, Boaz was not only meticulous about obeying this Jewish law, but he even bent it a bit further when he saw someone in exceptional need. That’s why he asked his servant who Ruth was, and then went to her and told her …
<<Bill Otto and Bev step out into the aisle from their pews. Bev kneels or assumes a posture of humility. Bill says to her, “Now listen, do not leave this field to go glean in another one, but keep close to my young women. 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.” Bev replies, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to me, even though I am not one of your servants.” Bill and Bev exit the Sanctuary through the main doors and go downstairs, coming up the back stairs behind the platform. They wait there.>>
The custom was for the gleaners to follow behind the harvesters, but Boaz told Ruth to glean right among them and to drink from the water the men had drawn for the workers. He even told his workers to intentionally leave some stalks of grain for Ruth to pick up. Boaz saw Ruth’s exceptional need and did what he could to alleviate it. And that, my friends, is what God asks of us.
We have with us today Bethany Howell of La Puente Home in Alamosa. Sixteen members of this congregation—youth and adults—are at La Puente right now, finishing up a weekend of mission work there. Bethany, will you take a minute and tell us just a little bit about La Puente and what it does?
<<Bethany shares the basics about La Puente. Pastor Diane resumes:>>
And there is a deep connection between what happens at La Puente and the concept of gleaning. What can you tell us about that?
<<Bethany’s comments include some of the following, which she wrote: “In the story of Ruth, we hear of a concept that is fairly foreign today (gleaning), but which was commonplace in Biblical times and is a daily part of our culture in Alamosa and at La Puente. … I am especially mindful of the topic of gleaning as we are in the midst of harvest season in the San Luis Valley. While we mostly harvest potatoes, barley, and carrots, the need for gleaning and for being careful stewards of our resources is no less prevalent today than it was millennia ago. Last year, we harvested over 40,000 pounds of potatoes which went directly to the Food Bank Network, the shelter, and to community members in need.”>>
Are there any real-life stories that come to mind?
<<At this point, Bev comes out from behind the wall behind the platform and says, “Yes, I’m a ‘real-life story’ who has benefited from La Puente’s ministry. I came to Alamosa to stay with my aunt when I fled a violent situation at home. But not long after, my aunt committed suicide, and I was devastated. I had nowhere to go, so I went to La Puente Home. I worked while I was there, because it’s not a free ride. We all have to pitch in! I helped prepare meals in the kitchen, and I discovered that I have a talent for cooking! So I applied for a food-service position with the local university, and I’ve been there ever since. I have even been promoted! So you see, the produce gleaned from local fields and the opportunity to cook and serve it at La Puente not only provided nourishment, but gave me a sense of identity and dignity that I had lost. I am similar in many ways to Ruth.” Bev takes a seat in a front pew.>>
Bethany, it’s really all about dignity, isn’t it?
<<Bethany’s comments include some of the following, which she wrote: “Yes, it reminds me of La Puente’s mission which is: ‘To empower people to live independently, with dignity.’ Boaz’s reminder to his men [not to rebuke Ruth] is a direct reflection of his desire to keep her dignity intact—a dignity which is hard to maintain when faced with such dire circumstances as starvation.”>>
And this speaks to our need—indeed, God’s command—to care for those on the fringes of society. What kinds of situations cause people to find themselves “on the fringe”?
<<Bethany’s comments include some of the following, which she wrote: “Many of La Puente’s clients do struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, or are immersed in a cycle of poverty which has spanned generations. But many more are simply dealing with their circumstances the only way they know how. …The fact is that a high percentage of the U.S. population is underemployed and just one paycheck away from homelessness.”>>
<<At this point, Bill comes out from behind the wall behind the platform and says, “Yes, that’s me! That was my situation exactly! I lost my job in Denver and had to move my wife and two daughters out of our home there. We heard about La Puente Home and thought I might be able to find work in Alamosa. I’m big, burly and strong. I can work hard. And I’m willing to work hard. I moved my family to La Puente and found a job in the area, and it didn’t take long before I was able to move my family out of the shelter and into more permanent housing. La Puente was there when we needed help to lift ourselves out of the hopelessness of poverty.” Bill returns to his pew.>>
Wow, Bethany, we’ve heard some compelling stories here today—true stories, taken from real-life situations in our own state. This is really hands-on work! Do you ever have the opportunity to work face-to-face with some of the people your agency is helping?
<<Bethany comments:>> “Yes, I do. I remember a young lady that I met while helping in the Alamosa Food Bank. I don’t know her name, but she came in with a baby and a smile. …”>>
<<Bev pops up from the first pew, approaches Bethany, and says, smiling broadly, “Yes! That was me! And you were so kind to me! I remember that as you checked my food points, we talked about babies. You said you have two young children yourself, and you understand the difficulties of being a mom. That meant so much to me. You made me feel like a person—not just a need or a ‘case.’ You even carried my baby for me as I loaded my groceries into my car, and you waved goodbye as I drove away. I will never forget that day—the day I decided that someday I want to be on the giving side of the coin.”>>
<<Bethany’s response is something like this:>> “You were so infallibly cheerful the entire time; you really made me think. I was acutely aware that I had never had to take one of my children into a food bank in order to make it through the week and probably would’ve been incredibly embarrassed, but your sweet spirit through your adversity was a brightener in my own day.” Bev smiles and makes any gesture of gratitude that feels appropriate and returns to her pew.>>
And as we give, we receive. That’s the lesson in all of this, isn’t it? Because it is in obedience to God’s command—it is in God’s loving spirit—it is as an extension of who God is—God’s very heart and passion—that we share with others. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a mission to which we can give and feel confident that our money will be used carefully and with integrity. In La Puente, we have just such a mission. And I pray that this congregation will continue to send offerings and teams of volunteers to your ministry. Bethany, is there anything else you would like to say?
<<Bethany adds some closing comments.>>
Amen!

So That God May Be Glorified

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
September 14, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
So That God May Be Glorified
Romans 12:6-8
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. … And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.
Ephesians 4:11
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.
1 Peter 4:11
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
If we had a slogan for Rally Sunday today, it might be something like, “Rally Sunday – It’s not just about Sunday School anymore.” In most churches, Rally Sunday is, or at least used to be, just about Sunday School starting up after a long summer hiatus. But we run Sunday School all year long here, and we had a vibrant program all summer, so “it’s not just about Sunday School any more.”
But slogans are supposed to be positive, not negative, right? So maybe for us, a better slogan would be, “Rally Sunday – Dude! What are you doing for God in the next nine months?” Maybe for us, Rally Sunday is more about renewing than resuming—renewing our commitment to walk alongside God in the work God wants to do through this church. Maybe it’s more about taking new steps of faith and serving in new ways—ways we maybe hadn’t considered before. Maybe it’s about realizing that if this little church is going to thrive, we’re all going to have to pitch in, “so that,” as Peter wrote, “God may be glorified.”
We all have to pitch in, because a church is a unique organism. It’s made up of people—flawed people—but still, the church is the organism through which God chooses to express God’s self in the world. The church is a flawed, crippled, diseased thing—you know it’s true!—but still, God chooses to dwell in it. The church is the child that Jesus was birthed into the earth to give birth to. (Think about that…) And the fact that the Holy Spirit still dwells in the church—well, I’d say that’s pretty good proof that God still believes in it.
But nearly all of the statistics and studies since the 1970s say the church as an institution is dying. In most sectors of the U.S., church membership is down, attendance is down, and churches are closing their doors … forever. And maybe the church “as an institution” should die. Maybe the church God still believes in isn’t an institution but a group of people who love each other and are determined to stay together, come hell or high water, come fire or flood, because it is through those people that they have come to know God.
When is the church an institution? I think when it becomes more about ritual than about relationship, that’s when the church gets in trouble. “We’ve always done it this way” is empty rationale for being a place so culturally irrelevant that it shuts out 90 percent of the people it says it wants to reach. And there is a strange new breed of people who, on average, check their email or their Facebook page on their phone every seven minutes! Have you heard of the Apple watch that’s going to be released soon? You’ll wear it on your wrist so you never have to be without an internet connection. The next thing, says my daughter jokingly—and this week’s Time magazine quite seriously—is a microchip embedded in your body so you are constantly connected. Connected. It’s a different kind of connection, but it’s the way the world is headed. It’s a different way of relating, but it is relating, and that is what that strange new breed of people craves. Relationship. Connection. And that is what the church must be about. Or it will die—just like the Sunday newspaper and the yellow pages and “regular” gasoline and “dialing” a telephone. Relics of the past. Empty buildings standing as sad monuments to an institution that simply didn’t see it coming until it was gone. Long gone.
Will that be the way of Black Forest Community Church? Not if you can help it—and you can help it. By getting involved. By staying involved. By discovering your spiritual gifts and using them to keep this church alive. By nudging it forward, into the future, helping it adapt when it seems to be getting stuck. By serving on a board or a committee so you have a voice in the matters that matter to you.
Our scriptures today give a lot of examples of spiritual gifts, and our boards and committees use those gifts in very real and tangible ways. They do the work of God, building this church, keeping it vibrant. A leader of each committee has agreed to come forward when called, to give a shameless plug and try to convince you that theirs is the most exciting way to use your spiritual gifts for God.
• There is one group that uses the gift of assistance, does some healing, and even works a miracle every now and then by making sure everything regarding worship is just right. They prepare Communion, tend to the altar equipment, and take care of details such as palm branches, Easter lilies and poinsettias. They are … the Diaconate Committee!
<<<Diaconate representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• There’s a group that has a corner on the gifts of knowledge and teaching. They oversee the Sunday School program, the youth group, the nursery, vacation Bible school, and the adult education program, and they even have some clout with First Steps Preschool. Let’s give a big hand to …the Christian Education Committee!
<<<CE representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• The next group has the gift of exhortation: they’re always encouraging us to think beyond our own needs and desires. And because they bring an awareness of other peoples in other lands, they could also be said to have the gifts of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Give it up for … the Missions Committee!
<<<Missions representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• I have to tell a story in my introduction of the next group. Last week, I was reading through some resources I was considering using in the Confirmation curriculum this year. In one booklet, the author was commending a young woman who had been offered a high-paying job but turned it down because she had decided to “be faithful to God and pursue ministry work.” He wrote the story as if it was either/or! As if, if she accepted the high-paying job, there was no way she could be faithful to God! But I’m sure this next group—blessed with the spiritual gifts of wisdom and generous giving—would agree with me that accepting that high-paying job and then giving generously to your church is as much “ministry work” as anything else! We need those high-paid generous givers, don’t we, Becky? This next group is entrusted with the finances, the assets and the staff of the church. Let’s welcome … the Trustees Committee!
<<<Trustees representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• Everything I said about the church needing to adapt to the culture to remain relevant—well, it would take a good dose of prophecy and discernment to make that happen, and our next group is loaded with both. They get to plan the fun events that so effectively build the church as a community and not as an institution. They take on the marketing and social media aspects too. Give ’em a hand … the Church Development Committee!
<<<Church Development representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• This next group’s job can get pretty tough—and indeed I have heard that it has in past years. Blessed with the gift of cheerful compassion, this group is expert at smoothing out the wrinkles between the pastor and … well … everybody else in the church. Bring ’em on … they’re the Pastoral Relations Committee!
<<<Pastoral Relations representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• And no one, but no one, has the gift of exceptional faith—and exceptional arm-twisting—like this little group that functions only once a year. Let’s bow in reverence to … the Nominating Committee!
<<<Nominating Committee representative comes forward and speaks.>>>
• This next group exemplifies the gift of diligent leadership like no other. They are our church officers, and to our Moderator, Vice Moderator, Treasurer, Financial Secretary and Clerk, there is nothing more appropriate to say to them than “Thank you!” And now … our Moderator!
<<<Moderator comes forward and speaks.>>>
I close with the words of Peter, from one of today’s scripture readings. Again, “Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To God belong the glory and the power forever and ever.”
And so, let us speak and let us serve, so that God may indeed be glorified through Black Forest Community Church! Amen!

Profit & Loss

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
August 31, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
Profit & Loss
Matthew 16:21-27
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.”
Wow. This day really took the wind out of my sails. My wife had called me names before—names I shall not repeat in present company—but to have Jesus talk to me that way, it shook me to the core! Jesus called me Satan! Me—Peter—one of his most beloved disciples! Me, the one who had walked on water with him. Me, the one who had declared, just a few days before, that he was the Messiah, the son of the living God. Me, the one Jesus said his Father in heaven had revealed that to. Me, the one he said he was going to give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to, so the gates of hell would not be able to break in.
The keys of the kingdom! And now Jesus was calling me Satan! Because I couldn’t handle it when he told us he was going to die, and I said, “No, Lord, this can’t happen! Say it’s not true!”
And he turned on me, more vehemently than I have ever seen him turn on anyone, even the Pharisees who come to test him, and he called me Satan! Well, that shut me up right away. Maybe that was his goal. I do have a habit of putting my foot in my mouth—just ask my wife, as I said. But Satan!
He said I was setting my mind not on the things of God but on the things of man. But calling me Satan! Ouch!
“Things of man”—I guess I can give him that. He hadn’t really talked about this very much before—where this whole thing was going—what his place was in the grand scheme of things. The boys and I had sat up late quite a few nights and talked about how wonderful it would be if this man—our master, our lord, this man we had come to love so much—could really save our people from being a marginalized class—from being the outsiders in our world. This man who could heal the sick and captivate the multitudes with his wisdom and stop the religious hypocrites in their tracks with his words—if he had really come to deliver our people from the bondage and oppression of the Romans, then he really was the Messiah we had been waiting for! He could make life so peaceful for his people! He could save us!
I really didn’t know what had come over him today, when he started talking about being handed over to the authorities and killed! So I took him aside and tried to console him. “Hey, man. Get a grip,” I said. “We’re here for you. We’ve got your back. You don’t have to be talking like all that. I know it’s tough sometimes. I know you feel like giving up. But hang in there, man. We’ve got a long, successful future together—just you and me and the boys and everyone else who wants to come along. We’ve got good days ahead—good days! God’s going to bless us beyond our wildest dreams—I just know it! I feel it! It’s just around the corner! Prosperity! Success! Big houses! No more of this nomadic lifestyle. God’s gonna give us a big temple of our own! Right in the heart of Jerusalem! We won’t have to go around relying on the hospitality of others anymore! We’ll be able to take care of ourselves! But it all depends on you, man. You’ve got to hang in there. Tough it out! Don’t be talking like that! Don’t give up now! It’s just around the corner, man!”
And he turned on me like nothing I’ve ever seen before! I’m still soaking it all in.
He said, “No! Satan! Don’t tempt me! That’s not the way it’s going to be! Don’t you understand yet what it means to follow me? It doesn’t mean you are going to bask in God’s blessings! No, in fact, if you want to follow me—to truly follow me—you’re going to have to give up that whole ‘blessed for success’ way of thinking. Peter, Peter—all of you, listen! If you want to follow me, you have to put yourself last. Last! Not first! Your life,” he said, “will be lost if you get caught up in things of this world. But if you give all that up for my sake—for everything I’ve preached and taught and done, for my message of God’s love available to all, even the scorned and the outcast, the ones they call sinners—then you’ll find the real meaning of life. Then you’ll touch something eternal—the things of God—heavenly things—the divine nature—and you’ll get your life back!”
Then he said, softly, tenderly, “What good would it be, after all, if God blessed you the way you’re thinking of—and gave you all of the material things you long for—but your life was no deeper than that? If you traded it in for that, and that was all you had, all you were? How empty would that be? And if you ever changed your mind, if you ever wanted to trade it back, what would you have left to bargain with? A bunch of worldly, perishable junk! Because you gave away the most valuable thing you had—your very soul, your very self—for that shallow, short-sighted sense of what it means to be blessed.”
Then he stopped. For the longest time, he was silent. By now, I was sobbing, because I got his point. I saw what he meant. How foolish I had been to think God’s plan for us was laid out in some kind of earthly profit and loss statement—and because we had selected the right CEO, we were poised for big profits. It’s not about this world at all! God makes us no promise that we will sit in seats of honor in this life; in fact, for most of us, the opposite will be true. But the currency of God’s exchange—right here on earth—is the soul, the spirit—and there is nothing more precious than that! I got it! Jesus was telling me that the most valuable thing, the greatest asset, in all the universe is a person, a soul, a life! Every person, every soul, every life. You—and you—and you! And as I realized this, I wept bitter tears of remorse, tears of repentance for thinking of God’s realm in such short-sighted and selfish ways. I wept, and he came and put a hand on my shoulder. I wept, and he wrapped his arms around me, and I could tell that he was convinced he was holding the most precious thing God ever created. And I wept some more.
Jesus said softly to me then, “Don’t worry. Be at peace. What I have said to you is true, but all is not lost. I must go away for a while, but I will return to you with my angels in God’s glory, and when I come, I will set all things right.”
He’s going away—and coming back? ? Then that advice I had offered him—those things I had said to him about him hanging in there, about everything depending on him—was advice for me! I needed to hang in there! I needed to be faithful, to do God’s work, to build God’s church, to support it with my hands, my heart, my prayers, and my finances. If the most valuable thing in the universe is a soul, then what an incredible honor and privilege it is to be a part of a church family and be entrusted with caring for each other!
“What will it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? Well, I’m rethinking the meaning of profit and loss, but I can tell you one thing! If there’s a balance sheet in heaven, I want to do everything in my power, right here in this life, to make that asset column be as long as it can possibly be!
Amen!