Our Ruth trilogy comes to an end this week as we look at the last two chapters of this fantastic and, as it turns out, fantastically relevant story. I feel like there is still so much to be said about the book of Ruth. Which, I suppose, is part of what makes it so great — you can’t possibly find all this story can teach us in three weeks.
In part 3 here, I reference a terrific one-off graphic novel called, Nightwing: The New Order which has this to say about present day USA fictional Gotham 30ish years from now (emphasis mine):
We grow up getting glimpses of who our parents were before we knew them. We look at photographs, we watch videos, we listen to stories. We try to learn about them so we can learn more about ourselves. In 2028 my dad saved the world, but…it was complicated.
Eventually I learned how even good people can come to believe in really terrible things.
I think the book of Ruth tries to answer the same question from the post-exilic era. Ezra and Nehemiah came to believe really terrible things about Moabites. The book of Ruth serves as a polemic against the violent, hateful, exclusionary policies of Ezra and Nehemiah.
In the spirit of Ruth (The Good Moabite) — and contra the Trump administration — let’s tell a different story this week. Let’s tell a better story than one that calls for separating families and sending women and children out into the wilderness to die. A story that echoes the saving work of God, one that echoes Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, one that echoes Jesus — tell a story that demands all people be treated as neighbors.
We know this. Almost instinctively, we know this. Genre helps determine what we expect from a story and how we understand that story. We read and react much differently to, say, an issue of National Geographic than we do to an issue of a superhero comic.
Sometimes it only takes a few words for us to instantly know with what type of story we are dealing:
“Dateline Chicago, August 31, 2018”
“Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away”
“Once upon a time…”
We have vastly different expectations for news stories and fairy tales. Yet, many different kinds of stories — that is, many different genres — can interest us, excite us, teach us, or inspire us.
The bible is no different. Biblical stories contain a multitude of genres. Sometimes we forget that. Or worse, sometimes some of us feel we aren’t even allowed to admit that. But it remains true.
In Part 1 of this sermon series on Ruth, I tried to look at the macro view. Here in Part 2, I focus in close, suggesting that the type of story Chapter 2 most resembles is a Romantic Comedy. That sounds a bit ridiculous, I know. But give it a listen and see what you think. My intended point: Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi show us love, kindness, and generosity are how we embody God’s way in the world.
Money quote from Katharine Doob Sakenfeld again: “The story illustrates how loyal action, kindness, and good will produce a surplus that can both break down dividing walls of hostility and open new horizons to shattered lives.”
Some day I will post something other than a sermon here. Really I will. I have a whole host of drafts and otherwise unfinished ideas. You’ll see them…as soon as I access my inner Rocky Supinger.
This past Sunday we kicked off a new sermon series on the book of Ruth — by necessity, much shorter than the previous Acts of the Apostles series as Ruth consists of a mere four chapters. I have three weeks to play with, so we’ll read almost the whole book during this series.
I haven’t often listed sources consulted as I prepare sermons. They are usually just nuggets I read, see, or hear throughout the week from books, blogs, videos, radio, TV, and podcasts. But this week I relied more heavily on two books:
Boy, that title, right? Whatever you may think of Bell, there is no denying he has a high view of what scripture can do.
My intended thesis: “Optimism is rebellion.” Ruth is a rebel. We need to be rebels too.
Oh, as I say in the sermon, that brilliant, beautiful “Optimism is rebellion” line comes from Laurence Holmes’ excellent podcast, “The House of L.”
Moab plays quite the significant role in this story, so I used this map to help visualize where the story’s action (or, you know, lack thereof) takes place:
The sermon is a little long for our standards — but still shorter than many of the “teaching’ models I see employed by churches in our area. So I won’t apologize for that. I spent a decent amount of time trying to set the macro view. It is up to you, dear listener, to decide if I succeed in that effort. What do you think?
“There is plenty in our city, in our country, in our world to be pessimistic about. But rebellions are built on hope. No matter what horrible thing our president does or says next, we can be rebels of hope and optimism by standing along side those on the margins of society. The vulnerable ones among us. We need to be this kind of rebel.”
Getting into good trouble by welcoming outsiders is the only faithful response to exclusion. That’s my argument in this sermon, continuing the theme of the previous sermon by using John Lewis’ beautiful phrase.
Writing about my Acts 17 sermon, which took place the week before this one, I admitted I wasn’t as bold as I should have been confronting the evils of our country’s current policy of separating families of immigrants and refugees, lying to those families about when they will be able to see each other, and putting the children in cages. I also vowed to do better.
Did I succeed in that goal? Ultimately, that is up to you, dear reader/listener, to discern. I think I so. In fact, I think this is pretty strong. One of my better sermons. But, as they say, your mileage may vary.
What do you think?
Chapter 18 features Paul doing a ton of traveling. So yet another map helps me visualize where all he different places the action takes us: Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia.
Three other visual aids made their way into this sermon:
The “Kind is cool” bracelet that could not carry the weight of our current presidential administration’s meanness.
Turns out this got thrown away so I can’t show you a picture of it. You’ll just have to imagine it as I toss it away into the first pew during that part of the sermon.
Here’s the sermon
Oh, did you catch the subtle reference to an ’80s cult movie classic? (It is, I admit, quite the reach.)
In June, 2008, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Representative John Lewis speak at a Sojourners conference in D.C. He is, it should go without saying, a real-life hero. A national treasure. An inspiration.
Except, I’m ashamed to admit, at the time I didn’t really know just how special he was, and thus I did not know just how special was the opportunity to hear him in person.
I was 36 years old at the time of that conference. I’ve lived my whole life in the United States. I was educated in good schools, both public and private, from elementary school through graduate school at seminary. I’ve been active in church my whole life. And yet, somehow, in the summer of 2008 I did not know who John Lewis was or why he is so important to the story of our country.
I have of course rectified that now. But, damn, it’s embarrassing it took me so long. Lewis recently published the story of his life in a three-part graphic novel called March. It is phenomenal. You should go read it now. Seriously. Right now. The sermon at the end of this post will still be right here waiting for you.
This time we’ve skipped ahead to Acts chapter 17 where we find those early followers of Jesus getting into good trouble. My thesis here is that we contemporary followers of Jesus need to get into some good trouble by speaking out about injustice — especially the horrifying injustice of the current president and his administration separating families seeking refuge in our country. I also spend some time refuting the “don’t be political” canard. Faith in the God of Moses, Esther, and Jesus (just to name a few) is inherently political.
Still, after the fact I was confronted with the reality that I wasn’t nearly as bold in this sermon as I intended to be. So I sought to correct that in the follow up sermon…check back here soon for that.
According to (what we’ve designated as) the 13th chapter of Acts of the Apostles, the leaders of the Way were diverse from the very beginning. Apparently, I hadn’t previously read this part of Acts closely enough, because that revelation kind of shocked me.
Those leaders weren’t afraid to boldly confront evil, which can be inspiring. But there was also plenty of interpersonal drama, which can also be inspiring…though that sounds a bit strange, I admit. People gonna people, no matter the year or culture. Clearly the early church, which we moderns too often romanticize or idolize, had plenty of problems — just like we do today. That’s been one of the lessons of this sermon series on Acts: most of the problems the church faces today are not new. They’ve been with us since the beginning, in one form or another.
Once again, I find Steve Thomason’s depiction of this section of Acts very compelling:
I am not a geography genius. Throughout this sermon series, I’ve shared a number of maps in order to help me have a sense of where the action described takes place. I know it enriches my visualization of the story. Perhaps it does for you too. Here’s the one I used in this sermon:
Now that I have my sermons in a more easily-uploadable format (Thanks, Reid!), I figured they would become regular content here.
[checks date on most recent post]
Oops. Clearly, it is sermon time again.
We’re in the midst of a series on Acts of the Apostles. We’re basically looking at one chapter per week. Below are my thoughts on Acts 12. Again, I don’t print my sermons here because I think they are auditory events and as such need to be heard if they are to be fully experienced after the fact. Also, I generally don’t have a full manuscript to post. So there’s that.
My thesis for Acts chapter 12 is that this story reminds us that the Kin-dom of God is a place where all, even and especially “Outsiders” belong. That needs to be true of the church too, if it is to be faithful to the Way of Jesus.
At least that is what I was trying to say. Let me know what you hear.
This Sunday, March 1, through Easter at Woodridge UMC, Pastor Danita and I are preaching a sermon series, The Parables of Lent (aka #ParablesofLent when you tweet, post, & pic about it each week 😉 ). We decided we needed a group effort of some kind in order to help us navigate these tricky stories Jesus loved to tell. But we thought Parable Support Group was a little too depressing. So instead…Welcome to Parable Club!
Before we get this series started, there are a few rules that must be followed here at Parable Club.
The first rule of Parable Club is, You do not talk about parables as if they are Aesop fables. “Fables are short stories which illustrate a particular moral and teach a lesson to children.”
The second rule of Parable Club is, You. Do. Not. Talk. About. Parables. As. If. They. Are. Aesop Fables.
The third rule of Parable Club is, Be ready to laugh. There is almost certainly a joke in there somewhere.
The fourth rule of Parable Club is, to paraphrase Fred Clark, The story is the point. “The meaning of the parable isn’t some lesser, shorter thing to be distilled; the meaning was greater, vaster, too unruly and immense to be contained otherwise.” [read more]
The fifth rule of Parable Club is, Be ready to laugh at yourself. The joke is almost certainly on you (and me).
The sixth rule Parable Club is, to paraphrase Amy-Jill Levine, Let your eyes be opened. “Parables tease us into recognizing what we’ve already always known, and they do so by reframing our vision. The point is less that they reveal something new than that they tap into our memories, our values, and our deepest longings, and so they resurrect what is very old, and very wise, and very precious. And often, very unsettling.” [read more]
The seventh rule of Parable Club is, The story is not an allegory. It’s entirely possible not even one of the parable’s characters is a stand-in for God.
The eighth rule of Parable Club is, The story almost certainly has to do with the kin-dom of God on earth. If I tell you the parable is about your disembodied soul escaping this plane of existence in order to reside in some ethereal, Other, non-place, I’m almost certainly doing it wrong. I should probably sound more like this guy:
The ninth (What? You didn’t think this was a completely direct parallel, did you?) rule of Parable Club is, We almost certainly won’t hear the same thing. And not only is that ok, it is as it should be. Parables are notoriously sneaky, slippery, confounding, challenging, funny, transformative, and irreducible. To think that multiple human beings will react to them in the exact same way is either sure folly or extremely arrogant. Or both. We will do our best to be neither of those.
The tenth and final rule of Parable Club is, Whether this is your first time at Parable Club or your 490th, you must ask questions. Parables invite us into in interactive relationship with the storyteller. Parables want us – need us – to be engaged. So think, wonder, listen, dream, imagine, and ask away.
The huge snowstorm that hit last weekend (5th largest in area history!) may have impeded travel, may have been fun to play in, and may have even kept you from attending our worship services. But as bad as the weather was, it could do nothing to dampen the spirit – or dare I say Spirit – in this place. We sang, we prayed, we laughed, we gave – a typical time at the best place to be on a Sunday morning…only likely with more gratitude than usual for a warm, safe refuge from the snow. But not everything was business as usual. Pastor Danita began the sermon time thusly:
This time of sermon engagement has been misunderstood as a time when you get to sit back in the comfortable pews and hear something from that antiquated book, telling you how you should live your life, while all the time you are thinking, ‘What time does the game start?’ or ‘When is lunch?’ Too often some have walked away from the sermon time wanting to express opinions, ask questions, or simply be in dialogue about what was said. Pastor Dave and I agree opportunities for conversation need to happen, so we’re not going to stand for you walking away in silence anymore! The sermon is a time for us to reflect and act together for change, to hear in our different voices and to do collectively what we cannot do alone. Not one time did Jesus say to the disciples, ‘sit back and relax, let me tell you a bedtime story that will lull you into a worthless and non-productive existence.’ Starting today you get to participate!
For you see, last Sunday Pastor Danita and I began our month-long sermon series of conversations on race.
We know talking about race makes us uncomfortable. We know talking about race makes us afraid. We also know that talking about race – real, true, open dialogue – is the way we can begin to break through that fear; the only way we can begin to become comfortable; the only way we can be transformed so that we might participate in the transformation of the world. Finally, we know that such conversations don’t just happen. They almost always need to be curated. To that end, Pastor Danita also shared this on Sunday:
First we want to recognize and acknowledge that we consider this to be a safe space. We will not allow judgmental comments that negate another person’s sense of worth. We will listen to one another and share respectfully. No one gets to raise their voice (except Pastor Dave and I but that’s only in an emergency). We are here to live together, to work together, to pray together, to learn together, and to grow together. We want to be more than just a museum for our denomination. We want to make a difference in the world, starting here and now.
I’m telling you all this because I want you to be proud that your church family is having this much-needed conversation. I’m telling you this so you will be prepared for the next chapter of this conversation happening this Sunday, February 8th. I’m telling you this so you can and will participate in this ongoing conversation. We need you to be part of the dialogue. Again, from last Sunday’s sermon time:
If we don’t learn that it was people just like us – our mothers, our uncles, our classmates, our clergy – who made and sustained the modern Civil Rights Movement, then we won’t know we can do it again. And then the other side wins – even before we ever begin the fight. I invite you to take a listen and then…we’ll talk!
Last week we used the movie “Selma” as our cultural touchpoint and asked what you saw and heard in the movie, how it made you feel, where and when do you see racism and hatred today, and how do we respond to hate.
This Sunday we’re talking about language, about the power of words to hurt and to heal. In the coming weeks we’ll look at the notion of a colorblind society and privilege. Plus, as a way to make tangible the idea that Black history is American history, each week this month, Vann and Barb Harris will display a portion of their vast, fascinating, and often unique Black History collection. But theirs is no look-but-don’t-touch, just-move-along museum collection! Check out their display, hold the items, and ask questions.
There are of course numerous resources to help us engage in these vital conversations. The following are a few that are informing what we present. We invite you to read, watch, consider, question, dream, and prepare.
Again, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ long form Atlantic article that is especially important for understanding the history of racism, especially regarding housing. Perhaps surprisingly, Chicago is center stage in that history.
As you read and watch and consider, what do you feel? What questions arise? What engages you or surprises you?
Each week during the sermon time, we’ll continue to ask questions, offer thoughts, and curate conversation in a safe place. So don’t be shy! We want – we need – to hear your voice too as we strive to grow in our love of God by growing in our love for all our neighbors.