Bread – Sync Up

March 30, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, March 30, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 25:30-38; Rom. 10:14-21; John 10:1-18; Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

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I just realized something. Easter is April 24 and the readings above are, according to the Book of Common Prayer, one week before Holy Week, which of course ends in Easter. This means that I have “lost” two weeks of readings some place. This means that Bread (and me) is (are) out of “sync” with the church calendar. What a mess.

Which of course raises a question – how many people share this boat with me today? My hunch is a lot. It seems like we are always out of “sync.” Sometimes we wake up in the morning late and so we are already behind our schedule. We intend to have lunch with someone starting at 12:00 and we get there at 12:15. We intend to pray but run out of time. Our morning routine is broken up by a toddler needing attention or cleaning up after the dog. We can’t seem to get anything done at work because we keep getting interrupted by phone calls, text messages, a drop-by co-worker, a drop-by boss, a meeting which didn’t quite make it to the calendar, a meeting scheduled for us which no one told us about (pick one). We are out of sync more often than not. We feel it, it weighs on us, it drives us nuts, and it keeps us busy. In fact, maybe so busy that we don’t have time for what is important.

Maybe you have noticed that every Wednesday reading contains a part of Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is a giant reminder of the power of God’s law, His commandments, to help us regulate our lives, to help us to stay in “sync” with what matters. “I rejoice in Your promise like one who finds great spoil … Great peace have they who love Your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Ps. 119:162, 165

The tendency over the years has been to ignore Old Testament law because of our Christian freedom. When law is considered, it is usually analogized to a “schoolhouse” to give us a standard by which we may understand that we are sinful creatures in need of a Savior. It is often said that the New Testament purpose of the law is to bring us to the point of repentance for our sins so that we might have a heart prepared for new birth in Jesus Christ.

All of the above is true, but there may be another purpose of the law as well. Jesus said “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Lk. 11:13 How much of the wisdom imparted by the Holy Spirit is locked up in the law? My hunch is a huge amount.

So, when we become out of sync today, maybe instead of throwing up a quick prayer to heaven or asking the Holy Spirit to give us guidance, we could begin by referencing God’s wisdom for our lives, His law. That is Christian freedom smartly applied. That is getting in sync with the person in charge; that is syncing “up.” “Great peace have they who love Your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”

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Bread – Figs

March 28, 2011


Readings for Monday, March 28, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 24:1-10; Rom. 9:19-33; John 9:1-17; Psalms 31, 35

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My wife loves figs. I do not understand why, but she does.

The setting for Jeremiah today is the defeat of the portion of Israel in Judah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He is in the process of hauling off the son of the king and craftsmen into captivity into Babylon, leaving the rest behind in Jerusalem.

What must it have felt like to be in the group which was being enslaved into service in Babylon? Abandonment? Hopelessness? Maybe within some, a sense of adventure? Weeping? Loss from separation from loved ones? Horror at seeing your house destroyed in war? Fear? Envy of those being left behind?

And what must it have felt like to be in the group left behind in Jerusalem? Relief at not being killed or imprisoned? Worry about your friends or family who were taken? Thankfulness that God had seen fit to keep you from trials and tribulations? Hope for the future? Joy at the war being over?

Well, as usual what man sees in his situation is not what God sees. What man sees as cursing and loss, such as poverty and imprisonment, God may intend and see as blessing. What man may see as blessing, such as wealth and opportunity, God may intend and see as cursing.

So we learn today from figs: “’What do you see, Jeremiah?’ ‘Figs,’ I answered. The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad that they cannot be eaten.’ Then the word of the Lord came to me:…’Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from the place to the land of the Babylonians…But like the poor figs, …so I will deal with … the survivors from Jerusalem….’” Jer. 24:3-8

The ones taken away into captivity were led to that result by God and He will bless them in their place of captivity. The ones left behind will suffer God’s wrath.

Now the tables are turned. What circumstances man sees as cursing, God uses for blessing. What circumstances man sees as blessing may be the very place where God’s wrath is demonstrated.

Our other two readings today emphasize this point. Paul reminds us to be satisfied in our circumstances, no matter how poor they may seem to us. “Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” Rom. 9:20b-21. Jesus reminds us in His healing of the blind man born blind from birth that God may intend in our circumstances to show forth His glory – “’Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:3

The people being led off in captivity to Babylon had no choice in their circumstances but one – their belief in a God who intended them good. They could not look back to see which group of figs they belonged to. They had to have perseverance in their faith.

So in our situation today, as bad as it may seem, remember the figs, who the potter is, and what Jesus Christ did for us while we were still blind. And be glad.

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Bread – Not One

March 25, 2011


Readings for Friday, March 25, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 5:1-9; Rom. 2:25-3:18; John 5:30-47; Psalms 69, 73, 95

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In Jeremiah today we read: “[God speaking to Jeremiah] If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city [speaking of Jerusalem].” Jer. 5:1b

In Romans today we read: “[quoting Ps. 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20] There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Rom. 3:10-12.

In John today we read: “You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one He sent…But do not think I [Jesus] will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.” John 5:37b-38, 45.

It is really, really, really hard for us to think the way the readings cause us to think today. “Not one is good enough to justify God’s forgiveness.” That is the net effect of what we read today. Not one.

But what about me? I have done good today. I have spoken kindly. I have given to the poor. I have spent time in studying God’s Word. I have prayed. No, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

Well, OK, maybe not me. But what about Joe over there? He gives more than others, he lives a pure life, has a good family, takes care of his employees, faithfully watches over and stewards what God has given him, builds hospitals, works in the food pantry? What about him? No, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

Well, OK, but what about Mother Teresa and the other saints of the church? No, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

If studying doesn’t do it, and good works don’t do it, and giving to the poor doesn’t do it, and prayer doesn’t do it, then what can I do today to become the kind of person who God was looking for in Jeremiah? And here is the really, really, hard part for us to deal with – the answer is nothing.

Elsewhere in John, often lost in the shuffle, may be one of the most important passages in the entire Bible. It is this exchange between the disciples and Jesus – “Then they [the disciples] asked Him [Jesus], ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.’” John 6:28-29

The disciples ask what they must do to earn eternal life and Jesus answers with this “The work of God is this…” There are no works of man; there is nothing you can do. However, God has done the work – He has provided the Savior and He has provided us the strength, the grace, and the means to believe in the One whom He has sent – Jesus.

Like so many things about God, this truth can be almost impossible to understand from our point of view. It is when I give myself up, it is when I trust no longer in my own works, it is when I recognize that I fall in the category of “not one,” it is when I stop reaching and grabbing – it is then and only then that I am in position to receive the gift of salvation. It is only when I set aside my claim to be God that I have the freedom to be with God and to be saved by God.

There is a great quote that I am fond of thinking about when I am all puffed up in my pride: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”*

To which God responds in our Scripture today – Really?

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*Quotation is from William Ernest Henley

Bread – Honesty

March 23, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, March 23, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 3:6-18; Rom. 1:28-2:11; John 5:1-18; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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In our reading from the prophet Jeremiah today, we find the Jews politically broken up into the northern part, Israel, and the southern part, Judah. Both parts have ignored the law and love of God. Jeremiah says of Israel, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done?” Jer. 3:6 And of Judah he says “Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery [with the world and with idols].” Jer. 3:8b Then Jeremiah reports the words of God saying something very interesting – “The Lord said to me, ‘Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.’” Jer. 3:11

We tend to equate equal behaviors to equal results. Both Israel and Judah were doing the same thing. They were worshiping idols, they were ignoring God’s law, they were misbehaving. Yet God evaluates them and says that Israel is more righteous than Judah. Why?

I think the answer to this lays partly and perhaps wholly in the adjectives He uses to describe the countries. Israel is “faithless” and Judah is “unfaithful.” In the NASB and ESV, the adjective for Judah is translated “treacherous” as opposed to “unfaithful.”

The Hebrew word for “faithless” stands for backsliding or apostasy – in other words, they had the faith but have obviously and deliberately left it. The Hebrew word for “unfaithful” or “treacherous” stands for actions which are done in secret, fraudulently, to act in a way which we might describe as “cloak and dagger.”

It strikes me that what God is saying here is that it is better to totally screw it up and be honest about it before people and God than to pretend that you are a follower of Him and then secretly and covertly do different. To perhaps use different, but similar, concepts, it is better to be wrong and honest than it is to be “right” and a hypocrite. In God’s eyes, the people who had faith but who have honestly and openly abandoned it are more in tune with Him than are the people who profess faith but their actions display a different heart and truth.

In fact, God’s pleasure in our openness and honesty with Him and others is a prevalent theme in all of our readings today. In Romans, Paul points out that we are no better than the ones we criticize – “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Rom. 2:1 Implied in this is a condemnation for those who would act righteous by comparing themselves to others while treacherously doing the same things, while a commendation for those who are honest enough with themselves to recognize that they are in the same boat but for the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

In our reading from John, God’s pleasure with honesty is more subtle, but it is there. In John 5, we read about Jesus’ healing of the invalid. What is interesting in this report is the style in which it was written – we get the distinct impression that the invalid was a simple person who simply believed and was simply honest. Jesus asks the man if he wants to get well. Rather than engage in a theological debate (which we would expect from the Pharisees), the man simply and honestly ignores the question and replies that there is no one to help him get in the pool at the right time; in other words, he is trying to get well by the route he knows, but needs help. Jesus then tells him to stand up and take his mat. He instantly obeys and immediately leaves (one has the impression with great joy). On his way he meets some Jews who say he should not work on the Sabbath (carrying his mat is working), and he says simply “He told me to do it.” When the Jews ask him who “He” is, he admits that he doesn’t know.

The truth is that as Christians we are growing toward obedience, but we are not there yet. As hard as we try to avoid it, there will be times of apostasy, when we abandon what we know to be true, and there will be times of disobedience, severe and minor [remembering always that all sin, severe and minor, is horrible in God’s eyes]. The question is how we will respond. Will we suppress it under the disguise of righteousness and religiosity, hypocrites to the core, or will we openly and honestly acknowledge it to ourselves, the community of God, and, most importantly, God Himself?

How will we respond today to God? As honest people, acknowledging our faithlessness, repenting of our sins, and turning to the God of forgiveness and restoration? Or as treacherous, unfaithful people, hiding our disobedience under a veneer?

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Bread – Outreach

March 18, 2011


Readings for Friday, March 18, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 10:12-22; Heb. 4:11-16; John 3:22-36; Psalms 40, 51, 54, 95

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“He [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” Deut. 10:18-19

One of the tendencies in Lent, indeed it is emphasized by the Church, is to be focused inwardly, to adopt the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, reflection, study, and to strengthen our walk with Christ and our appropriation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

However, don’t we look inwardly enough. After all, almost everything we do now removes us further from the need to interact with people. We text message rather than call. We engage in “web collaboration” rather than meet. We watch streaming video of our favorite preacher rather than attend church. We ban children to “Sunday school” rather than have them crawl around in the seats in the sanctuary. We study rather than act. We think rather than do. We analyze and theorize rather than get muddy.

In today’s passage from Deuteronomy there is a huge message to us. Moses is speaking for God to Israel. This is not a small point. Israel was God’s chosen people. Israel was chosen by God and released from bondage to the world (Egypt) by His mighty hand. The passage I quote from is actually Moses speaking to Israel about what God demands from His chosen people – (a) to understand and appreciate His holiness (“fear the Lord your God”), (b) to walk in obedience according to His commands (“walk in all His ways,” “observe the Lord’s commands and decrees”), and (c) to love and serve God with the entirety of our being, trusting in Him for everything (“love and serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul”). Deut. 10:12-13

And yet, Moses reminds Israel that, even though God has not chosen the “alien,” He still loves them and we should too.

Isn’t this a mystery? God loves the alien, but not enough (according to human understanding) to make them part of His chosen people.

There are two points to be made here. The first is theological – the quoted passage may well point to the predestination-free will argument Christians love to have by demonstrating that it is entirely possible for a loving, merciful Judge (God) to (a) so love the world that He sent His only Son to die on the cross for their sins, but (b) limit the appropriation of that truth to His chosen people, Christians. When you are inclined to ask “How can that be?” look at the passage today from Deuteronomy and realize that God loves the alien, but apparently not enough (according to human thinking) to include them in God’s chosen people, Israel.

The second point, though, is the more important one for how it affects us daily. God loves the alien and we are commanded to do likewise, remembering that, but for God’s grace and mercy, we would be in the same boat they are.

Can we love the alien on the cell phone, the web conference, the podcast, or our books? No, not very well. No, to love someone we must hear what they say and what they are really saying, we must look into their eyes, we must engage in their lives, we must touch, we must weep, we must laugh, and we must celebrate. This is not done behind a wall of privacy but in the hurly burley of life on the elevator, on the sidewalk, in the office, in church, in school, at celebrations, and at funerals.

So, this Lent, how are we doing with this command? If I am answering for me, the answer is “not well.”

And so, today, I invite you into my prayer and to join me if it seems fitting — “Lord, help me today to really listen, to really see, to really hear. Lord, give me today your Holy Spirit in full measure, well pressed down and overflowing, so that I have the supernatural ability to love others the way I love myself. Lord, help me to engage with others, not to my glory Lord but to Your glory. It is in Jesus Christ’s name I ask for the spirit of love, power, and self-control today and every day. Amen.”

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Bread – False Belief

March 16, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, March 16, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 9:13-21; Heb. 3:12-19; John 2:23-3:15; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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In today’s readings, we have the golden calf (Deut.), the apparent falling away from grace (Heb.), and Nicodemus (John). What do all these readings have in common?

I would assert that the element they all have in common is false belief – belief in something other than the true God and His Son Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, what all three readings today have in common points to us – our failure to believe, and our loss to the pits of hell for that failure.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses comes from the mountain where he has been given the Ten Commandments by God to deliver to God’s people, Israel. While Moses is gone, however, the people of Israel quickly forget who their God is, and instead make their own god, a golden calf. Moses sees the idol worship and, reflecting the anger of God, he shatters the two tablets bearing the Ten Commandments and burns up the golden calf. He then goes back to the mountain to pray for forty days that God does not burn up the Israelites for their disobedience. Here, the false belief of the Israelites is in something made by them. Then it was the idol called the “Golden Calf.” Today, it might be the idol called “Technology” or “Science,” images of which may be found today on our desks (computers) and in our pockets (“smart” phones). The idols make look different, but they are generated from the same false belief – that what we make is greater than what God makes.

In our reading from Hebrews, the writer warns us to “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Heb. 3:13 In the same passage, the writer of Hebrews implies that such a hardness, such a turning away, such a failure of confidence in Christ, will result our loss of entry into the kingdom of God. Why is this if our salvation is assured? I would argue that it is because Hebrews is essentially talking about two different beliefs, one which is true (and which is marked by perseverance in the race) and the other which is false (and which is marked by hardening of heart and a turning away from the ways of God). The great trickery in all of this is that it is hard for us humans, looking at each other, to tell the difference. Unlike the golden calf type false belief, this false belief is internal, it is reflected by the attitude “I believe in Jesus Christ, but….” It is reflected in the attitude that I will trust Christ when I really need to (like when I need a job or I am sick), but not so much when things are going well. Here the false belief is “true belief lite.” It is fostered by the deceitfulness of Satan who would suggest to us “Did God really say…..?” or “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Christ’s death on the cross was not enough because you must earn your way to heaven,” or, the worse deceit of all, “God is not responsible for your salvation, you are.” This false belief lies next to true belief, duplicating it in every respect except one – and that is true trust in Christ, recognizing that being dead in my sins I can do nothing, I have done nothing, and I will do nothing to earn my salvation, being purely God’s gift of grace and mercy to me.

Finally, in our reading the John’s Gospel, we hear the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus. Jesus is encouraging Nicodemus to listen to what Jesus says; Nicodemus is stuck on what he has learned. This final false belief is the bane of modern man – we believe that wisdom comes from “book learning” as opposed to God. Nicodemus was so wrapped up in his belief in his own theories about the Bible that he could not see the miracle in front of him. Part of Nicodemus’ false belief came also from the people who he surrounded himself with, the members of the ruling council. Today, we fall into the same trap, comparing our belief system to the prevailing culture, wondering constantly if there is something wrong with God and the Bible because our academic “friends” think that it is stupid, or cultic, or incredible, or just plain wrong. In a sense, Nicodemus then represents the false belief engendered by society’s prevailing philosophy of the day.

Three sources of false belief – false belief from ourselves and in things of our making, from each other (our society), and from the deceitfulness of Satan to counterfeit false belief as true belief.

In this season of Lent, ask yourself where you might harbor false beliefs which are contrary to the beliefs you should have in God. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these to you. Then, not in your own power but in the power of the Holy Spirit, ask God to replace these false beliefs with true belief, with true trust in Him. And then do what Hebrews says to do – “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”

One of man’s perennial questions of God is to ask “why are we here?” One good answer might be to be God’s bulwark against false belief, to be a Moses to each other and to a dying world — to bear God’s Word to God’s people, to confront evil and false belief, and to intercede before God for those who need our prayers. And that is a worthy task of any man or woman.

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Bread – Ashes

March 9, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, March 9, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jonah 3:1-4:11; Heb.12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 32, 95, 102, 130, 143

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the day where many go to church to have ashes put on their forehead to remind those people and us who see it that we were born in sin, we live in sin, and that we need to repent in, to used Old Testament terms, “sackcloth and ashes.” It is the day which begins the season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and study as we anticipate and wait for Christ’s death on the cross for those very sins and His resurrection from the dead (Easter).

As a result, our readings today have to do with our sin, our repentance, and God’s miraculous mercy.

We begin with Nineveh in Jonah, a large city steeped in sin. Jonah is sent to that city to preach a coming calamity upon the city, God’s judgment upon the people and the city of their and its sin. Jonah thought that he would preach sin and coming catastrophe and that would be the end of the story. However, an amazing thing happened. When the people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, they turned from their sin, repented, declared a fast, and put on sackcloth to admit their sins before God and to repent from those sins, turning away from the world and toward God. Then an even more amazing thing happened because “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.” Jonah 3:10. In other words, God had mercy.

In the same reported history, we see the reaction of Jonah, the prophet, to this outpouring of God’s mercy upon those who repent. He was mad (because he didn’t like the Ninevites) and he went over into the corner and pouted, angry with God because God did not do what Jonah wanted Him to do. To add insult to injury, while Jonah was over in the corner pouting God sent him shade to protect him against the sun and then later removed the shade so Jonah would get hot. The Lord, however, reminded Jonah that he had no right to get angry about either Nineveh or the loss of his shade. God pointed out that Jonah had nothing to do with either, and that God’s mercy would be exercised according to God’s will and not Jonah’s will or desires or preferences.

There is a profound lesson in Ash Wednesday. It is not only a lesson in the ugliness of the world (Nineveh) and our own pride and selfishness (Jonah), in the abject poverty of our state of sin, and in the coming wrath of God, it is also a lesson in our role, once we have heard the message – repent and turn from our evil ways toward God. The rest is up to God and He will exercise His mercy upon whom He will have mercy.

And who is that, who is it upon whom God will have mercy? I don’t know the answer to that question, because I am not God. However, I do know this – repentance in sackcloth and ashes begins the journey toward the cross of Christ and through that cross to the resurrection and eternal glory for those upon whom God has given the gift of trust, of belief, in Jesus Christ. The day of ashes, Ash Wednesday, leads to eternal life.

Are you today caught up in sin, in disobedience to God’s commands, in hardness of heart, in anger, in hopelessness, in misery, in addiction, in yourself? Take this day to hear God’s Word just like the Ninevites did a long time ago and people throughout the generations have done, kneel before the Lord your God and repent in sackcloth and ashes, recognizing that we have no hope except for God’s mercy, and then look forward to the cross where God’s mercy was shown to us by the visiting of His wrath upon Himself, Jesus Christ.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The words of Jesus Christ from Luke 18:14b.

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Bread – Encourage

March 2, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, March 2, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 2:1-13; 2 Cor. 1:23-2:17; Matt. 5:21-26; Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

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Today we read from the book of Ruth about Ruth and her first encounter with Boaz, her future husband and her redeemer-kinsman.

The setting is that Ruth, a Gentile, has abandoned her family and her past livelihood to accompany Naomi, her mother-in-law (Ruth’s husband was deceased) and a Jew, back to Israel.

Before we proceed, realize how much has been said in a few words. Ruth was a Gentile. This was no small thing in the Old Testament. She was not part of God’s chosen people and, although the Hebrews were commanded to take care of the alien in their midst, she was still an alien. She probably was not brought up with the knowledge of the Lord, and she may very well have practiced a totally different religion. She was married to a Hebrew, when marriage outside the ranks was highly discouraged. Her husband had died, which in many cultures was a very bad omen. She was taking care of her Hebrew mother-in-law, and I’ll let your imagination run wild about what that may have been like.

In other words, where we start our story, Ruth was in a bad place emotionally, politically, economically, and socially.

And rather than return to a place of safety and comfort, her own people and who own home town, Ruth instead went to a strange place, Israel, where she knew no one (except Naomi), where she had no family (except Naomi), where she had no money and no property, where she was unfamiliar with the customs, and where she was outside the normal society (a Gentile in a Jewish society). She did all this because she had made a promise, a covenant, and she brought herself under the wings of God to shelter her and to help her fulfill that covenant. She did all that from a well of faith.

And what is she doing when we found her in today’s reading? She is out “gleaning” the fields, which is what the poor people do after the rich people have taken the primary harvest. When the crop was harvested, there would always be something left over and the landowner would deliberately leave the leftovers out in the field where the poor people could pick them up for themselves. After giving up everything to fulfill a family promises and to find shelter in God, Ruth is reduced to gleaning out a living from leftovers.

Boaz is a Jew, he is rich, and he owns the field where Ruth is working from morning to night to take home some leftovers. He sees her and, from earlier investigation, knows her background, knows she is a Gentile, knows her care for Naomi, and knows her faith. He says to her simply “I have been told about what you have done … May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Ruth 2:12

What a nice thing to say! What an encouraging thing to say! And Ruth responds to the encouragement by saying “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” Ruth 2:13

I know several people who are involved with various forms of prison ministries, some in the prisons themselves and some in post-prison work, where they work with prior inmates to try to get them re-integrated into the world. The people they serve have often left everything they knew, their friends, their ways of doing things, their family, their comfort and their safety in order to step into the kingdom of God, to declare obedience to Him, to confess their sins, and to seek the shelter of His wings and the reality of eternal life. Even though they have exercised faith in the Almighty, they still find themselves with little future, left to gleaning the fields of the wealthy, finding whatever jobs an uncaring or fearful society might begrudgingly give them access to.

These people who I know are Boazes to these ex-inmates. They are there to remind these foreigners who have sought shelter in the Almighty that what these “criminals” have done has been heard about, and to speak a word of encouragement into their lives – “May you be richly rewarded…”

We and Ruth and the ex-prisoners have something in common. We do not “need” these encouragements from others, because we “know” that God is good and will sustain us in all adversity, including delivering us from death’s door into eternal life. However, we sure do appreciate them. When we hear from a Boaz that he or she has heard of our faith, what we have done or maybe even what we have not done (with respect to turning to our old life), and we hear a blessing spoken to us, in our favor, does anyone turn that away? No, we have the reaction of Ruth – “You have given me comfort.”

So, to whom can you be a Boaz today? In whose life can you speak encouragement, hope, a blessing? I’ll bet there are a lot, beginning with our families. All we have to do is be like Boaz, standing in the field looking at all the people reduced to gleaning the leftovers of life – and reach out to them with a smile, a hand, and the truth in love.

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