Thursday, October 29, 2015

When Life Spins Out of Control - Ruth 1:1-20

Ruth 1:1-20New International Version (NIV)

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-lawgoodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,[b]” she told them. “Call me Mara,[c] because the Almighty[d] has made my life very bitter.

Joy is a part of the Christian life, and especially a part of worship.

Have you ever noticed that so much of the Bible speaks of joy?

Ps 66:  “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!”

Ps 100 “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.”

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

Or here is my favorite one, and I suppose I overuse it sometimes -- Ps 118: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

But have you ever noticed that sometimes life isn’t always ready for that sort of worship? 

Life isn’t always ready for joy.

There are those here this morning who have lost jobs, or who work at jobs that are in jeopardy. 

Retirement income has dwindled.

There are marriages that are hurting, and on the brink of being ripped apart.

For many of our high school and college students, the joy of a coming graduation is mixed with the fear of the unknown as to what happens next.

Those of you who are on vacation for the week or the weekend, are anxious about what is waiting for you when you return home.

Alcohol overwhelms one person.  Drugs overwhelm another.  Cancer has worked its way into yet another.

Life is not always upbeat and happy and joyful.

In one of Simon and Garfunkle's songs, there are these haunting words:
I don't know a soul that's not been battered,
Don't have a friend who feels at ease,
Don't know a dream that's not been shattered
Or driven to its knees.

Certainly, it is sad to know that there are so many people in our world -- in our church here at Chapel, who are hurting -- whose souls have been battered and whose dreams have been driven to their knees.

How can a person whose life seems to be hurting as in the Simon and Garfunkle song find peace and joy?

How can a life that is in a downward spiral begin to reverse that trend and begin making positive progress?

Let's take a look at the life of one such person in the Old Testament. If there is one person who fits that Simon and Garfunkle song it is Ruth. Her soul has been battered, her dreams driven to their knees. Things start out bad, and get worse.

Ruth is a small Old Testament book. It only has four chapters and it really takes just a few minutes to read it.

It starts off with chapter 1 verse 1, in which we read, "In the days when the judges ruled."

Now that happens to be a narrative phrase that is another way of saying, "In the days when we had no king."

The text continues...

"In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land," which is to say, "when there was no food..."

"...A man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

"The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.."

Now, if you have spent any time at all in the Old Testament, you will know right away that it is always important to find out the meaning of the person’s name, because the name’s meaning had great impact on the story.

Abraham – his name means “father of many nations” and his life is about just that – how he became a father of many nations.

Jacob was a manipulative person, and his name fit him well, because Jacob meant “supplanter”.  But his name is changed to Israel when his character begins to change.

Esau means”hairy” and when he was born he had a lot of hair.

So, getting back to Ruth –

"...A man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

"The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.."

Those are strange names, because they mean, "weakness" and "consumption."

Now, I know some people who have given their children some strange names, but these take the cake. I can just see Father Elimelech taking the boys to town and meeting some of his friends from work, saying, "Hello Bob. I don't believe you've ever met my boys -- Weakness and Consumption.

Now, as the text continues, Elimelech and Naomi raise these two fine boys, but Elimelech dies.

Later, Weakness and Consumption, get married. One of these wives is named Ruth.

Then Naomi's husband dies, and within ten years, both of her sons, Weakness and Consumption die. And Naomi, whose name means "joy" wants to be called Mara, which means "bitter."

So at the very beginning of the book of Ruth, we find no joy in the lives of these women.

There is no king,
there is no food,
no family name without a husband,
and no sons as heirs.

Now, let me jump to the end of the book of Ruth. At the end, Ruth marries a man named Boaz. All of a sudden, this woman who had no name, has a family again.

Boaz and Ruth have a child.

The Famine comes to an end.

And the very last verses speak of how the son of Ruth was named Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. And of course, David was the best king Israel ever had.

She went from having nothing at all, to having everything. She went from being without joy, to having absolute joy. She went from emptiness to fullness.

Do you see the literary movement here?

She went from no king, no food, no son, no name, to having a name, a son, food, and a king.

The question is, how did she do that?

That is a question we would like answered! And it is a good time to ask it.  Our whole world is in a mess.  Those who live their lives in empty sorrow thirst and hunger after the fullness of joy.

Investment portfolios go down, down, down.

Income from work or retirement planning gets smaller and smaller.

Jobs are threatened.

The only thing that is going up is the foreclosure rate.

People are sick and struggling with health issues.

Divorces are destroying marriages.

Hopelessness is spreading.

How do you go from having your life be empty to having your life filled with joy?

The way this change comes about is in chapter three. By this time, Naomi has both of her daughters in law to go out and find husbands on their own. Orpah does just that, and we never hear from her again. Ruth, however, stays by her mother in law. "Where you go, I will go," she tells her. So these two women who have nothing, no home, family or food, go out on their own.

Ruth starts going into the farms in the area and picks the crops the farmers have left behind. This was a kind of welfare system. Farmers were supposed to leave part of the crop in the field so the poor could take some. It was called "gleaning."

Ruth makes friends with a distant relative named Boaz, and Boaz takes Ruth under his protection and even orders the workers to leave a lot of extra food for Ruth and Naomi.

This is when Naomi comes up with a plan.

Naomi has had it with their lives going from bad to worse. Something has got to happen to make their lives better, so in chapter 3, verse 3, Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is going to be working late that night on the farm, and instructs her, "Take a nice bath.  Put on some perfume.  Put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet" -- and by the way, uncovering feet is a rather delicate way in some Old Testament books to say, "have sex with him."

In other words, Naomi is telling Ruth, "We got nothing left but your good looks and feminine charm, and you'd better use them to catch a husband so we won't be left homeless." And her last word of instruction is, "You uncover his --- feet, and he will tell you what to do."

Not a very saintly attitude.

But Ruth does this. Almost.

Ruth goes to where Boaz is working and does everything Naomi told her to do, except she does not wait for Boaz to tell her what to do. Instead, Ruth tells Boaz what to do. Boaz says, "I'll do whatever you ask."

She tells Boaz, "you are my kinsman-redeemer."

In the culture of that day, Boaz had, as a distant relative, a covenant responsibility to take Ruth as his wife, and to take care of her and Naomi.

Ruth lays hold of that claim.

She takes hold of the claim to the redeemer in her life.

She doesn't try to redeem herself, or to take care of herself, she doesn't just depend on her feminine charm to trap Boaz or to manipulate him.

Instead, she looks beyond herself.

What she does is to trust in the covenant promises. She basically tells Boaz, "You are my redeemer. Act like it. Do your job. Be my redeemer."

That is the turning point in the story of Ruth.

Here is a woman who had no king, no food, no family, no name, no joy -- but whose life was reborn so that she found joy, a name, a family, food, and ultimately gave birth to the grandmother of the best king the nation of Israel would ever know.

Naomi tells Ruth to manipulate Boaz into taking care of them, but that isn't what turns their lives around.

Our life spins out of control, and what do we do?

We manipulate people around us, but that does us very little good.

It didn’t do Ruth any good.

Naomi tells Ruth to use her own resources, her feminine charms, to turn their lives around, but that isn't what helps.

Our life spins out of control, and what do we do?

We often look toward our own resources, whatever they may be, and find them insufficient.

Ruth looks to society for help, and gets onto the early welfare system of gleaning the fields, but that doesn't help.

What helps Ruth?

What helps us?

Ruth's life turns around when she looks beyond herself, toward her redeemer.

Our lives can turn around when we look beyond ourselves toward a redeemer.

There are families torn apart. There are lives in turmoil. There are people in crisis. What hope is there?

What can be the turning point of our life?

Our hope is not in the stock market. 

Our hope is not in ourselves.

Our hope beyond ourselves. 

Our hope is in Jesus Christ.

When we look at our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, our lives get back on track.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Catch the Vision! - Micah 6:6-8 Philippians 3:7-14

Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Philippians 3:7-14

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

          About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America.

The first year they established a town site.  

The next year they elected a town government.  

The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.

In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?

In the fifth year, the town began to die.

          That is amazing!  Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.

          Proverbs 19:18 tells us that "A people without a vision will perish."

          Not long ago I read about a study about aging.  The research was trying to determine some of the lifestyles shared in common among those who had lived a long, long life.  One thing the study uncovered was that people who lived a long life always had a vision for the future. 
One of the people interviewed in the study had to be interviewed while he was planting a row of cedar trees.  He didn't have time to stop and answer questions, so the research team had to ask questions while he dug holes and planted trees.  After the survey questions had been asked and answered, someone on the research team asked the man, "Why are you planting so many trees?"
"It's a wind breaker,” he said.  "Every winter the wind blows across this field and hits my house and I never can get it warmed up.  In 10 or 20 years, these trees will have grown up so they will keep the wind from blowing on my house."
That man was 98 years old, but he had a vision for the future. 
By the time he's 118, he's finally going to have a warm house!
That kind of vision keeps you going.
What kind of vision do we have?  Or do we have one?  In our first hymn this morning, there is that great verse:

Long years have come and gone,
And still God reigns supreme,
Empowering us to catch the vision, dream the dream!

What is the vision of our church?  What is the dream that we have for our congregation?

Why does this Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church exist?

We are exist – we are here to make a difference in the lives of people.

You have probably received a letter from the church several days ago inviting you to consider your giving to this church in the year ahead.  Why would anyone give good money to this church? 

One reason.  Just one – we are making a difference in the lives of people.

We heard it read in our Old Testament lesson a moment ago.

In Micah, the question is asked about making an offering to God.  The person is struggling with what kind of offering to make.

With what shall I come before the Lord
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn …

That is a good question to ask at a time of the year when the church is inviting you to consider what kind of contributions you will make in the year to come.

And the answer in Micah is this:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

That is our vision as a church.  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

Or to condense it even further – our vision as a church is to make a difference.

We make a difference in Haiti.  We are working to provide clean water for the Good Shepherd School and we are doing other things to support the work there.

We make a difference in the children at Eccleston.  Not long ago you helped provide uniform shirts for the students there, and throughout the year we have people going there to work as mentors.

When this church takes your money, your offerings, and pays the light bill – how is that making a difference? 

Very simply, this church is hopping – it is always busy.  We provide a facility not for our selfish needs, but for the community so that we can make a difference.  This building is mostly for outreach – not for us.

We have a group meeting here that ministers to families in which one of the family members died in a homicide.  It is my understanding there is no other program like this in our area. 

Next month Camp Healing Hearts will meet at our church.  That is an incredible program that ministers to young people from age 7 through 15 who have experienced a death of a loved one. 

          There is the Small Blessings Child Care.  For the families with elderly who need supervision through the day, we have Share the Care. 

          Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, Youth Group, Bible Studies, simple fellowship of friends who work on crafts and provide refreshing company for one another.

          The list goes on and on, and in these that I have mentioned I have probably left out 99% of the many things this church does to make a difference in the lives of people.

This is the mission of our church – to change lives.

And when we lose that vision to change lives, we will die as a church.

Because the words from the Old Testament book of Proverbs is correct, “without a vision, the people perish.”

Let me share with you some very sad news I received a couple of weeks ago.  The news was about a church where I had been the pastor several years ago – I guess 10, 15 years ago.

The county of the city has informed them that if they do not make extensive repairs in their building, the church facilities will be condemned and torn down.

When an elder called me to let me know that this church would be closing around Easter Sunday, I asked “what happened to that church?  When the church lose its momentum?”

Without any hesitation the elder told me that it was the day the session decided to close the school.

You see, on the campus of that church was a school that served special needs children, and if you asked anyone in the community what that church did to make a difference, the answer would always be that school. 

But the Session voted to close it because there had always been members who didn’t feel comfortable with these children.  These kids were loud, they were awkward, they were different, whatever.

Then they began closing some of the other programs in the church because the elders discovered that when they cut these programs for the community, they saved money.

And who doesn’t want to save money?

But here is the thing – if a church is not spending money in ways that make a difference in the lives of people, then God seems to cut off the funds.  They spent less money, and month after month, the church received less money.

Because it is true, without a vision the people perish.

So come Easter Sunday, that church will have their last worship service, and they will cease to be a church.

But I think they ceased to be a church a few years ago.

But in THIS church, here at Grace Covenant – we have a vision.  Our vision is to make a difference.

This is reason we ask our members to contribute to the offering, and the reason we are encouraging you to consider increasing your giving.  We make a difference.  Your church is changing lives. 

And in the words of Paul from our New Testament Lesson, we are pressing onto the goal.  We are not going to do less.  We are going to do more – because with a vision, the people prosper.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.