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Thursday, November 26, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Happy New Year! (I, Jim Ogden, am back doing the blog for I'm not sure how long.) Yes, this Sunday starts a new year in the seasons of the church. It is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the cycles of life we observe in the walk of faith.

The first act of the year is to wait. When I was growing up, we started singing Christmas carols right after Thanksgiving. Today Christmas sounds permeate the culture, sometimes starting even before Thanksgiving. We don’t know how to wait!

Some congregations, including at least a couple that I served, go overboard, singing no “Christmas” songs until Christmas day, since that’s when the liturgical season of Christmas is just starting. I’m not an advocate of that practice, but we would all do well to include a little of the somber, yet joyous, waiting that is the essence of Advent. It was a time of darkness and despair for many, a time when the need for hope, for someone to turn things around, was great. An expectation that God would bring peace and justice was revived in every generation among the Hebrew people. They saw themselves as inheritors of a vision and promise of a peaceful kingdom. Perhaps now is the time. The hope was renewed with the enthronement of every new king. Perhaps he is the one. Look. See the signs. Is it about to happen? Such expectations were strong in the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, and the need was great. There was no peace, only oppression and injustice. I suggest we try to feel that reality during this Advent season.

Two of the lectionary texts address the spirit of expectation and hope and waiting.

Jeremiah talks about days to come when the promise will be fulfilled and justice and righteousness will come. Part of his prophecies later came to be applied to Jesus, rightly or wrongly. In the Christian tradition it is to Jesus that we look when we are seeking the peace and justice of which Jeremiah spoke.

The passage from Luke contains troubling, often misused (in my opinion), words of Jesus. They speak of a coming time and the signs of those times—times of distress and fear and foreboding. He says, observe the signs and let them tell you what is coming, just like the springtime sprouting of the leaves on a tree tell you that Spring is coming.

Devout people in every generation have tried to use these words to set precise dates for a time when Christ will reappear—or at least to scare us into thinking it might happen day after tomorrow. Some, I think, are almost gleeful in their attitude, seeing a promise of escape when everyone else will get what’s coming to him or her.

There is a touch—probably more than a touch—of urgency about the words Jesus speaks. He apparently expected these things to happen soon—during that generation. It didn’t, at least in the way people thought it was going to, and we still wait.

So, how are we to wait? Alertly, paying attention. Don’t be fooled, lulled into a false sense that everything is all right. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes!

One might even say our task is to read the signs of the times. What are the significant things that are happening in our time? What do they mean? Where are they taking us? What is coming? What is it that we are most hoping for? Can we see it coming? How can we join the movement that is bringing it closer?

As was the case in the days before Jesus’ birth, I believe we live in a day when there is great fear. The left fears what the right is trying to do; the right is convinced that the left is leading us over the brink. Listening to the national conversation, and recent visits with family across the country and closer to home, has convinced me that many feel America, and its highest values, is on the verge of collapse. I refuse to buy into that fear, but there is always a darkness on the horizon that threatens to overcome the light. We cling tightly to the belief that the light will overcome and that we are called to part of the light. Advent is a time to renew that belief and prepare the way for peace and justice.

The other two scriptures may be taken as things we can do during this season of preparation and waiting. The Psalm suggests that we seek to understand and follow the path in which the Lord would lead us. The epistle reading from I Thessalonians can be seen as calling us to pray for one another for strength and love. Suppose we made the concluding words from this epistle our own and prayed them every day of Advent. “May the Lord make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . and may he strengthen our hearts in holiness.”
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
As the story of Naomi and Ruth continues, faithful human actions restore the two vulnerable widows, and through them the whole people of Israel. The texts this Sunday invite us to consider what puts survival at risk, and what is received and offered through community as God’s people choose to take action on behalf of another’s good. Ruth 3:1–5; 4:13–17 In the focus passage studied November 1, Ruth chose to join her life’s journey with Naomi’s, forming an unlikely alliance for survival. In today’s focus scripture, these two widows navigate a decisive turning point. The stage for this account is set in the second chapter of Ruth, which tells of an encounter between Ruth and Naomi’s relative, Boaz. Ruth 2:20 identifies Boaz as “nearest kin.” The Hebrew word used here is goel. Elsewhere translated as “redeemer,” goel is a family member who is supposed to restore something that another family member has lost because of debt or poverty. As Ruth 3 begins, Naomi and Ruth plan what they might do for the sake of their future security. In 3:3, Naomi proposes action filled with double meanings. “Do not make yourself known…” uses a verb that can also mean sexual intimacy (Genesis 4:1). “Feet” can be a euphemism in Hebrew for genitals. “Threshing floor” has an association with sexual activity (Hosea 9:1). These sexual undertones move the text’s interpretation into a reflection on what it means to risk offence for the sake of survival. Ruth follows Naomi’s counsel. Boaz acts with honor as goel (“next of kin,” “one who redeems”) and marries Ruth. God gives conception. Throughout the book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth are models of persistence and loyalty. As the narrative closes, we learn how their relationship expands into a larger community of women. These women recognize the child’s importance to Naomi. “He shall be to you a restorer of life” (4:15). “Restorer” is a translation of the Hebrew shub, that word of “turning” used throughout the book of Ruth. The women, not father or mother, name the child Obed. A story of widows who have no living children becomes a story of birth. A struggle to survive becomes the means by which God restores hope to these women and to Israel’s unborn generations. God sets into motion a promise – who will be David – through Ruth, the Moabite. The book of Ruth affirms that God works through surprising people and in unexpected ways in order to bring restoration to God’s people. Psalm 127 also asserts that children are a gift of heritage and hope. The balance to the psalm’s male imagery comes in the role played by women in Ruth. God will build the “house” (the word can mean “dynasty”), often in surprising ways. There is a sense of eager waiting for the unborn David at the close of Ruth. The writer of Hebrews 9:24–28 also conveys a longing, a sense of “eagerly waiting”– looking forward to the salvation Christ brings. The sacrificial imagery in Hebrews has a common backdrop with the temple scene in Mark 12:38–44. Jesus speaks out against shows of religious devotion that mask mistreatment of the most vulnerable persons in that day, widows. Whether by requirement or social conditioning, the widow who placed her coins in the treasury may have felt she had little choice. This woman takes a risk by entrusting all that she has as a gift to God, trusting that God’s providence will keep her. Communities today still wrestle with the consequences of economic injustice and racial and gender prejudice. As in all times, God’s people are called to seek restoration for those who are vulnerable and injured. When and through whom have you found your life restored, nourished, and encouraged? For whose sake might God be us to take a bold risk?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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