November 30, 2020

“Tradition!” sings Tevye in the “Fiddler on the Roof” opener, (  Tradition is the explanation for how the people of Anatefka keep their balance – in life as they scratch out a living like a fiddler on a roof.  “Because of our traditions, everyone of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the most tradition-laden times of the year for many and especially for Christians.  We call this time Advent, or The Coming. For four weeks we remember that Jesus came in the manger, comes to us today as the Holy Spirit, and promises to come again.  The reality of history, of present experience and of future promise keeps us balanced in our daily walk.

         The Advent Wreath marks off this first four weeks of the Christian year when we prepare our hearts for Christmas.  Originally it was a time for new converts to prepare for baptism and church membership.  In the 1800s the Advent Wreath was invented to help children visualize the answer to their question, “How much longer?”  That feels similar to a question that plagues us today- how much longer this isolation, how much longer till elections are settled, how much longer must we wait for… the proposal, the pay raise, the contract…? 

         The wreath is round representing that God is eternal and so his promises are true.  The wreath was made out of green branches; green representing life, eternal life that comes with Jesus.  Four candles represent the four weeks before Christmas.  Colors of the candles have varied but often they are three purple with one pink.  Some put a central white candle called the Christ candle to be lit on Christmas Eve or day.  Usually each week has a theme: love, peace, joy and love for virtues we want in our lives, or they may follow character themes like prophecy, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the angels.  Each Sunday families gather and parents teach their children.  Songs are sung.  Questions answered and stories read.  We will follow the themes of the Advent wreath in our pondering this month.

         So as we start this journey, ponder what traditions form the foundation for your life and help you “know who you are and what God expects of you”.  Perhaps there are prayers that ground your faith or favorite scriptures like the 23rd Psalm.  Perhaps there are favorite parables or truths that you find yourself returning to in Scripture.  Traditions are important.  They help define us.  What traditions are you trying to pass on in your family?

          Candle 1 of the Advent Wreath is the Hope Candle.  Prophesy gives hope.  We will look at how each gospel writer started his gospel and see how the role of prophecy brings hope for each.  Our world needs hope right now as we struggle with life.  Thank you for joining me on this journey through Advent!  Blessings.

The Larger Picture

November 28, 2020

“Care-plans” as lived out in the book of Ruth has been our source for pondering and reflecting this last month.  We come to the end of Ruth, the end of November and we enter the Advent season.  Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts and lives for the birth of the Christ child, or Christmas.  Elimelech cared for his family in the midst of a famine by moving to Moab. Naomi, his wife, is widowed, losses her two sons and is left destitute again with two daughter-in-laws.  She cares for them by giving them freedom to return to their birth families.  Ruth chooses to follow her and return to Bethlehem.  Returning, Naomi is transparent about her bitterness and the hardness of life and Ruth has to now carry the story forward, scrounging for food, she cares for Naomi.  But…the owner of the field is Boaz, a relative, and the two women create a plan to let Boaz know Ruth is willing to marry.  Boaz accepts responsibility for our two women.  The elders, who witness this decision, bless the couple.

         This story is a bit like life.  A mother cares for a child, who becomes independent and finds a new caregiver but then the story circles back as someone becomes ill or life gets complicated.  Our care-plans are not written in cement and our lives have a way of taking turns we do not expect and we must flex.  Care plans by definition are about people we are involved with who need help but I find it interesting that as the book of Ruth closes, the author returns his perspective to the bigger picture.  Care plans are about how we try our best to create a better life for someone we love, given all the complications of life and relationship.

         Boaz and Ruth have a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David and is part of the genealogy of Jesus.  A story that started in famine, in need, ends in a genealogy of hope.  Naomi who follows her husband to Moab is a hero in the end of the book of Ruth.  The women of the city gather and “witness.”  “Naomi has a son!” they claim.  ”The daughter-in-law has been better to you (Naomi) than seven sons!”  Who would have thought it at the beginning?

         Caring for people is often hard work and involves sacrifice and unseen complications.  Many days we wonder how it will all turn out as we evaluate our resources, financial, emotional and social.  We often loose sight of the big picture.  Ruth reminds us that others are watching. The elders that bless the couple are watching. The women who bless at the end are watching.  Our children and friends are watching. And ultimately our life’s story is part of a bigger picture.  It may not be the genealogy of Jesus but it is part of the story of faith.  I pray as you care for those you are involved with that you will perceive, perhaps dimly,

  • the hand of a God who walks with you for the good of all,
  • the presence of the community surrounding you if only at a distance,
  • and be part of a team working for good.

Yet again I fall back on 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him (the Lord), because he cares for you.”  AMEN!

Blessing #3 Persevererence

November 27, 2020

“The day after” the holiday, makes me think of many things.  I am still pondering the memories of connecting with family and friends.  I groan getting on the scale but the blood sugar isn’t too high.  I’m resisting the mad rush to join shoppers.  I’m cleaning house and recovering.  Unfortunately, for some, the day after brings up memories of “the pill” to terminate an unwanted outcome of the day before.  The living out of the events of the day before is the reality for all of us. 

         The elders bless Boaz and Ruth with unity first, may they work together.  Secondly, they bless with vision, new dreams for the new phase of life they are entering.  But the third blessing, I would call perseverance, the ability to overcome everything that would hold them back.  Through the offspring of this woman, they say, “may your family be like that of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah.”  Oh my, another woman from the genealogy of Jesus and another awkward real life story about Biblical heroes.  Judah, the fourth son of Jacob by Leah, marries a Canaanite woman and has three sons.  The first marries Tamar, a Canaanite, but dies without children.  Tamar is given to the second son who dies.  She is promised to the younger brother but realizes this plan will never happen.  She dresses like a prostitute and entices Jacob, her father-in-law.  Twins are the result.  At birthing, the first twin sticks out his arm and a red chord is tied around the wrist but then he draws back in.  Perez, the second twin is born first and named Perez, the overcomer.

         We may have the best care-plan possible under the circumstances and the brightest dreams for the future but life has a way of undermining our progress.  As we ponder yesterday’s meal, we remember how we mixed the corn bread wrong, the wrong words that slipped out of our mouth, the embarrassing experience that was retold to our chagrin.  Those are normal but other things come up that undermine our heart and our efforts.  The elders bless Boaz and Ruth with not only unity and vision as they live into their future, but also with perseverance.

         Perhaps there are places where we are tempted to give up today.  It could be as simple as the diet we blew yesterday but it could be a relationship that we feel will never heal.  Don Quixote sang, “To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go…” stirs our hearts as it echoes the blessings we long to have the strength for – to run the race to the end hang in there with our care-plans.  As we think of the people we long to bless, the “care plans” we long to see work, may we ponder : who needs unity, who needs new vision, and who needs a prayer for perseverance.  Perhaps take time to draw three columns on a paper and see if you can name three people in each column and then pray for them.  God’s listening.

Blessing #2 Vision

November 26, 2020

“We are witnesses,” share the elders as they stand at the gate and Boaz finalizes the agreement to care for Ruth, Naomi and their property.  Thanksgiving Day we gather around food, perhaps the zoom gathering, and reaffirm our appreciation for companions, family, friends on our journey.  We know the rough spots we traveled, the tensions of relationships but we try to look back through a positive lens with thanksgiving.  Some will stand with sick loved ones.  Others will stand in the middle of the recovery process from demonstrations that wracked our cities.  We have been through much and there are still large challenges on our horizon.

         The elders “witness” the reality of the present, good and bad, but they turn their hearts to blessing the young couple for the unfolding future.  The first blessing was “unity,” and we can say AMEN to that blessing.  The second blessing is more oblique.  “May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. (Ruth 4:12)” Many know about Bethlehem as the birth place of Jesus but these elders didn’t.  They may have known it was the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah but I doubt it.  Ephrathah was the place where Jacob, grandson of Abraham, had to bury his beloved second wife Rachel when she died in childbirth of her second son, Benjamin.  Rachel who was the love of Jacob’s youth, the beautiful woman of his dreams, but also the source of much heartache in his contentious marriage to her and her sister as they fought for his affection. 

         I suspect that at Thanksgiving, as we praise for our blessings, often we evaluate in our hearts and realize we might need a “course correction.”  The original care-plan has evolved and become something different.  We must bury those original dreams of “happy ever after” and develop an up-to-date plan.  We need a new version for going forward.  The second blessing is the blessing of vision for the future that will unfold for Boaz and Ruth in their new life together.

         Today, 2020, there is a shrine at the spot where Rachel was buried.  Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider it a holy spot.  It is the third holiest spot in Judaism.  Tradition has it that Rachel wept for her children and for the children of Israel who went into captivity.  Tradition has it that the key to the shrine, place under a pillow, eases the pain of childbirth.  Tradition has it that Rachel hears the prayers of those struggling with infertility.  Travelers on difficult journeys and women struggling with pregnancy frequent this shrine.  We too need the blessing of new visions and hope for facing the challenges of the future.

         Many bemoan 2020 now and rejoice that the elections are over and the vaccine is coming closer.  Others grieve losses of family and jobs.  Some rejoice at a safe birth of a new child, a new marriage, or a new friendship.  As we look at our Thanksgiving meal today and whatever is on our plate, may we briefly ponder what is on our life’s plate.  Perhaps we have dreams that need to be modified.  Perhaps we need to envision new starts.  May we bless each other with unity and with vision as we face the coming year.  We do not walk alone.  God is still with us.  Blessings.

Blessing 1: Unity

November 25, 2020

“They lived happily ever after,” is the ending line in our childhood stories.  Somehow we think that if we can create the right “long-term care-plan” happiness, perhaps peace, will follow and the future will be tolerable and good.  Many people know that the “I do” seals the deal but is only the beginning of a new journey.  I often say that I forgot to read the fine print in the “I do” contract.  Boaz has stood at the city gate and publicly declared his commitment to take and care for Ruth, the foreigner, with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and their property and to do all he can so that her deceased husband will not be forgotten.  The story that started in famine, death and bitterness, traveled through an eventful night at the threshing floor, and culminated with the elders and commitment at the city gate, still has more to it.  The elders at the gate now have voice.  They speak, “We are witnesses.  May the Lord make the woman is coming into your home like…”  The wedding is perhaps between two people but the audience, the witnesses, play a strategic role.  They are not just observers making sure all the rules of tradition are followed correctly, the elders “witnessed” and then they ”blessed.”

         The elders give a three-fold blessing that I find one of the most fascinating speeches in the Bible. We say “bye” when we leave someone.  It is thought to be a corruption of the 16-1700s “God be with you” farewell.  In Kenya, the Swahili farewell was “Mungu akubarikia.”  God bless you.  What do we mean by these farewells?  These elders spell it out and we shall ponder the blessings invoked.

         The first blessing is that Ruth be “like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.”  Jacob, grandson of Abraham, renamed Israel, fled his twin brother’s wrath when he, Jacob, deceived their father Isaac and stole the birth right blessing of the eldest.  He was twin two.  He runs across the desert to his Uncle Laban who deceives him, sneaking Leah, the older sister with weak eyes, into the wedding chamber so that Jacob has to work another seven years for the bride of his choice, Rachel.  Is this not polygamy, with sisters?  How is this a blessing?  It is a story of jealousy and competition for the love of the husband.  The twelve sons born become the twelve tribes of Israel.  What looked so conflict filled at the time is remembered through the eyes of history as unity.

         “Together they built the house of Israel.”  We make care plans that are often foiled by life and face all sorts of challenges and complications.  Getting elected President is only the beginning, if we can even agree about that.  Getting a vaccines created is only the beginning but getting it distributed is another process.  Getting the job is then followed by work.  Buying a house then needs to be decorated.  Interestingly, these elders look back on Israel’s wives and see them as working together through all the complications.  Boaz and Ruth, a cross-cultural marriage, are going to have to learn to work together as they face the people of Bethlehem and their unfolding future.  The elders pray for unity.

         Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and many of us how we have been blessed this year.  It is good to make lists of what we are thankful for.  Like the original Native and Anglo survivors of that first winter where many died of disease, a meal to celebrate might have happened.  We look at the last year and all that has happened and we thank.  The elders not only were thankful for this marriage of Boaz and Ruth but they looked forward and prayed for unity for these two people.  They prayed they would be able to work together in the face of reality to create a better future.  Certainly we need today the blessing of unity.  God, may we find unity in all our struggles!

         Take time tomorrow to make a list of perhaps five people you would like to bless this Thanksgiving and list what you would pray for them.  Is it possible to list one not-so-liked acquaintance that you could pray a blessing for, a misunderstanding you would like to see worked out for a more a united future?  Your blessing is important.  Don’t just “witness,” “bless!”


November 24, 2020

Care plans change lives and change history.  They change the narrative of who we are and how we will be remembered.  Boaz in the book of Ruth, goes to the city gate and performs a legal action transferring the ownership of Ruth, her mother-in-law and all their property into his hands to care for.  Boaz declares in-front of the elders, “You are witnesses…I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records.”  Boaz changes history.  We remember his name, not the other man’s.

         My husband and I stood before a judge of the high court of Kenya who pounded her gavel and said, “From this day forward this child will be known as ….”  Reality changed.  The two little tots were no long “orphans” but were ours, part of our clan, gaining four brothers and a sister.  For better or worse, their lives would never be the same.  But what was our motive?  Did we need more children to work a farm? No.  Were we childless and needed someone to inherit our meager wealth?  No.  Were we doing a good deed to get into heaven? No.  Our hearts and our lives had grown together with these two little tykes and we wanted to share our future with them.  Boaz, we believe, did not need children.  He states his purpose as preserving the name and history of Naomi and Ruth’s family.  Their name will not disappear.  We are witnesses.

         This first half of Chapter 4 challenges me to look at my motives in the care plans I am involved with, the people I care about.  I reluctantly admit that some care is out of duty, some care gives me a good name, and some care hopefully is grounded in concern for the future of the other and our world.  Thanksgiving comes this week and news is so clear that not gathering in large family groups is the care plan that will slow down the virus.  I feel the tension.  These are hard decisions.  Creative alternatives like zooming are being employed.  I know my cell phone will be busy.  As we seek ways to live out our love for each other, history is changed and hearts are impacted. May we join Boaz in saying, “you are my witness today.  I care …friend, family, child, spouse.”  God help me!


November 23, 2020

“Meanwhile” starts Chapter 4 of the book of Ruth in the Old Testament and we are still watching this “long-term care-plan” unfold for our widowed women, Ruth and Naomi.  Ruth, as directed by Naomi, has ventured onto the threshing floor in the dark of night and offered to be married to Boaz, a kinsmen-redeemer of her late father-in-law.  But…. There is a closer relative with rights to claim her.  Sigh.  Ruth reports to Naomi at the end of Chapter 3 and the women wait.  Today I sense the helplessness they must have felt in a society as women, trying to create a future but unseen forces are at work.  It reminds me of waiting during this virus season or electoral transition season.  Plans never unfold quickly!  “Meanwhile” needs to be followed by “meanwhile back at the ranch.”  As I seek to work out my relationships, other factors are unfolding over which I am not in control.

         As was the custom at that time, Boaz goes to the city gate where elders meet and finds the other man and pulls ten elders together as a kind of legal decision-making group.  Boaz honestly shares that Naomi is selling her property that the other man has first bids on and Boaz is second in line.  So close and yet so far from the goal.  I think I hear another “meanwhile” as the lives of these two men discuss the future of Ruth.  The man wants the property but “meanwhile” his family line has developed in such a way that if he buys the property and inherits Ruth with whom he would be required to have children, his family line would be endangered.  

         I do not understand all the cultural intricacies of this but I do understand that as we seek to create care-plans, the outcome is often contingent on events going on in other lives.  As the family seeks to decide which care center to place a person in for the family to care, the events unfolding in all the participant’s lives, impacts the decision.  As my husband and I decided where to retire, we weighed the events unfolding in the lives of our children.  As we seek to plan and care, we realize we can only see so far into the future as lives of others are also unfolding. 

         Faith reaches out to a God who sees the present and possible future of all concerned in our decision.  He knows the “meanwhiles” that impact our lives and that surprise us but do not surprise him.  Proverbs 16:33 shares, ”The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone.”   Likewise, I am comforted by 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he care for you.”

         This week as we make our plans for Thanksgiving gatherings, Black Friday shopping, and weigh how we can best shown our love to others safely, we can bring all that angst to God in prayer because while we are worrying, “meanwhile back at the ranch” God is present walking with us.  Blessings.

Christ the King Sunday: The King is Unmasked!

November 21, 2020

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

11Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
  20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
  23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Psalm: Psalm 95:1-7a

1Come, let us sing to the Lord;
  let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.
2Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving
  and raise a loud shout to the Lord with psalms.
3For you, Lord, are a great God,
  and a great ruler above all gods.
4In your hand are the caverns of the earth;
  the heights of the hills are also yours. 
5The sea is yours, for you made it,
  and your hands have molded the dry land.
6Come, let us worship and bow down,
  let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
7aFor the Lord is our God,
  and we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46

 [Jesus said to the disciples:] 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


Charles Dickens opens his famous book Tale of Two Cities with these words:

         “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age     of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of       belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light,     it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was          the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had   nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were      all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far        like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities        insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the        superlative degree of comparison only.”

We come to the end of Pentecost and the end of the Christian year.  Next Sunday we start the liturgical cycle again only we will be looking at our faith through the eyes of Mark.  This year we have listened to Matthew tell us first about who Jesus was and then how the reality of Jesus’ life impacts our lives.  Today we get a glimpse of the final scene, of what will happen when Jesus returns.  Like Dickens’ introduction, in that event we will be faced with the extremes of our life: kings and peasants, good guys and bad guys, rewards and punishments.

Kings and Peasants

         How do you picture Jesus?  Some like the picture of him welcoming the little children onto his lap.  Another famous picture is of Jesus walking like a shepherd carrying a little lamb.  My parents had the picture hanging in their bedroom of a young man at the helm of a boat in a stormy sea and Jesus standing just behind him with one hand on the youth’s shoulder and the other pointing the direction for the ship to go. Jesus does not paint a picture of his return for the disciples based on their experience of him.  He opens our text today describing “the Son of Man coming in his glory.”  Advent, starting next week, introduces Jesus in a manger, humbly ushered into human lives.  Today Christ the King comes in glory with the angels.  Is that the Halleluiah Chorus I hear in the background?  Like another song, I wonder if I will fall down at his feet in awe or be shouting in joy.  Or will I be able to speak at all?  I can only imagine!

         It will not be a humble manger in a stable but all the nations of the world will be gathered before him and he will speak with authority.  This is not a courtroom.  This is not waiting for the election returns.  What we have seen as a poor reflection in a mirror, we will see face to face.  As 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Now I know in part, then I shall know fully even as I am fully known.”  The end will be King Jesus coming to his world and bringing real justice to his people.

         But wait, we also see another picture of Jesus in this scene.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”  King Jesus is also that lowly child in a manger, the needy people, perhaps the neighbors, of our everyday life.  The picture here may be of a returning king but it is also a picture of a present king who is enmeshed in the reality of our lives.  He is not just returning, he is also revealing, shall we say unmasking, his presence in our world.  We thought he left but he has been here all along.  This picture of the Christian God is far different from other religions with gods sitting on shelves, fighting in the heavens, or sending angels to keep track of our good deeds and bad deeds.  The Christian God, the triune God, the God known to us in the reality of Jesus will be seen as the Son of Man coming in glory with his angels and the God who has been present in our everyday lives.  Jesus was there in the best of times and in the worst of times.

Good Guys and Bad Guys

         “It was the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness.”  When Christ returns he places people on his right and people on his left, two groups.  He calls it sheep and goats but we could call it wise and foolish, believers and unbelievers.  I lived for a while in the desert of Kenya with people who had sheep and goats.  At first I could not tell one from the other as I had only seen them in childhood books.  Kenyan sheep had black heads and white bodies with a large bulbous tail of fat that flapped behind them.  During times of famine, pieces of the tail were cut off for food.  My workman shared how he fell from a tree and a piece of sheep fat was cut off and used as a bandage.  Sheep walked with their head down, following the sheep in-front of them, nibbling grass.  I never saw them jump or leap but just follow the leader.  Their milk is very sweet and smooth for tea.  Goats on the other hand are lively, jumping around, male bucks bumping heads and fighting.  You had to catch them by the back leg to milk them and their milk is the closest to human milk for a baby.  I have seen three sheep blindly follow the leader right into a speeding bus.  Klunk, klunk, klunk, as they rolled under the wheels.  But I must also say I hit a goat jumping off the hill beside the road to run in-front of my car.  That guy didn’t make it either.

         Both sets of people are confronted with how they responded to the needy people in their lives who in actuality represented Jesus.  Both claim they have little remembrance of the incidents.  The sheep don’t remember helping and the goats don’t remember not helping.  For the sheep, compassion and mercy were so natural the incidents do not even stand out in their mind. 

         I find it interesting that Jesus does not play the comparison game with either group of people.  The goats are not guilty for not being sheep.  They are guilty for their own actions.  The sheep are not rewarded for being better than the goats.  It is not a judgment based on a sliding scale of comparison.  There is no failure because of a less than perfect lifestyle.  There is no picture of large crowns for the famous and small crowns for the poor, no forgotten people who tried so hard with the little they had.  Also the picture is not of success as in the previous parable where the guys who doubled their talents were praised.  Some are not singled out for their amount of engagement.  The standard seems to be engaging relationship of compassion for the need of the other or lack of engagement because of no concern for the other.

         The question that comes to my mind is to wonder if at the final coming of Christ, are our works what tips the balance and determines if we enter heaven?  Works salvation. Ephesians 2: 8-10 says,

         “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not     your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that    no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in     Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be          our way of life.”

         People grade or evaluate each other by works.  They like those people kind to them and avoid those who are not so nice.  Perhaps we are more prone to forgive or help those we are related to in some way but, as Thanksgiving comes this week, I can remember the conversations about who did what last year, brought what to the meal, or decorated their home in various ways.  We won’t mention the anxiety of Christmas gift shopping.  Works reminds me of the “chores” that had to be done to get an allowance.  People who had abusive fathers find the thought of pleasing a “Father God” very frightening.  Works play into my control issues.  I am in control of my works so I deserve to get to heaven, ergo, I do not have to worry about relationship with an unseen being.  For sure this being will reward my good efforts to love my neighbor as myself.  Salvation by grace is a humbling concept and we are quick to ponder this part of the story.  Surely the sheep were nicer than the goats, smarter than the goats, more deserving than the goats: the good guy is me.  Surely the goats were the bad guys, the guys in the newspaper, the demonstrators or that other party or that other ethnicity or even that other religion.  They were bad guys.  Neither the sheep nor the goats understood their lives accurately.  We are saved by grace, in relationship to Christ.  The thief on the cross entered Paradise that day as did Peter at his death.  This is a mystery we understand only partially but which will become clear at the coming of Christ.

Rewards and Punishments

         “It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”  The end will be a time of rewards.  When the reigning and revealing King Jesus returns and separates us into those who desire to follow him and those who do not.  The parable teaches that places have been prepared for both groups of people.  Those who want to live in Christ’s kingdom will hear, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  We call it heaven.  I understand it to be a place living in honest relationship with the God even as we sought to relate in this life.  It is almost impossible to describe.  The end of Revelation tries.  Eternal life, flowing rivers, eternal light, no illness, continual presence of Christ.  Life with the King. 

         For those who did not want to be involved with God during their lives but created their own set of rules to live by and evaluated their lives by their own lives, another place is prepared for them where they will not be forced to live as they do not want.  God does not force us to believe and pledge allegiance to him.  The parable calls it a place of punishment and through the ages, many gruesome pictures have been painted.  Even as we cannot envision the joy of heaven, for those of us who follow Jesus, we cannot envision life without his presence.  We are incredulous to believe there can be life without his presence.  Rewards and punishments are all cloaked in mystery. 

         So ultimately, what do we know?  We do know that Christ will return as king.  We know he will call his followers from all the nations of the world.  We know Christ will see through eyes of having walked in our shoes and understanding all the influences in our lives.  We know we cannot earn heaven a present for good works but it is a result of presence with Christ. It is a gift that God offers us.  True justice and fairness will become reality.  We will no longer struggle.  The Jesus we see in the Gospels who welcomed the children, healed the blind, walked on water and rose from the dead, will be the there as predicted in Isaiah 61: 1-4 and Luke 4:18-19:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Christ the King ushers in a season of light, a time of hope, and heaven.  All God’s people said, “Amen!”


November 21, 2020

“Now Thank We All Our God” was a Thanksgiving hymn yet to be written at the time of Ruth.  But Ruth, like the author Martin Rinkart, lived in times of great difficulty, famine.  Rinkart, a Lutheran minister, lived in Eilenburg, Germany during political and military conflicts sending refugees to his town.  During a great plague he held as many as 50 funerals a day in 1637.  He was the only surviving pastor from the plague and did 4000 funerals that year!  I suspect that when he met Ruth in heaven, they had stories to swap of hard times endured and the exhaustion plus blessing of caring for people. 

         We have come almost to the end of Chapter 3 of Ruth.  She married the son of Naomi who fled famine in Bethlehem only to meet death, leaving her a young childless wife widowed.  She chose to risk returning to Bethlehem with Naomi but struggled to survive there.  Gleaning, “per chance” in the field of a distant relative, Boaz, the two women hatch a plan to offer Ruth to marry him.  The “match maker” role does not seem to have come into practice yet.  Boaz is flattered by Ruth’s offer to be married to him but realizes there is a relative who has stronger rights, so heads off to the city gate to settle the words.  Our “she-roe” waits.  I wonder if she would have found comfort in this tune, written centuries later, during those anxious hours as she, as he, and as we wait for the outcome of our prayers.

1 Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

2 O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

3 All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

Perhaps take time this morning to listen to this modern rendition and may it strengthen you as you wait for your answers to this weeks prayers.  Blessings.

The Glitch

November 20, 2020

“The Glitch.”  Have you ever got into a project only to discover there is one more form to fill out, one more office to visit, or one more unanticipated thing to do?  It is so frustrating.  Prayers that are answered “no,” while disappointing give us a clear path.  We can grieve, eat a donut and move on.  It is the care-plans that require waiting for some unforeseen step that are challenging.  Ruth has done all that her mother-in-law has advised.  She has worked hard, gleaning in the fields, exposing herself to rejection at the threshing floor at night, and then she hears, “Wait.”  Boaz is appreciative, understands her proposal of marriage, says that all the townsmen know of what noble character Ruth is BUT there is a kinsman redeemer who has first opportunity to redeem Naomi’s property including Ruth.

         The questions must have swirled in Ruth’s mind.  Did Naomi not know there was another man who had first choice?  Will she be part of an agreement to someone she has not worked to know and whom she respects?  I can imagine that confidence in herself and in her relationships must have collapsed.  My daughter has been waiting for six months to cross into Canada for a job she accepted.  President Elect is waiting for the turnover to start.  Others wait by the bedside of a beloved with Covid.  We wait for the vaccine.  Waiting is hard work and challenging to our souls.  We live in a “now” generation.

         Ruth hears Boaz’s word that he will deal with the issue that day.  She returns home to Naomi and reports in and Naomi encourages her that Boaz will settle the words.  So frustrating!  Care plans take time to unfold.  It takes work to get everyone onboard for the action.  Getting the whole family to agree that a relative has Alzheimer’s and which facility to use is complicated. Waiting for the acceptance letter to the college of your choice is nerve racking.  In fact, we often spend time waiting for life to unfold.

         We do not read that Ruth kept her anxiety inside herself or resorted to eating donuts or drinking alcohol.  She just waited.  We can imagine how she filled the hours.  How do we wait when answers to prayers delay?  Do we accuse God of having a glass ceiling?  Do we get irritated with everyone around us?  Do we despair and resort to comfort escapes?  Sharing our situation with a friend often brings comfort and support. King David had to wait for God’s promise of kingship to materialize.  He wrote a lot of poetry, psalms, during that time.  Psalm 27:10-14 says

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they are breathing out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

As we wait today for our care plans to be worked out, may we wait on the Lord.  Blessings.