Sunday, November 8, 2015


To get the point of a story sometimes you have to know
what was going on at the time it was written.
When the author wrote the Book of Ruth,
Judah had lost its power.
It was a colony of Persia
but there was an intense nationalist movement
                        to return to the old glory days.
Judah wanted to be an Empire again like in the days of King David.
David was the symbol of Jewish greatness
He was their George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and FDR
            all rolled into one.
That's why he is the main character in today's lesson
            even though he doen't show up till the very last word.

The other thing afoot was an immigration problem.
There had been an influx of immigrants
from their neighbor country, Moab.
A lot of Jewish men had married women from Moab.

The new Jewish leaders wanted Judah for Jews.
So they ordered those men to divorce their foreign wives
            and the government set out to deport them
along with their mixed-race children.

But there was a problem.
In the United States we have the 14th Amendment
            that makes people born here citizens.
Just as we have the Constitution,
            Judah had the Law of Moses.
Leviticus Chapter 19 verse 34:
            “You shall treat the alien in your land the same as a citizen;
            . . . You shall love the alien as yourself,
            for you were once aliens in Egypt.
            This is God talking.”

Deuteronomy 10 verse 19 says the same thing.
Exodus 23 verses 9 – 12 say it in more detail.
Plus multiple provisions to insure hospitality
            to aliens in specific ways.

But the government wanted to deport those little Moabite brats,
even if it meant disregarding the Law of Moses
-- just as some of our leaders today
want to get repeal the 14th Amendment;
as well as deport 11 million people from our midst.
Judah’s political context when the Book of Ruth
            hit the presses was remarkably like ours in 2015.

So let’s look at the story:
It begins with a famine in Judah.
When times were hard there, a Jewish woman,
            Naomi, and her family emigrated to Moab to find work and food.
Eventually Naomi’s husband died,
            but her sons supported her.

Both sons married Moabite women.
Then eventually both sons died.
So Naomi, with no means of support,
            went home basically to die herself.
She told her daughters in law to go find Moabite husbands
and she packed up to go back to Judah.
But her Moabite daughter in law Ruth wouldn’t have it.
She said to Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave you.
            Whither thou goest, I will go.
            Whither thou dwellest, I will dwell.
            Thy people shall be my people;
                        and thy God, my God.”

So Ruth the Moabite went to Judah with Naomi
            and took the most menial job available,
            gathering the gleanings from the fields.
There she attracted the attention of the rich Jewish landowner, Boaz.
With a little coaxing from Naomi, Ruth seduced Boaz,
            and he married her.

If the story stopped here, it might just be the case
            of a desperate immigrant woman sleeping her way to the top.
But the Book of Ruth ends with a zinger in today’s lesson.
Boaz and Ruth gave birth to Obed, the father of Jesse,
            who was the father of . . . . . . David.
Stop. Hold on.

David the Super Jew, the Father of Judah, the sign, the symbol,
and the epitome of Jewish nationalism
            was himself one of those half-breed Moabite brats
            the current leaders wanted to deport.

Several centuries later, Matthew began his Gospel
with the genealogy of Jesus.
In order to show that Jesus was the prophesied messiah.
Matthew needed to prove Jesus was descended from David.
In fact, he traced Jesus’ heritage all the way back to Abraham.
It’s a patrilineal genealogy, meaning it goes down the line by fathers.
However, Matthew included 4 mothers in the list.
All four of the women had – shall we say -- colorful stories.
At least three, maybe all 4, of them were not Jewish.
All of them were outcasts.
But without them, there would have been no Jesus.

So what’s the point of the Book of Ruth for us?
We don’t want our preachers applying Biblical morality
 to political life.

So I am not going to say anything about 
how the government treats immigrants.
If the Bible makes a point about it, I can’t help that.
I just won’t say it myself lest people accuse me of talking about politics.

Instead I’ll draw two other points.
The first is about the Church.
Most Churches are really good at making new people feel at home
            so long as they are a lot like the people already there.
When folks don’t fit for any reason – age, color, social class, education,
            political persuasion – you name it – we may not be rude;
            but we have a cool way of letting them know they don’t fit.

Well, Ruth didn’t fit. Neither did Jesus’s great grandmothers,
            Rahab and Tamar both charged with prostitution,
            Bathsheba the Canaanite adulteress,
            or the illegal alien Ruth who seduced Boaz.
The Blessed Virgin Mary may not have enjoyed the best reputation
in Nazareth when she turned up pregnant out of wedlock.

Is it any wonder that Jesus always spoke up for the outsider,
            the excluded, the people who did not fit?
Those were his people.
That’s why his Church is here to be a place
            where people don’t have to fit in order to belong.

But that kind of hospitality doesn’t come naturally.
It’s a spiritual discipline.
And it starts with how we treat ourselves.

We are all pretty complicated.
There are parts of us we are proud of.
We show them off in public.
But there are other parts of ourselves
            we are ashamed of.
Maybe it’s an anger or a fear, a weakness or a need.
There are parts of ourselves that are not welcome,
            parts of ourselves that are like aliens
            and we want to deport them.

Psychologists will tell us that the passionate drive
to deport 11 million aliens
isn’t really about people from other countries.
It goes back to our desire to get rid of parts of ourselves.
From the standpoint of the Church,
            the immigration furor doesn’t just look like a political flap.
It looks like a symptom of a spiritual problem,
            the same spiritual problem that shrinks congregations
                        and keeps us painfully self-critical as individuals.

But there is healing for that spiritual problem.
At the very center of our being, we each have a soul
            and our soul looks a lot like Jesus.
It is, in fact, the inner Christ.
Our soul looks at all of those outcast parts of ourselves,j
            the parts that are burdened with judgments and guilt and shame.
And that soul says,
            “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden,
            and I will give you rest. . . .
            As the Father loved me, so I have loved you.”

If we start with a spiritual discipline
            of accepting the unacceptable in ourselves,
            treating ourselves a little more hospitably,
            we will be better able to welcome into the Church
                        those folks who don’t fit,

                        those folks so dear to the heart of Jesus.