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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Hold Nothing Back 11/11/2018

Sermon by Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick, supply at Bethany Lutheran, Ishpeming

November 11, 2018, 10:30 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Hold Nothing Back

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 / Psalm 127 / Hebrews 9.24-28 / Mark 12.38-44

What are we to do in the face of the overwhelming needs in the world?  What are we to do … when conflicts rage … sending untold numbers of refugees fleeing their countries for safety elsewhere?  What are we to do … when disaster strikes … whether by act of nature or by act of mortals?  What are we to do … in the face of famine, poverty, homelessness, hunger, fires, floods, disease, violence, greed, and hatred in all its forms?  What are we to do when communities are broken … and God is an after-thought?  These are age-old questions … and the readings we have for today suggest a startling response:  We are to hold nothing back.

From the book of Ruth:  “Do not press me to leave you or turn back from following you!  Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” So says Ruth … a Moabite woman … to Naomi … her Israelite mother-in-law back in the first chapter of the book of Ruth.  Because last Sunday was the remembrance of All Saints … with its own set of special readings … we missed the first part … of the story … the part that would help us understand how Naomi and Ruth … and Boaz, too … held nothing back from God.  Here is the background and essence of the story:

Sometime after the escape from Egypt and before Israel became a monarchy under Saul … its first ever king … a severe famine afflicts the land of Israel.  For this reason, a man named Elimelech … from Bethlehem in the territory of Judah … takes his wife, Naomi, and their two sons … to live in Moab … a foreign land east of the Dead Sea. 

While the family waits out the lengthy famine far from home and community … Naomi’s husband dies … and her two sons marry Moabite women.  About ten years later … both of the sons die … leaving Naomi in a strange land … with strange gods … with no protection … and with two non-Israelite daughters-in-law … now both vulnerable widows like herself. 

Naomi generously encourages the young women to remain in Moab and return to their own mothers’ homes … where they might hope to marry again and live well.  One takes her advice, but the other … Ruth … insists upon remaining with Naomi … as I read a moment ago.  So it is that the two widows return together to Naomi’s home in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest begins.

As the story continues … Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to go to the field and glean the stalks of grain that are dropped by the reapers … hoping to find favor working behind one of them.  Naomi agrees … and as Ruth labors … she is noticed by Boaz … who happens to be a wealthy kinsman of Naomi … on her late husband’s side.  Boaz is impressed with Ruth’s devotion and loyalty to her mother-in-law … and … to make a longer story short … secures the privilege of marrying her.

Generally … the primary significance of this story … is that … through her marriage to Boaz of Bethlehem … Ruth becomes the ancestor … the great-grandmother, actually … of Israel’s greatest king … David … and part of the family line of Jesus.  However … that is not our focus this morning.  Rather, I am thinking how the characters in the Book of Ruth hold nothing back … how they put their lives in God’s hands.

Though Naomi is bitter … and believes God has turned against her … she turns her face towards her homeland anyway.  God had long ago called into being a community that took care of its own … through a complex set of rules that helped protect widows … women who would otherwise have no one to provide for them.  Naomi knows this and so throws herself … and her devoted Moabite daughter-in-law … onto the mercy of that very community.

Meanwhile … Ruth has apparently grown to love and trust … her mother-in-law more than she fears … leaving all that is familiar to her.  And Boaz, too, holds nothing back.  By the laws of Israel at the time, a man had an obligation to carry on a dead kinsman’s legacy by marrying his widow.  Boaz takes on this responsibility willingly … though Ruth is a non-Israelite foreigner at a time when Israelites were discouraged from marrying foreign women.

 

Whether in the ancient Middle East of the time of Naomi and Ruth … some thousand years before Christ … or in the time of Jesus … to be a widow … was generally to be desperately poor and vulnerable … unless you had grown-up sons or other male kin.  With the breadwinner gone … there was no one to meet the basic needs of such women … and they were also at the mercy of a system that routinely allowed them to be deprived of what little they may have had.  Not without reason do both the Old and New Testaments make countless references to the need to care for widows and orphans!

Now … as we shift our focus to the Gospel for today … we hear the words of Jesus … as he commends another widow … who holds nothing back.  He says to his disciples: “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  This woman has no back-up plan … no resources to use to care for herself.

 

By this time in Jewish history … the people were expected to contribute to the temple so as to help those in need.  We know nothing of what this nameless widow was thinking as she put her two pathetic little coins into the treasury … because we have only the observations of Jesus … not her own words.  We know only that she held nothing back.  We don’t know how her two coins came into her possession.  Were they the last of the resources left after the death of her husband? … Did she find them on the street like the pennies we often find in a parking lot … pennies the owner has not bothered to pick up after missing the pocket into which they were supposed to drop? 

Had she begged for money? … Received a small amount from some marginally compassionate soul? … perhaps receiving enough to meet her most basic needs … but reserving these two coins for the expected offering to the Temple? 

We do not know whether she brought any hope at all with her to the Temple that day.  However … whether it was a sense of habitual duty … a touch of despair … or faith and hope … she brought along with her puny coins that day … we know that she held nothing backthat she put her whole life in God’s hands.

Jesus, too, held nothing back from God … as he put his whole life into the hands of his Father.  God had a purpose … as one colleague of mine once expressed it … the purpose of “reconciliation on a cosmic scale” [Eric Ackerman].  For mortals to be freed from the power of death … from the power of fear of death … God took on human flesh … and so took on the worst that life held for fallen humanity … death itself.  God … in Christ Jesus … held nothing back

The marvel for us is that … even beyond the blessed gift of himself … Jesus has invited us poor, miserable, bitter, despairing, confused, overwhelmed, suffering people … into that very mission of reconciliation.  As individuals … and especially as the community of faith we call the church … we are members of God’s volunteer fire department.  On any given day … the metaphoric siren goes off … in caring hearts … all around the world … and in our neighborhoods … and people drop what they are doing … to respond to someone else’s need.  No one can do everything … but each of us can do something … to participate in the life-giving work … of bringing a glimmer of hope to a broken world … of reaching out to alienated ones who turn in despair to acts of violenceof helping to keep love alive

So, let us hold nothing back.  Let us bring to God our fears, our weaknesses, our sins, and our failings … as well as our talents and resources.  Let us offer songs of praise and thanksgiving to the God who has walked among us in human flesh … who has suffered and died as humans suffer and die … and has blessed us with a purpose beyond ourselves ... with a gracious, loving way out of confusion and despair.  Because … my friends … when we hold nothing back from God, we find a clarity in life that is beyond human control or understanding.  We find a certainty … that what we do out of trust in Jesus … and out of loving concern for the neighbor … has meaning for God.  When we give our whole selves up to God’s purpose, we find life and joy beyond human powers.

 Like those we have met in today’s readings … let us hold nothing back.  Let us put our whole lives in God’s hands.  And then let us each act … in trust and gratitude … as God calls us … in our individual … and in our community circumstances.  May it be so among us.    Amen.

 

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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