Ruth takes shelter under the cloak of Boaz and lies with him in the fresh grass. From the Wellcome Library, London. Undated Etching. Used by permission. CC Attribution 4.0 International.
Revised Common Lectionary
See full texts, artwork, and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this Sunday at Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17. Naomi guides Ruth through the customs of Hebrew culture to enable her legitimately to find a husband, home, and children. In this way, Ruth becomes the great grandmother of Israel's future king, David.
Psalm Response: Psalm 127 or Psalm 42 (UMH 777). Psalm 127 is not in The UMH (its Psalter was from the earlier Common Lectionary) but is a more appropriate response to the first lesson. Verses 1-2 focus on the emptiness of life without trust in God's presence and provision. Verses 3-5 speak of the blessing of having children. The theme that binds these two together is the term "house" in verse 1, taken figuratively in the second part to refer to a "household." Here is a version from The Book of Common Prayer (1979, Public Domain), slightly altered for inclusive language and with a proposed refrain and chant pointing added.
A New Setting for Psalm 127
REFRAIN: First and last lines of the first verse of "When Love Is Found" (UMH 643)
Chant Tone (G Major): G-A-G-B; E-F#-D-G
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
their labor is in vain who build it.
2 Unless the LORD watches over the city, *
in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.
3 It is in vain that you rise so early and go to bed so late; *
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for God gives to the be-lov-ed sleep.
4 Children are a heritage from the LORD, *
and the fruit of the womb is a gift.
5 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior *
are the children of one’s youth.
6 Happy are they who have a quiver full of them! *
they shall not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
OR Psalm 42 (UMH 777). "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God." If you plan to sing this Psalm, use Tone 2 in C minor with the sung response.
Hebrews 9:24-28. Unlike the Aaronic priest who enters annually into the Holy of Holies with the blood of a bull and a goat to make ritual atonement, through the incarnation and his life of intercession and obedience even unto death, Jesus Christ entered into heaven itself, offering himself once for all to remove sin, not merely "cover" it (the word usually translated "atonement" in Hebrew means "cover"). At the judgment, Christ will acquit those who have eagerly waited for him.
Mark 12:38-44. The story of the "widow's mite" comes immediately after warnings by Jesus about the "home-devouring" practices of the scribes who were expected to use the temple treasury funds to support widows and orphans but used it to support their own lavish lifestyles instead. That is why the widow has only a penny to give, but also why she gives it all — that perhaps others might still be helped, even if meagerly, by what she can offer. Her situation is also a sign of the corruption of this present age and the need for the arrival of the age to come.
Worship Planning Notes
In the Christian calendar, today is the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
It may also and instead be the first Sunday of Extended Advent (link is to our webinar with background and resources for celebrating in 2015).
On the denominational calendar, today is also Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday, (National Donor Sabbath).
Some Christians will also keep today as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Discipleship Ministries resources)
Veterans Day is this coming Wednesday, November 11, on the U.S. civil calendar. If you are following the theme of "basic hospitality" from Ruth, be sure to call attention to ways your congregation can be (or maybe already is) practicing basic hospitality toward people newly arriving or returning from any kind of service or stay away from your local community. See also the resources for welcoming people returning from war or praying for people deploying to war from the GBHEM chaplains and pastoral counselors resources website.
Resources for Planning Ahead
Here are three articles and a webinar to help you plan through the end of the year.
Seasons and Series for Fall 2015
Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry for the Season after Pentecost, Year B
Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/2016
Extended Advent Webinar (to learn more about how to implement Extended Advent)
Planning for Advent and Christmas, Year C
Webinar Slides: Planning for Advent and Christmas 2015
All Month: Native American Heritage Month
November 8 Extended Advent Begins
Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday
Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
November 11 Veterans Day (USA)
November 22 Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday
Bible Sunday (USA)
November 26 Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 29 “Regular” Advent Begins
United Methodist Student Day
December 1 World Aids Day (GBCS resources, Discipleship Ministries Resources)
December 21 Longest Night/Blue Christmas
December 24 Christmas Eve
December 25 Christmas Day
December 31 Watch Night/ New Year’s Eve/ Holy Name of Jesus
January 1 New Year’s Eve/ Holy Name of Jesus
January 3/6 Epiphany Sunday/Epiphany
January 10 Baptism of the Lord
January 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 17 Human Relations Day
January 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 24 Ecumenical Sunday
Ruth: Reconsidering Aliens
Week 2: Guiding the Way to a New Home
As we noted last week, a significant purpose of the book of Ruth was to speak out against a rising xenophobia in Judean culture at the time by reminding its readers that the great-grandmother of their illustrious King David was a Moabite. Last week’s reading from Ruth helped us to appreciate that this “foreigner” could be as faithful and loyal, or maybe even more so, than a “homegrown Judean.” This week’s reading reminds us how basic codes of hospitality and family, built into Judean culture from of old, also call for an end to the extreme “us vs. them” mentality and policies of the day.
Most of the Near-Eastern and Middle-Eastern world of that day had strong and traditional hospitality codes in place that generally required people to welcome strangers and foreigners into their homes under certain conditions. Likewise, nearly all of them had “emergency back-up family codes” to ensure a widowed woman was able to find a new husband to provide for her and start a new family. However, just what those conditions were, how the hospitality codes could be invoked, and how the back-up family codes worked varied from culture to culture. This is why Naomi’s instruction is critical here. Naomi knows the codes and folkways of her people well enough to navigate her Moabite daughter-in-law through them, even if by an unusual path, to find a spouse, and start a new family among Naomi’s people.
To be sure, some of these codes would seem strange, and even immoral, by some standards. If today’s reading from Ruth were made into a movie accurately, it might be rated R or NC-17. To “uncover the feet” was typically a euphemism for uncovering the genitals. People in this culture did not typically sleep with their feet covered. Meanwhile, Ruth’s words (verse 9) make this even clearer: “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next of kin.” While the text appears to preclude the notion that Ruth and Boaz had sexual intercourse that night, what did happen was a clear declaration of both loyalty (as Boaz notes in 3:10) and sexual intent.
To be sure, Naomi’s advice in this case was not quite usual. It was a bit of an improvisation, one that depended on the normal rules of “kinsman-redeemer” relationships (the next of kin is to marry a widow to continue the line of the deceased husband). It was a rather daring improvisation at that. This is why Ruth rises to leave so early and why Boaz insists no one can know about what had happened (3:14). The gift of six bushels of barley (3:15) was another improvisation—a kind of dowry paid by Boaz to Naomi, signaling to her his intent to accept the kinsman-redeemer role if he could (since there was another who was closer in kinship—3:12 and 4:1-11). Of course, the only way Ruth could have transported this much grain (six bushels) to Naomi would be if she were not wearing her cloak (the implication being she was perhaps only wearing her undergarments when she lay at Boaz’s feet!). This would be another compelling reason for travel by dark.
What happened the next day followed standard procedure to the letter. Boaz, now functioning as Ruth’s protector, if not yet her spouse, wanted to ensure this “transaction” was entirely above board and publicly legitimized. That standard procedure involved a right of refusal symbolized by the removal and transfer of a sandal (a foot covering!) This public act symbolized the transfer of sexual rights from one man to another. When the “most legitimate” kinsman redeemer discovered that a Moabitess was part of the property he was asked to redeem, he refused, noting that she would “harm my own inheritance” (4:16). He thus takes off a sandal and gives it to Boaz, with the town’s elders as witnesses, signaling that Boaz will function as the legitimate redeemer of both the land and the woman (4:8-11).
Note the social critique happening in this simple recounting. The “most legitimate” heir refuses for reasons of “impurity.” He believes the Moabitess, the foreigner, would adulterate his inheritance. He can’t have her in his lineage if he hopes to maintain the moral, cultural and religious purity he believes to be paramount. This would be simply too “irregular.”
Yet, was not his own refusal itself irregular? Was not the “most legitimate” claimant expected to “do his duty?” Which codes should trump which? The codes of family obligation and hospitality to foreigners, grounded deeply in Torah, or the more personal and perhaps cultural codes of xenophobia and concerns about “purity” of the family line?
We know the end of the story. Ruth and Boaz were immediately blessed with a son, Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, the great king of Israel who united the tribes and established the religious, military, and political basis for Israel’s nationhood. And of course, David’s own selection as king by Samuel, as everyone would know, was just as irregular, as he was the youngest, not the oldest, of Jesse’s sons.
Ruth thus turns out to be an explosive little narrative in its day—and ours if we read it correctly. This story reminds its hearers that it was by means of one irregularity after another, though irregularities completely in keeping with biblical codes of hospitality and family life, that she and the nation of Israel were each established and redeemed. Naomi and Boaz, and not the “usual” kinsman-redeemer who thought the “Moabitess” would adulterate his inheritance, represent God’s way and Israel’s identity in the world.
That was a bold contention indeed while the official policy of the time, led by Ezra the high priest, called for ethnic purity, even to the point of requiring men married to foreigners to cast off their wives and all children who had been born through them (Ezra 10). Ezra had convinced practically all of the religious leadership (many of whom also had foreign wives and children with them) that if they did not separate entirely from these foreigners, God’s wrath would destroy the people. Those who disagreed (only 4 names are recorded, Ezra 10:15) apparently had not married foreign wives, but their opposition could not stop the edict being enforced. The book of Ezra climaxes with the listing of all the families who sent away their foreign wives and “mixed” offspring.
Political influence could not stop this nationwide act of ethnic cleansing, prompted by fear of the wrath of God. But perhaps a reminder in story of the grace of God as the foundation of Israel’s true identity, like Ruth, could prevent such a travesty of inhospitality and xenophobia from happening again.
In Your Planning Team
First things first. Does today mark the beginning of Extended Advent for you? If so, be sure to call attention to how this text functions as an Advent text, showing how the age to come can be welcomed into this age by those who prepare the way, and those who follow it. Naomi prepared the way for Ruth, a Moabite woman, to become fully integrated into the life of Judea, even to the point of becoming the ancestor of the nation’s greatest king. Boaz cooperated, playing the rules of the current realm to help usher in the next.
Whether you are keeping Extended Advent or not, we are also now in the middle of a three week series of marginalized women in the Old Testament: Ruth, last week and this, and next week, Hannah. So keep in mind also today is not an ending as much as a segue to next. With Ruth, we add the dimension of immigration and foreigner status (and all that comes with that). With Hannah, we add the dimension of having been barren.
The conclusion of today’s story is a marriage and offspring. So consider as a response to the Word a mass renewal of wedding vows for the married couples who worship with you. If you go this route, use Psalm 127 and the suggested setting above built around the wedding hymn, "When Love Is Found." See The United Methodist Book of Worship, 135-138 and 537. See The Faith We Sing, 2230, for additional resources and music for a focus on marriage renewal. See The Upper Room Worshipbook for additional hymns focusing on Naomi's hospitality (134) or Boaz's act of redemption (157).
Hebrews: A Priestly Covenant
Week 6: More than a Covering or Release from Sins
Hebrews continues the contrast between the Aaronic high priest and the high priesthood of Jesus. Last week, the contrast was between part of the Yom Kippur (Day of Covering/Atonement) ritual and the red heifer ritual. This week the contrast is between the two different ritual actions of Yom Kippur itself: the atonement ritual proper and the scapegoat ritual.
As we saw last week, in the atonement or “covering” ritual, the Aaronic high priest enters the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies to place a small amount of the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat on the "holy things" to atone for (literally, cover) the "spiritual gunk" that has accumulated on them because of his own unintentional sin (bull blood) and the unintentional sins of the people (goat blood). See Leviticus 16. In the second part of the ritual, the high priest lays hands on the head of a second goat, confessing over it all of the unintentional sins of the people. The second goat is then driven out by another designated person into the wilderness. Importantly, this goat is not killed or sacrificed.
Put more simply, in the first ritual action, blood "covers" ("kippur" in Hebrew) the unintended sins of the people. In the second ritual action, the live goat "bears the sins" of the people and carries them away (forgiveness — aphesis in Greek).
The common link between the bull and goat of the covering of sin and the goat of the forgiveness of sin is the ritual work and leadership of the Aaronic high priest. Jesus, the Great High Priest, Hebrews tells us, enters not the tabernacle but heaven itself, bringing not the blood of goats and bulls, but his own life and ministry before God, not simply to cover sins (a temporary ritual fix that has to be repeated annually) or even to forgive them, but to remove or break or nullify (athetesis in Greek — a different and more comprehensive action than either covering or forgiveness) not just unintended sins, but sin itself (the word is singular here!), once and for all.
This is all very technical, but so is the point of the contrast that Hebrews is making between the ritual effectiveness of the Yom Kippur for the people of Israel and the actual effectiveness of the life, death, resurrection, and intercession of Christ for the whole world that we celebrate ritually at the Lord’s Table. "He breaks the power of cancelled sin," Charles Wesley wrote. That's what Hebrews is saying here. That’s part of what we enact at the breaking of the bread as well. Christ’s body broken and shared among us is Christ’s presence and power breaking sin’s power over our lives.
In Your Planning Team
We’re deep in into the heart of biblical ritual today, deeper than ever before, in fact.
It could be easy to get lost among the trees and miss the forest, especially for folks who do not know this ritual or its history.
The goal today is not to help folks learn all the details. It’s to help them come away both clear about, and perhaps blown away by, the main point.
Jesus Christ actually breaks sin’s power over our lives.
He also covers and forgives sins. And we are to do the same.
But Jesus does more. He breaks sin’s power.
As you design worship, focus then especially on these three key words: Cover, release, and break.
And then on one more distinction: Sins versus sin.
Sins are the specific harmful acts we do.
Sin is both the power and the way of life these acts participate in.
Jesus doesn’t just deal with what we’ve done wrong. He does that, too. It’s called justifying grace.
Jesus breaks the power of sin that keeps us doing the wrong things. And that’s called sanctifying grace.
Justifying grace happens at once, and then continuously as needed. Sanctifying grace starts when justifying grace does, and works continually in us, as we cooperate with it, until God’s complete cleansing of our hearts is done and love of God and neighbor reigns unrivaled on the throne of our hearts. (See John Wesley’s Sermon 92, On Zeal).
Have your planning team listen over the next week or two for how folks in your congregation imagine or speak about these concepts (covering sins, release from guilt for sins, breaking sin’s power), and draw from what you hear to develop the language you use to address the meaning of this priestly covenant for us.
Mark: Discipleship Everywhere, or The World Is About to Turn
Week 11 or Week 1: A Single Mite as Harbinger of Apocalypse
The reading from Mark today brings us to the very edge of the "apocalyptic" sayings of Jesus about the end of the world as we know it — a world centered around temple and the powerful institutions that support it. Jesus is about to say, "It's all coming down." And this woman's generosity in the midst of her victimization by the temple system is a clear sign of it. It’s a most fitting way to begin Advent, if you choose to do so today. It’s also a most fitting way to expose the potential true cost of loving God with all we are and neighbor as ourselves in a world as broken as ours is.
This is no “Precious Moments”® scene. And it’s hardly a warrant for the “typical” stewardship sermon most make of it. Jesus makes that plain. The story Mark tells is not only or even primarily about her generosity. It’s about her poverty, a poverty made worse by the very people who were supposed to be caring for her using the very resources she had placed into the temple treasury for that purpose.
She is a sign of gratitude to God, yes. And trust, to be sure. Indeed, trust beyond any reasonable expectation, given she has less than a day’s wage to her name, and now no money to begin to buy bread for that day. Even though her caretakers misused these funds and had cared for her so poorly, she would still do whatever she could to care for others. This isn’t “sweet” or “nice” or “kind.” It’s frightfully compassionate. It’s what loving God above all and neighbor as oneself looks like under such oppression.
Jesus points to her and what she’s doing precisely after warning about the very people who put her in this predicament, those who plunder widow’s houses to enrich themselves.
She is a harbinger of why God’s kingdom must come, and come decisively. The heart of righteousness (the temple treasury was also known as the “righteousness box,” and the alms placed there referred to as tzedekoth, “righteouses”) in the holiest place on the planet was so corrupt that nothing but radical divine inbreaking could cleanse it.
Jesus announces this plainly in next week’s gospel reading.
This week, we are poised on the edge, made aware of the desperate straits that require what is coming, and now already is.
And we cry out with the saints under the altar, “How long, O Lord?”
In Your Planning Team
If you’re starting Advent today, this story makes a powerful focus.
But don’t stop with the past, as if things were only awful then.
Start Advent with a bang. Even if you’re not starting Advent today, be as prophetic as Jesus in this story.
Name the ways protectors have become devourers in a way so corrupt only divine intervention can (and will) reverse it.
As I write this, the 294th mass shooting event has taken place in the U.S. this year alone. Yet consistently nothing is done by Congress to address the epidemic of violence involving guns in this country. Nothing. Our elected leaders in both parties receive millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the NRA and other groups to ensure Congress never acts—unless it is to increase the availability of lethal weapons.
As I write this, my home state of Georgia has just executed its first female prisoner in 70 years, Kelly Gissendaner. Testimony from the wardens, fellow prisoners and fellow prisoners to her complete rehabilitation (she had become a prison chaplain!) and pleas from theologian Jurgen Moltmann and even the pope were ignored by the parole board. And under Georgia law, the parole board has such final say that the governor cannot commute sentences. Even the courts cannot act to reverse or even stay decisions of the parole board, even if the proceedings of the parole board were violations of Georgia law (and in this case, there is evidence some were).
As you plan, what are examples of protectors functioning as devourers that lead folks where you are to cry out, “How Long?”
Name them. Cry out with them.
And, like this woman, remain faithful. Love God and neighbor with all you have.
And thank God, by name, for those people and ways by which the love of God and neighbor continues to act as both sign and harbinger of God’s kingdom come and coming.
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) and other links
Greeting: BOW 450 (Mark, “The hour is coming”)
Canticle: UMH 646, "Canticle of Love" (Ruth, Psalm)
Call to Worship: BOW 199, stanza 3, "Come! Come! Everybody Worship!"
Greeting: BOW 465
WORD AND RESPONSE
Canticle: UMH 406 "Canticle of Prayer"
Prayer: UMH 403 "For True Life"
Prayer: BOW 506 "For the Church"
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sao Tomé and Principe
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession: BOW 485
Offertory Hymn: BOW 179 "For the Gift of Creation"
Doxology: BOW 180 "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow"
Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 552 (“All things come from you”)
Prayer of Great Thanksgiving: BOW 124-126 (Ruth, Wedding, Renewal of Marriage Vows, or Blessing of Anniversary. Be sure to adapt the words to suit the occasion.); 70-71, or for Advent, 54-55.
Dismissal: BOW 559
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR EXTENDED ADVENT
Suggested hymns and acts of worship from The Advent Project