Turn and Bless

Sermon Preached on November 11, 2018 – Pentecost +25
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Turn and Bless

These last weeks of the Season after Pentecost we are finding our way – as disciples, as those who follow Jesus. And together we are learning more about the practices of the Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life, a rule of life, to which we’ve been invited by our Presiding Bishop. Those seven practices are: Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest.¹ We’ve already spent some time with Rest. We now have six practices and three weeks remaining, so two per week. Given our lessons today, we are clearly meant to be talking about TURN and BLESS.

This morning we have unlikely women doing unexpected, unconventional things. They are turning the world upside down, which is really right side up. Turning the world from what it is, to what God would have it be. And they do so by turning toward love. The result of their love is a blessing to others.

In our Old Testament text from the Book of Ruth we have two women who matter so little in their own time and place that they are at risk of starving to death. They have nothing, and yet – they will become principle players in God’s salvation history.

While the historical and cultural dimensions of the story feel foreign to us, this is essentially a story of refugees: people displaced from their homeland, struggling with issues of political status, homelessness, food insecurity, and national and local prejudice. So while this is an ancient story, it’s unfortunately easy for us to imagine.

The reader’s digest version of the background: Naomi and her husband and two sons are forced by famine to leave Bethlehem and go to Moab. (In this part of the story they’re the refugees.) Naomi’s husband dies, and her two sons marry Moabite wives. After 10 years in Moab, both sons die, and the women are left with nothing, no status, no property, no living. Naomi decides to return to the land of her people and sends her daughters-in-law home to their families so they may remarry, and hopefully find safety and well-being.

But Ruth won’t go, instead she decides to go with Naomi, to become a refugee in her mother-in-law’s homeland, where Moabites are hated, and where she will have even fewer possibilities than she does at this moment.

Ruth says:
Do not press me to leave you or to 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. Where you die, I will
die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and
more as well, if even death parts me from you! (Ruth 1:16-17 NRSV)

Ruth’s radical faithfulness to Naomi makes the rest of the story possible, and a great deal more. Together Ruth and Naomi make the journey to Bethlehem in the hope that back in the land of Naomi and her late husband they might find a way to survive. In Bethlehem they find Boaz, Naomi’s late husband’s distant kin, whose kinship Naomi hopes will extend to taking care of her and her daughter-in-law. Ruth gleans from the fields that Boaz is overseeing, and he is kind to her, providing her safety and enough of the grain so she and Naomi will have sufficient food to eat.

In the portion of the text we have this morning, Naomi encourages Ruth to charm Boaz into marrying her as next of kin. And after a few plot twists (establishing Boaz as kind, and wise and above reproach) he claims his role as kin and marries Ruth. They give Naomi a grandson – and a life, a home, food and shelter, a place in the community, and joy she never expected was still possible.

And if that weren’t enough, this child, born of a destitute, widowed Moabite woman, will be the grandfather of David, who will be king of Israel, and from whose line will come the Messiah. Ruth becomes instrumental in maintaining the line of David, even though she is “one of those people,” and a woman. Her radical faithfulness changes not only her life and her mother-in-law’s, it sustains the fabric of the world. The plan of God for the salvation of the world made possible in part by Ruth and her faithfulness.

And if Ruth and Naomi matter, really matter in the grand scheme of salvation history – then no one can be discounted, no one is inconsequential. Every human being has the capacity to make a difference, to further the kingdom of God, to provide that one important, radical act of faithfulness that changes everything. If not for the world, at least for one other equally important, beloved and consequential human being. And that may be enough to usher in the kingdom of God.

God’s own son comes from and through the radically faithful actions of unlikely people, those on the margins, those who are outside, because God’s salvation is of and for the whole world. Turn and Bless. Turn the world upside down with radically faithful actions.

Enter the story of the widow in the temple, whose radical act defies conventional wisdom and common sense. With apologies to our stewardship team, this is not about giving money to the temple. It’s about a widow with very little: no standing, no money, nothing to live on; who gives everything. She gives her whole living, embodying complete faith.

For the Gospel writer Mark this is an example of the difference between the expectations of the world and the kingdom of God. This is what discipleship looks like – it’s giving one’s whole life to God, it’s whole-life living, and trusting in God. In this widow’s act Jesus sees the foreshadowing of his own act – his own giving of his whole life.

Turn and Bless. Turn toward the ways of God and give of ourselves. Share our whole-life living with the world – and bless others.

Turn and Bless. Ruth and Naomi, turn from the oppression and hatred of their culture, the ways their world is, and choose to turn in love toward one another. In doing so change the way things are, to the way they should be. They are a blessing to each other, and they cause blessings to ripple outward. They then become a blessing for the world. Turn toward love – and become a blessing.

From the Way of Love materials:
TURN: Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus Like the disciples, we are called by Jesus to follow the Way of Love. With God’s help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression toward the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom. In turning, we reorient our lives to Jesus Christ, falling in love again, again, and again.

Some questions for us to ponder in the week ahead:
What practices might help you to turn again and again to Jesus Christ and the Way of Love? How might you incorporate these practices into your rhythm of life?

(Ruth and Naomi have one another on the journey.) Who will be your companion as you turn toward Jesus Christ?

BLESS The widow gives freely all that she has, her whole livelihood. She proclaims by her example her faith and trust in God; a God who gives completely of God’s self. Jesus commends her to his disciples – she has given unselfishly, she is a blessing.

Again, from the Way of Love materials:
BLESS: Share faith and unselfishly give and serve. Jesus called his disciples to give, forgive, teach, and heal in his name. We are empowered by the Spirit to bless everyone we meet, practicing generosity and compassion and proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ with hopeful words and selfless actions. We can share our stories of blessing and invite others to the Way of Love.

And our questions:
What are the ways the Spirit is calling you to bless others?

How will blessing others – through sharing your resources, faith, and story – become part of your daily life? Who will join you in committing to the practice of blessing others?

My friends, the kingdom of God begins with whole-life living, with being all in, with radical acts of faithful relationship. Radical acts of discipleship by rather unlikely people – like us, ushering in the kingdom of God for the whole world.

May we Turn and Bless: Turn toward Love – and become a blessing. Amen.

[1] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love-materials