November 7, 2021

"Risking Everything"

Rev. Scott Landis

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

The two scripture lessons read just a few moments ago may initially appear to be completely unrelated, but upon a closer look we see some amazing similarities.

First, the lead characters are women – and that’s rare in the Bible. These particular women are well-grounded and determined in the decisions they have made. They demonstrate purpose and intentionality in their actions.

Second, they are both widows which, we know, is a segment of the population that were continually referenced in the scriptures as ones who needed, yet rarely received, protection. Bearing the stigma of being unattached to a man who could take care of them, they were always listed as among the least and the lost.

Third, what we see in both instances is the result of a broken system – and the damaging effects that can have particularly on women. In the story of Ruth, she must offer herself sexually to Boaz before gaining what she and Naomi needed – food and shelter. And, in the story of the “widow’s mite,” we witness a system that is so broken that the top 1% contribute solely from their abundance and out of convenience while the poorest of the poor set the example of faithful living. In this case, contributing “everything she had.” Sound’s familiar, doesn’t it?

Fourth, these two courageous women seem like the most unlikely to be highlighted in the Bible. Why would the ancient writers want to talk-story about two widows on the bottom rung economically, and who in the case of Ruth was an immigrant?

The answer is simple, but the concept may be hard for us to grasp. The reason: This is precisely the way God works. God often uses the most unlikely people – whether stranger, outcast, immigrant, or widow to demonstrate how the ways of God are manifest in our world. [Pause]

The story of Ruth and Naomi is remarkable for many reasons. Last week we focused on the idea that Naomi lived a life of authenticity as she demonstrated the importance of holding in tension both joy and bitter disappointment. She stated this explicitly when she returned to her hometown of Bethlehem, “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant) call me Mara (bitterness).

Ruth stood by Naomi in her time of deep conflict. She did not need to do so. As her daughter-in-law, she was free to leave and return to her family of origin upon the death of her own husband. But she CHOSE to stay with Naomi and became her constant companion.

You may have likely heard the expression, “blood is thicker than water.” It usually refers to the fact that one ought never criticize a member of the family into which you have married. Those ties run deep. Your spouse may not even like his/her family, but you’d do better to remain neutral. Ruth goes the extra mile. Not only does she stay with her chosen family, she sacrifices what could have been a much easier life – returning to her own – and instead accompanies Naomi on a precarious and uncertain journey.

In today’s story, Naomi encourages Ruth to do something that may seem strange. Suggesting she “pretty herself up” and go to Boaz after he was well fed and probably somewhat inebriated, to charm him – one could say beguiling him into seeing just how lovely life could be with her by his side. This little rendezvous produces a son, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David.

God can work through the most unlikely people to achieve God’s desired outcomes.

In the case of the widow in the Temple, Jesus had just finished excoriating those who we might think God has chosen to lead them – specifically the scribes. “Beware the scribes,” Jesus said. “Oh, how they love to walk around in long robes, be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, get the best seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. Why, they even devour widows’ houses – and for the sake of appearance offer long prayers.” This one always comes a little too close for me. “They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Then a poor widow puts two small coins into the treasury and Jesus notes, “This one did the better thing. The rich give from abundance, but she gave everything she had.”

God can work through the most unlikely people to achieve God’s desired outcomes.

Which, I believe, begs the obvious question, “How might God be trying to work through you -and me?” And I think that’s an important question because as I see it, church, we’ve got a lot of work to do. [Pause]

The Christian Church – and I’m not referring solely to Keawala’i, but all churches need to completely rethink the way we are doing things. The pandemic has given us all a “sucker-punch” from which we are currently reeling. Some of this we did to ourselves out of necessity. We could not worship together for months so we retrofitted our sanctuaries to offer worship in folk’s homes – through live-stream and tape-delayed recordings we became a worshipping community of convenience. It was a great solution. In fact, it was SO good that we trained many out of returning to church. Heck, you can watch the service on your time and seated in your Lazy-boy – and many have chosen to do just that. And that has affected tithes and offerings. It’s a lot easier to avoid giving when you don’t have an offering plate passing in front of you.

This in not judgment or critique. It’s reality – it’s a part of the new normal to which we must respond. And that’s just one thing.

The question for all of us is, “How might God be calling me to respond?” And, I believe, God is calling each one of us. If God can work through a widowed immigrant, or widow who has only two pennies to her name, certainly God can work through you – and me. [Pause]

This Sunday in many liturgical churches is known as All Saints Sunday. We sometimes think of the saints as those holy, pious ones who prayed constantly, and had a kind of aura around them, and had miraculous powers. They were always doing the work of God. But a saint in our context is really someone who desires to do the work of God. A saint is one who seeks to follow Jesus. A saint is no more or less than you or me.

[Hymn Reference #295]

They were saints who built this church. They were saints who did everything necessary to get it through some very lean years – years when many thought the congregation would cease to exist. They were saints who put up chairs for Christmas and Easter services, worked hours to host amazing luau’s, and served on countless committees do the work of the church. Saints greeted you as you entered the church grounds today and saints will be singing, dancing, and playing ukulele when you leave. We are all saints of God.

And God can work through each one of us – even the most unlikely to accomplish the work of God.

So, I thank God for these saints who we read about in our bibles today. I thank God for their courage to “risk everything” to do what they felt called to do. And I thank God for the Saints who preceded me in this church. I am grateful for the challenges they faced and overcame. But now their challenge is our challenge. What is God’s calling in us? What might we be called to risk as we live into this new day for the church?

I think this just might be one of the most exciting times the church has ever faced. You have heard me offer this quote before, but it bears repeating. The prophet Isaiah said of God, “Behold I am about to do a new thing. Do you not see it?”

The possibilities are everywhere, but it will take work — a lot of work — on the part of each one of us – risking everything – to allow those possibilities to emerge. And guess what? God can work through the most unlikely saints to do the work of God.

Are you ready Saints? Let’s do that work together.


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