First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

November 4th 2018 Sermon

November 4th 2018   by Pastor Greg Briggs

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. “the get out of church free card”
    3. Blacksmithing class – first class, teacher said to get away from the “only do it the way your grandpa did nostalgia” and move to “using most current techniques to accomplish your goal, because that is what your grandfathers did” –
      1. we are still blacksmithing, just using new tools
      2. drove the difference home by having us use a coal forge to make a nail, the traditional way – nasty smelling and hard work
    4. Ruth – learning how our grandmothers really did it
      1. Stating what too many of us are afraid to admit – reading the Bible can be hard
      2. After listening to our first reading from Ruth, it possibly feels like it can be hard to understand the Bible stories
        1. Time of the Judges?
          1. Those names: Elimelech, Mahlon, Chilion
        2. And who, or what, are the Ephrathites?
      3. I know it’s things like this that make some people afraid to be a lay reader
      4. and, to fully understand the impact of Ruth’s pledge to stay with Naomi, there is a lot of cultural context that needs to be explained
        1. the low status of widows, the historic tensions between Moab and Judah, and so on
      5. it can be difficult to get the impact of this passage, how Ruth and Naomi are proto-feminists, turning tradition on end to be able to live and love
      6. just waiting for the preacher to explain it all
        1. it might lead you to say, this is too convulted, can’t we just have a simple faith?
      7. Core Commandments
        1. If you can embody what Jesus says in today’s scripture, you never need to come to church again.
        2. He gets questioned by a legal expert, asked which teaching is most important
        3. Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.[a]
          1. Some of the oldest teachings of Judaism
        4. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself.[b] No other commandment is greater than these.”
          1. Leviticus 19:18
        5. Yet, the challenge hasn’t been in knowing what we are supposed to do, the challenge is in doing it
      8. Getting distracted by differences causes us to overlook deeper truth
        1. Setting aside the unfamiliar words, the book of Ruth is about two women from different, antagonistic cultures, fleeing from famine and seeking a safe place to live, when the rules of society are against them even being together.
          1. Bonds of devotion and love that transcend race, religion, or cultural norms
        2. It is a beautiful companion story to the Gospel reading,
          1. Spoiler alert – today’s gospel reading is really a re-teaching of core Jewish teachings.
        3. The challenge isn’t in the learning, it is in the doing
        4. The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. – Soren Kierkegaard
      9. Scholarship to enhance the Scriptures, not distance them
        1. Jesus’ words and Torah
          1. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus
        2. Jesus recites The Shema, core of Judaism – Deuteronomy 6:4 – “Sh’ma Yis-ra-eil, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, A-do-nai E-chad.”
          1. Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord,
          2. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God; the LORD is one” or
  • “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”
  1. Next verse “and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength”
  2. Verses immediately after the Shema
    1. Deut 6:6-9 “These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol.[b] Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.”
    2. Beautiful and powerful teachings – wise thoughts to take to heart
  3. Love your neighbor comes from Leviticus, another core teaching
  4. Deuteronomical Context for Ruth
  5. Deuteronomy 23:3-4aMoabites can’t belong to the Lord’s assembly. Not even the tenth generation of such people can belong to the Lord’s assembly, as a rule, because they didn’t help you with food or water on your journey out of Egypt…”
  6. Some use scripture to determine what love means, others use love to determine what scripture means
  1. Valuing of scholarship as enhancement of faith, not a barrier to it
    1. This is part of your discernment and your upcoming pastoral search –
      1. Looking beyond education, experience
      2. Seeking spiritual grounding
    2. If you struggle with understanding the Bible, will they walk with you in gaining wisdom, or will it feed your insecurities?
  2. Scriptures as stories of liberation and victory
    1. Scripture is not for looking backwards to chastise the present, but to give us all a basis to evaluate what is going on now
    2. Foundations to build upon
    3. Reminders of what we need to protect and conserve from the past
      1. Blacksmith class – “do it the way your grandpa did nostalgia” vs. “using most current techniques (like your grandfather did) to accomplish your goal”
    4. Reminders of when we’ve triumphed over evil, sin, and adversity
  3. Scriptures and other sacred stories
    1. Need those
      1. Freeing Nelson Mandela and ending of apartheid
      2. Raising Awareness and healing of the Ozone layer
  • WW II & Civil War – struggles for equality and justice
  1. Also a reminder that what worked in one time won’t always work
    1. Used to despise Moabites, now one of our sacred ancestors
  2. Christian scholarship and unintended (or intended) consequences
    1. Hard truth, hatred has always been a part of America
      1. But it has somewhat been kept it in check, to a greater or lesser degree
      2. And we the mainstream white society, have chosen to ignore or overlook too many historic acts of violence, or expressions of hatred
    2. Anti Semitism
      1. We can’t condemn the violence without condemning the thinking that brought us there – including Christian scholarship
      2. Any theology that condemns Judiasm as a faith, contributes to hatred
        1. Historic claim “If the people back then could have followed teachings, there wouldn’t have been a need for Xity”
          1. Used to condemn Judiasm for failing in some way
          2. Ignoring how we fail as Xians, time and time again
          3. People, all people, need to be renewed in faith
        2. Christian leaders using jewish lenders to get around usury
          1. The charging of interest in lending is a sin, in Judaism, much of Christianity, and in Islam
          2. Caveat, Jewish teachings allowed charging of interest to non Jews – so Christian leaders used them so they could indirectly get interest
            1. Used to indict jewish bankers – and can hear it today in critiques of Soros
            2. Not to indict the Christian leaders then. And that blessed Christian scholarship that eventually eroded the idea of usury as a sin
          3. Can’t distill Jewish Christian relations in just a few minutes
        3. To love neighbors – Need to speak up, and reframe
          1. Liddy Barlow Executive Director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania and a UCC Minister – speaking as the main Christian voice at an interfaith vigil in Pittsburgh,
            1. “First, to the Jewish community, when violence came to Christian sanctuaries at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, at Sutherland Springs in Texas, you stood with us. And today, with our whole hearts, we stand with you. We will cry with you. We will resist anti-Semitism and all hatred with you. And we will work with you to end violence. We will do that because you are our neighbors but more because you are our friends and, still more, because you are our family. We love you, and we are so sorry.”
            2. Any theology that isn’t based in the truth of “Neighbors, friends, and family” is a heresy
          2. Speaking out in hard times
            1. Not always about finding common ground or debating
            2. Sometimes we speak to let others know they aren’t alone
              1. So many need to hear that
              2. I need to hear that – and not just whispered to me after the sermon on Sunday
            3. Ruth and refugees
              1. Naomi and Ruth were refugees from hunger and starvation
              2. Jesus and his parents were refugees from persecution when he was a child
  • Ruth is the great grandmother of King David, and is listed in the geneaology of Jesus
    1. The chosen people of God is not from a single bloodline. And our Savior descended from a boundary crossing woman like Ruth
  1. Remember to look for Ruth, Naomi, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in pictures and stories of modern day refugees
    1. Look beyond the fear mongering, the poor Christian nationalism, the myths of scarcity
  2. Faith Formation and Evolution
    1. Revise what I said before – even if you master these commandments, you don’t get to get out of coming to church.
    2. You just aren’t coming to heal yourself, but to be Christ in the world.
    3. Teach one another, in your truths, in your failings (last Jedi).
    4. This is all our callings as we age. Not to scoff at those who aren’t as spiritually or physically mature as we are, but to walk with them, support them, mentor them if they seek it.

Ruth 1:1-18 Common English Bible (CEB)

1 During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.

But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.

But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.

Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.

Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

10 But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”

11 Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? 12 Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the Lord’s will has come out against me.”

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.


Mark 12:28-34 Common English Bible (CEB)

28 One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.[a] 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself.[b] No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.


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