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Ruth

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The book of Ruth is a mere four chapters but it bears within it such a model of the kinsman redeemer to which we are privileged through Jesus. But let’s begin at the beginning. It’s a story of a family who had to leave their home because of a famine. The head of the family was Elimelech, who was married to Naomi, with whom he had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They left their home in Bethlehem and journeyed to Moab. After Elimelech’s death, the sons took wives of the Moabite women – Orpah and Ruth. The sons also died after about ten years and the women were left with their mother in law, Naomi. Following their loss, Naomi decided to return to their home in Judah because she’d heard food was now available. She prepared to make her good byes with Orpah and Ruth, sending them back to their father’s households. They wanted to stay with her, but she insisted they return. After all, it wasn’t as if she’d have more sons for them to marry. They would have to fend for themselves as single women which wasn’t a desirable state in those day. So Orpah took her leave and returned.
But not Ruth.
She stood her ground and pledged herself to Naomi. To go wherever she chose to go. To live where she lived. To be in covenant with Naomi’s people and with Naomi’s God. To die where Naomi died and to be buried In the same place. This scripture is often used at weddings but it really was the vow of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. So they returned, together, to Bethlehem, just in time for harvest.
When Ruth decided to work, she went out to glean among the sheaves. The rule of the field was to leave sheaves around the edges of the field so strangers and those who were hungry were free to gather as much as they could for their own survival. Ruth ended up in a field owned by Boaz, a relative of her late father-in-law, Elimelech. Boaz actually came out to meet and greet the harvesters. “God be with you,” he cried. “And God bless you,” they responded.
When he asked his foreman about the identity of the young woman he hadn’t seen before, he found her to be related to Naomi. So he told her she could glean exclusively In his field; and that she should stay close to his young women and harvest where they harvest. He had cleared the way for her so no one would bother her.
When she asked why he extended such kindness to her, he said he’d heard about the same kindness she’d extended to Naomi, and his prayer was that God would reward her. But he would also do his part. He ordered his harvesters to leave extra grain on the ground for her to make it easy for her to have her fill. By the end of the day she had nearly a full sack of barley.
When Naomi found out who owned the land from which Ruth had gleaned, she told her this Boaz was a kinsman redeemer, a near relative of theirs.
One day Naomi told Ruth to get dressed up and go to the threshing floor. “When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down…lie at his feet to let him know you are available to him for marriage…he’ll tell you what to do.” {3:3-4}
Boaz was quite pleased when he discovered Ruth in the middle of the night, and she expressed her desire for him to marry her. He let her know there was another relative who had the right and might want to claim her. He would check to be sure the way was clear for them. Boaz gathered 10 of the town elders to discuss the matter when he encountered the relative he’d referenced earlier with Ruth. He offered him first refusal on property owned by Naomi and mentioned, almost in passing, after the relative consented to the purchase, that Ruth the Moabite was part of the deal. To this the relative relented. He gave Boaz his shoe, which was how people sealed a deal in that day. Boaz made a public declaration of the deal and enlisted their witness. It’s important to note that Boaz took Ruth as his wife but make a vow to keep the name of her deceased husband, Mahlon, alive. The children they had would be born in memory of and bear the name of Mahlon. They did conceive a son, Obed, who the community called “Naomi’s baby boy.” Obed was the father of Jesse and Jesse was the father of David. And if you follow the whole lineage of Mahlon, through Boaz and Ruth, you’ll find the name of Jacob, who had Joseph, Mary’s husband. The Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Jesus who was called Christ. {Matthew 1:16 The Message}

King Hezekiah prevailed

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Many of us know King Hezekiah because of the account of his sickness and healing in the book of Isaiah, but his first appearance historically is in II Kings 18. He was 12th following the reign of David.
Judah was under an Assyrian Suzerainty treaty accepted by Hezekiah’s father, an ineffective treath that neglected its responsibility toward Judah. Hezekiah’s goal was to protect Judea and its capital city of Jerusalem. He even tried to pay the Assyrian king an exhorbitant tribute of gold and silver for the protection he’d committed to, but to no avail. He instead demanded Judah’s total surrender to his realm.
But. God.
A plague practically wiped out the Assyrian army, which convinced the surrounding nations that God was on the side of Jerusalem and that God’s protection was inviolable, a belief that lasted more than a century.
As unsuccessful as King Hezekiah’s efforts had been at standing against political and military opposition, his religious reforms were outstanding. He asserted his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and restored the religious practices to affirm that faith. He had actually begun to comfort others in the faith during the reign of his father who was the complete opposite.
He restored and strengthened study of the Torah and worship practices in the Temple. He encouraged the reinstatement of pilgrimages to the Temple and made the Festival of Passover in Jerusalem something special, not only for the Judeans but for residents of the northern kingdom to whom he extended an invitation.
Then he turned his attention to making the military stronger than it had been so they would be victorious in the face of future attacks. He recovered Judah’s lost provinces and defeated the Philistines in such a way that other nations were hesitant to attack Judah.
In the light of Israel’s seeming downfall, Judeans clung to God even more vehemently and praised Him for the great fortune they enjoyed under Hezekiah’s rule. Even though early on his rule, they’d wished for a King more like David.
Isaiah, everyone’s favorite prophet, assured Hezekiah that no one would be able to come against them and succeed as long as the king himself and his people depended on God. He told Hezekiah to remove himself from the yoke of Assyria, the greatest military power of his day, knowing that God was the ultimate treaty creator and sustainer.
In spite of Hezekiah’s faith, some of his counselors conspired to rise up against Assyria, news of which was leaked to Sennaherib, Assyria’s king. He set out to quell all signs of rebellions and seized control of cities of Judea which left Hezekiah on his own without the help of Egypt or Babylon. When Hezekiah asked for a peace treaty, Sennaherib insisted on pillaging the treasures of Judea including those of Hezekiah’s palace and the Holy Temple.
Knowing this was just a temporary settlement, Hezekiah put his best effort into strengthening Judea militarily in numbers and expert training. He stocked the capital city with provision and strengthened its walls, destroying any resources outside the walls that could supply the enemy’s needs.
When Hezekiah became seriously ill, Isaiah told him he would die. The reason seemed to be Hezekiah’s refusal to marry and legitimize his children. His reason was that he hadn’t wanted his children in leadership because he couldn’t trust them to stand firm in God’s way. But he had faith in God. He turned his face toward the wall and begged God for more years, a plea that was granted; the granting of which cemented his place of grace in the hearts of the people who witnessed it.
Hezekiah’s extra years of grace proved to be a blessing for the people of Judea as God blessed everything his hands touched. The nation experienced an abundance of everything. Exiled Jews found their way home to Jerusalem. And God reigned supreme because of Hezekiah’s leadership and willingness to stand firm in his faith.

 

Those who know the ‘words’ of prayer

If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He [the Holy Spirit] does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Romans 8:27 The Messsage

Our lack of prayer words often freaks us out. It seems we should be better equipped when we set out to talk to our heavenly Father. We’re so good at most other things. We’re never at a loss for words when we converse with our friends and family members. We’re usually talking over each trying to be heard…trying to get our point across.
But in prayer, we seem to either chatter on about thing after thing, fade out mentally, find ourselves working on other projects – not intentionally. Or we maintain a silence that frightens us with its intensity. Not always realizing the silence is probably the best place to start and often, to stay.
It’s in the silence that the noise of the day drains out of us, making way for the Holy Spirit to fill us with whatever heaven prescribes. It’s in the silence that our minds are cleared; that our souls are repaired, that we find clarity that’s difficult to appreciate, at first.
And it’s in silence that the purposed direction for our prayer time imposes itself into the space where we find ourselves with that newly found clarity. It’s in silence that we find the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and are able to hear and respond with our whole selves. It’s in silence we recover the essence of ourselves and our connection to our Maker. It’s in silence we speak heavenly sounds or issue profound groans that require interpretation by God’s Spirit. It’s in silence we gather the strength to proceed, the humility to rise and the faith to leap. It’s in that silence that God’s purpose for that moment rises up in us with the intensity of rivers of living waters. And it’s from that silence that overflow proceeds to bless us and the many beyond.

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The day God showed up

{This piece is excerpted from “Keep Walking in Prayer…until you can’t come back” in honor of my son Adrian’s birthday.}

I know. God shows up every day. But this particular day, my son, my homeless-by-choice young son, was on trial although he had been stabbed repeatedly by a city employee. Yes he was in jail; had been for 38 days. I always pray for God to bless the son that we share in God’s own way. And God did indeed preserve his life as only God have done. And on the day of the trial God showed up in ways we could not ever have imagined.
First of all, a young woman attorney helmed the case pro bono. She was well versed and prepared to do her job. We’d never heard of her, but we know her now. She had canvassed the homeless community and found that they know my son and find him likable and helpful. Some of them actually depend on him for encouragement. No incidents of violence at all. And in her discourse at the courthouse, she intentionally and continuously reminded everyone involved that the victim had been in jail for 38 days awaiting trial. As often as she could. And by the way, this was happening as I was actually writing this last chapter.
The state was unprepared because they assumed this homeless man would come without representation so, having now met this powerhouse of an attorney, they asked for a continuance. But she said, “No,” adding that they were fully prepared to proceed. She had also collected donations to help my son get the basics he would need when he was released –things that get lost when a homeless person goes to jail. And she continued to demand his release by 5 p.m. That day.
The homeless man, my son, had the better representation of the two parties. Oh and did I say he also had a witness who saw him on the ground being stabbed repeatedly. Being stabbed, not stabbing.
I would not have known to pray for such a great attorney. A well-prepared public defender would have sufficed. I could not have guessed that a credible witness existed, one who would have willingly come forth. I could not have imagined that the state would not have bothered to prepare a case. On the day God showed up.

{My son received a settlement for his trouble and continues to live on the street by choice. We love him dearly and check on him regularly and pray God’s protection and grace all around him for himself and for those in his “tribe.”}

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She made her own self happy

As a young woman, she was the consummate pleaser. Her mother had become very ill after the birth of her son, Melvin, when she was about 10. Her aunts were very mad at their brother for marrying this school teacher – not sure of the nature of their objection to her. Tradition has it that they worked “roots” on her mother and she was affected by what some call a slow poison for quite a few years. Aside from not being able to function, she apparently regurgitated horrible looking things. Or so the story goes.

I’m sure that meant her daughter had to step up and care for her little brother and her sister, Bettie who was around 6. That’s the way it was in Clarksville, Virginia in 1940 when Uncle Melvin was born.

By 1948 her mother, Bessie, had died and her father, William Henry Scott, had taken another wife, Myrtle Jane Greenhill. She experienced the historical woes of having a stepmother. She was mistreated. She was made to work beyond the norm. And when her pregnancy became known, her life became a living hell. She had to work the fields. She had to lift the barge and tote the bale. She was never given as much to eat as she would have liked. She told stories of wrapping cold gravy in brown paper and storing it in her pocket so she could eat it while she worked.

Just an aside. She was one of the great all time story tellers. Her expression-less face would tear you up as she said the most hilarious things in the most hilarious ways.

And maybe it was that humor that propelled her in life to just make her own self happy. I know it’s redundant but it makes the point. 

She hadn’t had much luck pleasing the people she tried to please.

Her mother died when she was too young.

Her father loved her dearly, but, in his own words, “Couldn’t be without the love of a good woman.” 

Her stepmother, in an attempt to continue the scorn heaped on her because of her teen pregnancy, urged the siblings to dislike her as well. She seemingly favored the little sister and drove a wedge between the two.

And when the same stepmother who’d abused her became sick, she visited the hospital daily and brought whatever she thought would comfort her until her death.

She and her sister found a way to each other in spite of the road blocks interjected into their relationship by their stepmother. They became great friends and supported each other into their elder years, the younger going first after a stalwart battle against cancer.

Her brother who loved her every day until he found her many years later, having dropped her robe of flesh but leaving an indelible smile for all who would see. Her way of letting us know the Holy Spirit had danced her into her new place of abode.

But he wasn’t around much. He went into the army as soon as he could and stayed for a while. And even upon his return as he worked at Sparrows Point, he tended to keep a distance from the family for whatever his personal reasons were.

Her church turned her out when she got pregnant. That’s the way it was back in the day. If a girl got pregnant she had to go before the deacons and spill all the gory details. After they forgave her she could be reinstated in good membership standing. I’m not sure if she ever did that. If she did, she didn’t stay around long enough to become active again in that church. By the way, the person who impregnated her was the 39-year-old minister of music at that church, and she and his wife gave birth in the same hospital at the same time.

Her oldest child, the one who gained for her a scarlet reputation, was given to a friend to raise, which was also just another point of contention. Under the manifesto that she wasn’t fit to raise this child, she received contempt at every attempt to visit and provide. And this went on until the child married at 18 and left home.

So she made herself happy. She laughed a lot. She worked a lot. She took care of the two girls she was raising. She dated a lot. Some very handsome men, by the way. And she made herself happy with the person she was as she learned to let go of the past that would have haunted her forever had she allowed it.

Miss Kitty she called herself. Her mother named her Dorothy Magruder Scott or some variation. For many years no birth certificate could be located and by the time it was she had been Magruder Dorothy Scott so she appealed to have that become the legal moniker. And so it was until she died June 5, 2014.

Miss Kitty. Her friend’s name was Cherry. Another’s name was Savannah. Sounds like the cast of Valley of the Dolls or Waiting to Exhale. Oh and let’s not forget Vera. Vera was her girlfriend who became her “daughter” when she married Vera’s father. Miss Kitty worked at various lunch rooms on Pennsylvania Avenue, but the longest running one belonged to Mike. And they were always fighting, including Mike’s wife….I can’t remember her name.

She loved to cook and no one to this day has fixed liver like she did. Peach cobbler. Sweet potato pie. Pork shoulder. She loved to fix food and watch people enjoy it.

She loved to read those “dirty” papers they sell at the checkout counters in stores. That was one purchase I always refused to make for her. Junk, I’d tell her. She’d just laugh and get my sister to buy them.

She loved the grandchildren, especially the boys since she’d only had girls. She spoiled them all and they all benefited from the Virginia tradition, I call it.

You could never leave my mother’s house empty handed. Seriously. Young. Old. Just stop in to drop something off. It never changed. She had to give you something if you came to visit. I thought it was her personal habit until I helped a church member home after running an errand. And as I placed the last bag on the table, she began to rummage through her dining room drawer. I asked what she was looking for and she told me to just wait a minute. Well, she handed me a brand new dish towel. This is what I’m talking about. The gift was never large. It didn’t even have to be new. It was just a token of love and friendship and a thank you for having visited.

So I asked her if she was from Virginia and she replied that she was.

Too funny.

My mother didn’t drink, so that wasn’t her source of happiness. She didn’t smoke. She never did drugs. She didn’t hang out in clubs.

She made herself happy with her girls, her grandchildren and her relationships with her friends. Cherry died first. Then her sister, Bettie died. They’d become great friends before her death. Savannah died next and Vera is still around.

She loved to tell stories. She was so good at it. Her expressions were matchless and she’d finish by looking at you as if she was surprised you’re laughing. She wouldn’t be. She lived hard. She gave hard. She took care of everyone who would receive it.

And she made her own self happy.

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Remember

It’s the kind of memory you’re supposed to have when you share a meal at the communion table. We sing. We testify. We shout. We tell stories and share the gospel. But the greatest intention of the meal, as I understand it from Jesus’ mandate, is the remembering part. He says to the disciples, whenever you gather for a meal, whenever bread is broken, whenever the cup is passed; remember.
We say grace, and we take it to mean asking God to bless the gifts of food and drink, bless the partaking of the gifts and the time of fellowship we share during the meal.
But there’s more.
Every time food is shared, we need to rehearse the grace that graces our lives through the grace of God.
Whenever food is shared we need to remember that if it had not been for the Lord on our side, we would be adrift in some misguided scenario with an uncertain outcome.
Instead, we live well and blessed in the arms of Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit each day toward a heavenly home with a reserved seat for us at the banquet table of the Lamb.
Remembering is more than just telling a story.
It’s revisiting whole heartedly – so much that we get lost in the telling and the hearing.
So much so that when we talk about how the Lord saved us, remembering the day and the hour, tears run down our faces as we dare to imagine what our lives would have been without divine intervention.
Whenever you do THIS. At every occasion. At every opportunity.  Do it in remembrance of me.

Communion - Unleavened Bread With Chalice Of Wine And Cross Light

 

God wanted us at all costs

What a strange thing! It pleased God to bruise him. Ever think about this verse? Yet it pleased God to bruise him; he has put him to grief. (Isaiah 53:10a) It pleased God for him to be crushed. To be pierced through. This really struck me. It pleased God to bruise him.
And I thought, I really wouldn’t be happy to have a father who got pleasure out of my suffering especially the kind of suffering Jesus had to endure. But I realized that God needed to get us back to himself. God wanted us at all costs.
God had watched from the window of heaven, much like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son – watched for the return of his people, for our return to his household, to his will, to his way.
God had watched through the ages, as we drifted further and further away from him.
God had watched as his covenant with the patriarchs failed to bring Israel closer.
God watched as his words through his prophets failed to bring Israel any closer.
God had watched as isolation and alienation and even death failed to bring Israel any closer.
God, who in sundry times and diverse places had spoken to us through his prophets, now spoke from Calvary, from Golgotha’s hill, in a thunderous voice that still echoes across the ages – through his dear Son, Jesus.
The only acceptable Lamb. The only one who could have endured such suffering and shame.
The one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether in heaven or on earth, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20). And that is why we worship the Lamb, who is holy. 3B95354F-5589-47A1-8382-FFEF6F48C8C5Because God has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
. (Philippians 2:9-11)
And that is why this Lamb, this Jesus, this Lamb who bears the marks of slaughter is the only one found worthy to open the book. This lamb with scars on his head from the thorn of crowns.
This Lamb with holes in his hands from the nails that anchored him to the cross.
This Lamb with slashes in his sides from the sword that pierced him through.
This Lamb is worthy.
And we are made to worship God, to glorify him forever.