(Ruth 8:1-18; Rev 1:4-8) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Nov 25, 2018 – UBC Digby
How many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? ‘Change’? What do ya mean, ‘change’? Well, I managed to change a lightbulb yesterday, a low-beam headlight in my car.
One way we measure life is by change. What changes? How much change? And, what things have not changed. Acceptance of change is an important life skill, because we all face changes, and we ourselves change. The white whiskers I have grown for Movember tell me a bit out about my aging body. The research into if Digby Baptist should have a full-time minister, or not, tells me about the changing times for me in my ministry career. What Christianity is across Canada, and in Digby, is different now.
We heard the start of a great Bible story today, the story of Ruth, from the five-page book bearing this woman’s name. Set in the time of the Hebrews living in the Promised land, before they had their first king, Ruth of Moab seeks refuge with her Jewish mother- in-law among the Jews. A story without villains or enemies, it is a tale of cross-cultural hospitality. And a story of tremendous personal change.
Consider life in those ancient days. We tend to call them primitive; they were days of far different roles for men and women in their society. The mother in the story, Naomi, is widowed, and then her two sons also die. Naomi and her son’s wives are left to fend for themselves in the land of Moab, a precarious position. Women without men in the family were almost helpless in their world. They were at the mercy, of, well, whoever might have mercy on them.
Naomi was a Hebrew, and decides to travel back to her homeland. Along the way, she convinces her daughter-in-law, Orpah, to go back to her own people, but she can’t convince her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth clings to her, and famously says
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people will be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die I will die–
and there will I be buried.
Ruth is a Moabite; lived all her life in Moab, southeast of the Dead Sea. Now she follows her Jewish mother-in-law north, to a town called Bethlehem, northwest of the Dead Sea. A different people. A different culture. Different language. Different religion. Major changes.
Ruth is amazingly willing to go. And – we did not read the rest of the story – but Bethlehem turns into a place of amazing blessings for the two women – the older one returning, and the young foreigner.
We can but ponder Ruth, the young widow, walking for days with Naomi, to get to a new life. Ruth walked into a tremendous change – and the outcome was so unknown to them.
Every person of human history, who has lived for even a few years, has faced changes. Some, like Ruth of old, chose to make major shifts in their lives. In our lifetimes we have seen and will see so many changes. And some of you have wandered far from where you began.
But something there is in us that doesn’t like change. Right? We want change for the better. Not change for the uncertain. Or change for no good reason. Or change imposed by others. Or change we’re not sure of. And when we are together, in some group, resistance to things being different can be stronger. We can be slow to accept change.
In his book, the Healthy Small Church, Dennis Bickers speaks of how churches resist changes for many reasons.
It feels like an admission of failure.
The new will be different from the old/familiar.
I may lose my ‘role’ that I have had.
Not worth it with short-term pastors.
Change won’t make a difference.
Don’t see a need; don’t see a problem.
At the level of a local family of faith like us, we can get locked in to doing things the ways we have always done them, and being the same as we have always been, so to speak.
Speaking of acceptance of change, I read obituaries. Let me read now from the 2002 death notice of a man I did not know, had never heard of.
72 years old. Died in Dartmouth General Hospital. His battle with cancer was not courageous, he detested every moment he had to endure the disease that robbed him of years of his well-planned time of retirement and relaxation. He has been unhappily dragged from this world with many of his projects incomplete and his plans undeveloped.
In religion, he was a Baptist and was a charter member of Stevens Road United Baptist Church in Dartmouth. In recent years he was most unhappy with the degeneration of the present day Baptist service from the dignified and orderly service reminiscent of his youth, to something that to him was often approaching a carnival in nature, such is progress?
I always find this obituary humourous. Yes, because it is unusual. Also because it describes many church people. It is a bit descriptive of me. It is funny because it is true, and points out how unwilling we are to change our ways.
Ruth of Moab was willing to change. She must have known a little about the culture of the Hebrews, since her mother-in-law was Jewish, and her late husband. But then to give up her own culture, leave the rest of her family, leave her homeland, and even leave her religion for another was big. Many people have done this, before & since. Ruth stands out in the Bible as a model of change.
As we know, these events come from the time of the Judges in Israel, more than one thousand years before Jesus. Many Bible Scholars have thought this story was written down much later – six hundred or more years later – when the Jews were returning to the Holy Land after their exile in a foreign empire. Around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, who lead the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the Jewish religion. The Ezra-Nehemiah records tell of the severe purification of the nation that was called for – men were to divorce their foreign wives and only mary from among their Jewish ethnic and religious community.
In contrast to this – to balance this? – comes the story of Ruth. A foreigner who is welcomed into Bethlehem in Judah. Who marries a Hebrew man. And, as the New Testament tells us, she becomes an ancestor of the Messiah. Ruth will be one of the great-great grandmothers of Jesus of Nazareth.
As a great narrative in holy scripture, the story of Ruth speaks a word of welcome, a prophetic word of inclusion, in a time when keeping foreigners out had become the norm. It is a story of change – suggesting a change in attitude about ethnic purity.
As much as we sense there is a timelessness about our Faith, Xianity is a changeable thing. As much as we want to be sure and certain that our Jesus religion is just like it always has been – it has transformed a lot over two thousand years. The sentiment of “Give me that Old Time Religion” is misplaced, most of the time. It’s not good enough for me.
Change is not only inevitable, it is essential. The scriptures are full of phrases like the one from Isaiah, “Behold a do a new thing, do you not perceive it?”
Acceptance of change, of good changes, is a good thing. It takes most of us some time to be convinced that any change is for the better.
A couple weeks ago a small group of us started to meet, as a study group. Five people from our thirties to age fifty. And a few children with us. Samuel and Gabriel were playing with some Transformers. You know, those toys that start out as a car or a truck, but move and shapeshift and become powerful robot heroes. We spent some time with the kids and their Transformers.
So, I suggested to the little group that that become our name. The Transformers. For is that not what Christianity is about? What salvation is for? That we may be transformed, changed, recreated, discipled?
Know that the changes needed in our lives will be difficult. Know also that the God of our Salvation is here to transform us. Jesus, who was, and is, and is to come: our great Agent of change. Amen!