Gleaning Courage

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay         
*This sermon was given at the end of July 2019, but due to circumstances going on at that time, I set this aside and never shared it on Wisdom Wanderings.  However, today I received a nudge, a God wink if you will, that it was time to dust this off and share it. 
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. – SM

Today, we will be visiting the Book of Ruth with a focus on chapter 2. 

As you may recall, just to catch up, the first chapter of the Book of Ruth tells the story of Naomi and her family, and their move out of Israel to Moab because of a famine.  Then tragedy strikes the family leaving Naomi a widow with two daughters-in-law in a foreign land.  

She decides to make the move back to her home country and tells her daughters-in-law they are free to leave her and return to the homes of their fathers.   One takes her up on it and heads back to her people, but the other one refuses to go.  

We are left with the images of a bitter Naomi who is calling out God for taking everything that had given her purpose and meaning in her world.  Naomi’s husband and two sons have both died while the family had been living in Moab to escape the famine that had fallen on Bethlehem.  

With Noami is her daughter-in-law Ruth, the Moabitess that had been married to Naomi’s son, Mahlon, who is now also a widow like Naomi.  She has bound herself to Naomi with her famous vow while at the same time converting and accepting Naomi’s God as her God.  

In the older woman we see emptiness and bitterness while in the younger we see enormous courage and loyalty in spite of the bleak future ahead.

The two women have arrived back in Bethlehem, and have apparently settled.  That is where we pick up in chapter two.  

By settle, I mean that they have found someplace to stay.   Perhaps the house that Naomi’s husband Elimlech built is still standing and is able to provide the women with a ready made shelter.  However, that is all that Naomi and Ruth have going for them.  They have no one to provide them with food and no means to purchase any food for themselves or anything else for that matter.  Chapter two starts with a conversation  between Ruth and Naomi concerning how to go about getting food.  

In Ruth 2:1-3 we read,

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.  And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.”  She said to her, “Go, my daughter.”  So she went.  She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers.  As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.”  

Now, personally, I have to wonder what Naomi was thinking agreeing to this.  Most likely she is either still buried too deeply in her personal grief that she isn’t really engaged in the conversation or she realizes there are no other acceptable options of employment for Ruth.   So what exactly is gleaning?  What occupation is Ruth volunteering herself for?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary has two definitions for the word glean. 
The one that we in our current time are probably most familiar is, “to gather information or material bit by bit.”  However, the other definition, the one that Ruth and Naomi are familiar with, is, “to gather grain or other produce left by reapers.”  

Gleaning is essentially the social welfare program of Israel.  It is established in two places in Leviticus –

Leviticus 19:9, “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest,”

and Leviticus 23:22, “When you reap the harvest of you land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien:  I am the Lord your God.”   

So what does this mean for Ruth and Naomi?

Israelite land owners have been commanded by Yahweh that when it is time to harvest a crop they are not to harvest the entire field.  Instead they are to leave the edges and corners of the fields unharvested.  They are also to only pass over the remainder of their fields once and not return for any grain that they may have missed during the first pass.  This is to be done to ensure that the poor, the aliens, the widows, and the orphans have a means of feeding themselves while also maintaining their human dignity.  The gleaning law doesn’t say to harvest the crops and then give portions to these groups of people, but to leave areas for these people to come to in order to harvest and earn their food for themselves by their own labor.  It also doesn’t say how much to leave at the edges or corners.  

So Ruth’s plan is to go out and find these fields and to try to work and glean enough to feed herself and Naomi.   Remember, Ruth has sworn to care for Naomi and that is just what she intends to do.  However, the exact reasons she needs to go to the field and glean, she is an alien, a widow, and a woman with no male to protect her, are the very reasons it is actually a very dangerous enterprise for her to engage in.  

In the Ancient world, the gleaning fields are a dangerous, hand to mouth means of existence for hungry people.  The poor Israelites are already in the field with the meager corners and edges that are available competing with each other to see who can glean the most. Violence can and does happen when the hungry gleaners clash and the stronger of the two takes from the weaker.  In Ruth’s case, she is in double jeopardy in these fields not only because she is a foreign woman, but more so because she has no male to offer her any protection of any kind.  

It was not unusual for women in Ruth’s position to be taken advantage of and exploited in every way imaginable.  But she has sworn to her loyalty to Naomi and Ruth intends to care for her by courageously setting out in this strange new land she has adopted as her land to try to find a field to glean in.  

Ruth is literally gleaning courage.  

You may have noted that twice in the passage I read a few moments ago that a man was also mentioned by name in these first couple of verses of Chapter two. 
The name is Boaz.  He is the first male character mentioned in the Book of Ruth who is not only living, but also a blood relative a Naomi’s dead husband, Elimelech.  The first thing we read in chapter two is that he is a relative and then in verse 3 we read that it just so happens that unbeknown to Ruth, the field she winds up in to begin her gleaning in happens to be a field owned by this same man, Boaz.  

Who exactly is this Boaz person?  Our scripture describes him as a prominent rich man, but this doesn’t really capture all that the actual word used to describe him in the Hebrew version ,hayil, fully means.  In preparing for this message I became the student of author Carolyn Custis James, who has written two books specifically on the book of Ruth which have shaped many of my thoughts.  In her book, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth, she has this to say about the meaning of hayil,

“The storyteller opens this scene by introducing Boaz as a towering figure.  Hayil is the Hebrew word the narrator uses to describe Boaz.  It indicates that he is a man of valor, stature, wealth, privilege, and power.”    

Right away the author of the Book of Ruth is painting us a picture of a very successful man who is very well off and therefore highly respected in the community.  We know that he is related to Naomi’s husband Elimelech and we also know that he is the owner of the field that God has led Ruth too.  Most scholars agree that Boaz was most likely in the same age group as Naomi and her husband as we later hear him refer to Ruth as “daughter” when speaking to her.  

What we don’t know from reading this, but the original listeners of this story would have known, is that Boaz isn’t just any old random wealthy landowner.   In addition to his own merits, Boaz’s family line gives him an impressive Israelite pedigree.  To start off with, he can trace his lineage back to Abraham, which perhaps many in this society could probably could do I suppose, but he is the direct descendent of some pretty strong power players along the way, starting with Judah, son of Jacob who was the father of Perez by Tamar.  Boaz’s grandfather was Nahshon, which may not sound very familiar (I didn’t recognize his name at first) but if you turn back to the pages of the Exodus  and Numbers  you will discover that he was third in command behind Moses and Aaron.  

So that is where we find Ruth being lead.  To the field of a very important and powerful man from a very important family line.  Boaz himself makes his entrance in verse 2:5,

Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem.  He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.”  They answered him, ‘The Lord bless you.’”  

We can see right away that Boaz is a very faithful follower of Yahweh.  This stands out to us if we remember that this story is taking place during the time of the Judges, a very dark period for the Israelite people who had turned away from God’s law and each person did what was right in their own eyes to paraphrase Judges 21:25.  Not only does Boaz practice the gleaning law as commanded, but his very greeting to his employees is a blessing requesting Yahweh to be there in his fields with his workers. 

He continues on to have a conversation with his field manager in verses 5-7,

Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even a moment.”  

It is evident that Boaz is very involved in the happenings of his estate. He isn’t content to sit around at home eating grapes and taking it easy.  He instead appears to make regular trips out to check on his various operations.  I assume this because he very quickly zeroed in on Ruth and identified her as someone new, someone he didn’t recognize or know.  Out of all the people who are engaged in all kinds of activities in that field, Ruth is the person who catches Boaz’s eye.  

There are actually two major things going on in this small passage.  By asking who Ruth belongs too, he isn’t just satisfying an idle curiosity.  He is actually asking not only who she is, but what are her circumstances.  What is her story?  This all sounds very nice, but in actuality it is a testament to Boaz’s character that he even inquires!  He is a very powerful and influential man in a patriarchal society.  

Even today, oftentimes the plight of the poor is beneath the notice of the rich and powerful.   I like to think that Boaz asks this question because he wants to ensure that all the gleaners in his field are safe and taken care of.  The fact that Ruth has no male that she “belongs to” means she has no protection, no voice, and no recourse if anything rough or worse happens to her.  

The second thing we are finding here probably seems very inconsequential in our eyes. 

Read it again,

the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said, “Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’” 

Are you picking up on anything that might be a little unusual?

This servant isn’t just making idle, gossipy conversation with his boss.  He is actually conveying something very unusual.  Something that he may even be offended by.  Ruth, a woman, has addressed the supervisor of the field who is a man.  This poor widowed foreigner has had the audacity to make her presence known.  They are both coming to work in the field, but she has no rights and he has all the advantages.  It was shocking enough that she would dare talk to the supervisor but what is more astonishing is WHAT she is saying to him.  Ruth has truly made an outrageous request to the supervisor.   One that he can’t handle on his own but needs to escalate to the top – the owner of the field, Boaz.

So what is it about Ruth’s request that is so outrageous?  

Let’s dive a little deeper into the hierarchy of the field work being done. 

A harvest, (remember Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem at the start of the barley harvest) is 100% manual labor.  There aren’t any tractors or machines of any kind.  Everything is done by hand and so this requires a lot of people.   

At the top of the organizational chart would be the supervisor, or manager of operations.  This the person entrusted by the landowner to ensure things go as planned and to handle all personnel issues.  Next comes the harvesters.  These workers are men who are paid each day with a portion of the harvest.  They work across the field cutting down the grains.  Following the harvesters are hired women who gather up the cut grains into bundles that can then be moved to the threshing floor.  Finally you have behind this group the gleaners.  Poor people who are hoping for scrapes that have fallen out of the bundles or that are fighting for the few edges or corners that still have standing grain on them. 

So, to recap, men cutting down the grain, women gathering the grain into bundles to be moved, and then the poor hoping for the scrapes. 

Ruth’s request, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers,’ is so outrageous because she is asking for permission to go around the established system.  She doesn’t want to be with the gleaners at the back of the pack fighting for a few scraps.  Ruth wants to be right behind the men who are cutting, among the hired women who are gathering the bundles of grain, also known as sheaves.   

Why would she make this request? 

To increase her chances of being able to gather enough not just for herself, but enough to take care of Naomi as well because Ruth has sworn to care for her.  Ruth is all too aware of the fact that if she stays with the gleaning pack she has all the disadvantages – she will have next to no chance of being able to provide for herself and Naomi.  She will be pushed around, taken advantage of, possibly robbed of whatever she does collect because she is the lowest of the low on the pecking order.  She is a foreign widow woman.  

Can you imagine Boaz’s reaction to this request?  This is actually jaw dropping worthy!  What must he be thinking about this strange new woman?  

Even more surprising than Ruth’s request though, is Boaz’s response and he doesn’t give it to the supervisor.  He addresses Ruth directly!  A woman who is clearly far beneath him in every way possible according to their society.  

As we continue with our scripture we read,

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.  Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them.  I have ordered the young men not to bother you.  If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”

Astonishingly, Boaz is granting her request!  In fact, not only is he granting it, he is accepting responsibility for her safety.  No one is allowed to touch her.  Who would dare defy these instructions from this powerful member of the community? She won’t be at the back of the pack with the gleaners, but safely in the midst of the paid women employees with the opportunity to gather plenty of grain.  He even goes one step further to help ensure she can be successful.  He gives her access to water to help ease her work in the hot, harvest sunshine. 

Ruth’s courage has gleaned her special permissions.  Ruth herself is amazed at all of this and sounds as surprised as you or I might have been had we been there witnessing this.  We hear her response to this immense kindness by Boaz and his reasons for granting her request in verses 10-13.

Then she fell prostrate, with her face on the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”  But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.  May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wing you have come for refuge!”  Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants. “

Why was Boaz willing to help this poor foreign woman?  Her own actions towards Naomi have earned the respect of Boaz.  The gossip has been running wild around Bethlehem, and though he hadn’t seen her until just this moment, Boaz has heard about the vow Ruth has made to Naomi.  He knows that she has willingly chosen a hard and bitter path instead of the easier one that may have been available to her among her own people in Moab.  She does all of this out of care and concern for Naomi, and it wasn’t just empty words.  

Ruth is putting her best foot forward to do all that she can to provide for Naomi. The servant tells us that she arrived early to the field and hadn’t stopped for a single break.  And because of all of this she has earned Boaz’s respect and admiration.  He willingly grants her requests and offers her a blessing and an acknowledgement of her conversion to faith in the God of Israel. 

But he doesn’t stop there.  

Verses 14-18,

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”  So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.

Boaz has gone above and beyond for Ruth.  He feeds her and gives her every advantage to help her do well.  She is successful in securing ample food for herself and Naomi.  She has collected more than most of the paid workers would get over several days.  Not to mention she has every expectation of continuing to gather like this for the rest of the days of the harvest!  

In doing so, we hear and see from Ruth some of her own suffers that haven’t really been noticed up to this point in the book.  Naomi isn’t the only one grieving.  Ruth has also lost a husband.  In addition she has left behind everyone and everything that she has ever known to go live with a bitter and empty woman in a land where all the people despise her.  Boaz’s response to Ruth is quite possibly the first good thing to happen to Ruth since the death of her husband, Mahlon.  

There is however more than just a little kindness going on here. 

Boaz and Ruth have been engaged in some very radical upside down kingdom interactions.  What makes these few simple passages so radical?  

Ruth is sharing her perspective of the gleaning law with Boaz, challenging him to look past the letter of the law to consider what was actually God’s intent of this law.  What was the intended spirit of the law?  She sees that as the hierarchy stands she has no way to glean enough to support herself and Naomi.  So she comes up with a solution and she sends the request straight to the top.  The owner of the field. 

Rather than being offended by this foreign woman, Boaz hears her out instead of dismissing her completely or ridiculing her.   He then rethinks his position of what the gleaning law requires of him and reacts favorably!  A man of long faith is learning from a woman who is a recent convert.  Ruth’s interpretation allows Boaz to grow in his understanding of his own faith!  

Carolyn Custis James says in her book, The Gospel of Ruth,

Simply by doing what she knew to be right, Ruth’s actions elevate the discussion of the law to a completely different realm…she is also pressing Boaz to color the lines of his understanding of God’s law.  The letter of the law says, “Let them glean.”  The spirit of the law says, “Feed them.”  Two entirely different concepts.  Ruth’s bold proposal exposes the difference…Boaz’s response is as astonishing as Ruth’s request is outrageous, and this is where our strong admiration for Boaz begins to grow…he willingly follows Ruth’s lead.  He actually appears driven –you might even say obsessed —  to come up with ways of making her mission possible.  In an astonishing outpouring of grace, Boaz exceeds the young Moabitess’ request.   (James, The Gospel of Ruth, pgs 102-3).  

We discover that Ruth isn’t the only one gleaning courage.  Boaz is also gleaning courage.  The courage to act completely counter cultural.  He disregards what society would say or how it would react to his dealings with Ruth in the field.  But even more so is the courage to see Ruth as an equal who he was willing to learn from.  

It is the example of Ruth herself in her actions towards her mother-in-law that has earned her the respect of Boaz to begin with.  He sees God working through Ruth and in Ruth and he responds positively to Ruth and helps her ensure that she is successful in a society where she had every expectation of failing. 

The rest of our scripture today, verses 18-23, shows us the happy homecoming for Ruth that night and her sharing her day and the story of the blessings she has found that day:

She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied. Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.”  Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.” Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.’” Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.”  So she stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.

Ultimately, all of this is being done for the benefit of Naomi.  God is using Ruth and Boaz to show Naomi that he has not forgotten or abandoned her.  What an amazing story of growth and learning for both Boaz and Naomi!  I think often when the book of Ruth is thought of we as people have a tendency to see Boaz as the great redeemer of the story, which he is.  However, we don’t realize that he wouldn’t have done any of it if Ruth hadn’t challenged him with a new perspective on the gleaning laws, which he has known his entire life.  

How often do we find ourselves in this same exact position? 

We grow so comfortable in our own understandings and sometimes become complacent with those understandings.  We, like Boaz, need to be open to listening to others and  willing to continue learning and growing our faith.  We need to be looking for the Ruths in our lives that can help us do exactly that and we must be willing to learn from them.   

God’s timing and planning never ceases to amaze me.  One of the greatest revelations I have had while writing this is how God has connected and prepared the way for his redemption plan for restoring right relationship between himself and broken humanity so precisely.  While I didn’t see any of the commentaries comment on this, I have come to the conclusion that Boaz wasn’t just a random character with a blessed Israel family lineage that happened to be available.  

He was handpicked for this precise place in the story of redemption because he was a man uniquely equipped and qualified to be receptive to seeing a foreigner as an equal and being willing to learn from that same foreigner.  Why? Because of who his parents were.  Boaz’s father, Salman,  isn’t a name we really remember, but we do remember and are familiar with who his mother was.  

Boaz is the son of Rahab, the foreign prostitute from Jericho!

  From the time he was a baby, I like to imagine him learning at the feet of this great woman of faith who would surely be teaching him that the foreigner can have value, and that a woman can have great faith lessons to teach you.

One last thought from Carolyn Custus James that I would like to share with you is this,

Jesus was that kind of newcomer in his day, another outsider to the religious establishment.  His teachings reveal that obedience to God is not a matter of precision (which is what the Pharisees thought), but that the parameter of true obedience are virtually limitless.  We can’t reduce life with God to a checklist of rules to be kept and deadly sins to be avoided. The Sermon on the Mount knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God’s law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit.  (James, The Gospel of Ruth pg 102).  

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to constantly be seeking to learn, to grow, and to deepen our understanding of the ways of Jesus and his Upside Down Kingdom.  No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, whether babes of the faith or mature believers, there is still always more for each of us to learn and so many ways to grow to help build the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Ruth gleaned courage to go out and find a way to provide for Naomi in a society where she was guaranteed to fail, but she trusted in the God of Israel to lead her.

Boaz gleaned courage to stand up for what was right and not let the expectations of society stop him from embracing the spirit of God’s gleaning laws in order to help Ruth and Naomi find provision for their needs despite whatever the consequences to his reputation might be. 

                What is God currently calling you to learn in your life, and who in your life might he be using to teach you this?  What are they challenging you to rethink or expand on? What laws are we merely observing that we are being called to embrace the spirit of instead?

How will you glean courage today?

Who is Rahab?

Who is Rahab?  

Creative Commons: Distant Shores

She is mentioned three times in the New Testament, however, we know her best from her story which is found in the Old Testament book of Joshua.   If you aren’t familiar with the story of the prostitute from Jericho you can find it in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6

To the Israelites, everything about her is undesirable.  First and foremost, she is a woman living during a time of patriarchy.   Secondly, she is a Canaanite – a foreigner – one of the people living in the Promised Land that the Israelites have been told must be removed in order to take possession of the land.  Thirdly, her profession is that of a prostitute making her as immoral as they come.

But who is Rahab the woman, and what is she like?   She isn’t a made up character in a story book, but a real living, breathing woman.  Rahab is an outsider, or foreigner, living inside the Promised Land. We first meet her when two Israelite spies – insiders living outside the Promised Land – show up at her house.  The irony of this is that Rahab is also most likely also an outsider among her own people due to her “chosen” profession. Not that she willingly chose to be a prostitute. This is something women fall into as a result of having absolutely no other way of supporting herself.  

Although we read about the weaknesses and brokenness of  Rahab based on her career, which the writers of both and Old and New Testament just can’t let her overcome, we can discover a lot of about Rahab’s character and strengths.   In the pages of the book of Joshua we can also see the kind of person she is.

We know that she is intelligent, quick-witted,  and resourceful. She is able to think on her feet.  She sees the arrival of the spies for the opportunity that it is, and she is quick to take them in.  She is wise and perceptive. Rahab realized that God is giving her a chance at salvation with the arrival of the two Israelite spies on her doorstep.   

At the same time, Rahab is also able to quickly dismiss the king’s men.  She doesn’t hesitate to admit that she did indeed have company that day. She basically on the spot comes up with a story and says more or les, “Sure, the men you seek WERE here, but I had no clue they were from THOSE people.  And anyways, they are gone now. They finished their business with me and took off to make it outside of the gated to be on their way before the gates were closed for the night. But you look like strong, smart men! If you hurry you will surely still be able to track them and catch them!”

The very fact that she took the spies in shows that Rahab is hospitable.  At her own peril, safety and shelter are offered to the spies. As her guests, she knows that she is honor bound to care for them.  She protects them from being discovered by the king’s men – something the spies are unable to do on their own – despite the nasty consequences that she and her entire family can suffer from should the spies be discovered.   Rahab has the abilities to keep them safe and knows just where to hide these men. You see, Rahab doesn’t just entertain customers, she also is very industrious and spends time making linen. She has wet, soggy, smelly flax drying out on her roof for her next batch of linen on the very day these two bumbling spies show up on her doorstep.  She uses this big smelly drying pile of yuck to conceal the spies.

Once the king’s men are gone and is it safe to go back upstairs, we discover that Rahab is a skilled negotiator.   She goes in with a quid pro quo approach. I have dealt kindly with you, now you need to promise to deal kindly with me.   And what can the spies do? They know they are still neatly caught. They can either agree and negotiate with Rahab, or refuse and risk having her turn them over to the king.   We also discover during these negotiations that Rahab has a great love for others and she puts her love of others before love of self. Her request for salvation isn’t just for herself.  She ensured that her entire family will be spared and kept safe from the destruction that will inevitably come.

But most importantly, Rahab is a woman of incredibly strong faith.    Not just any faith either. She makes a confession of faith in the one true God of Israel , the  God of in heaven above and on earth below. A statement that is made by only two other people in the Old Testament – Moses and Solomon.  

Can you imagine how shocked the spies must have been by this Canaanite woman who is standing before them protecting them while at the same time declaring and confessing that she believes in their God?  And what a confession! It is perfect!

In his book, The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story, Frank Anthony Spina sums up Rahab and her confession like this :

Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, is familiar with the Israelite theological language as though she has graduated from an Israelite religious academy…she presents herself as fully and comfortably conversant with information that would typically characterize an Israelite insider completely knowledgeable about Israel’s religious patterns…In fact, Rahab’s confession is arguably the best one in the entire Book of Joshua, even better than anything offered by the great leader himself, Joshua.” 


Now how on earth would a pagan woman, who is lowly and poor with a horrible job, not only learn about the God of Israel, but also come to such an absolute and faith in him as her God as well?  Divine revelation is the answer.

All of the Canaanite people in Jericho  heard about the miracles the God of Israel had done and continued to do.  They knew about the other victories the Israelites had won battles over other powerful kings on their way to Jericho.  But only one Canaanite, Rahab, heard these stories and realized the strength that the won these battles came from the God of Israel, and she somehow sought to encounter and know him for herself.  God had a divine plan and purpose for Rahab just like he does for each of us. He met Rahab where she was in her current circumstances and accepted her belief in him. And just like Rahab, no matter what our circumstances our,  we to can have faith and trust in God to take us forward to our salvation.

And finally, we know that Rahab was a woman of great courage.  Can you imagine the nerves of steel it took for this woman to hide spies on her roof and then lie to the soldiers literally standing on her doorstep?  She took a ginormous leap of faith and courageously grasped on to the situation unfolding under and on her roof to secure salvation for herself and her entire family in exchange for her protection of the spies.

Then she has to wait, not knowing what is to come next or when whatever it is will come.  She really had no idea if the spies will keep their word once the battle has begun. All that she has to comfort herself with is her faith in the God of Israel.  Can you imagine the currents of terror that envelop the city of Jericho as the Israeli army arrives? The seven torturous days as the army marches around the city leaving the inhabitants inside shaking with fear wondering what will come next.  And then finally, the courage it takes to stay inside her house in the walls of Jericho as the great stone walls all around Rahab’s house come tumbling down?

Joshua gave the people of Israel God’s message to them in verse 1:9 to be strong and courageous.  Rahab, who hadn’t even been present to hear Joshua deliver this message, takes it to a whole now level.  Rahab shows us that absolute faith gives us the courage and strength we need to stand against anything.

Today we have been looking at a familiar story.    Before our time together today, have you ever given any thought to why Rahab the prostitute was given such a prominent place in this story?  A woman living in poor conditions trapped in an immoral job and a foreigner at that. Rahab’s story shows us that sometimes we are being prepared for a part in the story and really have no idea what it is or when we will need to use it. This past month I have spent a lot of time with Rahab and her story and feel like I have gotten to know Rahab as a person.  In doing so I have learned these two things as my takeaways, one is an encouragement and the other is a caution:

  1. No matter how marginalized you are, you have a place in the Kingdom, but it doesn’t always come easy.  You have to be ready and willing to move when God tells you it’s time to move. Have faith and be courageous.    No matter how bleak your current situation, you can have hope. God won’t leave you where he found you. No matter your circumstances, God will prepare you for whatever tasks he has for you.  Sometimes he is preparing you for a role that you would never dream you would have in the Kingdom. Rahab certainly didn’t know as she was learning who God was that she was going to play a prominent role in the Israelites taking of Jericho.  
  2. We can be too quick to judge a book by its cover.  Prior to taking a closer look at Rahab, I never realized that she had such a profound and deeply rooted faith in the God of Israel.  I guess that I just assumed that since she was a prostitute that she was a sinful person who just happened to get the right opportunity to ensure she survived the siege of Jericho.  I never looked beyond her title of prostitute to actually meet the woman of faith we have uncovered here today. We all have great potential in the Kingdom of God.

Going forward, I hope that when you hear the name Rahab, you aren’t so distracted by the title of prostitute that always seems to accompany it.   Instead my hope is for you to recall of a faithful woman filled with courage and strength who rose above her circumstances and found redemption and her place among God’s chosen people as well as a branch on the family tree of Jesus.                                                                            

Each of us has at least one Rahab moment in our lives.  A time when we have to choose to believe and trust in God and the promises he has made us despite our circumstances.  

My most recent Rahab moment came this past spring when my husband was suddenly incredibly sick, needing emergency surgery to clean out an infection that had found its way into his knee.   This resulted in him having to be off of work for a month. Perhaps in the greater scheme of problems in the world this wasn’t so big, but for me it was huge and seemed to be a recall of our financial hardships earlier in life.  In my past I would have been in complete despair and afraid that we would find ourselves without a home again. However, throughout the entire month I chose to lean into God and trust in him and I felt a deep sense of peace knowing that God would supply all our needs.  

This is just one of the Rahab moments in my life, what are some of yours?

Deciphering Discipleship Part 2

Part Two of the sermon entitled Deciphering Discipleship which was originally given on April 23, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Mathew 28:18-20
2 Timothy 3:14-17


Churches try to fit discipleship neatly into a one size fits all seminar or small group topic every now and again, when in fact it needs to be ongoing and looks different for each person.  Ogden believes discipleship done well in churches actually works better when congregations are split into smaller groups starting with two or three people that meet together on a regular basis for studies and discussions, who then go out and each start groups of two or three so that everyone can have an accountability group and a safe place to learn and grow and be mentored.

Being a disciple means making a choice to be a continuous life-long seeker and learner of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  It is a continual process that isn’t ever completed in this life.  Billy Graham says, “Salvation is free but discipleship costs everything we have.

Jesus isn’t present on this earth anymore in a physical body, so how then do we become disciples and followers of Jesus Christ?  Where do we look for guidance? We can’t leave our homes and follow after him as he travels from place to place.  Paul gives us the answer to this question in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 

Paul is writing to his student Timothy to encourage him in his ministry at Ephesus.  He is reassuring him that he has all the tools he needs in place to be successful in his ministry.  God has authored the scripture through human hands, which have been taught to Timothy from a young age by his mother and grandmother.  With this faith formation, if Timothy will continue to choose to immerse himself in the written Word of God, he will be fully equipped for every good work and demand of his ministry.

We need to develop the intentional habits of daily Bible study and prayer into our lives every day, not just on Sundays.  Reading books by outstanding leaders of the faith help us to understand things we may be struggling with, but they are not a substitute for reading God’s Word.

By soaking ourselves in the Word of God, his ways begin to become more engrained in us.  This is how we learn Christ’s ways.  This is not just a New Testament concept.  We read in the very first verses of Psalms 1, Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 

As Anabaptists, we should actually be a little of ahead of other denominations in the area of discipleship because at the core of our Confession of Faith and formation as a denomination is the belief that we should live our lives by being a people of the Book, using the Bible as our guidebook on how to live and treat others.

We come to our believer’s baptism after accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, but we don’t stop there.  We go forward as people of the Book, committed to learning the Jesus Way of Life and serving others as Jesus instructed in the Sermon on the Mount.  Baptism doesn’t signal the end of our part of the covenant.  It is only the beginning.

It is a lot like placing an online order or calling an order in.  I work at a company that is a redistributor.  Every day customer service receives calls from customers who want to place orders.  Once an order is confirmed in customer service (or baptism takes place), the product (Us, people) becomes committed and belongs to the buyer (Jesus, God) but further steps have to be taken for that product to ultimately reach its buyer.  The process doesn’t stop there.  The transaction isn’t complete yet.  The order has to be sent to the warehouse where it is picked, then taken to the shipping department where it is prepared for shipment, and then picked up by the shipping company to be delivered at last to the buyer.

After baptism, our journey isn’t over, it is only just begun as we begin a new life in Jesus Christ.  We need to equip ourselves to go out and do God’s work here in His Kingdom on earth as we advance throughout our lives until the time when God calls us home.  This equipping allows us to be prepared to shine the light of God’s love into the lives of others, and thereby do the work of disciples and invite those others to become a part of our circle, or churches, to be followers of Jesus with us.

At the beginning of our time this morning, I told you the story of the little dove that was trying to put out a forest fire with a few drops of water at a time from its wings.  While the intent of this little bird was good and true, it wasn’t really equipped for the business of putting out fires.

When we don’t devote ourselves to consistent Bible study and prayer, we become like the little bird.  We are unequipped to go forth and make disciples as we are commanded to do in Matthew 28:18-20.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”  This could be the creed for a disciple’s life!

We are like trees.  We nourish our roots with the Word of God.  When we do this daily, we grow strong roots, roots that are watered by the Word of God.  It becomes a part of our very being.  It molds us into followers of Christ.  With our strong, well-watered roots, we are equipped to reach out to those around us and help them find the same Living water that has helped us grow.

True discipleship can’t be measured.  It isn’t about how many people you help lead to Christ, but more so about how closely you draw yourself to Christ and walk in the Jesus Way during your time here on this earth.  It is about being humble and obedient to doing his will as you go out and serve a world that is longing and looking for the light of the Gospel.

Before we can go forth and add to the circle of the followers of Jesus, we must first become disciples of him ourselves.  We must become dedicated life-long learners and seekers of his Truth.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Are you a follower of Jesus today?

If not, are you willing to take the first step and plant yourself as a young sapling on the way to growing into a tall, strong tree of faith?

Are you ready to become what the Lord is calling you to be today?

Are you a disciple of Jesus?

If you missed Part One it can be found here.


Deciphering Discipleship Part 1

Part One of the sermon entitled Deciphering Discipleship which was originally given on April 23, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Matthew 28:18-20
2 Timothy 3:14-17

Picture By Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing used with no changes made. It can be found at:

A Buddhist monk sat at the edge of the Yellow River and watched a dove with amazement. At regular intervals, the bird dipped its plumage into the water and then flew up into the air, feathers sparkling with water. And then he returned to do it again.  “Why are you doing that?” the monk asked the dove.  “Don’t you see the smoke on the horizon?” the bird answered. “There’s a forest fire over there. I’m trying to put it out.”  The monk laughed out loud. “And you, little bird, think that you can do something about it?”  “I don’t know,” said the dove. “But I know that I have to try.”

Our text today is a familiar passage that is found at the end of the Book of Matthew and has been motivating Christians around the world to get out and try to lead people down the road to repentance and salvation for a millennium.  In the NSRV version, Matthew 28:18-20 reads, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

It is in part because of this passage that I felt the need to go through the C.S. Lewis Fellows program.  This passage filled me with uneasiness, because I wanted to go as Jesus commanded me to, but I didn’t know how to go.  So, I eagerly completed the application thinking that very soon I would be given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and able to Go and Make Disciples, just as Jesus was instructing me to do.  Instead, I learned that I totally missed the meaning of this piece of scripture.

If you were to look up this passage in the Believers Church Bible Commentary on the book of Matthew, you would read that the main verb in the Greek text of the great commission is matheteuo, which means make disciples.  Jesus is telling his remaining eleven disciples to expand the circle, to invite others to join them in following Jesus.  The other three verbs in the text are participles that connect with the main verb…We might paraphrase verses 19-20 like this:  As you go forth, call people everywhere to become disciples, which will involve both baptizing them into God’s community and summoning them to embody my teaching in their lives.

The focus on this scripture isn’t the going part.  Instead it is the making part. I think as a culture in general we do tend to miss that emphasis.  This is a rather convenient misunderstanding because if we focus on the Go instead of the Make, then we can find excuses that give us a pass on this command.  We can tell ourselves things like, that is the job and gifting of the missionaries.  I don’t need to worry myself with that command because I can’t go anywhere.  But in actuality this command isn’t just for those who travel far from their homes to spread the Gospel.  It is for each and every one of us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

We each are all called to discipleship and can extend this invitation to follow Jesus to every person we come into contact with just by going through the business of our daily lives.  There is as much of a need for the Good News of Jesus Christ in our workplaces and schools as there is for the people of the South American jungles that have never heard the name of Jesus.

So how have the churches in America gotten this passage wrong for so long?  It most likely goes back to cultural understanding.  We have forgotten, or never known, what true discipleship is.  Our version of discipleship is different than the understanding of discipleship in Jesus’ time.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers us this as the definition of disciple:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: such as Christianity:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts.  That’s it.  It is brief, and seems to focus on accepting and sharing ideas.

A better definition for discipleship has been offered by Greg Ogden in his book, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, where he defines a disciple as one who, in the context of community, places himself or herself under the shaping influence of Jesus so that there is no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power.

However, in Jesus’ day, the cultural understanding of what discipleship is, was very different.  Rabbis in ancient Israel were scholars and teachers of Jewish laws and scriptures and they would travel around from town to town to teach in the local synagogues.  They didn’t go to their local college to get their Master’s in Biblical Studies.  Instead they had to learn by first being a disciple to another Rabbi.

To be someone’s disciple, you would give up your whole way of life and leave your family so that you could devote yourself to literally following your teacher as they travelled from place to place.  As you travelled with your teacher you also took care of his daily needs like food and shelter.  We often see in the Gospels that Jesus sends some of the twelve ahead to take care of details like these.  For years, you would devote yourself to this Rabbi so that you could learn all of his knowledge and ideas.  There were many teachers with Disciples, not just Jesus.

What Jesus changes with this model is that he is always the teacher and his followers through the ages are always the students.  The disciples remain disciples of Jesus even after he sends them out fully equipped to make disciples on their own.

What does Discipleship look like now in American Churches today?  It isn’t seen as a way of life anymore for the masses.  A lot of it is left to those who choose a monastic life, or a pastor’s path.

Dallas Willard, an author specializing in Christian Spiritual Formation, has pointed out in his writings how far we have strayed from understanding the Christian life as sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Instead we focus on the benefits that we receive by faith in Jesus rather than on being conformed to the life of Jesus.  We want abundance without obedience…The bottom line essential with in the evangelical world is having the debt of one’s sins canceled by transferring them to Jesus’ account…The most telling thing about the contemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity with the clear teachings of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential.”  (Ogden, pages 46-47)

Studies show that only one out of every six adults who attend church regularly are involved in any type of activity or relational process that would help with personal spiritual growth.  That is around 17 % of the average church congregation.  Of this group about 69% are involved in a small group for bible or topical studies, 20% attend an adult Sunday school class, 14% are involved with one-to-one mentoring, 11% take part in special faith-based classes, and only 3% are involved in programs geared towards discipleship.  ( Ogden, pgs 26-27)

Discipleship, for the church body, has become a buzz word.   It is something to add to the to do lists rather than something to be actively engaged in so that we become closer followers of Jesus Christ.  The focus is on creating programs to reach out to disciple the lost people outside our churches. What is forgotten is the need to disciple those within the church first.

If you enjoyed Part One, please visit next week for Part Two.

The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 4)

Part Four, the conclusion of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10 (NRSV)

Four hundred and forty words make up our passage today.  While there may not be a lot of words, there is a lot we can take away from these verses of scripture and the story of the Moses 5.  We can see that God can use us when we least expect it.

He also uses those people that you would least expect to be used.  In this case, he uses all women behind the scenes.  It is the females that Pharaoh considered “safe” and not an enemy to his kingdom that protect the leader God is preparing.

We see that it is possible to be used in God’s work behind the scenes and never see the actual outcome of what God is working.  It is most likely none of the Moses Five except Miriam were still alive to see Moses return at the age of 80 to Egypt to lead God’s people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.

The Moses 5 are all women of true compassion and defiant love.  From them we learn about faith, courage, hope, perseverance, trust, and resourcefulness.  Moses’ mother Jochebed is an incredibly strong woman, but we see that she doesn’t complete her task of raising her child alone.  It takes several brave, strong women to do this.

It took a community then, and it still takes a community of strong women today.  People who choose do the right thing every time, not just when people are watching.  People who know God and who are willing to be part of his Kingdom work here on this earth.

Today we are celebrating Mother’s Day.  A day set aside for us to remember our mothers that are no longer with us and celebrate the ones that are still here.  Our passage of scripture today shows us a mother, a sister, an adoptive mother, and complete strangers who choose to serve God by doing the right thing despite the rulings of men or standards of their society.  Let us remember and celebrate these women today, and the example they set for us.  They all use compassion and defiant love to overcome the obstacles they encounter in their lives and carry out God’s love to those around them.

All around us are women of compassion and love.  We fill the roles of mothers, grandmothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, aunts, sisters or even as friends who are mentors and teachers.  To date in my life I have been blessed with many great and Godly women who have helped to shape me into the person I am today.  Some I am related too, some are women God has sent my way at the right times along my journey.  Women serving God who have helped me learn lessons of grace and humility.

We can all be people of compassion and love.  God’s people.  We see this same kind of message repeated in the New Testament as well.  In 1 Peter 5:5 we read, “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.  And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”’

Likewise, we read in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.

In his book, Cure for the Common Life (pg. 132) Max Lucado phrases it like this, Jesus entered the world to serve.  We can enter our jobs, our homes, our church.  Servanthood requires no unique skill or seminary degree.  Regardless or your strengths, training, or church tenure, you can…”

The world today is looking for people of compassion and love.  God’s people – men and women who choose to do the right thing despite the consequence to them and who always have their trust in God.  Even during the hard times.

Our world is hungry for righteous voices.  Those willing to reach out and help others.  Perhaps it is giving support and encouragement to a young mother who is struggling.  Or it could be reaching out to a girl to help guide her through the turbulence of the adolescent years.  It could even be as simple as taking a child to the movies here and there and chatting with them on the car ride.

Our obedience to God’s call spans across racial divides and borders of countries.  Today we read about an Egyptian princess who showed compassion and love to her enemy, a Hebrew.  We see Jesus teaching this same love of enemy in the New Testament in the parable of the good Samaritan.  Egyptian or Hebrew, Samaritan or Jew, we are all God’s children and subject to his ways.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:31-40,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

God uses us in unexpected ways.  We just have to be willing to answer his call, obeying his teachings and meeting the needs of those around us.  No matter what the personal cost is to us.   We, like the Moses 5, are all called to be strong and courageous people of God who spread compassion and love in a world that is hurting.

Be a person of defiant love.

If you missed Part Three it can be found here.