24 September 2020
The power and control that Brian Tamaki has appropriated in the name of God - and his self-styled use of the term Bishop to give a cloak of religious respectability to his increasingly sinister political ambitions - bear far more resemblance to the rise of the Nazi cult of Hitler before the second world war than to a new religious movement. The Christian stuff is the camouflage, although God may yet surprise him, for many of his followers do know what Christ is about and they could well yet be the subversive element in this political movement if they read their bibles rather than blindly follow.
When we read the story of Ruth and her mother in law we find God working great and far reaching deeds through vulnerable women, racial hatreds and tragic circumstances. The act of covenant promise made freely and willingly by Ruth, reflecting God's own covenant, is almost the complete opposite to an oath of personal worship to a man who has the need to control minds and men.
Naomi, Ruth and Orpah have nothing Naomi and her husband had faced famine in Bethlehem and became refugees in a land called Moab, modern-day Jordan, Jewish refugees in an Arab state. "In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land; and Elimelech, a man of Bethlehem in Judah, with his wife and two sons went to reside in the country of Moab... Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women....and then the two sons also died."
Three women are left with three dead husbands and no means of support. It is a crisis moment in time. It is when they have no control over their plight. .It is the kind of moment that leads these women to God’s new time.
In moments of great loss we often find that the resources we trust in -money, social connections, education are no use. It's what we have within us that will have to count. Our faith in God's ultimate future is the main resource we have to draw from .
Joan Chittichester put is like this "Like everyone who goes through sudden, defining loss of any kind, these women find themselves faced with the question: Who am I when I am no longer who and what I was? Like the rest of us there are no miracles in sight to save them, no angels on the road to point the way. Nothing. Everything they had, everything they ever thought they wanted, is gone.
Now they have only themselves on which to depend, only the spirit of God to lead them on through a world that has no real concern for them at all once motherhood ends, or there is no man to support them, or there is no institution to define them, or there is no one and nothing whose need give them a reason for their existence.
Loss, any kind of loss—rejection, abandonment, divorce, loss of health, death—is a shocking, numbing, thing that at the beginning freezes the heart and slows the mind. Loss changes life at the root. Irrevocably. What was once the center of life—the person, the position, the plan, the title, the lifestyle—is no more. Life is never the same again. The things we have known, almost unconsciously, often for years, to be good—to be familiar, to be certain—is gone, snatched away without warning. What we took for granted shifts and tilts and weakens. Emptiness becomes our new companion, God more a rumor than a fact.: Where is God now when we are left in a sea of disorientation? Yet loss, once looked at, once absorbed, is a precious gift. No, we cannot be what we were before but we can be—in fact we must be—something new. There is more of God in us, we discover in emptiness, than we have ever known in what we once took to be fullness"
Naomi turns to go home, the famine is finished, maybe there at least she will be able to claim some of her identity. She tries to give her daughters in law a chance, don't come with me she says, you will have no future I am empty of children, of hope of everything. Orpah decides reluctantly to stay, she drops out of the story.
But Ruth, stubborn Ruth, makes a costly pledge. Woman to woman, Widow to widow, Daughter in law to mother in law, Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."
Ruth, the Arab woman from Moab, by word and by deed demonstrates what God means when God says, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
Want to know what it means to love God and your neighbour? Look at Ruth's promise and actions toward Naomi.
They take a long, dangerous journey across river and desert, and they eventually arrive at the Bethlehem city gates.
Naomi who went away full--husband, two sons--has come home empty. She is so bitter that the minute she arrives at the city gate she announces a name change from Naomi, which means "sweet," to Mara, which means "bitter."
Naomi has reason to be bitter but she has not been alone. All the way home, all the way across a barren countryside, daughter-in-law Ruth has matched Naomi step-for-tired step.
Ruth has reason to be embittered too. After a childless marriage, Ruth's husband is dead. So are her brother-in-law and father-in-law, the two men who under Hebrew custom would have been required to provide for the young widow.. So Ruth is running on empty. After all, someone might take a chance on a young widow hoping she could yet have children and maybe turn off a good day's work in the meantime. But Ruth has promised to stay by bitter, old Naomi.
Naomi can't see it. She's too bitter, too wrapped up in her own inconsolable grief. Arriving home the loyal Ruth at her side, Naomi announces, "I went away full, but now the Lord has brought me back empty."
I wonder how Ruth felt?. There she stands side-by-side with Naomi at the city gate, having left her homeland, her family and friends, her own religious tradition, having faithfully accompanied Naomi across the desert. And now Ruth doesn't get so much as an introduction. "I went away full," Naomi says, "but the Lord has brought me back empty." Its not true, Naomi, God hasn't brought you back empty, God has provided your daughter-in-law Ruth as your faithful, loyal, and resourceful companion and God is not through providing for you. Not yet.
In Naomi, we see as the story continues to unfold that, if creation goes on creating in us all our lives, then the function of loss is to bring us all back to the completion of ourselves just when it seems that there is nothing left in us to develop. The truth of loss is a freeing one: it is the grave of something we loved—this person, this place—that calls forth the resurrection of the self.
Then the past has done its work. Then the word of God becomes new life to us. Then life becomes a series of possibilities which, when taken seriously, make us whole. Then, with Naomi, we take another road, not because we know what will happen at the end of it but because we cannot be whole without walking it.
And, often slowly, we find we are not left to do it alone.
For this story from ancient Hebrew scripture tells us that the God of all creation is concerned with everyday life, the inconsolable grief of an older widow who has now buried her sons plus the broken heart of a young woman who has been unable to have children and who has now lost her husband. It tells us that faithful love can bring us from tragedy into new life
It also tells us that our hope can be placed in God. At the end of this reading is a signal. Naomi and Ruth came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. Harvest time is a time of opportunity and fullness, especially for those who don't have work and don't have food.
A new beginning is about to happen with far reaching results as the house of David is being formed. This is not in a show of power but in God working new things in the almost invisible, seemingly insignificant, actions of the faithful, loving friendship of a powerless and grieving woman, not leaving a bitter old woman who has taught her to trust in her God. The one God who does not leave us.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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