Redemption at Work in Generosity

Scripture: Ruth 2.20
He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.

Reflection: Redemption at Work in Generosity
By John Tillman

Our culture is obsessed with romance. (To the tune of thirty percent of the fiction market and over a billion dollars a year) However, as tempting as it is to interpret Boaz’s actions in Ruth’s second chapter to an instant romantic attachment, gleaning doesn’t make for a good “meet-cute.”

Gleaning was a part of the social safety net put in place by the communal regulations of the Old Testament covenant. Ruth’s story puts a relational microscope on this practice.

Landowners, the CEOs of Israel’s agrarian society, had a holy responsibility to not wring every grain of profit from their fields—to not harvest the edges and corners of the field, and to not pick up dropped grain or return for forgotten sheaves. This runs counter to our modern business mentality of efficiency at all costs and it seems that the community of Bethlehem wasn’t fully living up to these ideals either.

Boaz’s warnings not to glean elsewhere and his assurances of good treatment in his field are strong indicators to us that gleaners were seldom well treated. His statement, “I have told the men not to lay a hand on you,” is a particularly telling hint at the kind of treatment that Ruth was likely to get elsewhere and may indeed already have received before Boaz arrived.

Then as now, the marginalized are the easiest targets for harassment and violence, and it is up to people of faith to intervene.

The redemptive view of work, profit, and charity in Ruth, asserts that ownership is custodial—that the fruits of investment are meant to benefit the entire community. The initiative to provide assistance must sync up with the initiative to seek it. Systems and programs for the marginalized are nice and societies should have them. But compassion goes further.

Living generously is more than giving out of “our” profit that we have harvested. It is recognizing that the profit never belonged to us. It is more than giving a prescribed percentage of income to carefully vetted charities or happily paying taxes for social programs. Generosity is making room in our lives, our fields, and our communities for the marginalized and the needy. Fulfilling religious or social law is compliance. Generosity means going beyond what is expected.

The Call to Prayer
Let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful. — Psalm 68.3

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ruth 3-4 (Listen – 5:24)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

Ruth, the Immigrant

Scripture: Ruth 2.6
The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi.

Reflection: Ruth, the Immigrant
By John Tillman

Ruth’s story is attractive for those who long for a quid-pro-quo relationship between their good deeds and God’s blessings.

This line of teaching focuses on Ruth’s hard work to aid Naomi, but usually skips the antecedent action in which Ruth had a controversial interracial marriage with a Jewish immigrant and, following his death, chose to abandon her biological family, her culture, her country, and her religion to seek a home among a people who had pledged to wipe out her race in the previous generation, but hadn’t quite succeeded yet.

Ruth, the immigrant, isn’t a version of the story we think about much, but it is the primary way those who interacted with Ruth would have thought of her. With our gift of hindsight, we associate Ruth with her great-grandchild, Israel’s greatest earthly king, David. But to everyone else, Ruth was “the Moabite.” She would have been seen as a dangerous immigrant—one of “those women” the law warns Israel about, who would seduce and lead Israel into sin. By remembering that Ruth is an immigrant, we get a clearer picture of her story.

More important than showing us the value of hard work, or kindness, or having a successful marriage, Ruth shows us how God’s grace helps us immigrate from our own selfish kingdoms to the kingdom of God through repentance. Ruth shows us how to turn our back on our self and what we have known, to abandon what is best for us by the world’s standard, and to turn our face toward a new God and a new kingdom.

Ruth becomes a member of a new community and, by grace, she joins the lineage of a new family—the family of Jesus. Our place in Jesus’ family is as much by grace as Ruth’s place in His genealogy. Ruth is an example of God’s grace extending, through Israel, to the Gentiles, and eventually, to us.

Boaz, the son of Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, and Ruth, the Moabitess, make a life together in the promised land. This is a unique picture of God’s mercy and grace. By rights they shouldn’t be here. Yet they not only live, they flourish, and they foreshadow the Gospel spreading beyond Israel to the nations.

The Morning Psalm
Hallelujah! When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech — Psalm 114

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ruth 2 (Listen – 3:56)
Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)

Victory In Loss

Scripture: Acts 26.29
I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.

Reflection: Victory In Loss
By John Tillman

Many of the elements we long for in blockbusters are present in the Gospel narrative of the New Testament—a small group of outcasts facing long odds, narrow escapes from violence, capture and imprisonment, government corruption—but the story’s parts don’t go in the order we wish them to. They all end in death. Christ and his first followers in Scripture stubbornly refuse to fulfill the types of hero-journeys that we are accustomed to.

Paul’s defense before Agrippa is a moment when the story could turn in the outcast’s favor. When Agrippa is asked to weigh in, it is a potential game-changer. Agrippa is more than simply familiar with Jewish theology, he is a believer in the prophets. From a modern perspective, without knowing the rest of the story, one would be prone to think, “Finally, someone sympathetic to our cause is on the court! Finally, our hero Paul will orate his way out of captivity and gain notoriety for the cause of Christ!”

Instead, Paul’s impassioned defense is met with accusations of mental illness, and then disbelief. Even then, Paul could have been set free except for a strategic legal error—his appeal to Caesar. Paul’s “loss” follows the model set by Christ, who also strategically lost his own trial.

The idea that it is God’s plan to give believers victories in this world, through this world’s power, has little support in the New Testament. In the trials of our lives, we are not expected to be victors in the common cultural interpretation of winning.

The victories Christ calls us to are different than common narratives. They lie in the opposite direction from religious achievement and striving. They wait on the opposite side of the valley of the shadow of death. It is there that Christ leads us, lending us his guiding hand along a path narrow, but well worn by his own travel.

Other religions seek to bend the will of godly power to mortal benefit through performance of acts of sacrifice, incantation, and supplication. In Christianity, it is God who bends willingly to us—it is our wills that are unbending and our own power that holds us back from God’s presence. In Christianity it is God who sacrifices, submitting to execution under the power of mortal legal machinery. And it is God who sings an incantation, attempting to summon us to Him, supplicating our presence along the path that leads through suffering to victory.

The Request for Presence
I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you. — Psalm 143.8

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ruth 1 (Listen – 3:33)
Acts 26 (Listen – 4:40)

God’s Kingdom Versus God’s Reign

Scripture: Judges 21.25
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

No more kings! — Schoolhouse Rock, Music & Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

Reflection: God’s Kingdom Versus God’s Reign
By John Tillman

Throughout Judges the tribes of Israel had no king and each did as they saw fit. If one had not read the previous chapters one might assume a libertarian utopia would result, but the Israelites were unable to sustain community in the face of their idols, sin, and greed.

Despite American cultural disdain for monarchy, we tend to reject the “no kings” political structure of Judges, equating it with spiritual disobedience, and for good reason. Looking backward in the text, we see civil war that is triggered by a shocking crime-drama that captures the nation’s attention, and prior to that event is only more unrest, chaos, and tragedy.

Judges is most likely written during the reign of kings so it is not surprising that its summarizing statement carries the implication that the monarchy is an improvement on previous history. But from our perspective, we can see clearly that the coming of kings, of governmental authority, and of hierarchical enforcement of religious practices was equally unsustainable and an abject failure.

As Christians today, we are often tempted, as the Israelites were, to put faith in shaping society through the exertion of governmental power. Both progressives and conservatives are guilty of this—left-leaning and right-leaning Christians merely disagree about which biblical values should be legislated and which should be ignored.

Seeking God’s Kingdom does not equate to seeking political power. God steadfastly refuses to be the king of something so insignificant as a nation. He wishes to reign in our hearts, not our houses of government. Jesus fled from being crowned king and rebuked those who wanted him to head a new religiously aligned government.

Christ repeatedly asserted that God’s kingdom was paradoxically “in your midst” and “not of this world.” Yet that somehow doesn’t keep us from attempting to redeem the earth through worldly means, baptizing political activism and equating it with spiritual warfare.

God doesn’t seek an earthly kingdom to reign. Christ is not the head of any nation, but rather is head of the Church, and it is not our government which should exemplify the teachings of Christ, but our lives, and the life of his Church.

The Morning Psalm
O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob — Psalm 99.4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 21 (Listen – 3:47)
Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

Lingering Hope

Scripture: Acts 22:21
Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

Reflection: Lingering Hope
By John Tillman

In Acts we can track the Holy Spirit’s systematic destruction of the racism inherent in the early church. This is a reminder that we must allow the Holy Spirit freedom to do the same in each generation.

Racism has not proven to be something that any previous generation can solve once for all time. It comes back, season after season, like tares among the wheat. Each generation must root out the weeds of racial prejudices on their own.

In Stormy Road for This Pilgrim (published in 1978), Nelson Hayashida writes about the partial successes of the Civil Rights movement and his hope for the future.

Although our dilemma may still exist in lesser or greater degrees throughout the country, there appears to be glimmering signs of a brighter tomorrow. With the increasing ease of communication and travel the world is rapidly being transformed into a “familiar community.” Generally speaking, American young people today are more knowledgeable than previous generations about the hurts and struggles of the varying ethnic groups in America. In fact, it seems the whole American populace have now a sharper sensitivity toward minorities. They are more aware of the pains and injustices imposed upon ethnics and are voicing stronger disapproval for discriminating situations. There appears to be greater understanding and acceptance of Oriental-Americans today than there were twenty or thirty years ago.

It’s true the American amalgamation of races has not been an altogether euphonious process, but ethnics are here to stay in this country nevertheless. This right to remain and live in this great land is not only our constitutional birthright but also our moral birthright. Racial or ethnic relations in America may not be near what it should be, but when there is an increasing understanding and acceptance for one another among all Americans, hope lingers on the distant horizon.

Our hope is not in a political movement of the past or the present, but is in the movement of the Holy Spirit, that in each generation has stirred the hearts of believers and the heart of the church to seek justice, reconciliation, and redemption in every broken part of our culture, including racism. When the church marches toward the hurting and seeks justice, society follows. When the church stumbles, so does our culture.

The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance… — Psalm 90:8

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 18 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Judges 19 (Listen – 4:52) Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)
Judges 20 (Listen – 7:13) Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)

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