Archive for November, 2015

Summoned to God’S Dangerous Service

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Gathering Words for November 15, 2015

Heard any stories lately? Probably. We are hearing stories all the time. Yesterday’s news. The latest family gathering. The time out with friends this weekend. Stories at work. Stories at class. Stories in the gym. Maybe you are reading a book about some event in history, a biography or memoir. Maybe you have been reading stories to your children or grandchildren. Maybe you have been to a story tellers conference, or recently forwarded a story on Facebook. Maybe you just got together with some friends you haven’t seen for a while and spent the entire evening telling stories. Maybe you were sitting with family and friends and somebody said “Tell that story about the time…”

We hear or read stories everyday of our lives. So many stories that in fact the question we ask is more often “Have you heard a good story lately.” But who decides which stories are good ones? Whose stories aren’t we allowed to hear or repeat? What stories of yours keep going unheard? What story have we heard too much?

The Bible is a storybook. It is a collection of stories. One of Ken Medema’s albums is called Story Telling Man and is songs about the stories Jesus told. Of course, much of the gospels are made up of stories about this story telling man, who favorite technique was telling parables, or stories.

We are going to talk about Bible stories today. Not all of them. Some particular kinds of stories about some particular kind of people who have to fight to get their stories told and heard. But the stories are important, no matter who tells you they aren’t because they are important to God. And Jesus showed us over and over again that our stories are important and so are the stories of others.

Summoned to God’s Dangerous Service
Exodus 1 and 2, Ruth 4 (several others)
Steve Hammond
October 15, 2015

Ask people to mention the stories in the Bible that feature women. Eve. Sarah and Hagar. [Shiphrah and Puah. Pharaoh’s Daughter. Moses mother and sister (Miriam).] Ruth. Naomi. Esther. Tamar. Rahab. Michel. Abigail. Jephthah’s daughter. Hannah. The widow of Zerapath. Debra. The Shulamite Woman in Song of Solomon. Mary the Mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene. Mary the sister of Martha and Martha. Joanna. Susanna. The Woman at the Well. The Syro Phoenician Woman. The woman who touched Jesus’ garment. The woman caught in adultery. The widow in the Temple (Widow’s mite). Anna. Elizabeth. Lydia. Pricilla.

It feels like there aren’t as many stories about women in the Bible as there actually are. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be more. But why does it feel like there are even less than there are?

Men’s stories are emphasized, highlighted, remembered, and more detailed than women’s stories. Patriarchy, by definition, means men’s stories are more important than women’s stories. It also means you have to fight for women’s stories to be included. That’s why it actually, to me, is surprising there are as many stories about women in the Bible as there are. I think it also means we have to make sure we pay more attention to those stories about women in the Bible because it would have been easy enough to leave them out. So they are there because the writers thought it was really, really important they be there. But getting them included is just the first step. We need to make sure they don’t get swamped by the patriarchic tide. They are literally subtexts. They are underneath the larger text that we are used to reading with our lenses of patriarchy. We have to reach down and pull them to the surface.

Most of us here know the story of Moses. But how does it start? It actually starts with two women Shiphrah and Puah. They were Hebrew midwives living with that Israeli community that had grown in Egypt over the years since the time of Joseph. Pharaoh was so concerned by the large numbers of Hebrews that he ordered Shiphrah and Puah to kill all new born Hebrew boys. But they refused. The story says they feared God more than the Egyptian King. So they came up with this really interesting defense. “Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women. They are strong. And by time we get there they have already given birth so we can’t do anything about the male babies.”

So Pharaoh decreed that whenever anyone came across a Hebrew baby boy, that baby was to be thrown into the Nile. When Moses was born, the story goes, his mother hid him for three months. But he was getting bigger and louder so she made a basket and waterproofed it, and set the basket in the hallows where Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses and decided to raise him. Moses’ sister, Miriam perhaps, but it doesn’t say, was watching all of this and told Pharaoh’s daughter she could find a woman to be a wet nurse for the baby. That woman, of course, was Moses’ mother.

I was looking at the Interpreter’s Bible about the beginning of the book of Exodus and here is what the writer wrote about the Exodus story. “While the work of Exodus is clearly God’s work, the human Moses is indispensable as an agent in social transformation. As becomes characteristic in the Bible, God’s action in the world is undertaken by human agents who are summoned into Yahweh’s dangerous service.” Now who was more summoned into God’s dangerous service than these five women? To be fair, that same writer seems to get it when a few paragraphs later he writes this. “Moses is kept safe through the inscrutable protection of God, which in the narrative is credited only to the women.” In other words, the writer of Exodus is telling us that without the women there is no Moses. Without Moses there is no Israel. And from our perspective, without Moses there is no Jesus. The story of these women is more than a story of brave women. They are essential to whole story.

Last week, Anita Peebles preached from the book of Ruth. That is such an interesting story of how Ruth and Naomi supported each other, persevered, schemed, took amazing risks, and even seduced to survive. Here is some of the story. “Naomi her mother-in-law said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. 2 Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.’” That part about uncovering Boaz’s feet. That’s a euphemism. Do I need to say any more?

Boaz was a good guy and this turns out to be a nice love story. After some scheming on Boaz’s part he and Ruth are able to be married. But here’s how the book of Ruth ends, here’s the punchline.”18 Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron,19 Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, 21 Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, 22 Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David.” These two women, how did he say it, “summoned into God’s dangerous service” set into motion something that changed the whole course of Israel.

Let’s quickly think about the gospels. Mary, the mother of Jesus, comes off as one he most radical people in the gospels. Remember the Magnificat? God..has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” You don’t hear anything like that coming out of the mouths of the male disciples in the Gospels.

The longest theological discourse Jesus has in the Gospels is with the Samaritan woman at the well. There is that Syro Phoenician woman who challenges Jesus about his understanding of the nature of his ministry. That one woman touches Jesus and power is drawn from him. In that story where Martha confronts Jesus because he delayed his trip and didn’t show up until after Lazarus died, she also makes this confession “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” It is her sister Mary who challenges the deeply held traditions of her day and sits to listen to Jesus rather than work in the kitchen. It’s the women disciples who are the first witnesses of the Resurrection on Easter morning.

Even though the stories of the women in the gospels are less developed than those of the men, it is obvious in the Gospels that the women get Jesus much more than the men do. Yet all the gospels are named after men.

We need all the stories, particularly the ones that we don’t usually get to hear, we need to hear the stories of those we aren’t supposed to hear from. What would it be like if Palestinians and Israelis could hear each other’s stories? What would it be like if we could stop and really listen to the stories that are being told by the Black Lives Matter folk? What would it be like if we stopped telling other peoples’ stories and let them tell their own? Why are we so afraid of stories that are different than the accepted narrative?

We all know people, I imagine, who are desperate for their stories to be heard, so they keep telling them over and over again. How do we hear and honor those stories? But how do we find ways to not get stuck on our stories? There is, obviously, a time to tell our stories, but also a time to listen to the stories of others.

Jesus had stories to tell. He knew that stories were important. And not everybody liked his stories. They were afraid of his stories and didn’t want them told. So afraid that they killed him. They thought they could put an end to the stories. But they couldn’t because too many of us listened to his stories and realized that God wants to hear our stories and wants us to hear each other’s stories.

Imagine what it was like for Shiphrah and Puah, Moses’ sister and mother, Pharaoh’s daughter to tell their stories to the women around them. What was it like when Ruth told her story to her daughters and friends? What did the women who had spent all that time with Jesus, been there when he died and was raised again, say to each other and their families when they told their stories? What was it like in those rooms when the stories were being told? Those would have been amazing stories to hear even though the stories of women have been so quickly discounted, and often feared in most, if not all, societies. How much we have missed?

We’ve got stories to tell and stories to hear. It’s in the balancing of the telling and the hearing that we can find a way to follow the story telling who summons us into God’s dangerous service.


Before we close this morning I want us to think about the Apostle’s Creed for a couple of minutes. Now before I acknowledge my usual concerns about the Apostle’s or any creed, I do want to note and celebrate thatthere are plenty of people who find the creeds quite meaningful. And they have stories to tell about going into a church in a new or far place and hearing the same creed that they recite, the same creed that has been recited by Christians over the centuries all over the world.

But, I can’t help but mention today that there are no stories in the Apostle’s Creed. If you don’t know it, you can find it on page 359. It talks about God being the creator of heaven and earth, but nothing about that creation that we read about in the first couple of chapters of Genesis, the book of Job, in the Psalms or so many other places in the Bible. It says that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate and was killed. It says Jesus was resurrected. But there are no Nativity stories, no stories about what happened on Holy Week and Easter morning. And the creeds, like this one don’t even make a reference to the life Jesus lived, much less tell stories like his encounter with the Woman at the Well, or with Zacchaeus, or the time they tried to throw him over a cliff in his home town. The Holy Spirit gets a line, but no story of Pentecost or the Spirit’s guiding the followers of Jesus.

Now, of course, the stories in the Bible are alluded to in the Apostle’s Creed. But imagine if you heard this creed as someone who is completely unfamiliar with the Bible. How can we know what the creed is trying to tell us without hearing the stories?


Any of you here listen to the Vinyl Café? It’s a long running Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program that, I think, you can hear on one of the public broadcasting stations. I listen to their weekly podcast so I’m not quite sure when you can listen to it on the radio, but I think it’s Sunday afternoon. It’s built around stories. Kind of like the Canadian version of the Prairie Home Companion. Stuart McLean, it’s host, who is, at least, as good of a storyteller as Garrison Keillor, always closes the broadcast with his hope that we will have a “story worthy week.” And we will, because there are stories everywhere.


God, we come this morning to join with each other in worshiping you. We’ve got good stories and we’ve got hard stories to tell, some so hard that we don’t know how to tell them. But we know that no matter what our stories are, we are a part of your larger story. Jesus has called us to not only tell the story, but to add to it, to make the story our own.

Forgive us when we imagine there are folk whose stories aren’t worth hearing, or whose stories don’t really count. Forgive us when we shrink from telling our stories, or drown others’ stories out with our own. We don’t know how the story ends, God, it just keeps unfolding and is told by your Spirit along the way. And that is why we are thankful. Help us to add a bit more to the story today and in the days ahead. In the name of the one who came telling us your story. Amen

God’s Quilt

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Ruth 1:1-18
Anita Peebles
Movember 8, 2015

My friend Emily has a beautiful quilt. Her mother made one for each granddaughter in the family following her grandmother’s death from scraps of fabric collected by her grandmother so that they might remember each other when they are far away. This is a way of keeping their family together–all the family members, those who were related through bloodline or marriage, contributed fabric to the quilt. As Emily has traveled from her hometown in the desert of California to college in Nebraska to work with me at the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, TN to Seattle where she is working on alleviating hunger, she takes this quilt with her and remembers the presence and love of her family. Emily says that is especially important to her because her mother made it and it has pieces of fabric from her grandmother’s old sewing projects included. It’s warmth and memories often provides unexpected blessings when the going gets rough.

Likewise, Ruth is a book that provides unexpected blessings. Scrunched in between Judges and First Samuel, this small book, only 100 verses, slips in almost unnoticed. In reading it, we get the story of a small Israelite family living in Moab because there was a famine in Judah, undergoing many hardships until the only people left, the women, head to Judah. Naomi and her daughters in law are extremely vulnerable, as there were not many protections for widows, and women were susceptible to the will and exploitation of men. Her daughters in law, Orpah and Ruth, were freed from their duty to Naomi’s family when their husbands died. Because both women are foreigners, from the point of view of the Judean writer, they have no reason to return to Israel. Their heritage is with the Moabites, and since they are not cut from the same cloth of Israel, the chosen people of God, they might as well get themselves home. Sending her two daughters in law away is, in a way, the most hospitable thing Naomi could do, since she knows they have no legal obligation to her, and that she has nothing to give them but a way out. She hopes there is a better life available for them back with their fathers’ families Moab.

I love that the main characters in this book are women, which is rare, only comparable to the book of Esther, in that matter. This story of Ruth pledging to stay with Naomi has always been one of my favorite Biblical passages. There are so few times when the relationships between women, especially women of different generations, are celebrated. And to have this story be part of one of the two books in the Bible named for women is nothing short of incredible. How often do we hear, even today, stories of women protecting each other and loving each other, instead of cutting each other down and shaming each other? Not all that often, if we trust mainstream media sources and teen movies. In the Bible, stories of women are often read (and many are written this way by the patriarchal ancient authors) to pit women against each other: think of the stories of Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah, Mary and Martha.

But when given the chance, Ruth will not leave Naomi, and the Bible says, she “clings to” Naomi. The Hebrew word for this is “dabaq”, the same word used for the love that Adam felt for Eve. Remember that in Genesis 2, God made woman out of the flesh of Adam’s rib to be a “helpmeet” or “companion” for him because “it is not good for man to be alone.” Adam was lonely, the only one of his kind, and God provided for Adam in the form of Eve, a human being like him, and one that could reciprocate his love and match his place in the good Creation. This likeness of language is to be noted in our discussion of Ruth because the story of Ruth and Naomi has been read over time to validate homosexual relationships. This passage, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” is often used in marriage ceremonies, as two people pledge to be family to each other. The book of Ruth also provides a model for intergenerational community and healing, as Naomi returns to her kin emptyhanded and “bitter,” as her name change to “Mara” tells us. She knows her redemption lies not in Moab, but in the land of her birth, among people she has not seen for a long time, but who are family to her. And through it all, Ruth proves her worth, despite her status as a foreign wife, and shows her love for Naomi as she follows her chosen family to the land of Judah. Truly, the story of Ruth and Naomi is dynamic and applicable to many life situations that have to do with unity and family in God’s eyes.

The story of Ruth is so amazing to me because, it should be recognized, she is one of the only women listed in the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Matthew. She shows up as David’s great-grandmother, and Jesus follows from the Davidic line (through his earthly father Joseph). Scholars posit that the author’s purpose in writing this book was to show that taking wives from nations other than Israel is acceptable, that Ruth was a good egg, and the era which disallows inter-tribal marriage is over. Thus, King David himself, one of the best-known leaders in Israel’s history, is a leader from the margins, arising with a back-story that is not purely upstanding, law-abiding Israelite. His great grandmother was a Moabite, part of a kinship group that had a complicated relationship with Israel, sometimes at war, sometimes allied, sometimes in peace—but always Other. And Ruth is not even the only woman in Matthew’s genealogy: Rahab and Tamar, other women praised for their unconventional acts of courage for God’s people. These women have been traditionally seen as outsiders, because of either the way they use their sexuality or their ethnicity. And yet: they courageously rise to the challenge of helping God’s people. Perhaps this suggests that we, too, should look for leadership from the margins, because difference and diversity are integral in the family of David and Jesus. Jesus, who in the stories of his life continues to show us the way to prepare the world for God’s kin-dom of peace rooted in justice, was made possible because of the faithfulness of God in including all people in the vision for salvation, in God’s family.

I love the imagery of my friend Emily’s quilt in relation to the Ruth and Naomi story, in part because I can imagine the two women sitting knitting or sewing together at night, mourning over their losses in Moab, or planning and supporting each other during the first nights back in Judah. I can just see them–sitting close together, embroidering their lives and stories and all they’ve seen into the quilt, including Naomi’s questioning God and Ruth’s conversion and the care shared between generations.
Indeed, when making a quilt, having company helps. This does not need to be a solitary act, but it can involve quilting circles of people who chat and exchange news about loved ones and trials in their lives. Women’s circles have, in fact, always been subversive places where women share the truth about their lives–a truly radical conversation. Women telling the truth about their experiences have changed many lives, as with the women who were instrumental in starting the environmental movement by sharing about the illnesses their children were facing around the Love Canal disasters. Think also of Emmett Till’s mother, who knew the truth of her son’s violent death and that it could send a powerful message to the people of this nation rent by conflict and the evil of racism. Last year in Nashville, during my fellowship in an intentional community of young women doing social justice work, I was part of multiple circles of women who gathered to talk about feminism and how the so-called “fourth wave” can be hospitable and inclusive to women of color and transgender women. Even here at Oberlin College, the circles of women who surrounded me to share stories about abuse, eating disorders, distorted self-image and mental health were instrumental in how I came to feel affirmed by the forces outside academia—they helped me recognize my calling to ministry. These truth-speakers in our lives are like living clouds of witnesses, encircling us and covering us with God’s quilt of love.

Look around you. We are all part of God’s family quilt, with one square for each of us, clipped from a favorite garment, a baby blanket, or a funeral shroud of a loved one. We are all included, no matter what fibers make up our being, what color we were dyed, what type of garment we were clipped from. Instead of being satisfied with a quilt made of one color from basic cotton, made in China, we should look for the vibrancy of all the colors and shapes and sizes and beings in Creation. We should rejoice in the beauty of the finished product of the quilt, but also remember that the process of becoming something beautiful can be long and difficult. In constructing a quilt, the material is ironed and pierced with needles and pulled tight and cut down to size. It is in the dedication and passion for the craft that the quilt becomes whole.

Remember that it is the same for becoming God’s quilt. We need to remember that it’s not easy to practice inclusive love. Even Naomi resisted bringing Ruth with her to Judah, because she knew that crossing the boundaries of ethnicity between Moabite and Israelite society would be difficult. And Ruth, too, knew it would not be easy, but she persisted because she viewed Naomi, a woman from a different homeland, was her chosen family.

In becoming God’s quilt, we too have holes poked through us and through everything we know, challenging ideologies and assumptions. Imagine the talk in Judah when Naomi and Ruth returned: where have they been, who is that foreign woman, what will they do without a man? But Ruth and Naomi show them different, show them the meaning of family.

In the process of becoming God’s quilt, we are pulled tight, stretched and challenged and sometimes cut down to size. The process of living into our destiny as part of God’s family is hard, because diversity is hard, because recognizing our privilege is hard, because recognizing our complicity in destructive and oppressive behaviors is hard–because love is hard–but in the end we make something bigger and more beautiful than we ever could have imagined, and more than we could ever have been by ourselves. God’s quilt, crafted by brave people who tell the stories of the generations and who practice love daily, is made from diversity and has incomparable beauty. God’s quilt becomes a reminder to notice people on the margins of society, the folks who hang around the edges; when we see them for who they are, outsiders and addicts and emotionally unstable and incarcerated folks–it is then that we can spread the beautiful quilt of God’s family over the shoulders of people experiencing pain and sorrow, and even spread before us as we prepare a table to partake of the Eucharist.