The Grand Canyon, AZ

I had a visceral experience standing in front of this 48×48″ painting at the Booth Western Museum in Cartersville, Georgia. Quang Ho is a top notch landscape artist, and a self described floater. His painting is an ambient, open, non-restrictive composition. The lines were making me spacey and I had to sit down or tip over.

Higher than the highest human thought can go is God’s goal for all human beings. He has 277 miles, the length of The Grand Canyon, or 1,687 miles from Atlanta, GA to Progressive Health, Benson, AZ, beyond that in mind.

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”  — Ephesians 3:17-19

~ Stacy Sweeney

 

 

 

•In the Days When the Judges Ruled: The Story of Ruth•

WELCOME. Shabbat shalom. Today, we will hear a story from the Bible. These are stories of Israel we get to be part of. It’s a drab to leave Bethlehem, but there’s a famine coming, and we must head out to Moab. So let’s catch up. Historic Bethlehem is located 2,000 blocks north of Moab. I have edited my life down to a story you can put brackets around.

CAFE QUESTIONs ¶n the garden
•What do you delight in?
•Did you lose close friends and family when you chose to follow Jesus?
•When have you been tempted to abandon the course God has given?
•What were your original scenes of becoming a child of God?
•What has been your most important initiative?
•Who or what are you more loyal to than God and family?
•What heartache in your past do you see yourself escaping?
•Who in your family do you fear that shapes your life?

CAFE QUESTIONs ¶n the pavilion
•Have you been kind and loving toward all?
•When have you felt like an outsider, as if you did not belong?
•How do you care for someone’s shame?
•Who have you ushered to the grave?
•When have you perpetuated personal pain?
•What ironic upheavals have affected your life?
•Do you have any epic scars you are willing to unveil and how were they healed?
•When have you lost your voice in a sharp, cruel world?
•When in your life have you transcended human circumstance?

CAFE QUESTIONs ¶n the swing by the lake :
•Are you bound by love of God or bound by love for the sake of love?
•What limits do you place on your love?
When have you been silent, perplexed, or moved beyond words?
•When have you had a whole town buzzing about you?

HYMNS & WORSHIP

PSALMS responsive reading @ Psalms 111, NLT
“Praise the Lord! I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails. He causes us to remember his wonderful works. How gracious and merciful is our Lord! He gives food to those who fear him; he always remembers his covenant. He has shown his great power to his people by giving them the lands of other nations. All he does is just and good, and all his commandments are trustworthy. They are forever true, to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity. He has paid a full ransom for his people. He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever. What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has! Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom. Praise Him forever!”

SCRIPTURE reading @ Matthew 12:46-50, NLT.
As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.” Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

NARRATE the BACKGROUND @ Ruth 1:1, NLT, and select OT scriptures
Ruth occurs during the period of the Judges, as a part of those events that occur after the death of Joshua. The events take place against the backdrop of the Judges, a time of moral and spiritual decadence when there was no king in Israel (@ Judges 17:6). The book of Ruth is named for “Ruth, the Moabite.” The Moabites:
– Were unflattering descendants from the incestuous seed of Lot (@ Genesis 19:36,37).
– The ancient poets wrote “what sorrow awaits you, O people of Moab! You are finished, O worshipers of Chemosh! Chemosh has left his sons as refugees, his daughters as captives.” (@ Numbers 21:29).
– Balak, king of Moab, called on Balaam to curse Israel (@ Numbers 23:10).
– There on the plains of Moab, beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho, some of the Israelite men had sexual relations with local Moabite women, attended sacrifices, and worshiped the gods of Moab, Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people, killing 24,000 Israelites (@ Numbers 25:1-9).
– Were excluded from Israel, “they shall not enter the assembly of the Lord” and were so despised that the Jews were forbidden even to seek their peace and prosperity (@ Deuteronomy 23:3-6).
– Where Ruth the Moabite is recorded in Matthew’s genealogy as an ancestor of “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born”(@ Matthew 1:16).

The story of one promising woman begins something like this, NARRATE the STORY @ Ruth chapter 1, NLT, twice.

This is the story we have, and that’s the way the story goes. Let us spend some time to WONDER and DIALOGUE about this story, and bring any questions or observations we have to the table, including any historical elements, legal requirements, cultural customs, symbolic objects, or key word references, by using the Bible to interpret the Bible. Questions may not necessarily be answered, but will be voiced, raise interest, and deliberately left open for interpretation and imagination. For example:
What was the cause of death for Elimaleck, Mahon, and Kilyon? Does Naomi blame her Moabite daughter-in-laws for her tragic loss of two sons? Why did Orpah turn and go back home? How much did Ruth understand about the God of Israel? How did she fall in love with him or was she moved with deep loving kindness toward Naomi? Why did Naomi acquiesced Ruth’s desire to stick by her? What was Ruth and Naomi’s legal responsibility to each other? Why did Ruth follow after Naomi? Did they run across any iguanas?
NOTE: If a man dies and has no son…give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel (@ Numbers 27:8-11).
NOTE: Israel was a kinship based society in which all legal rights fall to the father’s household.
NOTE: Hebrew names are descriptive of character. Names in this story intimate their destinies.
– Elimelekh’s name means “My God is King.”
– Naomi’s name means “my pleasantness.”
– Mahlon means “sickness”
– Kilyon means “end of the line”
– Mara means “bitterness.”
– Ruth’s name means “friendship”
– Bethlehem Judah means “house of bread.”

Let us get into the CHARACTERS of the story. Look for Jesus in everyone. Discover Jesus in their story.

After burying your affections for Elimeleck, Mahon, and Kilyon, you realize they had no role at all in this story – except to die!

What do we know about Orpah?
What compelling reasons did she have to return home?

What do we know about Naomi?
Losing her husband and two sons in Moab has left a shadow on her heart. What could she possibly be thinking about her devastation? What questions might she have regarding her future? The whole town of Bethlehem is buzzing over Naomi’s return home to the square after 10+ years. What wondering questions might she have for her friends and next of kin? How might she feel after the Lord came to the aid of his people with bread after waiting so long?

What do we know about “Ruth the Moabite?”
After spending a couple years together, what does Ruth see in Naomi? Ruth lost her husband. What questions might she have regarding her future? Coming out of her blue Moab comfort zone was long overdue. BUT Naomi’s kind and sensible response was to command Ruth, “turn and go home.” What did Ruth realize?

PAINTING: Project John Singer Sargent’s “Oyster Gatherers of Cancale” on the wall. This is a graceful, painterly composition that speaks to the romance of the female form in dress. It is a most excellent painting. It represents for me a romantic sphere of platonic, female partnerships and their central movement in a profound reorientation. Something in my heart responds to the beauty of art and the magnetism of the unknown. Art gives me a desire to be connected, to lift up my gaze and be more attuned to the grand vista. The incorporated areas of white space bounces light that opens shadows, invoking rest and easy laughs – despite the heaviness that may lurk in their labor and heavy dress. Not to mention their wooden clogs trudging the road to happy destiny. What an artist, what a painting, enriched with metaphor.

I notice their baskets and their blue bonnets and ribbons blowing in the cold, brisk air. I also like to carry items of interest and intrigue, though I have been vaccinated against sentiment. These handmade baskets carry substance and narrative. This is the story behind Ruth.

What did we learn about GOD in this story? Ditto everything in Psalms 111. God is for us and he is constantly drawing us to experience abundant life. We can find rest & refuge in God. God’s will is that no one should perish. God’s love reaches across barriers of culture, race, and money to those in need. God provides a fruitful end to a story that begins with death and famine. I also learn that I have a limited perception of God and his dealings with people in general.

What aspects of this story or character, foreshadow the GOOD NEWS, especially in relation to what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and through his resurrection. Look for negative things being lifted and positive things being given, then merge the two ideas into one thought when possible.

• I am allowed to rest in brokeness and not perform. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more or less. He has given me passion and a strong will for ministry; not to frustrate me or bring me this far to drop me! We’re working for the same boss and there is more meaning if you take part.

• There was a famine in Bethlehem, Judah,  so the Ephrathite family traveled to an unpromising place, leaving all behind. Jesus traveled to a foreign land, leaving his Father and all heaven behind.

• In Elimelekh’s absence, his name stands as an obscure reminder that there was another source of protection for this family, namely our sovereign God.

• It is “not a lack of bread that my people perish.” Our food should be in simple supply so that the mind may be suited for the spiritual. Jesus has food we know not of (@ John 4:32), and he is the bread of life (@ John 6:22-59 ), who can bring home the barley (@ Ruth 1:6), a real feast of £ove.

• God sent morning manna from heaven to satisfy the Israelites (@ Exodus 16:8). People do not live by bread alone, rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

• Ruth rescued food from the field, an advocate against hunger and waste.

• When Ruth became a relative of Naomi. she was in a sense adopted. How beautiful to belong to a family we are meant to be part of. Christ adopted the whole human family and married himself to all humanity.

• Ruth and Naomi were widows “of one heart and of one soul.” They shared one common interest – they were hungry for the oil and the water. They continued in kinship and gleaned, to the very end of the barley harvest. Jesus sacrificed to meet the emergency, “Neither was there any among them that lacked ( @ Acts 4:34).”  In Christ, by faith, we are united by a tie closer than human kinship.

• Ruth is a model ministry of presence. She didn’t try to fix Naomi, change her feelings, or absolve her poor status through upward mobility, but she simply walked beside her as Jesus walks with us. Jesus taught the multitude, he taught the twelve, and then he taught the one by the well, forging friendship back and forth between worlds with care and respect. Ruth’s loyal commitment to Naomi, even unto death, and challenging death, mocking death, reflects how Jesus is committed to us. Death will not win. He said, “I will be with you.” Ruth is a sincere and serious soul, and a bit poetic in her most beautiful and famous Biblical monologue, pointing to Jesus with tears, allowing love to grow, to know goodness in the land:

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” @ Ruth 1:16-17, NLT

Storying EVALUATION: 1.Inductive teaching present 2.Biblical answers validated 3.Did we see Jesus 4.Clear questions 5.Logical flow of story 6.Affirmations given 7.Low participants encouraged 8.Who did most of the talking

Our goal is to seriously apply this story to our life. Our challenge is to write a prayer, a poem, a song, short story, or create something that EXPRESSes our response and share. I’m getting comfortable with God in the morning, and you get to hear what God has placed on my heart.

PRAYER

O God, be merciful to me,
please pave the way to peace
you know my way is unworthy
as Cain came with blood
I lack piety of Abel
and I deserve death again
for I am a sinner and polluted
in need of pardon.

POEMS
“Ruth”
It happened
something just happened
a famine in the land
in the house of bread
that began a messy scandal
I’m staring at a piece of my own story
only I can see
warm crimson color keeps showing up beside me
I have every reason to die a sad woman today
but someone else is doing it for me
foolish risk without a calling
damn determined without a promise
His banner over me flies west
His banner over me half-mast

“What Shall Become of Me”
What shall become of me
damsel with her hands full
look at all I have to carry
the reapers who gather say
keep her
keep her
keep her present and accounted for
don’t look the other way
in exchange for clean water
and a dry place to lie down
she’s worth double portions
to the very end of the barley harvest
Hal·le·lu·jah

GRAPHITE DRAWING

“Oyster Gatherers of Cancale” after John Singer Sargent | 2017 8″x11″ | graphite on Arches cream paper

VOLUNTEER GLEANERS:
How do we square up with waste and hunger? Today’s community minded folk rescue food anywhere along the food distribution chain. These different fronts are urban ministries best friends! Find out where to sign up and advance the movement.

• • The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
Is an award-winning international charity dedicated to planting fruit trees to alleviate world hunger, combat global warming, strengthen communities, and improve the surrounding air, soil, and water.

Their programs strategically donate orchards, training, and aftercare where the harvest will best serve communities for generations — including public schools, city parks, community gardens, food banks, low-income neighborhoods, Native American reservations, international hunger relief sites, and animal sanctuaries. https://www.ftpf.org/

My 2016 orchard initiative application was accepted for an orchard donation at God’s Farm, Temple GA, March, 2019. There is a space in my life that is full of possibility, like gardens and orchards.

This is “tremendous reality.”
Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, in his On Being interview, references a pre-meal Buddhist prayer as one reminder of this tremendous reality:

“Innumerable beings brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.”

He says there are many ways to understand how the food on our plate connects to the life within and around us. Aside from the nourishment the food offers us, we may also think about how the earth itself nourished the produce — or how many people tended to the crops that eventually ended up on our plates. “It’s tremendous reality,” he reflects.

The relationship between joy and gratitude, nourishment and mortality is something writer Ross Gay also thinks about. “When I’m thinking about joy, I’m thinking about … [how] we are also in the process of dying,” he says in this week’s show. “That is every moment.”

So maybe it’s no coincidence that Gay is also enamored with plants and the living world. He’s an avid gardener and founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard in Indiana, which he describes as a “free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project.” It’s a public space where the relationship between the food on our plates and the human beings who tend to that food is made apparent and visible. Anyone can walk up and pick a piece of fruit to eat. (When I talked to Josh David, the orchard’s governance chair, earlier this week, he told me this currently includes strawberries, blueberries, and cherries.)

But for Gay, the garden is a foundation for community more than anything else. “It doesn’t actually make a dent into food security in what it produces,” he says. “What it produces is the community coming together, the sharing of knowledge — all that kind of stuff.” And, as Josh David points out, “We’re planting these trees that last 25, 50, 75, 100 years, and there are people that are going to be eating off these trees that we’ve never met.” Perhaps these are the possibilities Gay is referencing when he calls the gardens in his life a “dreaming space.”
~ §tacy §weeney