Pastor John

Ruth: A Matriarch in the Faith

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This weekend we continue with our second of four reflections – listening in to the oft’ barren but also breathtakingly beautiful story in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Last week we focused on Chapter 1: of identifying ourselves with Ruth’s beloved mother-in-law, Naomi – in all of the barren and empty places of her life. Recall the famine that drove Naomi’s family from their homeland in Israel to the neighboring rough ‘n tumble country of Moab. Recall also the death of Naomi’s husband and her two young sons (including one who had been the husband of Ruth). And so, Naomi was “far from home,” with the constant emptying of her life by death. Ever felt this way? … Empty, lost and alone? Not knowing where to turn …

And yet, in the midst of all this death, Naomi is embraced by life: by the steadfast love of God through one of her two daughters-in-law: Ruth. Now, if there are any verses from this amazing book of the Old Testament that you’ve ever heard before, it was probably at a wedding. And these verses can change your whole perspective of life – as you’re about to set out into the vast unknown of life, at times full of emptiness and certain doubt.

And so, upon learning that the famine has now passed, Naomi then begins her journey back to her hometown of Bethlehem in Judah. But before doing so, she turns to her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, and tells them that it would be best not to continue with her – as an old and empty, embittered woman – but to return to their homes and family in Moab. And then, then these two verses are joined as one by God’s grace, pouring into all the barren and parched places of Naomi’s life as well as ours. And Ruth says to Naomi:

“Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall become my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.”
(Ruth 1:16-17; RSV)

The story of Ruth continues to unfold this weekend, as Ruth meets us while standing out in the fields of barley – outside a “little town of Bethlehem,” at harvest time. Now it is Ruth who finds herself as a widow in a foreign land, struggling to glean some sense of life even in the midst of death. However … it is right there, out in those fields surrounding Bethlehem, that Ruth is “found” by the landowner, a man named Boaz, who now shares God’s word of grace and sacramental signs of grain for Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. Come and hear these words that amazingly, gracefully wed human loss together in God’s abounding love this weekend, as we join together at worship.

… “Listen,” Ruth said to Boaz. “Your kinsman’s widow [Naomi], she’s been like a second mother to me. I couldn’t just walk out and leave her.” And he looking at her rich pastures [of faith] said: “Fine, bring the old lady if you want her.” And Ruth said: “I do. I do.”
(Maureen Duffy, from “Mother and the Girl,” Collected Poems 1949-1984)

Pastor John Christopherson

Look at the Stars!

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How long has it been since you’ve gone out under the night’s sky … and just paused … looked up, and pondered the wonder of our (or better yet, God’s) star-spangled universe? How long has it been since you’ve taken your son or daughter, grandchild, or nephew or niece, out into the grassy backyard on a late evening, pointed upwards to an infinite sea of stars, and sighed: “O, can you see how those stars form a handle? And how those other stars form a cup? Together they form a constellation called the Big Dipper? People all over the world, just like you, no matter where they live, can look up and see it. Isn’t that amazing?!” … And so we hear the amazed and praise-filled spirit of the Psalmist who bears witness for our worship services this weekend, pointing us in faith …

“O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is thy name
in all the earth! Thou whose glory above the heavens
is chanted by the mouth of babes and infants …

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is
man that thou art mindful of him
[?] …

“O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is thy name in all
 the earth!”
(Psalm 8:1-2a, 3-4a, 9; RSV. Emphasis added.)

My friends, somehow I think we’ve lost this sense of awe and wonder in our lives – say nothing of a spirit of reverence for the One to whom we often mindlessly confess: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth” (Apostles’ Creed). What has happened to this sense of wonder as witnessed by the Psalmist? Is it gone, or has it simply been redirected or misplaced? Or, have we perhaps simply “outgrown” any need for pondering anything beyond the material of this world? “Cows jumping over the moon are simply for nursery rhymes and children.” Right? Or are we missing something here? Do you feel something missing … Some kind of “dis-connect” … Something in your life that all earthly, material stuff cannot fill … that to which Psalm 8 is trying to direct our vision?

Come and join in worship this weekend, as we together hear God’s Word for us: a Word that has the power to shed light on the various blinders and distractors of our age, in order that we might experience awe and wonder and reverence anew. Listen in to these words of another of God’s psalmists:

“The touch of the eternal reaches into every one of our lives;
and moves through and beyond to thrill the fringes of
the sunsets and its hills.
For the earth is crammed with heaven and every common
bush is aflame with God’s presence.
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – the rest sit around
and pluck blackberries.”
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning;
Aurora Leigh, Book V, ii)

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

I and the Father are One (John 10:30)

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Child Psychologist, Dr. David Heller, begins his book Talking To Your Child About God (New York: Doubleday, 1987), by quoting a prayer. It’s a very simple yet profound prayer, written by a ten-year-old named Walt. Listen in carefully: “Dear God, I love you more than anybody else that I do not know.” (Please read this little prayer again.) I find the confusion in this prayer to be very telling of the increasing questioning in our time. By this, I mean to say there is an ever-increasing sense of separation that we are experiencing in our lives – not only geographically and physically (as families are more and more scattered to the far-flung corners of the map), but especially emotionally and spiritually (as depression and spiritual apathy are ever on the rise). And so we are searching or questing for wholeness, connectedness, oneness. People are sensing a great need for God but don’t know how to connect, or better yet, be connected.

So how does this relate to the Gospel text for this coming weekend? Listen to Jesus’ Word for you:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow [are connected] to me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30; RSV. Emphasis added.)

“But how do I know that I’m of this family of God, one of Jesus’ sheep?” You’re hearing it right now! “My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus. And this fact is all the more reinforced for you when you gather in worship – with God’s Word and Sacrament at the center of it all, addressing you by name – with the whole woolly lot of the other members of Christ’s flock. “And what of the last verse … where Jesus says, ‘I and [God] the Father are one’” (John 10:30)? What does that have to do with me?” you might ask. Everything! ... On this upcoming Mother’s Day Weekend, listen in again to the words of a child, from another of Dr. David Heller’s books. From a little girl named Lori, age 7. “As a little child shall lead us” (Isaiah 11:6).

“Dear God” [writes Lori]: “I know that Jesus is my friend. Since he’s your friend [Son] that makes us friends too. Right? Let’s get together and play this afternoon. You can bring all the toys you have and I’ll bring mine.” (David Heller; Children’s Letters To God, p.22. Emphasis added.)

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is calling you to gather with the rest of the flock this weekend at worship, even if … no especially if … we’re feeling “Baaaaad.”

John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

A Midwestern Goodbye

“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples
by the Sea of [Galilee] …”
(John 21:1; NRSV. Emphasis added.)

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And just when you thought you were about to leave … or hang up the phone … you hear those infamous words from a close friend, or perhaps (just perhaps?) your beloved Mom: “Oh, you really don’t need to go quite yet, do you? C’mon, have another cup of coffee.” Or “Thanks for calling. But … ah … just a minute. There was something else I needed to tell you. Now, what was it?” Ever experienced this? Yup? It’s what has come to be referred to as the infamous “Minnesota/Midwestern Goodbye.”

In our Gospel story for this coming weekend, St. John’s Gospel also concludes with a “Midwestern Good-bye.” That is, it ends not with one but two endings. “Ah … just a minute … there was something else I needed to tell you.” In the first, Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection – as they cower behind locked doors (John 20:19-31). He gives them his word of peace, breathes new life and hope into them, and sends them forth in mission in his name. Sounds like an ending, right? But it it’s not. Or at least it’s not the only ending according to St. John’s gospel. Because in the 21st chapter that we’ll hear this weekend (John 21:1-19) there’s another, quote, “It’s the Lord!” … ending. And if it all seems a bit confusing, it’s hard to blame John because we all know how hard it is to come to an end. You think you’ve said everything, and then you think of something else, something too important to leave out. And so we put a “P.S.” at the bottom of the page/conversation … trying not to actually say, “Goodbye.”

Indeed, it’s hard to blame John for lingering over his ending for a while. Perhaps because he just wanted to make sure he had pretty much said it all (cf. John 20:30-31). He wanted to make sure he’d given us everything we’d need to make it through the long nights when we wait for a seeming eternity for our next daybreak to come. St. John didn’t know how long it would be for us, but he did know how long it had been for him and some of the other disciples. And so he decided to tell us a story about them that might help us too.

Come join in the family of faith this Sunday at worship, and hear why the disciples decided to go back to their fishing nets. What happens when they’re out all night fishing, get skunked, and at daybreak a voice calls to them from the shoreline – as their nets, say nothing of their lives, begin to overflow with joy? And then they gather ’round a campfire with a multiplication of bread and fish, a meal Jesus has prepared just for them [and you!].

John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

P.S.

With a calling word and a splashing of water
Even when the campfires of our lives have seemingly all gone out
Someone has written something “good news” news
In the ashes of our lives that says:
”You will not see me for a little while.
But in the meantime … when you gather around my meal of broken bread and fish
And then go out into the world and feed my sheep
Know that I am always with you.” Signed “Jesus”