Extending Family 11-8-15

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 One day, Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s my duty to ensure your security and fulfillment, and make sure you are provided for.  And Boaz, whose workers you have been following, is your closest relative.  Tonight he’ll be winnowing grain on the threshing floor. Wash up and put on perfume and dress in your finest clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor.  But don’t let him know you‘re there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he goes to sleep, watch to see where he lies down.  Then go and uncover his feet and lie down with him.  He’ll tell you what to do next.” Ruth replied, “I will do as you tell me.” 4:13-17 So Ruth and Boaz were married.  And from their union, YHWH enabled Ruth to conceive and she gave birth to a child. Then the women of the village said to Naomi, “Praise be YHWH, who has not abandoned you but provided you with yet another redeemer! May the child’s name be remembered through all of Israel—and give you renewed life and support you when you are old!  For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and has proven better than seven of your own children could ever have been, as given birth to him” Naomi took the child into her lap and she became his caretaker. And Naomi’s neighbors named the child, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi; we will call him Obed.” And Obed begot Jesse—and Jesse begat David.

My sermon today is based on our first reading and the book of Ruth, the story of the love of a daughter in law for her mother in law. Before I get there, we’re going to read a passage from Mark and I can’t read it without suggesting that our usual understanding of the story of the widow’s mite is problematic. We read this passage in the middle of stewardship season every three years and celebrate the great giving of the poor widow, who gives all she has to the temple. Some are suggesting these days that Jesus did not have such a great love for the temple money people that he would laud the sacrifice of the widow so much. In fact, the story originally may have been used as an example of how the domination system took advantage of poor widows, encouraging them to give more than they could afford. That would not make such a good stewardship sermon. We encourage people to give sacrificially to the work of God in the world, but not in a way that leaves you destitute. We believe that giving well in fact enriches the whole community and does not impoverish anyone.

 Mark 12:38-44  In his teaching, Jesus said, “Beware of the religious scholars who like to walk about in long robes, be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, and take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. These are the ones who swallow the property of widows and offer lengthy prayers for the sake of appearance.  They will be judged all the more severely.” Jesus sat down opposite the collection box and watched the people putting money in it, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then Jesus called out to the disciples and said to them, “The truth is, this woman has put in more than all who have contributed to the treasury. for they have put in money from their surplus, but she has put in everything she possessed from the little she had—all she had to live on.”

November 8, 2015

Extending Family 

This is a picture of my brother Mack Parrott, the guy with the cool shades leaning on the propeller of his airplane – which he flies himself. Mack used to be my cousin. A few years ago we made him an honorary fifth brother in my family because he was flying down to visit my mother so often. I think we’re going to have to make my cousin Stephanie (also in this picture) an honorary sister pretty soon, because she is also there for my mother as much as any of the five brothers.

Mack has Parkinson’s and may have to give up flying soon, but once a brother always a brother, right? Maybe you also have people who have become family to you over the years, extending your definition of extended family. All of us brothers growing up called my dad’s best friend, Uncle Milt. We knew he wasn’t our uncle, but he loved our dad like a brother and we were proud to call him our uncle.

Anybody have examples of people you have welcomed into your extended families?

 

I’m thinking about extending family today, of course, because of our reading from the book of Ruth. The story of Ruth is a story of loyalty and loving kindness and extended family. The Hebrew word for loving kindness is “Hesed.” It’s a great word, and you see “hesed” in all the main characters in the book of Ruth. The story goes that Ruth married Naomi’s son, but he died. Naomi tries to tell Ruth to go marry another man to take care of her, because a woman by herself in that society had no security and no resources. Ruth knows that Naomi also is in that situation, so she vows to stick with her mother-in-law even though they were from different countries, and even when it seemed like there would be no future for her. She says, “where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Where you die, I will die.”

These words have come to be used pretty often in wedding ceremonies -a place where we begin the extending of families. It’s interesting that these words of loyalty and hesed were originally spoken by a woman to her mother-in-law. They have such power that they can be used in a service of matrimony, the creation of a new family.

 

There are other ways that people create new families. Some people have become estranged from their biological families and have claimed new ones. They call it estranged, because it is a really strange thing to do – to insist that one’s son or daughter is no longer part of the family because of their sexual orientation or some other issue. Sometimes a situation like that lasts so long that people create a whole new family, a family of choice rather than a family of origin. Sometimes people develop more than one family that way, when they reclaim their family of origin and also keep their family of choice.

We in the church, of course, also create families of choice. We often talk about ourselves as being part of the family of God. We think of God as being like a Father or even a Mother. Keith Nunnelee comes from Mississippi and when I first met him he called me Brother David because people in church down there call each other brother like that, or Sister. Folks in the church are like family to each other. That seems like a really nice tradition. You would think I have enough brothers already, but I’m really glad to call Keith brother Keith – and I have enough south in me that I sometimes call Jon brother Jon, or Elaine sister Elaine.

The family we have in the church is a different kind of family than our family of origin, or even our family of choice. We can’t be there for everybody the same way we expect ourselves to be available for our own mother or father or brother or sister. Still, we call each other brother and sister out of a deepening sense that we will care for each other, that we have a church home that provides nurture and care for each other when we are in need, as our children or growing, when someone in the family dies, when we have a life transition that we want to celebrate. Those are times when we call our broader family together to be there for each other.

Much of society no longer recognizes how important it is to have this kind of broader family to count on and to care for each other. But you do. The people in this room have some sense of how valuable this broader community is. That’s why we ask you once a year to make a commitment to support the community financially.

We have been given gifts and talent and love and possibilities by the living God.  Today, we pledge ourselves to give back to God in the coming year. We encourage each other at St. Luke to give the first fruits of our labor back to God, as in the Biblical tradition. We give a percentage of what we earn back to God’s work in the world – 3%, 5%, 10% or more of our income. We may define God’s work in different ways, but our community together, our loving kindness for each other, leads us to claim this community as one of the places we know God is at work – changing lives, restoring life, growing love for life. When we give generously toward that work, we create abundance in our lives and in the world.

Giving is just about the best thing we get to do in our lives. One of the things I love best about the church is how we encourage each other in our giving and create opportunities for giving, pooling our gifts so they make a bigger difference. The way we as a church give to Mary Jane Enrichment Center, POWER, Methodist Home for Children, Imagine No Malaria, and on and on. The giving that we do as a church literally saves lives and transforms lives. The giving that we do extends our caring, extends our abundance, extends our family.