I’ll be quiet

Ruth 1:18-22
Being a pastor has taught me how to be quiet. So has being a husband.

If there’s a problem, my nature is to move quickly to a solution. For a long time, that translated into me offering my advice about how to address any situation. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking and receiving advice.

But sometimes, oftentimes, part of the solution is taking more time to reflect. You also give a chance to let emotions run their course. So, people don’t always need my ideas about what to do. They need a listening and attentive ear.

Let me offer you a potential biblical example where I could have been too quick to offer advice. It’s Naomi and Ruth.

Their story begins when Naomi and her husband moved from their home country because of a famine. Naomi, her husband and her two sons lived in the country of Moab for about ten years. In that time, her two sons married. At some point, Naomi’s husband died, as did her two sons. That means that Naomi and her two daughters-in-law lost everything.

As a reminder, women who did not have husbands or sons to provide for them faced dire poverty and affliction. You can tell because Naomi heard how God had given food to the people in her own country. She set out to go back for that gift. Not riches or anything more than the basic element of survival.

Only one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law decides to return with her. It’s Ruth. It isn’t too much to paint a woeful picture of their situation. You can hear it in the reception they receive when Naomi returns home. The two are the talk of the town. When the women of the city say, “Is this Naomi,” it’s a sign of how much she had lost.

It’s so extreme, Naomi tells her people to change her name. Naomi means something like “pleasant.” Her life was pleasant before. But not now. In her eyes, God “dealt bitterly” with her. So, she should be known as Mara, which means bitter.

Remember when the Israelites were walking in the desert? They had been three days without water when they came to a place where the water was bitter. Mara.

In Naomi’s declaration to her people, she says something that isn’t entirely accurate. It’s the kind of point I would want to speak up about in my problem-solving venture. She says, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

That is, she left with her pleasant life and returned with it in ruins. But she wasn’t empty. She had Ruth. Now, again, two widowed women didn’t amount to much at all in that context. Having Ruth might not have seemed all that beneficial at that moment. If I were there and spoke up to correct her, Naomi and everyone else might have given me all kinds of looks.

The story doesn’t say Ruth said anything. She understood what Naomi meant. Instead of bombarding her with advice and correction, she walked with her. She was in this with her no matter what.

And there’s our reminder today.

My advice to Naomi would be to learn to look for the good you have amidst the terrible you’re facing. That’s what I’ve learned to do. Easy for me to say.

Indeed, there are moments when people do need us to speak up and give advice. How much more, though, do they need a good friend, a faithful friend? Someone who isn’t trying to fix their life. Only someone deeply committed to being a part of their life no matter what. Listen to your friends more. Listen to your friends. More.

Listening goes a long way in helping us love.

Stay blessed…john

Three men and a deity

Ezekiel 14:12-23
A group of church leaders once visited me while I was in seminary. From time to time, they would check in on those of us in school. While we shared lunch, someone asked me if I had read anything interesting. As it turned out, that morning I had finished an article that wondered if the prophet Ezekiel was on drugs.

If you’ve never read the book of Ezekiel that might be a strange question. If you have read it, you know why it isn’t.

There have been legitimate, scholarly inquiries into Ezekiel’s mental well-being. Theologians wonder where his visions really came from. Psychologists wonder what voices he actually heard. Was the prophet on edge? Did he have mental health issues? I have no idea. I’ll let the experts decide.

All that to say, the book of Ezekiel makes for an interesting read.

Considering Ezekiel’s circumstances, we can appreciate what he is saying. There’s no room in his message for quaint pleasantries or trite calls for rapprochement. Ezekiel is a prophet of the exile. He had known what was in store for the people of God. His visions, then, are vivid announcements of God’s judgment against them.

Quite frankly, the people loved their idolatry more than their God. And there was no way to avoid the consequences of their stiff-necked disobedience. Although, I imagine they thought they could. Perhaps they would call on God to remember the moments of righteousness of people like Noah, Daniel and Job. Scripture affirms they, indeed, were righteous figures. But God says, “even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither son nor daughter; they would save only their own lives by their righteousness.”

That language takes us back to Abraham. He pleaded with God to not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. What if you found fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even if only ten righteous people there? God responds to righteousness with mercy.

That is, the people had strayed so far from God, no one else was considered righteous, apparently. Why did the Lord have to bring to mind such grand, perhaps older examples? In Ezekiel’s hypothetical case, mercy would extend to the righteousness of Noah, Daniel or Job only. Now, none of this has anything to do with the conversation of working our way to heaven or doing things to get God on our side. The reality was the people would not be able to rely on them for salvation.

This all speaks to the importance of righteousness. It matters to God. And there’s hope that Ezekiel offers as well. Sons and daughters would be brought out of God’s judgment. Their righteous example will speak to the people. They will show them the difference between disobedience and righteousness. Even after judgment, God’s desire for righteousness does not subside.

It’s scary to think how much of Ezekiel’s message to Israel seems to apply to us today. How much of the church today has confused God’s sense of righteousness with self-righteousness? Do we cling to our fabricated notions of tradition and heritage while ignoring the reality of how far we’ve turned from a devoted life to God? 

As crazy as his visions and activities look to us, may we receive Ezekiel’s words as a wake-up call. A call to recenter our lives around God’s righteousness.

Stay blessed…john

Make your bed

Acts 9:32-35
Admiral William McRaven once addressed a graduating class at the University of Texas. His speech has inspired many people, accumulating more than 14.7 million hits on Youtube. Among the several clip-worthy bits of advice, it’s the first that is most unassuming. He talks about the advantages of making your bed. That simple, mundane act, as your first task in the morning, has great benefits.

If you haven’t already, I’ll leave it to you to listen for yourself what those are.

But that simple act also finds its way into scripture in a similar unassuming, meaningful way.

In Acts 9, the apostle Peter meets a man, Aeneas, bedridden for eight years. This is only one person Peter has met as he traveled “among all the believers.” We aren’t given any more context about their meeting other than Peter’s command. We can only assume how Peter heard of him and got to his home.

The apostle’s command is simple: Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!

That simple act that many of us avoid becomes the first sign of new life for a healed man. How many times do you imagine he wanted to get up and make his bed in those eight years? Simple tasks like that were impossible before. Now, his first task isn’t to shout praise, joyfully dance or pray and give thanks. No, your renewed life begins with a made bed.

In other words, Aeneas, you have your life back.

As I reflect on stories like this one, my tendency is to wonder about the healing itself. I join the millennia-aged question of whether these signs were a part of a particular season for the church or if we can expect them now. If we can, why don’t we see more of them?

But I’ll wander from that discussion a bit today.

Instead, I’ll reflect more on Peter’s other movement. The coming and going among the believers. Some of my colleagues and I look forward to hearing our bishop use the worth thither once a year. It’s how he speaks of John Wesley’s activities. He went from here and there among the people of England. America, too. Peter’s thithering allowed him the chance to offer healing to Aeneas.

While I am no apostle, I can go among the saints. And while I cannot heal a bedridden person, I can be a part of God’s healing in other ways. I suspect not many of you are apostles either, and none of you have told me about any miraculous healings you’ve led. That means we have shared possibilities.

You don’t have to go to the ends of the world to be God’s peaceful presence. It could be your greatest witness is to your home. Then start there. You may never see a grand miracle happen before your eyes. The simple ways we share God’s peace may not seem like much. But one small task may be enough for each new day. The blessing in knowing someone is healing is not in how grand an event it is. The blessing is knowing that God has not left us.

Stay blessed…john