Favorite Words: Isaiah 36.1–3, 13–20; 37.1–7; then 2.1–4

Delivered at Ames UCC on November 18, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

WORDY
Human beings are a wordy kind of creature. Maybe other mammals and molecules are, too, I don’t know. But we certainly are. We love to use words, to talk, to communicate. We are hungry to have our words heard, read, understood. That’s a chunk of the appeal of social media, right? Having an audience and people to read our words is a thrill.

So let me ask you this: What is your favorite word? What is your absolute favorite word? Is it a funny word, like supercalifragalisticexpialidotious, or a word unique to your profession like praxis or bouillabaisse, or a word that makes your heart strings thrum like love? What is your favorite word?

Now, what is your favorite word from the Bible? I can’t get my list down to one, so here are four of mine: hineni, hesed, surely, and shall.

2018.11.8 worthyHINENI
Hineni means “here I am.” Not “here I am washing dishes” or “here I am, on vacation.” It is the “here I am” Abraham gives to God.

Abraham wandered with his family for decades. For decades they had no permanent home and he and his wife Sarah had no legacy, for they were infertile. After an arduous old age, though, Abraham saw his way through the veil that he kept between himself and God. So when God calls to him after he has a home, after he has two children, Abraham can reply, “hineni,” here I am.

God, of course, knows where Abraham is, so what Abraham is really saying is, “Here I am in all that I am, fully available to you, fully aware that I cannot know all that you are, yet here I am without reservation for your will.” Hineni is a responsive presence, it is a posture of devotion. If it wouldn’t be so out of character for worship in our church, I would invite you to stand, to feel in your legs, arms, torso, and head that kind of receptivity.

Hineni: one word that expresses the outcome of a lifetime spent walking toward God.

HESED
Hesed is also the result of walking toward God, but this time in relationship to other people.

You’ll remember that just over the summer we spent three weeks on the book of Ruth, with a shadow puppet version thanks to the Petefish-Schrag family and friends.

God never appeared in the puppet version or in the book of Ruth. But Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, in the choices that they make to care for each other, despite desperate and tricky social circumstances, exude and enact hesed, the lovingkindness of God. Hesed is a love shown in “loyalty and commitment that go beyond the bounds of law or duty”1 it is to manifest God in the world between people. In hesed, we choose others, their physical safety and their good health, over and above what our communities may provide or our laws even allow.

Hesed: one word that expresses our innate, though often inert, capacity to be the good neighbors God invites us to be.

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Wombs of Women: Ruth 4

Delivered at Ames UCC on August 12, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

THE TRICK
2018.8.12 wombs Remember how Ruth used sex to trap Boaz into marrying her and redeeming Naomi’s land? The next day we see Boaz trick a kinsman, referred to either jokingly or pejoratively as So-and-So, into giving up his claim to the role of redeemer-kinsman.

Recall that being a kinsman-redeemer is an opportunity to demonstrate God’s preferences for manna and mercy over money and might. There is no profit in buying Naomi’s land because Naomi will continue to work it for her own benefit and buy it back one day. Yet the opportunity to honor covenant living is powerful enough that it will take a little doing to get it away from Mr. So-and-So.

So Boaz tells a lie: If you serve as redeemer you also have to marry Ruth.

No, he doesn’t.

The only marital law regarding widows is, as I described last week, between brothers. Mr. So-and-So is not a son of Naomi or a brother-in-law to Ruth. Nonetheless, Mr. So-and-So is duped (or possibly glad to be shut of the kinsman-redeemer burden).

And so, after a little sandal removal, the honor of being a kinsman redeemer is Boaz’s. And the sacrifice of being husband to Ruth is, as well. For when Boaz and Ruth have a son, it will count as son to her late husband.

THE WOMEN
No wonder the townspeople then begin to celebrate: Look at the good and godly choice Boaz has made. They cry out,

May the Lord make Ruth like Rachel and Leah,
may your house be like that of Tamar!

Wait, what? What kinds of blessings are these? Who would want to live like Rachel and Leah and Tamar? Are they actually offering a curse?
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Love: Ruth 3

Delivered at Ames UCC on August 5, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

2018.8.6 LoveLOVE
Sometimes I get into conversations with people who aren’t religious who want me to offer proof of God or with people who are religious who want me to defend my concept of God. Often, I’ll talk about love. When I do, sometimes I get eye-rolls or accusations of making God weak. Why do we need a religion to practice love? Doesn’t calling God love deny God’s true power over us?

I don’t understand either response.

I don’t understand because nothing takes more focused, collective preparation than living into the love of God. And nothing, not any of the Biblical tantrums or pouts attributed to God, asks more from of us than God’s love.

Just look at the book of Ruth.

HESED
The book of Ruth offers a depiction of love which, in our tradition, is paralleled only by that of Jesus. It is a kind of divine love known as hesed. That’s the Hebrew writing on the cover of your bulletin. Hesed is hard to define, but you will see some attempts listed there, too: loving-kindness, so a love that takes a kindly form. Long-acting love, a love with long-term repercussions. Steadfast love, a love unmoved by time. Devotion: a love with a worshipful quality. Covenantal devotion: Love that is worshipful and relational at the same time. A love the will not let you go, no matter how hard you try. Hesed is a love shown in “loyalty and commitment (to other people) that go beyond the bounds of law or duty.”1Hesed is to manifest God in the world between people.

The moment on the threshing floor that we just saw in light and shadow is considered the ultimate expression of hesed, of divine commitment, humanly expressed.

How is that possible? How is this story of sexual trickery a story of divine love?
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Hesed: The Book of Ruth

Our work iDelivered at Ames UCC on October 18, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

REDEMPTION
As Christians, the word redemption has had a pretty specific meaning, historically: that Jesus paid for our sins through his death and resurrection. As we learned a couple of months ago, that definition is not the consensus in the United Church of Christ at large or Ames UCC in particular. But I would hazard a guess to say that most of us, at least on first hearing the word, associate redemption with sin and our souls.

That is not the case in today’s story or the world it reflects. In the Hebrew Bible, the Bible Jesus knew, redemption is part of a larger social contract for the needy. The most detailed information comes in the book of Leviticus, chapter 25. Essentially, kin are obliged to buy land from family members if those family members need to sell it due to hardship. Those struggling kinsfolk then have the right to buy it back, at any time, at fair market value. And, while the more affluent kinsfolk own that land, the poorer family members who had to sell it still get to make money off of it. Essentially the rich uncle owns the land but the poor nephew still lives off of and makes profit from it. If the poor family members are unable to eventually buy the land back, it will be restored to them during the year of Jubilee. Jubilee was to occur every 50 years, with land laying fallow and all wealth redistributed and debts released. We have, in Leviticus, a Biblical mandate to keep the rich from getting richer and the poor from getting poorer.
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