The Restorer of Life

Ruth 3.1-5; 4.13-17

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that is may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “ A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

In the days when the judges were judging, there was a famine in the land. That’s how this book in the Bible begins. It was a time of political chaos, with the Philistines pressing in on the boundaries of Israel. Sure, the Lord raised up Judges to help guide, shape, and lead the people, but by the time Ruth’s story starts, “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

What a proposition!

And it’s here against the background of nation rising up against nation, leaders failing again and again, and a famine on a massive scale, that scripture tells of a small little domestic tale with three primary people – Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. 

This is an ordinary story with ordinary people. It concerns the little hopes and dreams of a few people who easily could’ve been lost to the sands of time, and I think that’s why people gravitate to the story. 

This little book shows what Karl Barth called, “the simplicity and the comprehensiveness of grace.”

Or, to put it another way, Ruth’s story is prophetic.

It is prophetic because it tells the truth of who God is in relation to God’s people.

So here’s the story:

Naomi and her husband are Hebrews from the village of Bethlehem (ever heard of it?). But when the aforementioned famine hits the land, they are forced to leave in search of food. They go into foreign territory where the Moabites lived, and during their time in Moab, their sons marry Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. 

And things are good, until they aren’. In short order all of the men are dead. Naomi is left in one of the most vulnerable conditions possible at the time – she is a childless widow with no grandchildren. Naomi believes she has been abandoned by God because of her fate and she has no hope in the world.

Before we jump to the meat of the tale, it is important to rest in the knowledge that this story begins in the dark. That is, the threats of fear, hunger, death, loom large over our people. 

Naomi therefore urges her two daughters-in-law to stay in Moab because she will be returning to her homeland. Orpah agrees, and decides to stay. But Ruth, inexplicably, refuses to leave her mother-in-law.

Where you go I will go, your people will be my people, and all that. 

To be clear, this doesn’t make any rational sense! Ruth chooses to align herself with hopelessness. She has every opportunity to seek out any opportunities, but instead she wills to be among those considered the last, the least, the lost, the little, and probably the dead.

The women, Naomi and Ruth, return to the land of Naomi’s people and the famine has ended, but their situation makes it such that they do no have access to the newfound abundance. And yet Ruth, living into her wild recklessness volunteers to enter the fields to glean barley. She takes on the mantel of a beggar with all of the humiliation and danger that it entails.

And then Boaz enters the story. Boaz owns the field from which Ruth seeks out sustenance. He catches her taking what has been left behind by the reapers of the harvest and he orders his men not to stop her and cast her into the darkness, instead he orders her to be protected by his men!

Why? If this were a Netflix series (which, for what’s its worth, this would be a great show), Ruth would be a beautiful young woman who catches Boaz’s wandering eye. But that’s not what scripture tells us. Boaz is not captured by her beauty, but instead by her fidelity, her faithfulness. Ruth wants to know why he is treating her so kindly and Boaz says, “I know what you have done for your mother-in-law, how you left everything you knew to become a stranger in a strange land – may the Lord bless you and keep you.”

Ruth returns to Naomi with her bountiful harvest, with tales of Boaz and when Naomi puts two and two together, she hatches a plan for the future.

“Get dressed up,” she tells Ruth, “and go down to the threshing floor where the men will be eating and drinking. Find out where Boaz lies down and go to him, uncover his feet, and lie down beside him.”

What reckless advice! Sending a young single woman into such an establishment with such instructions! And yet Ruth, as noted, is bold and daring enough on her own. So she agrees to the plan that will eventually shape an entire people.

Boaz, later, having enjoyed the fruit of the vine, lies down to sleep. Time passes and he wakes up to the young woman from the filed uncovering his feet (I’ll let you imagine what that means). The details of what transpire that night are unknown to us save for the fact that Boaz and Ruth get married, and they have a son whom they name Obed (which means worshipper). 

Naomi, now a grandmother, rejoices with the other grandmothers in town as they huddle together taking turns holding this little child. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has given you this gift! May he be to you a restorer of life!”

Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of David. The end.

What a story!

And yet, why do we tell it again and again and again? Sure, it can entertain, and it is filled with all the markers of a powerful tale. It’s got intrigue, and mystery, and love, and hope. But why do we dare to proclaim this as God’s Good News for the world?

Well, in part, we tell this story because without it there is no David, the great king of Israel, the one who defeated Goliath and the one who united the people of God.

But we also tell this story because it is a story about us.

At every turn there are choices being made that run counter to the notions of the world. Ruth chooses to remain in a hopeless situation, Boaz chooses to become a redeemer to a foreign beggar, and Ruth and Boaz together become bearers of God’s grace in a world that is otherwise run on violence, selfishness, and greed.

Our world, then and now, is full of famine and death and dereliction and a host of other evils. Often, like for Naomi and Ruth at the beginning, it can feel as if God has abandoned us. But then this story which is our story, reminds us that God’s blessing often come through the simplest, and yet the most profound, means. 

When we reach out in love to help the other, it is the hand of God. 

When we forgive those who have trespassed against us, it is the mercy of God. 

When we are given hope in an otherwise hopeless situation, it is the power of God.

Today, there are still systems that actively reduce people to being among the last, least, lost, little, and dead. The great famines of scripture are made manifest by the powers and principalities that have no regard for our humanity.

And the church can break the mold of the world that continues to run on that devastation of destruction. The prophets, since the beginning, have been those who are willing to care for and reside among the most vulnerable. They did, and do, so because God is in solidarity with the “least of these.” The church has this blessed opportunity to provide a new image of a new community where there is space for everyone, where gifts are cherished, and where systems of oppression are called into question and rendered null and void. 

The church, at her best, is a storied enterprise – that is, she exists because of the story and lives by telling the story – the story of us.

Here’s our story:

Time and time again, we reject that which is offered and given freely by God.

Paradise, rejected for the taste of a little knowledge dangling from the tree. (Creation)

Unified Community, rejected for selfish desires of power. (Babel)

So God set out to make a new people in a new land through Abraham and covenant. It is God’s hope to draw all people into this new people.

But Israel, like us, will have none of it! She is just as rebellious and foolish as we are. She worships at the altars of other gods, moving from one bit of idolatry to the next. And yet, even in the midst of ruin, Israel receives the very greatest gift of all – God in the flesh. 

Jesus Christ, the incarnate One, fully God and full human, becomes all that God ever hoped for from God’s people – the obedient and faithful child, called out of Egypt, the new cornerstone of a new community made possible by peace, grace, and mercy, the Davidic king who exists to protect the poor and the vulnerable.

But we will have none of that either! On a tree in a place called The Skull, we nail God in the flesh, rejecting the elected One. He is buried dead and a tomb – utterly forsaken and abandoned. 

But then, three days later, God gives him back to us. Jesus raises victorious not only over death, but also over all of our prideful attempts to become the center of our own universes.

That is the story that is worth repeating because it is a story that repeats itself. We reject God and God is determined to elect us. We destroy ourselves and God is determined to bring about resurrection. We get all sorts of lost and God is determined to find us over and over again.

In the end, that’s what prophets do – they tell the story, they tell the truth. They open our eyes to who and whose we are. And Jesus, the greatest prophet of all, is, in himself, the story for a people who have no story. 

Therefore, when we read and encounter Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, we do so not as people to emulate literally. Leaving to go be a stranger in a strange land, getting dolled up for the threshing floor, is maybe not the best advice in the world.

And yet, we cannot help from identifying with these people. 

Perhaps you’re like Naomi insofar as you feel like you have been abandoned and that you have no hope in the world. Maybe God is proclaiming this story for you today such that you would be encouraged to reach out for help, or at the very least, accept the help that might be offered to you by others.

Or perhaps you’re like Ruth insofar as you have a little boldness in you but don’t know where to direct it. Maybe God is proclaiming this story for you today such that you will take that first step toward someone in your life, and become the hope for them that they so desperately need.

Or perhaps you’re like Boaz insofar as you have been blessed to be a blessing to others. Maybe God is proclaiming this story for you today such that you can open your eyes to the people in your life for whom you can be their restorer of life.

Or perhaps you don’t identify with any of them right now. But chances are, you will someday. That’s the beauty of story, we can return to the same story again and again and discover something new each time we do. 

In the end, we worship an odd God. Consider: God chooses to align things such that Ruth, a foreigner with no hope in the world, became the great-grandmother of the great King David. And, how odd, that in the fullness of time, God chose to take on flesh in that same little town of Bethlehem, through Jesus Christ, the greater restorer of life, the ancestor of Ruth.

All that we are rests on the story found in the strange new world of the Bible. It is a story we recount week after week, year after year, because through it we discover who we are and whose we are. We must tell this story in order to know and to receive the Good News.

Ours is a storied faith.

So, like the prophets before us, like the prophet that is Jesus Christ, let us tell the story. Let us tell the story when we are up and when we are down, when all is well and when all is hell. Let us tell the story when we are received and when we are nowhere believed. Let us tell the story until sinners are justified, until the devil is terrified, until Jesus is magnified, and until God is satisfied! Amen. 

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

In those days there was no real leader, and everyone did whatever they wanted.

Sound familiar?

Everything about the setting of today’s biblical text is terrible. There was political chaos as Philistine enemies were pressing in on the flanks of Israel, the “national leadership” was worse than a bad joke, there was a frighteningly wide famine, and the last judge who sat to rule before the time of Ruth was Jephthah the Gileadite, who stirred up a civil war that killed 40,000 Israelities, including his own daughter.

The people had no hope.

In these days, we fight and bicker about who is really in charge, and most people do whatever they want.

Most things about today feel terrible. There is political chaos as we wrestle with the “meaning” behind the midterms and wonder about what will happen to our country. The “national leadership” continues to bicker about everything on a two week cycle so we regularly forget what we’re talking about. And this week marked the 307th mass shooting in our country this year. 

For the sake of context: today is the 314th day.

And it’s against that same kind of frightening and turbulent domestic scale, that we get the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz.

It’s an old old story that speaks profound truths even into our stories today.

The famine that broke out over the land was so terrible that Naomi and her husband and two sons were forced to flee from Bethlehem – which is rather ironic considering Bethlehem means “town of bread.”

They travel to Moab and Naomi’s husband promptly dies. The widow now only has her two sons who fortunately find Moabite wives. Their names were Orpah and Ruth. But then both of the sons die.

No ruler, no food, no husband, and now no sons.

Three widows are left with no income, no rights, and no hope for the future.

So Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem, and sends her daughters-in-law back to their respective families. 

Orpah cries and leaves. But not Ruth. Ruth clings to her mother-in-law Naomi. Where you go I will go, your people will be my people, your God my God. Where you die, I will die.

And thus they return to the town of bread.

Ruth is a stranger in a strange land, and Naomi might as well be. The last time she was home she had a husband, two sons, and hope. Not she returns with nothing but a foreign daughter-in-law.

Ruth volunteers to go out and glean in the fields and she meets the other member of the trio: Boaz. Boaz is impressed when he learns the story of this strange woman who risked it all for someone she had no reason to.

And that’s where we pick up: Naomi tries her hand at matchmaking and gets Ruth all prepared for a midnight rendezvous on the threshing room floor. Some PG-13 action transpires (or R depending on one’s imagination), and then God decides to show up in the story to give Ruth and Boaz a son, Obed who eventually fathers Jesse, who fathers David.

This wonderful and small little book toward the beginning of the Old Testament challenges many of our assumptions about what’s really important. While we might’ve stayed up late into the evening on Tuesday waiting for election results, while we might tune in to our favorite station every night for the important notes from the day, while we might flick through our Twitter feed with ferocity… the really important events of history happen in the most regular of places.

The whole of the book, from beginning to end, dwells on the small and not-evidently earthshaking interactions between three extraordinarily ordinary people.


And that’s probably why we love the story – its why couples ask me to preach on the story of Ruth at their weddings and it’s why most of us know more about Ruth than Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, and Zephaniah combined.

In other places we read about matriarchs and patriarchs, we catch glimpses drastic and divine miracles, we learn about the prophets and the kings, and people with special missions from the Lord to do miraculous things. 

But then we get Ruth, and Naomi, and Boaz – people just like us.

If Ruth is a story about any one thing, it’s a story of hope. And not just hope that falls down from the sky like manna from heaven, but a hope that is born out of persistent generosity and care. In the characters and in the conversations we come as close as we can to the manifestation of what we in the church call grace. 

While worn down by the times in which they found themselves Ruth and Naomi clung to each other when they had nothing else. They were from different places, with different cultures, and different expectations. But in one another they found something that was worth staying with, no matter what. 

And, of course, upon first glance, it is easy to make the story all about Ruth’s faithfulness. She certainly takes an incalculable and completely unnecessary risk by sticking with Naomi. She left her home, and everything she knew, to accompany her to the small town of bread where she was certainly viewed with nothing by suspicion. 

But the story isn’t just about Ruth. It’s also about the strange and mysterious ways in which God acts through the ordinary to make the extraordinary possible. 

And yet (!) Ruth has no reason to demonstrate the immense possibility of God’s faithfulness because she was outside the covenant! She was a Moabite, a foreigner to be viewed with nothing but disdain, and she is the one who shines throughout the story as a marker to glorify of the Lord.

The story of Ruth teaches those who read it the quality of relationships that enable life with others to be decent, secure, and even happy. The three central characters are all genuinely concerned about the needs and welfare of the other in selfless ways. It therefore bombards our sensibilities and expectation about who deserves our time, who deserves our respect, and who deserves God’s love. 


Just like the Israelites during the time of Ruth, most of us are worn down by the events of our days on a local, national, and even international scale. We are currently witnesses to cataclysmic events like the war in Yemen, the drastic and frightening effects of climate change, and the never-ending political unrest that all seem to offer only the most uncertain hope of a better and safer future for anyone.

And that is precisely why the story of Ruth is perfect for us today: in a time such as this, acts of generosity and connection open up the future that God intends for us. From continuing to break bread with the people who voted differently than us, to reaching out to the people in our community without food to eat, to being mindful of people in our midst who go day after day without hope.

When the bonds between ourselves and whomever we might consider the other are brought together we, like Ruth, begin to see the kingdom of God at work. 

Because, ultimately, this story is what the kingdom of God looks like. Not necessarily a “Kumbaya” and lassie faire attitude to the powers and principalities around us, but at least a willingness to look at someone in the eye and say, “I don’t understand you, I don’t agree with you, but I want to be for you, and I want our relationship to be built on love rather than hate.”

Ruth’s story shouldn’t work out the way it does. The amount of tragedy should’ve derailed the widows completely from any possibility of a new day dawning. But from beginning to end, everyone is brought further and further forward because of compassion.

God works in our world in and through the Ruths, and the Naomis, and even the Boazes, in the most extraordinarily ordinary circumstances. You don’t have to go climb to the top of the highest mountain to hear the Holy Spirit’s Word for your life, you don’t have to retreat into the solitude of a monastery to experience the profound wonder of God’s grace, you don’t have to give away everything you own to recognize how much Jesus gave up for you.

In Ruth’s story, in her time of terrible losses, and frightening trouble, and oppositional tyranny, and destructive pain, she found ways to grab hold of others and possibilities through the ordinary moments of the Spirit. 

And those moments, though small and sometimes missable, are huge because they shake the very foundations of what we foolishly believe is good, and powerful, and true in this life. 

Long before there was doctrine, and theology, and creeds, and liturgical traditions, there were normal people who discovered profound richness in the most extraordinarily ordinary circumstances.

The church, this church, is another place, just like Ruth’s family, where we have opportunities to learn what it means to live with people we did not choose! It is through our continued and fervent presence with those with whom we are stuck that we catch a glimpse of the fidelity of our God who is stuck with all of us.

Strangely, Ruth’s story ends not with Ruth cradling her new baby boy, but with her mother-in-law Naomi bringing him to her bosom. The whole town surrounds them in this moment and they see redemption in the strangest form: a child. Everything about their lives has been redeemed by God in this infant named Obed, without whom there would be no king David.

And, this final scene makes us think of another woman cradling a baby in Bethlehem some thirty generations later. Again, the world is in desperate need of hope. Again, a woman travels without knowing what her future will hold. And again, she holds redemption in her arms. Amen. 

Christmas Eve – Extra(Ordinary)

Luke 2.1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in their fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”


Merry Christmas! O what a time to be gathered together. Christmas is just special. The way we decorate our homes with lights and manger scenes. The presents all piled up under the trees. The advent calendars filled with mediocre pieces of chocolate.

It’s hard not to get nostalgic and reminiscent during the holidays. When you pull out the favorite ornament, you remember your grandmother who crafted it with care. When you see the cracked serving platter you remember the uncle who had a little too much nog that one year and dropped it. When you finally plug in the lights on the front of the house, you remember all the years your father mumbled under his breath as he struggled to untangle all the cords.

Christmas is the best. Among the decorations, and the songs, and the gifts, we are reminded of the great story of Jesus’ birth. This is a story we have told again and again to the point that I bet you know all the details….

Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to the city of David called ­­­Bethlehem. He went there to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and was expecting a child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

What a story, but it could have gone like this…

Mary sat in the uncomfortable airport lounge and could not believe that she could actually no longer see her feet. Everyday her body was changing with new movements, sounds, and smells. She found herself wishing for an easier pregnancy, feet that would stop swelling, and a baby that would stop kicking her in the side every time she fell asleep.

Mary was thankful for Joseph, how much he doted on her over the last 9 months, but if he made one more comment about how beautiful she looked she was going to punch him in the face. “I know I look like a cow!” she would say, “stop pretending that I’m something that I’m not.” Mary blamed the outbursts on the hormones, but sometimes it just felt nice to speak her mind.

She sat in the airport lounge, and couldn’t believe she had agreed to travel while pregnant. Joseph had been initially suspicious of the pregnancy, but he was a good man and stuck by her side. And here they were, waiting to get on the plane, and it felt like people’s eyes were magnetized to her belly.

Is it a boy or a girl?” someone asked for the thousandth time. Mary turned to her right and tried to return the smile, but her sarcasm got the better or her, and she said, “We’re just hoping it’s a human!

Are you going to try natural child birth?” someone asked for the thousandth time. Mary turned to her left and tried to return the smile, but declared, “That’s frankly none of your business!

Finally, a woman from the airline announced that anyone with medical needs could begin boarding the plane. “One of the rare perks…” thought Mary as she pushed herself up from the seat. She wobbled over to the gate like a penguin when an older woman walked up with her hand outstretched to rub Mary’s belly. Joseph quickly jumped in front to stop the arm from making contact and instead put out his arm to on a direct course to the woman’s abdomen and said, “How would you feel if a stranger tried to rub your belly?

Mary’s seat on the airplane felt smaller than usual and, try as she might, she couldn’t sleep. Joseph sat next to her with his earmarked copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting open to the section on child-birth. And Mary cringed when she thought about what her body would be doing in the not too distant future.

By the time they finally landed, stood in line for the rental car, and finally made it out of the airport, Mary was exhausted. Her feet felt like flippers, and she was starting to feel what she thought were contractions, but she was determined to believe it was something else.

As they drove through the empty city streets late that night, the feeling grew worse and more regular until it came with such suddenness that Mary yelled at Joseph to pull the car over. In the dimly lit alley with cats meowing behind cardboard boxes and passersby ignoring the scene right in front of them, Mary gave birth to a baby boy, wrapped him in her fiancés sweater, and grinned from ear to ear.

All the pain she had felt, all the fear of how much her life would change, all the frustrations with strangers and inappropriate comments started to fade away into the darkness. Instead she saw her little baby as the light of the world. In him she saw a better and brighter future. In him she knew the world would be turned upside down. And she named him Jesus.


We know the story. We hear it year after year. We see it portrayed by children in church productions, and on the front lawns of countless homes. Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because the emperor believed that everyone needed to be registered. When they arrived there was no room at the inn, so Mary had her baby and placed him in a manger.

The text from Luke, rather than romanticizing the poverty of Mary and Joseph, invites us to see them as people much like us. The details are lacking and the narrative flows in a way that feels rather ordinary. Mary and Joseph were just two people trying to make their way in the world, like a couple traveling during the holidays. They were normal people; people who felt the pressures of the world and the judgments of others; people who were squeezed by rising taxes and governmental expectations; people who were weary from a variety of struggles including the fear of childbirth; people who were badly in need of hope.

And, as God would have it, the hope they so desperately needed came to them that night as a baby. In the ordinary ways of the world, something extraordinary happened. Jesus, the light of the world, was born to that struggling couple surrounded by the most ordinary of circumstances and changed the world forever.

The baby was extraordinary, God incarnate, capable of miracles and filled with Messianic hope. The baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, God in the flesh, was born to guide the world in the ways that lead to life.

We are like Mary and Joseph and Jesus was born to us and for us. The story takes places in the ordinary but makes our lives extraordinary. So often we hear about how Jesus’ birth changed the cosmos and the very history of the world that we forget about how this wonderful and precious moment actually changed our individual lives as well. It changed us, people who are trying to understand our ordinary lives in light of the extraordinary news that God came as a baby for us.

If you haven’t spent much time in the Bible, this is how it works. If you haven’t experienced much of God’s presence, this is how God works. The extraordinary arises within the ordinary. The heavens break forth in the middle of a moment here on earth. What we usually see as normal and commonplace is often the realm of God’s marvelous work among us.

If you want to know God, you don’t have to go off on some high mountaintop, you don’t have to sink deep into the recesses of your ego. You just have to be in a place like Bethlehem, or an airport, or a rental car, or a church. You just need to be in the midst of trying to make your way in the world, getting along as best you can with what you’ve got. That’s when God loves to show up and change our lives forever.

When Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph the ordinary became extraordinary. In that tiny baby they would come to discover what it means to love God and neighbor in new and radical ways. In that tiny baby they would have their sins forgiven and salvation presented. In that tiny baby they would finally understand how much God loved them.

God loves to show up in the ordinary things of life. God shows up in the bread and juice offered to us at the table without cost. God shows up in the flicker of a flame as we sing silent night together. God shows up in the cry of a baby who came to change the world.

God shows up and makes our ordinary lives extraordinary. What a gift.

Merry Christmas.

gifts of god

Prepare To Be Surprised – Sermon on 2 Kings 5.1-15

2 Kings 5.1-15

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet has commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”


Have you ever gone looking for God? Maybe your church or your prayer life was no longer cutting it, and you thought about actively seeking out the God who you used to meet in the sanctuary.

For a long time, I made it my duty to help other people find God.

I would help organize trips to domestic or foreign locations, often leading youth and adults into uncomfortable situations so that they could live out the calling of the gospel by serving their neighbors.

Whether you lead a group to Winchester, Virginia or Xela, Guatemala the paradigm remains basically the same: Take a group of people out of their comfort zone, encourage them to serve others through physical means, participate in theological reflection and fellowship, and return home a changed individual.

I have been blessed to see wealthy American men weep in the arms of poor Guatemalan women after working for a week in a remote village, I have seen privileged teenagers play in the destroyed and desolate streets of New Orleans with other children who had lost everything. I have seen college-age Christians sing and chant hymns fervently with their eyes closed after having not stepped foot in a church in years.


All of these trips were fantastic and were remarkably important for the people who participated. The only problem was, after returning home, it only took a few weeks to fall back into the same routine as if nothing had actually happened. In fact I’ve seen nearly the same thing occur after a group does a Bible study for months: as soon as they finish, they are on fire for Christ, but within a few weeks, that fervor has disappeared. The thought usually goes something like, “I did what I could but I can only do so much” “I tried to keep the fire alive, but I have other responsibilities” “I know this is what Christ wants me to do, but it’s too hard.”

We often engage in these activities expecting to experience God on our terms, only to return back to life the same as before…

Many, many years ago, a foreign warrior named Naaman had it all. He had the favor of his king, he was consistently victorious on the battlefield, and he had power. He was the kind of guy that you hated in high school. The proverbial quarterback of the football team, straight-A student, the guy who had everything just fall into his lap easily. But Naaman had a big problem: he was a leper. Covered in this invasive skin condition, there was nothing he could do to rid himself of the suffering.

The CEO of the huge multinational corporation can get the best table at any restaurant in town without even calling for a reservation, but his son is in rehab for an addiction to heroin. The famous and celebrated writer travels the world to give lectures and presentations – but he’s an alcoholic. The beautiful actress can turn every man’s head, but she dreads the lights and cameras in case they show an unflattering angle. The envied mother in the community has perfect children that never get in trouble but she weeps every night out of her loneliness and depression.

In every life there is a “but.” What’s yours?  Naaman was a successful military man in great favor with the king, but he was a leper.

However, one day, an unnamed completely insignificant Israelite, the quiet girl who always sat in the shadows, the one whose name no one could remember said the obvious: “Naaman, all you have to do is visit the prophet in Samaria, he can cure your leprosy.”

Why Naaman listened to this woman, we will never know, but he gathered his treasures and traveled to visit the king of Israel. After an embarrassing episode, where it is clearly apparent that Naaman does not know the way God works because he seeks healing from the king rather than the prophet, Elisha invites Naaman to his home so that he will learn there is a prophet in Israel.

The scene that follows is remarkably comical. Naaman comes in full regalia, with an impressive entourage, and gifts galore: ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He stands proudly before the house of the prophet but he does not even get invited inside. Instead, Elisha sends out a messenger to instruct the officer to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

Naaman is incensed! “This so called ‘prophet’ doesn’t even have the decency to come greet me? And then he is so bold as to claim that his river is mightier than ours?” So Naaman went away in a rage.

But, just as before with the unnamed woman, some unnamed servants approach Naaman, “If the prophet had commanded something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be made clean’?” And so Naaman went down to the Jordan and immersed himself seven times and his flesh was restored.


Before returning to his homeland, Naaman went to Elisha and proclaimed, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!”

Like many people who go out seeking to find God, Naaman knew how it was supposed to work. However, the scripture today confirms Naaman’s lack of understanding when interacting with the divine. First, he brings all of his treasures to the king of Israel assuming that he would have the power to cleanse him. Second, he arrives at Elisha’s home expecting to be regarded as the dignified warrior he is, only to be slighted by Elisha’s lack of welcome.

Like Naaman, so many of us go out expecting to find God on our terms and in the ways we want.

If we travel to an impoverished part of the country, or if we go visit a remote village on the other side of the planet we will surely find God. If we sweat in the mud all day long for our brothers and sister we will be blessed by God almighty for our actions. Yet, like Naaman, we cannot meet God on our own terms, but it is God who meets us.

What takes place here with Naaman is the way the Bible often deals with God. The extraordinary arises within the ordinary. The heavenly breaks out amid the earthly. What we tend to view as ordinary and plain, the Bible wants to depict as the realm of God’s amazing work among us.

Elisha, and all the other prophets from the Old Testament have something that we have lost in the church these days. They have freedom from the society around them. They are not blown about by the winds of doctrine or expectation, they are not captive to special interest groups, they do not follow all the latest fads, they do not unquestionably serve the latest liberal or conservative agenda. They serve, rather, their living God – that God who is on the move toward the establishment of the kingdom on earth.  – They hear God and follow him accordingly; this gives them the freedom from all the voices of this world and from every ideology that would capture them for its own selfish purposes. They meet God in the ordinary ways of life, respond to the call, and are transformed.

The healing of Naaman is one remarkable story. God takes an enemy of his chosen people and restores him to good health. In spite of the antagonism between two seemingly opposed people, God interrupts Naaman’s life in order to bring about a revelation.

Naaman was healed, but in what way? Yes, there is the physical healing, by washing himself seven times in the Jordan Naaman loses the leprosy that had so plagued him, but there was something else more powerful going on here in the story.

In this narrative Naaman learns about humility and encounters the living and active God. It is not the kings, nor the warrior, in the story who understand the ways of God, but it is through the unnamed servants that Naaman comes to experience the divine. It was through humbly following the commands of his servants that Naaman found cleansing in the muddy waters of the Jordan, but more importantly he found new life in a God that meets us in the ordinary.

What is your “but”? What is your excuse for not letting God meet you where you are? When we meet the triune God it would seem that it happens without regard for being rich or poor. Perhaps even more dramatically God extends his mercy, and works out his plans through the unnamed people in our lives, the ones we so often overlook in our day-to-day living.

Somewhere in your life, God is calling you away from the distraction that you are so rooted in. Perhaps God has been using someone to bear a word of hope for your leprosy, for your “but”. Maybe its your mother who you have neglected to call for the last few months that just wants to tell you that God loves you. Maybe it’s the homeless man on Beverly Street who muttered “Thank God” under his breath when you gave him a dollar. Maybe it’s the co-worker who doesn’t treat you with enough respect or your own child who drives you mad when they neglect to clean their room or do their homework. It might be someone who you are jealous of, or threatened by.

Our scripture today boldly declares that God is the one looking for you. If you want to meet God, then you don’t have to go off on some mountaintop, or move to some sort of spiritual summit. You just have to let yourself go, like Naaman, and be willing to let God take over and ready for the changes in your life.

Be prepared to be surprised. When you meet the unnamed person that God is using to address your leprosy, it will almost inevitably offend you in some way, just as Naaman was furious over Elisha’s lack of decorum. The message will cut deep into your life by way of its simplicity, or its unexpectedness, and it will occur in a way that only you will be able to comprehend.

When God comes to meet us where we are, it does not occur through overwhelming theatrics, flashing lights and great booming sounds. God does not meet us where we expect him to, but rather through simple things:

Yesterday morning I stood here right in front of the altar with my cousin Devin. Devin is currently part of a confirmation class in Alexandria, VA at Aldersgate UMC regularly learning more about faith, God, and the Bible. At the end of this confirmation period, Devin will kneel before his home congregation and will be welcomed as a member into the church. But, Devin has not been baptized, and baptism is a requirement for confirmation.

Devin and I talked and he made it clear to me that he wanted me to be the one to baptize him. So after a conversation regarding the importance of the sacrament of baptism, about what it will mean for him and his life, I welcomed Devin to come here for the weekend and be baptized.

So there we stood yesterday, with the muted overcast light coming through the “I am the good shepherd” stained glass window lighting up the altar. I ran my fingers through the cold water talking to Devin about the glorious ways that God has interacted with his people through water over the centuries. And as I held the water in one hand, and Devin in my other, I said, “Devin, many years ago Jesus gathered at the Jordan River and was baptized by his cousin John. In the same way Jesus calls all of us to be baptized in order to be brought into his body, the church.”


I stood there for perhaps just a moment frozen in my own words. As I looked down at his blonde head I realized that just as John baptized his cousin, here I was, blessed to be doing the same thing to my cousin.

God confronted me in that moment. In a solitary blink of time I was flooded with the knowledge that the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized is the same river where Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy. That I was standing before almighty God baptizing my cousin in the same way that John baptized his. It was not grand: the sky did not open up with the Sun beating down on us, no trumpets were heard blaring from heaven, and the wind did not blow through the building. But it was perfect, because in that moment God met us in the ordinary: through the simple water and words of baptism.


God does not meet us where we expect him to, but through the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. God meets us in the proclamation of his Word, in the remembrance of a man named Naaman who walked down to the Jordan River, and through a young man’s baptism on a rainy Saturday morning.

What is God calling you to? Where has God been trying to meet you?

Prepare to be surprised.


(preached at St. John’s UMC on 10/13/13)