Proper 19C: Lost and Awakened

Humble Wisdom (Blog)FIRST LESSON:  Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28

Read the passage from Jeremiah

This lament of Jeremiah is part of the larger unit that describes the looming Babylonian threat on the horizon.  In sight of this threat, the people have not heeded warnings and have continued down paths that the prophet feels called to denounce and condemn.  In the context in which this was written, Israel was a virtual land bridge between Asia and Africa, a place of trade between East and West.  Look upon it as a crossroads, as a place where the decision could be made to go one way or the other.

Egypt was the great power to the South and Babylon to the North.  Assyria had just been defeated by Babylon, the monster just north of Israel.  This was a time of rebellion after rebellion against Babylon, to which Babylon acted with greater and greater punitive measures until the Temple was completely destroyed in 587 BCE.  This began nearly three centuries of exile for the people of Israel.  Jeremiah tried to stave off this rebellion against a great power of Babylon and cautioned a more humble approach to international affairs.  He was reminding the people to not act so mighty and powerful and look at what was happening. According to Old Testament commentator R. E. Clements (1988, p. 42): “Jeremiah appears to have addressed a people who were so self-assured in the rightness of their cause, and in the backing God must give to it, that they discounted the serious possibility of harsh Babylonian reprisals taken against them.” 

We are told of a hot wind, an unbearable wind.  This is not a gentle flowing breeze like we begin to get this time of year.  This is the hurricane-force winds that come when we are near the eye of the storm.  This is a wind that is destructive.  Jeremiah saw imminent political and military disaster for his nation and for the world around him.  He was trying a last-ditch effort to turn the tide toward good.  He desired the kings to be more humble and the people more compassionate.  He was trying to open the eyes of his hearers that they might be honest with themselves.  No more looking for someone to blame.  Things were bad.

The prophet depicts a coming destruction of all of Creation, of everything that the people know.  It is literally the “unmaking” of Creation, borrowing some of the same language from the Creation story in Genesis.  But rather than “it is good”, it is proclaimed to be a desolation, an ending.  It is a bleak passage, void of plans for redemption or resurrection.  Instead, we are left with a desolate silence.

Some would take it as a promise of a vengeful God to destroy the Creation that has in essence turned its back on its Creator.  But instead, what if it were a warning? God has given us the power to make decisions, to choose right or wrong.  It is not an easy thing.  Power can be destructive when we choose to use it that way.  Perhaps this is a warning against the ultimate destruction that we humans hold in our hands.  After all, God has entrusted us with this Creation.  What happens when we don’t choose to respond to God’s call?  What happens when we forget who and whose we are?  What happens when we let power get in the way of conversation and greed get in the way of compassion?  We have, then, set our feet on a path of ultimate destruction.

It’s hard to read this and place ourselves in this passage.  It’s so bleak and depressing.  SURELY we’re not that bad.  SURELY this is about another time and another people.  Well, it is.  It’s about a people that were sure that God was on their side no matter what.  They believed that this line of David would never be broken and that God would always dwell with them.  So, when Jeremiah enters, it’s really just downright insulting. (Jeremiah was probably accused of being unpatriotic and unfaithful!)  And yet, we DO somehow belong here.  Maybe we’re a little too sure of our rightness, a little too sure that God is pleased with what we do.  And, uncomfortably, the whole prospect of the unmaking of Creation is looming much more closely to us in our world today as our nation and our leaders make the case for yet another military action.  But we don’t want to hear this in church.  We want to leave feeling better about ourselves.  We want to come and be protected from weapons of mass destruction.

So, did we miss it?  Aren’t Scriptures supposed to have some sort of good news in them?  The good news is that God patiently waits until we turn away from ourselves and toward God. God is always and forever remaking us and unmaking us into what God envisions we can be.  (Hmmm!  Have you ever thought that God might not be unmaking God’s Creation, but rather ours.)  You see, God did not promise that the world would be easy; God did not offer a Creation that did not sometimes shake and tear and come down upon its people and itself; God never told us that the road would be straight and protected.  God promised us that when it was all said and done, we would have life abundant—here, now, for the taking. Life is not easy; life is eternal; and it is very, very good.


  • What is your response to this passage?
  • How would this depiction play out in our world today?
  • Where do you see our world in this warning from Jeremiah?
  • What keeps us from turning toward God?



NEW TESTAMENT:  1 Timothy 1: 12-17

Read the passage from 1 Timothy

The two letters of Timothy and the letter of Titus make up what is known as the Pastoral Epistles, meaning that they were addressed to the whole church, rather than a specific group.  This letter is assumed to be pseudipigraphic, not written by Paul but in the form and shape of Paul.  It is a letter to a young person that wanted to further the gospel to encourage and guide him, to remind him that there will always be rough patches.

So here, probably in the words of one of Paul’s apostles rather than Paul himself, we begin with a letter of thanksgiving for Paul’s ministry.  It is likely that this letter stems from the period well after Paul’s death when new generations were having to cope with problems similar to what Paul faced, to cope with the veritable “unmaking” of Creation around them.  For that reason, it also echoes Paul’s sentiment toward fellow children of God.

It matches Paul’s thought that responding to God’s compassion is not receiving a guarantee for a future gift, but taking up an offer of a relationship with God. We are invited in grace to get on board and go along with this God who is on a mission and where there will be a role, often a distinctive ministry, for us. Paul became a model of conversion, a hero for many early Christians and that understanding comes through in the passage.

It is interesting that whoever the writer is sees himself or herself as the ultimate in sinners—the “foremost”, the NRIV translates.  It is the ultimate “lostness”, the quintessential wilderness.  And the fact that we are found is the ultimate “foundness”, the amazing grace that is our lives.

You may or may not know the story of an 18th century slave trader named John Newton.  Sailing back to England in 1748, the ship he was on encountered a severe storm and almost sank.  While in route, he read the Bible and began to think about God and God’s impact on his life.  He would become an Anglican minister.  But it would be years before he finally accepted the fact that the slave trade was wrong and that his life truly needed to turn toward God.  In 1779, Newton wrote the words of his life, a hymn of forgiveness and redemption, regardless of whatever it is we do.  Amazing Grace is one of the most recognizable hymns in the Western world.


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What does this passage say about our image of God?
  • What is grace to you?
  • Why do we have such a hard time with the fact that grace is “undeserved”?



GOSPEL:  Luke 15:1-10

Read the passage from The Gospel According to Luke

Lost and Found…the theme appears again and again in the Scriptures.  It is both comforting and disconcerting, because at times we are the found children telling our story and helping others and at other times we are the lost ones, trying to find our way back to God.  The truth is, it is not that our lives go back and forth between the two, but that we learn to live with the two in juxtaposition—both the found children and the lost souls.  We want to be comfortable with the words of this passage, but we’re not…not really.

The shepherd and the woman both show that careful attention to detail that is also known as hard work. Think of all that hiking over hills, the scrambling down creek banks and climbing through brambles: all in search of one sheep that could have nibbled itself into trouble a thousand different ways. Or think of all that housework! Sweeping, moving furniture, rearranging clutter, crawling around on the floor. We can live our whole lives this way, always diligently searching for lost items and responsibly returning them to their correct location: a place for everything and everything in its place. That everything-in-its-place kind of responsibility is not what these searches are about. Instead, the search of the shepherd and the woman are all about joy, a joy that comes with celebration that what was lost is now found.

The truth is, there is a lot of lostness around us.  We try hard to look for God, to find that place where we are both comfortable and committed to God.  But we continue to waffle back and forth between the found children and the lost ones, trying to find our way back home.  We want to be found; we want to feel joy.  After all, it is the foundness that matters, the foundness for which we are searching.  It is the foundness that our faith is about.

We spend a good part of our lives trying to look for God.  And yet, the Scriptures remind us that it is not God who is lost from us but rather we who are lost from ourselves, lost from who God created us to be.  God created us in the image of the Godself.  And in those times when we seem to wander away in the darkness and lostness of our lives, it is God who unmakes us and recreates us once again, gathers us in and again breathes a part of the Godself into our being. Perhaps it is our lostness that teaches us how to be with God.  Because once we lose ourselves in God’s being, once we relinquish control and quit working so hard to find ourselves, once we realize that we are never really lost at all, it is then that we will know that we are always found by God.


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • To what do you equate being “lost”?
  • To what do you equate being “found”?
  • What part of yourself do you need to lose to be found?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


The word dies whenever reality demands absolute dominion. (Amery, at Yad Vashem (Israel Holocaust Museum))

Give me a transformed and undefended heart. (St. Augustine)

Let yourself get shaken up.  What are you willing to give up to ensure your own unfolding, and the unfolding of what is holy in life?  Where you stumble, here is your treasure.(Joseph Campbell)




In the beginning, O God, When the firm earth emerged from the waters of life You saw that it was good.  The fertile ground was moist.  The seed was strong.  And earth’s profusion of color and sent was born.  Awaken my senses this day to the goodness that still stems from Eden.  Awaken my senses to the goodness that can still spring forth in me and in all that has life. Amen.

(Celtic Benediction)



Proper 27B: Redeemed

Ruth & Naomi (He Qi, 1994)
Ruth & Naomi (He Qi, 1994)

OLD TESTAMENT: Ruth 3: 1-5, 4: 13-17

Read the passage from the Book of Ruth

This is part of what is essentially the conclusion of the story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. Leading up to this, we should note that it is the famine in Bethlehem that drives Naomi and her husband and their family away looking for food. While there, Naomi loses both her husband and her two sons, leaving the three wives to fend for themselves in a world that was anything but kind to women. Naomi’s other daughter-in-law returns to her own family but Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi. Eventually, they hear that they can return to Judah, which they do. But when they get there, there is a need to find food and make a living, so Ruth goes out into the fields to get the gleanings, eventually coming to a field that is owned by a wealthy relative of Naomi’s, Boaz.

“Gleaning” is a technical term in Israel. By some laws, found again in Deuteronomy, this time in 24:21 (the levirate marriage law that drove Naomi’s Bethlehem road fantasy was also found in that book), reaping a field in Israel always had to take account of the poor and disadvantaged in the land. Hired hands were to harvest the field of the owner, but any grain that they missed in the first pass through the field must be left in the field for the strangers, the orphans, the foreigners, and the widows. It was a meager and difficult way to survive, but at least it offered a tiny meal for those who had nothing.

The reading today picks up with Naomi telling Ruth of her plan to make the most of this opportunity. The plan involves the deception of Boaz. Ruth is to lie down next to Boaz when he has eaten and become drunk after the winnowing. To ‘uncover the feet’ generally has sexual connotations and the plan seems to be one in which Boaz is to be made to believe that he has taken sexual advantage of Ruth. At the same time the story does not indicate that anything in fact happened between the Ruth and Boaz. All that has to be achieved is to make Boaz think something has. Boaz, being an upright man and knowing Ruth’s reputation will ‘do the right thing’ by her, which means marry her even though such is not legally demanded of him. But one obstacle needs to be dealt with first. There is one, who remains unnamed in the story, who is closer in kinship to Naomi and Ruth than Boaz (perhaps a cousin or something), and who, according to law, needs to be given the first option of marriage.

In a way the whole story has focused around the issue of family heritage. The rest of Chapter 3 tells of the execution of Naomi’s scheme, of Boaz’s response and, in Ruth 4, of dealing with the unnamed relative, who in the end is not willing to take up his kinship responsibility for Ruth. In the second half of today’s reading Ruth marries Boaz and bears a son to him. The focus then shifts back to Naomi and her grandson. The women bless the Lord, who it is clear has been the silent mover behind the scene for both good and ill. They speak of one who will be ‘a restorer of life and a nourisher in one’s old age. It is unclear whether the women speak of the Lord or Boaz or the baby boy. Indeed, this ambiguity may well be deliberate. We see from the women naming the child and the small genealogical note in v. 17, that the child will be the grandfather of David, who in some traditions becomes the ancestor of a messiah to come. The sense of ‘a restorer of life’ is not only in terms of the immediate story, i.e. one who secures the future for Naomi and Ruth, but also of one who restores the future life of the nation.

Overall, the sense of mutual commitment between Naomi and Ruth is ultimately the source and mark of divine blessing. Only once in the entire story is the word “love” used and it is used to describe the relationship between these two strong and determined women. This is the kind of love that molds and drives the universe. If you look at the first chapter of Matthew, you will see the line of succession that is believed to end with Jesus, that includes “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…”

In the final analysis, the biblical women Ruth and Naomi are simply metaphors, models of all the women of the world who push and prod and guide and give support to the rest of us through all the trying moments of life, however momentous, however mundane.

Each of us can look back on the women who were Naomis for us—older women because of whom our lives were changed.  Each of us remembers with concern—with pride—the young Ruths in our lives who poised to take one step and then, despite our best advice, took what became for both our sakes an even better one.

The Ruths and Naomis of the human estate make the world go round.  Not one of us can get through the phases of our separate flowerings without their promptings.  Without them growth is static, the worst happens, all of life’s inevitables look impossible.  The Ruths and Naomis of the world take the measure of what we think we cannot surmount alone and show us that it is vincible…

In the Book of Ruth the whole world is new again.  Relationships have been righted.  The outcastes have been taken in.  The lowly have been raised up.  A new generation of men—represented by a boy-child—comes to inherit a cosmos where women are its co-creators.  In Ruth, we get a glimpse into God’s world and find that it runs just the opposite of ours.

The implications of the Ruth story for women today pale whatever assumptions, cemented by generations of custom, may still cloud their lives in any institution, in every part of the world.  It is the spiritual Magna Carta of women.  Ruth lives on in Hebrew Scripture to remind us that origin and destiny are not the same thing.  Naomi lives on to call generation after generation of women to begin again, whatever our ages, to make life for ourselves, to refuse to wait for someone else to swoop down to makes us happy, to fear nothing, and risk anything that develops the dream in our own hearts, to learn to believe in ourselves as women, to find ourselves in one another and in that way to become of more value to the world around us than we have ever been before, to see ourselves as carriers of the Word of God still to be said, still to be heard…

The Book of Ruth is about redemption, indeed, but it is as much about the redemption of Boaz and the nation, about the family and the culture, about the next generation of men and the generation of women, about the righteousness of religion and the salvation of religiosity, about us and the disjointed world we take for granted, as it is about the redemption of Ruth and Naomi.  It is a book about women helping women to break the isolation of powerlessness that affects every other man, woman, and child alive.

It is a book to be written into every woman’s—and man’s—spiritual life.  And the book is incomplete until every woman writes the rest of it herself. (Excerpt from The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Women’s Life, by Joan Chittister, p. ix, 88-89, 90)

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does this story say to you about God and about our relationships with each other?
  3. Is there anything that is bothersome in this story for you?
  4. Where do you find yourself in this story?



NEW TESTAMENT: Hebrews 9: 24-28

Read the passage from Hebrews

In this passage, the author depicts that Christ has done whatever and all things necessary so that we may know that we are forgiven and look confidently toward salvation. Keep in mind that, just as we are, the first century Christians were trying to make sense out of what had happened to Jesus. People began to hail Christ’s death not as a defeat but as a victory that released life for others. In other words, “He died for us.” This was not meant, as some modern interpretations would suggest, to be an understanding that God somehow schemed up this violence in order to satisfy rules about payback for our sins but rather the notion of Jesus intentionally taking the suffering unto himself.

The writing in Hebrews is, to say the least, complicated. It was complicated even when it was written. It represented a total shift in how people viewed the access to the Divine. Since the writer’s intended audience consisted of “the Hebrews,” or Israelites of a time after Christ, the arguments would have been quite profoundly powerful, because the listeners were well versed in the old ways that the writer compares unfavorably with Christ’s way. (This is why Hebrews is often interpreted as being a bit “anti-Semitic”. I don’t think that’s what the writer intended. It’s just the way some seemingly well-meaning Christians take it. Perhaps instead, the writer was exhorting his or her readers to take what they know, to take what was important for them in their religious and spiritual life, and go farther with it, go toward the Encounter with the Divine to which it points.)

So being part of the redeemed body of Christ today means we can experience eternal reality in its fullest, richest, clearest, most profound way even now, without anything else really happening. We have been set free from worrying about whether or not we relate to God and whether or not God has a place for us in the ongoing Creation. We are set free to live in the presence of Christ. We are, though, engaged in constant and intentional spiritual waiting for what God will do next. Part of being Christian is being called to a wonderful sense of hopeful expectation. Hebrews challenges our somewhat narrow focus of what Christ and being with Christ holds and calls us to something new, perhaps calls even us to go a bit farther toward a true encounter with the Divine.


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does that sense of “hopeful expectation” mean for you?
  3. Do you think we really grasp the idea that what Christ has done is once and for all? How does that play into various Christian understandings today?
  4. What does this say about our images of God?

GOSPEL: Mark 12: 38-44

Read the passage from The Gospel According to Mark

Once again, the writer of The Gospel According to Mark is making a statement against the corruption for which judgment will come for the old system.  It is in effect a warning against the way that we often allow the sacred and the holy to become corrupted and instead turn toward our way of doing things rather than God’s.  Interestingly, in this passage, the hero is not Jesus but the woman.  The scribes exploit and grab from their seat of wealth, but this woman gives everything from her poverty.  Comparatively, those well-versed in the ways of the faith are spiritually poor and this poor, probably uneducated woman is rich beyond all measure.

This woman would have been seen as pathetic, probably a beggar, the poorest of the poor.  The Greek is ptoche, which would mean “extremely poor”.  It hits us in the face in several ways.  First, those clergy and elevated laity, being greeted with respect, getting the best seats in the house, so to speak, are presented not only as bad leaders but as out and out hypocrites.  After all, what do these things of honor mean for our discipleship?  And then the woman…while those respected leaders carefully count out their tithes, proud of their giving patterns, she gives everything she has.  She walks home to nothing.  The blessing comes in the realization not that we cannot have nice things or reap respect but in an awareness that everything that we have, everything that we are, is of God.  It is not a test of how much money we have in the bank, but what that money means for us.  The question is on what do we depend?

Where previously we connected dependence with oppression and depression, Jesus shows us that our dependence on God leads to joy and thanksgiving. If God is running the universe and ruling my life, I no longer have to save myself, prove myself or justify myself. I’m the work of God’s hands. I rest and work in those hands and I shall die in those hands. To be free of those hands would be death to me, because in them is life abundant.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What is your personal reaction to this passage?
  3. How does this speak to our society and our way of thinking about money, about leadership, and about one’s place in society?
  4. How do we look upon poverty in this day? What does that say about us as a society and as Christians?
  5. What would it mean to give not out of our abundance but out of our need?
  6. What does this say about gratitude?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


Gratitude is the intention to count-your-blessing every day, every minute, while avoiding, whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances. (Timothy Miller)

The problem is that contemporary Westerners have a very fragile sense of their identity, much less an identity that can rest in union with God.  Objectively, of course, we are already in union with God. (Richard Rohr)

Change your ways, give yourself a fresh coat of paint, convert yourself.  Do all this and you’ll find the cross before it finds you. (Thomas a’ Kempis)





You are the giver of all good things. All good things are sent from heaven above, rain and sun, day and night, justice and righteousness, bread to the eater and seed to the sower, peace to the old, energy to the young, joy to the babes.


We are takers, who take from you, day by day, daily bread, taking all we need as you supply, taking in gratitude and wonder and joy. And then taking more, taking more than we need, taking more than you give us, taking from our sisters and brothers, taking from the poor and the weak, taking because we are frightened, and so greedy, taking because we are anxious, and so fearful, taking because we are driven, and so uncaring.


Give us peace beyond our fear, and so end our greed. Give us well-being beyond our anxiety, and so end our fear. Give us abundance beyond our drivenness, and so end our uncaring. Turn our taking into giving…since we are in your giving image: Make us giving like you, giving gladly and not taking, giving in abundance, not taking, giving in joy, not taking, giving as he gave himself up for us all, giving, never taking. Amen.


(“We are Takers”, from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, Searcy, p. 33)