November 14, 2021
SCRIPTURE READING: Ruth 4:13-17
I’ve been thinking about 2 sayings. One probably comes out of ancient history. The other from three Sundays ago right here at St. John’s
First, the one from St. John’s (from Earl Rieves): “You think it was YOUR idea to come to St. John’s. It wasn’t. It was God’s.” It was Earl’s way of observing and reminding us that what goes on here at St. John’s – the activities, who we are, who we have become, and who we will be is not just OUR IDEA. God is at work sometimes obviously, but more often invisibly and behind the scenes like some great and mysterious Wizard of Oz pulling strings.
The other is the ancient one – actually a Yiddish proverb: “We plan, and God laughs.” I know where such a proverb comes from, don’t you? We lay these careful plans about our future and do so with all sincerity with our so limited understanding and shortsightedness (when you compare it to God’s) that in an odd sort of way, it must seem humorous to God.
How many times have you carefully laid out plans only to have the whole project upended and shifted by life. We do our best. We try to be honorable and compassionate and still it looks like someone is pulling strings somewhere behind the curtain!
We complain and feel cheated. Sometimes, much later on, we find the new direction was for the best, like there was One with intention and purpose at work to accomplish a greater good.
Earl’s comment referred, of course, to the seeming random events that led to you and I being together like we are. Sure, both of us laid out our plans. We reasoned the best we could. But who could have predicted it all was going to turn out like this back three years ago.
Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth are such perfect examples. Perhaps you remember the sermon I preached a couple of weeks ago. Well, the story goes on after the two friends reach Naomi’s homeland and they settle in.
Naomi begins to realize that her days are numbered, Ruth is not married, no stable income, and struggles to put food on table. So, the logical solution in that culture, was for Ruth to get a husband. So Chapter 3 is the story of those two women laying careful plans to capture the attention and sympathy of one Boaz, the local available man – great husband potential.
It is a story with a happy ending with all the best laid plans seeming to come together toward a “and they all lived happily ever after” ending. Inserted in this little story of a family of little obvious importance from a human point of view is the account of the birth of a baby boy and a record of a lineage which puts Ruth in direct line to the coming of David who became Israel’s greatest King and also the coming of Jesus.
The point of that, it seems to me, is that in the middle of such normal, unremarkable attention to the little details of life, God is up to something to which those people just like you and I are totally oblivious.
That seems to me to be a theme that has been passed down all through the history of faithful saints who have tried their best to be the people that God wants them to be. That theme is this: In the middle of living life and tending to the humdrum of existence, God is ACTIVE and working something out for our benefit in the long run, if not the short term, and also working something out for the progress, the perfection, and the benefit of the whole universe.
Sometimes in our lifetime, we see (perhaps in part) what God has been up to, sometimes we never do. Sometimes it turns out better than what we expected and sometimes it seems to us to a step in reverse. So often, it seems to just be mystery! It was that way for Naomi and Ruth. They never knew what God was up to! It was a purpose beyond their eyesight. And that is true over and over again in Biblical History and in yours and mine too.
So we are left to just trust. And that at times is nearly impossible to do.
All this past week, Mary Ann and I have been just trying to be a comforting presence to Carol when none of us could see beyond the trivial attention to life details.
Dale, her husband, was buried on the fifth month anniversary of their marriage. Married June 10, buried November 10. Tell me what sense that makes! Tell me why!
Like Naomi and Ruth, Carol (with some help from us) went from one detail to another, calling people, answering questions, trying to put feelings into words, tending to legal matters, arranging details of funeral and burial. You know what that is like. I don’t know of anyone who can live through times like that and make any sense of what good God might be about.
Such times leave me speechless. The times when I can’t see and everything looks to me like it is out of control. What I know is this: It is out of MY CONTROL. The lives of the saints all testify to an abiding confidence that there is One who is at work behind the curtain working for us and for all of the children of God.
I can’t see any further than you see! I know the witness of the scriptures: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
And I know the witness of the saints who’ve gone before: Julian of Norwich: “All is well, All will be well, All manner of things will be well.”
How does she have the audacity to say such things when her vision is no better than ours? There is one possible explanation: TRUST!
Psalm 56:3 states When I am afraid, I put my trust in you, and we must do that until we are mature in our faith enough to dare to say: Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2). Amen.