News: June, 2016
By Robert Hoch
With the God of Elijah, nothing is left to chance – all belongs to God, even clouds that are carried on the whims of the wind, do God’s bidding. But as we turn to the story in the Book of Ruth, our focus for the month of July, something else happens: suddenly, God seems more difficult to detect: God does not send famine; famine just happens; God does not command Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, to take his family to Moab; he decides to leave on his own in an attempt to escape famine. His gamble backfires. By verse five, the wolf of chance has devoured all but Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, leaving Naomi a destitute woman.
One would think that God would put chance in its place. Instead, in chapter two, chance comes up again when Ruth, Naomi’s Moabite daughter-in-law, hopes that she might be “noticed” by someone who could show her (and Naomi) favor or kindness (i.e., economic security). According to the narrator, it “happens” that Ruth works a field belonging to a certain wealthy man, who also “happens” to be a close relation of Naomi’s dead husband, Elimelech.
Looking on his field, Boaz “happens” to notice Ruth, a common migrant laborer. Sensing this might be her ticket out of poverty, Naomi sets up an elaborate “match-making” plan. Her plan includes a lot of – how shall we say it? – moving parts, parts which have to come together to turn this “chance” at security into its reality.
In the end, Naomi seems to experience redemption by “engineering” chance encounters rather than through the miracle of God’s providence.
On the one hand, the absence of God’s hand in guiding the actions of the characters presents a challenge to those of us who are accustomed to seeing God act, speak, or command in the Bible. On the other hand, most of us use this language: It’s just the luck of the draw; or I was in the right place at the right time; or, it’s alternative, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, we also don’t leave things to chance, any more than Naomi was prepared to leave them to chance. At heart, we’re engineers of chance.
True of us, perhaps, and certainly of Naomi, but the story of Ruth isn’t merely about chance, engineered or not. It’s about the way ordinary human kindness has, at its root, the power to change lives for the better, irrespective of the chances of success. Indeed, each “chance” encounter – and its corresponding kindness – stands in the shadow of Ruth’s inexplicable declaration of love and fidelity in chapter one:
“Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge.”
This was a monumentally poor decision on the part of Ruth. Had Ruth calculated the ratio of risk to benefit, she would have cut her losses and gone back to Moab. But instead, she joined herself, in life-long fidelity, to the destiny of Naomi.
The Book of Ruth suggests that showing ordinary human kindness has, at its root, the power to change lives for the better. It might even change our lives. So why not? Take a chance. Join us for worship in July. Set it up. If praying seems like it’s going nowhere fast, if you’ve played your hand at love – and lost – why not try a little Sunday morning seduction instead? What do you have to lose? If we’re lucky, maybe God will give us a glimpse of her loving kindness, a kindness even sweeter than the first. . . .
Save the date!
Installation of Rev. Robert P. Hoch, Ph.D. as Pastor
This will be a joyous worship service in which the Presbytery of Baltimore will formally install our new pastor, Rob Hoch, and deliver official charges to him and to us, the congregation, to inaugurate his ministry with us. In the spirit of community within and beyond our church, we will share in the Lord's Supper. There will be a guest preacher, special music, and representatives from Presbytery, the denomination, and the Church of Scotland. A reception will follow. Please plan to join us for this exciting celebration of our church's life.