After the Word Is Heard

By Chuck Griffin

Parables, those little stories Jesus used to illustrate how God works in the world, are not always intended to provide immediate answers. They are more like mental Juicy Fruit, designed to keep us chewing on an idea until it makes sense.

Jesus does, however, explain his first parable in Matthew, the story of a sower who liberally scatters his seeds in different places: a path, rocky ground, thorns, and fertile soil. The seeds represent “word of the kingdom.” The landing places and the fate of their seeds stand for responses to Christ’s message.

When Jesus speaks of the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” in Scripture, he describes something that is here but that will later arrive in full, like a train that has just nosed into the station but is still moving.

The coming of the kingdom of heaven has an individual effect. We each accept Christ’s work and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us in unique ways. But the kingdom also is having a universal effect, changing creation as a whole and moving us toward a time when evil, sickness and death are no longer a part of the world.

That is really good news, the kind of news that should cause us to reconsider every aspect of our lives. When we first believe the news, we are reunited with God through Christ. As we understand the news on deeper and deeper levels, we further incorporate its meaning into our lives.

Not everyone reacts the same way to this news, however. That’s the point of the rest of the parable.

First, there are the “path” people. Jesus reminds us that the “evil one” will do all he can to pull back into his deadly grasp people who don’t initially understand the message. Those of us who want to help them are called to engage in very real spiritual warfare, relying on the Christ-sent Holy Spirit to overcome the work of Satan.

Second, there are the “rocky ground” people. You’ve seen them—they are energetic and enthused about their new faith, until they face trouble for the first time after their conversions. These people remind us why discipleship is so important to a new Christian’s life.

Third, there are the “thorn” people. They find the temporary baubles of the world attractive, so much so that their desire for these riches keeps them from appreciating the word of the kingdom. What they need is a big-picture understanding of their own lives and the lives of people around them.

The “good soil” people are of course what all believers want to be, Christians who let God work through them to bring along the full arrival of the kingdom.

One of the great gifts of the kingdom is that we can move from being one kind of soil to another. The God who made the earth remakes us, at least as much as we allow.

Lord, may your word take deep root in us and flourish to the benefit of others. Amen.

Check Your Oil

By Chuck Griffin

There are many ways to classify people who call themselves Christian. Looking at Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, “foolish” and “wise” seem like two possible categories.

You may remember the story, found in Matthew 25:1-13. Ten virgins await the arrival of the bridegroom. It is their job to escort him to the wedding banquet, dancing and lighting the way with their lamps.

Five are wise, bringing plenty of oil for their lamps. Five are foolish, bringing none at all. When the bridegroom finally arrives, the five fools try to bum a little oil off their wise companions, only to be rebuffed. The wise girls, clearly excellent mathematicians, have calculated that if they share the oil, no one will have enough to provide light all the way to the banquet hall.

By the time the fools get back from the oil merchant, the wedding party is inside, the doors are locked, and the bridegroom denies even knowing them. The fools have missed the party entirely.

Jesus told this parable in a particular context. It and the surrounding parables are designed to describe life in the time between Christ’s ascension into heaven and his return. In other words, the lesson focuses on the lives we lead today as we await the final arrival of the bridegroom, Jesus.

You may have noticed that I began by classifying people who call themselves Christian, rather than classifying people in general. The parable has nothing to do with non-believers; the virgins in this story know who the bridegroom is. They know that he is coming and desperately want to be with him. Some just do a better job than others of living like true followers.

We as Christians should hear this parable as a call to action. Check the oil level—Do we have enough oil?

Of course, in interpreting the parable, this is the point where many Christians become confused. What, exactly, does the oil represent? How do we get it and keep it in store so that we’re ready?

Acts of Christian discipleship give us access to this oil, which can be understood as God’s ever-flowing grace. We worship; we study God’s word; we take communion; we fellowship in loving accountability with one another; we care for those around us on the margins of society. In these moments, we are refreshed, ready to serve as vessels of grace and prepared for Christ’s return.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once spoke of what he called “almost Christians,” the people who sit in church and hear Christ proclaimed week to week, but who never engage with God or a world so desperately needing to know the love of Christ.

These almost Christians claim to believe that Christ is remaking all things and will return to rule over all in love. But they then just sit there, empty. Theirs is a foolish strategy.

How sad, to know the bridegroom but miss the party.

Dear Lord, meet us as a people continually seeking your loving grace, to our benefit and the benefit of those around us. Keep us close to you until the day of your return. Amen.

A Deep Longing

Romans 1:8-17 (NLT)

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.

One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

By Chuck Griffin

From personal experience, I would say that until you have really studied Paul’s letters, it’s easy to stereotype him as cold and disconnected, a logical and doctrinaire man. He did, after all, spend a lot of time defining the nature of sin and exhorting holiness.

There was a burning passion in the man, however, an inner fire driving his lifetime of ministry. We might say he had a mission. Not coincidentally, it is our same mission today. Oh, for us to exhibit the same fire, the same longing!

Paul initially said he longed to visit the Roman Christians. They constituted a church he had never seen gathered in one place. During his travels, he likely had crossed paths with some of its members, but he wanted the full experience of being with them.

He was specific regarding why he wanted to be among them. First, he said, he believed he could help them grow in their faith. They knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but Paul believed he could contribute in a particular way with his spiritual gifts, and that their giftedness would encourage and lift him up, too.

When Christians bring their unique gifts together as a church, they do accomplish much more than what was possible separately. Among the group, the Holy Spirit is more fully expressed as new people and new gifts enter the mix.

Newness and change can be frightening for a group, but as long as the newness is rooted in God’s will, there is nothing to fear. That’s why a healthy church’s members always look to new Christians in their midst and excitedly wonder, “What possibilities do you bring?”

Paul revealed what he thought his primary contribution might be once in Rome. He was eager, he said, to preach the Good News. We’ve previously identified “Good News” as meaning the story of Christ’s death on the cross, a work that makes salvation possible for even the worst of sinners.

Perhaps the church in Rome did not yet have anyone gifted in preaching the Good News. Perhaps they did have capable preachers, but Paul thought he could contribute to the effort in a new way. Regardless, Paul wanted to help the church live into its mandate to bring people to an understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I can call it a mandate because Jesus gave his followers clear, indisputable instruction regarding what they were (and are) to do. This instruction came from Jesus after his resurrection from the dead, and is recorded at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

It’s a mandate we still own as traditional, scriptural churches today. The question for us is whether we have Paul’s passion for the task. Are we passionately trying to bring people into that relationship with Christ?

The last thing we want to be is Laodicea. Remember Laodicea, one of the churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation? The risen Christ said this about Laodicea: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev. 3:15-16.)

To be a church passionate about mission, some of us have to preach the scriptural truth, from a pulpit and in other places in our community. The word does have to be spoken.

It is a given, however, that not all of us are gifted in ways where we can comfortably preach in the traditional sense. I’m sure all of us have seen the old study showing many people fear public speaking more than death. It does not relieve us of our responsibility to play a part in the mission, though—we are all called to play a role in declaring the Good News.

It is not as hard as it sounds. All of us are capable of establishing loving relationships. Showing love toward others is the first step toward helping people understand how much God loves them. People are so afraid of the word “evangelism.” If that word bothers you, just remember to love others.

As your loving relationships grow, opportunities will arise for you to explain the source of all that love. God is love; the cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love. At that moment, you’ll be evangelizing and you may not even realize at first what you’re doing.

Out of genuine love for the people we engage, I think we do have to get to the point. We do eventually have to offer them Christ.

Sometimes I hear people say, “Well, I try to be a good person and let my life be the witness.” Sorry, but that’s a bit of a cop-out.

Jesus didn’t say, “Show everyone you’re a good person.” Your behavior may draw people to you, but Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” He was pretty specific.

As individual Christians, we need to be sure we’re getting to Good News specifics with those who need a deeper relationship with Christ. As a church, we need to be sure all of our programs and ministries ultimately help people discover this critical point, too.

And remember, a little passion for who we are and what we do always helps. If you lack passion, it may be time to hear the Good News for yourself again. God loves you—God has given you eternal life!—and that truth should excite anyone.

Lord, if we are lukewarm, heat us up with your holy fire, and may people hear the Good News from us. Amen.

On a Sunday Morning Sidewalk

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

By Chuck Griffin

As we make our way through Holy Week, I’m struck by how often I’ve returned to a theme in my preaching during Lent. I have hoped that we are all reflecting on how well we fulfill the Great Commission, that basic duty all Christians have.

It’s always important that we find winsome ways to tell people about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Every new generation needs to hear this truth from a previous generation. The task seems especially relevant now, as we begin to consider how a post-pandemic Christian life should look.

Most of the folks who read these LifeTalk devotions on Methodist Life are traditional Methodists, and right now, these people are probably at least a little interested in a big change that is coming, the launch of a new Methodist denomination that will adhere to traditional Christian doctrines. The preservation of these basic Christian concepts is important.

I will make a prediction, however. If we don’t resume fulfilling the Great Commission in a powerful way, a new denomination will prove to be irrelevant! All it does is give us a solid foundation as we begin to fix our biggest problem, which is the unwillingness of most American Christians to find ways to share their faith with others. A huge shift in our attitudes still has to occur.

It is my sense that a lot of us simply don’t know where to start. Having existed with Christianity as our cultural baseline for so long, even elderly Christians have lived most of their lives without having to think much about what it means to share the gospel—to evangelize. Up into the late 20th century, you could build a church building, and people tended to come. Talking about Jesus Christ as Savior was the province of the preacher and a few talented Sunday school teachers.

I want to offer Christians a simple target audience for our message of love and hope. These people are unlikely to enter our buildings on their own. But they are lost, spiritually crushed and confused, and thanks to God’s unrelenting grace, they are beginning to sense they need a change.

We can find them in all sorts of places. It helps to have a guide to go by, however, a way to imagine them so they are easier to see when we are out in the world. I think I’ve found such a guide in an old song.

Back in the late 1960s, Kris Kristofferson wrote a song called “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” A lot of people have recorded it over the years, but Johnny Cash took it to No. 1 in 1970, winning the Country Music Association’s award for Song of the Year.

I’ll simply offer you a chance to listen to it:

It’s raw, of course, and in it I hear the cry of a person who feels the stirring of a vague memory of what is righteous, along with a poorly understood desire to return to it. In a sermon a few weeks ago, I compared the moment to the pigpen revelation the wayward boy has in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Hurting people today may be in superficially different situations than they were in 1970, but I’m guessing their unspoken desire for caring people to come out on the sidewalk and lead them home hasn’t changed.

Let’s learn to be those caring people again.

Lord, as we pray so often, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. We also could use a dose of courage, the kind that allows us to leave our comfortable circles and go to the places where we can offer hope to those in need. Amen.

Every Generation

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NRSV)

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

By Chuck Griffin

America and many parts of the rest of the world have embedded in their culture a love of youthfulness. In the media and elsewhere, we often glorify the young people of our world, even as we get older on average.

As Christians, we of course value young people deeply. Every new generation is in danger of missing out on the precious message of Jesus Christ as Savior, so we want to do all we can to reach the children and young adults around us. Sadly, American Christians as a group have not done a very good job of transmitting the message to younger people the past few decades.

As we realize our failure, some among us panic, and that can cause church leaders to fall into a kind of ageism. While wishing for more young people among us, they also begin to disdain all that white and silver hair that still arrives every Sunday.

It’s as if some church leaders are thinking, “These old people are the problem, and without them, everything would be okay.” This, of course, is silly—a lot of churches would end up with a mostly empty building.

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37.) And certainly, we shouldn’t chase away the workers we already have.

We do slow down some as “our outer nature is wasting away.” Older people, however, have an advantage, particularly if they have been in the faith a long time. Many have a deep sense of inner renewal—what we might call spiritual depth—and the life experiences they bring to a church’s outreach can be invaluable.

These people not only know how to plan and execute, they also often have more free time than your typical young adult! We also have to acknowledge that with medical advances and a better understanding of lifestyle choices, there are people in their seventies who can run circles around some people in their thirties when it comes to work.

Church leaders, don’t push these active older people away, even if they seem a little disengaged at times. Have you drawn them into the heart of your plans? Do you treat their worldview as something that remains relevant?

Once these experienced Christians are equipped with a proper understanding of the Great Commission (something lost on so many churchgoers for too long now), they can be a tremendous force for the kingdom.

Several years ago, I was doing ministry work in the Czech Republic. Senior Christians there were unusual because Soviet-enforced atheism had dominated their society and their minds for so long. The young Czechs proved to be more open to the gospel shortly after the Iron Curtain fell.

One Sunday, I worshiped with a small church made up mostly of families with young children. There was a white-haired exception among them, however. After the service, she asked me through an interpreter, “In your country, are there many older Christians, people like me?”

I suppressed a smile as I replied, “Oh, yes—most of the people in our churches are about your age.”

“Ah,” she said. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

It is wonderful. Let’s never stop valuing what we have, and let’s get all the folks we have with us recommitted to the mission.

Lord, you work in our lives from the womb to beyond the grave, and every person is precious in your sight while here in this world, young or old. Give us the vision and the energy we need to grow your kingdom now. Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

One in Twenty-Five

By Chuck Griffin

As we come out of this pandemic, the church where I serve as pastor, Holston View United Methodist in Weber City, Va., is in a time of discernment. As part of that, we are going to spend some time discussing and then, I hope, practicing evangelism.    

That’s caused me to think about basic evangelism principles I have learned through the years. If you’ve been a Christian for any significant time, I’m confident someone has shared with you the general mandate for all Christians: We are to bring others to a belief in Christ.

This act is rooted most strongly in Jesus’ words recorded at the end of the gospel of Matthew.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” Jesus said.

Knowing we’re supposed to evangelize and actually evangelizing are two different things, however. The idea is intriguing, but its execution can be intimidating, particularly if we begin to imagine the hostile responses we might receive.

I struggled with this until I was in seminary, when I was blessed with a very effective professor of evangelism, Dr. Robert G. Tuttle Jr. A couple of his key ideas really helped me.

The first principle helps us to remember that evangelizing is not manipulative. It is compassionate.

“I do not love in order to evangelize. I evangelize because I love,” Tuttle would say.

If we’re struggling with evangelism, we may also be struggling with our relationship with God. Growing in love for God and our neighbors by praying, worshiping, reading the Bible and being in fellowship with those in our community is essential to effective evangelism.

The second principle helps us to deal with what is basically a fear of failure. It gets us to stop expecting every encounter with a non-Christian to result in that person falling to his or her knees, calling on Christ for salvation.

Tuttle called this principle “1 in 25,” which comes from a jailhouse ministry experience he had as a young pastor. After he had witnessed to inmates one day, one of them declared his desire to follow Christ.

Tuttle said he went back the next day, obviously quite proud of himself. The inmate told him this: “Tuttle, I lay awake all last night, thinking. Suddenly it occurred to me that it takes an average of 25 different witnesses before any real encounter with God takes place. Just because you were number 25, you think you did it all, and you stink.”

When you tell someone about Christ, you may be witness number 3, or number 7, or number 22. What’s important is that you move that person forward in his or her understanding of Jesus Christ.

These two principles don’t deal with every aspect of evangelism, of course. There are entire books written on how to find common ground with people so we can talk about Christ in a natural way. Most of these books focus on the need to listen before we speak.

I pray, however, that Tuttle’s two principles will help relieve some of the fears you may experience as you share the good news about the love of Jesus Christ.

Lord, As we go about fulfilling the most basic duty you have given us, give us a sense of peace, knowing you arrived on the scene ahead of us, preparing the way. Amen.

Church Math

Malachi 3:8-12

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

By Chuck Griffin

I should begin with a big word of thanks to all of you who have supported a church financially in any way. Those of us who lead churches don’t say thanks enough to those of you who support Christ’s mission with your dollars.

So, thanks be to God for you; thanks, whether you gave a dollar or a thousand dollars or twenty thousand dollars. When you give, you are part of the solution the church offers to the world.

I wanted to start out with words of thanks because today’s verses, read without much context, sound like a mixture of threats and promises tied to whether you tithe and give other offerings. Don’t tithe, and you are robbing God and faced with a curse. Do tithe, and you will receive an overflowing blessing. And I know that preachers often imitate this text, making threats and promises where church giving is concerned.

I will note that Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament in our Christian Bible, so we should expect more legalistic formulas for relating to God. Jesus Christ, the ultimate expression of God’s forgiving grace, is not yet visibly in the picture.

I don’t, however, want to simply write off Malachi’s words about tithes and offerings as somehow irrelevant. In fact, this minor prophet makes a major connection between what he says about tithes and offerings and the reasons for Christ’s entry into the world.

Malachi’s straightforward question, “Will anyone rob God?” comes in the midst of other, more mysterious and far-reaching words. Just before he speaks of tithes and offerings, the prophet has been speaking of a coming messenger, to be followed by the arrival of the Lord. These words long have been associated with the ministry of John the Baptist—the Messiah’s herald—and the coming of Jesus Christ.

After Malachi speaks of tithes and offerings, he raises a new subject, how God will respond to the faithful. That leads ultimately to prophecies about “the great and terrible day of the Lord,” a time when the wicked and righteous are finally sorted, with the righteous entering a glorious new life. These images remind me of Jesus’ more detailed words in Matthew 25:31-46, where he makes clear that he will be the one to do the sorting.

All of that Messiah and End Days imagery, with talk of tithes and offerings sandwiched in between, causes me to reconsider my understanding of tithing. In fact, that big-picture perspective is what should convince us to tithe.

Certainly, tithing was part of the Mosaic law, the code the Jews tried to live by to remain in relationship with God. It’s important to note, however, that tithing predated the law.

Tithing also didn’t just go away after God’s grace more clearly entered the picture through Christ. Consider this: How did the early church, made up largely of Jews used to tithing, respond to the resurrected Jesus? Rather than shrinking their giving, they gave everything they had. (See Acts 2:43-47.)

If we could interview them, I think we would be hard pressed to find an early Christian who would describe tithing as anything more than a starting point in support of God’s redemptive work.

Scripturally, tithing for thousands of years has served as the baseline for how we participate in God’s effort to move us toward a time when evil is vanquished for good. In the world we live in now, a world where money is the primary driver behind how everything works, we still have to talk frankly about how money gets into church coffers. It gets there because people like you make commitments that the money will be there, and I think the tithe remains the appropriate beginning point for Christian giving.

Here’s a little church math to consider. As best I can tell, United Methodist households in churches I have served give about 4 percent of their income toward the work of their churches. That’s an average covering every active household, whether a household gave nothing or thousands of dollars.

If we could raise that average by one percentage point, incredible things would happen. A percentage point doesn’t sound like much, but if churches would move from an average of 4 percent per household to an average of 5 percent, our funds for ministry would jump by 25 percent.

I dive into this church math for one reason. I want you to see there is increasing power as we move toward tithing in a community, the kind of power that helps change the world.

With more finances available, we could tell more people about Jesus. We could feed more people and clothe more people in Jesus’ name.  We could do more for our children and youth and our homebound elderly. We could start ministries we have yet to imagine.

Maybe we would minister with more programs and facilities to serve the people we’re trying to reach. Maybe we would reach out to the community with more paid ministry staff to lead the way. However our churches might minister, lives would be changed, even more so than they are being changed now.

Here’s what I want you to walk away with today: You are not required under some sort of law to tithe, or to give at any level. As grateful recipients of God’s eternal grace, however, you are invited to participate in God’s restorative work, using the financial resources God has given you.

Lord, speak to our hearts directly about how we use our resources to benefit your kingdom. Amen.

Your God My God

Book of Ruth

By Chuck Griffin

There is no doubt that in churches all across America, we’re experiencing divisions that break along generational lines.

I don’t find satisfying the current approaches many churches are using. In some cases, they establish two cultures under one roof, leading to competition for prime worship times and resources. Other churches simply cater to a particular generation. They sometimes look successful doing so, but I wonder how they will fare as time passes. What do you do when you are 50 years old in a church aiming for an average age of 35? How does a church clinging to the old ways ultimately survive?

I do think I’ve glimpsed the beginning of an answer in the Book of Ruth, an Old Testament text taking us back to the early days of the Israelites, a time when the people were ruled by God-inspired judges rather than kings.

I’ll try to summarize a complicated story quickly; I hope you’ll take time to read it in full. To understand the Book of Ruth, it helps to grasp Old Testament concepts like the role of a kinsman redeemer, and how property rights were developed to protect family interests.

The story is primarily about a Jewish widow, Naomi, and her non-Jewish daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth and another non-Jewish daughter-in-law, Orpah, are widowed when Naomi’s sons die. Naomi had moved with her husband to Moab during a famine, but once all the men in her family are gone, she decides it is best to return home to Bethlehem. She tells her widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their Moabite families and find new husbands.

It is good advice; Naomi has nothing to offer the young women, and all three are in danger of dying in poverty or even by violence without male protectors. Orpah takes Naomi’s advice and departs. Ruth loves Naomi dearly, however, and cannot leave her.

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth says. She even makes a poignant promise to die where Naomi dies, a statement rooted in the poor odds they face together. A sad, bitter Naomi accepts Ruth’s company from then on.

Once in Israelite territory, however, the situation improves dramatically for the two. Rather than rejecting Ruth as a foreigner, the people of Bethlehem are deeply impressed by this young Moabite woman’s devotion. A relative of Naomi’s husband also takes notice of Ruth. He first ensures Ruth and Naomi have plenty to eat, and ultimately he arranges through some complicated legal wrangling at the city gate for Ruth to be his bride. In the process, Naomi’s family name and property are preserved.

The story ends like a fairy tale; all involved find their happiness restored. Generations later, this non-Jewish woman who faithfully followed her mother-in-law despite their desperate circumstances is remembered by the Jews as the great-grandmother of King David. And according to Matthew 1, she also is in the lineage of Jesus Christ, making her a symbol of how God has used broken circumstances to redeem the world.

It all worked because two women from two generations loved each other to the point that each was willing to sacrifice for the good of the other. Ruth gave up all she had known to follow Naomi, with little hope in sight. Naomi risked being rejected by the people in her home village, her last safe retreat, when she brought home a Moabite woman.

Sacrificial, intergenerational love is an important concept if we are to strengthen our churches. When we as Christians focus on our own desires, we are being ruthless. When we are Ruth-like, and Naomi-like, each generation looks to the other’s interests, clinging to each other, refusing to depart each other, going so far as to say I will die where you die before I will allow us to be separated.

Who wins? In the Book of Ruth, everyone does, even as they fall over themselves to take care of one another.

This story of intergenerational sacrifice is part of the loving crucible in which Jesus Christ was formed. In our churches, similar sacrifice could spark a resurgence in the Holy Spirit’s willingness to work among us.

Lord, we are faithful to you first. May our love and obedience toward you be our common intergenerational bond, and may we walk together in your light from cradle to grave, accommodating each other’s holy needs along the way. Amen.