Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Hebrews 10:19-31

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23


10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.28Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy "on the testimony of two or three witnesses." 29How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know the one who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Hebrews promises new vitality for the church; the writer challenges us to refocus our attention and energy. We're asked to take our eyes off the "Bs": buildings, budgets, and bodies; instead, we are called to train them on Christ. It's not about programs, committees, and budgets; it's not about more, bigger, and better.


The Random House Webster's Dictionary defines privilege as "the principle of enjoying special rights or immunities," later adding, "under certain conditions." It makes sense to prove we are worthy to enjoy the privileges. Through Christ's sacrifice, however, Christians are entitled to privileges we do not deserve. We don't have to earn them, and in fact we cannot earn them. There's a big difference between what the world expects of us and what Christ offers to us.

The writer of Hebrews helps us see the promise of new life by telling us about the "benefits package" that comes with following Christ. The benefits package is comprised of privileges that are given to us because Christ is our savior. What are those privileges?

First, we get direct, unlimited access to God. Prior to Christ, only the high priests would have gone into the Most Holy Place, and even they were only permitted to do that once a year, during the Feast of Atonement Because of Christ's sacrifice, we stand face to face with God confidently—that is to say, without worry about how we will be received.

Second, we are made clean before God. While the priests and people might have been ritually clean according to the laws, performing those acts did not rid them of their sin. In Christ, "our hearts [are] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies [are] washed with pure water" (v. 22). Only Christ's sacrifice could do that.

The third benefit is that we are people of hope, allowing us to look trustingly to a future that is in God's hands. These words are not "idle tales." The writer assures us that "he who has promised is faithful" (v. 23).


Though we don't earn the benefits of salvation, we are expected to respond to them appropriately. The writer of Hebrews does not hesitate to point out that we are called to do certain things in response to what Christ has already done for us. The writer presents an "If this, then that" argument, balancing Christ's sacrifice with the call to live a holy life.

For the writer of Hebrews, three things contribute to holy living—three things that are flagged with the words "Let us":

Let us draw near to God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a duty to worship God together—it's our job, our vocation. "Do not neglect to worship together as some are in the habit of doing," says the writer of Hebrews. Corporate worship is as important as private devotion.

When we gather, each of us brings something that adds to the faith of our fellow worshipers.

Let us hold fast to the hope we profess. The writer challenges us to hold onto hope even when the very foundations of our lives are shaking. We need to believe we're secure. Instead of looking to our faith, we often seek security in wise financial planning, in education, or in leaders. However, the writer of Hebrews says that by having faith in Christ, we are secure. Stocks fall, culture shifts, but Christ remains.

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. Provoke is a strong word—with all the connotations of a frustrated mother who all but growls, "Stop provoking your brother!" Yet, we're told to provoke one another toward the faith-filled life. We're told to lovingly "meddle" in other people's affairs to encourage them to do good things. The writer's exhortation calls us to urge people to faithfulness with encouragement. It may be easier to laugh at or belittle someone than it is to offer encouragement. However, as Christians imitating Christ's sacrifice, we're called to build up the community.

Throughout Hebrews, the writer has worked to make sure we understand that Christ made a once-and-for-all sacrifice on our behalf. Consequently, we are not being asked to offer sacrifices. We are being challenged to do the very thing that is asked at baptisms: to turn away from sin and turn toward Christ. Our security comes from the belief that when we turn toward Christ, it is not a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


How can you help encourage other Christians to live in loving and faithful ways? In what specific ways has another person encouraged you?

When you worship, are you conscious of entering into God's presence? How do you feel about worship's being described as your vocation or your calling?

What benefits do you receive from your community of believers? What gifts do you bring to them?


Holy God, by your sacrifice we are made one with you and made clean to stand before you. Help us persevere in the faith. Help us live in faithful response to your gracious acts. Teach us to be mindful of the cost of our salvation, never regarding it lightly and always living in gratitude. Amen.


Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Ruth 4:1-10


"The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquir­ing Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance." Ruth 4:5




4:1 No sooner had Boaz gone up to the gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz said, "Come over, friend; sit down here." And he went over and sat down. 2Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, "Sit down here"; so they sat down. 3He then said to the next-of-kin, "Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. 4So I thought I would tell you of it, and say: Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you." So he said, "I will redeem it." 5Then Boaz said, "The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance." 6At this, the next-of-kin said, "I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it."

7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a trans­action, one party took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, "Acquire it for yourself," he took off his sandal. 9Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people,

"Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses."


Red tape can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with, especially for idealists or dreamers. In our churches, it can be frustrating at times to have to go through the proper channels when we want to see something happen. When a committee wants to raise money for a pressing need, to get the approval of the congregation's governing body seems like an unnecessary hoop that will kill momentum. When there is a new idea for ministry, we want to grab hold of that excitement and run with it. Rules, policies, and procedures all presumably exist for good reasons, though sometimes those reasons seem outdated or simply not applicable to the task.


Boaz's attention to the red tape, to do things by the book, is rather jarring in this narrative. In this short book, there has been so much action and forward movement; this feels like a screeching halt. Naomi and Ruth have been risk takers from the start. They haven't let things like social convention stop them from moving forward. If they had, they would have gotten absolutely nowhere! When Boaz suddenly pays painstaking attention to every legal detail, it feels like he's dragging his feet. However, by respecting the rules and procedures of the community, Boaz helps to pave the way for reconciliation in the community. After all of this, the community is able to embrace Ruth as one of their own, and the women gather around Naomi in support.


In Chapter 4 we learn for the first time that Elimelech (Naomi's late husband) still had some land. To keep land within fami­lies, such land had to be offered for sale to the next of kin, who had right of first refusal. Women could not sell their late husbands' property on their own, so Boaz had to act on Naomi's behalf to broker the deal. Ruth and Naomi assumed that Boaz was the closest relative, eligible to purchase the land, or "redeem" it. Boaz knows of another relative who is closer yet, who must have the first right of refusal. Everything is done by the book. Boaz meets this relative at the city gate, which is where legal matters were decided in ancient Israel. He has gathered the elders together to serve as witnesses to the legal proceedings.


Boaz tells the relative that Naomi wishes to sell the land, and he may redeem it if he chooses. The kinsman says, "I will redeem it." Then Boaz tells the kinsman that the day he redeems the land, he will also acquire Ruth to maintain the dead man's name on the inheritance. Israelite law provided that if a widow was to remarry and have children with her new husband, the children would maintain her late husband's name and property. However, we do not know of an Israelite law that required a kinsman redeemer to marry Ruth in this situation. An alternate translation of the Hebrew could be that the day the relative acquires the land, Boaz intends to marry Ruth, and therefore produce heirs that would have legitimate claim to the land now in question. At any rate, the kinsman who is first in line determines that if there is a chance of another heir in the picture, he didn't want to risk his own inheritance, so he decides not to purchase the property.


Through the proper legal channels, the closest relative relinquishes his claim on the property. Boaz declares his intention to redeem the property and to take Ruth as his wife. He further promises to maintain the dead man's name on the inheritance, to honor all legal and social customs of the day. Therefore, when Ruth conceives and bears a son, Obed, the women of the neighborhood say, "A son has been born to Naomi," even though the child is biologically unrelated to Naomi. Until Ch. 4 the lines of what is proper and acceptable have been blurred, and in some cases completely bypassed. Now, everything is done according to the letter of the law. Ruth, the Moabite, is fully included into the family and community, and after all of these careful legal proceedings, the son that is born to Ruth and Boaz becomes the grandfather of David, Israel's first great king.


All churches experience disagreement over hot-button issues. Some churches divide over them. In times of question, discernment is needed, and in times of disagreement, reconciliation is in order. How else can we move together as a body of Christ, unless the body parts are all working in proper order?


The Hebrew word for redeem in v. 4 can also mean "to cover." In 3:4, Ruth goes to the threshing room floor to ask Boaz for help. The text says that Ruth went to "uncover his feet." She went to Boaz when he was most vulnerable, sleeping alone. If there was ever a time when he would hear her request for help, this was it. Ruth and Naomi's plan was a reflection of their position, one in which they were left uncovered, unprotected, and vulnerable to the nearness of poverty. Once Boaz wholeheartedly agrees to look after Ruth, he is ready to formally redeem, or cover, her.

For Ruth and Naomi, it meant even more than that; it meant that they were given rights. For Ruth and Naomi, being covered meant salvation.


When Boaz steps in as Ruth's kinsman redeemer, he does not have to give up anything. He willingly takes on a new responsibility. The story of Boaz is reminiscent of the kinsman redeemer for all of humanity, Jesus Christ. However, when Jesus Christ acts as kinsman redeemer, he gives everything. Jesus went about his business openly, as Boaz did to redeem Ruth. Jewish authorities questioned Jesus throughout his ministry. When the authorities came to take Jesus away, he went willingly. Jesus carried himself with dignity and lived a life that angered the authorities because he stood up for the people who were uncovered, those who were most vulnerable. In our society, money has become the difference between covered and uncovered. With Christ as our kinsman redeemer, we should go out in confidence to speak for the uncovered as Boaz does.




Are there ways that you have seen or experienced reconciliation in the church because of work within the structure of governance?


What are some of the benefits of following community rules and practices?


Are there ever times when those rules or practices should be suspended or ignored?

If so, under what kinds of circumstances?


Are there ways to legislate inclusion in a community?


Gathering God, we recognize that you call us into com­munity, and only through you can we be the community that you call us to be. Help us learn the practices of our community so that we can be the body that you would have us to be. In Jesus' name. Amen

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.