Sunday 4 November - Pentecost 24/All Saint's - Eucharist - Markus Duenzkofer

I am messy!

Somebody should have warned Rosie before she started.

Yes, it is true: My desk is messy. And I drive anybody with straight forward organisational attitudes crazy. Just ask vestry. I have great visions for the church and for St John’s, but the small picture trips me up at times. I am more interested in the interpersonal connection and in relationships, in the process, rather than in getting things right.

And, yes, this is messy. Because relationships are messy. It is the nature of human being: we step on each others’ toes. And I am one of the greatest, one of the messiest on-toes-steppers before God. Many of you have experienced it…

I sometimes obsess about this messiness that would make me a horrible civil servant and an incompetent accountant. I suspect that feeling like a failure, because I don’t meet some people’s expectations, is part of my messiness too…

But then, I do remember that God created me to be a priest. And God called me to be your rector.

And, the funny things is this: it turns out that my messiness is actually a gift for ministry.

It is a gift, because I am not afraid to step into the messiness of others, into the diversity of life.

It is a gift, because messiness allows me to discover Christ in a 75-year-old African-American, or in somebody during a mental breakdown, or in the faces of those commemorated on war memorials, or in the honest lament of a mourner in East Lothian.

And this is more than just a reference to last Thursday’s licensing service. Because messiness is also a gift as it in the end points to the messiness so integral to God’s self-revelation. Remember: The annunciation unto Mary was messy. The birth of God in a stable was messy. The death of God on the cross was messy. And God’s victory over death, sin and the devil was messy too.

It is all very messy.

And it has to be, because God wants to be intimately close to you and to me, to my messiness as much as to yours. And it has to be, because in God’s eyes, our finely constructed and well-ordered systems are but petty attempts to make sense of life. They don’t hold up to the test. They need to be shaken up so that we can learn in ever-new, ever-surprising, ever more life-giving ways to trust God, and God alone.

And if you find all this irksome, annoying, frustrating, and disagreeable, well then: meet the Book of Ruth, an incredibly messy part of God’s self-revelation!

Much has been speculated about this wee book. What, for starters, is exactly going on between Ruth and Naomi? If it is just about the interaction of a widowed woman with her widowed mother-in-law then why is Ruth’s commitment to Naomi towards the end of today’s reading used in the liturgy for blessing of same-sex couples in the Diocese of New Westminster and also in our own wedding liturgies? Maybe you, like many others, think this is a bit farfetched. But in a male-dominated world with all its rules, regulations, and restrictions, what is hinted at here might really go beyond the limits of our heterosexist assumptions. It is indeed a bit messy…

Even if this is just the story of two widows trying to support each other, this in itself deconstructs the existing order. Women are not supposed to feature so prominently in a story. The Book of Ruth furthermore is so full of female pronouns and female forms of Hebrew verbs, that students of Hebrew use Ruth to practice these otherwise unused endings. And notice, Oprah and Ruth are to return to their mother’s not their father’s house…

And if that isn’t messy enough, then let me remind you that Ruth is a Moabite, the very nation that in Deuteronomy is condemned. Earlier in the Bible, the Hebrews are forbidden to marry non-Hebrews for fear they might not be strong enough to stick to worshipping the one true God: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And here in the Book of Ruth the very same God choses a Moabite women to eventually become the ancestor of King David. God turns it around to be the God of Miriam, of Rebecca, and now also of Ruth.

Scripture contracting itself.

Huh!

Or is it?

I believe there is consistency, but it is the messiness by which God seeks to turn us around, when things have gone array, when we are stuck in the wilderness, when complacency has made us idle in our faith and witness, when the House of Bread (which is what Bethlehem means) has turned to a House of scarcity and emptiness.

God’s salvation rather often comes from the outside, form the most unlikely and the most surprising people, from foreigners as much as from people who do not fit our assumed orders.

And, no, this is no Brexit comment.

But it is an invitation to keep open hearts, open eyes, open ears, and open doors. We need to be ready to be surprised, upset, and messed up by God.

I believe we live in a time for the church that is not unlike Naomi’s at the beginning of the Book of Ruth. The spiritual and ecclesiastical Bethlehem has become empty of promises. The church is in decline.

We could pull up the draw bridge. And some do. But the messier, and the scarier thing is to step beyond, even into the territory of scandalous lands. But there we will discover the Ruths for our times, the Ruths for our life in community, the Ruths that want to stay with us, want to embrace our God, so that their gifts, their unheard insights become part of our identity, part of our journey into God. And this is a blessing, is salvation both for Ruth and Naomi, for the outside prophet as much as for the community of faith already extant.

And whatever kind of relationship Ruth and Nami might have had, we can be sure it was close. It was at least close enough, even intimate enough to make Ruth not return to her land. And it was intimate enough for Naomi to open her heart to make her journey Ruth’s journey too.

This is a metaphor for life in community, in all its messiness. It is not about getting it right – that would have meant staying far away from Moab. But it is about crossing bridges to the other. And it is about staying close to one another in love, bearing each other’s joys and each other’s burdens – here at St John’s and everywhere in God’s church.

And Ruth’s and Naomi’s relationship named in the Book of Ruth also invites us to seek closeness in our relationships with one another and in our relationships with God. Religion isn’t just a cerebral enterprise. It is that, thank God. But our interaction with the God of Naomi and Ruth, is also a love-affair that is intimate and close, affecting all that we are, and embracing us in the beauty, the deep, deep beauty of the messiness of our lives.