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Ruth – October 18, 2015 (NL Week 6)

Sunday’s Reading:
Ruth 1:1-17

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

 Today, we have the opportunity to reflect on a book that has not often made its way into the worship life of this congregation. The book of Ruth is one of only two books in the Bible that bears the name of a woman – the other, of course, being the much later book of Esther – and readings from Ruth show up precisely twice in the three year cycle of readings used by most Lutheran churches in the US. So we’re not used to hearing from this book, and when we do, it is often framed simply as a story of tender love and devotion between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. That’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not the whole story, either. To understand what makes the Book of Ruth really tick, we’ve got to take another trip back into the Scriptures – this time, back to the book of Genesis.

We’ve already met Abraham and his wife Sarah, but in our journey this year we skipped over all of the stories about Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Lot was a wealthy man, like his uncle, and when Abraham set out from Haran in response to God’s call, Lot was part of his traveling party. In time, Lot realized that it was important for their two households to go separate ways so that they could survive on the meager fare available on the road, and so Lot and his family went out and settled in the infamous city of Sodom. When the wickedness of that city reached the heavens, God determined that Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah, should be destroyed. Lot was given a warning and allowed to leave the city, but in the process of leaving he lost most of his property, as well as his wife, who looked back at the city they were fleeing and was frozen to the spot forever. Despairing of all that they had lost and believing that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a sign of things to come, Lot’s daughters feared that they might never have the opportunity to find husbands to marry, to bear children, or to pass on their family’s legacy, so they seduced their father and conceived a new generation. According to Scripture, the descendants of that family eventually settled south and east of the lands promised to Abraham in a land known as Moab, and, in time, the Moabites came to be counted among Israel’s bitterest enemies for much of their history.

As Ruth opens, we are presented with a tragic situation of famine and want involving a couple from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Elimelech and his wife Naomi, along with their two sons, were forced to move from their home in order to find food. From the perspective of the ancient people who first heard this story, the tragedy was seemingly compounded when the sons of this good Israelite family fell in love with women from Moab – Orpah and Ruth – and married them in direct violation of custom (if not an outright violation of the Law that Moses had handed down to them). Within several years, tragedy struck again, and Naomi’s husband and sons died suddenly and unexpectedly. As a result, Naomi was left with no means of support, and she pleaded with her daughters-in-law to return to Moab and try to make the best of their lives as widows. Ruth, of course, refused to leave her mother-in-law, pleading for the opportunity to remain with her in this now famous passage: Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there I will be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you! (Ruth 1:16-17, NRSV)

We’ll never know why Ruth didn’t follow Orpah in returning to Moab when she had the chance. Perhaps she did feel a special attachment to her mother-in-law, and wanted to make sure that she was provided for. Perhaps the prospect of life among the people of Israel was something she didn’t feel that she could pass up. Perhaps there was something about the God of Israel that was compelling, something that drew her to journey to Judah even when she had no obligation to go. Whatever the reason, Ruth’s decision to cling to Naomi, to risk the problems that came along with being a stranger in a strange land, would in time become one of the most consequential decisions in the history of God’s people.

The book of Ruth goes on to describe how this woman of Moab met one of her late husband’s relatives and pleaded with him to provide support for her and her mother-in-law in their time of need. In language that more often sounds  like a soap opera than what we usually expect from Scripture, Ruth and Boaz draw closer to one another and are eventually married, giving Ruth and Naomi the stability she was looking for, and making her one of the most famous converts to faith in the God of Israel in the entire Old Testament. Their family line eventually included the greatest king in the history of Israel and Judah – David – and, in time, the one whose promised coming would change the world forever – Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of God.

The truth is, brothers and sisters, that this little story tucked into the Hebrew Scriptures is much more significant than our infrequent encounters with it might lead us to believe, and its significance goes beyond the mere fact that Ruth’s offspring would eventually be important figures in the faith. The book of Ruth cuts against our attempts to domesticate God or to see people as being outside the sphere of God’s influence by virtue of their birth or ethnicity (or even their religious background). As a woman of Moab, Ruth would most certainly have been looked down upon by her contemporaries as a possible corrupting influence on the people of Israel. The great law-giver, Moses, had warned the people about the consequences of intermarriage, about the dangers of welcoming foreigners into the fold. Though Israel was called to uphold and support strangers, and to ensure that their needs were met while they lived in their midst, there was among them – as there is among us today – a suspicion of those who are different. That human tendency is always lurking below the surface, often preventing us from seeing others as people made in the image of God and worthy of the dignity and respect they are due. Whether we’re talking about Moabites in the first millennium BCE or Central American or Middle Eastern refugees in the twenty-first century CE, we humans are maddeningly prone to demonizing or denigrating the other out of fear or prejudice. But God calls us to something better, to a recognition of our common humanity, and to an acknowledgement that God’s will for the world unfolds in ways that defy our capacity to predict or control. The story of Ruth is the story of loyalty across boundaries, of faithfulness that makes a difference in the lives of others, of a mysterious God who constantly and consistently refuses to be bound by our expectations.

This week, brothers and sisters, let us give thanks for Ruth’s courage, for Boaz’s compassion, for God’s boundary-breaking love, and for the unfolding of God’s plan in ways that continue to surprise and delight us. Let us pray that we might open our eyes to the image of God in the face of our brothers and sisters around the world. Finally, let us pray that we might find inspiration in the story of Ruth as we claim anew our identity as God’s people in the world, called and claimed in baptism to serve God and our neighbors and to give God glory in all that we do and say. Thanks be to God! Amen.

A Statement on Charleston and Racism in America – Sunday, June 21, 2015

Note: I prepared a statement in advance of this Sunday’s service to comment on the events of this past week in Charleston and the enduring legacy of racism in our country. On Sunday, I decided to discard that statement and speak more freely. What follows is a transcript of was actually delivered to our community during worship; it isn’t perfect, but it is heartfelt, and I pray that it will be just the beginning of a conversation in our community. 

+ Pastor Andrew

This isn’t something I do very often, but sometimes things happen in our world that require comment. So I just want to spend a couple of minutes talking about what happened in Charleston this past week. If you haven’t been watching the news, on Wednesday evening, nine people were murdered at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A young man went into a Bible study, was welcomed with open arms, and sat with them for an hour while they studied Scripture and enjoyed fellowship with one another, and at the end of it he stood up and murdered nine of the people there in cold blood. The only motivation he gave for doing so was the twisted logic of racism and white supremacy.

I think sometimes we like to imagine that racism is a relic of our past – that it’s something we don’t have to deal with in the present any more – and then something like this happens that shocks us into the recognition that racism is still very much an open question and an open conversation. The harder part of that conversation is that racism is not just about the overt acts of violence and oppression like what happened in Charleston on Wednesday. It’s about the insidious way in which racism and prejudice work their way into all of our lives and keep us from having authentic relationships with people who are different from us.

On Thursday evening, our presiding bishop put out a statement in which she revealed that the shooter at Charleston is a member of an ELCA congregation. We also found out that two of the victims of that shooting were graduates of our Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, one of our eight seminaries. So this is not a tragedy that is distant from us; it is a tragedy in which we share pain, because we recognize that the person who carried out this heinous act was one of us, and that two of the people he killed – all of them, of course – are our brothers and sisters, united with us in Christ.

There is still a divide in our nation… and we have work to do. I know that Falls City is a very generous, loving, and generally tolerant community… Well, I’m seeing some people shaking their heads, maybe it’s not the community that we wish it was. But each of us, if we’re really honest with ourselves, can point to prejudices and feelings we have about folks who are different from us that we need to own, to work on and  work through in conversation with others.

So, that’s what I want to propose to you. I think that in some intentional way, as a community of faith, we have to grapple with the reality of racism in our country. We’re coming up on the Fourth of July, and we always laud the Declaration of Independence and those wonderful words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Those are laudable things for us to celebrate, and yet far too often we know that we don’t live up to our nation’s highest ideals. So we need to talk. It may be in a Sunday morning forum that I’d love to invite more of you to be a part of, but… For too long, our churches have remained silent in the face of racism and prejudice and hatred, and it’s time for us to say “no more.” It’s time for us to be part of healing our nation and healing this world of the hatred and prejudice that has been a part of it [America] since its founding. So, I invite you to be in prayer for the people of Mother Emanuel AME Church, for our ELCA as we grapple with what it means to be so intimately connected to this tragedy, and for us and for our community as we do the hard work of thinking about these difficult issues that touch at the very core of who we are and who we want to be as God’s people in Christ.

Let us pray.

Lord, you have created all of us in your image, and you teach us to love one another as we love ourselves. And yet, all too often, our nation is marred by the reality of hatred and prejudice, by the demon of racism that continues to haunt us. We pray that you will give us  reflective hearts and minds, that you will give us the willingness to engage these issues openly, so that we can contribute to the healing of our nation, to the healing of our church, to the healing of this great sickness that is part of our national heritage, so that it does not remain a part of our nation’s future as well. We ask your forgiveness for all the times that we have contributed to the sin of racism, and we ask for your forgiveness and grace on us and our nation in the days and weeks and months to come. In your holy name we pray. Amen.


On Sunday, May 31, the people of St. Paul’s rejoiced as Ellicyn Gilkerson and Jacob Joy publicly affirmed their baptism into Christ. We give thanks to God for them, and look forward to their continued growth in faith. Congratulations, Jake and Ellie!

Confirmation 2015From left: Ellicyn Gilkerson, Jacob Joy, and Pastor Andrew Chavanak


Announcements – Week of March 15, 2015

Bible Study Date Change // The 3pm Tues. Bible Study has moved to 3pm on Mondays.

Mid-Week Lenten Worship // Wed. Mar. 18- 6:30pm // Info on the back of the announcements!

Sermons a la Carte //  March 20 @ 12noon // First United Methodist Church.

Easter Lily Forms // Deadline -March 30 to have info listed in the Easter Bulletin. // Forms available in your March Newsletter and at the INFO Tables. // Please have your name on the plant and to the church by Apr. 4. Thank you!

Open Dates ~ 2015 Flower Chart // Located in the Narthex. // Please prayerfully consider    providing flowers. // The cost is $30/week. Thank you.

Itha Krumme Memorial Bake Sale // Sat. Mar. 28, 9– Sellout // ShopKo Hometown // Baked goods and donations are appreciated! // Please bring items to ShopKo at 9am. Thank you

Volunteers For Community Choir Needed! // Volunteers are needed for the choir for the Easter Sunrise Service at the First Presbyterian Church on Apr. 5 @ 6:30am.// Practice at First Presbyterian on March 20 & 27 @ 6:30pm. Enter the east ramp door. // More info– Contact Doug Kirkendall.

Thrivent Choice Dollars® // Mar. 31– Deadline to designate // Support St. Paul’s. // Instructions are available in the INFO Table or go to or call 800-THRIVENT and state “Thrivent Choice.” // Our church # is 8690. Questions- Contact Pam Scott or Joyce Jenkins.

Containers & Bowls! // Thank you for providing food for recent events at St. Paul’s. // Please stop by the basement kitchen to pick up any bowls or container that may belong to you!

Knights of Columbus & Sacred Heart School- 65th Annual Fish Fry // Fri., Mar. 20, 5-8pm  @ Prichard Auditorium // Tickets- $10/adults, $6/children 12 & under, 50¢ extra for carry out     dinners. // The menu includes fish, au gratin potatoes, coleslaw, bread & butter, ice cream, & drink.

The Church Basement Ladies Return In “The Last (Potluck) Supper” on Thursday, April 16 @ 2pm & 7:30pm at the Leid Center in Lincoln, NE. Tickets are $30ea and a discount for a group of 15 or more. To reserve you tickets contact Matthew Boring at 402-472-8510. More info is available on the INFO Board in the Upper Room.

Warm Coats Warm Hearts– Coat Donations for Children in Foster Care // Kassydi Miller, a senior at Doniphan West High School, is asking for your help with her class project. In an effort to help foster children, she is taking donations of gently used or new coats. All donations will be given to Hiawatha KVC which provides services to foster children and families. Donations can be dropped off Mon-Fri., 9am –5pm at the Hiawatha KVC Office, 712 Oregon St., Hiawatha, KS 66434. Deadline for donation is Mar. 20. Questions? Contact Kassydi Miller @ 757-550-5526 ~ Thank you for your support!

Mid-Week Lenten Worship: Confessing Our Faith // Wednesdays at 6:30pm. // Holden Evening Prayer liturgy. and reflection on the creeds. // This week: the Athanasian Creed. // Join us for learning and prayer this Lent at St. Paul’s!

Humboldt–Area Community Choir presents two Palm Sunday Choral Concerts // March 29 ~ 2pm & 4:30pm // Humboldt United Methodist Church, 340 Nemaha St., Humboldt, NE // Community Choir members from St. Paul’s are Doug Kirkendall, Deb Ebel, and Elysia McGill. // Freewill offering. Refreshments after each performance in the Church Fellowship Hall.

Food for the Poor (Third Sunday in Lent) – Sunday, March 8, 2015 (NL Week 27)

This Sunday, we welcomed Pastor Bob Schmeelcke, a representative from Food for the Poor, to St. Paul’s. Pr. Schmeelcke’s sermon shared a little bit about some of the work FFTP does in 17 countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Originally started by a set of brothers to alleviate hunger, FFTP has expanded to include efforts to bring sanitation services, clean water, basic medical care, and safe housing to communities around the region. Their mission is to support the people and organizations who are already doing work on the ground, rather than setting up new programs or sending in staff from overseas to administer those programs.

After describing that work, Pr. Schmeelcke had a message for us: that this kind of ministry is what we are called to be engaged in as God’s people in Christ Jesus. The one who invites all people to the banquet and provides abundantly for us wills that this abundance be shared with all people. It’s not a matter of not having enough food or water or money to meet the challenge, it’s a matter of not having the will to see that things get done. We can make a difference in the lives of people struggling with poverty and hunger and lack of access to basic services if we have the will to do so.

If you would like more information about FFTP, visit them online at

Confessing Our Faith – What is a Creed?

Scripture Reading – Romans 10:5-11 (NRSV)

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

What is a creed? With very few exceptions, the worship services of our congregation include an opportunity to “confess our faith” using the words of one of the two creeds found in our hymnal – the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. We’ll spend some time over the next couple of weeks talking about those particular texts (and another historic creed of the church), but before we get there we must deal with this question: What is a creed?

Our English word “creed” finds its source in the Latin verb credo, which means “I believe”. At base, then, a creed is nothing more or less than a statement of belief or faith, a text that attempts to describe the object of one’s trust. Most often this is used in religious context, but not exclusively. For example, back in 1917, a man named William Tyler Page wrote what came to be known as the “American’s Creed”, recognized by the US House of Representatives on April 3, 1918.

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

[“The American’s Creed”,

As Christians, of course, our faith is not in a government, but in God. From the beginning of the Christian faith (and even before), creeds have been a part of our common life. The people of Israel found their identity in a common confession recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Jewish Publication Society, 1999)

This creed set the Israelites apart from virtually every other people in the region of the world in which they lived. Their insistence on the oneness of God (and on their belonging to that one God) was considered by the surrounding nations and tribes to be at best naïve and at worst sacrilegious, because it caused them to ignore other gods who were considered to be worthy of worship by those other peoples.

Christianity had this same problem after it arose. The Roman Empire embraced the worship of many different gods, from the gods who were believed to deal with specific households, to the gods of the Roman pantheon (Zeus, Jupiter, Mercury, etc.), to the emperor himself, who was considered to be divine and to exercise the will of God through his authority on earth. For those early Christians, the most basic (and important) confession was the one recounted in the reading for this evening: Jesus is Lord. This confession made one’s allegiance immediately clear, both for good and for ill.

And so it has continued throughout the church’s history. As Christians have read and interpreted Scripture and wrestled with their experience of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, the church has from time to time found new ways to express its understanding of the divine. In some cases, those expressions were intended to form clear dividing lines between people – those who accepted and confessed a particular creed signaled that they belonged to one community or another, while those who didn’t were considered to have placed themselves outside that community. We’ll see this most clearly when we look at the Athanasian Creed in three weeks. This process is not confined to the early centuries of the church’s history, either. The Reformation movements of the sixteen century spawned a series of confessional and creedal statements, like the Augsburg Confession accepted by Lutheran churches throughout the world, or the Westminster Confession of Faith accepted by the majority of the Reformed churches. Even into the twentieth century, Christians found themselves drafting new confessions to speak powerfully to current events. One example would be the Barmen Declaration written and signed in 1934 by members of the Confessing Church movement in Germany during the Third Reich, declaring their faith in God and their understanding that the German Evangelical Church had so closely aligned itself with the National Socialist government that it had ceased to function as the church of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is somewhat unusual among the major world religions in this manner of confessing faith. Perhaps no other religion places such emphasis on declaring one’s allegiance to God in ways both old and new, and this creates both problems and opportunities. What does it mean to confess our faith in the twenty-first century using words written (in some cases) over 1600 years ago? What would a “modern” confession of faith look like for us? How do “the creeds” and other statements of faith both unite and divide us? These are some of the questions we’ll explore over the next month. As “homework”, I would invite you to look closely at the words we’ll be studying next week – the words of the Apostles’ Creed – and to ask yourself some of the following questions: What do they mean for you? Do you agree with all of them? Is there anything you would add if you had the opportunity? How does this creed function in the life of our community? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reflections as we journey through this Lenten season.

Let us pray.

Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in every confession of the whole church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.