Pentecost - Redeemed and Freed in the Gate
In the Book of Ruth, Boaz wakes up in the dead of night down at the threshing shed to discover that a woman has crawled into his swag. The translation is a little bit coy... because uncovering his feet really suggests she began to seduce him. The text says "9He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin. 10He said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich." That means he's an older bloke and he's really chuffed about this. The phrase "for you are next of kin" is, more literally, you are the "one with the right to redeem." It means she is saying, you can make me, an outsider and an alien, one of your people. And he wants to, but there is another bloke who has prior rights in all this... and that brings us to Chapter 4, where Boaz gets that other bloke to give up his right to Ruth. Boaz goes up to the gate of the city. Let's hear it.
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 [that other man] said, ‘I will redeem it.’ 5Then Boaz said, [Oh... by the way...] ‘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— [of making an agreement formal. Giving the sandal was like a receipt or a contract.]. 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.’
Well, he really loved Ruth, I think. But we would not be wrong to see that the women in this story are also, in many respects, property. There is something else to say. You can see how in the gate of the city, social justice is done. Boaz gets the land, but he also gets to take care of Naomi and Ruth.
Gospel: John 14:8-27
In the gospel reading, John is speaking to his community who are feeling that God has somehow abandoned them. Jesus is no longer with them. How can it be that God loves them if Jesus is absent? Well, Jesus says Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. And he says 6And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever... You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. There is a lot in that, but another advocate implies that already there is and has been an advocate or helper with us. It is Jesus. Which is, effectively, to say, God with us. In all the multilayered meaning of John there is one thing to hear: God is with us and always will be. We don't have to go down to the Revival Centre to "get the Holy Spirit." Holy Spirit is God with us now and always. Holy Spirit is God living in us, now and always. Let's hear the reading.
8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
You can listen here.
Pentecost: Redeemed and Freed in the Gate
Imagine this: A traveller comes to the city gate.
The gates are where the laws of the city are put into action. At the gate the city decides— the gatekeepers decide— if you are to be allowed to enter. The city will decide if you belong, or if you are an alien or a sojourner. At the gates, the city will decide if you will be rejected. And for those inside the city, it is at the gates that the city will decide if you still belong, or if you will be thrown out. That's the world of Boaz and Ruth, and of Jesus, and all of us in church know about... gatekeepers.
There are two people at the gate who will be especially significant for us. One is the satan. He is the accuser, the prosecutor, the one who will tell the city that you are wrong, that you are a danger, that you should be expelled in order to keep the peace. So the gossip in the back room who says we should not allow so and so to be in church is.... a satan. And if you are human like me, you know that even in your own heart there is a satan, an accuser who tells you that you are unworthy, that you are not good enough, and that God does not love you.
But also in the gate, or in the gateway is the goel. The goel can be translated as the redeemer. If you translate the thought into Greek you might call the goel the paraclete, or the Advocate for the defence. The goel is the one who will pay money for you, to redeem you, and to allow you to enter the city and become one of us. In Ruth chapter 4, Boaz redeems Ruth, the outsider and alien from Moab, an often enemy country. He redeems her in the gate of the city; she becomes one of them, and is great-grandmother of David the great King.
The problem with the gates of the city is this: the gates of the city is the gathering place of the people. In ancient Israel people gathered at the gates. But in other times the community gathered in the marketplace, or even in the church. Or they would be gathered together outside the headquarters of the governor, or the house of the father-in-law of the high priest. (John 18)
It's the gathering that's the problem, not the place. Because the gathering can turn into a mob. Gatherings always hold the potential to become a mob. And mobs kill. There is no redeemer when the mob is on the rampage. All the family who might redeem you, speak up for you, bail you out— they all flee for their lives. Does that sound familiar? In the mob, the satan is in control, accusations fly everywhere, no one is safe. The gates of the city, and the parliaments, and the newspapers, where we are trying our best to be human, are the very places we learn just how savage and animal we are: the satan, the accuser, rules. And we live in fear of being accused.
So on one particular day, a traveller comes to the city with his friends, and is allowed in through the gates. He seems just another ordinary person, another ordinary human being. But what is happening is that in this person God is coming to us. He is "in the Father and the Father is in him."
We are all humans be-ing. We are not things; we are be-ing. But this traveller is be-ing so far beyond our understandings of what it is to be a human be-ing, so much more richly, that we can barely discern him enter our city or our life. But we meet him as a redeemer. He speaks against the satans, the accusers. He is God coming to us even when the world tries to pull us down. Even when all the mob picks upon us and condemns us.
God is always present. God is always coming towards us. And we always struggle to see God, to recognise God. But in Jesus, we see. Jesus is a new breaking-in of the divine. And like the redeemer at the gate, he pays for us. He pays for our life. And in the gospel stories, he pays for us with his life.
Understand: this is not a story of an angry god making Jesus pay for us. It is not a god who is angry making Jesus pay, in order to make that God happy or satisfied. The idea that someone has to pay is our idea. The satan, the accuser who demands payment, is us. We are the ones who demand payment. The satan is our collective self— the mob. It is us... human... but not yet properly human be-ing.
In Jesus, God is the one who comes into our city and offers himself to us instead of demanding payment. He redeems. He gives the poor dignity, and he heals them. He rescues the outsiders. He restores them to membership amongst humanity, and in the city, despite the injustice and intolerance of the rich and powerful. He makes all things good.
And the mob in charge won't tolerate that. So we kill him. Just as the parable says in Mark 12, we kill the son of the owner of the vineyard. The mob says, "Let us kill him and then it will all belong to us; the inheritance will be ours." And we will be safe.
And here is where the satan loses and is destroyed. Here is where the mob loses its power at last, because even though they kill him, he is still here. God is still coming to us. In the stories, when Jesus returns, he does not seek revenge. He does not hate. He does not punish. He simply loves us. He is being human in a way that is beyond us... and then, he breathes his spirit into us. He enables us to be human, he shows us a new way of be-ing without accusing. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. You will love one another as I have loved you."
"And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate— another paraclete or helper— another goel / redeemer in the gate. In fact... he lives in you. I will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you."
God is still with us.
You will love as I love. You will love without the satan, without the accusations. You will be one, not us and them, not good and bad, not friends and enemies. You will be one
This advocate, this paraclete, Holy Spirit, is not an add on to God. This is God still coming to us. The same God. The one God. With a new clarity.
And God is not merely coming to us. Somehow we are being invited into the life of God.
You remember the story of Adam and Eve, and Genesis. How humanity is unable to live in the paradise, the garden. How they are incapable of being one with each another and with God. The story expresses that inability as Adam and Eve being thrust out of the garden. I don't know about you, but I've always imagined that they are being thrust out, and God stays in the garden. But, in fact, God leaves paradise with them! God has always been with us, has always been coming to us. God is bringing us home.
In Scripture it says
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10 cf Romans 9:25, Hosea 2:23)
It's reflected in our Communion liturgy when we say
when we had no name no faith and no future
you called us your children;
when we lost our way— even when we turned away,
you did not abandon us.
You came calling to us.
When we came back to you,
your arms opened wide in welcome.
you prepare a table for us,
offering not just bread, not just wine,
but your very self
So that we may be filled, forgiven,
healed and blessed,
and made new again... (Iona)
So Holy Spirit is not something we have to get. Holy Spirit is not some kind of extra blessing or insight we have to grasp hold off. Holy Spirit is simply God with us and in us: sustaining us, creating us, making us human, and bringing us to wholeness.
In the Christian experience and story, something happened in and through Jesus. In his life and death and resurrection, our eyes were opened to a stunning new vista. We were enabled to see creation and reality in a completely different way. We were invited into Glory. In and through Christ, God poured God's self out upon all flesh, not just prophets, not just kings and important people, but young men and women, old women, slaves, maidservants. God came to us and invited us to leave the city of our in-humanity, and to become completed so that we could enter into the life of God, where there is no satan, where there is no death, where there is only light and life. Amen
Andrew Prior (Pentecost 2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
While writing this sermon, I read "How do we talk about the Spirit?" by James Alison