Pastors get asked all sorts of questions.
My friend and mentor, Belton Joyner, wrote a book once entitled “Ten Questions Every Pastor Fears” (answers were included). Questions, Belton said, like: “Is my Jewish neighbor going to hell?” “What do you mean you changed the light that Grandma gave the church?” “Who are you going to vote for, Reverend?” “Why do you pick hymns that no one likes?” “Are all acts of God acts of God?” And so on.
Every pastor I know could add to the list (I only gave you five of Belton’s questions and none of his answers so that you might rush out and buy the book, available at Cokesbury.com). One of the questions that I have received, with an amazing frequency, has been “Why doesn’t God speak directly to us as he did to people in the Bible? Wouldn’t it be easier to know the will of God if he did?”
Occasionally when I have gotten that question I have responded by acknowledging that, yes, God does seem to have direct conversation with some persons in the biblical story, but there are others, even there, who are left to their own devices. And I occasionally point the questioner to the book of Ruth.
God doesn’t have a lot to say to Naomi and Ruth. They pretty much seem to be on their own. God is appealed to or mentioned, usually in the passive voice, but God doesn’t actually have a speaking part. In other words, God no more directly speaks to Ruth and Naomi in the story than God has directly spoken to me to date (though I will leave open the possibility that God has audibly spoken to you).
So, what does that mean? It means that Naomi and Ruth, not unlike you and me, are left to discern and detect God’s will and purpose in other ways – the witness of their scripture, the testimony of the tradition, the reasonableness of the course of action, their own experience of God. They are left, then, to act in good faith (literally) and pray for the best. The fact that the story turns out well doesn’t change the risk involved in choosing which way to go. It could just as easily have turned out poorly.
We’ll talk about this “Risky Business” of faith on Sunday as we look again at the story of Ruth (Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17) alongside the story of the widow in the Temple (Mark 12:38-44). We’ll explore how we know or don’t know, do or don’t do the will of God. And we’ll baptize four new sisters and brothers into a life of faith and risk as they and we live in covenant relationship with this silent, yet vocal God.
Now, about the question about the hymns…that, too, is the mystery of God.
Grace and peace.