by Clint Baldwin, Executive Director We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need around the world.
As I have recently been reading Scripture, listening to sermons, and participating in holy conversation I have felt that this is a time where Word Made Flesh is particularly in a season of building and rebuilding as during the era of Nehemiah and Ezra in Israel. I also have felt that while the work and vocational calling of Ezra and Nehemiah are important for us, we also have an important, substantive, and vitalizing aspect of the spirit of Ruth pervading our work.
Both Nehemiah and Ezra were contemporaries sent back to rebuild the broken aspects of Jerusalem by new Persian rulers (involving kings Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes) that succeeded the Babylonians. Unlike Babylonians, Persians tended to send conquered peoples back to their lands to rebuild. Ezra primarily focused on religious aspects of Israelite society through rebuilding the temple. Nehemiah primarily focused on socio-political aspects of society through rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Yet, recognizing that there is strong, holistic fluidity between the socio-political and the religious (between political and priestly) in ancient Israelite society, it’s important to note that both Ezra and Nehemiah pursued their tasks with awareness of the fuller implications for their whole society.
I feel that we as WMF have been and remain in a deeply meaningful season of both rebuilding and new building. We continue to undergird and grow. Ezra and Nehemiah were both about restoring traditions, but restoring traditions to engage them in a manner done by new people during a new time with new historical and contemporary experiences. With Word Made Flesh continuing to move toward the age of a 30-year-old organization, similar in nature to the returning Israelites, there are many of us newly appropriating historic traditions in new ways in a new time…making them our own as we shape them anew by participating in the wisdom that they offer us.
However, I feel that we are unlike Nehemiah and Ezra in the sense that they were returning to rebuild Jerusalem for a select set of people. Intermarriage and other forms of foreign influence were either forbidden and/or highly suspect. As the Israelites were a beleaguered people just returning from a long, diasporic captivity seeking to reestablish a culture that had endured the strong possibility of dissolution, there is perhaps some reasonable understanding for their concerns. However, their concerns – at least not in all the ways the concerns were actually lived out – in this case were not primarily God’s concerns. It bears remembering that God’s Chosen People are precisely chosen because in their weakness they are to be a light to the nations in the sense of being a witness showcasing the miraculous preservative power of God.
This is where Ruth enters the picture. In both the book of Deuteronomy and Nehemiah it is noted that Moabites are not admitted into the assembly of Israel/Yahweh. Yet, Ruth is in fact a Moabite woman who becomes the great-grandmother of David and part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. Ruth shows us a better way. Ruth is a foreshadowing of messianic inclusion.
As Word Made Flesh builds and rebuilds, we do not do so primarily for “ourselves” (whatever that might mean), but we do so to welcome and embrace those otherwise not “supposed” to be included. This is what our calling – manifesting in various ways — has been since our founding. We seek to form communities that make room that showcase hospitality to those who find themselves on the margins rather than at the center.
While I find that the lessons of Nehemiah/Ezra and Ruth apply to Word Made Flesh in a poignant way at this current time, these lessons are so much broader. These are lessons that can inform other organizations and our own lives. How do we honor tradition which grounds and centers us, while also welcoming rather than excluding others from the very process which we find offers us life?
Tradition by its very nature requires some level of assent to its processes for acceptance, how are we to navigate such requirements in the most gracious manner possible? While Ruth was Moabite, she chose to stay with Naomi while Orpah did not. Thus, we have a book of Ruth…we do not have a book of Orpah. Ruth said, ““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.” Rather than simply offering in or out choices, how might we offer progressively deepening possibilities of communal interaction and responsibility? Ruth only offered her profoundly beautiful phrase of bonding communality after having already been reached out to, loved, and welcomed in by being chosen in marriage.
So, all by the Grace of God…
It’s a new year and a new decade!
We build and we rebuild!
We root and we branch out!
We welcome with grace and we encourage toward responsibility!
I finish with beautiful verses of welcome for “outsiders” by God that were shared in our church worship service in Wilmore this last Sunday on Epiphany Sunday. The verses come from Galatians 4:
- But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Importantly, the above Good News applies to everyone! None are left out!
May we all listen well to the Spirit of his Son that is in our hearts! May we all encourage others to also listen well! Amen and amen.