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Narrative Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 30 - Proper 25 - Year A
Ruth 2:1-13; 4:13-22; Ezra 9:10-10:5, 10:15; and Matthew 22:34-46
"The Love That Was Wrong"

READING:  Ruth 2:1-13; 4:13-22; Ezra 9:10-10:5, 10:15; and Matthew 22:34-46
SERMON :  "The Love That Was Wrong"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or30se 340000
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
   Once again we present one of our special narrative sermons.
   The story "The Love That Was Wrong" depends on a reading of two
   non-lectionary readings (Ezra and Ruth) in conjunction with this
   Sunday's gospel.  The story focuses on the Ezra passage and deals
   with one of the more difficult of all OT themes - the laws of
   exclusion developed before, and most especially after the
   restoration after the exile in Babylon.  While not strictly
   lectionary based, we none-the-less feel that the story is a useful
   exposition of what it means to love - and thus matches up to the
   gospel passage for today.  We hope you are blessed by what we devised.  

   As an exegetical note - my position is that the Book of Ruth was
   included in the canon for the sake of the genealogy that is given at
   the very end.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)


L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.
P  My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  
   He is my shield and the horn of my salvation.
L  I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, 
   and I am saved from my enemies.
P  From his temple he hears my voice; 
   my cry comes before him and he answers me.
L  Therefore I will praise God among the nations.
   I will sing praises to the name of the Lord.

* INTROIT:  "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" (VU-232 verse 1)

Gracious Creator and Redeemer - we thank for this day of your
grace, for this Sabbath in which we celebrate your love and
remember the victory won for us by Jesus Christ your only Son,
our Saviour.  Bless us, we pray, with your presence this day in
your sanctuary - help us commit ourselves anew to the work of
your Kingdom, and draw us closer to one another in the power of
your Holy Spirit as we worship you.  We ask these things in the
name of Jesus, Amen.

* HYMN:  "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God"              - VU 356



   Gathering in of Prayer Joys and Concerns

* HYMN: "Praise Our Maker                                - VU 316

A READING FROM RUTH 2:1-13; 4:13-22
   (NRSV) Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband's side, a
   prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name
   was Boaz. {2} And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, "Let me go
   to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind
   someone in whose sight I may find favour." She said to her,
   "Go, my daughter." {3} So she went. She came and gleaned in
   the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the
   part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of
   Elimelech. {4} Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to
   the reapers, "The LORD be with you." They answered, "The LORD
   bless you." {5} Then Boaz said to his servant who was in
   charge of the reapers, "To whom does this young woman
   belong?" {6} The servant who was in charge of the reapers
   answered, "She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from
   the country of Moab. {7} She said, 'Please, let me glean and
   gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.' So she came,
   and she has been on her feet from early this morning until
   now, without resting even for a moment." {8} Then Boaz said
   to Ruth, "Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in
   another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young
   women. {9} Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped,
   and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to
   bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink
   from what the young men have drawn." {10} Then she fell
   prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, "Why
   have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice
   of me, when I am a foreigner?" {11} But Boaz answered her,
   "All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the
   death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you
   left your father and mother and your native land and came to
   a people that you did not know before. {12} May the LORD
   reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward
   from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have
   come for refuge!" {13} Then she said, "May I continue to find
   favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and
   spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of
   your servants."

   So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came
   together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son.
   {14} Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, who
   has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his
   name be renowned in Israel! {15} He shall be to you a
   restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your
   daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven
   sons, has borne him." {16} Then Naomi took the child and laid
   him in her bosom, and became his nurse. {17} The women of the
   neighborhood gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to
   Naomi." They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse,
   the father of David. {18} Now these are the descendants of
   Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, {19} Hezron of Ram,
   Ram of Amminadab, {20} Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of
   Salmon, {21} Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, {22} Obed of
   Jesse, and Jesse of David.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


A READING FROM EZRA 9:10-10:5, 10:15
   (NRSV) "And now, our God, what shall we say after this?  For
   we have forsaken your commandments, {11} which you commanded
   by your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land that you are
   entering to possess is a land unclean with the pollutions of
   the peoples of the lands, with their abominations. They have
   filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. {12}
   Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither
   take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their
   peace or prosperity, so that you may be strong and eat the
   good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your
   children forever.' {13} After all that has come upon us for
   our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our
   God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and
   have given us such a remnant as this, {14} shall we break
   your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who
   practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us
   until you destroy us without remnant or survivor? {15} O
   LORD, God of Israel, you are just, but we have escaped as a
   remnant, as is now the case. Here we are before you in our
   guilt, though no one can face you because of this."

   While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing
   himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly
   of men, women, and children gathered to him out of Israel;
   the people also wept bitterly. {2} Shecaniah son of Jehiel,
   of the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra, saying, "We have
   broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from
   the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for
   Israel in spite of this. {3} So now let us make a covenant
   with our God to send away all these wives and their children,
   according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble
   at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according
   to the law. {4} Take action, for it is your duty, and we are
   with you; be strong, and do it." {5} Then Ezra stood up and
   made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear
   that they would do as had been said. So they swore.

   Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah
   opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levites
   supported them.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.

* HYMN: "Love Divine"                                    - VU 333

   (NRSV) When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the
   Sadducees, they gathered together, {35} and one of them, a
   lawyer, asked him a question to test him. {36} "Teacher,
   which commandment in the law is the greatest?" {37} He said
   to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your
   heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' {38}
   This is the greatest and first commandment. {39} And a second
   is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' {40}
   On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
   {41} Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus
   asked them this question: {42} "What do you think of the
   Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of
   David." {43} He said to them, "How is it then that David by
   the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, {44} 'The Lord said to my
   Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under
   your feet"'? {45} If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be
   his son?" {46} No one was able to give him an answer, nor
   from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

SERMON:  "The Love That Was Wrong"

   Let us Pray - Creator and maker of us all - bless the
   words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts - grow
   thou in us and show us your ways and inspire us to live by
   your truth.  Amen

The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible.

It is a beautiful story, a story that contains many elements.
   It is a story about life and death,
       famine and feast,
          love and loss, and love regained.

I would urge you to read the story for yourself later this week. 
It is a good yarn,  One that, in a good translation, will
entertain your family, as well as, if not better, than a good TV

Today in my sermon, which is a story sermon, I want us to look at
the love between Ruth and Boaz and what it might mean to our
faith - what it might mean to how we love our neighbours and our

I want to do that by telling you the story of Jonathan, that
mysterious individual whom we heard about in today's reading from
the Book of Ezra.

As background - I ask you to remember that the events in the book
of Ezra took place over five hundred years after the events
described in the Book of Ruth.


Even before Jonathan rounded the corner of the Old Inn he could
   hear someone praying in the square before the house of God.

He knew something special was happening,
   there was an unusual quiet to Jerusalem that day and besides,
       for the last hour he had noticed groups of people 
          drifting towards the vicinity of the temple.

It was that unusual quietness and that movement that had finally
aroused Jonathan's curiosity and caused him to put down his
tools and head towards the temple.

When he got to the temple square  he could hardly see a thing
because of the huge crowd gathered there.

Jonathan was persistent however, and after a couple of minutes,
by moving first this way, and then that, he got to a place where
he could see between the adults in front of him and over the
heads of the children,
   and when he finally could see, he saw Ezra, the priest, on
   his knees before the temple in the middle of an intense

Ezra had torn his cloak and his tunic,
   and he was weeping and rocking back and forth, 
      back and forth, as he prayed to the Lord God of Israel,
          and in his voice, a voice which carried clearly over
the square, Jonathan heard the sound of grief.

Jonathan listened with the others to the prayer,
and heard Ezra confess to the Lord that his people had erred,
   he heard Ezra express his fear that God's people would sin
   once again, 
       - that they would once again break God's commandments and
       become unfaithful to Him,
       - that they would once again make treaties with corrupt
       nations and marry people from countries that scorned and
       despised both the laws of God and His chosen people.

Jonathan saw Ezra weeping, and he heard the anguish in his voice
as he prayed that the people of Israel would not be like the way
they had been before,
   that they would not again risk total destruction by loving
   those whom they should not love,
       and binding themselves to foreigners, to people who
       worshipped other Gods.

Jonathan was deeply moved seeing and hearing Ezra pray.
He too grieved for the glory that Israel had lost,
He too mourned for Israel's loss of innocence,
   for the time when David was King,
   and the true faith -  and the nation - were strong.

And Jonathan knew, as did all the people there, that some kinds
of love are wrong.

He knew, from the history of his people, that some kinds of love
were dangerous to the nation and to the faith,
   and Jonathan was tempted to join his voice to those of all
   the other people who began to weep bitterly with Ezra over
   the sin and plight of Israel.

He was tempted too to take the vow that they took 
after Ezra had finished praying, 
- the vow that Shecaniah proposed while everyone wept:  
- the vow to divorce those that they should have never married, 
- the vow to divorce them and send them and their children back
to the lands to which they belonged -- back to the lands of
corruption from which they first came.

As the people wept around him and lifted up their voices in
agreement with Shecaniah, Jonathan was tempted to join them, but
something would not let him do so.

Something held Jonathan back from joining the people that day. 
He was not sure what it was, but as he went away from the square
with the others he thought about it and what he was going to do
when the people gathered again in three days to take action on
Erza's words and the vow that had been made.
Jonathan thought about how from the very beginning the people of
God had been warned about intermarriage.

Moses had told Israel that it would surely lead to idolatry,
that foreign woman would corrupt the faith of their husbands,
and teach their children to love other gods,
   till finally the day came when the nation would perish
   because it no longer worshipped the Lord God of Israel.

As Jonathan worked in his shop during the next two days he
recalled how Erza had claimed that the destruction of Israel and
of Jerusalem and the temple had come to pass because the people
had ignored Moses and their God.

He remembered too how Ezra had explained that the current poverty
and weakness of Israel was due in part to the same problem,
   - that the people were suffering because they were once again
   contaminating the nation by marrying foreigners.
   - that they had weakened themselves by loving the wrong

As he thought about it, Erza's words made sense to Jonathan.
He was not sure why he had held back from taking the vow.
After all he did not have a foreign wife - he had nothing
personally to lose by going along with what to all appearances
made sense.

Different traditions do not mix well.
Different faiths cannot help but clash 
- and in that clash both faiths normally perish, for a faith that
is changed, is a faith that is lost.

Others besides Moses and Ezra had said that if one truly loved
God with all ones heart and soul and mind and strength that they
would not risk their faith by marrying foreigners, by loving a
person from a different culture and belief.

That kind of love could not help but be dangerous,
   it could not help but be wrong,
       it would be like inviting a wolf to live in a sheep pen,
no matter how kind the wolf, and how loving the sheep,
nature would end up having her way.

Jonathan thought about these things, and he felt confused and
disturbed by his reluctance to take the vow -    a reluctance he
continued to feel despite all the arguments that he had thought
of for taking the vow.

So it was in that state of confusion that he went to the temple
square on the third day with all the men of Judah and Benjamin.

His state of mind matched the weather perfectly.  
It was raining and miserable.
He sat in the square with several thousand other men, trying in
vain to stay warm and dry as Ezra mounted the temple steps to
address them.

Jonathan felt a measure of desperation when Ezra began to speak.

He still did not know what he would do when Ezra called for all
the men of Israel to renounce their foreign wives, he did not
know if he could agree to the action that would be legislated
that day.

But then, as Ezra spoke it came to him.

As Ezra proclaimed once again that the men of Israel had been
unfaithful to God because they had married foreign woman, he
suddenly realized what had been bothering him along, he realized
why he had not taken the vow proposed by Shecaniah, son of

It was because of Ruth.

His mother had often told him the story of Ruth and Boaz,
   about how Ruth had followed Naomi from Moab to Bethlehem
   after her first husband had died,
       and how she had worked in the fields gleaning the wheat
       left behind by the reapers so she could care for herself
       and for her mother-in-law,
until one day Boaz had noticed her and shown her his favour by
instructing the harvesters to leave some sheaves for her.

His mother had always loved the story of Ruth,
   she delighted in telling of the cleverness of Naomi in
   arranging things so that Ruth would meet Boaz again,
       and how Boaz had won Ruth from the relative who should
       have married her according to the law of Moses by getting
       him to renounce his claim in public.

Jonathan's mother had loved the story of Ruth
   and he now realized that it was that story that had prevented
   him from taking the vow of Shecaniah.

Jonathan knew that some kinds of love are dangerous,
   but he knew as well that all love can be used by God,
       it can be used, and it can be blessed,
          even if it seems wrong to have that love.

Jonathan realized he had hesitated in the square three days
earlier because he had known somewhere in his inner being that
while it can be a dangerous thing to love a foreigner, while it
can be dangerous to love a sinner - that love need not end in

Jonathan remembered what Ezra and Shecaniah seemed to have

He remembered that Ruth was a Moabitess,
she was a foreigner,
one of that tribe whose corruption and idolatry were notorious.

Despite Ruth's switch of faith
despite her proven loyalty to Naomi,
   Ruth was still an Irish protestant marrying a Catholic,
       she was still a black marrying a white in the 1930's USA,
          a whore marrying a church elder,
              a punk rocker marrying a record burning baptist.

Ruth was the leopard that Ezra was said could not change its
spots, she was the one who had led to the destruction of the
first temple and the defeat of the nation.

She was the one, according to Erza,
who was even now destroying the people of Israel.

And Jonathan, as he sat huddled in the square, with the rain
pouring down on him, felt a thrill run through his body as
remembered how the story of Ruth and Boaz ended, and thought
about what would have happened if Boaz had taken the vow of

You see, 
after Ruth and Boaz married she became the mother of Obed,
and Obed was the father of Jesse,
and Jesse was the father of David, 
who became the king,
the very king out of whom was to come the Messiah,
the very king who had made Israel a great nation and
the God of Israel famous in the world.

If Boaz had not loved her whom it was wrong to love,
then that what was oh so very right could not have occurred.

There would have been no David, nor Solomon, nor temple, nor
glory, nor kingdom, nor power, nor might....

And so as Jonathan sat in the rain and watched Ezra and the
people weep again for their sins and decide to send away all the
foreign woman that they had married he praised God for the love
that they called wrong,
   for the love that had given Israel its greatest king and
   which would soon give to the world the messiah it needed.

He praised God,
and he, along with three other men in the square that day,
refused to agree with what Ezra proposed.
he refused to agree that love of Ruth and Boaz had been wrong.

L  Merciful Jesus: you said - You shall love the Lord your God
   with all your heart.
P  For when our hearts have been focussed on the vanities of
   this life and we have loved you with less passion that we
   love the things of this world, forgive us Lord.
      ............ (silent confession) ............
L  You said as well, O God, that - You shall love the Lord your
   God with all your soul.
P  For when we have pursed a selfish happiness instead of
   seeking to please you by diligently heeding your commandments
   and your laws, forgive us Lord.
      ............ (silent confession) ............
L  You said, as well, O Christ, that - You shall love the Lord
   your God with all your mind and all your strength.
P  For when we have concentrated on our burdens and worries and
   have failed to seek your wisdom and turn to you for your
   strength and support, forgive us Lord.
      ............ (silent confession) ............
L  You have said as well, O God, - You shall love your neighbour
   as yourself.
P  For when we have failed to love our brothers and sisters;
   particularly when we have neglected the poor, the stranger,
   and the refugee; and for when we have treated others as less
   than ourselves, forgive us Lord.
      ............ (silent confession) ............
L  Lord - we thank you for your love and your mercy - which
   accepts us and forgives us and makes us part of your family
   even when we have not earned or deserved it in any way.  We
   thank you for making us yours.... Lord hear our prayer
P  And in your love answer.
L  Lord today we pray not only that we might be a people who
   love as you have commanded us to love - we pray as well for
   the world and the people around us.  We hold before you, O

   (Prayers and intercessions as gathered earlier)

L  Lord, hear our prayer.
P  And in your love answer.
L  Holy and Compassionate God - we thank you for hearing us -
   for answering us - for redeeming us.  We thank you and we
   praise you through Jesus Christ our Lord, our brother, and
   our friend - he who taught us to pray to you as one, saying:
P  Our Father....

* HYMN: "Thou Ancient Walls"                             - VU 691

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand
for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
541) and Prayer of Dedication

   We thank you God for the love you show us and for the
   opportunity you give us to show our love for you and for
   your world in return.  You have brought us by your grace
   to this day.  O Lord, What we offer you now on these
   plates, is but a portion of what you have given us - We
   ask that you would bless it however, and accept with it
   the intentions of our hearts, and minds and souls.  We ask
   it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

* HYMN:  "Be Thou My Vision"                             - VU 642

* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
   go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
   of God, the body of Christ.

Go in peace; love and care for one another in Christ's name,
-and may God's love fill your hearts and your minds, 
- may God's grace dwell within your souls and give strength unto
your strength 
- and may God's mercy move within you and give you a beautiful
love for yourself and your neighbours
this both now and forevermore.  Amen


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1999 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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