How do habits become purposeful? Life changing? Lifesaving? Community transforming? The answer is, in part, faith development. Those skills that we learn and practice and grow into throughout our life journeys. And we know that specifically intergenerational habits—purposeful time together across the generations—become “more than” habits: Spending time together in prayer. Reading scripture. Gathering as a faith community to worship. Getting together to serve. Actively doing advocacy work. Visiting one another. Sending cards, calling, one another. Giving financially to the church. Being disciples. However you describe the generation with which you identify: The Silent Generation. Baby Boomers. Gen X. Millennial. Generation Z. Faith development. Being Jesus followers.
Habits. Rituals. Traditions. Sacraments. Pour out the stories. Splash in the water. Set a table. Deep in our DNA, we gather in this sacred space and remember. We remember a time and place where Caesar was worshiped as a god, and military might poured into Jerusalem. It is there Jesus sits. There, Jesus watches. There, Jesus does not just talk with friends, worship in a space to feed his soul. There, in the Temple, in Jerusalem, Jesus watches. He watches the Temple leaders. He watches those gathering to do… what they always do. What they have been taught. Those responding to the Holy they have experienced in their life. And he sees.
This year we have been working our way through Jesus’ live primarily through the lens of the writer of Mark. With today’s reading, we have just missed Jesus’ most provocative action in the book: parading into Jerusalem on a donkey (or, as in Mark, on a young horse). He doesn’t walk into the city on foot, like a common peasant, but climbs on a colt for a celebratory parade. Crowds cheering freedom chants. Tattered and worn cloaks spread about. Anything that can be swirled about, branches, palms, triumphantly waved overhead. No swords. No violence. But street theater making the ruling authorities very nervous. This was a rally. This was meant to provoke.
This is, as Matt Skinner notes, a reminder that “Christianity is born as a powerless religion, a powerless movement within a bigger Roman sphere where religion is closely connected… to matters of the state… to Imperial power; everything in Christianity is born out of the powerlessness, and being on the lower rung.”
And this why we are here today. Ruth. Naomi. A story likely written around the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, biblical books which, to the best of our knowledge, would have been after the Babylonian exile. A time when Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. This writer (or writers) address the concerns of the “others” already living in the area. According to Tamara Eskenazi these writers advocate, “…ethnic purity and prohibits [sic] intermarriage… to sustain group identity … Ezra-Nehemiah seeks to prevent such losses by prohibiting marriage with outsiders.”
In the complex, ongoing, biblical conversations, we then have Ruth. A story that pushes back on Ezra and Nehemiah. A story that invites us into the life of an outsider. To have compassion for an unwelcome migrant from Moab. Someone who may not speak like us. Dress like us. Know how to worship like us. Eat the same foods as us. A person. Beloved child of God. Taking risks to survive. An individual who is a part of God’s story. The great-grandmother of David.
This is why we are here today. To pour out the stories. To set a table. Deep in our DNA, we gather in this sacred space, remembering our own time and place. We gather to practice, to renew, to develop, to change, the faith habits we have learned and practiced, and “worn” our whole lives. In a variety of forms, to be sure—we come here from different Christian traditions, different faith traditions, no faith tradition, different cultural celebrations of the holidays… And here, in our habits, our rituals, our sacraments, we remember that Jesus provokes. Jesus sits. Jesus teaches. Jesus watches. Jesus is witness.
Who, and what, is Jesus watching in our midst today?
How is Jesus seeing us?
For he is witnessing. Here.
Gratitude habits. This is our seventh out of 8 weeks pausing to reflect on how a faith practice of gratitude can shape us. Scripture. History. Science. Today’s news. As we near the end of our communal delving into Diana Butler Bass’ book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, I share with you a snippet of her journey as Bass researched and wrote Grateful:
“I started this book in the spring of 2016. Thus, as one of the most conflicted years in American political history unfolded, I was researching happiness and reading books on positive psychology, histories of gratitude, articles on gratitude and social ethics, medical papers on gratitude and health outcomes, and spiritual memoirs of thanksgiving. Rarely have I felt more out of sync with the world around me. While anger and division mounted, I buried myself in gratefulness. Everything I read said the same thing: fear and anger are dangerous to our souls, and gratitude is good for us. Each day, however, the news revealed how we had lost much of our collective sense of gratitude for each other, the gifts of life, and the beauty of the world.” (Bass, pgs 181-182)
Out of sync with the world. I can imagine that those parading into Jerusalem following this man seated on a colt and shouting “Hosanna!”—felt out of sync with the world around them. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
I can imagine the millions of Naomis and Ruths who have lived, and died, and are unnamed. Those widows seeking community in a world who didn’t see them as people—The women who felt out of sync with the world around them. And suddenly, here was this hope embedded in the birth of a child.
Out of sync with the world. Here the widow approaches the Holy with… well… we really do not know what. We know about the coin. But what was on her heart as she stepped into the Temple that day? What where her worries? Her fears? There, in that moment, Jesus saw—and knew—that the world around her was out of sync.
Out of sync with the long stoles and long prayers. Rich sacrifices paraded before all. The Temple leaders, the Sadducees. didn’t seem to feel “it.” that sense that they, their Temple practices, their religious traditions, were out of sync with the world. Those in power—don’t. But… God sees. Jesus sees. Jesus sees, and names, and lifts up, those who are economically disadvantaged. Those who are marginalized, unseen, oppressed because they are not—let us name it in our context today—white, straight, able bodied, male and… in the U.S…. educated. Christian.
Now this is not to say that those of us who fit into the majority of these labels (I identify as white, straight, educated, Christian) never feel out of sync with the world. I. Have. Definitely. Felt. Out. Of. Sync. With. The. World. Even more so the past few years. But I can only imagine what it means to feel “out of sync with the world” today for people in our communities who are demonized by hateful rhetoric. But I can show up. I can see. I can witness. I can listen. I can learn. I can… resist. Resist the evil.
It may seem simplistic, but our faith practices: prayer, worship, bible study, providing tooth paste and toilet paper, food and shelter, home supplies, voting, visiting, taking moments of fun—Holy Folly—are all modes of resistance to the cultural norms around us. Defiance. Gratitude. Bass asserts that, “Gratitude is defiance of sorts, the defiance of kindness in the face of anger, of connection in the face of division, and of hope in the face of fear. Gratefulness does not acquiesce to evil—it resists evil.” (pg 185)
Which brings us back to the beginning of our reflection on habits, and the questions raised at the beginning of the sermon: How do habits become purposeful? Life changing? Lifesaving? Community transforming? Faith development. Those intergenerational skills that we learn and practice and grow with throughout our life journeys.
These are our habits as Jesus follower. Our rituals. Traditions. Sacraments. Our grateful responses, pouring out the stories. Splashing in the water of God’s love. Setting a table for all. Gathering in this sacred space, because deep in our DNA, we remember a time and place where Pharaoh was worshiped as a god, and military might chased the Moses and the Israelites to the Red Sea. We remember a time and a place where Caesar was worshiped as a god, and military might poured into Jerusalem.
And we remember that it is here Jesus sits. Jesus sits here today and watches. Watches us. Watches today’s empires that are worshiped as gods. Jesus watches the church and temple leaders. He watches those who gather and do… what they have always done. What they have been taught to do. You, and I, and us together, responding to the Holy we have experienced in our lives. And Jesus sees.
May what we do here, purposefully, together, be more than habits. May we actively pour out the stories. Splash in the water of God’s love. Set a table for all. And above all, may we show up. May we see. May we witness. May we listen. May we learn. And may we be grateful. And in the gratefulness, resist.
Reflection offered on Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Mark 12:38-44, November 11, 2018
 Matt Skinner, on “Sermon Brainwave.” 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Commentary by Karla Suomala – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed November 6, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx.
 Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn, and Sharon H. Ringe. Women’s Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition with Apocrypha. Edited by Carol A. Newsom. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. 124.