Sermon Seeds: Risk and Restoration

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 27) color_green.jpg

Lectionary citations
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Sermon Seeds Year C from The Pilgrim Press – Order now

Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Stewardship sermon on Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

Weekly Theme:
Risk and Restoration

by Kathryn Matthews (Huey) katehuey150.jpg

If last week’s passage from the Book of Ruth was about making a commitment, this week’s passage is about living out a commitment of concern for another’s welfare. These two women, Naomi and Ruth, an unlikely pair as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, live on the edge of survival in a patriarchal culture that has at least made some provisions for them. There are practices like gleaning, where young women can follow the harvesters and take the leftovers in the field, the hard-to-reach pieces easily left behind. And there are laws like the one about levirate marriage, which provides a husband from the family of one who has died. Of course, another way to look at it is that the surviving relative has the “right” to claim both the property and the wife of the deceased man; this is actually a factor in the story of Ruth, if one reads the entire narrative. In chapter four, Boaz announces that he has “acquired” the property of Elimelech and his sons, as well as Ruth, the widow of one of those sons (4:9-10).

More than Naomi could ask or imagine

Even so, it takes Naomi’s concern and initiative to make better arrangements for Ruth’s future than the hand-to-mouth dependence on gleaning. This concern in itself is significant, since Naomi (whose name, ironically, means “pleasant”) has spent most of the story being understandably bitter and sad; we remember that when she returned to her circle of friends back home, she told them that she had a new name, Mara, or “bitter” (1:20). However, at this moment, just as she did on that dusty road when she told her daughters-in-law to go back home rather than tie their futures to hers, Naomi wants to make sure that “it will go well” with Ruth (3:1). She’s able to extend herself, to put another person’s welfare first, and she’s able to think about Ruth’s future, even though she feels she has no future herself.

Much of the story, even though it’s short, has been cut out of today’s passage, but the summary assures us that Ruth and Boaz, the next-of-kin candidate for marriage and security, get together and have a child. First, however, a little dramatic tension is provided by the technicality that another, closer relative has the right of first refusal on both the property and the widow; fortunately, he gives up his rights to both, and Boaz can step in as the redeemer of the two widows. That in itself would be happy ending enough, but as often happens in Scripture, there is still something too wonderful for Naomi to have imagined: the baby will be the grandfather of David, the greatest king in the history of Israel!

What takes hope away?

In his classic work, The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann has written about hopelessness as the lack of a future. After the the deaths of her husband and sons, it seems that Naomi sees no hope of a future for herself. This may explain why she urges her sons’ widows to return to their homes so they can fashion some other future for themselves (with the help of their families, no doubt). But Ruth makes the stand, on the lonely and perilous road to Bethlehem, upon which the story turns. What a surprise: the pagan foreign widow is the image of a not-to-be-deterred love and commitment that remind us of God’s own love for us. And the birth of this baby, grandfather to the greatest king in the history of Israel, represents hope for the future, not just for this old woman and her daughter-in-law, but for all Israel itself.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the women must make a way to survival; they have to work the system they have, use the tools and abilities they have, and make do the best they can: they have to be, as Martin Copenhaver describes them, “safe harbor” for each other (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 4). Perhaps there are two kinds of people in our society, those who live on the edge of survival, and those who don’t. It must certainly affect our outlook and our theology, and our reading of this story even more.

How many women and children (“the widow and orphan”) have lived on the edge of survival through the centuries? How many have “fallen off” that edge? How well connected are we to the day-to-day experience of women and children today who struggle to survive? Are they people with names and stories, like Ruth and Naomi, or are they “the faceless poor”? Aren’t women and children today often required to live off the leftovers in the field or the crumbs that fall from our tables of plenty?

What desperation makes necessary

The methods and means of Ruth and Naomi may sound a bit strange but are not unknown in our own age, if we think of the way marriage has represented security for women right up until the last generation or two. Even now, women are not treated equally in many workplaces and schools, or in subtle ways, they are not given the same respect and opportunities. Is it really so unreasonable, however regrettable, that women, consciously or unconsciously, find it necessary to offer themselves, or let themselves be given by another, in order to secure their future?

Brueggemann sees the threshing floor, where Ruth “goes to” Boaz (many scholars see a sexual component to the story at this point), as a place where God works mysteriously with and through human beings to make a radically new future imaginable, no matter how things look and work today. Brueggemann’s dream of this future for Israel is rooted in the simple things of this story: faithfulness, love, loyalty, trust, hard work, interdependence, sharing, mourning and rejoicing, community, the promise that each new child represents (An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination). Through these very real experiences of everyday people, God works wonders and moves along the grander story of which we are all a part, as we learn at the end of this one, when we meet little Obed, the grandfather of David and the ancestor of Jesus.

What motivated Boaz?

There was one important but easy-to-miss moment in the story that commentators have not focused on, and that is the basis of Boaz’s compassion toward Ruth. In reading only a few verses chosen by the lectionary editors, we miss the part of the story where Boaz first sees Ruth and tells his workers to look after her and provide as much grain as she needs. What got his attention? Maybe Ruth is extraordinarily beautiful, as the happy ending suggests. But that telling of the story misses an important moment, when Ruth asks Boaz why he is being so kind to her, “a foreigner.” Boaz replies that he has heard all about Ruth’s kindness and steadfast care for her mother-in-law (2:10-12). It is not insignificant that Boaz was inspired by Ruth’s goodness to do something good himself. Her fidelity inspired his fidelity, way before they met on the threshing floor. When has the generosity and compassion of another person inspired you to greater generosity and compassion?  

Perhaps, in many ways, it is still a man’s world, but women have managed nevertheless in every age to bear children, raise families, take care of business, farm the land, and sometimes, even to give expression to their artistic longings. In fact, throughout the ages, most women (except the very wealthiest, and the wives of the wealthiest men) have had to do physical labor all day in order to survive. Naomi and Ruth’s survival skills are less important than the depth of their concern for each other, for that kind of concern (hesed), is something upon which to build churches, communities, and a better world. The covenant of care is a place, and an experience, where we can get a taste, just a taste, of God’s own steadfast and life-giving love for us. In Ruth, we might even say that we understand just a little better what it means to be created in the image of God, an image we encounter in the most unexpected of people, in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Ruth and the church today

Many writers connect this story of Ruth with our own experience of community in the church. Ruth, after all, left her birth family behind and went on to a new place and a new family, and a new community as well (we see them gathered around her at the end, describing her as Naomi’s “daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons” (4:15b). And that draws our attention to our life within the community of faith, a people of ancient roots and stories, practices and laws.

I was taught in seminary that the church is a “voluntary association,” a rather dry term, I suppose, but doesn’t it say that we choose voluntarily to respond to God’s call to come together – often if not always with complete strangers – on God’s terms, to live out God’s dreams the best we can, here, in our time and our place? However, the “voluntary” part of this may be something we have to exercise on many more days than just the day we became a member of the congregation. We choose one another each day, just as Ruth and Naomi did, stubbornly remaining faithful no matter what. At least, that is the ideal that Martin Copenhaver lifts up, when we remain faithful, in both family and church, to those we are “stuck with,” in the same way that the “God who is stuck with us all” remains stubbornly faithful to us (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 4).

Families of choice

We have to wonder how all of this sounds, however, to those in our congregations who have been rejected by their families, and to those out in the world who have been ejected from their churches. For example, within the gay and lesbian community there is something called a “family of choice,” when a person who has lost their birth family (a family that evidently did not feel “stuck with” them) gathers around them a group of loving friends with whom to share their lives, fashioning a new family in which to live in faithful and supportive and loyal love and affection. We remember that even Ruth had a choice to stay with her family; others may not have that possibility open to them, and the only road is the road ahead, to a new and different community.

The church indeed has the invitation, the call, to offer hospitality to those who have not known hospitality in their own homes. I once had the privilege of watching Martin Copenhaver baptize a baby and then carry the child around the church, saying, “In this family of faith, water is thicker than blood.” I remember those moving words to this day as a reminder of our baptismal ties to one another, and the covenant with one another in which we live.

A covenant of care and faithfulness

That covenant of care and fidelity is at the heart of who we are as people of faith. G. Malcolm Sinclair notes that “ecclesiastical structures and systems” are missing in this story, and God is “mentioned only in passing,” but God, he says, can be experienced as “the glue in life rather than some extraneous royal being before whom all ordinary conversation stops” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 4). We might say that God is between the lines of this story, just as God is always present in our own lives, “the glue” of our lives that holds us together, whether we recognize it or not, and whether religious institutions cooperate or not.

For example, in last week’s reflection, we noted that Ruth represented the Moabite people who were often seen as the enemy, and there were laws as well against marrying foreign women (Ezra 9-10). The priestly tradition in the Bible is very concerned with purity issues; ironically, the greatest king, David, “was not a purebred Israelite,” Lawrence Farris writes, “but had a Moabite great-grandmother of astonishing faith and love” (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts).

Reading the Bible “from below”

In her book, When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams reflects on the story of Ruth and Naomi, a story, she says, that “honors the loyal bonds between women. To care for one another reaps the harvest of love. Ruth’s empathy and toil gives birth to authentic power.” In this way, Williams writes, a compassionate “outsider” becomes the ancestress of both King David and Jesus himself. Williams then invites us to “glean from the stories of other women,” a practice that requires a different perspective when reading the Bible.

It’s been said that those who are marginalized must read the Bible “from below,” and they find plenty of grace, plenty of hope, when they do: a God who loves “the poor,” and even, liberation theologians say, exercises “a preferential option” for them. In that case, it seems fair to say that God was “on the side” of those two poor, struggling widows.

A conversation with God and one another

What, then, might the Stillspeaking God be saying to us here? Marcia Mount Shoop sees more in this story than simply a happy ending, for we are invited through this story into “the canon’s conversation with itself” as it wrestles with God’s own deep and sometimes perplexing hospitality toward the stranger, and our call to offer the same, whether or not we’re comfortable with that, and no matter what the rules may say.

We don’t ordinarily think of the Bible as a conversation, and yet that explains four Gospels instead of one, and the contrast between the law against marrying foreigners and this story of a pagan foreign woman as both heroine and ancestor of David. Shoop claims that Ruth’s story of unexpected welcome and faithfulness “shines a light” on God’s own generosity and grace in “new situations and problems” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 4), which once again suggests that God is still speaking in new times and new conditions, and expects us to be open to a fresh word, new insights, and unexpected gifts.

Little stories and the “dirt-real lives of the many”

Malcolm Sinclair expands on this tension between the burdens and the blessings of what many call “organized religion.” The setting for this little story is very different from the grand story of the kingdom and the temple, after the wandering people of Israel settled down. In the wilderness, Sinclair notes that things were simpler and more focused on the day-to-day realities and needs of the people of faith. Once they reached the Promised Land, settling in led to the institutionalization of that faith, with “rule imposed from above,” he writes, “the thickening of tradition, the abuses of power and privilege, and the silencing of all but official voices.” Sinclair calls Ruth “a firebreak between the lush, green aspirations of the whole tribe and the consuming flames of the powerful few” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 4).

We note at this point that the Gospel text for this Sunday expresses Jesus’ judgment on a religious system that took the last “mite” from a widow, “all that she had to live on” (Mark 12:44b).  It is our great hope that in building our communities of faith, we will stay mobile, like the people of Israel in the wilderness, creatively responsive to the needs at hand, and sensitive, as our communities take more shape, to the risks of structures and leadership that bear down on the people, especially those most vulnerable and in need.

How are we all doing?

Speaking of the needs of the most vulnerable in our midst: we read this story in the midst of yet another election season, with local elections just past and next year’s presidential campaign already heating up. As we listen to candidates debate economic issues, we might recall the worn-out question from a campaign years ago, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Such a self-centered question might be better replaced with, “Are the widow and the orphan and the stranger in our midst better off today?”

Or perhaps we might care so much about one another and our shared life that simply asking, “Are we all better off today?” would lead us to see our futures as inextricably entwined, like those of Naomi and Ruth, and of all Israel itself.

The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (Huey) serves as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio (

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A Bible study version of this reflection is at

For further reflection:

Leonardo da Vinci, 16th century      
“The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.”

Kahlil Gibran, 20th century
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

Natalie Angier, 20th century
“Hard as it may be to believe in these days of infectious greed and sabers unsheathed, scientists have discovered that the small, brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy.”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 20th century
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Michael W. Smith, 21st century
“I think if the church did what they were supposed to do, we wouldn’t have anyone sleeping on the streets.”

Booker T. Washington, 20th century
“Lay hold of something that will help you, and then use it to help somebody else.”

Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating, 21st century
“We have so far to go to realize our human potential for compassion, altruism, and love.”

Jane Addams, 20th century
“In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life.”

Virginia Woolf, Night and Day, 20th century
“What is nobler,” she mused, turning over the photographs, “than to be a woman to whom every one turns, in sorrow or difficulty?”
Stewardship sermon based on this week’s reading from Ruth:

Before we read from the Book of Ruth, a little background may be helpful: a long time ago, a woman of Bethlehem, Naomi, and her husband left their home during a famine to live in the land of Moab. Their sons married Moabite – pagan – women, but tragedy struck the family when the father and both sons died, leaving their three widows bereft without husbands to look after them. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. At first, the daughters-in-law went with her, but on the road, Naomi urged them to go back home to Moab and find new husbands there. Orpah wept, but turned back. Ruth, however, is remembered for her exquisitely beautiful response to Naomi: “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….”

Naomi lets Ruth return with her, but she is bitter, bitter, bitter, and full of despair. She even tells the women back home to call her “Mara,” which means bitter. But Ruth loves Naomi anyway, and looks after her needs. Now Naomi has an in-law, Boaz, a cousin of her dead husband, and a rich landowner. Ruth goes out with the women into the fields that Boaz owns, for gleaning: the women follow the harvesters to gather the bits of grain they leave behind. Boaz notices Ruth working hard, and makes special arrangements for these women, his distant relatives, to have extra grain. Things are starting to look up for Naomi and Ruth. (Reading: Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17)

It’s amazing what love can do. I remember a church member who was going through a difficult time in her life, and yet knew, despite all the challenges she was facing, that she wasn’t alone. Her church family was walking with her every step of the way, helping her out in every way they could. She said, “Pastor Kate, this is the place where I’m loved.” It humbled me because this woman did so much for all of us through her quiet, faithful ministry in that church, and yet her heart was full of gratitude for what God was doing for her there, through that community of faith.

Now I don’t believe for one minute that my church is the only church where that sort of thing happens. Every congregation is a place where God’s children share the wonderful gifts that God has given us – the gifts of life, and love, compassion and strength, the gifts of encouragement and inspiration, the gifts of joy and tender care. Still, I think we can get so caught up in other things – the busyness of life, the business of life, even the busyness and business of church itself, and miss what’s right before our eyes: the blessing of a loving, courageous, supportive community of faith – a gift from God, to each one of us, and to the world that God loves, the world God calls us to serve. But then maybe it’s just human nature to miss the blessings that are right before our eyes.

For example, every time I read the story of Ruth and Naomi, I wonder why old Naomi can’t seem to recognize that God has blessed her in a most amazing and unexpected way. Okay, maybe we can’t blame her entirely: she’s had one misfortune after another – hunger, poverty, dislocation, living as an alien in the land of Israel’s mortal enemy, the Moabites. Things get even worse when her husband and both sons die. She is now – officially – a nobody. So she packs up and heads home, landing there with only her daughter-in-law, Ruth the Moabite, the one who adamantly refused to leave her, back on that dusty road to Bethlehem. How ironic is that: a pagan foreign widow, about as low as it gets in those days, provides Naomi with a glimpse of undeterred, faithful, stubborn love – the dogged, determined love that someone once described as “the kind of fierce, fiery love by which God pursues us.” The Bible, you know, is just full of that sort of love from God.

So, these two widows are living on the edge of survival. They’re not aspiring to luxury or riches; they’re struggling just to get through one more day. Ruth goes out every day and works hard in the fields to provide for Naomi, and under the warmth of that kind of consistent, persistent love, Naomi’s heart slowly begins to open up. She actually starts to think about someone else’s welfare – she thinks about Ruth, about Ruth’s future. Now I don’t think you can begin to think about the future unless you have hope that there’s going to be one. When you’re trapped in despair, you can only think about yourself and “the right now” in front of you, the now that you’re sinking in. But it’s amazing what love can do even – especially – in the face of hopelessness and despair.

Naomi says what mothers have said to their daughters through the centuries: “We need to find you a man.” When I was a young woman in grad school more interested in books than in cooking, my mother once said to me, “No man will ever want you.” Bless her heart, she was concerned about my future, but we see that things hadn’t changed that much in several thousand years. In Naomi and Ruth’s day, society actually provided for widows by requiring a man to marry the widow of his dead relative, and Boaz is that next-of-kin candidate.

So, in the midst of this patriarchal system and this situation she finds herself and Ruth in, Naomi is perking up and taking the initiative. When we hear that Ruth and Boaz marry and have a child, that alone would be a happy ending, but there’s still more, a twist that’s too wonderful for us to have imagined: the baby, the son of a pagan foreigner, will be the grandfather of David, the greatest king in all of Israel, and, we Christians say, the ancestor of Jesus himself! Little Obed, the grandson of Naomi the-no-longer-bitter, represents hope, then, for the future, for this old woman and her daughter-in-law, but for all Israel itself, too, and for us, today.

What a great story this is for Consecration Sunday, on the morning you offer your pledge of giving for the coming year of ministry here at First Congregational Church! If it’s true that love can do amazing things, then generosity is the way we make that love real: generosity with our time, our talents, our money, our hearts, our selves. Generosity inspired Ruth to follow Naomi, to give her loyalty and love even when Naomi was cranky and mean. Generosity inspired Boaz to make sure the two widows had more than enough grain to live on. Generosity inspired the other women to rejoice at Naomi’s blessing of a daughter-in-law who was more to her than seven sons. The depth of concern and care that Ruth and Naomi and Boaz (and the village around them) had for one another is the kind of concern and care that builds churches, communities, and a better world.

But let’s begin this morning with the church, because this is where we nurture the vision of a better world, where we work together to bring it to reality, to live out the gospel ideal of the beloved community. Our giving to the church is not simply paying bills, although that’s a good and responsible thing to do. But “paying the bills” just doesn’t express what our giving is all about. Like the story of the man who stopped to ask two workers what they were doing: one man said, “I’m laying bricks.” The other said, “I’m building a cathedral.” Shaping a vision, and working hard, working generously, to bring it to reality, through the power of God’s Spirit in us: that is good stewardship.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, the church is where we renew our spirits, and receive love, and hear God’s call. If we are too comfortable, we get challenged here. If we are too challenged by life and its hardships, we get comfort here. For example, in every congregation, there are folks who are struggling with their finances. I personally may not have to worry about where my next meal will come from, but I do worry that I will lose touch with those who worry about their next meal. I don’t want to lose touch with the reality of the widows and orphans of our day – men, women, and children, who are required to live on our leftovers, to glean, and live on, the extra grain that we leave in the field. But my church, and the United Church of Christ, won’t let me forget about them. For example, our members contribute to hunger ministries and food banks, work in soup kitchens, and speak out passionately on behalf of the widows still gleaning from the fields of our abundance. Here in church, the local church and the wider church as well, is where we learn and practice generosity so we will be better at it, out there, in the world God loves so well.

But physical hunger isn’t the only kind of hunger you’re responding to, here at First Congregational Church. In your extraordinary ministry with veterans, Warrior’s Journey Home – a model for other communities of faith – your emerging and creative ministry with elders, with children and young adults, with families, with people in need: whether you are raking leaves for your neighbors, gathering toys for children this Christmas,  or yarning for peace; when you’re gathering for study and reflection, or joining together in fellowship and support, raising resources for an array of ministries and causes, helping one another through life’s heartaches and sharing one another’s joy, when you come together here on Sunday morning as a community in worship, or in small groups in prayer, led by gifted pastors and lay leaders – it’s true that all of these marvelous ministries are possible because of the generosity of people who give to support this church – and all of these ministries are the amazing things that love can do.

But that’s not all. Here, in church, we also think about the future. Yes, we have a great history, and we love to tell the story of all the wonderful things our forebears did long ago. First Congregational United Church of Christ, this magnificent building is the physical reminder of those who came before you and thought about you and provided a spiritual home for you, a church full of people with all kinds of stories and all kinds of gifts, sharing the same hope of being a blessing to the world. Yes, you are heirs to a great legacy. But, like Ruth, you are ancestors, too, ancestors to those who will come after you, one hundred years from now, and next Sunday morning as well, seeking the same blessing of a loving community, and the same opportunity to be, together, a blessing to the world. You have been blessed by the generosity of those who came before you, and today you reach out today to those in need around you, of course, but you also reach forward, to those who will come after you, to your own spiritual heirs. You are holding in your hearts and minds people you may never meet but who will be blessed by your generosity. We can see all our futures as inextricably entwined, like those of Naomi and Ruth, and of all Israel itself.

Our God is an awesome God of abundance and generosity, not a God of scarcity and fear. Scarcity happens when we don’t trust in God’s abundance and generosity, when we think that we – not our community, and certainly not God – are the source of our own security. Scarcity happens when we lose hope and turn inward toward ourselves and forget about the future, when we turn back, and give up, instead of facing the future with steadfast faith in God’s generosity. Scarcity happens when we fail to notice and appreciate the abundance right before our eyes, here in the love and care of this church, like Ruth standing before Naomi, offering persistent, generous, undeterred love.

I love the story of Ruth because the miracles in this story are “ordinary” ones – the miracles that happen when everyday, ordinary people like you and me decide to open our hearts and our lives to others, when we firmly resolve to let nothing and nobody deter us from the dream of a better world. Stubborn, faithful, undeterred love – it’s a miracle, and you can see it every single day, here at First Congregational Church.

This morning, the four newest members of First Congregational Church are going to be baptized into the wider Christian church. And there will be more children of God who will come here and join your community because of the warm fellowship and bright hope that thrives here. You haven’t met them yet, but this morning, when you offer your pledge to support this church’s ministry, faithfully and generously, you are thinking of those future members, dreaming of them, and building this church into a community of hospitality and justice, healing and hope, a church family that will welcome them in and invite them to join in the labor of love that is Christian ministry and gospel living.

In your promise to share the abundant gifts God has given you, in your pledge to give faithfully and generously, you are making sure that this church will thrive and be a blessing to the world that God loves, you will continue to dream of a better world for all of God’s children, and in every new day, you will find your own heart opened, and your life transformed. Amen.

Lectionary texts

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 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! 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.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 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.

Psalm 127

Unless God builds the house,
   those who build it labor in vain.

Unless God guards the city,
   the guard keeps watch in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
   and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
   for God gives sleep to God’s beloved.

Sons and daughters are indeed a heritage
   from God,
the fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
   are the offspring of one’s youth.

Happy is the person whose quiver
   is full of them.
who shall not be put to shame
   speaking with enemies in the gate.

1 Kings 17:8-16

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Psalm 146

Praise be to God!
   Praise God, O my soul!

I will praise God as long as I live;
   I will sing praises to my God
all my life long.

Do not put your trust in nobles,
   in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs,
   they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans shall perish.

Happy are those whose help
   is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Sovereign their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea,
   and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;
   who gives food to the hungry.

God sets the prisoners free;
   God opens the eyes of those who cannot see.

God lifts up those who are bowed down;
   God loves the righteous.

God watches over the strangers
   and upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked God brings to ruin.

The Sovereign will reign forever,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise be to God!

Hebrews 9:24-28

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Liturgical notes on the Readings

In ecumenical liturgical practice, there are normally three readings and one psalm at each Sunday service, in this order:

First Reading: Hebrew Scripture
Response: Psalm (or Canticle) from the Bible
Second Reading: Epistle (or Acts or Revelation)
Third Reading: Gospel

The first two lessons are normally read by laypeople, the Gospel by a Minister of the Word or a layperson. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and liturgical Protestant churches, it is uncommon for an ordained minister to read all of the lessons.

The psalm is not a reading but a congregational response following the lesson from Hebrew Scripture: it is normally sung with a refrain or recited by the congregation as poetry. Occasionally, a canticle is appointed in place of a psalm; it is sung or recited in the same way. The New Century Hymnal provides a complete liturgical psalter with refrains and music.

A hymn may be sung as an introduction to the proclamation of the Gospel.

During Ordinary Time (seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost) two alternative sets of OT readings with responsorial psalms are provided. The first option is a semi-continuous reading (Series 1) through a book of Hebrew Scripture; the second is thematically related to the other readings (Series 2). It is suggested that a congregation choose one option and follow it.