Where does it hurt? - Message from September 19, 2021

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking

Scripture: Ruth 1:6-22

Series: I've Been Meaning to Ask...

Message: Where does it hurt?


Listen to podcast | Tithes and Offerings


Transcript

Our current series of “I’ve Been Meaning to Ask…” suggests four questions as a path to deeper connection. Last week we started with, “Where are you from?” And this week, the question is, “Where does it hurt?” The title, “I’ve Been Meaning to Ask…” is itself not a question. But it does beg a question. “I’ve Been Meaning to Ask…” prompts the question of, “Why haven’t you asked?” Why don’t we ask questions of each other that go beyond the surface?


Well, one reason is that we know that under the surface, things can be murky. Not shiny, smooth and polished like they often are on the surface. We can’t always see perfectly and we have to feel our way forward. We are venturing into new places and that can feel vulnerable. We can bump into things, and even each other.


One of the blessings of our current hybrid worship format with a group of people here in the sanctuary and a group of people online is that there are multiple engagements with the service happening simultaneously. There is a palpable energy that we can feel as we sit in this physical space together, and there is the opportunity to voice reactions, thoughts, truth, prayers and praises online. Last week, I asked persons watching online to respond in the chat to signs and symbols that indicated where they were from. Even in this initial dip under the surface, we were alerted to something very significant from our brother Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, President of Claremont School of Theology, whose church home is Epworth. Dr. Kuan wrote, “Unfortunately, for Asian Americans, the question of ‘Where are you from?’ is a very sensitive and loaded question. It is often an attempt to ‘return’ us to our land of origin! The question ‘Where are you from?,’ intended or not, seeks to inscribe Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners and say to us that we cannot be real Americans. We are viewed as and related to as an ‘other.’”


The online community learned and processed together Dr. Kuan’s deep sharing, and I’m grateful to Dr. Kuan for raising how this question can be problematic for immigrant communities and others who were brought to this country in enslavement. Dr. Kuan and I talked this week and he gave me permission to share this with you. He also gave me permission to share from a message he had previously preached on the passage from the Book of Ruth which is our scripture for today.


As the story goes, Naomi, an Israelite from Bethlehem in the land of Judah, migrates with her husband and two sons to Moab as a result of famine in their home. As they try to build a new life in Moab, they are met with both sorrow and joy. Naomi’s husband dies, but her sons meet and marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. And then Naomi’s sons die. Naomi’s pain and grief are consuming. She sees nothing for her in Moab and she says to her two daughters-in-law, “There’s nothing here for me. I’m going back to Judah. This is your land and your people. May you create a new life for yourselves here.”


Orpah does as Naomi instructs and turns back to Moab. But Ruth does not, and instead speaks some of the most beloved lines in all of scripture, “Do not entreat me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates me from you.”

This is a beautiful expression of love and devotion. And it leaves so much for us to wonder about. We know Naomi is in deep pain. Just after Ruth pledges her life and accompaniment to her mother-in-law, Naomi, whose name means “pleasant,” declares that henceforth her name should be “Mara” which means bitter, because, as she says, “The Lord has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full and came back empty.” In the depths of her hurt, Naomi is not able to embrace this gift of love and care from Ruth.


At the same time, Ruth is heading into a new life where she will be seen as an ‘other.’ In fact, as Dr. Kuan’s message points out, of the 12 times Ruth is mentioned by name in the Book of Ruth, in five of these she is referred to as “Ruth the Moabite” emphasizing her otherness and in one case she proclaims, “I am a foreigner.” [I am indebted to Dr. Jeffrey Kuan for his exegesis of this passage and engagement with the experience of persons who migrate to new lands.]


Dr. Kuan speaks of the experience of being an immigrant in his explication of Ruth as it relates to the experience of Asian Americans. He writes, “As Asian Americans, we know all too well the pain of our cultural identity. Our identity is hyphenated and hybrid, each aspect contributing significantly to the construction of who we are. We are both Asians and Americans, yet never fully Asians nor Americans.


Dr. Kuan goes on to say, “Living a hybrid existence often gives us a sense of being ‘a perpetual foreigner.’ As Asian Americans, our skin color, and for some of us our accents, often led others, particularly white Americans, to ask us the question, ‘Where are you from?’ If we say, for example, that we are from Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, etc., this question will quickly be followed by another question, ‘Really, where are you from?,’ with the implication of ‘where is your homeland.’ Such questions, primarily from the dominant white society, in many ways define the Asian American experience,” Dr. Kuan writes. “We are viewed as and related to as an ‘other’ and cannot be real Americans.

Over the course of Asian American history, we have been stereotyped as perpetual foreigners, yellow peril, social pollutants, and drug-using deviants, among others. It is an attempt to demonize the Asian American population.” I am indebted to Dr. Kuan for his exegesis and insight into this passage. And for being willing to speak of this painful history. It calls all of us into deeper understanding, deeper relationship, deeper responsibility.


Was Naomi able to recognize the loss and pain Ruth was to experience as the old biases in the Israelites met her when she left Moab? Was Naomi able to recognize that even in her pain she had the power to mitigate Ruth’s pain through her own awareness and actions? How would Ruth and Naomi engage each other around the question of “Where does it hurt?” Did they miss each other’s pain? I confess to you this morning that in posing the question, “Where are you from?” there was pain in our community that I missed and I am sorry for that. But I have learned and next time I will do better.


The three general rules of Methodism articulated by John Wesley are these: 1) Do no harm, 2) Do all the good you can and 3) Stay in Love with God. Sometimes “Do No Harm” gets misinterpreted as “Do nothing.” Our world is so complex, and there is a lot we don’t know or can’t see. Sometimes, it can seem like the safest route to not doing harm is to do nothing.


But the first of the general rules must always be understood in the theological context in which Wesley spoke them. Wesley said, “First do no harm” in a theological context that took for granted that the world and humanity were already broken. Wesley wasn’t a full subscriber to the view of his contemporary theologian, John Calvin, of the complete and utter depravity of humanity and the totality of original sin. He understood these things to be mediated by God’s grace.


But Wesley did affirm a kind of brokenness in which humanity existed. This original and ongoing state of brokenness can be understood in the framework of later process theologians such as Marjorie Suchocki, professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology. Suchocki described a system of generational sin, which began at the advent of history, that was a result of cumulative choices of violence and structures of separation. And it was and is this brokenness that manifests in our lives as pain, hurt. It manifests as racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, violence and trauma. It is this brokenness that calls us, through the grace of God, to act. And so in this sense and context, “Do No Harm” can never imply inaction. As long as there is brokenness, we are required to work with God to repair it. As long as there is hurt, we are called to work with God to heal it.


You may have noticed that in this series, our worship liturgy includes a prayer of confession. Though the prayer of confession is traditional to Christian worship, it is not often a feature in Epworth’s worship. That’s not because we don’t need it. But confession can take us deep, it can be misunderstood and read as shame and blame, and so more often we choose to swim in other waters.


But when we are engaged in the deep work of seeking to really understand one another’s experience, especially around experiences of pain, trauma and hurt, part of understanding is being accountable for where past actions or historic connections have caused harm. And part of understanding is that in asking important questions, regardless of intent, we can still sometimes do harm. Intent and impact are not the same.


We all carry with us experiences of pain, trauma and hurt. Part of our task is to bear witness to each other’s pain. Where are there spoken or unspoken griefs that weigh heavily in our community? Where and how will we make space to hear these? How will we be changed by what we hear? How will we respond and act? It is my prayer that our series of holy conversations on race, racism and racial justice which begins today will be one of those spaces, and open up other spaces for deep sharing. And as we move into these deep waters, I trust that God’s grace will meet us there. I know that God’s mercy will guide us in confession, apology and repair, and I believe we will be changed. Amen.


Order of Service

The Community Gathers...

Prelude

Rev. Jerry Asheim
Introit: "Be Still My Soul"
Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes

Welcome & A Covenant of Grace

Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Rev. Jerry Asheim, Melani Gantes

Prayer for Illumination

Dianne Rush Woods & Jordan Jerrels

Holy God,

Today we will read stories of those who have known hurt—

people who have carried shame,

who have lived with grief and chronic illness,

who have felt alone and ignored,

who have seen the depths of suffering.

As we listen, we will be reminded of

the hurt we have carried during these fragile days—

memories and regrets co-mingling in our chests.

And as we listen, we will be reminded

that our neighbors, our siblings in faith,

also come to this space carrying burdens.

So dust off our ears and stretch open the

canvases of our hearts so that in our pain,

we might lean into one another as we lean into you.

Pull us close.

We are listening.

Amen.

Opening Music: "More Love" (comp. Sid Davis)

Judy Kriege

​To Hear the Word...

Scripture Reading: Ruth 1:6-22

Dianne Rush Woods & Jordan Jerrels

Children's Message

Susan Jardin

Call to Confession - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

When we gather together we are quick to wave and say hello, to pass the peace,

to comment on the weather, to make small talk and show hospitality;

but how often do we go below the surface? How often do we sit next to the same people, week after week, oblivious to the things they might be carrying?

Family of faith, I believe God wants deeper connection for us than that,

so listen now to our prayer of confession and then join me in silent prayer following.

Let us listen. Let us pray:


Prayer of Confession - Dianne Rush Woods & Jordan Jerrels

Voice 1: I’ve been meaning to ask…

Voice 2: How are you?

What has your year been like?

Did you know that I have been thinking of you?

Voice 1: I have been meaning to ask…

Voice 2: Is your mom okay?

Did your sister find a job?

Did you ever think we’d still be here?

Voice 1: I’ve been meaning to ask…

Voice 2: Did it get easier?

Did the grief subside?

Were you ever able to sleep at night?

Voice 1: I’ve been meaning to ask but I haven’t—

Voice 2: Because it’s hard.

Because I want to say the right thing.

Because I’m not sure what you need.

Voice 1: I’ve been meaning to ask, so I’m sorry for my silence.

Voice 2: Forgive me. Show me where it hurts.

Voice 1: Let’s start again.

Voice 2: Family of faith, we could all use some practice in asking where it hurts.

Take a moment of silent prayer to think of the people in your world,

in your lives, who may need you to reach out and ask. Give their names to God.

Pause for silent prayer.

Voice 1: Trusting that God hears all things, we say together: Amen.

Words of Forgiveness - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Family of faith, in the journey to love and care for one another, we are bound to make mistakes. Fortunately for us, we worship a God who showed us how to love, and who extends grace to us when we fail to do so for others.

So hear and believe the good news of the gospel:

We are seen. We are heard. We are loved. We are forgiven.

Thanks be to God for this endless grace. Amen.


*Affirming the Peace Among Us

You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.

Anthem: "World Without Tears" (Lucinda Williams)

Judy Kriege, Alice Templeton, Dianne Rush Woods

Message: "What does it hurt?"

Rev. Kristin Stoneking

​To Respond and Renew Commitment...

Musical Mediation: "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me"

Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes

Prayers of the People

Leader: Loving God, People: We lift our prayers to you.

The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer )

Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Offering Our Resources and our Energy

Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680.

*Affirmation of Faith

On my best days,

I believe that God is there—standing in the sun with me,

laughing a contagious laugh and cheering me on.

On my hardest days,

I believe that God is there—standing in the rain with me,

holding me up and sharing in my grief.

No matter where I go—

in joy or in loss,

in pain or in love,

in heartache or in gratitude—

I believe that God is there,

leaning in, noticing where it hurts,

and carrying me through it.

And so, I believe we are called

to care for each other

as God cares for us.

On your best days in the sun

and on your worst days in the rain,

I will do my best

to be there for you too. Amen.

​To Go Forth with Love and Compassion

Closing Hymn: "Whither Thou Goest"

Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes

Sending Forth

Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Postlude

Rev. Jerry Asheim

***Special Thanks To:

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Worship Leaders: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Melani Gantes, Susan Jardin, Jordan Jerrels, Judy Kriege, Alice Templeton, Dianne Rush Woods

Ushers: Greg Downs & Laura Heid

Audio engineer: Tom McClure

Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey

Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt


Credits: Liturgy by Rev. Sarah Are, A Sanctified Art LLC., sanctifiedart.org. Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.