Genesis 38:1–30, Deuteronomy 25:5–10, Ruth 4:1–10, Mark 12:18–27
Migration has long been the story of humankind. People would move from place to place. The United States mythos includes a strong migratory component, from the theorized migration of First Nations peoples over the Bearing Land Bridge to the European migration to the Western Expansion, along with 2 Gold Rushes and the huge population shifts with the Great Depression and World War II. This creates a strong cultural influence with family dynamics and in the wider society. The Census Bureau estimates that from 2013-2017, 41.5% of the US population did not live in the same state (or country for foreign-born) as they were born in. How can this not impact our relationships with people, family, and place?
Until the last 70 years, or so, when people moved from a different country to the US or even state-to-state, the ties of family were broken or became perfunctory rather than being profound. If you are one those that have remained in the same state you were born in, it is still likely that your parents, or grandparents came from. Advances in transportation have allowed for some restoration of these familial ties but is more likely for those in the middle- and upper-class. With the advent of more and more connective technologies, there is greater potential to maintain these connections. It is too soon to tell if that will actually happen, though based on current evidence it doesn’t look likely.
What does all of this have to do with our passages? They show a huge difference between ancient cultures and our own. That is part of the problem. In the first 3 passages from the Old Testament, the significance of the “kinsman redeemer” (an epithet we get from the book of Ruth) is lost in today’s culture. Put your siblings or your children into these stories as either kinsman redeemer or needing such, and gauge your responses. Most people have a negative response to it. We generally don’t get it. Many centuries later, this is still a question, as we can see with Sadducees question of Jesus.
Connections. Community. Obligation. Sense of place. This should help us understand why we have such a problem with ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία). This Greek word is often translated “church”. It originally meant a public gathering. Through the resilience of God’s Word, church as a gathered community became the dominant definition. Community.
In many respects, the church became more of the ekklēsia during the Westward Expansion, as it was the only common gathering place. However, as transportation “improved” and the suburbs became a reality, community began to fade. Now, in the Pacific Northwest, even the ekklēsia isn’t really a community. In many churches, and some say ours, many people do not feel that they are part of the community. For some, the ekklēsia is a fancy word for an hour-long meeting on Sunday, that doesn’t really feed into the other 6 days of the week.
1) What do you do to build community? To build community, do you think you should look to yourself, first? Or do you need to look to others?
2) If you were to describe your ideal church community, what words would you use? If you were to describe your ideal community where you live, what words would you use? How are the words and intent both the same and different?