So last night, I was having trouble falling asleep, and what I usually do is grab a book and read for awhile to calm my brain down.  But after John’s talk at Axis, I decided to be intentional and I grabbed my Bible instead. 

Me and my Bible have not had a great relationship recently.  Most meetings between us end with me being frustrated (I’m sure God had been kind of frustrated too).  In an attempt to get a fresher perspective on the Word, I bought myself The Message back in November.  It’s a unique version of the Bible that reads more like a story than “scripture”. 

For the last few days, I’ve had the book of Ruth on my mind, but I haven’t acted on that (this is what we call complacency).  I hadn’t read the Message version of Ruth yet, so that’s what I did last night.  And before I even got to the story, the introduction to the book had my full attention.  Now, I know it’s not scripture, it’s just the author’s (Eugene Peterson) thoughts about the book.  But it grabbed me, and propelled me into the story.  I read the whole book of Ruth, and I’ll probably read it again today when I am more alert and have time to really ruminate on it.

Here’s the introduction to Ruth, from The Message:

“As we read the broad, comprehensive biblical story of God at work in the world, most of us are entirely impressed: God speaking creation into being, God laying the foundations of the life of faith through great and definitive fathers and mothers, God saving a people out of a brutal slave existance and then forming them into lives of free and obedient love, God raising up leaders who direct and guide through the tangle of difficulties always involved in living joyfully and responsively before God.

Very impressive.  So impressive, in fact, that many of us, while remaining impressed, feel left out.  Our unimpressive, very ordinary lives make us feel like outsiders to such a star-studded cast.  We disqualify ourselves.  Guilt or willfulness or accident makes a loophole and we assume that what is true for everyone else4 is not true for us.   We conclude that we are, somehow, “just not religious” and thus unfit to participate in the big story.

And then we turn a page and come on this small story of two widows and a farmer in their out-of-the-way village.

The outsider Ruth was not born into the faith and felt no natural part of it – like many of us.  But she came to find herself gathered into the story and given a quiet and obscure part that proved critical to the way everything turned out.

Scripture is a vast tapestry of God’s creating, saving, and blessing ways in theis world.  The great names in the plot that climaxes at Sinai (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses) and the great names in th sequel (Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon) can be intimidating to ordinary, random individuals: “Surely there is no way that I can have any significant part on such a stage.”   But the story of the widowed, impoverished, alien Ruth is proof to the contrary.  She is the inconsequential outsider whose life turns out to be essential for thelling the complete story of God’s ways among us.  The unassuming ending carries the punch line:   “Boaz married Ruth, she had a son Obed, Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.”

David!  In its artful telling of this “outsider” widow, uprooted and obscure, who turns out to be the great-grandmother of David and the ancestor of Jesus, the Book of Ruth makes it possible for each of us to understand ourselves, however ordinary or “out of it,” as irreplaceable in the full telling of God’s story.   We count – every last one of us – and what we do counts.”

And if you want to read the book of Ruth from The Message: