31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 4, 2016
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
On this Labor Day weekend, when we honor and benefit from those who fought for workers’ rights, we remember that long before unions and the industrial revolution, God was telling us of the need for rest in our lives, of the need to leave a little space for ourselves and for others.
Because God rests on the seventh day after creating the world, we are commanded to rest and keep the Sabbath day holy. Throughout scripture, we are instructed to return our first fruits, 10% of our earnings back to God, and in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, we are told that we should not harvest to the very edges of our fields, strip our vineyards bare, but leave a little something behind for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
I don’t know about you, but I have not been obeying that last instruction very well. I am harvesting right to the edges of the field of my life. My time is so filled, my to do list so overfilled, that even if I had an extra 12 hours every day, I am not sure I would get it all done.
And I know I am not alone. Summer vacation used to be a time when children and teens played, hung out, and got wonderfully bored. Instead, summer vacation has become a continuation of their busy school year. I heard the other day of a Bristol Eastern student who had over 18 chapters to read in preparation for AP History. My niece spent her entire summer in volleyball camps. She even has practice for the high school team tomorrow. And youth in our church have spent their whole summer in the gymnastics gym or running from basketball to soccer.
In 2016, I don’t personally know anyone who takes a weekly Sabbath day. We barely have any margins left to our lives. And it leaves us physically exhausted, emotionally run down, angry, and selfish.
Yes, angry and selfish – because when we glean to the edges of our lives we live perpetually in a state of scarcity. Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough money.
When we gleam to the very edges of our lives, there is nothing left over for ourselves or anyone else.
And so when others ask, whether it be loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, even important ministries with our church community, when others ask for our help, we get angry and say no – because how can they expect anything of us when we are already stretched thin, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Can’t they see that we have nothing to give?!
But that is not how God wants our lives to be. That is not how God created us to be.
God created us with abundant talents and abilities to share. God gave us six days to use our many gifts and abilities for the blessing of the world. And God continues to give us every good gift – even when we don’t realize God is doing it.
God has blessed us so that we might be a blessing to others and the world, which is a blessing in itself – to be able to help others.
When we leave margins in our lives – time for Sabbath and rest, time to sleep well; when we take our days off each week and actually use them to read, laugh, play golf, fish, exercise, lounge in the pool; when we set aside money and time as first fruits to God; then when the “ask” comes, when the plea for help comes, we are able to respond out of our abundance and say ‘yes, yes, I can help’. I can help my parents; I can help my children; I can help my neighbor; I can volunteer with Family Promise or in our schools or with any number of wonderful ministries within our church and community.
Those little margins in our lives: one day of out seven, 10% of our earnings, a few inches of intentional space in our calendars, those little margins in our lives are profound. They make all the difference between feeling like we live in scarcity or knowing we live in abundance.
In this morning’s scripture passage, we learn about Boaz. We hear that Boaz was a rich man, and Boaz was a generous man. It is easy to say, ‘Well, he could afford to let the poor glean the edges of his field. He was rich. He had enough. He had more than enough to share.’
I don’t think the very wealthy are any more likely to feel like they have enough than anyone else. All too often, the very wealthy are just like us – gleaning to the very edges of their schedules and bank accounts.
And often, the very wealthy are just like Boaz, as abundant in faith as they are in material goods. Boaz knew God’s commandments, and he follows the words from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Boaz leaves the edges of his fields for the poor to harvest.
That was all that God and society required of him, but Boaz gave more. When Boaz met Ruth, met Ruth in the margins of his field, he was inspired to give more, to share more.
Boaz invites Ruth to eat with him, eat with him until she is overfull, and then Boaz instructs his men to not only let Ruth continue to glean in the field but even “glean” amongst the harvest. Boaz goes so far as to say ‘pull out some extra handfuls of grain and scatter them on the ground so she has even more to glean.’
That depth of generosity was not required of Boaz. It was not even expected of him, but it was inspired in him. Boaz was inspired by Ruth’s devotion and loving kindness to Naomi; he was inspired by her hard work and perseverance; he was inspired by her faithfulness, that she would leave behind her mother and father and travel to a people she did not know, seeking refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.
In meeting Ruth, Boaz was inspired to greater generosity and loving kindness himself. And all because Boaz left the edges of his field, the margins of his life, space open for others.
Ironically, God lives in the margins of our lives. God lives in the outsider. God lives in the poor of physical means and the poor of spirit. God lives in the small things and quiet moments of our lives, those things we potentially overlook.
God lives in the margins of our lives.
We might wish it otherwise. We may truly, diligently strive to put God at the center of our lives, the center of our church community, but we are human- broken and flawed.
God lives in the margins of our lives. So we need to create those margins – set aside time for rest, set aside a percentage of our money to give to God’s work in the world, set aside time to help others.
We need to leave edges to the fields of our lives. Because it is those margins that remind us that we live in abundance, those margins that keep us healthy, those margins where we encounter God and are transformed by God’s love even as we transform the world.