National Older Adult Conference of the Church of the Brethren
Lake Junaluska, N.C. — Sept. 7-11, 2009
Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009
Bible study leader: Bob Neff
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:9
Having been introduced as a former professor of Old Testament at Bethany Theological Seminary, former General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren, and former President of Juniata College, Bible study leader Bob Neff joked, “All it shows is that I wasn’t able to hold a job.”
Neff read aloud from 1 Corinthians 1:9, “…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” In this first Bible study of a three-day series, he dissected the genealogy of Jesus as it appears in Matthew, giving a practical demonstration of how the wisdom of the Old Testament legacy is interwoven in the New Testament story of Jesus’ family legacy.
Discussing the importance of family, Neff told a story about how difficult it is for everyone at his family reunions to discuss religion. But at a recent reunion, all that was pushed aside as the family discovered that eight generations back their ancestors–whom they had thought were exclusively Anabaptist–had actually included a Hessian soldier who had been a prisoner of war after the Battle of Trenton in 1776.
In the same way, Neff said, it is surprising to find four women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus–all with interesting pasts. The women include Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law; Rahab, the famed harlot of Jericho; and Ruth, who took extraordinary steps to snare Boaz. “All of these women are Gentiles. Why are they there?” Neff asked.
Focusing on the story of Ruth, Neff emphasized “the devotion, chesed, of this woman to her mother-in-law.” She both embodies the steadfast love displayed by God toward the people, and the foolishness of God, he added. “Here’s someone who doesn’t know Hebrew law, comes from a completely different culture, who acts to protect someone in danger. It’s incredible! A Moabite, the people who refused bread to the Israelites, brings bread to an Israelite widow. The foolishness of God….”
At the Jewish festival of Pentecost, Neff said, Ruth is the book that is read because it embodies the way the law is fulfilled in righteous lives, and tells the story of a righteous life lived by one who was not raised in the tradition.
Ruth also is placed in the Old Testament as an alternative story to the violent chaos of the time of the judges, and the story of the monarchy, in which power is sought and usurped. “The foolishness of God!” Neff repeated. “The story of Ruth shows it’s possible to have a community in which everyone is cared for without the overlording power of a king…an alternative story that shows the weakness of God is more powerful than anything you can imagine, and the foolishness of God, expressed in a Moabite woman, is the measure of life in the faith.
“This is why these women appear before the birth of Jesus,” Neff said. “The gospel writer wants to say through genealogy that something different in the way of power and family is going to happen, and that the foolishness of God is inclusive of the frailest member who can redeem the whole community through their chesed.”
— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren
The News Team for the 2009 National Older Adult Conference is coordinated by Eddie Edmonds, and includes Alice Edmonds, Frank Ramirez, Perry McCabe, and staff Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, who serves as director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.