When I was a kid I went to Hebrew School once or twice. I remember a lady helping me learn a few letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but like any kid crashing into a class that’s been going on for weeks in a school where everyone has chosen friends, as much as I would have liked to, I didn’t belong. My Father’s interest in raising me Jewish dried up just about immediately so I was pulled out of the synagogue and given a Star of David necklace instead. My Dad said I was to wear it at all times because, like him, I was Jewish.
The girl down the street from us who was really Jewish clued me in that, K-mart Star of David necklace or no, I wasn’t. She expained you could have a gentile Dad and a Jewish mom and be Jewish but not the other way around. I went to the party at Stephanie’s house after her Bat mitzvah. With no idea what at Bat mitzvah was it wasn’t hard to figure that it meant she special she was to God. Green with envy, I ate my cake.
Fifteen years later I was in seminary, reading the Book of Ruth, which can be done in about twenty minutes. I knew right away it was written for me. Here was this gentile woman, Ruth, throwing in her lot with Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law and bearing a child as Jewish as me. Later on, that kid became a great-grandparent of Kind David. After Ruth, I started seeing character after character in the Bible who didn’t fit for one reason or another but then became matriarchs and patriarchs of faith, both Jewish and Christian. As a matter of fact, instead of being outside the tradition, these outsiders were the tradition.
Take Moses, whose very name back then was gentile. Moses might have been biologically Hebrew but that guy grew up thinking he was Egyptian royalty, worshiping Egyptian gods and maybe being worshiped himself. Not only that, his own people were less than thrilled to see him when he started trying to discover his roots. But God chose to speak to this man who was neither from this nor that people. And then there’s the Samaritian woman who is asked by a tired Jesus for water. Shocked that Jesus would make such a request of a forgeiner like her, she’s even more stunned that Jesus knows everything about her, of which she was almost certainly not proud. Instead of judging her, Jesus draws her in which seems to have been what he wanted more than water. On her own she concludes that he might be the Messiah and for this, the Gospel of John makes her part of the canon.
There are prayer stations at Grace along the perimeters of the church for the season of Lent and one of them is in the baptistery, the place God makes us God’s own forever. There’s sand in the font and a table with slips of paper, pens and a candle beside it. Seekers are invited to write down a lie they told or have been told that caused themselves or other people pain, burn the lie in the font and know that when lie is turned over to God it has no more power.
Fasting, alms giving and repentance during Lent aren’t ends in themselves. Instead, they are are handles to grab onto as we make our way back to intimacy with God who, as Psalm 139 testifies, knit us together in our mothers wombs so must want each of us quite a bit.
If you ever thought you were not who God wanted know this: that is a lie. Way before Ruth had her baby, before Moses started learning Hebrew and before the woman at the well began wondering if Jesus cared more about her than the water he was forgetfully holding in his hand, you were always exactly the one who God wanted.
If you have trouble believing that now is the time: repent and return to the Lord.