While I was in the midst of a fairly busy Sabbath, even busier than usual, the sermonette in Portland was one that I found worthy of thoughtful pondering. Although much of that sermonette was material I had gone over before in my own lengthy occasional treatments of the book of Ruth , there was one particular comment that I found rather haunting, and that was the connection that he drew between the feast of Pentecost and the way that people accept their relationship with God. Of particular interest was his citation of 1 Chronicles 29:14-15, which reads: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.” As is my fashion in dealing with melancholy subjects, I would like to focus on this last verse.
There are a great many people who seem almost always to be at home. Where I grew up, for example, many people had been born in places and never traveled particularly far from them. They spent their entire lives in circumscribed areas where they were around friends and loved ones, except when they traveled as tourists. Quite a few people, though, were more like me, in that we had always been aliens and strangers wherever we went . I was born to a farming family in rural Western Pennsylvania who viewed me as an outsider, grew up in rural central Florida as a day-um Yankee who always managed to talk and think like one, spent my teenage years as the only white kid in a black neighborhood that had been built on top of a dump as part of an urban renewal project, then went off to Southern California where I was definitely a stranger, and in my experience living in the Cincinnati area as well as Thailand and the Pacific Northwest, I have always remained an outsider, alien to those around me, with more than usual a sense of darkness and mystery about me and my ways. And, more than most people, my existence is one that has been as a shadow on the earth, and without hope.
I was especially reminded of this fact during the sermon that followed. The sermon message made a lengthy detour into the area of marriage. The speaker joked about the kinds of love that people know as spouses and compared the love to be found within marriage to the sort of love that we should have with God, based on agape and not on our more changeable moods and emotions and attractions. The speaker commented that it is not good that man should be alone and asked the audience to take the advice given by Jesus Christ to the church of Ephesus to remember what God has done for us, but he did not connect all the dots. Was he trying to make light of the difficulties of people who for one reason or another were not married? It certainly seemed as if he was trying to joke a bit too much about much matters for my own comfort. Surely, in more than most areas of my life, my own irritations about my lack of success in matters of love and intimacy are not the sort I tend to view with much of a lighthearted manner, but rather a heavy burden, like Sisyphus trying to roll a stone up what seems at times to be an impossibly high hill. Perhaps later on I will be able to look on such matters and laugh, but not for now.
After all, we should all know what happened with Ruth. She came to Bethlehem as a stranger in a strange place, without the expectations of being treated very kindly, and she managed very well for herself. Boaz, whose generous treatment of her speaks of his own kind-hearted if somewhat timid nature, ended up well also. Ruth suggests that it is possible for people without a great deal of hope to end up alright with the help of divine providence. Although I have long pondered and thought about such aspects of divine providence, I have often felt that it seemed to work out easier for other people than to myself. I have wondered if I am simply not a good enough person for life to be easy and comfortable, but that it must always be some sort of difficult and frequently unpleasant struggle. The promises of God to give his beloved sleep, or large families and loving relationships has often seemed to mock my continual diffiuclties in life. I was created full of longings but not with the ability to fulfill those longings in an easy or straightforward manner. And so my life is a shadow on the world, frequently without hope. At least I am in good company, though, as for David to mention it, clearly it was an experience he had seen or experienced well enough to note it as the common state of mankind.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: