Pastor Sherry’s message for October 31, 2021
Scriptures: Ruth 1:1-18; Ps 146; Heb 9:11-14; Mk 12:28-34
This morning, we encounter as our Old Testament lesson, the lovely story of the friendship of Ruth and Naomi. (Various verses from the book of Ruth are often quoted at weddings.) The context is provided right off the bat, in the first verse in the days that the Judges ruled…. This means it was after the Israelites had entered the Land of Promise, and after the death of Joshua, Moses’ successor. It was a very dark period of Hebrew history (1380-1050BC). It was dark because, just a few generations after entering the Land—and after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and after seeing God’s signs and wonders—another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Isaelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals (Judges 2:10-11).
In other words, they would sin mightily against all the commandments, but especially the first 4. They rejected God and got involved in idolatry (Baal worship=spiritual adultery). God would then say, OK, have it your way…(Ro 1:28-29) Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (sins against the last 6 commandments). God would then also remove His hand of protection from around them: He would allow Moabites to terrorize them; the Amalekites, Ammonites, or Philistines to subjugate them; the Midianites to raid them and cart off their crops, animals, and even their women and children. Sometimes God would not command rain to fall, which resulted in famine. They would then repent, beg for His help, swear again their allegiance to Him, and He would graciously rescue them. This would happen in about 40 year cycles, time for one generation to die off and be replaced by another.
When the story of Ruth begins, God has allowed a famine in the land. Scripture tells us that famine, locusts, or plagues are evidence of God’s judgment! So what should have been Israel’s response? 2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Even if they did not yet have 2 Chronicles to read, they had the 40 year cycles playing out in the book of Judges. The lesson, again and again, is Repent, pray, ask for God’s mercy.
Naomi and her family lived in Bethlehem in Judah, which means house of food/bread; in Judah which means praise. But, unfortunately, Naomi’s husband Elimelech (my God is King) decides not to repent, pray, and ask for God’s mercy, but rather to leave and head to Moab. YIKES! Understand that Elimelech leaves God’s protection and provision to move in with Israelite enemies/God’s enemies. He leaves the house of bread, in the region of praise, choosing not to wait on a miracle from God, but to leave the covenant community of Israel, and trust in his own resources; to do as he saw fit. He moves his family to the land of the Moabites, who were descended from Lot, born of incest. In Psalm 108:9, God says, Moab is my washpot garbage can. Willful Elimelech leaves the house of bread for the garbage can.
He takes with him Naomi (pleasant; Merry Sunshine!) and their two sons, Mahlon (sickly; weakling;) and Kilion (puny). Because of this fateful and foolish move, Naomi is reduced from fullness to emptiness: With 2 sons and a husband, Naomi leaves Bethlehem feeling “Full.” But, during their sojourn in Moab, she begins to empty. She has no additional children; her husband, Elimelech, dies; her two sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah—who are both lovely and loving, but who appear to be barren. Then, both young men die! Naomi winds up empty in Moab!
What does she decide to do? Like so many of us when life leaves us frustrated and alone, we either strike out for a new place/new beginning or we go back home, don’t we? She’s already done the former. So now it’s time to try the latter. She probably thought to herself, When was I last full? In Israel, when I lived among family; in Israel, where I had women friends; in Israel, where I lived under God’s protection. She may have even thought, Maybe the Lord allowed all of this because we didn’t trust Him
Did Naomi repent for having fled from the Promised Land? Did she pray? Did she ask for God’s forgiveness? It doesn’t seem like it because at first she returns to Bethlehem and tells the women there, call me Mara (bitter). Like a lot of us, rather than taking responsibility for being out of God’s will, she blames God for her misfortunes.
But our lesson today points to one benefit she has gained from her sojourn in the garbage pail: Ruth. Through Ruth, God begins to fill Naomi back up:
1.) First, consider Ruth’s character: She is compassionate. She knows Naomi is grieved and depressed, so she puts Naomi’s need for companionship and assistance ahead of her own comforts. This is what St. Paul would later define as agapao, a 1st Corinthians 1 type of love. She is also loyal. Maybe she had experienced first-hand Naomi’s kindnesses to her as a young bride. Perhaps Naomi had consoled her in her childlessness. Maybe Naomi had been very helpful to her during Mahlon’s illness and death. Scripture is silent on these points. Whatever had happened between them, it was enough for Ruth to prefer leaving her own homeland to venture to a land where she might be forever an outcast. I think that tells us she was courageous.
2.) Second, Ruth had become a God-follower, v.16–Your God will be my God…may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separate you and me. How had that happened? Probably because of Naomi’s example: Naomi tells the women of Bethlehem that she knows God has brought me back empty (Hmmm, that implies she prayed), and to call her Mara. But she seems also to have practiced St. Francis’ (much later advice: Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. Even if her depression was talking most recently, Ruth had seen the true Naomi, before all of her misfortunes. Maybe God was telling Naomi, through Ruth’s presence, I have blessed you with a true-blue friend!
And that was just the beginning, wasn’t it? If you know the story of Ruth, you know that Naomi still held a deed to a family-owned, but mortgaged, tract of land. God supplies a kinsman redeemer (a foreshadowing of Christ), Boaz, who generously pays off the mortgage and marries Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law. We know God designed this because there was another fellow in the family who wanted the land, but not Ruth. Also, Boaz, an older guy, was rather amazed that this lovely young woman would desire him over guys her own age.
The childless Ruth bears a son to Boaz, Obed (servant of the Lord.) Obed is the father of Jesse, and the Grandfather of King David. More importantly, we know that Ruth and Boaz establish the line of Jesse of the tribe of Judah, out of which comes the Messiah, Jesus. The Lord fills Naomi back up–just like Job–really beyond anything she can ask or imagine.
Psalm 146 echoes the theme: Verses 5-6 say, Blessed is he [or she] whose help in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his [her] God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord, who remains faithful forever. Verses 7-9 almost seem to have been composed for Naomi in particular: He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…the Lord…sustains the fatherless and the widow….
Hebrews 9:11-14 exhorts us to trust in Jesus’ saving power. While Naomi and Ruth’s time predated Christ’s by centuries, nevertheless they were redeemed by a prototype of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews wants us to know and to appreciate the fact that the blood Jesus shed to pay the penalty for our sins far surpasses the blood of animals to make atonement for us. Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer.
Mark 12:28-34 presents us with a lawyer (or teacher of the law) who confesses that loving God and loving our neighbors is more important to God than making burnt offerings (to remove the blot of sin) or sacrifices. Jesus commends him for his wisdom. Love of God—trust in God—and love of people are what most please God.
There are some wonderful lessons for us, given current events as well as our personal dilemmas and calamities:
1.) You may remember from last week, There is no situation I can get into that God cannot get me out of. If we trust in God, we will be all right. Elimelech and Naomi should have trusted in God. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had humbled themselves, repented, sought God, and prayed. He promises in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to hear, forgive, and heal if we do. However, because God is a redeemer, even though Naomi returned to Bethlehem minus a husband and two sons, she was richer for having a loyal, generous, and loving daughter-in-law. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and is included in the lineage of Jesus. Surely Naomi is in heaven rejoicing that that is the case!
2.) I am convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to our personal dilemmas. No matter what be-devils you—health issues, depression or crippling anxiety, family quarrels, money problems, unpleasant situations at work or in the neighborhood—bring all these issues to God’s attention. Repent of your sins. Ask for His help. Trust in His love. Then watch and see what He does.
3.) I am also convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to the trouble our country is in now. We need to confess our sins as a nation, to repent, and to return to our foundational beliefs in God. America was meant to be a “City set on a hill,” an example to the rest of the world of what a country can look like when it is focused on loving God and obeying His will. What we see now is a country that is suffering the consequences of being out of God’s will. He has lifted His hedge of protection from us. We are encountering all manner of troubles because we have walked away from Him. The answer, the antidote, is not to throw more money on our problems, but to return to the God who has purchased us with His own blood! Thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams