sermon for 11/1/09 – “Wherever You Go” Ruth 1:1-18

The text of the sermon delivered by Rev. Kirk Moore at Union Congregational United Church of Christ in Somonauk, IL on November 1, 2009

“Wherever You Go” podcast

This morning’s Bible reading is from Ruth 1:1-18

Beyond

This morning we go beyond the words that are easy to pronounce and into the realm of the book of Ruth.

Elimelech and Naomi went with their sons Mahlon and Chilion beyond the land of Judah – the land of their ancestors, to Moab, the land of their cousins . . . cousins with a tenuous and sometimes violent past.

After their father died, Mahlon and Chilion married Orpah and Ruth from Moab, and when they died, Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were beyond the help of the system

After traveling beyond where they had been living, Naomi went beyond the idea of self-preservation and told Orpah and Ruth to return to their families. She would live out her days in bitterness and poverty.

Though she convinced Orpah to leave and to seek the care of her family, Ruth was not convinced. She went beyond the safe route and cultural norms and she vowed to stay with Naomi no matter what.

Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi has significance well beyond her lifetime. She has been traced as the ancestor of David and Jesus, and her love for Naomi has been lifted up as an example for all to follow.

Now . . . let’s go beyond the short observations and discover what it is we will learn today from Ruth 1:1-18.

  • Elimelech and Naomi went with their sons Mahlon and Chilion beyond the land of Judah – the land of their ancestors, to Moab, the land of their cousins . . . cousins with a tenuous and sometimes violent past.

There was no love lost between the people of Judah and the people of Moab. Listen to what the book of Deuteronomy says about their status:
(Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NRSV) No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD, {4} because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.

Lots of bad blood over a case of bad hospitality and then later over some angry rhetoric. Nothing new under the sun. But Elimelech and Naomi and Mahlon and Chilion (I just like to say the names) went there anyway. Why? Because there was a famine in Judah. Can you imagine something like this before they left?

“I don’t care that we’re enemies! Who even remembers what it was all about? They are people just like we are. When was the last time we had a battle? Nobody can remember anymore! They have food! If we go there we will be able to find food – and maybe more!”

No history of anger, hate, violence – any kind of bad blood should ever stop people from showing compassion and kindness to others. When we hold onto hate we forget that every person is one whom God calls precious.

  • After their father died, Mahlon and Chilion married Orpah and Ruth from Moab, and when they died, Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were beyond the help of the system

Uh-oh. A short statement with two significant ideas.

Mahlon and Chilion married women from Moab! They married women who were from a people who were enemies of the people of Judah. Things may have been peaceful between their two nations and intermarriages happened often, they were still forbidden. Mahlon and Chilion didn’t see enemies, however. They married people.

But then they died. And then there were three women with no means of support in the culture of either of their lands.

Every time we put up the rules or the policies or the procedures or the entitlements in a way that makes us satisfied that we’re being ‘righteous’ or ‘following the will of the people’ or anything like that  . . . while at the same time pushing down, marginalizing, and neglecting others  – especially those who are most forgotten and exploited in society. We do wrong. We sin. We go against God’s two rules to love God and to love everyone. And I’m going to step in it now. So let me get these things straight. When we acknowledge someone’s or a group of people’s right to do or to have something, we are not marginalizing people who don’t think it is right to let others into the club. Having more people in the club does not ‘cheapen the currency’ nor marginalize or harm people who were already in the club! And when we oppose efforts to care for people in our society who do not have access to health care or are in dire straits because of a system that too often seeks ways to deny care rather than give it  – even if our reasoning comes from what sounds reasonable – “I work hard and pay my share – why should someone else get what I’m paying for without paying their dues!” We neglect our call as Christians to be a people who heal the sick – not just the sick who in our system haven’t lost their jobs or their coverage.

  • After traveling beyond where they had been living, Naomi went beyond the idea of self-preservation and told Orpah and Ruth to return to their families. She would live out her days in bitterness and poverty.

Naomi cared for Orpah and Ruth. She called them daughters. Her affection for them went well beyond the required, ‘You married my son so I will love you’ idea. She wanted them to be able to be cared for and supported – and she knew she could not do that. She did not want the bitterness of her life to ruin their lives.
And . . . she blessed them in the name of God. Not the God that Orpah and Ruth would have known from Moab, Chemosh, but in the name of Yahweh. Naomi acknowledged that God’s love wasn’t just for her people, but for all people.

If we ever ‘kidnap’ God’s name and do harm to others, marginalize others, neglect others, tell others that they are unacceptable, or in any way treat people with hate or disdain, we do wrong. We sin. We go against God’s two rules to love God and to love everyone.

  • Though she convinced Orpah to leave and to seek the care of her family, Ruth was not convinced. She went beyond the safe route and cultural norms and she vowed to stay with Naomi no matter what.

Orpah wasn’t bad for going back to her home. Naomi wasn’t bad for being bitter about her situation. But Ruth did something extraordinary. She took on the role that was reserved for men. She would care for her mother-in-law as a son would. She would never leave her. She would worship Yahweh. She would learn the ways of Naomi’s people. She would become part of those people. Naomi and Ruth would live out the rest of their days connected to one another.

The kind of love that Ruth and Naomi had for each other is Hesed – that unconditional, life-affirming love that comes from God. It is the love that oozes through those two rules. Love God unconditionally. Love everyone unconditionally.

  • Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi has significance well beyond her lifetime. She has been traced as the ancestor of David and Jesus, and her love for Naomi has been lifted up as an example for all to follow.

I think I’ve said enough for today. More Ruth next week.

For now – may we all live what we have learned.

Love God unconditionally
Love everyone unconditionally
Wherever you go.

Close with prayer.

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