A Ruthless World
Ruth 1:6-10 November 17, 2019
Rev. David J. Clark
The sermon was preceded by a dramatic presentation of this monologue (adapted)
Back in the day a lot of people used a portion of Ruth’s promise to her mother-in-law in their marriage vows. Where you go, I will go. Your home will be my home. Your family mine, your God, mine too. I’m curious if anyone here remembers having that read at their wedding.
I have always liked the King James Version of the passage. Withersoever thou goest I will go. I love the word withersoever. Withersoever gets at the depth of commitment. It’s not just about geography. Withersoever is saying whatever happens, whatever joys or hardships, no matter what dark places you go through or what darkness is in you, I’m in your corner.
When Ruth and Naomi reached Israel, it was tough. No food, no one to look out after these vulnerable women. Naomi grew so despondent that she changed her name. Naomi means sweet one. She changed her name to Mara which means “bitter.” Can you imagine going through life attached to a mother-in-law who is so bitter she changes her name to bitter? Must have made Ruth pause and re-think that withersoever business. But she held on.
Withersoever came to mind when I visited a memory care unit and talked with a man who makes his way there nearly every day to spend time with his wife who hasn’t known who she is or who he is for years. She’s got the kind of memory loss that’s turned her mean. She yells a lot, swears. Nothing like she was before. But he is there. Withersoever.
Obviously, the original context didn’t limit this kind of commitment to marriage. It’s about deep friendship. I know when I was going through a hard time, had done some stupid things one of my friends called up and said, “I don’t care about any of that. You want to talk about it fine, if not, fine. Let’s go out for lunch and hang out. Withersoever. Do you have a withersoever person? Are you a withersoever person who can be counted on?
Withersoever is the way God relates to us. Psalm 139 uses that language. Wither can I flee from thy spirit? God’s commitment to us is inseparable our dumb stuff isn’t enough to keep God from us. Romans 8 says nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It’s what we recognize in those baptisms we just did. Withersoever those kids (and A.J.) go in life, whatever they do whatever happens to them or in their hearts, God’s loving care is with them.
And the promises we make to them say that we as a church are with them, advocates for them. Maybe we should say whomsoever you are and withersoever you go on life’s journey you belong within our circle of care. You can count on us as your people.
The scriptures hold Ruth up as a model because looks out for someone not because she thinks she is going to get something out of it. Naomi had nothing to offer Ruth. The story reminds us to embrace relationships that aren’t transactional. Where it’s not about what we get out of it.
One of our faith’s core values is we look out for those who are vulnerable and cannot do for themselves. Ruth took care of Naomi. Eventually, Ruth met a man named Boaz, who was so inspired by this woman that took the risk to care for Naomi that he fell in love with her and used his resources and position to care of both of them.
Ours is a faith that makes sacrifices to make sure the vulnerable are cared for. It’s not just about achieving our own prosperity and spiritual bliss.
One of the interesting things about the book of Ruth is that God isn’t a main character. There are no audible voices, or miracles, or instructions from God. God’s love and grace are expressed through those who have hearts big enough to care and make sacrifices for others. We are God’s instruments for care of those in need. God works behind the scenes and through other people. Through you. Just because you don’t have some grand miracle or intense religious experience, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t working in and through your life.
I love thinking about how God works through ordinary people. One kind of funny thing is how at different churches you will find a lot of people with the same first name. Here at Bay Shore, if you are talking to a guy and you forget his name, go with John. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a John. One church had a bunch of women named Pat or Patricia. They had nothing in common except their church and their names. Every year they hosted a St. Pat’s lunch to raise money for missions. I served another church with a bunch of women named Ruth. I thought about all the contributions they made to better people’s lives and the community and thought, “If we didn’t have these Ruths life wouldn’t be as good. Without the Ruths we’d have a more ruthless world. Ask yourself what you can do to make it a more ruthful world.
Biblical scholars believe that one of the reasons the story of Ruth found its way into the Bible is because it is a reminder to be open to outsiders. Whenever people started talking about keeping bloodlines clean and not having relationships or marrying people from other cultures someone would say, “Ah, don’t forget Ruth. She was a Moabite who took care of Naomi. And she was King David’s grandmother.”
The book of Ruth is a yes and. God loves our people. God has promised withersoever to us. Yes. And to people who are not like us.
Love begets love
They named the child Obed, and Obed was the grandfather of the boy who slew a giant and became king–David. Love begets love whenever the promise of withersoever is made. Here is a story about the poor, the grief-stricken, the outcast, the immigrant, and a female hero of faith and how God works behind the scenes through love to make a new world.
We glimpse God’s grace at work behind the scenes. How God took a hole-in-the-wall village named Bethlehem and made it through Ruth’s actions a place of steadfast love. And the gospel of Matthew reminds us that God took that same village a thousand years later and made it the center of the universe as a star stood in homage to a child nestled there in the straw, a descendant of Ruth, who would one day, for all time, become the Redeemer of the world and take responsibility for us all and promised withersoever, I will be with you until the end of time.