Women of the Faith: Ruth - Ruth 1:16-17 - Faithfulness
Let me share with you two stories.
The first is the story of a young couple. They had both finished high school and were pretty serious about each other as they began planning out their future. The young woman had been battling a chronic condition since early childhood, and they were both aware of this ongoing health struggle. However, two years into the relationship, things began to change. At 21 years old, the young woman’s condition began to take a serious toll on her physical appearance and her interaction with others. Her face began to droop and she started to lose her hearing as the condition began affecting her nervous system. The young man, only a year older, decided that he could not handle all of these things happening to his girlfriend and the uncertain future that would be in store, so he chose to end the relationship.
Then there is the story of a small family. There was the husband, Elimelech, and wife, Naomi. They had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They lived in a small rural community in Judah. A famine hit the land, leaving them unable to grow crops and nearing starvation. They learned that the conditions were better in nearby Moab, so they gathered up all they had and moved to Moab, and settled there. Not too long after moving, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi and her two sons alone in this strange land. The two boys, though, were not children. They were adults and each married a local Moabite girl, one married Orpah and the other, Ruth. Around their tenth anniversary both Mahlon and Chilion died. Naomi was now left in a foreign land, with no husband, no sons, and two daughter-in-laws. With no men in their lives, at this point in history, that left Naomi with nothing, absolutely nothing, even the land she was living on would be called into question. Naomi decided that she only had one option, word had come that conditions had improved in Judah, the scarcity was over…finding a merciful kinsman of her deceased husband might be the only thing that would save her. She began the journey, and her two daughter-in-laws began going with her. As they prepared leave Moab, Naomi stopped. She turned to Orpah and Ruth and said, “Go back to your parents, find new husbands, have children, be blessed.” Both girls told Naomi that they would continue with her. “No,” Naomi responded, “There is nothing for you with me. I cannot promise you anything but an empty life.” They hugged one another, wept together, as they had probably done many times since Mahlon and Chilion died, and Orpah gave Naomi a kiss, turned, and began the journey back to her family. Ruth, however, clung to Naomi. Naomi again encouraged Ruth to return to her people. Ruth’s faithful commitment to Naomi would not be deterred…though she would be a foreign widow in a strange land, Ruth responded with words that have become synonymous with committed faithfulness: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, as more as well, if even death parts me from you!” With that said, they began the last leg of the journey for Naomi to return to, and the two to settle in, Bethlehem.
Today we begin a short series in honor of the women of our congregation during this month of Mother’s Day and reflect a few of the women of Scripture and what their lives and actions can teach us. We begin by this morning to glean what we can from the life of Ruth and what her life teaches us about faithfulness.
Sadly, too much of our culture is reflected by the young guy in the first story. When the going gets tough, or even looks tough, the tough don’t get going, everyone decides to get gone. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be tough, it might just be an inconvenience, and the person decides to bail. It doesn’t even have to be a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife situation…it can be friendships, it can be working relationships, it can be mentor or discipling relationships. Sadly, it can even be within the church. It can happen in any relationship when a change of circumstances comes into play, especially if that change involves difficulty or challenge.
Maybe the change is physical. Our opening story was one of these. I’ve also seen it happen between friends, especially men, that one of them develops a terminal illness, and suddenly frequent get-togethers turn into no contact, as the healthy of the two cannot bring themselves to visit the one who is sick. I’ve watched an active member of a men’s group be abandoned by all but one other member of the group. There are marriages who split up when an accident, illness, or aging affects the physical intimacy between the husband and wife, and the able spouse starts looking elsewhere to find fulfillment of those physical urges.
The challenge could be financial. Friendships might become fractured if one friend begins making significantly more or less that the other, causing a change in lifestyle and opportunity. Mounting bills or loss of employment can often put pressure on a marriage that some couples don’t seem to endure.
Believe it or not, popularity can be the change that leads to failure of a relationship. The stories often portrayed on children or teenage oriented sit-combs, of two friends split as one gains popularity (through athletics, academics, or some other avenue) while the other doesn’t are based on real life…and are not limited to young folks.
Finally, but by no means the only other pressure, is the emotional pain of tragedy. A couple’s life disrupted by a miscarriage or the loss of a child. A family disrupted by the unexpected, or in some cases expected, loss of a mother, grandfather, or some other matriarchal or patriarchal figure in the family.
These are the times, my brothers and sisters, where we need to take this story of Ruth to heart. We need to look to her and see what true faithfulness looks like. Ruth offers us a glimpse of what it means to be faithful to love pledged in the face of one crisis after another. Ruth had wed Naomi’s son, become part of Naomi’s family, and from what we can tell in the story, come to love her mother-in-law greatly. Naomi’s son, Ruth’s husband, dies…and yet Ruth continues to cherish their relationship. Naomi’s grief over the loss of her husband and sons emotionally distance her from everyone…and yet Ruth continues to be faithful to their friendship. Naomi decides to leave Moab and return to Bethlehem, giving permission to, and even encouraging, Ruth and Orpah to return to their families…but Ruth maintains her allegiance to Naomi. What does this mean to Ruth? As they journey from Moab to Bethlehem, Ruth is leaving behind the familiarity of her homeland. She is moving from the security of her homeland to the land of the Hebrew people, who on more than one occasion have considered the Moabites their enemies. She is moving to Bethlehem with as a widow with a widow, in a time when women had no claim on land, and so there was no security before them, only the hope of mercy…while she could have returned to her parent’s home and possibly enjoyed the comforts of their home until she re-wed. There was no promised shelter, no promised food, no promised anything but hardship. Yet Ruth sets the standard for faithfulness as she claims Naomi’s God, our God, as her own. Ruth reveals to us what it means to be faithfully committed, unwaveringly.
How fitting it is that this foreign Moabite woman marries Boaz, a Hebrew kinsman redeemer, and is the great (twenty-eight times) grandmother of the ultimate figure of faithfulness, Jesus.
Jesus, the one who shows us what it means to be faithful to our friends, faithful to those we serve, and above all faithful to God. Jesus, who experienced the unfaithfulness of those around him—family trying to silence him; those he healed who didn’t even return to offer thanks; a friend who betrayed him; friends that abandoned him in his hour of need; a friend who denied knowing him to protect himself; a follower among the religious leaders who refused to stand up and defend him; those who had praised his arrival in Jerusalem suddenly shouting “crucify him.” Yet Jesus remained faithful to those friends and all of those he came to serve. He remained faithful to God despite the temptation and opportunity to walk away…He endured the rejection of his hometown, including possibly childhood friends; He endured endless crowds who interrupted every attempt to rest; He endured the execution of his friend and cousin; He endured hunger; He endured thirst; He endured homelessness; He endured ridicule; He endured false accusations; He endured torture; He endured the crown of thorns; He endured being stripped; He endured being nailed to a cross and hung as a common criminal…and through it all, though He could have walked away, Jesus remained faithful to God, humanity, and all of creation…and through it all…as Ruth’s faithfulness brought salvation to Naomi, Jesus’ faithfulness brought salvation to all the world…. both revealing to us what it means to be faithful to friends, family, those around us, and most importantly God.
May the faithfulness of Ruth and her multi-great grandson, our Lord and Savior, lead to ours…may we be as faithfully committed to our family and friends, regardless of physical challenges, regardless of financial challenges, regardless of risk of popularity, regardless of tragedy, regardless of risk of life, as Ruth was to Naomi…and may our faithfulness to God be an imitation of Christ’s and reflective of God’s faithfulness to us through Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.