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“The Story of Ruth”
Ruth 1:1-19


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost—October 10, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Old Testament Reading, in which Ruth pledges her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi, with these beautiful words that are often also applied to husband and wife: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

The Book of Ruth is only a few pages long in the average Bible, but those are some of the most beautiful and moving and mesmerizing pages in the Bible.  Take a few minutes this week to read through the Book of Ruth.

The author begins by setting the scene: “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.  The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.”

These events occurred in about 1200 B.C.  Israel and Moab were neighbors like South Dakota and Iowa, except that Israel and Moab were bitter, bloody enemies.  They were constantly at war with each other.  A long inscription has been discovered from one of the Moabite kings of this same era, detailing his bloody massacres of Israelite towns. 

But, hunger is a great motivator, and the famine in Israel was desperate.  So, like the American pioneers who headed west in covered wagons, or like the “Okies” of the Great Depression, Elimelech and his family set out to seek a better life, across the border in Moab.  But, like many of the pioneers and the “Okies,” instead of a better life they got an even more bitter life.

“Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.  After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” 

The dream had turned into a nightmare.  There was nothing left now for Naomi in Moab, and so, “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.  With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.”

That culture of that day dictated that dutiful daughters-in-law would stick with their new family, even after their husbands died.  And, so, Orpah and Ruth set out with Naomi to go “home” to Judah.  This time, they’re the ones crossing the border into unfriendly territory.  True, they had married into an Israelite family, but they would always be foreigners, outsiders.  And that made it very unlikely that they would ever find new husbands or a happy life in Israel.

So, Naomi decides she’s not going to hold them to their duty.  “Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’  Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’” 

This initial protestation of the daughters-in-law is a polite formality.  It’s like when you offer to pick up the check, but you sort of expect the other person to say, “Oh, no, it’s on me.”  Naomi says, “Go back to your mother’s home.”  The daughters-in-law say, “No, we’ll go with you.”  And, now it’s Naomi’s turn to say, “No, I really mean it.”  She reminds them of the fact that she will have no more sons who could marry them, which was the custom of the culture of that day.

“But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?  Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!’  At this they wept again.  Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.” 

Orpah had been willing to do her duty as a good daughter-in-law, but now she’s been given an out, and she decides to take it.  But for Ruth, it’s now her turn to say to Naomi, “No, I really mean it; I am staying with you.” 

“’Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’  But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  When Ruth married Mahlon, she also joined the church, as a worshipper of the Israelite God, Yahweh.  Maybe at first it was just to get along with her husband’s family.  But now that faith has become her faith.

Most all of us initially joined the church because of someone else, our parents, our spouse.  Some people never move beyond that.  Many times I’ve sat in people’s living rooms and heard them excuse their lack of worship and service and devotion to the Lord by saying: “Well, my grandmother was in church every Sunday”; “I bet Mom and Dad haven’t missed church in 20 years”; and the one I’ve heard a surprising number of times: “Did you know my grandfather was a Missouri Synod pastor?”

“So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.”  Some 12 centuries later, at Bethlehem, Ruth’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great Grandson was born.  “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,” “Son of God and Son of Man,” the Savior of the world, and your personal Savior. 

God forgives you all your sins because the promised Messiah that Ruth trusted in so long ago finally came into our world as the prophets had foretold.  God’s Son Jesus Christ lived a perfectly holy life to make up for your imperfection, and suffered and died on the cross to make amends for your sins.  As Peter says in Acts, “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. . .  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  Like Ruth, make the faith also your faith, your personal faith.  It’s like the Samaritans said to the woman at the well who testified to them about Jesus, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

That’s what Ruth means when she says to Naomi, “Your God will be my God.  I no longer believe just because of what you said, and what my late husband said. Since I married into your family and your faith, I have heard the Good News for myself, and now I know and believe that the Messiah Yahweh promised would come from the people of Israel really is the Savior of the world.”

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  Like Ruth, make the faith also your faith, your personal faith.  As Paul says in Romans, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

There is another, comforting lesson we learn from “The Story of Ruth.”  Naomi experienced so many tragedies in her life, especially losing her dearest loved ones.  In a moment of despair, she cries out to her daughters-in-law, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!” 

Do you sometimes feel like that, when you experience tragedies in your life?  That the Lord is against you?  But, the rest of  book of Ruth tells us the marvelous story of how all these tragic events actually resulted in great blessings for Naomi and Ruth.

Paul says in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . .  And we know that God is working all things together for the good of those who love him.”  That is the other, comforting lesson we learn from “The Story of Ruth”: Through it all, God is on your side, not against you but for you, working things together for your good, , just as he did so long ago in “The Story of Ruth.”

Amen.

 

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