This weekend we continue with our second of four reflections – listening in to the oft’ barren but also breathtakingly beautiful story in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Last week we focused on Chapter 1: of identifying ourselves with Ruth’s beloved mother-in-law, Naomi – in all of the barren and empty places of her life. Recall the famine that drove Naomi’s family from their homeland in Israel to the neighboring rough ‘n tumble country of Moab. Recall also the death of Naomi’s husband and her two young sons (including one who had been the husband of Ruth). And so, Naomi was “far from home,” with the constant emptying of her life by death. Ever felt this way? … Empty, lost and alone? Not knowing where to turn …
And yet, in the midst of all this death, Naomi is embraced by life: by the steadfast love of God through one of her two daughters-in-law: Ruth. Now, if there are any verses from this amazing book of the Old Testament that you’ve ever heard before, it was probably at a wedding. And these verses can change your whole perspective of life – as you’re about to set out into the vast unknown of life, at times full of emptiness and certain doubt.
And so, upon learning that the famine has now passed, Naomi then begins her journey back to her hometown of Bethlehem in Judah. But before doing so, she turns to her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, and tells them that it would be best not to continue with her – as an old and empty, embittered woman – but to return to their homes and family in Moab. And then, then these two verses are joined as one by God’s grace, pouring into all the barren and parched places of Naomi’s life as well as ours. And Ruth says to Naomi:
“Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall become my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.”
(Ruth 1:16-17; RSV)
The story of Ruth continues to unfold this weekend, as Ruth meets us while standing out in the fields of barley – outside a “little town of Bethlehem,” at harvest time. Now it is Ruth who finds herself as a widow in a foreign land, struggling to glean some sense of life even in the midst of death. However … it is right there, out in those fields surrounding Bethlehem, that Ruth is “found” by the landowner, a man named Boaz, who now shares God’s word of grace and sacramental signs of grain for Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. Come and hear these words that amazingly, gracefully wed human loss together in God’s abounding love this weekend, as we join together at worship.
… “Listen,” Ruth said to Boaz. “Your kinsman’s widow [Naomi], she’s been like a second mother to me. I couldn’t just walk out and leave her.” And he looking at her rich pastures [of faith] said: “Fine, bring the old lady if you want her.” And Ruth said: “I do. I do.”
(Maureen Duffy, from “Mother and the Girl,” Collected Poems 1949-1984)
Pastor John Christopherson