“What a Woman Can Teach Us”  Ruth 1:1-19a

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost  October 8-9, 2022

“What a Woman Can Teach Us”  Ruth 1:1-19a

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

             You know this book, the book of Ruth.  The most famous words quoted from this book are, “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.  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.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)  You’ve heard that at a wedding.  It speaks about commitment, resiliency, tenacity, until “death-do-we-part”.  But there is more to the book of Ruth than that.

            The book starts out very sad.  Elimelech, needing to provide for his wife, Naomi, and their two sons who were starving in Canaan, are forced to leave Bethlehem and go to Moab where the famine is not present.  This believing family of God’s covenant are forced to live among people who hated the Israelites and were well known for their idolatry.

            But it gets worse.  Naomi’s husband dies and then both sons die, and Naomi finds herself in a lonely, awful situation.  At that time the security for a woman was found in her husband and if he died you looked to your extended family.  But her sons were also dead.  Her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, were in the same situation as her.  Naomi determines she has to get back to Bethlehem.  Maybe some distant relative will have pity on her.  Maybe some old friends that she knew 10 years ago will still remember her and take her in.  And she was going to go there alone.  She spoke 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.”  (Ruth 1:8-9a)  But Ruth didn’t stay in Moab – she came with Naomi to Bethlehem.

            There was no silver lining here.  Sometimes views from the inside, how things really are, are bleak.  When Naomi, and Ruth – who really meant that “where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay” returns to Bethlehem, this is how Naomi looked at life and what had happened and what she was looking at for her future, “So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.  When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’”                       

            And this was her reaction, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  (Ruth 1:19-21)  The name Naomi means “pleasant” but the name Mara means “bitter”.  “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara.  The Almighty has made my life very bitter.”

            That was life from the inside.  She had had it.  She couldn’t take the disappointment anymore.  She didn’t have any hope that life was going to get any better. 

            I wonder what the view of life is from the inside for you?  Last weekend I had a different sermon planned for preaching.  But when I was gone for the entire week at my dad’s funeral I went to the files and picked out an old sermon, or as my wife says, “a sermon that didn’t suck.”  I was going to preach a sermon titled “Tired.”  I had spoken with a person who has grown tired of people and politics and negativity and irresponsibility and the morals in our country and state that have become immoral.  Life from the inside looking out can get us tired.  God’s ways are forgotten or rejected, and it tires us.  God doesn’t act and we lose faith.  It is like the words that Habakkuk, the writer of last week’s lesson says, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save.  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrong?”  (1:2-3a)

            We cannot look at life simply from the inside.  God gives us something better.  God gives us a view from the outside.  God lets us know, in His time, what He has in store for us.  The Book of Ruth gives us a view of what God was planning all along in the life of Naomi and Ruth and the life of the world.  Ruth comes to Bethlehem and she embraces an unbending faith in the only God that is true.  She gives up her idols, forsakes idolatry and is saved.  “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  Ruth goes to the field to glean the crops after the harvesters had worked the field but had left some grains for the poor.  There she meets a distant relative of her husband, named Boaz, and eventually she becomes his wife.  From the outside, looking back, we can see God working to repair a life that was desperate and hopeless.  That’s what He did and that’s what He does.

            Over the last number of weeks, we have had a number of the folks in our congregation die or were buried.  A little over a week ago my dad died, and I had the privilege of preaching at his service.  I had interviewed him concerning his death and his memorial service about a year before he died.  After he was detected with cancer, I asked him about what he wanted at his funeral service and he told me, “I don’t care, I won’t be there.”  But I kept on nagging him, so he gave me some information.  But what I remember most were his words about his philosophy of life.  He told me, “God has provided me with a wonderful life.  I have had very little to do with all the good things that God gave me.”  When I asked him about the reality that he might only have a short time to live he said, “You think you make that decision – no – it is God.”  Looking at life from the outside, now looking up toward God, is seeing life in a full and hopeful way.

            Our friend, Jim Shelton, died this past Monday, October 3.  A few years ago, Jim came to my office with an envelope in hand and told me that I should put this in his file in my office.  It contained his wishes when he died.  This is what he wrote to his family, “The greatest asset I possess is the love for my Lord and Savior and the care He has provided for me throughout my entire life. (Thank you mom and dad for your teaching and training).  The Lord has changed my planned direction many times, guarding me from failure that required my depending on Him.  He has cared for me in reaching many heights in my business and professional career and walked with me through the financial and personal hard times, continually meeting all my needs.  I pass on His love to you – yours for the asking.  Therefore my favorite verse of many years is Philippians 4:13…I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  With the execution of my estate documents keep in mind that with each asset I want to share with you this greatest asset, the love of our Lord.”

            Proverbs 16:9 says, “In our hearts we plan our course, but the Lord determines our steps.”  I saw that in my dad, I saw that in Jim Shelton.  And I see it in Naomi and in Ruth.  The view from inside out for those two ladies was miserable and dreary.  Naomi was right when she said, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

            But the Lord had something greater planned.  This planning was not just for these two women but for the entire world.  The book of Ruth is only 4 chapters long and it ends with a genealogy table of who came from Boaz and Ruth.  We read, “Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him.  The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son.’  And they called him Obed.  He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  (Ruth 4:17)  Do you know why those few words are important?  Who comes from David?  Whose lineage comes from David?  Matthew 1:1 begins, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

            God had a plan and through this whole thing with Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, with the birth of their little boy Obed.  God had a plan for us and our redemption. He has a plan for our eternity and a plan for our life.  He planned it and He fulfilled it through the work of Jesus Christ.      

            When you are about done with everything that seems to go wrong, or you are disappointed that life is on the wrong path and that God has not remedied life’s problems, stop looking at life only from the inside.  Look outside.  Look at the plans of God to sustain you, support you, restore you and show His deep and abiding love for you.  Looking outside, looking up, is the right place to look.  Looking to Jesus is where we look.  Amen!!    


1 comment

  1. Julie Woods says:

    Thank you for your inspirational sermon and prayers for mom. God truly speaks to us through you! Thank you for everything that you do!


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