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The Sunday after All Saints Day
November 4, 2012
The Old Testament: Ruth 1: 1-18
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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The Old Testament:
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me." Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said,
"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,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!"
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Ruth 1: 1-18
Ruth 1: 1-18
Today is All Saints Sunday, the Sunday we specifically celebrate the Communion of the Saints. It is the day that we celebrate the connection between the Church Militant here on earth with the Church Triumphant in Heaven. It is when we recognize that that connection between us and those who have gone before us is not broken; that we are still tied to them, and they to us. That the heritage of faith and love that they passed to us is still going strong in our lives and in those who will follow us.
That sense of connection got me to thinking about Country Western music. Yes, I realize that that’s a truly odd thought connection. It probably happened because of the Country Music Awards I watched this week. There are some facets of that music I really don’t care for, especially the gloom and despair, “…they repossessed my truck, after my dog died, when my wife left me because my girlfriend don’t respect me…” genre. Then again, there are some of those songs where the title alone is worth hearing such as, “When the Phone Don’t Ring, You’ll Know It’s me, “ or, “Walk Out Backwards, So I’ll Think You’re Coming In,” and, “My Wife Ran Off with My Best Friend, and I Sure Do Miss Him.”
But what I really started thinking about is a song from several years ago that came to mind as I thought of this long line of connection between us and the Saints before us. It was titled, “A Long Line of Love.” It tells of a young man who is getting married. His sweetheart asks him if he thinks they can make it. His answer is, “I come from a long line of love.” Then he talks about his parents’ marriage and his grandparents’ and at the end of each refrain he sings, “Forever’s in my heart and in my blood…I come from a long line of love.”
One recurring story in the Bible involves a particularly long line of love. We tap into that story whenever the lineage of Jesus is mentioned. Ruth, whom we meet in our First Testament lesson this morning, is an ancestor of our Savior. From this passage we learn that a deeply profound love was not a new thing with Jesus or his family. It came down from a long way back; an unbroken love-line that connected him to them during his earthly life. I have two points to make about this connective kind of love we have with those who’ve gone before us this morning; points that directly affect you and me.
But first, Let’s tell this wondrous love story. Our story begins with a family of four; the husband, Elimelech, the wife, Naomi, and their two sons. Like many families today, this family was experiencing financial difficulties. A famine had spread throughout their land, and food was scarce. So Elimelech and Naomi packed up their household and moved to Moab, where there was more food.
One day, not to long after, Elimelech died unexpectedly. By this time both sons had met local women and married. Then, suddenly, both sons died. All this happened within a relatively short span of time. Naomi was devastated. Opportunities for women in that day and time were practically non-existent. Naomi was left all alone in a foreign country. All she had left were two daughters-in-law of foreign birth. How would she survive?
The only viable option was for her to return to her hometown and hope there would be a place for her somewhere among her relatives. Thus she and her two daughters-in-law set out for the land of Judah. As the three widows began their journey, it occurred to Naomi that it might be better for her daughters-in-law to remain in their own country. They were still young; they could find new husbands and have the security she could not give them. Besides, she feared, they would not be accepted by her relatives in her home country because they would be considered foreigners there. No Moabite, especially, could enter the household of faith even after ten generations, it was said. If her daughters-in-law remained with her, they would likely never be accepted among her people. Naomi loved her daughters-in-law, and she wanted to see them happy. The women wept, then, finally, Orpah decided that Naomi was right and returned to her own mother’s home. Ruth, however, would still not leave Naomi, so great was her love for her.
It was in this context that Ruth spoke some of the most famous words in all of the literature of love: “Where you go, I will go,” she said, “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” This leads us to the first point to make this morning about love.
The Story of Ruth and Naomi is what love is about. It is about loyalty and faithfulness and mutual devotion. That’s love, isn’t it? It’s not, “I love you for what you can do for me.” Or, “I’ll love you as long as it is convenient.” Or, “I’ll love you if you do whatever I want.” No! It’s, ”I’ll love you no matter what. I’ll always be there.” Ruth was committed to Naomi even when there was nothing for her to gain and everything to lose.
So these two women set out for Bethlehem, Naomi’s home town. Naomi’s relatives greeted her fondly as they entered the city. But she told them, “Don’t call me Naomi,” a name with meant pleasant. “Call me Mara,” which means bitter, “for my life has been a bitter one.”
The only food Naomi and Ruth had to eat after that was what was left in the farmer’s fields after the harvest. This social safety net system was known as “gleaning.” Farmers were not permitted to go over their fields a second time, nor harvest the very edges of their property. Whatever was left was to remain for the widows and poor to collect.
One day a relative of Naomi’s named Boaz noticed Ruth gathering grain. She was different from the other women, he reflected; more graceful, he noted. That’s Bible talk for “Ruth was Hot!” Naomi played match-maker and fixed her daughter-in-law up with Boaz. It’s another part of the story well worth reading just for the enjoyment of it. After the wedding, Ruth bore a son in Bethlehem, named Obed, and Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of King David, and David was eventually an ancestor of another baby born in Bethlehem may years later named Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that in the lineage of Jesus there is this Moabite woman named Ruth? She is there because of her love to her mother-in-law. Do you see now why I say that Jesus came from a long line of love?
That leads to the other point to make this morning: You and I come from just such a long line of love as well. That is the heart of the message in our passage today. You and I have such a line ourselves. That kind of love is what the cross is about. It is about a love that never quits, never gives up, and never fails. It is agape love; love from the heart of God. It’s not, “I love you for what you can do for me“ or, “I’ll love you as long as it is convenient” or, “I’ll love you so long as you do everything I want.” It’s, “I’ll love you no matter what. I’ll always be there for you.” You and I are the recipients of that love. There is a line that extends from your life all the way back to Calvary.
Over the past two thousand years folks just like you and me have believed in that love, and they’ve passed that love on. Through plagues and famines, oftentimes under barbaric oppression, it did not let go of them. You are a recipient, a descendent of that love.
Virginia Duran was born in a migrant worker camp in Central California, very near to where I was born and grew up. Her father was in jail so that her mother had no means to feed or clothe her new-born baby girl. There was a doctor in the area, also named Virginia, who made sure that there would be enough food for the young girl and her mother. That’s why her mother names her Virginia; after the doctor who helped feed, clothe and pay the rent for them. As Virginia grew, and the family grew and its conditions improved, Virginia and her family moved, and she eventually lost contact with that caring doctor.
Years later, when Virginia was grown, she was visiting family in Mexico on a trip, when she saw a picture of a poor girl in the newspaper. At that moment Virginia realized that, if it hadn’t been for that one doctor many years before, she could have ended up like the girl in that picture. Back home, she decided that she wanted to do something to help poor children. Virginia and her sister returned to Mexico and found a dusty village filled with migrant children. Many of the children’s parents were unwed teenagers or alcoholics. Many of the children were also malnourished and sick. Virginia and her sister helped as many of these children as they could. Now, the point of this story is not that these women built an earth-changing ministry known the world over today. Actually, they have kept at it. And today they have 35 children in their care.
No, the point is this: as Virginia was taking care of the children one day, she suddenly remembered something she had long forgotten. Doctor Virginia had once told her that she, the doctor, had been rescued by a wealthy woman herself. That woman had also been saved from poverty by yet another woman, who had been rescued by still another woman, back six generations. All of these women lived in the West, and all were surrogate mothers for children who desperately needed love and help. Incredibly, all of the women were named Virginia. “You’re the seventh in a long line,” the doctor told her. “And someday, you’ll do as much for someone else.” Virginia Duran remembered that she had come from a long line of love.
So did Jesus. So do you and I. It is the love that says, ”I love you; not because of what you can do for me, but because you are you. I will always be there no matter what.” That, my friends, is God’s love. All Saint’s Sunday; a day to remember that, “Forever’s in (our) heart(s) and in our blood: we come from a long line of love.”