21 Pentecost Proper C23
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Ruth 1:1-19a Sermon
October 13, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):

27 "Oh Bless The Lord My Soul"
364 "How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds"
388 "Just As I Am, Without One Plea"
447 "Fight The Good Fight"      


TEXT: (vs. 16) “But Ruth said, ‘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 be my people, and your God my God.’” 

             “Blood is thicker than water.” That’s the phrase commonly used to describe a family relationship. What it means of course is that a family bond is stronger than any other type of bond a person would share with anybody else. Family bonds are always special.

            Family bonds happen in one of several ways—through birth, by marriage, or by adoption. We appreciate and trust these bonds. Despite the various problems and trials and difficulties we might experience in a family, we still experience a lot of positive and comforting things by being a part of a family.

            You hear a lot of stories about family members being estranged from each other. Children take off from home, and have no contact with their parents for years. Brothers and sisters argue and often live their lives with no contact. Fathers and mothers desert their spouses and children, seemingly without care or regard. And as will happen sometimes, especially in larger families, relatives kind of fall into the cracks and people lose track of each other. It’s so sad when people lose their sense of family values.

            But even with all this, there is still strength in the family unit. In virtually every society in the world, the family relationship is honored and revered. Even in Hollywood, sitcoms have usually revolved around family life of some description—often in a humorous way, but in a serious way too. Being “family” means a lot.

            In our text for today, we are focusing on the first chapter of the book of Ruth. In this section, we see a real strong sense of family values and responsibility demonstrated by this remarkable family.

            A famine had broken out in the land of Judah. This famine came about because God’s people were stubborn in their sinfulness. If we read Leviticus 26:19-20 we see that God had threatened chastisement if they did not repent.  Moses records the following words of God: “I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.” God had indeed threatened the land with famine, and so it came to pass.

            Living in the land of Judah was a man by the name of Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They were residents of the town of Bethlehem. It’s interesting to note that the name “Elimelech” means “God is my king.” “Naomi” means “amiable or pleasant one.” Those are good names. But the names of the sons had a different twist. “Mahlon” means “sickness,” and “Chilion” means “consumption.” It would appear that these children were not in the best of health.  And here they were, in the midst of a great famine.

            Word came to this family that there was plenty of food in the land of Moab, which was on the other side of the Jordan River.  And so, Elimelech does the responsible thing for his family. He packs them up and takes them to where there is food, where they won’t die of starvation.  He didn’t want to permanently relocate there, just stay there for as long as there was a famine in his homeland.  Abraham did much the same thing when he went to Egypt, and so did Isaac when he went into the land of the Philistines.

            Yes, Elimelech had a responsibility and he knew it. We are reminded of this responsibility in I Timothy 5:8:  “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” These are definitely strong words, but very important ones. That’s the kind of a man that Elimelech was.

            And so, off they go to the land of Moab.  It wasn’t too long after they arrived in Moab, that sadness strikes the family.  Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi with her two sons.  Not long after that, Naomi’s two sons get married to two Moabite women.  Mahlon marries a woman by the name of Orpah, and Chilion marries a woman by the name of Ruth.

            Just as a little side-note, if you notice a similarity between the name “Orpah” and Oprah Winfrey, there is a connection.  Oprah herself tells the story, that she was actually named after Orpah; however her mother misread it, and subsequently misspelled the name.  That’s today’s little bit of trivia.

            The marriages didn’t last too long however, as Mahlon and Chilion both die; and they did so before they could father any children.

            So now all that is left are the three widows: Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth.  It’s probably a reasonable assumption that the three of them were living together in the same house in the land of Moab.

            Naomi never lost her love for her homeland with the Israelites.  She kept enquiring as to the state of the famine.  When word finally reached her that the famine was over, she naturally wanted to return.

            It’s at this point that we need to consider the time frame in which this all happened.  It had been only ten years from the time that Elimelech and Naomi and their sons came to Moab until the time Naomi was ready to return.  All of the deaths and marriages took place during this relatively short span of time.  But also during this time, a very special relationship was formed between a mother-in-law and her two daughters-in-law.

            Orpah and Ruth wouldn’t have shared the same affection for the land of Judah that Naomi had; after all, that was not their native homeland.  They were Moabite women, and they worshipped a heathen deity.  But their love and loyalty to Naomi superseded that.  She was family, and that family tie was strong indeed.

            And so, the three women set out on their journey from Moab to Bethlehem.  But somehow it didn’t seem proper to Naomi to uproot these two women from their native homeland.  They had their own families as well, and so with all the love and compassion that she could muster, Naomi urges the two women to go back to the homes of their own mother.  She probably felt that being with their own mother would be better than being with their mother-in-law.

            And as Naomi indicates in our text, she was nearing menopause, and for all intents and purposes she was in no position to have any more children; and even if she did, by the time they would be of marriageable age, Orpah and Ruth would be beyond their prime.  Naomi was mindful of the Old Testament practice of one brother fathering children by the widow of his deceased brother, so the family line could be continued.  This wasn’t a possibility in this case.

            And so Naomi, in a very kind and loving way, urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their homeland and family.  But Orpah and Ruth loved Naomi very much; and only after her insistence did Orpah reluctantly leave.  Unfortunately, Orpah would be returning to her heathen religion as well.  But she did leave, and that is the last we hear of Orpah.

            Ruth however, was very dedicated, and wouldn’t even think about leaving Naomi to make the journey by herself.  And so Ruth speaks some very special words indeed, as is recorded in verse 16: “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 be my people, and your God my God.”

            With this one statement, Ruth shows her dedication as a dutiful daughter-in-law; but more than that, she shows her dedication to the one true God, thereby rejecting the heathen ways of the Moabites. That is one powerful statement!

            Ruth most likely had uncertainties and apprehensions about going into a strange land amongst people she didn’t know or share ancestry.  Would they even have a place to live there?  But she trusted Naomi; and what’s more, she was able to see the one true God through Naomi—through her life and her great faith.  Ruth came to faith through one of God’s faithful servants.  And Ruth knew that God would not let her down.  As much as she trusted Naomi, she trusted God even more.

            This is kind of a long story, but it’s one that needs to be told and expounded upon.  We can learn a lot about family values and faith from Ruth.

            So what about our own families?  How do we get along with each other?  How do we get along with our in-laws (at least those of us who have them)?  Are there those members in our family that we want to avoid as much as possible?  Do we come away from a family gathering feeling bitterness and anger?  Do we cringe at the thought of having to interact with some of the people in our family?

            Yes, I know it’s hard sometimes.  It’s hard when someone intentionally “pushes your buttons.”  It’s hard when certain differences are continually being brought up again and again.  It’s hard when chemical dependency or other anti-social behavior is part of the picture.

            But yet, they are family, and you’ve got to love them.  Whether they’re family by birth, or marriage, or adoption, they’re still family.

            Paul gives us some good advice in Romans 12:17-20:  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

            These words are sound advice in dealing with everybody, including one’s own family.  Regardless of what others might do to us, we are the ones who are called upon to be the peacemakers, to be the ones who are kind and loving and considerate.

            As we look at ourselves, I believe we can see the weak links in our own inter-family relationships.  We can see ourselves in that position, probably more times than we would care to admit.  There are those times when we’ve started arguments instead of ending or avoiding them.  And there are those times when we’ve even looked with hatred upon those to whom we are related.

            It’s here where we see Jesus—not as just an example of someone who loves others, but as the one who loves us more than anything else.  Just as Ruth showed her love to Naomi and clung on to her, Jesus loves us and clings to us.  Just as Ruth had faith that God would be her God, we have faith that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord.

            Through faith in Christ, we are united with God in his family.  We are forgiven for our earthly frailties and imperfect human relationships.  Just as birth into our earthly families unites us by blood, birth into God’s family unites us by the blood of Christ, shed for us, so that we might be forgiven and restored.  Through faith this is ours.  We are true children of God, and members of his family.  The love God has for us is the love we show to others.  Just as Ruth saw God in Naomi, so others must see Christ in us; in our actions, our words, and in our relationships.

            So how does this story about Ruth end?  Ruth and Naomi settle in Bethlehem.  Naomi had become somewhat despondent, thinking the Lord had dealt rather harshly with her; but that would soon change.

            After a while, a man named Boaz enters into the picture.  He buys the property owned by Naomi’s husband Elimelech.  And he also becomes Ruth’s second husband.  This marriage brings a new child into the picture, a son by the name of Obed.

            The words recorded in Ruth 4:14-16 are especially noteworthy:  “The women [of the town] said to Naomi, ‘Praise the Lord! He has given you a grandson today to take care of you.  May the boy become famous in Israel!  Your daughter-in-law loves you, and has done more for you than seven sons.  And now she has given you a grandson, who will bring new life to you and give you security in your old age.’  Naomi took the child, adopted him, and took care of him.”

            Now here’s a little bit of the genealogy connected with this:  Ruth’s husband Boaz was the son of Salmon and Rahab the prostitute.  Ruth and Boaz have a son Obed.  Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David.  It is through this family line that Jesus Christ was born, in Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.  Ruth was certainly part of God’s plan.

            This story about Ruth is also a story about choices.  Elimelech made a choice to take his wife and family to Moab because of the famine.  Ruth made a choice to leave the land of her birth and her heathen religion.  Ruth made a choice to be loyal to her mother-in-law, and go with her to Bethlehem.  Ruth was converted, and faithful to the one true God.

            In our lives as Christians, we will be faced with many choices too.  We can be assured that our choices will be right ones if we keep the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6:33 in mind:  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

            Ruth’s choice to follow Naomi and her God certainly illustrates the truth of Jesus’ words.  May we always be led to choose the God-pleasing thing throughout our lives.