Journeys in Faith

Can we match Ruth’s courage?
Rev. Tracy Heilman
Thursday, November 29, 2018
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We all have favorite stories from the Bible, perhaps one that gives you strength or delights you.

The story of Ruth and Naomi is among my favorites because it contains the words, actions and voices of women long remembered.

It shows incredible commitment of a foreign woman for her mother-in-law.  These two women have nothing in common but tragic circumstances:  their husbands have died.

In ancient times, a woman’s well-being rested solely in her relationship to a man:  first her father, then her husband, finally her son. With none of these, a widow’s only hope was in the people of God who were commanded repeatedly by the law and the prophets to care for the widow, orphan, and foreigner.  God’s people were to concern themselves with defenseless people.

Ruth is from another land so does not know what to expect.  She simply loves and respects Naomi. When Naomi decides to return to her childhood land, Ruth determines to accompany her, proclaiming: “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.”

For such loyalty and kindness, we have forever made Ruth a part of our language, i.e. to be “ruth-less” is to fail to show loyalty and kindness to others.

Ruth was young so could return to her own village where she was accepted and where she was likely to find another husband.  But she chooses to be a companion to a woman who has lost everything. She chooses to set off for a new land where she will have three strikes against her:  she is a woman, a foreigner and without male protection.

Listen to the words once again as Ruth’s commitment to Naomi is extended to all of Naomi’s people.  “Your people will be my people.”  These words are easy to say when we all look the same, have similar communities, share the same values and cultural norms.  But Ruth prepares to leave what is known, and she begins this journey with a promise to accept what she encounters.

Can we match Ruth’s courage?  Can we make this promise to the foreign immigrant?  Can we make this promise to those of a different generation, different political party, different social class?  Are we even willing to enter into dialogue long enough to see the ways we are different, and still respond, “Your people will be my people.”

Ruth’s care and concern for Naomi empowered her to embark on a journey to the unknown.  Understanding little of what her new people believed, knowing only a few of their customs, prepared not at all for their expectations, Ruth placed her hand in Naomi’s and walked with her.

We say that there is one God, but when we talk about what we believe about God, it almost seems that we are talking about many Gods. Some focus on a God who is primarily concerned with end times, i.e. judgment, punishment or rewards.  Some talk of a God who calls all of creation toward a life of wholeness. Some talk of a God who offers abundant grace and forgiveness. Some draw their understandings about God from a literal reading of the Bible, others from a social-historical reading.

Today we represent many diverse, even conflicting, ideas of who God is, what God has done, and what God requires. The Law and the Prophets, writings and wisdom, the gospels of the Bible have the power to speak to us today, just as they have spoken to people throughout time.  But we must have the courage to listen and the humbleness to hear.

We have heard the voices and seen the situation of widows and foreigners in scripture.  But we are called to hear and see them, not just in ancient stories, but in our communities today.

We are called, as God’s people, to speak on behalf of those who have no voice in our society. We are called, as God’s people, to stand with those who have no access to the resources that are needed to live.

We are called to stand with the foreigner and the widow as we proclaim, “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”