God Sends Us People
A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
Rev. Reebee Girash
November 12, 2017
Audio Recording, Including Liturgist’s Reading:
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.
2The 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. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These 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, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6Then 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. 7So 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. 8But 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. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”11But 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?12Turn 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, 13would 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.” 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But 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. 17Where 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!” 18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Eighteen years ago this summer, I got a phone call from my Aunt Catherine. Aunt Catherine was one of the saints who passed this year and we named aloud last Sunday. 18 years ago Aunt Catherine called me – I was 25 and living in Somerville – she called me and told me to come home. Lois needs you here.
When I was six, Lois and Ed Kavich adopted me. They set aside the ease of retirement to raise another child. They re-oriented their lives to journey with me, and I was so blessed. While I was in college, Pop died, leaving Mom on her own. After college, I moved to Boston. Two years later, Mom got really sick and was on permanent dialysis. I would visit for a while, and she would send me back to Boston, back to my new life, back to my new sweetie (John). I would air drop in for a weekend and will myself to think things were okay.
Then Aunt Catherine called. Come home. Lois needs you here.
At 25 I was so angry at my Aunt. At 43 I am so grateful for that phone call.
I went home.
But that’s where the story twists.
I was six weeks from starting grad school. I was pretty devoted to John. So my Mom said, You’re not moving back here. I’m moving to Boston.
Where you go, I will go…your people shall be my people.
Mom became Ruth to my Naomi.
Somehow, in six weeks, we found assisted living, her church helped us clean out her attic and pack, we got her house on the market, John met us at the Manchester airport and packed the car so tight that I had to brace my feet against the back window.
And so we started a new journey together.
This is where the portion of Ruth we read today ends. Ruth and Naomi have committed to each other, and they have started their journey to Bethlehem, together. They have no idea what will happen. They travel only with the promise that they are not alone.
Jessica Tate writes, “This is where we often find ourselves…in these empty places, uncertain of the end of the story. We do not know how, or if….our hope will be restored. We are left with simply a promise – a promise that we are not alone. It is a promise that finds incarnation in Ruth. Ruth will cling to Naomi no matter what. She will be with her wherever she goes….This is God’s promise to us, as well – that God will be with us, no matter what…This is how God acts. God clings to us, refusing to allow us to bear our despair and emptiness alone. In so doing, God shows us loving kindness that sows in us hope and fullness, in short, salvation.”1
A former parishioner of mine once said, “God doesn’t send me the abstract miracles that I prayed for as a child. God sends me people.”2 To Naomi, widowed, having buried two sons (there’s no word for a mother who buries her children), homeless, starving, God sent Ruth. Ruth could not magically reverse Naomi’s tragedy – indeed Ruth’s life was devastated, too. What Ruth could do was to pledge to be with Naomi, no matter what. Even though she could have found her own way out of this tragedy, she pledged to stay with Naomi.
It is no small thing that Ruth does, throwing her lot in with Naomi. She could have gone back to her family in Moab. Orpah did, and no one blamed her. But Ruth chose the unknown path, and clung to Naomi, whom she loved. Together, they could journey with courage.
God sends us people. The people who pledge to us that they will walk beside us on the road, whether it be through forest or desert, whether it be through despair or redemption, these are the people who carry us, until the tears are wiped away. These are the saints who bring us the message of hope, that we will get through this life, together, and with God’s grace.
In the book of Ruth, God is mentioned but God doesn’t speak. There is no burning bush, no parted sea.
But God’s true name, God’s true nature, is right there in the promise Ruth makes to Naomi.
In the letter of 1 John we hear:
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
God is love. So, God’s nature is right there in the promise Ruth makes to Naomi:
I will go with you.
You are not alone.
God sends Ruth to Naomi, and Ruth incarnates God’s love.
So here is the rest of the story.
I wish I could say those next four years were perfect for Mom. They were not. Dialysis was hard, Boston was so cold in the winter. And she didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with friends and family from Tennessee. But. She made some friends here, my church really did become her church, my people became her people, she saw the ocean and she saw me graduate and get married and get ordained.
Ruth and Naomi’s next years weren’t perfect either. When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, all of Naomi’s family and friends were excited to see her. But still, these were poor widows, without resources. They depended on the generosity of their neighbors. They waited to glean grain from the fields at the end of the harvest. Ruth found a protector in Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s and a rich man who admired Ruth and how she had cared for her Naomi. And Ruth, a Moabite widow, became his wife, became the great-grandmother of David, became the ancestor of Jesus.
I think Jesus inherited something from Ruth. It is all well and good that Jesus called his disciples to follow him; called us to follow him. But the reason Christians have said yes to that call is because Jesus came to us, to share our common lot, to walk the unknown journey with us, to embody God’s own love and cling to us, whatever may come.
Thanks be to God, who sends us people,
and who offers us hope of redemption and restoration and new beginnings. Amen.
Friends, find the people God has sent you. Journey with courage. And don’t give up before God has a chance to show up. Amen.
1 “Between Text and Sermon, Ruth 1:6-22”, Interpretation, 64 no 2 Apr 2010, p 170-172.
2 Marilyn Votaw