After the Call to Worship this morning, we had a small candle lighting ceremony where we recognized those who had passed on this year. The scriptures were Revelation 21:1-6 read at the beginning of the candle lighting. Those read for the message were: Ruth 1:1-18 and Mark 12:28-34. The title was not really state, but might have been as follows: “Mourning or Celebration/Natural Results or God’s Plan?”
Before we get too far into this message, I have to tell a funny on myself. The moral of this story is the old adage, “Pride goeth before a fall.” Back up to last year when some closets and shelves were being cleaned out here at the church and a whole bag of candles was set for disposal. Well, I can’t handle seeing things being thrown away, especially if they appear to have some good use left in them. I was determined to take those candles and make new ones from them. In fact, my plan was to make the candles for today and do one of those Pinterest things to put names and such right into the wax.
I was on the phone on Friday with Paulina telling her that I had just gotten started on the project, and she being a wonderful daughter was telling me how I could do anything. Anything except simple physics that is. I had this plan to make these tall pillar candles using an empty paper towel roll only I forgot something called a bottom. So imagine my surprise when I poured all that hot wax into that paper towel roll, and it started pouring out the bottom and all over the wax paper and the counter and ….
Well the bottom line is that James and I picked up these candles we are using in Bismarck when we were there yesterday for the quarter final playoff football game. Our team lost 40-8. Let’s just say the defense was about as effective as the bottom of my paper towel roll. I will probably think twice about my ability to do something in the future. At the least, I will stop and figure out what sort of mess I can make before I start a project. I also know that I won’t be doing any stove top double boiler stuff again. I threw away the old kettle that I used for the project so that I won’t be tempted to try it again.
Today’s message should have the title: “from Mourning to Celebration” or perhaps, Natural results or God’s plan? Then again, we could leave it as Faith and Faithfulness as most messages can be about just that. Our message today centers around the story at the beginning of the book of Ruth, yet the words of the gospel are the bottom line of the message. But when you think about it, there really can’t be a message where these words from Jesus aren’t the bottom line. This scripture and the lines we find in his final words to his disciples are the core of what the gospel is all about. To love each other, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves that is the essence of the gospel. There is really nothing else that matters; there is nothing else that is as important in all the teachings of the scriptures. Love. The Agape love where you give up yourself for someone else, where you would die for someone as Jesus did for us, that is all we need. I think there was even a Beatles song with that title: “Love is All You Need.”
The story we read today in the book of Ruth could have come out much differently if it hadn’t been for love. It starts out as such a tragedy. Here are these three women all widows. First off Naomi and her husband and sons have come to a foreign land because of a famine. After her husband dies the sons take foreign wives and things seem to go fine, but then the sons also die. Now the old widow woman is also with her daughters-in-law, who are also widows. They are all alone.
The custom of the time in the Jewish religion was that a widow would be taken as a wife by a single brother, but in this case there was no single brother. There was no one, but these three women. Naomi even mentions that she is too old to remarry and have more sons and even if she did, they would be too young for these women to marry.
Next we have the issue that at this time women were not able to support themselves or have wealth on their own, or if they did it was very rare, and these women were not of any financial status. They needed someone to take care of them, basically they needed husbands. Naomi recognized that she would not be able to care for the three of them. She also knew the reality that they would likely not take care of her if they were to remarry. Why would any man take in the mother-in-law of his wife, mother maybe, but a mother-in-law would be asking far too much.
Naomi did the only thing she could, she told the women to return to their homes, to their mothers. And one of the daughters-in-law, Orpah, saw the wisdom of those words and she obeyed and went home. We don’t hear about her again in the story. The other woman, Ruth, would not leave Naomi. Ruth refused to go, she had left her home. When she married Naomi’s son, she had taken on a new family and she wasn’t about to leave.
The words that Ruth says to her mother-in-law are sometimes used in marriage ceremonies. I can say this as a fact because this is the scripture passage that James and I used so many years ago for our wedding.
(Ruth 1:15b-17a “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 I will be buried.” Doesn’t exactly sound like something a daughter in law would say to her mother in law does it?
Love: that is the common denominator once again. Orpah likely felt badly about leaving Naomi and Ruth. She probably missed them. After all they had spent many years together as a family. She probably felt love for them, but it wasn’t enough to make her stay the way that Ruth did. Ruth’s love was the kind that made her stay with Naomi no matter what they were going to endure together. Of course for those of us who have read the story before, we know that God rewards Ruth. Our first clue about the ending of the story should be what we read in the opening verse. As soon as we hear the geography of the main family, a certain man from Bethlehem of Judea. Hmmm. The English teacher in me sees a little bit of foreshadowing here. And of course there is the name of the book. It isn’t titled, Naomi or even Boaz who we meet later on.
The book is titled Ruth and the story is about Ruth and the love she had for the family she married into, and because of it, God rewarded her. God recognized her devotion. We will likely read her name again during the Christmas season. It is found in the opening of the book of Matthew when he recounts the human lineage of Jesus. Ruth is the Great Grandmother of King David. Jesus the Messiah, we talked about last week, was known as the Son of David.
Our worship service today could be a sad and depressing service as we remember the members, faithful workers and attendees of this congregation, who aren’t coming back to fill a seat in any of the pews. We will never hear them sing or play again. They won’t be joining us for quilting or setting up the tree or to sit down to pot luck after Mission Fest. The sad fact is that most of the members who we remember here today haven’t been with us in that capacity for some time. But that doesn’t mean we should only remember them with sadness or with nostalgia for what is gone.
Just as the story in Ruth isn’t only a sad story, just as that story has a hope and a promise for a future, so does this story, our story, and this celebration. We remember not that those seven we named are gone, but that they were, that they contributed to what this church is and will continue to be. And mostly we celebrate that they have gone to a better place, a place of hope and promise, a place we too can go to join in the celebration of being with Christ.
We also know from reading the story of Naomi and Ruth and later Boaz and the children that come from this story all the way to King David and finally Joseph a carpenter who takes a young virgin named Mary as his wife, that God can take the worst things, the worst events, the worst times and make good come from them. God has that power, and God uses that power in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.
Last year at this time we remembered 5 members who passed away and this year 6, 7 with Willis. It is evidence that we are growing smaller. There are fewer of us left to do the tasks that need to be done, which means more and more is being asked of less and less. But rather than wring our hands in despair, over what we can’t do. Let’s consider what we can do, and more than that let us look at the bottom line of what Christ actually asks of us. Let us remember the greatest commandment is to love. We are to love God with all we have and to love each other as we love ourselves. And after that, we need to trust that God will do the rest. Just as God took care of Naomi and Ruth, so God will be with us. Amen!!